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?


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 ( 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.


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.


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.


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.


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; offers return flights from London Heathrow to Durban via Johannesburg from £659.

Further information

KwaZulu-Natal Tourism Authority (00 27 31 304 4934;

Insider secret

Deborah Quin, Special investigator, Missing Persons Task Team

"Buds on the Bay [] 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."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power