Cathedral of Christ the King

5 Beautiful, Secret Places in Downtown Joburg

I was on a walking tour today, talking to someone about Joburg. It suddenly occurred to me there are so many insanely beautiful places in downtown Joburg that Joburgers either: a) don’t know about because the places are really hidden; or b) are afraid to visit, or would never consider visiting because they think the place is too dangerous or too trashed or just not worth the trouble.

I talk about some of these places until I’m blue in the face, but I still get the same responses: a) blank looks; or b) questions like, “But is it really safe to go there?”

So I thought I’d write an article like this, with a really click-baity title, to get your attention. Here are my five favorite beautiful, secret places in downtown Joburg. If you like beautiful, secret things (and who doesn’t?) you should visit them all.

1) Cathedral of Christ the King

Yes, it’s in Hillbrow and Hillbrow can be a little daunting. But the Cathedral of Christ the King has a parking lot with 24-hour security and it’s really not very hard to drive to. Inside, the cathedral is pristine and it’s without a doubt the most beautiful church in the city. I’m shocked by how many people don’t know about it.

Pulpit of Christ the King Cathedral in Hillbrow
Pulpit of Christ the King.
Cathedral of Christ the King
Guys, sorry for the cliché but this church is breathtaking. The outside is also really pretty but somehow I’ve never photographed it.

I recommend visiting the cathedral in the morning, as it always seems to be open then. It’s at 1 Saratoga Avenue (technically in Berea but everyone thinks of it as Hillbrow).

2) The Johannesburg City Library

Most locals don’t realize the Johannesburg City Library, on Beyers Naudé Square in downtown Joburg, underwent a massive renovation from 2009 to 2012. It’s stunning inside and always full of people studying and reading, as every public library should be. (Read my previous post about the library.)

Outside Johannesburg City Library in downtown Joburg
The library.
People studying at Joburg library
The library’s prettiest hall.

The library, located at the corner of Albertina Sisulu Road and Pixley Ka Isaka Seme Street, has safe underground parking accessible from Albertina Sisulu Road (formerly Market Street). Just tell the parking attendant you’re going to the library. This library is also accessible via the Rea Vaya bus and the area is very safe for pedestrians.

3) Inside Ponte City

Okay, Ponte City is no secret. It’s that giant cylindrical building — the tallest residential building in Africa — with a Vodacom ad on the top.

Ponte from the outside.

Many Joburgers still believe Ponte is a high-rise slum filled with garbage and drug dens and criminal gangs. Not true.

View of Joburg from the top of Ponte City
View from the 52nd floor of Ponte City.

In fact, Ponte is fully legally occupied and 100% safe to visit. There is a public events venue on the 52nd floor, run by social enterprise Dlala Nje. Dlala Nje also runs a youth center on the ground floor and leads tours of the building and surrounding areas. (Read my previous post about Ponte.)

Looking up at Ponte from inside its hollow core, accessible from the building’s parking garage. I’ve looked at this view 100 times and it still makes my head spin.

Ponte City is on Lily Avenue in Berea. I recommend visiting as part of a Dlala Nje tour.

4) The Old Johannesburg Stock Exchange

There have been several Joburg Stock Exchanges but I’m talking about the building where the stock exchange lived from 1979 to 2000, at 17 Diagonal Street.

The atrium at 17 Diagonal Street. I love the disco-style elevator and the plentiful public art.

This building was a surprise even to me until a few months ago. I knew it existed, but had no idea how beautiful it was until I visited on a tour with JoburgPlaces.

I had thought the Diagonal Street building was closed up and abandoned, like many grand old downtown Joburg buildings. In reality the building is in great shape, with a stunning atrium, and there are lots of businesses operating there.

The old JSE trading floor is closed to the public. But if you’re lucky enough to get in you’ll see the lovely stained-glass windows at the back, which were brought from the previous stock exchange and perfectly preserved.

Stained glass on the old JSE trading floor.

The best way to see the old JSE trading floor is on the JoburgPlaces Money, Banks and Vaults tour. Contact them for more information.

5) The Wilds

Maybe this is cheating a little because the Wilds Municipal Nature Reserve is just outside the area I would define as “downtown Joburg”. But I have to include it in this list because the Wilds is so, so, so lovely — in fact I think it’s the most beautiful park in Joburg, by far — and I’m tired of trying to reassure people how amazing and safe it is to visit.

The now-famous kudu sculpture by James Delaney, with a view of Joburg behind it.

I’ve written about the Wilds multiple times. See blog posts here and here and this longer article for the Different. Yes, the Wilds once had a serious crime problem. But it no longer does.

Park in the parking lot on Houghton Drive, and as an extra safety precaution stay in the northeastern half of the park. (In other words, don’t cross over the Houghton Drive pedestrian bridge to the southwestern section because there isn’t as much security there.)

Then go explore this glorious park with abandon, admiring every indigenous flower and plant, every colorfully painted bench, every piece of public art, and every brilliant Joburg skyline view. Listen to the trees rustling and the frogs singing and the kids laughing.

You won’t believe you waited so long.

Greenhouse at the Wilds Municipal Nature Reserve in Joburg
Even some Wilds enthusiasts don’t know about the retro-style greenhouses at the western edge of the park — a beautiful secret place inside another beautiful secret place.

What’s your favorite secret Joburg place? I’m always looking for more.

I’m going to revive my Jozi Top Fives series in 2019. Consider this the first post of the revival.

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11 Comments

  • Reply autumnashbough January 14, 2019 at 12:31 am

    That cathedral is amazing! But the Wilds is my favorite. I love it when I find green in urban settings.

    • Reply 2summers January 14, 2019 at 5:37 am

      The Wilds is just the best. It’s magical.

  • Reply Tebogo Mashigo January 14, 2019 at 5:45 am

    Love this article. Will visit all the places listed.

    • Reply 2summers January 14, 2019 at 5:53 am

      Yay! You’re doing well 🙂

  • Reply dizzylexa January 14, 2019 at 9:57 am

    So glad you are continuing with your Top Five, love seeing what you rate as your top five and it gives me food for thought.

    • Reply 2summers January 14, 2019 at 10:03 am

      Thanks Gail. I have some more ideas for future posts!

  • Reply Tumtum January 14, 2019 at 10:53 am

    Great article, Heather. You always challenge us to be a little more adventurous on your blog.

    I’m disappointed in myself as a long-time resident of Johannesburg. Of the places you mentioned, I’ve only been to one – Ponte. Even then, it was an outing organised by the business school, and it was well worth it. I would do the tour again in a heartbeat. DlalaNje are fantastic hosts.

    • Reply 2summers January 14, 2019 at 10:59 am

      Yes! I can go back to Ponte again and again. Never gets old.

  • Reply Nikki Brighton January 14, 2019 at 6:37 pm

    Splendid selection of treasures.

    • Reply 2summers January 14, 2019 at 6:43 pm

      Thanks!

  • Reply Hannelise BRAND January 15, 2019 at 11:28 pm

    Thank you! Joburg is just the best! One of my favourite places is Zoo Lake Swimming Pool: a lovely vintage feel and a great view of Joburg’s ‘man-made forest’.

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