Visitors to Johannesburg who have an interest in art and design will find that the city is a most inspiring place to be. There are dozens of great contemporary art galleries that host regular exhibitions showcasing some of the best new South African art. If you have just one day in the city then base yourself around Johannesburg’s so-called art gallery row in Rosebank and Parkwood. If you have two or three days at your disposal then you’ll have more time to get a feel for the inner-city areas where artists live and work, such as Maboneng, Newtown and Braamfontein. Many galleries are closed on Mondays and Sundays, so check before visiting.
Start the day with breakfast at Park Cafe in The Parks centre on Jan Smuts avenue near Rosebank. Pretty in pink, this cafe is close to many of the city’s top art galleries.
Then work your way down Jan Smuts Avenue, stopping in at print, digital and photography galleries Gallery 2, David Krut Projects and Res Gallery. From here cross over the road and work your way back up the street. Visit the impressive Goodman Gallery, one of South Africa’s leading contemporary galleries; fine art gallery Lizamore & Associates; and Kim Sacks Gallery, which specialises in ceramic objects from rural and urban artists. Also stop at the David Krut Bookstore for beautiful art books, and the Hadeda shop, which sells colourful crafts imported from Mexico.
A short drive away in Parktown North you’ll find plenty of trendy places to stop for lunch, such as the Foundry, a stylish bistro that serves excellent pizzas, pastas, salads and gourmet burgers. From here you are just one block away from Gallery MOMO that represents some of South Africa’s most influential young artists, such as Mary Sibande and painter Blessing Ngobeni. A short drive away near Rosebank is the impressive Circa and Everard Read galleries, which specialise in contemporary South African fine art in a range of media. After exploring the galleries, take a look around the extensive Rosebank Art & Craft market next to Rosebank Mall where you can pick up all kinds of unique handcrafted local souvenirs.
Start the evening with sundowners under the trees in the peaceful courtyard bar at the Hyatt Regency Johannesburg hotel, before settling in for dinner at the hotel’s contemporary oneNINEone restaurant, which showcases a range of cuisines including Asian and Middle Eastern. If you still have energy for a nightcap, Katzy’s jazz bar and cigar lounge is just around the corner.
Start the day in Maboneng, a fashionable inner-city district popular with artists, musicians, designers and young entrepreneurs. After breakfast at the pretty Middle Eastern cafe, Eat Your Heart Out, take a tour of the neighbourhood and surrounds with local guide MainStreetWalks. Tours include a look around the landmark Arts on Main building, which is home to a number of artist studios and galleries, and the Museum of African Design (MOAD), as well as a visit to the nearby traditional African healers' market. Guides will also take you to see some of the city’s most impressive murals, painted by famous street artists from around the world.
For lunch grab a snack at one of the quirky little container cafes that can be found in the area, such as Soul Souvlaki or Sha’p! Braai, a colourful braai stand selling typical South African grilled food. Then it’s time to continue your downtown art adventure.
Cross from Maboneng to the Main Street mining district, about 15 minutes' drive away, to see the Standard Bank Gallery, a leading art gallery that hosts major exhibitions by famous historical and contemporary artists from South Africa and abroad. From here it is a short walk to historical pedestrianised Main Street, which has lots of beautiful sculptures pertaining to the city’s gold-mining history and an eye-catching mixture of early 20th-century architecture.
At the western end of Main Street you’ll find the Johannesburg Magistrate's Court and a striking sculpture by artist Marco Cianfanelli of a young Nelson Mandela shadow boxing. The building opposite is Chancellor House, which housed the offices of Mandela & Tambo attorneys in the 1950s.
Shop for covetable South African design items at Work Shop New Town, a fashion and design emporium in the heart of Newtown that promotes more than 30 different leading African fashion and design labels such as Kisua and MaXhosa by Laduma. After the shopping bags have been filled head next door to the steampunk-chic Potato Shed, a fashionable restaurant with a smokehouse barbecue menu and plenty of craft beers on tap.
Begin your last day following the Johannesburg art trail with a big breakfast at Salvation Cafe at 44 Stanley, an attractive boutique shopping centre set amid a converted formerly industrial complex. After breakfast wander through 44 Stanley’s pretty interlinked courtyards and browse the chic little boutiques and galleries for unique gifts.
From 44 Stanley it is a five-minute drive to Braamfontein, the city’s student heartland. Labelled Johannesburg’s hipster capital, Braam (as the locals like to call it) has a buzzing cafe culture and nightlife scene. Make sure to visit Wits Art Museum, one of the city’s top art galleries, which has regular temporary exhibitions that have an African focus (closed Monday and Tuesday).
For lunch stop in at The Grove, a colourful open-air piazza where you can choose from big burgers and milkshakes at Mr Big Stuff, pizzas from Eighty Six Public, or sandwiches and salads at Velo Cafe. Not far from here you’ll find leading local galleries like Stevenson and the avant-garde Kalashnikovv Gallery. For early-evening sundowners join the crowds at one of the many bars at the corner of Juta Street and De Korte Street, such as Kitchener’s or Anti Est.
Spend your last evening in Johannesburg in the Bohemian suburb of Melville, a popular residential neighbourhood for the city’s artists, poets and intellectuals. There’s always a lively atmosphere on Melville’s main street 7th Street and no shortage of places to eat. For pizzas and a cosy atmosphere try the colourful Ant Cafe, which was founded more than two decades ago by local artist Ronnie van der Walt.