There are more things to do in Durban than you’d imagine. The capital of the KwaZulu-Natal province is the third largest city in the country and one of the most thriving and popular tourist destinations in South Africa.
It is an incredibly multicultural place, with a mixed population of Zulus (which obviously are the majority population); Indians (who arrived in 1860 to work on the sugar plantations and currently make Durban the city with the largest Indian population in the country); British descendants – the British traders settled in the area in 1823; and Boers, who are direct descendants of the Dutch.
At just one hour flight from Johannesburg, and two from Cape Town, Durban is great place to visit year round thanks to the fantastic weather. I once visited in August, at the peak of winter, and wore at most a light jacket in the evening (and enjoyed swimming in the Indian Ocean); whereas I went in November last time I was in the country and enjoyed hot days perfect to bum out at the beach.
Another reason to visit Durban is its incredibly laid back attitude. One of the fondest memories I have from my first time there was observing businessmen getting changed to their wetsuits behind their pick-up trucks, getting their boards out and rushing to catch the wave – it was their way of having lunch break. This gives you an idea of how easy-going the city is.
So, if you are planning a trip to South Africa, make sure to add it to your itinerary. And if you are not sure where to start exploring, worry not! This post highlights all the best things to do in Durban, and the unmissable places to visit in Durban.
In a rush? Consider joining one of these guided tours of Durban – they will certainly help you make the most of the city!
- Durban inner city walking tour – this guided tour will take you to the top attractions in Durban, such as Victoria Street Market and neighborhood gems like Juma Masjid Mosque.
- Sightseeing tour of Durban – a well reviewed tour that also goes to the Botanical Gardens and to the KwaMuhle Apartheid Museum.
- Top 10 city sights private tour – a great guided tour that takes you the most famous places to visit in Durban.
- Half-day city tour: Golden Mile and Botanical Garden – your English speaking tour guide will take you to two of the most famous sites in town. It’s one of the top rated tours.
- Durban in a day – if you have limited time in the city, this is your best option. It also goes to the Valley of 1000 Hills.
- Culture walking tour of Durban – a 4 hours tour that takes you the highlights of the city, including the Golden Mile.
20 Not To Miss Things To Do In Durban
Walk along the Golden Mile
The best place to start exploring Durban is the Golden Mile, a series of beaches that stretches for 6 km – from Blue Lagoon at the north all the way to Addington Beach and Durban Harbor. This is definitely one of the top places to visit in Durban. As the name well gives in, this takes its name from the golden sand beaches that run at the edge of the business district.
This paved promenade is the perfect place to go for a walk, a run or even biking, skateboarding or – for even more fun – a segway tour. The beach is a massive playground where you can apply your creative flair to build sand castles.
Want more? One of the most fun things to do in Durban is certainly stopping to observe people surfing (and kite-boarding too!) and the Golden Mile will provide plenty of opportunities to do that. This probably is the safest surfing spot in South Africa, as there are shark nets and lifeguards year-round.
GOOD TO KNOW: The Golden Mile is home to uShaka Marine World and Moses Mabhida Stadium (more about them below); and Mini Town, which as the name suggests is a miniature version of Durban. It’s also where you’ll find the Suncoast Casino and Entertainment World, where you’ll find a casino, cinemas, restaurants, a beach bar, a semi-private beach and more.
Consider joining a guided walking or biking tour to make the most of this part of town. Here are a few good ones:
- Top 10 city sights private tour – a tour of the main Durban attractions.
- Half-day city tour: Golden Mile and Botanical Garden – one of the most popular tours.
- Culture walking tour of Durban – an in depth visit of the city that also goes to the Golden Mile.
Pay a visit to uShaka Sea World
By all means, one of the best things to do in Durban is visiting uShaka Sea World, one of the largest aquariums in the world and the main attraction inside uShaka Marine World, where you will also find the Wet and Wild Water Park and the Village Walk Shopping Center. The highlight of the visit – and one of the reason this is one of the best places to visit in Durban – is the Ocean Walk experience, during which you get to walk across the bottom of the Open Ocean Exhibit to observe all sorts of marine life, including tons of sardines and rays.
GOOD TO KNOW: I am not a fan of seeing animals in captivity, but this aquarium strives to promote a more sustainable approach to the marine environment.
Located inside the uShaka Marine World is The Cargo Hold, one of the most popular restaurants in town – you will be dining underwater!
This 10 city sights private tour also goes to the uShaka Marine World.
Admire Moses Mabhida Stadium
Fans of football will have to agree – visiting Moses Mabhida Stadium is one of the top things to do in Durban. Located on the Golden Mile, it hosted eight FIFA World Cup Games back in 2010. From the arch – where you can either get via the Sky Car of via the 500 steps – you can enjoy a swiping 360-degree view of the city.
If you are in search of a bit of adrenaline, make sure to go for a ride on the 220-meter Big Rush Big Swing – the world’s tallest rope swing.
Learn how to surf at Dairy Beach
This is one of Durban’s best known beaches, and one of South Africa’s best known places to surf. If you enjoy surfing, this certainly is one of the best things to do in Durban. Alternatively, simply opt to lay in the sun or walk along the promenade, where you will surely find a place to grab a bite.
Visit Durban Botanic Gardens
Durban Botanic Gardens are located on the slopes of Berea Hill, north of the center of town, and are the oldest in Africa, having being founded in 1849. There, you will find an impressive collection of living fossil plants – pre-dinosaur cycads that are known to have existed for more than 250 million years and that are at risk of extinction. The Wood’s Cycads – named after the botanist John Medley Wood who, in 1895, found a cycad plant in the forest of Zululand – are reason enough to visit. You will also see orchids, palms and bromeliads and enjoy the Garden of Senses.
GOOD TO KNOW: There are more than 50 species of birds living in Durban Botanic Gardens.
The following guided tours will take you to the Botanic Gardens:
- Sightseeing tour of Durban – other than the Botanic Gardens, you will also be going to the KwaMuhle Apartheid Museum.
- Top 10 city sights private tour – great if you want to cover many places in one day.
- Half-day city tour: Golden Mile and Botanical Garden – one of the best tours of the city.
Wander around Mitchell Park and Jameson Park
Other than visiting the Botanic Gardens, one of the things to do in Durban for plant lovers is visiting Mitchell Park. Located in Morningside, this is one of the oldest city parks and a great place for children, who can enjoy the playground. There is a nice café and trails that are suitable for disabled. The nearby Jameson Park is one of the most famous attractions in Durban thanks its more than 200 species of roses.
Go to Umgeni River Bird Park
Bird-watching junkies will want to head to the Umgeni River Bird Park, located in the Riverside district, on the north bank of the Umgeni River. With more than 200 species of birds – both indigenous and from Southeast Asia and Australia, this definitely counts as one of the places to visit in Durban. You will spot lories, aras, cockatoos and more.
Visit the Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Temple
One of the most unique things to do in Durban is visiting the Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Temple, which is the largest Hare Krishna temple in Africa. With impressive architecture – thing golden domes, statues, marble tiles, frescoes and more – and a lotus-shape garden around it, this is a truly impressive site.
GOOD TO KNOW: The on-site restaurant, Govinda, is a great place to gorge on Indian staples. It’s suitable for vegetarian and vegans.
Explore the Indian Quarter
As I have previously said, this is one of South Africa’s most multicultural cities, with a large Indian community. There were two main waves of arrivals from India. The first started in 1860, when Indians arrived as servants of the British rulers. The second wave started in 1880. With such an interesting heritage, there is no doubt that exploring the Indian Quarter is one of the things to do in Durban.
The Indian Quarter comprises Victoria Street Market (the Vic) – where you can look for spices, incense, handmade jewelry, embroidered fabrics and more – and Juma Masjid Mosque, the largest in the southern hemisphere. Needless to say, street food in this part of town is truly tasty.
TIP: A guided walking tour may be a great way to explore the areas of Dr Yusuf Dadoo (Grey) and Bertha Mkhize Street (Victoria). These are some good options:
- Durban inner city walking tour – it will take you to Victoria Street Market and Juma Masjid Mosque.
- Top 10 city sights private tour – a tour of all the most famous places to visit in Durban.
Have a proper Bunny Chow
If you are in search of local flavors, one of the unmissable things to do in Durban is trying a Bunny Chow. A staple street food for students and a must-have when hangover, this dish consists in a hollowed-out half a loaf of bread filled with curry. It will burn your lips, but it is oh so tasty.
GOOD TO KNOW: Bunny Chow is easily found anywhere in Durban. One of the best restaurants that serves it is Cane Cutters. In general, your best bet for a good Bunny (as locals call it), is the area around Florida Road. You can also consider going on this guided food tour.
Walk along Florida Road
One of the nicest places to visit in Durban is Florida Road, which stretches from Sandile Thusi Road to Innes Road. It is lined with beautiful Edwardian style buildings, cafés and mice restaurants, lovely shops, art galleries – among them, the African Art Center, Elizabeth Gordon Gallery, and the Artisan Contemporary Gallery – and more.
Visit the African Art Center
Meant as a place for unemployed artists to work and improve their skills, the African Art Center is one of the coolest places to visit in Durban if you like eclectic art.
And KwaMuhle Museum
Visiting this museum is a must-do. The museum, which celebrates the life and efforts of those South Africans who fought to end apartheid., is located in the building where the Native Affairs Department (famous for enforcing the apartheid legislation) used to be. KwaMuhle Museum is a great place to learn more about the history of Durban up to the present-day. Browse the exhibit (which includes photographs, video testimonials, documents and more) to find out about the black migration, the apartheid years, the energy efficiency efforts of the Cato Manor township and more.
Make sure to pop into the courtyard, where you will find a sculpture by local artist Ledelle Moe named The Shadows of the Past.
Visit Inanda Township and follow the Inanda Heritage Trail
Inanda is a township located about 20 minutes drive northwest of Durban, and which played a key role in South Africa’s history. This is the place where Mahatma Gandhi, who was visiting as a lawyer back in 1904, developed his passive-resistance philosophy. This is also where Dr. John Dube, president of the ANC (African National Congress) was born in 1871 and here he opened the Ohlange Institute – the place where Nelson Mandela cast his vote during the country’s first democratic elections, in 1994.
With this in mind, it goes without saying that you should consider going along the Inanda Heritage Trail, where you’ll get to visit important historical sites. Highlights include Gandhi’s Phoenix Settlement, where he used to live and where his printing press, which he used to propagate his message against racism, is still found; and Inanda Seminary, one of the country’s oldest schools for girls, which was founded in 1869 by American missionaries.
Consider joining a guided tour for a more in-depth experience. These are some good options:
- Inanda Heritage Trail tour, with Cato Manor – a very good tour that takes you to all the most important sites.
- Top 10 city sights private tour – this tour goes to all the most popular places to visit in Durban, including Inanda.
Spend a day at Umhlanga Rocks
Last time I visited Durban I stayed in Umhlanga, a resort town about 16 km north of Durban blessed with beautiful golden beaches perfect for surfing and kiteboarding, deep-sea fishing and scuba-diving. It’s also a popular place for dolphin and whale-watching tours (it’s home of the KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board, of which I will talk more below). You will also find a massive shopping mall (the Gateway Theatre of Shopping) and golf courses.
One of the nicest sights in the area is the lighthouse, which you can spot on a walk along the beach (I recommend going at sunrise to catch a bit of local action, as that’s when locals go for runs and walks along the promenade).
Make sure to also go to the rooftop bar of the Oyster Box hotel: sunset views from there are stunning, and cocktails delicious. The signature one is the Umhlanga Schling, prepared with cane sugar and cane spirit.
Care for more sunset views? Check out this boat tour!
Learn about sharks on KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board boat tour
Thanks to safety nets and anchored drum lines shark attacks in KwaZulu Natal are rare. The KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board has the primary role of safeguarding the coast and of making sure that the impact of the safety measures on the environment is minimal; but it also runs boat tours that aim at informing visitors about shark behavior and biology. During the tour you also get to see dolphins, turtles and rays – it’s definitely one of the things to do in Durban.
Explore the Valley of 1000 Hills and Phe-Zulu
Among the nicest things to do in Durban, there’s exploring the Valley of 1000 Hills, an area of unspoilt nature and breathtaking views not far from Umhlanga Rocks and on the way to Pietermaritxburg. There, literally 1000 hills sit one next to the other along the Umgeni River – which starts in the Drakensberg Mountains and goes all the way to the Indian Ocean. It’s the kind of place where you can enjoy a hike, ride a horse or simply relax.
Make sure to also visit Phe-Zulu, a traditional Zulu village located after Hillcrest and Botha’s Hill and which is known for the rituals that are still performed by witch doctors.
Should you want to join a guided tour, here are some good options:
- Phe-Zulu cultural village tour – a good guided tour great to learn more about Zulu culture. You even get to taste Zulu beer.
- Valley of 1000 Hills tour – a great tour thanks to which you can appreciate the incredible local lanscape.
Learn about the Battle of Isandlwana
Among the most interesting places to visit in Durban there is the field of the battle between the British and the Zulus. It’s a great way to get a more in depth knowledge of the events. I recommend joining a guided tour, during which your English speaking tour guide – who is usually a trained historian – will also take you to Rorke’s Drift and the museum. You can book the tour here.
Go on a safari in Tala Game Reserve
My favorite place for safaris in KwaZulu Natal is Phinda Game Reserve, which is at about 3.5 hours drive north of Durban. If you don’t have the time to go all the way there but you still want to experience the African Bush, you can opt to go to Tala Game Reserve, which is at just an hour’s drive.
There you will be able to admire 380 species of bird (including the famous African fish eagle), big game which includes rhinos, hippos and giraffes, as well as bok, wildebeests and warthogs. You can opt to go on a guided bush-walk or opt for a game drive (self guided or with a ranger). Alternatively, you can go on this guided tour departing from Durban.
There even is a full day one that you can book here.
Attend a Sharks rugby match
Should you be there at the right time of year, one of the most fun things to do in Durban is attending a Sharks (KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union team) game. One of South Africa’s best teams, it plays at what is locally known as the Shark Tank, aka Mr. Price Kings Park, a massive stadium that holds up to 52000 people.
Further readings about South Africa
Make sure to check out my other posts about South Africa:
- 17 Absolutely Unmissable Things To Do In Cape Town
- Where To Stay In Cape Town: A First Timers’ Guide
- 10 Great Day Trips From Cape Town
- 3 Unmissable Things To Do In Johannesburg – On A 24 Hours Layover
- 20 Fabulous Places To Visit In South Africa
- 7 Amazing Estates To Do Wine Tasting In Stellenbosch
- 17 Cool Things To Do In Stellenbosch
- A Guide To The Things To Do In Knysna And On The Garden Route
- 6 Areas Where To Find Accommodation In Knysna
- The Best Beaches In South Africa
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