24 Hours in Maboneng, Johannesburg

Published on: August 11th, 2017

Last modified: January 21st, 2022

Jozi’s hippest neighbourhood, Maboneng – a Sotho word meaning ‘place of light’ – is often compared to London’s Shoreditch or New York’s Brooklyn – but there’s something much cooler about this small section of inner city Joburg. Maybe it’s that it’s still a very small area, that it hasn’t hit full-blown gentrification yet, or simply that African hipster swag is more appealing than a guy with a handle-bar moustache riding a penny farthing. Either way, Maboneng is an essential stop for food, art and design lovers in Johannesburg. Here’s a quick guide to our favourite spots for 24 hours in Maboneng.

Maboneng, Johenessburg’s coolest neighbourhood.

Eat Your Heart Out

One of the things that you’ll notice about Maboneng is how international the culinary options are. One example is Eat Your Heart Out, which is on Fox Street. This little corner café serves delicious Israeli food. Stop for a breakfast of shakshuka (a Middle Eastern dish of poached eggs in a tomato and pepper sauce), latka (potato rosti served with a variety of toppings from cinnamon and sugar to smoked salmon and cottage cheese) or a bagel.

Shakshuka at Eat Your Heart Out.

Museum of African Design

The Museum of African Design (MOAD) is the first place in Africa solely dedicated to displaying African design. Founded by Aaron Kohn, a Columbia University graduate with a background in working with African designers, the museum’s board includes the former GM of Cape Town’s Ellerman House, a fashion brand founder, marketeers, an interior designer, a novelist and academics from several design-led spheres. MOAD was opened in 2013 as a self-styled ‘cultural hub’ and holds regular exhibitions and events.

A piece by Arlene Wandera, inside the Hazard Gallery.

Firebird Coffee Roaster

Opposite MOAD, this little coffee shop is in a pretty courtyard off Albrecht and is the perfect place to admire the Jan van Riebeeck (the founder of Cape Town) mural. Firebird is a Durban export and their new store sits next to the Cosmopolitan Hotel and the Hazard Gallery.

The setting of Firebird Coffee.

Arts on Main

Market on Main is a huge warehouse space, originally built in 1911, on Fox Street, which was redeveloped in 2011 into a thriving art, design and food market, thus marking the beginning of Maboneng’s transformation. Every Sunday morning (if you have a choice, make sure you’re in Maboneng on a Sunday), the food market opens downstairs, offering an array of stalls selling Thai, sushi, paella, Mexican, gelato, coffee, cocktails, cakes and lots more. Aim for between 11am and midday, as that’s when the vendors will all have their dishes prepared and ready to serve.

Market on Main
The food court at Market on Main.

Upstairs you’ll find clothing, leather goods, jewellery and accessories. A standout store is iwasshot in Joburg. This project was set up eight years ago in 2009. Street kids from a local shelter were given disposable cameras, taught how to use them and encouraged to go out and shoot their city. The resulting photos are now sold on canvases, notebooks, postcards and so forth, the profits supporting the former street kids.

iwasshot in Joburg.
iwasshot in Joburg.

Street Art

Street art abounds and in vast proportions. Book yourself a street art tour to learn about all the vibrant pieces sprayed onto the buildings of the inner city. One mural you’ll surely spot at a distance is the Shadow Boxer. This 40-metre-tall piece depicts Nelson Mandela boxing and was created by one of South Africa’s most famous street artists, Freddy Sam (whose real name is Ricky Lee Gordon), shortly after Mandela’s death.

‘Shadow Boxer’ by Freddy Sam.
‘The Break’ by Sonny.

Soul Souvlaki

Another of Maboneng’s international offerings, Soul Souvlaki operates out of a container on the corner of Fox and Albrecht. From the ‘rooftop’, you can enjoy the sunshine with a cold Mozambican 2M beer and the amazing lamb souvlaki whilst watching the comings and goings along the street below. Other Greek dishes include grilled halloumi, bifteki (similar to meatballs or burgers) and meze platters.

Soul Souvlaki.
2M beer
Mozambican beer, in a Greek restaurant, in South Africa.

Right next door is the Cocobel store – selling ice cream, coffee, beers, cocktails and boerie rolls – which is housed in a container on the back of an old, rust-ridden Chevy truck.


The Living Room

One of Maboneng’s most popular institutions, the Living Room is located on a Kruger Street rooftop. The name might suggest a lounge, but it is more literal than that, with plants lining the edges of the bar, creating leafy walls and a secret garden vibe. Sunday is when this place kicks off, with Friday and Saturday serving as more of a warm-up. Sip a jam-jar cocktail and snack on one of their platters or tapas-style dishes whilst taking in the city views. There’s a DJ playing anything from drum and bass to classic tunes.

Living Room, Maboneng
The Living Room, pre-party time.
Living Room, Maboneng
The Johannesburg city view from the Living Room.

All photos: Heather Richardson/Jacada Travel.