Johannesburg, better known as Jozi or Joburg, is best showcased by the vibrant city centre at its heart. The area that residents refer to as “Town” is set apart by the combined bustling of hawkers, cross-continental traders, and white-collar office workers alike.
Between busy public transportation routes and the overall air of Afropolitan excellence, Town has something for everyone. This diverse and energetic part of the city is a prime showcase of the literary and artistic wonders that Joburg has to offer.
Visitors have access to an abundance of booksellers and other vendors, historical landmarks, and sights to see. Moving through this hotpot of cultural development can be daunting for newcomers – having the navigation know-how is important.
City Sightseeing – tourist bus
These iconic bright red open-top buses travel throughout the city, making stops along over 20 of Joburg’s top attractions including – but certainly not limited to – the Joburg city centre, Carlton Centre and the Apartheid Museum. From Constitution Hill, riders can take the Green Route to Rosebank or The Johannesburg Red City Tour through Town. These buses stop in Newtown and Braamfontein and offer 1-day tickets. The first bus leaves from Constitution Hill at 9am and the last bus leaves just after 4pm. Buses leave every 30 minutes. Tickets range from R30 – R85 depending on the tour. Kids under 5 ride free.
The Gautrain (pronounced how-train) is a rapid rail train service that links Joburg, Pretoria and O.R Tambo International Airport via two train lines and connected bus routes. To use the Gautrain, passengers must first purchase and load a Gautrain card with the minimum value of R32 or alternatively, passengers may use a contactless bank card to board Gautrain trains, buses, or parking. Gautrain Park Station opens at 5:14am and closes at 9:33pm. Each Gautrain station is linked to a bus network (although the buses do not run on weekends and holidays), with buses coming and going every 20 minutes. The first bus at Gautrain Park Station leaves at 6:16am and the last bus leaves at 8:26pm. Commuters can catch the J-2 CBD bus to explore the Literary District, with stops at FNB/Bank City (J2-1) and The Library Gardens (J2-2).
View schedules and routes here.
The Rea Vaya bus network operates multiple stops, on multiple routes, within the LitDistrict. We suggest riding to the Library Gardens Eastbound or Westbound stops. The Rea Vaya operates from 5am to 9pm on weekdays and 5am to 6pm on weekends. To travel into the Literary District, commuters can use the T1, T2 or T3 bus.
The Library Gardens Westbound station drops you directly at
- Bridge Books
- Rand Club
- Johannesburg Culinary School
The Library Gardens Eastbound station drops you at the Old City Hall, across from Library Gardens.
View schedules and routes here.
Meter taxi cabs are not to be confused with South African ‘taxis’, the ubiquitous commuter minibuses. While our taxis are the popular choice for locals, we don’t recommend them to visitors. There are no mapped routes, no schedules, and hailing one involves an intricate system of hand signals. For your daily movements, we recommend meter cabs or rideshare services. Ubers are available in the city centre, but riders should be aware of competitive pricing as well as the potential of having their pick up point be redirected to avoid turf battles between mini-bus taxis and Ubers.
Joburg’s Literary History
During the gold rush that was the start of Johannesburg, the area that is now Library Gardens and Beyers Naudé Square was known as Market Square. It was a muddy field where people came to buy and sell their wares. As the city grew, new office blocks, shops and government buildings rose up around it.
Joburg’s First Booksellers
Books arrived in Joburg almost immediately after the city was founded. The first Johannesburg business directory was published in 1890, and listed 11 booksellers. One of them was the Central News Agency. The company that evolved into CNA started trading from a metal shanty at the corner of Commissioner and Rissik streets — a style not so different from the modern booksellers working in the LitDistrict.
Joburg's First City Library
The first City Library was founded in 1890 as a subscription library, meaning white men could pay to join it. Though it’s unclear how many women were allowed to use the early libraries, they were certainly very male-dominated spaces.
The free public lending library – closer to the modern system – began in 1924 and the current home of the City Library was opened in the 1930s. Early correspondence in library records shows that the desire for access to the library extended across racial lines, but the solution at the time was not to integrate. Eight libraries were built in black townships by 1960. Pressure mounted for access to the main library, and in 1974 Johannesburg libraries opened to all races. However, the library’s budget was slashed by half in 1978, preventing librarians from adequately serving their new readers.
Joburg's First Library for Black Readers
Black readers didn’t wait for permission to have a library. The Bantu Men’s Social Centre created a library for black readers in 1924 – the first known library for people of colour in the city. It was located at the start of Rissik Street, a few blocks south of the LitDistrict.
The centre was a major cultural hub, located next door to Dorkay House, where Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela recorded albums. The ANC Youth League was founded at the centre. Banned plays were performed inside, and sporting events were held as well. The centre was closed when the Group Areas Act was imposed.