Johannesburg boasts a rich, if strangely schizophrenic, cultural life. Patrons of the arts can take in a performance of the National Symphony Orchestra and then retire to one of the city’s thriving jazz clubs to hear internationally acclaimed local performers, many of whom have returned to Johannesburg after long years in exile. The Johannesburg Art Gallery, established in the early years of the 20th century with donations from mining magnates, features Africa’s finest collection of European Impressionists, while most of the city’s dozen private galleries increasingly highlight the work of African artists. Theatre flourishes. While the 1,100-seat Civic Theatre stages European operas and American musicals, many smaller companies nurture the talents of local actors and playwrights, white and black. A visit to Johannesburg is incomplete without a trip to the world-renowned Market Theatre, a multitheatre complex housed in the city’s old produce market.
The city has many museums and libraries. Johannesburg Public Library, first established in 1889, is the centre of an extensive network of branch libraries. Local museums specialize in geology, Africana, military history, archaeology, transport, banking, costume, and Judaica. Visitors interested in a taste of old Johannesburg can visit Gold Reef City, an amusement park located a few miles south of the city on the site of a defunct gold mine. Those interested in a less-sanitized version of the city’s past can visit the nearby Apartheid Museum. Museum Africa and the Bensusan Museum of Photography are both at the old market.
Blessed as they are with a warm sunny climate, Johannesburgers spend a considerable amount of time outdoors. The northern suburbs feature broad swaths of open space for bird-watching and picnicking. Weekend cookouts—braaivleis, in local parlance—are a summertime ritual, especially among Afrikaners. Like other South Africans, Johannesburg residents tend to be avid sportsmen. In the years since South Africa’s return from political isolation, the city has hosted international competitions in rugby, football (soccer), cricket, golf, and tennis.