5 things to do in Joburg on a budget

Shining star

Festive season

Yippee! The holiday season is upon us. It’s my favourite time of year – no pressure, no lunch boxes, no urgent routine…



I love unicorn hunting in the holidays.

But some parents find themselves at their wits end trying to entertain the rugrats and retain a modicum of sanity. Given the recent announcement by Number One and the subsequent plummet of the Rand, our options are obviously a little less broad than they might have been before. And for me, a big no is shopping malls. I can’t stand them at the best of times, and when Christmas decorations are added (in September!) and crowds are quadrupled, I get very grumpy. As a Joburg lover, I thought I’d compile a little list of things to do on a budget in Johannesburg (whether you live here or are just visiting).

  1. Catch the Shiny Red Bus, as one young friend calls the Johannesburg City Sightseeing Bus.  It might seem like the R180 per ticket is a lot, if you’re dragging several children along with you, but there are plenty of free and reasonably priced places to visit along the way: Constitution Hill is awesome – the public art gallery in the Constitutional Court is magnificent, and the old gaol is not expensive to enter. This is a place where both Mandela and Gandhi were held, and well worth a visit. Braamfontein has many amazing new eateries and divine little shops that have sprung up. If you hop off at the Carlton Centre, you can catch the elevator to the top floor of the highest building in the southern hemisphere. The views are spectacular, and the trip costs a mere R20 or so. Although the Transport Museum was a little tired the last time I visited it, it is free, and the kids quite like climbing on the old busses and catching a glimpse into how our transport has evolved. The Apartheid Museum is phenomenal. It is so well done, but not for the feint hearted. I cry every time I go there, but it’s the kind of catharsis I think we all need. Finally, Newtown offers the Sci Bono museum, which I am still to visit but I believe is amazing, for parents and kids alike. There is also the Market Theatre there, which always has something amazing to see, or you could stroll over to 1Fox – The Sheds, for a really pleasant eating and shopping experience. I’ve probably missed a whole lot of amazingness that one can do from the hop on – hop off bus, but those are my picks for an excellent day out. Of course, you could choose from these without catching the bus too 😉


    Working hard at 1Fox to ensure the customer is happy 

  2. Spend a day in Soweto. The red bus folk also do day trips to Soweto, but I’ve never gone with them. I’ve always driven to and parked in Vilikazi street and walked. Vilikazi Street is the only street in the world to house two Nobel Prize laureates – Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela. Both of these are heritage sites. You can also walk from Vilikazi Street to the Regina Mundi church, which still has bullet holes from the bad old days when the church protected students during the riots of ’76 and the police had no sense of sacred ground. The stained glass windows are beautiful. Also, the Hector Peterson Museum is close by, and it’s vital to get a sense of our history by visiting these places. Lunch can happen at one of the taverns in Vilikazi Street or at Chaf Pozi, under the beautifully painted cooling towers, where you can also bungi jump on the weekends, or just take the lift to the top and enjoy the views. There are plenty of people around selling curios to the curious, so you could get some Christmas shopping done while you have a day out.
  3. Looking up

    Looking up at the cooling towers from Chaf Pozi

    Take a walking tour through the city with Gerald Garner, who is a most knowledgeable guide and a great ambassador for Johannesburg. Gerald lives and works in the city, and generously shares his passion for Joburg with anyone who comes into contact with him. Gerald has written several books on the Places and Spaces of Joburg and Sandton. He will show you how to use public transport and help you feel comfortable enough with the city to do it on your own the next time. He does a variety of tours, and can custom make them too – ranging from rooftop bars (maybe not for the younger kids), inner city swimming pools (probably a must for kids!), the fashion district, etc. You will not regret going on one of Gerald’s walks. If Hillbrow tugs on your heartstrings for nostalgic reasons, then I suggest you do a walking tour with Dlala Nje, an amazing organisation set up in The Ponte, which provide much-needed entertainment for the children of the Ponte. You’ll get taken up into one of the apartments near the top, which boasts spectacular views and a real insight into the building’s history and metamorphosis. I loved walking with Dlala Nje, but be warned – Hillbrow is hilly!


    Gerald Garner displays how to use the sculpture of Walter and Albertina Sisulu

  4. Spend a day in Melville. Melville is one of Joburg’s older and quirkier suburbs. You could get everything you need at the wonderful 27Boxes, from ceramics to jewellery, clothing to bric-a-brack, crystals to socks, Belgian waffles and macarons to excellent Banting-friendly meals. The centre is a visual treat, but it’s also not all there is to Melville… There are wonderful charity shops (Hope Hotel, Bounty Hunters…) which are a great place to pick up weird and wonderful, original gifts and know that you are contributing to excellent causes. The Auckland Park Florist is just wonderful for flowers, and there are so many great restaurants to choose from. Here’s a quick list: Picobello, The Leopard, Bambanani (great for smaller kids), Pulp Fiction, Lucky Bean, The Ant, Turkish Restaurant, Hell’s Kitchen.. I know I’ve left some out, and I’m sorry! Too many to choose from. There is a great second-hand bookshop, a good bead shop (great, cheap way to keep the sproglets busy) and probably plenty more to discover if you are prepared to explore – and all on two main streets!



  5. Take a walk through Westdene and discover the amazing street art that is springing up as part of the Westdene Graffiti Project. The project started when a community group was doing a clean up of the suburb, and they were asked to paint over a beautiful artwork, which the owner of the wall hadn’t consented to. A decision was made to find willing wall-owners to offer up their walls for artists (or writers, as they prefer to be called) to adorn. So far, there are about 30 pieces to see, and the organisers are hoping to cover 100 walls in the near future. I’ll take a walk soon and document them in a blog. There are truly some amazing pieces, from famous artist like Rasty, Mars and even some overseas names. If street art is your thing, I also suggest you visit Newtown with your camera. It’s probably best to go in an organised group (and there are people doing wonderful walks, I just haven’t had a chance to go on any yet) because there are parts of town where one shouldn’t walk with one’s camera or cell phone exposed because the tsotsis might want them. I’ve walked some parts of Newtown and felt completely safe, but closer to Carr Street is a little dodge.

    Power (with spray paint and mielies)

    Street Art in Westdene

Ok, so that is 5 things off the top of my head. By the end of next week, I’ll have another 5 things, just in case you used all 5 of these suggestions in one go and you need more ideas. At the moment, my days are filled with cleaning out the clutter that has accumulated over the year, but I’m pretty sure my kids are going to drag me out from under the pile of recycled paper pretty soon and demand to be entertained. I’ll explore and let you know. Enjoy the festivities!


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