Surf’s up in South Africa’s city of coastal cool—springboard to mountain heights and safari sights in Durban.
Here’s an inside look at what to do, eat, and buy in South Africa’s third largest city:
> The Action Plan
Street Scene: For a pan-African spectacle, head to Warwick Junction, the hub of Durban’s historic market district. Take a walking tour with Markets of Warwick, see mountains of potatoes at the morning market, sample incendiary Indian spices at Victoria Street Market, and buy colorful Zulu crafts at the bead market.
Best Buzz: Up-with-the-sun Durbanites know their beans. The city is in the midst of a coffee revolution with roasters and baristas battling for cappuccino supremacy. Housed within the Colombo Coffee & Tea roastery, the Factory Café serves up flat whites with flair and espressos with edge. A spare breakfast-and-lunch menu lets the beans do the talking.
Night Bright: In the 1960s, jazz musicians like Duke Ellington and John Coltrane brought African sounds to American ears. The Chairman is a retro-chic jazz club with a twist; here, western jazz is reappropriated and remixed with township beats.
Sky High: A mere 500 steps separate you from Durban’s most spectacular view. Strap in for the Adventure Walk at Moses Mabhida Stadium, a muscular march up the 350-foot arch that spans the city’s World Cup soccer field. Two powerful spans merge to form the stadium’s arch, a symbol inspired by the South African flag.
Boardwalk Empire: Got kids? The Golden Mile is the place to go for bike rentals, beach bumming, and anachronistic kicks at Funworld Amusement Park. uShaka Marine World anchors one end of the promenade; it’s a fish tank of activity, including the Wet ‘n Wild slide park and Sea World, the largest aquarium in the southern hemisphere.
> Where (and What) to Eat
Bunny Chow, Durban dining reduced to two words. But this ubiquitous dish—a hollowed-out loaf of white bread filled with piquant mutton, prawn,é chicken, or veggie curry—is just one local flavor to savor in a city hungrily embracing craft cuisine and the farm-to-table mantra. Here’s a menu to dazzle your palette any time of day.
Sunrise: Hop in for a street art spectacle and an early morning cuppa at the collegial Corner Café diner with a menu of breakfast and lunchtime sweets and savories.
Breakfast: Relish a breezy brekkie of sweet potato rosti or a lusty lunch of prawn cakes in the garden of Freedom Café, crafted from colorful shipping containers.
Lunch: Locals say that Indian sugarcane workers invented bunny chow as an edible lunchbox. Try Durban’s iconic dish at the century-old Hotel Britannia.
Snack: Unity Brasserie‘s tasty menu—periperi chicken livers, curries, beef pies, and grilled lamb—is but a prelude to the bar’s craft ales and lagers, brewed right across the street.
Dinner: Market Restaurant‘s farm-to-table dishes—from butternut soufflé and apple-stuffed pork belly to grilled South African game—are served by candlelight in Durban’s dreamiest courtyard.
> What to Bring Home
It’s not just cultures that are collaborating in Durban. A push for accessible design, contemporary crafts, and home-grown fashions is behind an increasingly visible creative movement.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
What defines local style? “Durban has a very African soul,” says Sonia Vosloo, owner of Shoppe, which sells South African arts and homewares. “There’s no pretentiousness here—locals are down-to-earth, diverse, and supportive of one another’s efforts. We’ve almost created our own culture.”
Shoppe: Track down everything from ceramics to succulents at this colorful boutique specializing in home accessories, paintings, furnishings, and decorative objects made in South Africa.
African Art Centre: Telephone-wire baskets, Zulu beadwork and baskets, landscape paintings, wooden carvings, and modern jewelry star at this nonprofit gallery that provides employment and economic uplift for KwaZulu-Natal crafters.
The Space: Forget animal prints. Angles, edges, geometric patterns, colors, and fashionable looks with a beachy vibe are on offer at this shop, which features South African designers for men and women.
Savior Brand Co.: Hand-stitched leather goods—wallets, messenger bags, phone and iPad sleeves—are the stock-in-trade of this hip Durban design house and coffee shop. Come for the leather, stay for a latte.
This piece, written by George W. Stone, first appeared in the May 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine.