I like Cape Town, but I love Johannesburg. No, I didn't mix up the two. I find Cape Town to be beautiful and relaxing, but there is something raw and exciting about Johannesburg that pulls me in.
I cannot help but roll my eyes when Americans (typically older Americans from one of those square states) express sheer fear at the prospect of going to Jozi. "Isn't it dangerous?" "Don't they have guns?"
Bitch, you live in America.
You can run into unfortunate circumstances anywhere in this world. Don't let fear of *something possibly happening* deter you from having a rich experience in a new land, especially one which is, overall, quite safe.
Here are some of my favorite things to do in Johannesburg!
The Market Theatre
The Market Theatre, known as South Africa's "Theatre of the Struggle" is perhaps the most historically significant theatre in the country. It was one of the only locations where blacks and whites were allowed to mix during apartheid.
The works that were and are performed here are about the country's struggle during and after apartheid. Performances are as entertaining as they are thought-provoking. When I visited, I was able to catch Hugh Masekela in the musical walk-through-history of South Africa's migrant workers, "Songs of Migration."
There are three museums in the world that have haunted me: The War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City, Yad Veshem in Jerusalem, and The Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg.
The experience begins the second you receive your ticket: you are either given one with BLACK or WHITE printed on it and dictating which entrance you may use.
There is a beautiful section on Mandela, but I would recommend you not spend all your time there. The rest of the museum is well-arranged and easy to follow. It explains in stark detail the history of apartheid from start to "end." This is an all-encompassing history lesson and a trip to Jozi without a visit to the Apartheid Museum would be incomplete.
Also, I hope you drink because you're gonna need a beer after this one.
I honestly do not give half a shit about safaris, but I understand that a lot of people do, and if you are one of those people, South Africa is gold. The largest and most famous of South African reserves is Kruger National Park, about 4-5 hours drive from Jozi. I went to Pilansberg National Park, only a two hour drive. They do offer lodging if you are keen on spending a long weekend, but I found it to be an excellent day trip. The guides were very informative, sharing facts about the park history and the Big 5. They were respectful of the animals and clearly laid down the rules for humans (keep limbs inside the vehicle, be quiet when an animal approaches, etc). If you are short on time and you still want the safari experience, this is your place!
Arts on Main
First off, there is no entrance fee to Arts on Main, which makes it a winner. This area is home to several contemporary art and photo exhibitions.
I would recommend going here on a Sunday, when the area is alive and vibrant with local food vendors and pop up stores.
Just remember that parking in this part of town is a biatch.
Soweto (SOuth WEst TOwnship) is the largest township in South Africa. It is most famous for the 1976 Soweto Uprising, where students marched to protest the new mandate that all classes be taught in Afrikaans. This initially peaceful protest was met with police brutality, and several hundred students were shot.
Hector Pieterson became the iconic image of this protest after a photographer captured his dying body being carried by another student while his sister ran right beside them.
There is a museum in Soweto, The Hector Pieterson Memorial, which although small is still greatly informative and moving.
Spend a day walking through Soweto, checking out the Hector Pieterson Memorial as well the Mandela House and eating the local food, bunnychow.
Craft Market at Rosebank
If you are looking for gifts and souvenirs, this is the best place. It is large and has a plethora of South African designed items.
The Gautrain is also nearby, making this an excellent stop on your way back to the airport.
Johannesburg holds a very special place in my heart. I fell in love there, some of my best friends live there, and I have only ever been treated with absolute generosity from strangers and friends alike. Joburg will always feel like a second home to me.
That said, Johannesburg let me down on one TINY thing…
There are Jews in Joburg. Wherever there are Jews, there should be bagels. Come the fuck ON.
Y’all. You can’t get a bagel in Johannesburg. There is a place called Jozi Bagels at Arts on Main but they sell out hella fast. At one point in my trip, my friend Dom was so over my bitching about needing a bagel that he drove me to a bakery at OR Tambo Airport, just to shut me the fuck up.
There were plain bagels and there were chocolate chip bagels.
Now, chocolate chip bagels are just cake and I don’t fuck with that so I got a plain bagel.
“May I please have some cream cheese?” I requested.
“Ah, sorry sistah, we only have frosting.”
So close, Joburg. So. Fucking. Close.