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.
Just one hour by plane 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); then I went again in November 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 – quite the 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 Durban to your itinerary. And if you are not sure where to start exploring, worry not! This post highlights all the best places to visit in Durban.
The Best 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 (3.7 miles) – from Blue Lagoon at the north all the way to Addington Beach and Durban Harbor.
This is definitely one of the best places to visit in Durban, taking its name from the golden sand beaches that run at the edge of the business district.
The 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.
The Golden Mile is the best place to observe people surfing (and kite-boarding too!) . This probably is the safest surfing spot in South Africa, as there are shark nets and lifeguards year-round.
The Golden Mile is also home to uShaka Marine World and Moses Mabhida Stadium (more about them below); and Mini Town, a miniature version of Durban. It’s also where you’ll find the Suncoast Casino and Entertainment World, home to 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 some I recommend:
Top 10 city sights private tour – a tour of the main Durban attractions.
Half-day city tour: Golden Mile and Botanical Garden – this is one of the best reviewed tours in the city.
Pay a visit to uShaka Sea World
uShaka Sea World is one of the most popular attractions in town. This is 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 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.
I am not a fan of seeing animals in captivity, but this aquarium strives to promote a more sustainable approach to the marine environment.
If you fancy a bite while visiting uShaka Marine World you can go to 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
Located on the Golden Mile, the Moses Mabhida Stadium hosted eight FIFA World Cup Games back in 2010. From the arch – where you can either get via the Sky Car or climbing 500 steps – you can enjoy a swiping 360-degree view of the city.
If you are in search of a bit of adrenaline, you can 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 most fun activities.
Alternatively, simply opt to lay in the sun or walk along the promenade, where you will surely find a place to grab a bite.
You should also read my post The Best Beaches In South Africa.
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.
Additionally, 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.
Half-day city tour: Golden Mile and Botanical Garden – one of the best rated tours of Durban.
Wander around Mitchell Park and Jameson 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 people with limited mobility.
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 banks 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 best places to visit in Durban. You will spot lories, aras, cockatoos and more.
Visit the Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Temple
The Sri Sri Radha Radhanath Temple is the largest Hare Krishna temple in Africa. With impressive architecture – golden domes, statues, marble tiles, frescoes and more – and a lotus-shape garden around it, this is a truly impressive site.
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
Durban has large Indian community and lots of Indian heritage. 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.
It goes without saying that one of the best things to do in Durban is exploring its Indian Quarter.
This 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. While there, make sure to also try the tasty street food!
A guided walking tour may be a good idea to explore the areas of Dr Yusuf Dadoo (Grey) and Bertha Mkhize Street (Victoria). Once again, I recommend this top 10 city sights private tour.
Have a proper Bunny Chow
If you are in search of local flavors, try a Bunny Chow. A staple street food for students and a must-have when you are hangover (or so they say), this dish consists in a hollowed-out half a loaf of bread filled with curry.
I honestly have my doubts that such rich food is a cure for a hangover, but I still recommend trying it!
Bunny Chow is easily found anywhere in Durban. In general, your best bet for a good Bunny (as locals call it), is the area around Florida Road. One of the best restaurants that serves it is Canecutters.
Walk along Florida Road
Florida Road stretches from Sandile Thusi Road to Innes Road. It is lined with beautiful Edwardian style buildings, cafés and nice 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 and talents, the African Art Center is a non-profit organization that since 1984 provides an impressive exhibition space for the artists and a place to shop for unique souvenirs.
The center was actually first established in 1959 as part of the South African Institute of Race Relations, and used to be directed by the late Jo Thorpe, who strived to empower young artists from around KwaZulu-Natal.
The African Art Center is located in The Phansi Museum at 500 Esther Roberts Road, Glenwood.
And KwaMuhle Museum
The KwaMuhle Museum celebrates the life and efforts of those South Africans who fought to end apartheid, and it is a great place to learn more about the history of Durban up to the present-day. You will find it in the building where the Native Affairs Department (famous for enforcing the apartheid legislation) used to be.
The exhibit includes photographs, video testimonials, documents and more that will take you through the various phases of black migration, the apartheid years, the energy efficiency efforts of the Cato Manor township and more.
In the courtyard there’s 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.
It is also where Dr. John Dube, president of the ANC (African National Congress) was born in 1871 and where he opened the Ohlange Institute – the place where Nelson Mandela cast his vote during the country’s first democratic elections, in 1994.
Following the Inanda Heritage Trail you’ll get to visit important historical sites. It’s where you’ll see 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.
Another place is the 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. I recommend the top 10 city sights private tour, which goes around Durban, including Inanda.
Spend a day at Umhlanga Rocks
Last time I visited Durban I stayed in Umhlanga, a resort town about 16 km (10 miles) north of Durban. Umhlanga is 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 sunset, 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.
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.
You can book your boat tour in Durban here.
Explore the Valley of 1000 Hills and Phe-Zulu
The Valley of 1000 Hills is an area of unspoiled nature and breathtaking views not far from Umhlanga Rocks and on the way to Pietermaritzburg.
The area is literally made of 1000 hills that 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.
The best way to visit is actually on a guided tour, where a knowledgeable local guide will share insightful information about what you are seeing and experiencing. Here are some tours I recommend:
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 landscape.
Learn about the Battle of Isandlwana
The 1870s in South Africa were sadly a time of war. One of the bloodiest ones was the Anglo-Zulu War, of which battles were fought in the fields not far from Durban.
One particularly bloody battle occured in Isandlwana, where an army of 24,000 Zulu impis actually defeated the British troops, managing to get hold of the British firepower and killing an entire regiment in less than an hour.
Another battle is that of Rorke’s Drift, where a small army of British soldiers fought against an army of 4,000 Zulu impis.
Visiting the field of the battle between the British and the Zulus is definitely one of the most interesting things to do in Durban. It’s a great way to get a more in depth knowledge of the events, and to see and experience a different part of the city, and of the country as a whole.
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, about 3.5 hours drive north of Durban. If you don’t have the time to go all the way there but still want to experience the African Bush, you can go to Tala Game Reserve, just an hour’s drive.
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 have the option of going on a guided bush-walk or 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, consider 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 52,000 people.
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
- The Best Things To Do In Johannesburg
- 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 Airbnbs In Cape Town
- What To Wear In South Africa