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OK, so Durban is hardly the most enticingly named city. Sounding like it could be an amalgamation of ‘dirty’ and ‘urban’, the name Durban actually derives from a former British governor. In any event, the ‘D’ could also stand for decorative, distinct, or perhaps deep – as most of Durban’s creative, bizarre, multicultural yet truly African charm lies below its humid and often dangerous surface.
But what’s in a name anyway? Durban’s entertainment strip The Golden Mile isn’t golden, yet it still captures the excitement of the city. The Esplanade is equally touristy, but it is still beautiful and houses many or Durban’s top tourist sites.
But while it has its good points, the beach-strip is largely generic. If you’ve seen one high-rise hotel overlooking a splash of sand, you’ve pretty much seen ’em all. And in Durban’s case, it’s the stereotypically touristy hotspots that attract the most crime (although sadly, nowhere is completely safe – especially after dark).
So head to the suburbs in search of the real Durban, where creativity and culture from around Africa and beyond hold sway. You’ll find it in the sights, sounds and smells of the bustling markets of the Indian Quarter, or at the top of swanky Brea’s vertigo-inducing heights, or in the traditional African music at Joe Kool’s Café.
This is the non-touristy Durban that is ironically giving Cape Town a run for its tourism-derived money. Talk about a double bluff.
Durban's Top 10
10. Battery Beach Less facilities but less crowds – try it and you’ll be glad you made the trade.
5. Victoria Street Market A whopping, bustling shopping experience in the hub of the Indian community. Valuables don’t have a place here – on the stalls or in your handbag.
9. Durban Art Gallery Primarily holds crafts and pottery, but you don’t have to be over 65 to enjoy it.
4. KwaZulu National Society of Arts Temporary exhibitions of modern art, and a permanent outdoor café under the shade of surrounding trees.
8. Natal Sharks Board View a shark dissection and surfboards missing huge, mouth-shaped chunks at one of the world’s top shark research institutions. Best saved for after you’ve been swimming.
3. Campbell Collections Durban’s sugar barons have the most elaborate homes. The most elaborate of them all also houses the Campbell Collections of archival resources.
7. Moses Mabhida Stadium The football World Cup might be over, but Durban’s stadium is now a tourist attraction in itself.
2. Umgeni River Bird Park Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best – like letting Wattled Cranes and Cape Vultures take off in unrestricted flight.
6. BAT Centre One of Durban’s more interesting art haunts, occasionally featuring jazz performances – pity you can’t wander down here at night.
1. uShaka Marine World Water slides, Sea World, shopping – this is the most entertaining attraction on a wide strip of quality entertainment attractions.
- City Hall – This houses a museum, art gallery and public library inside its colonial buildings.
- KwaMuhle Museum – A must-see for those who love South African history.
- Old Courthouse Museum – Great architecture, restored from 1880, offers insight into colonial life.
- Vasco de Gama Clock – Monument to the old explorer who first sighted Natal. Picturesque architecture.
- Sugar Terminal – Part of Maydon Wharf, the old building gives some historical insight into the old sugar trade in its heyday.
Durban Art & Culture
- Durban Art Gallery – Display of African art, pottery and other crafts.
- Campbell Collections – Huge collection of early African art, Zulu culture and crafts.
- Phansi Museum – Private exhibit of tribal South African artefacts, beadwork and sculpture.
- KwaZulu Natal Society of Arts – Exhibitions of modern African art. Shade trees and an outdoor café make it an enjoyable spot.
- Temple of Understanding – This is the largest Hare Krishna temple in the southern hemisphere.
- Gateway Theatre of Shopping – The largest mall in the southern hemisphere, with a wide variety of stores and a great range of kids’ entertainment, including a skateboard park.
- Victoria Street Market – Features mostly Asian souvenirs. Watch out for pickpockets and keep your belongings safe.
- Essenwood Craft Market – Best place for African souvenirs, such as soapstone sculptures, beadwork and wickerwork.
- Markets of Warwick – May be the largest casual street market in the country.
- African Arts Centre – Centre for African arts, both traditional and modern.
Gay & Lesbian Durban
- Durban View Guesthouse – Well-known, all-gay guesthouse located near the 2010 World Cup.
- Florida and Windermere Streets – Sporty part of the Golden Mile where gays and lesbians hang out.
- The Lounge – Durban’s most popular spot for gay nightlife.
- Uhmlanga – Best nude beach and gay cruise area.
- Spiga d’ Oro – Exclusive sidewalk dining and open-air restaurant for tourists and locals.
- Golden Mile – The stretch of beaches along the Indian Ocean known for great surfing, long beaches and occasional shark attacks.
- Crocodile Creek – Home to more than 7,000 Nile crocodiles. The park also has bush trails, river plains, waterfall and treetop walkways.
- KwaZulu National Park – More than 10 game reserves, wild animals and overnight hikes in mountainous terrain, plus cabins and lodges with terrific views.
- Ushaka Marine World – Enormous aquarium and waterworld with assorted rides for the kids and adults alike.
- Durban Botanical Gardens – Exotic plants and gardens. Catch a mix of cultural weddings on weekends for a great photo opportunity and beautiful views.
- Glenholme Nature Reserve – Special walkways and trails for the blind and handicapped add appeal to this place.
- Go swim and surf in the beaches along the Golden Mile.
- Go scuba diving and snorkelling in the Indian Ocean and explore offshore reefs and wrecks as well.
- Skydive at the Skydive Durban Club.
- Watch horseracing at the Greyville Race Course.
- Catch a round of golf at the Zimbali Golf Estate.
Durban LocalIndian Quarter
If exploring the city’s Indian Quarter is on your list (and it should be) and if safety is a top priority (which it also should be), it’s probably best to stick to the main tourist parts of this area. The best spots to find everything from clothes to curries are the narrow stall-lined walkways of the Madressa Arcade, stretching from the Juma Moschee up to the Catholic Emmanuel Cathedral, and the two-storey Victoria Street Market. For a slightly more spacious experience, book a guided tour of the Juma Masjid Moschee – the biggest mosque in the southern hemisphere, and definitely worth taking your shoes off for.
The Golden Mile
Whoever named this place must have been incredibly optimistic – or perhaps they had just had a few too many cocktails at Golden Mile’s Havana Grill and Winebar.This mile is more concrete than gold, but loyal Durbanites remain unfazed. Blue Lagoon is one of the more scenic areas, and home to the African Fish Eagle (yes, it actually exists).
For more strange birds, keep on going to the Umgeni River Bird Park, but make sure you account for spending some time with humans, too. The Golden Mile is Durban’s entertainment hub, boasting the Battery and North Beach, and the new Suncoast Casino & Entertainment World.
Durban’s answer to lily-white Cape Town’s De Waterkant, Morningside is a gentrified suburb popular for its Edwardian and Victorian architecture, including the State President’s residence, and the large sprawling scenery of Mitchell Park and Jameson Park. It’s also home to trendy and distinctly cosmopolitan streets like Florida Road, which should be at the top of your list if you associate ‘gentrification’ with ‘generic’. Spiga d’Oro’s Italian cuisine makes it one of the most pulsating places the city. Eat your heart out, Cape Town!
If the fact that Berea is built on the crest of a ridge rising up from the city centre isn’t enough to get you to come here – or if you’re afraid of heights – you’ll be missing out on some of Durban’s best attractions (and views). The architecture is one of Berea’s main draw cards, being an eclectic mix of Victorian, Edwardian, art deco and modern homes. Equally interesting structures can be found in the Botanic Gardens, which offer a herbarium, an orchid house, a garden for the blind and a charity tea garden. Mitchell Park is also worth a visit – for the tortoises, not the coffee.
The star attraction here is the uShaka Marine World, but don’t turn back after you’ve crossed that off your list. For a more culturally rewarding experience (not that waterslides and huge sharks aren’t compelling), the Small Craft Harbour hosts both the BAT Centre and the TransAfrica Express. The cold beers and sparkling ocean views of the latter are best enjoyed on weekends when they’re accompanied by live Afro-jazz. Another good reason to leave your inner child at uShaka is Wilson’s Wharf, Durban’s mini-waterfront complex lined with bars and restaurants overlooking the harbour.
Durban Eat & Drink
Durban may have been founded on sugar, but now it’s home to a whole world of culinary delights.
Blue Bottles Is it just us or does food always taste better when you’re sitting by a huge window watching dolphins play? Victoria Embankment
Sage at Christina’s Chic Sage serves breakfast, lunch and dinner five days a week. Actually, you could easily spend a whole day here… Westville
Jaipur Palace An upmarket Indian buffet in the heart of Durban. Perfect if you’re nursing intentions to branch out from butter chicken. Indian Quarter
Audacia Manor Hotel The food here is definitely worth forking out for. Heck, it’s worth booking a room for. Morningside
Bean Bag Bohemia Come for the cool vibe, stay for the food. And then stay even longer for the cocktails. Morningside
Butcher Boys If you love steak, head to Butcher Boys – unless you’re planning on ordering it medium-well. Morningside
The Cargo Hold Don’t be afraid to order seafood – the sharks swimming around the dining room are for entertainment purposes only. Victoria Embankment
Harvey’s Serves up some drool-inducing kudu, quail and ostrich, but won’t stiff less adventurous diners for sticking with French fries. Morningside
Charlie Crofts Dockside Diner Fresh fare, live entertainment, harbour views, and a free bottle of wine for every four diners – what more could you ask for? Victoria Embankment
9th Avenue Bistro You should never expect to find a quality restaurant inside a shopping centre. Unless you’re trying to find 9th Avenue Bistro. Morningside
If you thought a marathon would be easier in a canoe, think again – January marks Durban’s Dusi Canoe Marathon, which is 120km long.
Far less painful than it sounds, Durban’s Prickly Pear Festival in February celebrates traditional South African food and drink.
February to August sees some of the biggest names in world rugby play in Durban. Head to Kings Park Stadium to see the Natal Sharks (or even, if you’re lucky, South Africa’s national team, the Springboks) take on the best from New Zealand and Australia.
Farms aren’t just for ho-downs in Durban – in April they’re also for Splashy Fen, South Africa’s longest running and most renowned annual music festival.
To some it’s cute; to others it’s creepy. Either way, in April, Baba Indaba is South Africa’s top baby show.
May marks Durban’s Comrades Marathon. Well, the end of it anyway – at approximately 90km long, it can’t even fit inside one city.
One of nature’s most amazing migrations, the Sardine Run, takes place in Durban during June or July, when some 20,000 dolphins, birds and sharks migrate 20-30km.
Tens of thousands descend on Greyville Racecourse for The Durban July. Some of them even watch the races.
From July to August, the Durban International Film Festival proves South Africa has more than just District 9 to offer the film world.
August’s Good Food and Wine Show always lives up to expectation, showcasing culinary and alcoholic Durban delights.
As if Durban’s Botanic Gardens weren’t pretty enough already, Carols by Candlelight in December shows them in a whole new light.
When To Go
Durban has a mild subtropical climate, with temperatures hovering between 11 and 28°C (52-82°F) for the year.
The rainy season is from October through to March, though even during these months temperatures remain high enough to enjoy Durban’s beaches.
June is the driest month, with an average rainfall of just 28mm.
What To Miss
Avoid Durban Station. Train stations generally aren’t the best places to loiter, even in the world’s safest cities.
The CBD doesn’t actually have a lot to offer. Once you’ve done the waterfront, move on.
Authentic South African fare is highly underrated – more touristy restaurants, unfortunately, are not.
The best way to get around Durban is by car (just remember to hire a GPS with the car – and always drive with your doors locked).
Buses are generally unreliable, though the public transport system has seen a slight improvement since the World Cup.
Taxis are your best bet after dark. Just try not to be too conspicuous when you pull out your mobile to call one.
When the 2010 FIFA World Cup kicks off in South Africa and millions upon millions of people see the beauty of Durban, look out. Already a popular tourist destination, the city of 3.5 million people is bound to accumulate major benefits from the international football tournament, which will take place for the first time in Africa from June 11 to July 11. If you are headed for the 'World Game' be sure to stay close to the action and check out one of these hotels near Durban Stadium.
With a mild subtropical climate and location on the Indian Ocean coast, Durban has built-in allure. The city is a major water sports hub and hosts the Ocean Action festival every year. The Golden Mile is a first-rate strip of coastline near downtown Durban that offers a slew of entertainment and recreation options. Other attractions in this multi-cultural port city include uShaka Marine World, the shops, cafés and restaurants of Florida Road and scenic Berea district. Those who want to experience the atmosphere of the World Cup should head to Moses Mabhida Stadium.
Attractions & Activities
- The Golden Mile
- uShaka Marine World
- Florida Road
- The Berea
- Moses Mabhida Stadium
- Water Sports
- Durban International Film Festival
- Poetry Africa
- Victoria Street Market
Restaurants & Nightlife
- Havana Grill
- Olive & Oil
- Butchers Block
- Panama Room
- Billy the BUM's
- De La Sol
Durban has a mild subtropical climate, with temperatures that vary between 11°C to 28°C for the year and a rainy season from October to March.
Durban on Wikipedia
Durban official guide
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