Durban: This unsung city is on a winning streak

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

City Slicker: Tourists will benefit from the legacy of the World Cup in Durban. Emily Dugan offers ideas for new and returning visitors



Why visit?


Now the World Cup circus has trundled out of South Africa's third largest city, you can enjoy all the benefits it brought without the crowds: improved roads, a new airport, a brilliant public transport system and spruced-up shops and restaurants.

There are subtler improvements, too: to make sure the city was up to international tourism standards, staff in Durban's hotels, restaurants and tourist sights were given free training in customer care by the local council.

While international tourists flock to Cape Town, Kruger and the Garden Route – and most business travellers rarely make it past Johannesburg – Durban is often overlooked by non-South African visitors. This is great news for holidaymakers who do make the journey, because it means that, outside South African school holidays, the city is relatively quiet.

With a subtropical climate, extensive beaches and a unique hybrid of African, European and Asian culture, Durban is an ideal place to escape the drudgery of the UK in winter. To make it more enticing, at the time of writing the pound to rand exchange rate remained heavily in Britain's favour.

Don't miss...

...a wander through the Indian quarter With the biggest Indian population outside the subcontinent, this is one of the most vibrant parts of the city. At its heart is the Juma Masjid Mosque, the biggest mosque in the southern hemisphere. Its gold minarets and marble hall mark it out from the rest of the grey commercial district. Outside prayer-time, a friendly guide should be easy to find. Explore the surrounding streets, too, making sure you sample a Durban "bunny chow": half a loaf of bread with the centre scooped out and filled with curry.

...the Tourist Office (the Old Station Complex, 160 Pine Street). Not so much for the advice – though staff are helpful – but because it is housed in the old train station where a young Mohandas Gandhi took his foremost stand against apartheid and bought a (whites-only) first-class ticket to Johannesburg. There is an impressive statue in the lobby to commemorate the moment.

....haggling at the market. Victoria Market, in the centre of the city, is a bit rundown and touristy, but it's still one of the best places to pick up local crafts. If you carry on walking on to a rather intimidating overpass, you get to the more authentic Muthi Market, where various "witch doctors" pedal everything from snake skins to crocodile's teeth for medicinal (and occasionally vindictive) potions.

...a delve into the region's history. Go to the Gandhi Museum and see the house where the father of Indian independence spent 21 years of his life, or visit some of the Zulu battlefields, which are an easy drive away.

...the coastline. Durban is home to some of the country's best beaches. If you fancy doing more than sunning yourself, try a surf lesson with Shaun at Learn2Surf, which he runs out of the Marine Lifesavers Club on Durban's beachfront. uShaka Marine World, Africa's biggest aquarium, is a great place to take the children. Eat dinner with sharks swimming around you and explore shipwrecks or hit the theme-park rides.

What's new?

Docklands

Once the grottiest bit of town, Durban's docklands is now being completely transformed. Styling itself on the tourist success of Cape Town's waterfront – and hoping for the business pull of London's Canary Wharf – it still needs to fill up with people. But its location next to uShaka Marine World makes it an increasingly attractive place to visit, helped by the fact that restaurants, bars and hotels are cropping up all the time. The latest of these is the Docklands Hotel (signaturelifehotels.com). With modern interior design inspired by industrial shipping, a wall devoted to graffiti art on the ground floor and brushed steel is the fitting of choice. The adjacent Wodka restaurant (signaturelifehotels .com/restaurants) is where guests take breakfast. But its contemporary setting and the good quality international cuisine it serves have made it a hit with Durbanites, too.

Moyo uShaka Pier Bar

Moyo has gained a reputation in South Africa as an irritating pseudo-tribal chain awash with foreign tourists. Thankfully, in Durban most of the cheesy features have been abandoned but the good cocktails and prime location on the pier, with ocean views, make it worth a visit.

Details: moyo.co.za

Moses Mabhida Stadium

This magnificent stadium was purpose-built for the 2010 Fifa World Cup and is the tournament's most visible legacy. Even if you don't like football, you should still call in because the mini funicular railway over its arch now offers the best views of the city.

Details: mosesmabhidastadium.co.za

Gateway Shopping Centre

No doubt thanks to an attempt to deal with an expected army of WAGs, the World Cup also spawned the mother of all shopping malls. The Gateway Centre, to the north of Durban, is the largest in the southern hemisphere. Built in 2001, Gateway was expanded to cope with the expected boom in trade for the football tournament.

Details: gatewayworld.co.za

People Mover Buses

It may seem pedestrian, but the biggest change for visitors is probably the arrival of the bus on Durban's streets. Previously, if you didn't have a car you had to either rely on the crammed minibus "taxis" or expensive private hires. Now, bright-green People Mover buses and easy-to-spot stops grace the city. For 30p you can get to most places in town in a swankier bus than you would find in London.

Details: durbanpeoplemover.co.za

A city renamed

Not all of the recent developments have been so well received. An attempt to overhaul the city's road names to honour political heroes has sparked fury in the suburbs. Perhaps the most vociferous opposition came from residents of a predominantly white and wealthy street known as North Ridge Road. It has now been renamed Peter Mokaba road after the poet who wrote the song "Kill the Boer".

Compact Facts

How to get there

South African Airways (0871 722 1111; flysaa.com) offers return flights from London Heathrow to Durban via Johannesburg from £659.

Further information

KwaZulu-Natal Tourism Authority (00 27 31 304 4934; durban.kzn.org.za).

Insider secret

Deborah Quin, Special investigator, Missing Persons Task Team

"Buds on the Bay [budsonthebay.co.za] is a great place to eat. Very low key and right on the water. My favourite dish is the prawn bunny chow, a variation of a Durban delicacy."

Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
News
news
News
peopleIt seems you can't silence Katie Hopkins, even on Christmas Day...
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)
tvOur review of the Doctor Who Christmas Special
Life and Style
fashion
Arts and Entertainment
Japanese artist Megumi Igarashi showing a small mascot shaped like a vagina
art
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tvChristmas special reviewed
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman as Clara Oswald in the Doctor Who Christmas special
tvForget the rumours that Clara Oswald would be quitting the Tardis
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
The Queen delivers her Christmas message
newsTwitter reacts to Her Majesty's Christmas Message
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all