5 Reasons Johannesburg is Just Like Brooklyn

April 30, 2015

When I first started telling folks I was heading to Johannesburg,  you would have thought I said I was headed to war.

“Girl, be careful out there!”
“I hear it’s dangerous. Don’t go out at night!”
“It’s sorta hood. Kinda like Brooklyn.”

What? Have you been to Brooklyn lately? I mean sure, if you wander onto the wrong block wearing a fanny pack and looking like a lost puppy, then yes, you may be a target for a less-than-friendly welcome to the Big Apple. But right up the street there’s a nice organic gluten-free coffee shop that can probably give you directions back to your Red Bus to Manhattan.

The dichotomy between 90s hip-hop Brooklyn and vegan yoga Brooklyn is what I’ve grown to love about this place. And the same intersection of gritty street culture and gentrification is what made Johannesburg feel so wonderfully familiar when I visited for the first time last month. I spent most of my time in the neighborhoods of Maboneng, Braamfontein, and Soweto, and on multiple occasions felt like I was right at home in my own backyard. Here are a few awesome reasons why these 2 cities are both places I could call home forever:


Neighbourgoods Market in Johannesburg I Photo by @omartakespictures via

Neighbourgoods Market in Johannesburg I Photo by @omartakespictures via

30 seconds into my visit at the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein and I was in foodie heaven! It’s just like Smorgasburg in Williamsburg with more selections and a full bar with craft cocktails. I stared at a massive vat of Paella so long that the cook probably thought I was gonna dive into it, and their grass-fed biltong is so flavorful it makes you forget you’re walking around with a paper bag full of meat shavings.

The vibe is very similar to any market in Brooklyn, with some coming to actually eat or shop, and others simply there to people-watch in their fedora hats and fancy sneakers. Do yourself a favor and come hungry. Your belly will thank you and you’ll come away with a deeper appreciation for the diversity of this underrated city.



Within 3 blocks of my Airbnb apartment in Maboneng I found enough artwork on the streets to curate a gallery at Target First Saturday in Brooklyn. Everything from photorealistic portraits to statement typography can be found on the streets of Johannesburg, with a cultural pride that was extremely refreshing. While some pieces have obviously been commissioned by local artists, many of the coolest pieces are found in guerilla style installations in obscure locations around the city.


Fixin Diaries #BrunchAndRide in Soweto I Photo by Sleepless in Soweto

Fixin Diaries #BrunchAndRide in Soweto I Photo by Sleepless in Soweto

You’re not really a Brooklyn hipster unless you spend weekends navigating the rugged streets of Fort Greene on your vintage bicycle and end with unlimited mimosas at brunch. My first day in Jozi I noticed a bike rental place near my apartment, but without knowing my way around, wrote it off as a great way to end up on the news in a foreign country.

Lo and behold I returned to Brooklyn only to discover Fixin’ Diaries, a hip bike crew who had just launched #BrunchAndRide trips for ladies! There’s also Soweto Bicycle Tours that offer daily rides for visitors to the township. If you have a free day in Johannesburg (or Brooklyn for that matter), take to the streets on a bicycle to get up close and personal with the culture that makes these cities so great.


Stitch & Steel Boutique in Maboneng, Johannesburg

Stitch & Steel Boutique in Maboneng, Johannesburg

My first afternoon in Maboneng I felt like I had walked onto the set of a Solange video! The ladies rocked afros and cool natural styles, and wore the same African-print pieces that have become so popular here in recent years. They were only outdone by the gentlemen, who sported colorful slacks and crisp blazers with vintage accessories to top it all off.

With both cities attracting so many budding artists and designers, Street Style has replaced Fashion Week as the place to find the hottest trends that real people actually wear. No matter how peculiar your style choice may be, you’ll be right at home at these hotbeds of cultural rebellion, where different is the new black.



You know it’s officially Summer in Flatbush when the Caribbean jerk stands pop up on sidewalks around town. There’s always some guy on the sidewalk roasting in the sun, inhaling clouds of smoke and scotch bonnet pepper until the meat is grilled to perfection.

In Johannesburg these outdoor grills are called Braii stands, and that same dude dying of smoke inhalation is still there, tending to the meat until it’s just right. While the seasonings and side dishes are different, the men gathered around the grill waiting for fresh braii to hit their takeout boxes was a familiar scene that made the streets of Johannesburg feel even more like home.


While the urban renaissance taking place in both Johannesburg and Brooklyn comes with growing pains, the kindred energy in these cities was a welcome reminder that communities around the world are often more similar than we realize. Whether you’re visiting from Brooklyn or elsewhere in the country, don’t be deterred by the negative press surrounding the city. Like most gems, you have to dig through a little dirt to get to the best treasures, but it’s always worth it!

Have you visited Jozi in recent years? What was your experience? Headed there this year and need more tips? Leave a comment below! 

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  • Reply Crystal Irby May 1, 2015 at 2:51 pm

    This is so on point. I went to Joburg while I lived in LA and it felt like LA, not Hollywood, but LA. When I showed my friends pics from my trip, they would tease me and say I went to Leimert Park. I could live in Joburg. LOVED IT!!!

  • Reply Angie May 5, 2015 at 3:29 pm

    So nice to read a refreshing and positive story about my city! Thank you. PS: it’s a braai.

    • Reply Tracey May 5, 2015 at 5:26 pm

      Aww thank you! I love it there! And thanks for the correction!

    • Reply Derick May 6, 2015 at 9:49 pm

      That translates to “roast”

  • Reply Reggie May 5, 2015 at 7:51 pm

    Lovely article, spot on, next time you here do the clubs in both upmarket sandton,Rosebank (Kong,Harem) and do the ones in downtown (Jozi city) great vibe no pretentious people as the upmarket ones

    • Reply Tracey May 6, 2015 at 12:13 am

      Thanks Reggie! I actually stayed in Sandton for 1 night in Melrose Arch and we hit a few spots out there. Also went to Kitcheners in Braamfontein, and heard about tons of other places after I left lol. Next time!

  • Reply Soraya May 7, 2015 at 8:57 am

    Wow this is great. What a wonderful feeling to hear positive things about Jozi. Thank you . I love Johannesburg.

  • Reply najma May 8, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    What about gentrification, globalization, and forced evictions….? There is some serious suffering behind places like Maboneng, Braamfontein, etc.

    • Reply Tracey May 8, 2015 at 1:55 pm

      Very good point Najma, and yet another reason Johannesburg is like Brooklyn. We have had much of the same thing going on over here for the past decade. Much of the areas in Brooklyn I referenced above went through the same thing, with longtime residents being displaced further away from most jobs in the city to make room for the gentrified crew looking for affordable yet “cool” options. I focused more on the positive here, but we share some of the same suffering you mentioned.

      • Reply Gugu Makhanya August 9, 2015 at 6:46 am

        Wow nice article, so refreshing to read about something positive and nice about our lovely country. Indeed when you are in Maboneng or Braamfontein you do feel like you are in another part of the world. I haven’t explore Brooklyn that much I shall do so on my next visit. Next time do Cape Town & Durban another awesome experience you won’t regret.

  • Reply “Joburg is more Brooklyn than Brooklyn.” – 2 Summers September 19, 2015 at 6:44 pm

    […] although I’ve been to New York City many times, I’ve never been to Brooklyn. But Bob is not the first person to draw this comparison. I take it as a […]

  • Reply Lebelo Makoko September 23, 2015 at 9:55 pm

    I’ve never been to Brooklyn and neither have my friends but whenever we meet at Braamfontein we often joke around and say we in Brooklyn and refer to the Mandela as The Brooklyn Bridge. The vibe is great and peps are inspired by the Hipsters fashion. Glad you enjoyed the City and the Street art next time try eating our delicious Cow head, I promise you you will love it.

  • Reply Gorjusdoc February 18, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    Recently traveled to Jozi for my capstone project for school and did not get to explore the way you did so I’m jealous! We had be warned by everyone that it was “dangerous” and we should be “careful” which lead us to holding ourselves hostage in our hotel lol. We did do one of hose city sightseeing tours on the red bus lol which gave us a nice surface look at Jozi but I plan to go back when I get some money and do all the stuff you suggest.

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