8 spots to lay your head in Joburg Central

Posted by Pippa de Bruyn on 14 May 2019

This African megacity, home to around 10 million, has many layers and something for everyone. It can be all about the bling, but also offers more welcoming, down-to-earth spaces. If you want to stay in the best ’hoods close to the buzz, here’s where to go.

The heart of the City of Gold has become friendlier these days. Base yourself in a neighbourhood close to the CBD for the best local experience.


How TripAdvisor lists accommodation rated by guests, but as much as we love peer reviews, they don’t offer a comparative voice – so how do we know No. 1 is really the best? Pippa de Bruyn, who has reviewed accommodation for 20 years for the likes of Frommer’s and The Telegraph, scours TripAdvisor and other online sites when researching a destination. For Joburg she created a longlist of 21 to inspect. The following made the cut.

What I found about accommodation here

• To really get under the skin of Jozi, you need to live like a local and spend time with people who love the city – its chief drawcard is the gregarious culture of its inhabitants. So for this Final Cut I avoided hotels and focused mostly on Airbnb, a few backpackers and vibey guest houses in great ’hoods.

• I wanted places located in interesting streetscapes, not necessarily pretty but with architecture that imparts a sense of history. I drew a rough ellipse close to the heart of the city, and didn’t venture further than Saxonwold (east), Parkhurst (north), Maboneng (south) and Brixton (west).

• The ideal was a cottage-like unit with secure, private entry and a great host (preferably on-site) and I found plenty – though Airbnb is tricky to research. There’s not much for big groups or families; I found predominantly one-bedroom units or studios, and a couple of good two-bedroom options.

• Joburg hosts often quote a single rate, then add a couple of hundred rands for your travelling companion (even when you’re sharing
a bed). Note that a service and cleaning fee will often be added to Airbnb rates.

1. Best guest house

Pablo House

TripAdvisor No. 21 of 348 B&Bs/Inns

Image: Jotham Van Tonder

I focused on self-catering mostly, but sometimes you want a little more service, a lot more vibe but still feel like you can wander around barefoot. Mi casa es su casa is totally the vibe at Pablo House – there’s always someone around to pour your drink or make you a (very good) coffee, but the atmosphere is relaxed, the music is cool and you feel very much at home. Then there’s the view – situated on the highest point in Melville, it has an enormous vista over the Melville Koppies all the way to Sandton. Owners Leigh and Louis Roux (the creative force behind popular Pablo Eggs-Go-Bar in Seventh Street) have transformed the interiors with funky art and furniture, and the seven rooms have everything you could want, from smart TVs with Netflix to Nespresso machines. Louis, who also plays bass guitar in a band, is a force of nature – having completed the in-house restaurant (a great place for lunch or dinner), he’s also just finished building a swimming pool. 

Room tip In most suites (except 3, 6 and 7), you can enjoy the views from your bed. Suite 6 has its own private patio.

Cost From R700 per person sharing B&B (guests get a breakfast voucher to use at Pablo Eggs-Go-Bar down the road).

Contact 0662150993, pablohouse.co.za

2. Best in Maboneng


Image: Jotham Van Tonder

Not on Tripadvisor

This apartment is not only the best way to experience the ’hood that Forbes voted as one of the Top 12 coolest in the world, but one of the best in the entire city. I love Fox Street – particularly at sunset during the week, when honeyed light filters through the tree-lined artery, softening the industrial Mid-Century architecture, and a hip crowd gathers at the end of the working day. There are plenty of great bars and restaurants, or stay in and cook up a storm in your uber-cool digs. The apartment is classic New York-loft style, with an open-plan kitchen/dining/lounge area, plenty of light streaming through the windows, and slide-and-fold doors opening onto a narrow deck with views across the city to the iconic Ponte and Hillbrow towers. It’s the kind of place that makes you want to throw a party, yet cosy and comfortable enough for a couple. It can sleep four, though, in two en-suite bedrooms located at the back of the apartment, away from the street noise. If Jozi is Africa’s ‘Big Apple’, this is where you want to take a bite.

Cost R2,159 a night (sleeps four).

Contact 0832879997, airbnb.com

Alternative Curiocity, the hip backpackers on Fox Street, offers a few studio flats from R800 in the 12 Decades Art Hotel block, much cheaper than ‘#280Fox’ but not in the same league. The hotel rooms cost R908.50 a night. curiocity.africa

3. Best in Parkhurst

‘Perfect Base’

Image: Jotham Van tonder

Not on Tripadvisor

There’s something deeply satisfying about strolling to a street lined with pavement cafes alongside bars spilling out onto the roadway; dining al fresco in Africa is always going to beat a meal in a sanitised mall. If Melville is too grungy (or too far south), you want to be within strolling distance of 4th Avenue, Parkhurst’s bustling restaurant strip. There are quite a few options, but I was most excited by Matthew and Lisa Kretzschmar’s spot on 16th Street, just two blocks from 4th. They’ve created a compact one-bedroom, semi-detached cottage with lofty lounge, lovely little atrium and private entrance behind secure gates. It’s well decorated, well equipped and there’s a fold-out sleeper couch if you’re travelling with kids. But the best thing here is the hosts – engaging, kind, discreet. Within minutes of meeting they felt like friends; apparently many guests become just that. If travel is all about making new connections, this is the spot to check into.

Cost R600 a night (sleeps two to four).

Contact 0836025248, airbnb.com (search for ‘Perfect base to explore Parkhurst, Joburg and SA’.)

Alternative If you’re looking for a very stylish bolthole, and happy to pay a bit more, Gwen’s ‘The Cottage, Randburg’ is a gorgeous studio that costs R800 a night. Or check out Jo’s one-bedroom ‘Scarub Cottage on 11th’, a bargain at only R325 a night. Both on airbnb.com.

4. Best in Saxonwold

‘Luxurious apartment’

Image: Jotham Van tonder

Not on Tripadvisor

This isn’t walking distance from restaurants (which was part of my self-imposed brief) but the photos were intriguing, and on inspection this apartment block really blew me away. Architecturally charming, Saxonwold Manor comprises a series of double-storey villa-like blocks set in carefully ‘wild manicured’ English-style gardens, with meandering rose-scented pathways and hedges and green screens creating lovely outdoor spaces. Madri Calitz takes care of the apartment on behalf of the owner, making sure everything is shipshape and stocked with the usual basics as well as olive oil, balsamic vinegar, rusks and breakfast ingredients. Both bedrooms are en-suite (one king and one queen bed); the open-plan lounge/dining/kitchen area is dressed in contemporary, clean-lined furniture and opens onto a little balcony with garden views. The surrounding streets are busy (expect ambient noise during rush hour) so it’s not a pedestrian-friendly option, but there is an allocated parking bay in the basement for your car as well as outside under shade. The pool is a boon in summer.

Cost From R900 a night (sleeps four).

Contact 0748871173, airbnb.com

5. Best in Auckland Park

‘Arty Home’

Image: Jotham Van tonder

Not on Tripadvisor

Helen and Darryl Torr swap between their house and garden cottage, so staying here feels like borrowing the home of a friend, with a kitchen that’s not only well equipped but incredibly well stocked (including excellent coffee). It’s a characterful old house, with pressed ceilings, Oregon-pine floors, a fireplace. There’s Wi-Fi and a TV with Netflix in the lounge, but the kitchen is really the heart of the home, with a dining table on an oriental rug, garden views and a great hob. The stoep has another table for al-fresco dining alongside the braai; in the back garden is a shared pool. Guests can use the garage for parking. Note that the two bedrooms have queen-size beds. Helen and Darryl live on the property, so they’re on hand to assist with any queries and dining recommendations – you’re officially in Auckland Park but just a short stroll from Melville’s main drag.

Cost R1 300 a night (sleeps four).

Contact 0721583128, airbnb.com

Alternative Lisa Swart (see ‘Poolside Oasis’ below) has a second property in Melville – a two-bedroom semi-detached house, and at R730 a night it’s a bargain. Nobody lives on the property so it suits those wanting total privacy. Look for ‘The Great Little Melville House’ on airbnb.com.

6. Best in Melville

‘Poolside Oasis’

Image: Jotham Van tonder

Not on Tripadvisor

Going through yet another of its regeneration periods (hurrah!), trendy Melville has plentiful stock. If you’re looking for a dinky self-catering cottage, this aptly named spot is a special little place. Trained as a filmmaker, owner Lisa Swart spent some time in South America designing furniture and home accessories before returning to SA to become an interior designer. She has a great eye, and her little cottage is a class act; aside from the interiors, the garden is well kept, the pool is an added bonus, and you’re just a couple of blocks from Melville’s vibey 7th Street. The price is ridiculously good too. Small wonder guests have given her a great rating; as a result, she is very busy, so if you like the idea of Melville, book here – soon.

Cost Around R770 a night (sleeps two).

Contact 0729756022, airbnb.com

Alternative Motel Mi Pi Chi is a very cool Melville guest house that offers great value: from R515 per person sharing B&B or R575 per person for a self-catering unit. motelmipichi.co.za

7. Best in Emmarentia

‘Stunning Studio’

Image: Jotham Van tonder

Not on Tripadvisor

This is in a wonderful part of Emmarentia – less than 10 minutes to the Melville Koppies Reserve – and the streets are quiet and leafy. Behind the gate is a lush garden in which Sharleen Vinokur has artfully created three separate pathways to three cute studio cottages, each an oasis, each equipped for self-catering along with TV, Wi-Fi and outside seating. My favourite was the risibly named Stunning Studio (‘I must change the name,’ Sharleen laughs, unprompted) – this is the biggest of the three, with French doors opening onto the prettiest little garden, and exactly what you’d want to come home to (no doubt why it was booked for six months by one guest last year). Like everyone on these pages, Sharleen is a superhost – great with people and completely in love with her city, along with ‘dance and yoga, great food and good conversation’.

Cost ‘Stunning Studio’ is R600 per night (sleeps two); there is a minimum two-night stay. The other two are ‘Boutique Studio’ (R550) and ‘Stylish Studio’ (R500).

Contact 0824692761, airbnb.com

8. Best in Brixton


TripAdvisor No. 46 of 348 B&Bs/Inns

Perched right on the Brixton ridge, Zietzies has one of the best views in Joburg – all the way to the Magaliesberg – and is on the edge of a very authentic, mixed-income neighbourhood. There are just four beautiful, artsy rooms, of which ‘Kooier’ is the most popular, with a king-size bed and Victorian slipper bath in front of French doors that open onto a view of northern Joburg … très romantique. Actress Elzabé Zietsman is your host, and she’s a fabulous cook and conversationalist. The dining room, aptly named Glass Cage (pictured below) is not a restaurant but run as a private club to comply with local by-laws, and likely to host travelling academics, filmmakers and artists. ‘Membership’ is R50, donated to assist talented kids in the arts. There’s no menu as Elzabé prefers to cook with whatever’s fresh and available on the day. If you want to self- cater, or prefer more space, she owns a two-bedroom cottage and three studio apartments just down the road. It’s also walking distance to Brixton’s hip Breezeblock Cafe.

Cost From R610 per person sharing B&B.  Apartments R600 (sleep two), cottage from R750 (sleeps five).

Contact 0827744902, zietsies.co.za

Alternative Roving Bantu, Brixton’s fantastic ‘kultural’ eatery run by wonderful couple Sifiso Ntuli and Ashley Heron, has a garden studio that costs a crazy R280 per night (sleeps two). rovingbantu.co.za


Don’t Miss This

• The City Sightseeing Red Bus – it stops at the top 20 attractions on two loops, including Constitution Hill, the Apartheid Museum and Gold Reef City.

• The city’s green belts: Botanical Gardens, Zoo Lake, Melville Koppies.

• The streets where everyone goes for drinks and dinner (in Melville, Maboneng, Newtown, Braamfontein, Greenside, Parkhurst, Rosebank…)

• A Joburg Places or Past Experiences tour (including an inner-city pub-crawl option) or MainStreetWalks (including city cycling). 

• Locally made tipple at Time Anchor distillery, Mad Giant and Smack! Republic breweries, plus vino at Gerakaris Family Wines (in Craighall Park, 0726387636).

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