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The third largest city in South Africa, behind Johannesburg and Cape Town, Durban is a prime destination for tourists. With its extensive beaches, fantastic weather, and prime east coast location, Durban is not to be missed. Plan at least two days to visit this great city, plus an extra if you've got the time to visit the surrounding area. Popular attractions include the Golden Mile, a stretch of highly developed, tourist-friendly beachfront, and a number of casinos and retail centers. Durban's past and present are shaped in no small part by its Indian population, so take the time to steep yourself in the city's history of multi-culturalism.
The Top 10: What to Do in Durban
1. uShaka Marine World:
Located at the end of Durban’s famous Golden Mile, this majestic aquarium and water amusement park covers over 37 acres of land and has a number of fun-filled activities for the entire brood. Standing as Africa’s largest marine theme park, uShaka offers everything from dolphin shows and snorkel adventures to beach sports activities and water rides.
2. Durban Art Gallery:
Established in 1892, this multicultural gallery has been exhibiting artwork from various places around the world for over 200 years, including France, China, Britain, and the rest of Africa. Today, it also houses a vast collection of local South African arts and crafts from artists such as Andrew Verster and Penny Siopis, accurately reflecting the diverse culture within Durban and South Africa itself.
3. Indian Quarter:
Situated just east of the city centre, this eclectic part of Durban was first established by Indian sugarcane fieldworkers who originally came to the Natal province in 1860, soon after their contracts had expired. Now home to Zulu herbalists, fantastic open-air markets, and bargain shopping, the Indian Quarter is its own cultural microcosm. Notable among the landmarks is the Jumah Mosque, which was built in 1927 and remains the largest mosque in the Southern hemisphere, offering space for over 4,500 worshippers. One market you don’t want to miss in the Indian Quarter is Victoria Street Market, a two-story building that has exceptional leather goods, jewelry, clothing, and Indian spices.
4. Golden Mile:
Welcome to Durban’s greatest attraction: this six-kilometer stretch of sandy beach offers more than just warm water year-round. Illustrating the essence of Durban’s subtropical ambience, the Golden Mile has restaurants, nightclubs, hotels, resorts, markets, fountains, water sports, and not to mention, beaches that are a surfer’s dream. uShaka Marine World is also located on this strip, making it the place to be for both visitors and locals, no matter the season.
5. Hare Krishna Temple of Understanding:
This incredible temple is certainly a sight for sore eyes. Located slightly south of the city in the Indian area of Chatsworth, the Hare Krishna temple is considered the largest of its kind in Africa, as well as one of the most beautiful. Built in 1969 in the shape of a lotus flower, its interior is covered with golden statues, brass ornaments, marble tiles, and vibrantly colored panels, creating an elegant and vivacious atmosphere. As if the temple itself weren’t reason enough to visit, it also houses a delectable and inexpensive Indian restaurant that offers purely vegan foods.
6. Sugar Terminal:
Located at the western end of Durban Bay, this area contains three massive silos that hold more than 500,000 tons of refined sugar waiting to be transported from Durban’s massive port to various places all over the globe. Taking a tour of this complex is definitely worthwhile, as it is not only one of the largest sugar terminals in the world, but it also offers a great chance to get a inside look at the process behind a major South African export.
7. Suncoast Casino:
Known as the premiere gambling spot on Durban’s Golden Mile, Suncoast is more than just South Africa’s largest casino. Built in the Art Deco style that the city is famous for, Suncoast houses three separate gambling casinos, multiple gourmet restaurants, slot machines, and a private beach on the Indian Ocean. It’s a wonderful place to escape, relax, and let the dice roll.
8. Valley of 1000 Hills:
Only a 30-minute drive from Durban, this scenic and breathtaking landscape is one of KwaZulu Natal’s best-kept secrets. Much more than just a beautiful area with great views surrounding the Umgeni River, 1000 Hills is equipped with cozy lodges, charming pubs, and restaurants. This great weekend escape also has a range of fun activities including crocodile farms and tours of traditional Zulu homes and villages, clearly making it a desirable destination without the wear-and-tear of long travel.
9. Durban Botanic Gardens:
Set upon the eastern slopes of Berea ridge, these lovely gardens are best known for the original Cycad specimen, which is one of the most rare plants in the world. The Orchid House is one specific site that is best visited during the spring months, and the Natal Herbarium is a must-see during any part of the year. Containing over 100,000 pressed and dried plants unique to the KwaZulu Natal area, the Herbarium also has a quaint tea garden that offers an assortment of teas and light snacks that visitors can enjoy while taking in the magnificent garden landscape.
10. City Hall:
Constructed in 1910 in a modern Renaissance style, this large complex contains a number of important cultural and historical exhibits. In addition to the Durban municipal chambers, the Natural Science Museum, and the eThekwini Art Gallery, which displays a wide array of South African art, also reside within these walls and are open to visitors. If you need a break from the sun and sea of Durban, City Hall is a great place to go for a fun mix of history and culture.
When to Go
With subtropical weather and an average of 320 sunny days a year, Durban is warm all year. Even during the winter, temperatures remain mild, falling to around 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Because the summer months are known to be hotter and especially more humid, the best time to visit Durban are between the fall and winter season.
Some great festivals to keep in mind when planning your trip to Durban include the Travel Indaba trade show (May), the Vodacom Beach Festival and Durban July Annual Horse Race (July), the Awesome Africa Music Festival (September) and Nando’s Durbs Comedy Festival (July).