Located on the east coast of South Africa, looking over Indian Ocean in KwaZulu-Natal province, Durban is the country’s third largest city and Africa’s busiest port. With its subtropical climate, long sandy beaches and a huge variety of attractions that range from the sedate to the positively exhilarating, Durban has long been a draw to domestic holidaymakers and international visitors alike. The city has more than enough on offer to keep anyone occupied for a week or more, so here are some recommendations for the top 12 things to do in Durban.
For thrill-seekers, Durban offers a taste of the real thing — a close encounter with the sharks of Durban’s coast in their natural habitat. The waters of Durban contain one of the highest concentrations of sharks anywhere on the planet, and several operators organize boat trips out to cage dive with them. Unlike cage diving at Gaansbai near Cape Town, where the main objective is to spot great whites, cage diving in Durban will allow you to see a large variety of shark species, including ocean-going blacktips, tiger sharks and Zambezi sharks (bull sharks).
- Good to know: Shark sightings on cage diving trips are all but guaranteed, and most companies will offer a refund if you don’t see any.
If you can't be in Durban for a cage dive, here is a shark cage dive tour in Gansbaai that you can enjoy!
Durban’s popularity with holiday-goers comes from its proximity to excellent beaches. Durban’s seafront is known as the Golden Mile, stretching for around four kilometres, from Blue Lagoon South to Addington Beach. The beach gets its ‘golden’ name for the colour of the sand along the strip, which is the perfect place to engage in watersports or just chill out and catch some rays. The Mile boasts a wide promenade, ideal for walking, cycling or jogging, and there are also plenty of restaurants and bars for refreshments or a bite to eat when the sun starts to set.
- Good to know: Durban’s sea is infested with sharks. Yet, indulging in water activities is very safe due to a system of shark netting.
Take a shark safety boat tour and find out how a place with such a high concentration of sharks manages to keep swimmers and surfers free from danger. The KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board Maritime Centre of Excellence has been in existence for over 50 years and is now considered a world leader in shark protection techniques and technology. The organization is responsible for protecting 37 beaches along the Durban coastline, keeping both bathers and sharks free from harm, as well as conducting research and other activities. It is possible to join an early morning tour to witness staff servicing and maintaining the equipment that keeps the beaches of Durban’s Golden Mile safe. You may even be able to spot a shark or two from the comfort of the boat. This an underrated experience that we highly recommend.
- Good to know: A two-hour tour costs approximately USD 30* per person and the minimum age requirement is 6 years old.
Located on the Golden Mile, one of Durban’s premier attractions is uShaka Marine World, a 40-hectare ocean-themed park. The park features several different zones, including uShaka beach, uShaka village, Dangerous Creatures centre, Chimp & Zee rope walk, Kids’ World, and uShaka Wet ‘n Wild — a water park featuring the Southern Hemisphere’s highest water slide.
The highlight of the park is undoubtedly uShaka Sea World, the world’s fifth-largest aquarium and the largest in the Southern Hemisphere. The underground viewing galleries wind 500-meters around four specially-built and beautifully-crafted replica shipwrecks, showcasing an impressive range of marine life. Exciting activities include meeting dolphins and seals. It is even possible to scuba dive in the aquarium at depths of up to 6 meters.
- Good to know: Get a combo ticket to uShaka Wet ‘n Wild and Sea World for around USD 14. For children between 3 – 12 and senior citizens above 61, the combo ticket costs around USD 11*. Other attractions, besides the beach and the village, also require tickets and entrance fees.
Durban is now the city with the largest population of Indians outside India itself. Hence, Indian culture and traditions are as much a part of the city as those of the other myriad ethnic groups, and to miss them would be to miss an integral part of Durban’s character. Centring on Victoria Street and the market there, a walk around the Indian Quarter is like walking into the streets of Delhi; you will hear street traders haggling over the prices of colourful fabrics, with the pungent odours of spices never far from your nostrils. But the best part of this town is the food. Don’t leave without trying the local bunny chow!
- Good to know: If you time your visit to coincide with Diwali, the Indian Festival of Lights, you will experience the Indian Quarter at its most vibrant and raucous. Diwali usually falls between mid-October and mid-November.
When you’ve done your share of wildlife spotting in South Africa, spend time riding some waves in the world’s premier surfing destination. Durban is possibly the best place in the country to surf. Don’t worry about all those sharks swimming about out there; the beaches are protected, and Addington Beach has ideal conditions for beginners.
Numerous reputable surf schools with experienced instructors offer group and individual surf lessons at very reasonable rates and usually provide all the necessary equipment, including board, wetsuit and rash vest. If you’re short of ideas for what to do in Durban, trying your hand at this popular — not to mention very cool — activity is highly recommended.
- Good to know: Lessons for small groups of up to five people cost around USD 17 for one hour. An individual two-hour lesson usually costs around USD 43*.
Durban is a bustling metropolis that can become overwhelming at times. For a moment of tranquillity, head to Durban Botanic Garden, an island of green, located at its centre. Founded in 1840, the garden is the oldest surviving garden of its kind in Africa and also the city’s oldest institution — many of the trees in the garden are over a century old. The garden is open 365 days a year (opening times vary by day and season), offering a welcome refuge from the hectic city surrounding it.
- Good to know: Entry to the garden is free. But for a fee of USD 9 to 35*, you can get a guided golf tour, lasting 30 minutes to 2 hours. The tours end with refreshments!
If you are interested in a city tour that includes the Botanical Garden, then try this day tour of Durban city.
Moses Mabhida Stadium is Durban’s iconic multi-use stadium that served as a venue for seven matches during the 2010 Football World Cup. It also hosted matches during the 2013 African Cup of Nations and is currently home to Premier Soccer League Team AmaZulu. Tours of the stadium are available, but the biggest draw is the chance to try the terrifying Big Swing, the world’s largest. After climbing a steep flight of steps up to the arch, visitors can jump into the void and swing in a 220m arc over the centre of the pitch — an activity only for the bravest of daredevils.
- Good to know: Stadium tours range from around USD 5 (adults), USD 4 (senior citizens) and USD 2 (children under 12). Big Swing costs around USD 60*.
Here is a day tour of Durban city, that includes a lot of attractions, including Moses Mabhida Stadium.
This 3.5-hectare park is home to over 200 species of bird, over 800 individuals in all. From Tuesdays to Sundays, the park stages free-flight bird shows at 11am and 2pm, and the park also offers the chance to see and learn about local birds and birds from around the world. One of the more serene and educational places to visit in Durban.
- Good to know: The park is open from 9:00 to 17:00 daily. Entry fee is USD 5 (for adults), around USD 3* (for children under 12 and seniors).
Durban is a paradise for thrill-seekers, with adventure activities on offer at every turn. Things to do include skydiving, hot-air ballooning, abseiling, paintballing, go-karting, acrobranch, horse riding, kite surfing, rap jumping, white water rafting, rock climbing and many more, the list is almost endless. There is something for anyone in search of a tummy-tumbling experience. If you can think of it, it’s probably available!
- Good to know: If you want to try something off-the-wall in Durban, go for zorbing. You will be strapped inside a giant inflatable ball and then rolled down a hill. Probably not a good idea if you have acute motion sickness!
Also located on the Golden Mile, Mini Town is a fun option for those looking for Durban attractions suitable for kids. This 1:24 scale model of the city and all its famous landmarks will allow you to see the city with new eyes — and of course, snap some cute pics of your little ones. The train in constant motion around the miniature city is a particular highlight, and you will marvel at the level of detail that has gone into creating this intricate replica town!
- Good to know: The attraction opens daily from 9:30 to 16:30. You will have to pay a nominal entry fee of USD 2* or less (depending on your age group).
Boasting an intriguing cultural mix, laid-back atmosphere and enough to keep even the most active of travellers satisfied, finding things to do in Durban is never a problem. The only problem might be finding the time to do everything you want!