Seven hidden hotspots you have to visit in Johannesburg

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Johannesburg is more than just a stopover – from underground bars to local markets, there’s a tonne of things to see and do in this city. But to really get under the city’s skin, you have to chat with someone in the know… or read on for our local lowdown on Joburg’s hidden hotspots. You can thank us later.

Kwa Mai Mai Traditional Healers Market // Jeppestown

Described as the ‘Place of Healers’, this is one of the oldest traditional markets in the city and a must-visit for a truly authentic African experience. It consists of over 175 market stalls run by Sangomas – traditional healers – who sell a wide and fascinating array of items, from muti (medicine) and African artefacts to clothing and even animal skins. Visiting this spot will give you a valuable insight into some truly fascinating cultural practices and it’s the perfect place to pick up unique souvenirs from your trip. To get the most out of the experience, though, it’s best to head there with someone in the know – join our Inner-City Tour to go with a local guide.

Marabi Jazz Club // Maboneng

Located in the underground basement of Hallmark House – an iconic building designed by leading architect Sir David Adjaye – this jazz club is known for its electric atmosphere which keeps patrons coming back night after night. This place definitely lives up to the name ‘hidden hotspot’ – the entrance itself is easy to miss, visible only by a low-key black canopy above a small metal door.

Once inside, interiors will transport you back to a whole other era of Johannesburg’s past. The club’s name and inspiration comes from a style of music that emerged from the townships in the 1920s and 30s. Marabi would be played at local shebeens (illegal bars) at a time when black people were under the restrictions of a nightly curfew and prohibited from buying alcohol. In this way, the Marabi Club is much more than just a bar – it’s rewriting history and letting visitors experience it first-hand.

Any night of the week, you’ll be greeted by live jazz performances from a variety of solo artists and bands, including talented emerging artists looking to perfect their craft. And the food here isn’t your standard bar snacks – the innovative menu is designed for sharing, with dishes including seabass ceviche and KFQ (deep fried quail, kimchi slaw, Japanese mayo and salsa verde or chimichurri). You can visit Marabi with the locals and a group of like-minded travellers on our Underground Bar Crawl.

City Outfitters // Jeppestown Fashion District

Walking the streets, you’ll soon learn that Joburg is a city with a sharp sense of style. Want to get kitted out in some new threads? Head to City Outfitters for a huge selection of clothing, footwear, accessories and everything in between.

A bit of digging and you’re guaranteed to discover some real vintage gems here. Who doesn’t love heading home with a suitcase full of one-of-a-kind pieces? Just don’t blame us if you go over your luggage allowance…

The Wilds // Houghton

When you think of Johannesburg, you might picture a cosmopolitan concrete jungle with skyscrapers and bright lights. You wouldn’t be wrong, but that’s just one side of this city – did you know that it is also one of the largest urban forests in the world? One of the many green spaces which helped earn the city this title is The Wilds. This 40-acre park provides scenic views and solitude right in the heart of Joburg.

Artist James Delaney, along with other volunteers, has spent the last few years restoring the Wilds – fixing pathways, putting in flower beds and installing art which has brought people back to the park. You can find 67 of his stainless-steel owl sculptures scattered across the park along with a pair of blue ostriches, two life-sized pink and yellow giraffes and a red kudu. See if you can spot them all! Other artists are also getting in on the action – renowned sculptor Gordon Froud has recently added to the collection.

After checking out the art, head for the famous stone sundial which marks the highest point in the park. Here, you’ll be rewarded with one of the best skyline views of the city.

The Collectors Treasury // Commissioner St

If you’re the sort of traveller who loves libraries and stocks up on books as souvenirs, then welcome to your new happy place. The Collector’s Treasury is the largest bookstore in the Southern Hemisphere, housing over 2 million books! You enter by ringing the buzzer and climbing the stairway which is sandwiched between stacks of books – once inside, you’ll see that this trend continues with books filling pretty much every available space. There’s also a huge vinyl collection, maps, vintage prints and plenty more to ignite your Curiocity (see what we did there?). If you’re a serious collector, you can find some rare editions here – just email ahead if there’s something specific you’re looking for. This is another stop on our Inner-City Tour.

Little Addis // Downtown

As the name might have given away, Little Addis is Johannesburg’s Ethiopian district and a part of the city like no other. The vibrant block is home to an array of Ethiopian shops, restaurants, coffee houses, music kiosks, hair salons and more. It can be crowded and slightly chaotic, but a visit here will take you on a cultural and culinary adventure. Head to the Majesty Building where you will find several great (and affordable) restaurants. For an authentic taste of Ethiopian cuisine, you’ve got to try the country’s national dish injera. This is a soft flatbread which all other dishes, including wats (spicy stews) and tibs (sauteed meats), are served upon. You’ll also find lots of little coffee corners serving some of the strongest coffee in the city. Exploring this buzzing neighbourhood is an experience you don’t want to miss.

Zwipi Underground Bar // Gandhi Square

Okay so now you’ve pounded the pavements of the city, it’s time to go underground. Zwipi is a bar with a totally unique setting – it is located in a century-old bank vault underneath the Edwardian Somerset House building on Gandhi Square. Making your way down the steep staircase, you will find yourself in an underground lair packed with more than 1000 unopened safety deposit boxes and old safes. We think it’s fair to say that Joburg bars don’t get edgier than this. And the impressive location is just the start – their cocktail menu is packed with creative concoctions to keep you and your crew sipping long into the night. Hungry? A range of bespoke tapas dishes are available until late.

Visit our Joburg page to find out more about the activities + experiences we offer and see where you could stay. If you’re booking your stay, remember to use code 2CITIES for 15% off!

Image sources: Header Image – Marabi Club // Kwa Mai Mai // Marabi // City Outfitters // The Wilds // The Collector’s Treasury // Little Addis // Zwipi