Weeknight Wonders: The Best First Thursdays Events in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban

What is it with South Africans and Thursday nights? Maybe it’s our work-hard-play-hard mentality, or maybe we just can’t stand waiting that extra day until the weekend arrives. Whatever it is, Thursdays have long been South Africa’s favourite weeknight to cut loose and hit the town. And maybe that explains why First Thursdays has taken off like a rocket in our main metros in recent years, too.

Started in London to make art galleries and museums more accessible to the public, First Thursdays has become a worldwide phenomenon, adding much-needed life to city areas that usually don’t see much foot traffic after dark. Galleries and pop-up exhibition spaces are encouraged to remain open until 9pm and offer free entrance on the first Thursday of every month, with neighbouring restaurants and retailers joining in to give revellers a chance to bounce from venue to venue and soak up the arts and culture their cities have to offer. Thanks to their popularity, First Thursdays now take place in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban every month. Here are some of the top spots not to be missed!

Cape Town

The bulk of the Mother City’s First Thursdays excitement can be found around the vicinity of Long, Loop, Strand, Bree and Church streets. Parking – already a bit of an issue in Cape Town, to say the least – can be hard to come by, so it’s a good idea to take an Uber, taxi or MyCiti bus and hop out in the City Bowl so you can stroll around worry-free (not to mention enjoy some of the city’s best cocktails while you do).

It’s always a good idea to check out each month’s map before deciding on your route, but certain galleries and restaurants are consistent crowd-pleasers. On the artsy side, be sure not to miss the AVA Gallery and its incredible collection of contemporary African art, or the world-renowned Gallery MOMO in the Bo-Kaap. And once you’re done getting your fill of artistic talent, it’s time to get your fill of delicious edibles as well.

First Thursdays just wouldn’t be complete without a great beer or two, and Beerhouse is one regular participant that’s got you covered with 99 bottled beers and 26 taps (‘nuff said). Tiger’s Milk is another favourite, offering a vintage environment and proper comfort food like awesome burgers, pizzas and mouth-watering ribs.

Johannesburg

Rosebank is the new hub of the First Thursdays scene in Johannesburg, with the Keyes Art Mile playing host to the coolest shops, galleries and restaurants of the moment. Food and drinks vendors also set up shop in the district, so there’s plenty for everybody in a family-friendly, market-like environment.

After the Art Mile, check out some of the other independent galleries just a couple of blocks down the road on Jan Smuts Avenue. The newly refurbished Park Corner development plays host to some of the city’s hippest restaurants (how about a combination bar-and-barber, or an Asian-style rock ‘n roll bar, for starters?). It’s also surrounded by galleries showing off some of South Africa’s top creative talent.

Still not ready to go home? It’s just a quick Uber trip up Jan Smuts to Braamfontein, where you’ll be free to mingle with Johannesburg’s night owls till the early hours in well-loved establishments like Kitchener’s Carvery Bar and Great Dane.

Durban

Yes, even laid-back Durban has got in on the First Thursdays action, and what better location to enjoy it than famous Florida Road? Park your car at the bottom and work your way up on foot like a true Durbanite. We recommend The Quarters Hotel and Elizabeth Gordon Gallery for a dose of awesome contemporary art, followed by some tantalising food and drinks at hotspots like Cityzen, Trade Mark Tattoo and Counter Culture.

Durban’s Station Drive precinct is another regular First Thursdays participant, and has recently experienced a great resurgence, now boasting eclectic shop, artisanal roasteries and a Sunday market. Check out their Facebook page to keep up with the latest attractions.