Durban Things to Do

  • Rockpools at Umhlanga
    Rockpools at Umhlanga
    by CatherineReichardt
  • Beach at Umhlanga
    Beach at Umhlanga
    by CatherineReichardt
  • Things to Do
    by CatherineReichardt

Most Recent Things to Do in Durban

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    A particularly fine pair of moustaches!

    by CatherineReichardt Updated May 18, 2012

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    Cultivating luxuriant facial hair seems to have been an abiding passion in Victorian England, and here in the Colonies, people seem to have embraced this fashion with equal enthusiam.

    This statue in Francis Farewell Square outside the City Hall in Durban makes me realise why sometimes people refer to a 'pair of moustaches' rather than 'moustache' in the singular form! I rather like men with moustaches and beards, but all things in moderation, and this wouldn't look out of place on a Mexican bandit!

    This chap is Sir John Robinson, a newspaperman who was the first Prime Minister of Natal when it was granted Colony status in 1893 (previously it had been governed by a series of Governors and Lieutenant-Governors. This short lived system of government endured for less than 20 years, as Natal was incorporated into the newly created Union of South Africa in 1910.

    Despite his political achievements, Robinson is probably better known as the co-founder and first editor of the Natal Mercury, which was established in 1852, and is still going strong over a century and a half later.

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    Pay your respects at the very unusual Cenotaph

    by CatherineReichardt Updated May 18, 2012

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    The Cenotaph on the far end of Francis Farewell Square in Durban is an unexpected twist on a war memorial theme and is an easily overlooked highlight of Durban's architecture.

    The term 'cenotaph' means 'empty tomb' and has been adopted to describe the casualties of the two World Wars. Most cenotaphs in the Commonwealth tend to be based on Sir Edwin Lutyens classic design for the Cenotaph in London's Whitehall, and have a distinctive vertical oblong form, mounted on a plinth. The Cenotaph in Durban shares these same elements, but is executed in a distinctly Art Deco form, and even more interestingly, the detail of the wreath and the figures are executed in bright colours, whereas most other cenotaphs I've seen have either been completed plain or have had some restrained guilding.

    The cenotaph was designed by the architectural firm Eagle, Pilkington and McQueen from Cape Town who won the design competition in 1921, but the monument was only completed in 1926. The main structure is made of granite, but the detail - including the wreaths at the top and the two angels raising up a fallen soldier against a sunburst background - are made of ceramic, manufactured out of Poole pottery. Thus, unlike painted masonry, the colours have remained vibrant and the overall effect is just gorgeous.

    The unusual design and height of the monument (which is 11m high) lends a sense of upliftment and it's one of my absolute favourite Great War memorials.

    The Cenotaph was bombed by the ANC in June 1981, and the granite at the base is still scarred by a small crater as a result of the blast.

    Whilst you're here, be sure to admire the splendid snarling Art Deco lions that guard the entrance to the little memorial park at the Cenotaph's base.

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    Brilliant snarling Art Deco lions at the Cenotaph

    by CatherineReichardt Updated May 17, 2012

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    The war memorial in Durban is hands down my favourite in the country, not just because of the highly original Art Deco design of the Cenotaph, but also because of this brilliant pair of snarling bronze lions, each of which commemorates one of the World Wars.

    War memorials often feature lions, but for some reason that I don't understand, these particular lions have a distinctly oriental design, which just adds to their originality. Also, unlike some of the namby pamby lions that I've seen on my travels, these look seriously fierce!

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    Call My Bluff (and excuse the feeble pun!)

    by CatherineReichardt Updated May 17, 2012

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    The nature of the ocean currents along the east coast of Southern Africa mean that it is largely depositional - rather than erosional - in nature, and so it tends to be relatively flat. As a result, the Kwa Zulu Natal coastline is blessed with literally hundreds of kilometres of sandy beaches, but it does mean that the coastal scenery tends towards the monotonous rather than the dramatic.

    Durban's coastline is no exception, but boasts one notable landform: the Bluff, which stands sentinel over the southern approach to Durban harbour. It is a relic of a historical dune system that was established about 5 million years ago, and its elevation has been a godsend for navigational purposes.

    The Bluff is home to both the 21m high lighthouse was established in 1954 and the distinctive illuminated structure of the 67m high Millenium Tower. The mesh top of the Millenium Tower functions as a giant weather vane, and the sequence of flashing lights emitted from the tower apparently indicates whether the tide is incoming or outgoing (although I haven't the first idea how one would interpret this).

    The Bluff is on the other side of the harbour from Durban's famous Golden Mile, and is thus not visited by many international tourists. Nonethless, it is very popular with Durbanites and other South African tourists for its splendid beaches, excellent fishing and outstanding surfing off Anstey's Beach.

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    Aquarium at uShaka World is worth a visit

    by CatherineReichardt Updated May 14, 2012

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    (work in progress)
    The aquarium at uShaka World is a welcome addition to Durb's tourist offerings.

    The design of the aquarium is based on a sunken ship and is frankly odd. Aesthetically it didn't excite me, but I have to credit it for being original, and it will probably appeal to kids (mine weren't with me at the time to offer a definitive opinion).

    The best exhibit for me was the tank entirely devoted to stonefish, which wasn't something that I'd seen elsewhere. These highly venomous fish rely on camouflage and make staggeringly convincing stones - on first inspection, I estimated that there were three or four in the tank, but the more I looked, the more there were, and the final head count was well over a dozen!

    One of the great attractions of uShaka World is that you can snorkel in one of the larger tanks: not the shark or stonefish tank, I should add! I visited late in the day, so didn't see anyone doing this, but I imagine that it must be amazingly exciting for kids who are only learning to snorkel to do so in close proximity to some pretty big fish! Don't know how they'd cope with huge numbers in peak season, but presumably they manage this - maybe the cost is exorbitant ;) ???

    On the downside, I found that the signage in the aquarium was sub standard, and the notices that were in place weren't always obvious. On this count, the Two Oceans aquarium in Cape Town is streets ahead, and, to my mind, is the better of the two aquaria. Having said that, if you're not going to visit Cape Town and/or you're in Durban anyway and looking for something to do with the kids - especially if the weather's not good - this is an excellent option (and, let's face it, your kids are going to try and drag you to uShaka World anyway, so you might as well give in gracefully!)

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    • Aquarium

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    Leisurely observe the bustle of Durban harbour

    by CatherineReichardt Updated May 14, 2012

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    I always think that harbours are fascinating places, bustling with activity, which makes them great places to kick back and watch other people work!

    Durban is South Africa's busiest port, with much of the shipping now being containerised. Having done two moves across the Indian Ocean myself, I always find it a little sobering to see the ships piled high with sea containers - they look just a little too precarious when you consider that they're heading out into the open ocean, which probably explains how I justified spending such a fortune on shipping insurance at the time!

    Being south of the CBD and surrounded by warehouses, the harbour used to be a bit off the beaten track, but the development of uShaka World just to the north has reinvigorated the whole area and given it a new lease on life. Because of their proximity, it makes sense to incorporate the two into a day out, and they provide an interesting combination of experiences.

    The view across the harbour entrance to The Bluff is one of Durban's most famous.

    As with most harbours, Durban's offers a seafood restaurant from which you can watch the boats come and go - it's several years since we visited, but at the time, the food was good and reasonably priced.

    Entrance to Durban Harbour Seagulls on parade! Sea containers (note The Bluff in the background)

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    Stroll down the Victoria Embankment

    by CatherineReichardt Updated May 14, 2012

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    Victoria Embankment - more commonly known by locals as 'The Esplanade' and recently renamed Margaret Mcnedi Avenue just to add extra confusion - hugs the waterside along the northern shore of the inlet to Durban Harbour, and is an interesting place for a stroll. As it's a little removed (but within easy walking distance) from both the beachfront and the CBD, it is less crowded, and when you've had enough of sea and sand, moseying along in the shade of the massive fig trees in the ribbon of parkland provides welcome respite from the heat and sun.

    The road along Victoria Embankment is lined with enormous palm trees, which make it almost a caricature of how sub tropical city waterfronts are meant to look. However, because it overlooks the working areas of the port, I would describe it as being more 'interesting' than 'beautiful', which is a good thing in my book (but maybe not to all tastes).

    If you're in the area, you can take the opportunity to admire the faded flamboyance of the da Gama clock and the statue of Dick King. There is also the Natal Maritime Museum (which I have yet to visit) and a couple of yacht clubs, and, further down, the distinctive sugar terminals, as well as a few Art Deco architectural gems.

    If you're planning to visit this area, then may I suggest incorporating a pilgrimage to the retro Roma revolving restaurant? The view from the restaurant and Gino's Bar upstairs out over the city and port are unsurpassed, and the food is also surprisingly good: given the choice, the best time would probably be late afternoon so that you can watch the sun set and the emergence of the twinkling lights of the city and port.

    Apologies for the quality of this photo which doesn't do it justice, but this was taken with my cellphone on a day when I forgot my camera ...

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    It would be hard to find a nicer conference centre

    by CatherineReichardt Updated May 14, 2012

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    The title says it all: it would indeed be hard to find a nicer conference centre than that in Durban International Conference Centre.

    This elegant and functional venue is located between the CBD and Durban's Golden Mile. It is a hugely popular venue, with conference organisers being attracted by South Africa's internationally competitive rates, and delegates - and their spouses - being attracted by Durban's sub tropical climate (which has the added attraction of being counter season to the Northern Hemisphere).

    In November 2011, the conference centre hosted the COP 17 conference on climate change. This talkfest was attended by thousands of concerned global citizens whose collective carbon footprint in terms of travelling to the conference was exacerbated by the fact that this damp squib of an event failed to achieve any sort of progress in terms of a binding resolution to replace the expired Kyoto. protocol.

    Cynical??? Moi??? Actually, I do believe that climate change is a reality and a clear and present danger, but I greatly resent the self perpetuating cottage industry that has grown up around it [end of rant].

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    Child magazine: Things to do with kids in Durbs

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Jun 25, 2011

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    If you're travelling to Durban with kids and are looking for interesting, family-friendly things to do, then look no further than the fantastic Child magazine!

    This is a free monthly magazine with limited distribution (also available online - see website below) which is a boon for us parents who love the beach but can't quite face the thought of yet another visit! Along with the 'staples', there are also suggestions on some quirky and unexpected activities, as well as updates on child-friendly theatre productions.

    There are also editions customised for Johannesburg and Cape Town if you're planning to visit those cities.

    Child magazine

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    Umhlanga beach: sand + rockpools = ideal for kids!

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Jun 25, 2011

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    I must confess up front that I've never really been a 'beach person' but since I had kids, I am fast discovering their virtues!

    Umhlanga (pronounced "Um - shlanga") is located a short drive north of Durban and is one of the North Coast's most famous beaches. I like it because although it's a beautiful beach, it's not just a stretch of sand and offers lots of rock pools to explore - much more my sort of thing!

    Umhlanga is a major holiday destination, and offers all the amenities and entertainment that you would expect as a result. As KZN has a subtropical climate, the tourist season is not as limited as that in the Cape (its major competitor) and Umhlanga attracts visitors pretty well year round, as well as a large number of retirees. If I might offer a word of advice, avoid visiting during the long Christmas holidays and over Easter unless you want to pay top dollar and really enjoy (lots and lots of) company!

    For me, the biggest attraction of Umlanga has always been the brilliant Natal Sharks Board centre at Umhlanga Rocks (see my travel tip), and combining beach and Sharks Board would be a really great day out.

    This area got hit by storms a couple of years ago, and has been upgraded as a result - I haven't visited since, but it was pretty nice before, so it must be even better now!

    Beach at Umhlanga Rockpools at Umhlanga Beach at Umhlanga

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    Relax at the tranquil Umgeni River Bird Park

    by CatherineReichardt Updated Jun 25, 2011

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    The Umgeni River Bird Park is located just inland of the Umgeni River mouth, and has been constructed in a disused quarry. The rather uninspiring website listed below doesn't do it justice, but I have included it nonetheless to provide access to up-to-date information on opening hours and pricing.

    The old quarry walls have been cleverly landscaped to create waterfalls and cliffs, and the dense vegetation provides is a lot of shade, which is extremely welcome on a hot day.

    The Umgeni River Bird Park was opened in April 1984 and was privately funded by a group of bird enthusiasts who saw a need for education. By 1989, the park was recognised as the “Premier Durban Attraction” by the Durban Tourism Board and was home to over 4,500 birds of 400 different species. The park pioneered the concept of the Free Flight Bird Show in South Africa as early as 1995 (now also a feature of the excellent Montecasino Bird Park in Johannesburg).

    As is sadly so often the case, problems set in when the original founder retired in 1997 and the park was sold to the Tsogo Sun entertainment group. Tsogo Sun closed the park at the end of August, 2009 but it was reopened in June 2010 after the Regency Foundation Network agreed to fund its purchase and the City of Durban committed to taking over the operating expenses.

    Obviously the birds are the main attraction, but the attractively landscaped surroundings and peaceful ambience are also a major drawcard. For families and animal enthusiasts, it is a logical add on to the wildlife experiences of the aquarium at uShaka World and the Natal Sharks Board at Umlanga Rocks, as well as the excellent inland game reserves such as Hluhluwe.

    Sadly we haven't had the chance to visit the Bird Park in several years, but I hope that it is still as lovely place to retreat as it was back in 2003 - if you visit, please let me know what it's like today!

    Roller Spoonbill mistakes Mum's shoelace for a worm!

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    Durban Golden Mile

    by nora_south_africa Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    The Golden Mile or Golden 6km is a popular self guided walking tour. It received its name from the Portuguese explorers who referred to the sea sand along the coast in this area as the 'Sands of Gold'.

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    • Beaches
    • Surfing
    • Family Travel

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    All you can eat

    by sebblit7 Updated Apr 4, 2011

    www.kulula.co.za is a local airline with many cheap flights. At their website you can find many things to do around the major urban centres, the direct link currently is https://www.kulula.co.za/(S(52l51g55fm1dae45oxza1w45))/Default.aspx but if the page gets moved just visit www.kulula.com click the Kicks link then choose your destination city. There's plenty to choose from and you can book online.

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    The Port of Durban

    by cokes Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    The Bay of Natal (Durban Bay) was one of the few natural harbours available along the east coast of southern Africa between Algoa Bay and Delagoa Bay (now Maputo Bay).

    The nice thing about the port is that the ships come in and out right infront of you. What a Awesome sight.

    The port of Durban operates 24 hours a day 365 days a year. The entrance channel has a depth of 12.8m from Dart Chatum. The channel width is 122m but the intention is widen the channel by a further 100m commencing in late 2005. During daylight ships are supposedly restricted to 243.8m length with a maximum width of 35m and a draught of 11.9m, or 12.2m according to tide and harbour master's clearance. This is frequently granted and ships up to 270m length are common. Nighttime restrictions are for a ship length of 200m and a beam of 26m, maximum draught of 11.6m. The harbour master has to be consulted for permission for larger vessels.

    The Port of Durban
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    Richa Boys

    by cokes Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    These Richa boys is situated around Durban Central`s Beach front. Well its kinda nice taking a ride with these guys. Just 1 problem when I took a photo with them , they charging me to take a photo with my own camera. I never heard of such rubbish in my life but this guy was serious and complaining that he wants his money.... R20 for pic with me , what a rip off.

    A Ride with the Richa Boys
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Comments (1)

  • Nov 8, 2014 at 12:14 AM

    "Here in the colonies"? South Africa has been independent for 53 years and a democracy for 20. Please refrain from calling us a colony.

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