Johannesburg has claimed first place in Rough Guide’s list of the “top 10 cities to visit in 2015”, winning praise for its diversity, “crackling” energy and “pervasive social warmth” as well as for the rebirth of its inner city.
Shopping in downtown JohannesburgShopping in downtown Johannesburg.Coincidentally released on South Africa’s national Reconciliation Day – 16 December – the travel publisher’s Rough Guide to 2015 feature describes Joburg as being at the “vanguard of the gradual deracialization of South African society”.
Despite there still being “astonishing extremes of wealth and poverty”, Rough Guide says, the city is “a giant soup of ethnicities”, enriched by immigrants from across Africa as well as by sizeable Indian, coloured, Chinese, Greek, Jewish, Portuguese and Lebanese communities.
A key factor that swayed Rough Guide in Joburg’s favour is the City’s drive to regenerate its central business district and other inner city areas, a development that is being spearheaded by the Johannesburg Development Agency (JDA).
“The central business district, which in the 1990s was all but abandoned by big business fleeing crime and grime, is undergoing a slow rebirth, with crime rates dropping and property investors moving in,” Rough Guide says.
“New City Improvement Districts have been implemented to oversee the cleaning, sprucing up and guarding of the central areas, most effectively so far in Braamfontein.”
Braamfontein was similarly cited by US-based Good Magazine in its recently published 2014 Good City Index, which ranked Johannesburg as the second most inspiring city in the world.
According to Good Magazine, developments in Braamfontein have turned this part of the inner city into a “hub for progress … a breeding ground of creativity and innovation packed full of galleries, artists’ spaces, bars and startups focused on making meaningful connections with the man on the street”.
Developments in the adjoining inner city area of Newtown, meanwhile, boosted Joburg’s score on the Good City Index’s “street life” measure, with the magazine highlighting the R1.3-billion Newtown Junction, one of biggest multi-use developments to open in Johannesburg’s CBD since the Carlton Centre in the 1970s.
Rough Guide, for its part, notes that inner city areas such as the arty Maboneng precinct “have rooted themselves as exciting cultural hubs”, while “new clusters of forward-thinking museums, galleries and shops are set to emerge in 2015”.
Among these is the African Food and Culture Hub, one of the JDA’s current projects, which will see the creation of a new public space in the inner city Park Station Precinct. Comprising a new public square surrounded by restaurants, shops and businesses, the Hub will reflect the continent’s rich diversity, celebrating African food and culture while providing a safe zone for night-time leisure and entertainment.
Rough Guide advises visitors not to be daunted by Joburg’s size or reputation and to sort out a way of getting around – by car, with a tour guide, or on “the shiny new trains and buses” of the city’s Gautrain rapid rail system. There’s also rapidly expanding Rea Vaya bus rapid transit (BRT) system, part of another JDA-led initiative to make the city easily navigable for residents and tourists.
Once they’ve done this, says Rough Guide, visitors will find that “the history, diversity and crackling energy of the city can quickly become compelling”.
Johannesburg is followed on Rough Guide’s “top 10 cities” list by Málaga (Spain), New Orleans (USA), Hamburg (Germany), Nizwa (Oman), Wellington (New Zealand), Belgrade (Serbia), Salta (Argentina), and Birmingham (England).