A cheapskate's guide to Joburg - one of SA's most expensive cities

2015-08-09 21:15
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Cape Town - Everybody loves a bargain, admit it.

So while Johannesburg is often touted as one of South Africa’s more expensive cities, the folks over at Cheap Flights have decided it's time for holiday travellers who enjoy freebies, and are always on the hunt for a good deal, to come clean.

Cheapskates unite!

Cheapflights.co.za Travel Expert, Oonagh Shiel says: "Whether you're a foodie, a culture vulture or a museum maven with a little thought and a bit of planning, you can get much more for your rand in Johannesburg."

Johannesburg for cheapskates guide highlights the free and cheap venues and activities available in what's often described as one of South Africa's more expensive cities.

“Johannesburg’s markets (food and otherwise), cutting-edge art galleries and cheap-or-free museums are packed to the rafters with value - and our expert travel blogger has selected the best of the best tips for cheapskates.

"Travel needn’t break the bank. Budget for your stay, look out for free and cheap activities and before you know it you’ll be saving for your next trip.

Check out These top tips for doing Johannesburg on the cheap.


It is estimated that Johannesburg is home to more than six million trees, making it one of the greenest cities around. Take advantage of Joburg’s green spaces and sunny weather ?- the sun shines for around 3,200 hours each year, averaging more than 8.5 hours of sunshine every day. We love Emmarentia Dam or Walter Sisulu Botanical Gardens for a picnic. Take a hike at the Klipriviersberg Nature Reserve or cycle one of the many mountain bike trails on the outskirts of the city.

Food and markets

One needn’t spend a fortune on fine dining. Johannesburg’s food market culture is booming. Head to one of the many foodie markets –Neighbourgoods in Braamfontein, Arts on Main in Maboeneng, or The Sheds@1Fox for delicious artisanal food. For even better bargains, head to Fordsburg or Cyrildene for authentic Indian and Chinese fare. Fordsburg hosts informal Saturday night street markets where you can grab spicy street-food straight form the Tandoor oven.

Art Joburg

Joburg is definitely Africa’s art capital, most of the galleries are free, and if you hit up some of the gallery openings that happen on Thursdays, you can even score some free wine and snacks.

Some of our favourite galleries are, Everard ReadCirca GalleryGoethe-InstitutMzansi GalleryWits Art Museum, the Johannesburg Art Gallery and Kalashnikovv Gallery. One may not be able to afford the art, but looking is free. Some of South Africa’s best known artists are based in Joburg drawing on the cities vibrant African, cosmopolitan and youth culture.

If public art and graffiti is your thing, then your eyes are in for a feast, while your wallet can rest. The inner-city hoods of Maboneng, Newtown and Braamfontein boast a smorgasbord of public art and graffiti. If you want more context, take one of the excellent public art and graffiti tours by Past Experiences (also a bargain!).

A photo posted by Jackie Scala (@jackiescala) on


Visiting museums in South Africa is much cheaper than in Europe. Johannesburg has a wealth of heritage and some excellent museums, most of which won’t break the bank. The Apartheid Museum is a must-visit for any tourist and local in the city. At R70 entrance, it’s a bargain. Museum Africa in Newtown, is a little dated but it’s free and their temporary exhibits are pretty awesome.

The Workers Museum, also free and in Newtown, is an under-appreciated gem of a museum telling the migrant history of the city. Sophiatown’s Culture and Heritage Centre hosts a fantastic collection of photographs and archives and their heritage walking tours are only R120 a pop. For more on South Africa’s apartheid history we highly recommend visiting Constitution Hill and Liliesleaf Farm (under R100 for guided tours).

Soweto is a must visit, not only for its heritage value, but for its dynamic kasi culture and street style. A walk down Vilakazi Street, past the former home of two Nobel Prize winners, Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu, won’t cost you a cent, just take some tips for the local street performers. The walk is flanked by information plaques and souvenir stalls. On weekends, enjoy local jazz bands performing for free at one of Vilakazi street’s many restaurants. For insight into the Soweto student riots, visit the excellent Hector Pieterson Museum (R30 admission).

Shopping on the cheap

Forget Sandton, your rands won’t go too far here. For bargains, head to the Fashion District in inner city Joburg (if you love African textiles, you’ll be in heaven) or the Rosebank Craft Market for your souvenirs. For edgy street-style, Arts on Main and Neighbourgood’s markets also have some great local design stalls both inside and outside the markets. Don’t forget to check out the Saturday vintage market at Kitchener’s. 

Entertainment – comedy, music, half-price pizza and happy hours

Night-owls will have a hoot in Joburg’s bar and pub scene. Forget the fancy-schmancy expensive clubs, bars are where the cheapskates party. Rockabillies should head to the old-school cool Hell’s Kitchen in Melville. For student fun, Kitcheners and Great Dane in Braamfontein or The Bohemian in Westdene throw up a heady taste of local DJs, live music and cheap drinks. Be prepared to pay entrance fees on weekends, usually in the range of R30 – R50.

Happy hour hotspots to get more bang for your cocktail buck include Melville’s Rats Bar and Six Cocktail BarThe Office in Greenside and the inspired Lenin’s Bar in Maboneng with its R28 cocktails from 5- 7 pm. Also check out The Jolly Roger, Parkhurst’s infamous drinking hole stalwart. Save moola with their half-price pizza evenings on Wednesdays and Sundays. For more Tuesday cheap pizza action and the oldest pub in town, visit The Radium Beer Halls. We love their down-to-earth décor, Portuguese chicken and cheap booze.   For laughs, there are a host of comedy shows throughout the week, hosted by famous comedians – MishMash in Greenside (Tuesdays, R30), Kitcheners (R30, usually Tuesdays) and Maboneng’s Pop Art (Sundays, R50).  

Cheap sleeps

Being frugal with accommodation doesn’t mean you have to slum it. It just leaves us more money for having fun! Curiocity Backpackers in Maboneng is a trendy new hostel in the heart of Jozi’s hippest rooms. Curiocity has funky double rooms, and even a Jacuzzi! We’re also fans of Soweto Backpackers in Orlando West. We love their kasi style vibe, outdoor restaurant, and rooftop chill areas. Explore the history of Soweto with one of their famous bike tours. If hostels are not your thing, check into the Bannister Hotel, a no-frills budget heart hotel in the heart of Braamfontein’s party district. Warning, it may be a little loud on weekend nights, but who cares if you’re going to be partying in their vibey bar.

Cheap Resources

With the latest event listings Johannesburg in Your Pocket guide is your best resource. And it’s a free download!

Join Joburg Free to 50 Facebook group for the best things to do in Joburg for under R50.

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