I get a lot of questions like: “I’ve got one day in Joburg. What should I do?”
Plan more time in Joburg, that’s what.
Still, many people are trying to squeeze the whole of South Africa into a short trip, or maybe have a long layover or are just coming for business. I get that. So if you too have allotted only one day to see this awesome city, here’s how you do it.
Head to Parkhurst and cozy up a sidewalk table at Nice and order the egg basket. It’s a basket, made out of toast, with perfectly poached eggs inside, topped with tomato relish and bacon. If you must, there’s a fruit platter. They serve Bean There coffee, so the joe is great too.
Summon your Uber or Lyft and go to Constitution Hill. The Apartheid Museum is no doubt the giant of Joburg museums, but it can easily turn into an all-day event. You, silly traveler, have left yourself only one day to work with. Constitution Hill is centrally located in Braamfontein, at the site of a prison that now houses the highest court in the land. The cells that once held Mandela and Gandhi house evocative displays that challenge ideas of justice. The prison charges a small fee for entrance, but the court building itself is free. The courtroom is usually open to the public, and the corridor outside hosts art exhibits and explanations of major rulings. Outside, climb up the barracks around the Old Fort before the sun is too high and get beautiful shots of the skyline.
If you don’t mind a 30-minute walk and a lot of urban hustle, stroll (or summon another vehicle) down to the “Ethiopian Mall” at 220 Jeppe Street, in the old Medical Arts Building. From the Old Fort, walk down two blocks Hospital Street, take left and go one block down Smit, then right down King George. This will take you past Joubert Park and the Joburg Art Gallery. That would also be worth a visit, if only you’d left yourself more time!
But you know what? It’s also free, so rather hop in and see at least one of the 15 exhibition halls. Thankfully Jackson Hlungwani’s towering sculptures are near the entrance. Pull yourself away, wander a bit farther south down Klein and through a hectic taxi rank until you hit Jeppe Street. It’s swirl of commerce and fashion that’s fun to explore. Go inside the Medical Arts Building – yes, it’s dingy, but you’re fine. The ground floor is full of shops. Up the first flight of stairs is a large and very busy Ethiopian restaurant, but one more flight up is a quieter spot called Netsanet. The corner room has windows overlooking the street life below. The walls have the original wood paneling that recall the old-time doctor’s office that this room probably was. The full meal with coffee will set you back R30 ($2.50).
Call a car to get to Wits University, where again you will have to limit yourself. The Wits Art Museum is always worth a visit (also free) but my vote goes to the Origins Centre, where local artists have illustrated humanity’s evolution in displays that focus heavily on fossils found just outside the city. Again, with more time, you too could crawl through the actual caves where some of the bones were discovered. Shame.
Cross Jan Smuts into Braamfontein’s hipster core. But hurry. A lot of it closes at 5pm. Walk down Juta and check out art at the Stevenson Gallery, modern furniture at Dokter and Misses, and an eclectic mix of boutiques inside the colorful Play Braamfontein complex at 70 Juta.
In time for sunset, wander over to the Parktonian Hotel at 120 De Korte, where the circular roof deck called Skylevel shows off the city from a bird’s eye view. It’s one of the city’s least-appreciated locations, but even if the bar isn’t staffed when you get there, just ask and someone will magically appear with drinks.
Fully rested, it’s a short walk back to The Orbit at 81 De Korte Street. A restaurant and jazz bar, which has outstanding live music almost every night of the week. The show usually starts around 8pm, so leave an hour for your meal and then settle in for an evening of music.