About a year ago I wrote a blog post called Five Secret Spots for a Romantic Dinner in Jozi, as part of my Jozi Top Fives series. That post is far and away the most popular thing I’ve ever published on this blog. Every day, dozens of people find their way here after googling “romantic restaurants in Joburg”, “romantic things to do in Joburg”, “romantic places in Joburg”, etc.
It seems that Joburgers are starved for romantic date ideas, which I suppose isn’t surprising. Jozi is known as the City of Gold, not the City of Love. People tend to migrate to Joburg for the hustle and the excitement, and above all, to earn cash. It’s not a city with tons of time for romance.
So, allow me to help. As a follow-up to my romantic dinner post, here are some Jozi date ideas that are not only romantic, but also cheap and (in some cases) weird.
1) Picnic at Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden
A picnic is the perfect cheap Jozi date. First, Joburg is sunny and warm about 97 percent of the time. Second, food is cheap in South Africa. Third, Joburg has tons of beautiful parks, many of which are under-utilized.
I’m partial to Walter Sisulu National Botanical Garden, probably because Ray and I had one of our first dates there. I also find it romantic with its soaring waterfall and stunning indigenous plant beds. (And there are tortoises!) But the Wilds is also a great picnic spot, along with the Johannesburg Botanical Garden/Emmarentia Dam, James & Ethel Gray Park, and the Melville Koppies.
Walter Sisulu’s admission fee is R40 (less than $3) per person. If you’re looking for affordable food to bring on your picnic, check my Jozi cheap eats post.
2) Top of the Carlton Centre
I feel like a broken record because I’ve written about this place many times. But the Carlton Centre is so underrated, and also extremely romantic in my opinion. Every time I go up there it’s virtually empty save for one or two couples, sitting together on a bench, gazing out at the amazing view and whispering sweet nothings to one another.
I couldn’t find any photos of romantic couples in the Carlton Centre viewing deck. (I guess because it would be kinda creepy to take a photo like that.) But here’s a picture that I took on my very first trip up there in 2011.
Contrary to popular belief, the Carlton Centre is very safe and easy to get to (see some instructions in this post), and the view at sunset is incredible. Riding to the top of the tallest building in Africa will only cost you R20 (less than $2) each.
3) Melville Bargain-Hunting
Shopping doesn’t normally equate to romance, and it’s not usually cheap. But Melville provides an exception to these rules. Melville is a perfect place to wander up and down the two main drags (7th Street and 4th Avenue) and pop in and out of the quirky charity shops, book shops, and souvenir shops. There’s plenty to buy for under R100 and there’s something for everyone. There are lots of places along the way for coffee, drinks, and inexpensive food.
Yada Yada, one of my favorite shops on 7th Street. Perfect stop on a romantic date-stroll through Melville.
While on your romantic shopping date in Melville, don’t forget the new 27Boxes container shopping center on 4th Avenue. It has a great vibe on weekends.
4) Northcliff Ridge Ecopark
Northcliff Ridge Ecopark, a tiny, obscure park atop a high ridge near Cresta Mall, has a beautiful view of downtown Joburg and is probably the best place in the city to watch both sunrise and sunset. (I’ve got sunrise pics here and sunset pics here.) It’s also a notorious make-out spot, for good reason. It’s impossible to go up Northcliff Ridge and NOT want to kiss someone.
A visit to the Northcliff Ridge Ecopark will cost you exactly zero rand. Bring a blanket to sit on and maybe something to drink. But really, the view stands on its own.
5) Beers at the Zebra Inn
I suppose that sitting in a grungy bar surrounded by dozens of stuffed animal heads is not everyone’s perfect picture of romance. Nonetheless, I suggest you give it a try.
The Zebra Inn, owned by a legendary Austrian big game hunter named Swazi Werner, is…difficult to explain. (For a more in-depth description, read this article I wrote about the Zebra Inn on the Sawubona website.) It’s odd, for sure, and some people find it offensive — due to both the dead animals and the persistent (but unconfirmed) rumor that the Zebra Inn doubles as a brothel. But I must tell you that I unabashedly love the Zebra Inn. I love the weirdness, I love the music on the juke box, I love the dead animals. (Sorry, activists.) I even find the Zebra Inn romantic, especially at night when the DJ plays 80s tunes and the strobe lights start to spin.
Ray felt so romantic at the Zebra Inn; he actually kissed the zebra. (Instax photos by Tim Van Rooyen)
Beer is cheap at the Zebra Inn, and there’s no food to speak of. It’s a guaranteed cheap date and you’re guaranteed to laugh a lot.
There you go, Joburgers: no more excuses. There’s a holiday weekend coming so take that month-end paycheck, get out there, and date.