Johannesburg has long sat in the shadow of its sister city, Cape Town, whose breathtaking topography of mountains and beach, not to mention worldly restaurants and hotels, has earned it much deserved adulation. But Joburg is starting to show signs that it deserves a fresh look from South Africa–bound travelers. Ground zero for the city’s ongoing transformation is the regenerated downtown Maboneng Precinct, an inner-city swath that became a wasteland of shuttered factories and boarded-up buildings in the aftermath of apartheid. The arrival of the collective Arts on Main, in 2009, spearheaded an urban renewal movement, led by artists and entrepreneurs, that has turned unsightly facades into canvases for colorful street art and derelict heritage buildings into community hubs for culture and design. Here, a lay of the land.
Situated inside a defunct Victorian structure, The Cosmopolitan is an upmarket retail development that completely changed the makeup of the neighborhood when it opened, in 2015. A sculpture garden and foliage-filled courtyard mark the entrance to a collection of local purveyors such as the small-batch coffee brewer Firebird; Department Store, a concept shop with rotating curators; and the new location of Hazard Gallery, which showcases contemporary art in a lofty space. The standout, though, is Yswara, an all-pink, Moroccan-style tearoom that stocks an extensive selection of gourmet African blends. Designed by Mia Widlake of South African firm Studio 19, patrons order pots of oolong and honeybush from velvet couches adorned in geometric shadows cast by patterned wood window screens.