Top 10 Things to do in Durban if you love Exploring
Photograph by Ana Nance, Redux
1. Explore the Indian District Two waves of Indian emigration—one of indentured servants under British rule beginning in 1860 and the second by traders in the 1880s onward—helped make South Africa’s most multicultural city home to the highest concentration of Indians outside India.
Take a guided walking tour of the district around Dr Yusuf Dadoo (Grey) and Bertha Mkhize (Victoria) Streets to immerse your senses in the city’s Indian heritage and history. Tourism KwaZulu-Natal’s “Oriental Walk-About” includes stops at the Zulu Muti (traditional medicine) Market and the Victoria Street Market (the Vic), where dealers in traditional kurtas and saris hawk incense, ornately embroidered fabrics, and aromatic spices.
2. Voyage to the Bottom of uShaka Sea World One of the world’s largest aquariums, uShaka Sea World, is the centerpiece of the 40-acre uShaka Marine World, encompassing the Wet and Wild Water Park and the Village Walk Shopping Center.
The aquarium’s animal encounters promote sustainable use of the marine environment. Sign up for the Ocean Walker experience to don a tethered breathing helmet and walk slowly across the bottom of the Open Ocean Exhibit, home to rays and assorted pelagic fish that include tuna, dorado (mahi-mahi), and sardines. Or step into a clear, enclosed cylinder and drop into the large shark tank as part of the Shark Dive Experience. No diving experience required (ages 12 and up).
3. Stroll or Bike the Golden Mile Named for the golden sand beaches lining the coastal edge of the city’s central business district, the popular “Mile” actually extends about four miles from Blue Lagoon south to Addington Beach and Durban Harbor.
A wide, brick-paved promenade makes it easy to walk, jog, or bike the route, detouring out on the piers to watch surfers, kite boarders, and sand castle architects, or soak in the warm Indian Ocean breeze. Join eco-active outfitter Bike & Saddle for a guided morning cycle along the Mile. Fee includes bike and helmet rental, plus a breakfast pastry and coffee.
4. Learn About the “Durban System” at KwaMuhle Museum Housed in the former headquarters of the city’s Native Affairs Department (colonial-era architects of the “Durban System” racial segregation policies), the KwaMuhle Museum shares the story of Durban’s past and present.
Topics covered range from black migration and apartheid to ongoing “green street” (energy-saving retrofitting and indigenous tree planting) efforts in historic Cato Manor township. Photographs, government documents, videos, and personal testimonials illustrate how the Durban System provided the framework for the national apartheid policy. True to its name—isiZulu for “the place of the good one”—the museum celebrates the courage of the “ordinary” South Africans who challenged racist policies and won.
5. Walk Among “Living Fossils” at the Botanical Gardens Founded in 1849, Africa’s oldest surviving botanical gardens houses one of the world’s top collections of “living fossil” plants. These pre-dinosaur cycads (seed-producing plants extending back 250 million years) face possible extinction in the wild.
The Wood’s Cycad species is named for founding Durban Botanic Gardens curator and botanist John Medley Wood, who, in 1895, discovered a single, surviving cycad plant in a Zululand forest. Walking through the Gardens’s cycad forest is a bit like stepping onto the set of Jurassic Park. No dinosaurs here, but the pink-backed pelicans sitting in the trees do look eerily like pterodactyls.
6. Take a KwaZulu Natal Sharks Board Boat Tour Beaches along the KwaZulu Natal coastline are the only ones in South Africa protected by shark safety gear (including nets and anchored drum lines), making shark attacks here rare.
While the top priority of the KZN Sharks Board is protecting swimmers and surfers, the institute also works to educate the public about shark behavior and biology, as well as to reduce the environmental impact of safety measures (other marine life can get caught in the nets). Join a working Sharks Board crew on an early morning boat tour to see the safety system, learn about sharks, and likely encounter dolphins, turtles, and rays.
7. Bushwalk at Tala Game Reserve Tala Game Reserve brings the African bush within an hour’s drive of Durban. Home to 380 species of birds and big game—including rhinos, wildebeests, bok, warthogs, hippos, and giraffes—the sanctuary is spread over 7,400 acres of African bushveld.
Take a two-hour guided bushwalk, ride with a ranger on a two-hour game drive, or explore the park at your own pace on a self-drive safari. Book a night in one of the reserve’s luxury lodges or rustic rondavels (huts), and wake to the African fish eagle’s loud call—a distinctive, haunting sound known as “the voice of Africa.”
8. Catch a Sharks Rugby Match Professional rugby is a bruising blend of football, soccer, and small-scale sumo wrestling, and the KwaZulu-Natal Rugby Union team, The Sharks, consistently ranks as one of South Africa’s best.
The action on the field at Durban’s Mr. Price Kings Park (the “Shark Tank”) is fast and furious, and the spirited fun continues at celebratory after-parties on the outerfields. While the atmosphere in the 52,000-seat stadium is family friendly, it wouldn’t hurt to dress like a Sharks fan. Wear red and black, or pick up some team gear from the Shark Cage before the game.
9. Follow the Inanda Heritage Trail Key chapters on South Africa’s history were written in Inanda, a sprawling township northwest of Durban. Mahatma Gandhi nurtured his passive-resistance philosophy here as an Indian expat lawyer in 1904. John Dube, first president of the African National Congress, was born here in 1871 and opened the local Ohlange Institute where, in 1994, Nelson Mandela voted in South Africa’s first democratic elections.
The Inanda Heritage Trail encompasses key historic sites, including Gandhi’s Phoenix Settlement and the Inanda Seminary, one of South Africa’s oldest schools for girls, founded by American missionaries in 1869. Contact Tourism KZN to schedule a guided tour.
10. Hit the Beach Comfortable sea temperatures averaging 70°F year-round, a subtropical climate, and 300-plus days of sunshine make any day in Durban a potential beach day. Each stretch of golden sand has its own identity: South Coast for world-class surfing, Addington Beach for families, Bay of Plenty for beach volleyball tournaments.
The Golden Mile beaches closest to Durban’s city center are the most convenient. For more blanket room, head north to the Umhlanga Coast to swim and kite board at Umhlanga Rocks, or to hike the coastal forest boardwalk trail through Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve, home to vervet monkeys.