Recent years have seen the country's third-largest metropolis transform into one of its most exciting urban destinations, offering travelers the chance to take home much more than a tan.
“Durban is a fantastic city for so many reasons”, says Ash Jarvis, director of the Best of South Africa Travel tour company. “Culturally, it’s incredibly diverse. The mix of African, Asian and European influences bring its neighborhoods to life through art, food, music and more, while its beaches and subtropical climate give it a laid-back, holiday vibe. Plus there are some world-class game reserves on the doorstep and the breathtaking Drakensberg Mountains not too far away”.
The largest city in KwaZulu-Natal, a province rich in tribal heritage which still recognizes a Zulu monarch, King Goodwill Zwelithini kaBhekuzulu, Durban is also home to the biggest Indian community outside of India, who have made their mark on the food and its flavors. The bunny chow, a hollow quarter or half-loaf filled with curry, is now a Durban staple.
The ocean, promenade and beach beckon you to dive, cycle or surf, while colonial buildings like City Hall and Art Deco architecture, including The Cenotaph in its palm-treed plaza, bring a stylish grandeur to downtown Durban.
Explore the city’s transformed warehouse districts and industrial spaces, like Station Drive Precinct in the suburb of Morningside, and you’ll experience more than a flash of New York, until a distinctive, mellifluous Zulu ‘click’ of the tongue, or the white-painted face of a sangoma (traditional healer) reaffirms this is distinctly, uniquely Africa.
Here’s how to make the best of 48 hours in this dynamic, diverse city…
Morning: Swing into Action
Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium isn’t just the place to watch a cricket or soccer match. Suspended from an arch high above the stands, the Big Rush Big Swing will catapult you in-to your day with a 260 ft free fall, followed by a supercharged 720ft swing over the pitch below.
For those still standing, take a wander around the arts, crafts and food stalls of the I Heart Market, which takes place at Moses Mabhida on the first Saturday each month, or hop on a Segway Gliding Tour for a behind-the-scenes whiz around the stadium.
Afternoon: Hang Out in the Hippest Hood
With a distillery, vintage clothing store, Sunday-morning farmer’s market, tattoo parlor, art studios, gelateria and great coffee, Station Drive Precinct is quite possibly the hippest of hipster hangouts in South Africa.
Go for lunch at Station 43, which serves street food and gourmet burgers, paired with local craft beers from That Brewing Company made on site. Stay the afternoon, browsing the shops or sipping local botanical gins, and try Africa’s first cachaça – traditionally a Brazilian spirit distilled from sugar cane - Agua Zulu, upstairs at Distillery 031.
Evening: Enjoy the Street Life
Morningside’s Florida Road has long held the unofficial title of Durban’s favorite street. Buzzing with cafés and cocktail bars, neighborhood restaurants and nightclubs, the tree-lined boulevard runs from the rose gardens of Jameson Park to Greyville, and manages to retain the charm of its Edwardian and Victorian buildings, despite the latest made in Durban gqom beats pumping from their balconies above.
For dinner, you’ll find Indian, Italian, Portuguese and everything in between. Try 9th Avenue Bistro, an intimate, award-winning restaurant that’s big on local produce, offering a modern take on bistro classics, a six-course tasting menu, boutique South African wines, and micro-brewed beer.
Nestled behind a 1920s façade in Greyville, The Concierge is a relaxed, urban oasis, set on the site of eight refurbished heritage-listed buildings. With a leafy, courtyard garden, and four compact but comfortable boutique bungalows housing 12 uniquely designed rooms, you’ll check in as a guest and leave as a Durbanite.
Morning: Walk Through the Gardens
The Concierge is home to the Freedom Café, one of Durban’s coolest joints, set in an old steel shipping container, opening on to the courtyard. Celebrated for its breakfasts, with rostis, pancakes, Benedicts and more, guests can dine outside or in, and it’s open for lunch, too.
A 20-minute walk away, you’ll find Africa’s oldest Botanic Gardens, established in 1849, with an orchid house, sunken garden, ancient cycad collection, and lake. A popular place for a picnic, you can treat yourself to something delicious at the Charles James Tea Garden, with profits supporting food parcels for patients with TB, or grab a cappuccino at the Gourmet Café before exploring the gardens.
Afternoon: Rock the Beach
With some of the best hotels in the country, and a beach promenade complete with a picture-postcard lighthouse, resort town Umhlanga Rocks is one of Durban’s most popular upmarket hangouts for locals and visitors alike.
Go for a lazy lunch sharing small Spanish plates or charcoal-fired grills at Pintxada, before heading to the city’s famed Golden Mile stretch of perfect beaches to spend the afternoon lapping up the bath-warm waters of the Indian Ocean, surfing, or cycling the promenade alongside the sands.
Evening: Kick Back with a Curry
You can’t visit Durban without trying the curry, and five-star hotel The Oyster Box in Umhlanga, is one of the finest places to indulge in what’s become the city’s trademark cuisine. Guaranteed to be your most upmarket curry buffet ever, choose from a broad range of authentic dishes, with subtly spiced sauces and sides, at the hotel’s Ocean Terrace overlooking the beach. Sink a beer as the sun sets, or choose one of the wines from the impressive list. You are in South Africa, after all.
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