It’s official, the rest of the world finally woke up to what Durbanites knew all along – Durban is cool. The New York Times featured Durban as 7th on its 52 places to go to back in 2015. A little bit Rio, a little bit Miami, eThekwini (in Zulu) is in a class of her own. Durban is South Africa’s third largest city and one of its leading vacation destinations, with many top attractions. It’s also a haven for surfers. Long beaches lapped by the warm Indian Ocean, a mild subtropical climate, and excellent infrastructure lure tourists by the millions. Located in the KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) province, this vibrant city can be reached by air within an hour from Johannesburg and two hours from Cape Town.
Mahatma Gandhi, who went to South Africa as a lawyer, developed his political views alongside Dr. John Dube, the first president of ANC (African National Congress) in Inanda Valley, 20 minutes north of Durban. It was here that Nelson Mandela cast his first vote in a democratic South Africa in 1994.
Experience Durban’s rich multi-cultural heritage in the Zulu and Indian markets and culturally significant attractions, walk the beautifully manicured parks along the water and taste delicious Indian-influenced cuisine. For more ideas on the best places to visit, see our list of the top-rated attractions in Durban.
A trip to Durban wouldn’t be complete without trying out the hot dishes that form part of the city’s famed reputation! One of the most unconventional treats you must taste is a spicy pineapple from the Spice Emporium. Besides the mix of sweet and hot, you’ll also find a huge stock of spices at the emporium.
The Golden Mile
A good starting point for a walking tour of Durban is the “Golden Mile.” This bustling beachfront promenade is lined with high-rise hotels, entertainment complexes, shops, and restaurants. The broad, golden beaches are a magnet for water sports enthusiasts who come here to surf, swim, fish, or just bask in the sunshine. Lifeguards and shark nets protect most of the beaches year-round.
Along the busy oceanfront path, pedestrians jostle with joggers, cyclists, Segways, and skateboarders, making the area feel a little like California.
WavePark at Gateway
The WavePark at Gateway flaunts some great waves. Tear things up on the Flow rider or for something a little tamer have a go on the Supertube rides (perfect for keeping the kids busy in the school holidays).
Durban Botanic Gardens
The Durban Botanic Gardens is the oldest surviving botanic garden in Africa. Set on the slopes of Berea Hill, northwest of the city center, the gardens were established in 1849 for the trial of agricultural crops. Today, visitors can stroll among the indigenous and exotic subtropical plantings, including majestic heritage trees, some of which are more than one hundred years old.
The main plant collections include cycads, orchids, bromeliads, and palms, and visitors can also experience the Garden of the Senses. In addition to the rich plant biodiversity, at least fifty different species of birds are permanent residents of the gardens.
uShaka Marine World
uShaka Marine World, one of the main attractions on Durban’s Golden Mile, is a water-themed wonderland packed with attractions. Sea World, set on replicas of four shipwrecks, features the largest aquarium in the southern hemisphere, where visitors can get up close to marine life through underground viewing galleries.
Other attractions here include a Dolphin Stadium, Seal Stadium, and Penguin Rookery. Wet ‘n’ Wild is an extravaganza of splash pools, slides, and super tubes, while uShaka Kids’ World is a paradise for two- to 12-year-olds. Little ones will love the playgrounds, treasure caves, and creative activities here. After a fun day enjoying all the sea-themed attractions, visitors can stroll among the outdoor shops and restaurants at Village Walk.
Moses Mabhida Stadium
Built for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the enormous stadium has many adrenaline-inducing activities on offer. The Sky Car, a single cabin that runs up steel tracks on the northern arch of the stadium and is designed to roll down the arch under its own gravity (in case of load shedding), has a 106-meter vantage point. Then there’s a Big Sky Walk along the arch of the stadium (don’t look down!) or a beach glide on a segway for those seeking a more serene adventure.
The Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Temple (Hare Krishna Temple)
The Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Temple is the largest Hare Krishna temple in Africa. Surrounded by a beautiful lotus-shaped garden, the temple is an impressive confection of gold-tinged domes, gilded statues, chandeliers, marble tiles, and ceiling frescoes.
Besides admiring the lavish architecture, a highlight of a visit here is enjoying a meal at the vegetarian restaurant, Govinda’s. Hungry tourists can feast on a vast array of inexpensive Indian vegan dishes and fresh-squeezed fruit juices. The restaurant also provides food for the poor and destitute of the city.
Mitchell Park Zoo
Much beloved by Durban parents, the Mitchell Park Zoo is where kids can explore the grounds that used to be an ostrich farm but now houses crocodiles, buck, meerkats, cranes, flamingoes, wallabies, monkeys and tortoises. There’s also the Blue Zoo tea garden for coffee and cake.
The Rivertown Beerhall is an eThekwini Municipality initiative that started with the activation and naming of the area during the UIA 2014 Durban Architecture Congress. It was built in 1914 and opened again from 3rd August to 10th August 2014, 100 years on. Grab a beer and enjoy live music in this historical space. They aren’t open every day so visit their Facebook page to check ahead of time.
Valley of 1000 Hills & Phe-Zulu
Inland from the popular resort area of Umhlanga Rocks lies the Valley of 1,000 Hills, a beautiful region of gently rounded hills sprinkled with scenic viewpoints, Zulu homesteads, and gorges. The hills rise up along the banks of the Umgeni River as it flows into the Indian Ocean from the distant Drakensberg mountains. The old road between Durban and Pietermaritzburg runs along the southern edge of the valley, an area with magnificent views.
After passing Hillcrest and Botha’s Hill, it comes to Phe-Zulu, a typical Zulu village where visitors can see traditional dance performances and witness the rituals of witch doctors.
PheZulu Safari Park has an abundance of animals that can be spotted and a Crocodile and Snake park where visitors can go on a tour by knowledgeable guides.
Umhlanga Rocks (pronounced Umshlanga), 16 kilometers north of Durban, is a popular, upscale resort town. Long golden beaches, interrupted by rocky coast, stretch for 200 kilometers north of Durban to the beautiful Isimangaliso Wetland Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, containing eight interlinking ecosystems; three major lake systems; and Africa’s largest estuarine system, Lake St. Lucia.
In Umhlanga Rocks, water sports enthusiasts will find plenty of things to do. Surfing, deep-sea fishing, whale watching, dolphin viewing, scuba diving, and kiteboarding are some of the aquatic pursuits on offer.
Shopping is also a favorite pastime. The Gateway Theatre of Shopping here is one of the largest in the southern hemisphere. Other attractions in the region include championship golf courses, the KZN Sharks Board, nature reserves, and museums, including the former dwelling of Mahatma Gandhi.
Tour of Warwick Junction
Take a guided tour through the nine markets in central Durban to get a feel for the pulse of the city. The Markets of Warwick Tour takes you through Victoria Street Market, the Impepho and Lime Market, Brook Street Market, Bead Market, Herb Market, Music Bridge Market, Berea Street Market, the Bovine Head Market, and the Early Morning or ‘Mother’ Market, which hosts over 640 stalls with vendors selling fresh produce, flowers, spices, and live poultry. In the Bovine Market, cow heads are collected by trolley operators from local butcheries. The cooked meat is then presented on wooden chopping boards with condiments for customers to eat.