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Top Things to Do in Durban

Looking for a summer getaway to a place with a unique culture and hip factor? Then you must check out the South African port-city, Durban. This vibrant city has great weather, plenty of tourist attractions and combines the best of Africa. Plan a standalone visit to this sun and sand destination. Make it your cruising port-of-call or a stopover en route to an Africa safari. Whatever your plans, you will not be disappointed, for Durban has something for everyone. From a family vacation to adventure sports or a romantic retreat, Durban can be tailored to meet all your holiday needs.

Cool and Cosmo

Known as the “Surf City of South Africa”, Durban certainly grows on you. Its promotional slogan says “Durban — the warmest place to be’, and this is true in every sense. The sea waters are warm, the people are friendly, and the city is high on fun quotient, making it the most sought-after African destination for millennials. Its thriving beer and spirits scene, unique foot-stomping gqom music and cuisine to-die-for, complements a laid-back beach and surf holiday in unimaginable ways.

Recognised as one of the New7WonderCities, Durban’s cutting-edge urban facilities and landscape, give it an international feel. The world-class entertainment and varied holiday options have made it a popular tourism destination.

The fascinating heritage of the local Zulus and diverse African ethnicities as well as Indians, makes Durban a truly cosmopolitan city. Is it any wonder that travellers are looking to visit Durban for a cool holiday adventure?

Street on the harbor front in Durban

When to go

Your summer is Durban’s winter; warm, dry and sunny. The sea water is warm, great for swimming and other water activities. What more could you ask for?  This makes the period between June and August the best time to visit. Durban is also a hub of festivals and activities during this period – International Film Festival, Disney on Ice, International Jazz Festival, Durban Fashion Week, Durban July Horse-Racing event and the Good Food and Wine Show.

What to see

Durban’s attractions are so many, that you will need to plan and prioritise. However, the following are must-visits on your Durban itinerary.

Golden Mile

When in Durban, this is the place to be seen and take selfies! In particular, you must have a snap with a Zulu rickshaw driver in your Durban album. This is the downtown waterfront area and promenade chock-a-block with hotels, bars, restaurants and casinos. Splash pools, fountains, waterslides, and merry-go-rounds, make it a go-to place for kids. Wide stretches of golden sands separated by artificial piers and shark nets provide excellent swimming and surfing.  From the popular Blue Lagoon fishing and picnic spot, to the Mini Town and Skate Park, there is plenty of entertainment on offer. The Surfing Museum, Suncoast Casino complex and uShaka Marine World Aquarium are other major attractions. Take a stroll, ride a bicycle or horse ride along the incredible Golden Mile.

Beach at the Golden Mile

Durban Botanical Gardens – One of the Africa’s few surviving botanical gardens, it is the site for indigenous collection of plants. It houses a herbarium, an orchid house, a one-of-its-kind Cycad collection, a garden for the blind and a charity tea garden.

Crocodile Creek – The location is coastal bush, overlooking the Utongati River flood plain; and home to over 10,000 Nile Crocodiles, Alligators, Caiman, snakes and other reptiles. Bush and hill trails, connected tree top walkways and view points, waterfalls and “croc themed” curio shops, make for a great interactive adventure.

KwaZulu Natal National Park – The Park is spread across a diverse topography – coral reefs of the Indian Ocean, wetlands, mountains and tropical savannahs. Its natural sanctuaries allow you to explore unique big-game wildlife areas, and spectacular landscapes. This is the best place to stay at one of the Park accommodations and enjoy the wilderness of Africa.

uShaka Marine World – A themed park with a Sea World and Dolphinarium, the uShaka Marine World offers the widest range of marine activities possible. With world class marine entertainment – a large aquarium, the Snorkel Lagoon, an Offshore Rocky Reefs Exhibit, Rocky Touch Pool and The Deep Zone – this is one of the most thrilling places at Durban. Other attractions are an interactive animal show, shark cage diving, a water park with slides and a reptile exhibit.

Eingang uShaka Marine World

Phansi Museum – This is a private museum that houses Southern African tribal artefacts, ranging from the beadwork of KwaZulu-Natal, to wooden carved statues, and fertility dolls. Make sure to book prior to visit. The encounter with all things traditional and tribal, will be worth it.

What to do

At Durban, you can take your pick; have a laidback holiday sunning on the beach or go for the many adventures on offer. Alternately, you can have your beach sunning and intersperse with occasional touristy attractions, night life and adventure activities.

Ethekwini Beach in Durban
Ethekwini Beach

Water based activities – In Durban, it is all about sun, sand and the sea. You can swim, sun, surf, canoe, snorkel, scuba dive, yacht or shark watch. Nowhere else will you find such a wide range of water-based activities!

Go scuba diving in the wrecks, caves and offshore reefs, at the Ushaka Marine World. Opt for yachting, luxury sailing, catamaran sailing, fishing or paddle boarding. Have marine adventures with sharks and other marine predators with premier expedition tours – swimming with the Blacktip sharks of Durban or tackling extreme marine events like the Sardine Run.

Skydive – Feeling brave? Hop on aboard a 25 minute plane ride from Durban Skydive Centre, for the most thrilling skydive.  With 35 seconds of freefalling and a 6 minute parachute ride, the tandem skydive experience will surely be one of your most unforgettable Durban adventures.

Hiking – Durban has plenty of opportunities for hiking. You can enjoy walks along its many beautiful beaches and promenade or opt for the well-marked hiking trails in the lush reserves and coastal bushes. There are plenty of hiking clubs and agencies offering you a range of hiking experiences, from short day hikes to multi-day backpacking hikes.

A Burman Bush Walking Trail

Night life – Durban is one of the few African cities with an impressive nightlife scene. You can party till dawn and watch the sun rise over the Indian Ocean.  From chill cocktail lounges and trendy nightclubs, to classy rooftop bars and roadside pubs, Durban has it all.Whether you’re looking to dance the night away or go clubbing, Durban does not disappoint. There are many bars, night clubs, dance clubs and jazz lounges to choose from.

Night out in Durban goes beyond music and beats. There are many theatre shows ranging from traditional Zulu shows to dinner theatres.

The SunCoast Casino and Entertainment World Complex

Wait, there’s more. Durban has a vibrant casino scene. There are two cutting-edge oceanfront casino complexes, the SunCoast and Sibaya, for state-of-the-art gaming and entertainment.

Horse riding and safaris – Beach horse riding is as popular as riding trails in the forest and along rivers. Horse safaris into the wetland and beaches offer sightings of hippos, crocodiles, whales and turtles; while inland trails get you up-close with zebras, impalas, and wildebeest. Whether you are a novice or an advanced rider, you can find the right horseback riding adventures to suit you.

Surfing – Durban is South Africa’s “Surf City”, with reason. It is where several International surfing events are held, like the World Surf League’s Corona Durban Surf Pro competition. The Durban surfing events calendar is packed through most of the year, making it one of the most sought-after surfing destinations in the world.

This is where you can have easy access to the waves. No paddling out if you don’t want to, just jump off a pier! What’s more, the waters are warm, there are no rocks in the vicinity and the sand base is soft. That’s why Durban is so popular with surfing beginners.

Favourable winds, waves of all shapes, high quality and consistent surfing spots make it a surfing hotspot for surfing pros from all over the world. You can also get trained to be a surfing expert or coach.

A man surfing in Durban
Surfing, at Durban

Golfing – The sunny climate and lush landscape have made Durban a golfer’s paradise. The city has eight golf courses that offer diverse landscapes, sea views to forests, with 18 and 19 holes courses.

Shopping – Durban offers you a rich shopping experience – street markets, boutiques, flea markets and sophisticated shopping malls. You can shop for local handicrafts, curios, spices, handmade jewellery and clothes. There is a mind-boggling range of crafts and takeaways.

Cuisine

Samoosas on a plate in a Durban restaurant

The vibrant energy of the city is reflected in its many restaurants, cafes and street hawker stall. They offer a wide range of coastal, international, Indian and African cuisine.

Durban’s Afro-Indian culture is reflected in the unmistakeably Indian nuance in the cuisine. So the most popular dishes are usually Indian curries and other foods. Typical Durban street food is the Bunny-Chow, and walkie-talkies (boiled chicken feet), must-haves at Durban. Other Afro-Indian fusion foods are the samoosa, Bombay crush and chakalaka. Much of Durban cuisine has also undergone a makeover, with traditional Indian ingredients replaced by locally sourced African ones. You will find such fusion foods almost everywhere across South Africa.

To sample traditional Zulu cuisine, you must specifically seek places that offer local Zulu fare. These include the Shisa Nyama (barbecued meat), mogodu (tripe), amadumbi (potatoes), and pap (maize porridge).