Braamfontein: Places and spaces
Located just to the north of Joburg's city centre is Braamfontein. If the city centre is the driven, business-orientated elder brother in a sharp Ozwald Boateng suit, then Braamfontein is the cheekier, funkier sibling: a Millennial sporting Converse sneakers, with a serious sense of fun and the attitude of a young Steve Jobs, ready to take on the world.
History tells us that Braamfontein was part of the enormous Witwatersrand farm in the early days and was declared a 'township' in the 1880s. It was in the 1950s that business began to boom in Braamfontein, but in later years the area became derelict as large companies moved away (towards areas like Sandton and Rosebank); corporate headquarters fell into disrepair on unkempt streets that had long lost their charm.
These days Braamfontein has shaken off this shoddy persona, and is currently a space of reinvention and transformation. 'Braamies' is definitely on the up, with lots of fun and funky places to hang out. It's an area that keeps on changing, with more and more investment flowing in in the form of retail stores and entertainment ventures.
Braamfontein is home to the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and has a thriving student population, with students not only from South Africa, but from all over the continent. There is also a bold plan by Professor Barry Dwolatzky, of the Wits Joburg Centre of Software Engineering, to create an IT hub in Braamfontein (the Silicon Valley of Johannesburg). This hub consists of five buildings owned by Wits that are currently being transformed into what is known as the Tshimologong Precinct. One of these buildings is an old nightclub (known as the iClub), which is popular for pop-up events – from training workshops to hackathons to 24-hour music events.
A number of businesses have chosen to base their headquarters in Braamfontein, including the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship, Sweden's Design of Europe (DOE) flagship store, ThoughtWorks, the L'Oreal Institute Salon, and many others.
Night or day, Braamfontein has its own unique buzz, and if you're looking for fun spaces and places to hang out, here are a few options to consider:
Arts and culture
It’s always a good idea to check out what's going on at the Wits Art Museum. The museum is one of the city’s finest and there’s a great coffee shop on site too (great snacks, even better coffee). Braamfontein also boasts some fantastic public art, with dowdy alleyways being transformed into makeshift art galleries.
To get some insight into South Africa’s turbulent past, the Constitution Hill precinct is a must-see on any visit to Braamfontein. The complex consists of different aspects, including the Constitutional Court, the Old Fort, the Women’s Gaol and the notorious Number 4 prison (there is said to be a resident ghost that haunts these prison walls) – both Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi spent time there.
You can step way, way back into the past at the Origins Centre, which is part of Wits and is a museum that highlights the beginnings of humankind through various exhibits – many of them interactive. Learn more about San culture and rituals, and view the incredible collection of rock art. The gift and curio shop is definitely worth a visit.
Cafes and coffee
Daleah’s Eatery in De Beers Street is a chilled space for a quick bite – this café is quirky and relaxed with great food and fine coffee (the courtyard out in the back is a great place to hang out, and the burgers are known to be pretty fine as well). Love Food kitchen and café is another cute spot, known for its buffet table – as well as homemade ice cream.
For a spot of fun and food, visit Wyckedd (in Juta Street), or for a meal on the run, try Vuyo’s restaurant – something of an institution in Braamfontein. The boerewors (farmers' sausage) rolls are legendary, and you can even get some good old potjiekos (stew made in a cast-iron pot) on the go. Vuyo's is situated close to the University Campus on the corner of Stiemens and Bertha streets. Entrepreneur Miles Kubheka now also runs Vuyo's mobile food trucks.
Market like no other ...
The Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein is more of a social event, a place to hang than just a spot to buy delicious goods. It offers everything from organic juices and plates filled with hot Thai curries to fresh breads, mussels on ice, craft beer and sparkling wines from the Cape. So grab a plate of whatever you fancy, a luscious latte or wheatgrass and carrot juice with splash of lime, and enjoy the vibes from the rooftop garden overlooking the city. Saturday mornings don’t get better than this.
Kitchener’s Carvery Bar used to be an old hotel, but now it’s a pub that changes into a club at night. Anti Est is excellent for cocktails, beers and great music, while Randlords is one of Joburg’s favourite venues with a view.
The Orbit jazz club and bistro has become a firm favourite for music lovers visiting Johannesburg. Grab bistro meals downstairs and enjoy a great musical line-up on the weekends. The Great Dane Bar is an option for partying into the wee hours.
Oh, and when all is said and done, taking a drive over the Nelson Mandela bridge – which connects Braamfontein and Newton – is pretty impressive...