Durban is a little beach-front city in South Africa that deserves to be as popular with tourists as glamorous Cape Town and cosmopolitan Johannesburg. With a sub-tropical climate, miles of golden sand and great food, there are a lot of fun things to do in Durban. Some of the best things to do in Durban include taking Durban City Tour, wending your way down the Durban Golden Mile or cage diving with sharks. In this family-friendly South African city, things to do in Durban with kids include visiting the Durban beachfront promenade pools and partaking in the Ushaka Marine World activities.
10 Things To Do in Durban
With such great weather, many of the things to do in Durban involve being outside and taking advantage fo the glorious weather. We would suggest a Durban city tour to orient yourself and then heading out either for thrills like the Moses Mabhida Stadium Swing or cage diving with sharks in South Africa or more sedate activities like visiting the Kwa Muhle Museum or the Umhlanga Pier. Either way make sure you leave room for Durban food which is a real treat. In our opinion here are the top 10 things to do in Durban.
Take A City Tour in Durban
We did a city tour in Durban by bicycle which helped orient us as first-time visitors to this city. In a few hours we were able to get our bearings and know what we wanted to do for the rest of our stay.
Most of this Durban city tour organised for us by Yellow Zebra
Safaris was along the Durban beachfront promenade from the cycle hire place located at one end of the Durban Golden Mile all the way to Umshaka. Despite the length, this route is an ideal family cycling area. Most of the Durban Golden Mile had no car traffic, is as flat as a pancake, has great views and plenty of attractions at which to stop.
In addition to the Golden Mile, we did a quick zip around the Moses Mabhida stadium and downtown with its City Hall and museums. Our guide was very friendly and great with the kids.
Also important to me, he was also excellent with helping us navigate the traffic (the few times when we were with cars). He pointed out attractions that we could come back and visit later if we wanted to learn more which was very helpful for planning our 3 days in Durban.
Although too young to remember apartheid, interestingly, our guide told us that his mother had worked as a maid at one of the big houses on the seafront in Durban. She could only look at the sea and its golden sand beach from the house because the beachfront was a whites-only area.
Ramble the Durban Golden Mile
The Durban Golden Mile is one of the main tourist attractions in the city. Even though named the Golden Mile, Durban has taken license with the actual length of the route which is much longer. The Durban Golden Mile is one of the best things to do with kids in Durban because there are a variety of family-friendly activities along this route.
Technically running at about 4 miles, the Golden Mile Durban is separated into sections by piers. Well patrolled by police, this seafront promenade has golden beach on one side and entertainment on the other side.
- Several of the sections of the Golden Mile Durban are known for its surfing including for beginners. The Bay of Plenty is highly rated among seasoned surfers.
- There is North Beach skate park which is entertaining to watch in the late afternoons and weekends when the kids come out to show off their skills.
- Situated in an Art Deco complex, the Suncoast Casino abuts the Durban Golden Mile.
- There is a connecting road onto the Moses Mabhida stadium.
- There is Mini Park (a miniature replica of Durban), botanical gardens and children’s fun fair.
- Traditional market vendors have little stalls selling everything from Zulu craft to beach toys.
The Durban Golden Mile runs from Ushaka Marine World until past Moses Mabhida Stadium to the Blue Lagoon. Each section of the Golden Mile Durban has a name so it is easy to orient yourself. Some of the names you may recognise from famous American beaches – South Beach and Laguna Beach. Don’t worry about Snake Park Beach – the snakes are long gone!
If you are not sure about walking the length of the Durban Golden Mile and you aren’t on a Durban city tour like us, there are Durban promenade bike hire shops available. In terms of parking, along the Golden Mile, Durban has provided lots of easy parking.
Visit Museums in Durban
Some of the interesting museums in Durban include the Durban Holocaust Center opened in 2008 and the Kwa Muhle Museum which is located in a former Apartheid building and shows the story of how the the Durban system worked whereby blacks couldn’t enter the city without an official pass.
Located in Durban City Hall, the free-to-enter Science Museum has a rare Dodo bird skeleton and the Durban Art Gallery. The Durban City Hall is also a cool building which was built in 1910 and based on the City Hall of Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Both City Hall and Kwa Muhle Museum are cool free things to do in Durban.
Stroll Umhlanga Pier
Being a busy port city, Durban has many piers but there is only one pier which is a must-see.
CNN has named Umhlanga Pier as one of the world’s most beautiful piers and with good reason! Not only does it function as a storm drain, Umhlanga pier looks like a work of art. Shaped like the rib cage of a whale, Umhlanga pier provides a unique frame of the Indian Ocean at sunset as well as a viewpoint of the Durban skyline in the distance.
The beautiful Umhlanga lighthouse is a short walk near Umhlanga Pier and is taken care of by the Oyster Box Hotel. We were lucky in that our roommate the Oyster Box Hotel looked directly onto the Umhlanga Lighthouse. What a view!
Go Cage Diving With Sharks
My son has wanted to go cage diving with sharks since our last trip to South Africa when we visited Cape Town and the Garden Route. Sadly for him on that trip, he missed the minimum age requirement of 8 years old that you must be to go shark cage diving in South Africa. On this trip, shark cage diving in Durban was at the top of his wish list.
From Durban, the cage diving with sharks experience is an easy hour drive away on the coast. The less easy part is that it started early in the morning at 6 AM. Even if he wanted to, my husband couldn’t pretend to oversleep and miss the experience because our son was ready and raring to go at 5AM. An uncommon event if ever there was one.
My daughter and I decided we would rather sleep and neither of us wanted the ignominy of putting on dive suits. We soon regretted this decision because my son and his father said it was one of their favourite activities on the whole trip!
They went out on a boat with a metal cage attached to the back which was lowered into the water. The people stood in the water with snorkel gear and lowered their heads into the water whenever they wanted to check out what was happening.
So technically shark cage diving in South Africa (at least on our tour) doesn’t involve any actual diving. Moreover, although advertised everywhere as shark cage diving Durban, the actual cage diving with sharks doesn’t involve being lowered in an enclosed cage into the water (an important consideration if you are even mildly claustrophobic like me).
Follow The Inanda Heritage Trail
We took a guided Inanda Heritage Trail tour with Bike and Saddle tours (which involved neither a bike nor saddle but car!). The Inanda Heritage Trail is in Inanda township about 25 kilometres northwest of the city of Durban.
For this list of things to do in Durban South Africa, the two must-see items are the Phoenix Settlement and the Ohlange Institute. There are other things on the Inanda Heritage Trail, such as the Shembe church which is an African-initiated church with millions of followers.
Inanda is where Mahatma Gandhi built the Phoenix Settlement and preached about satyagraha (nonviolence) as a form of protest. The Phoenix Settlement had Gandhi’s house, his son’s house, a printing press and his follower’s homes. What you see today is a replica of Gandhi’s house because the original was burned down in the Inanda riots of 1985.
Inanda is also home to the Ohlange Institute and the tomb of John Dube, the first president of the African National Congress. John Dube was educated in the USA and a proponent of Booker T. Washington’s theory of self-reliance and the value of education. He based the Ohlange Institute on Washington’s Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
When Nelson Mandela cast his first vote in the first Democratic election in South Africa in 1994, he came to vote at the Ohlange Institute to honour the memory of John Dube.
Partake in Moses Mahiba Stadium Activities
The Moses Mahiba Stadium became internationally well known after the 2010 FIFA World Cup. The stadium is a striking site built to resemble either a picnic basket or shark teeth depending on which angle you view it from. The seats on the inside of the stadium are color coded to resemble the waves of the Indian Ocean.
In regular use for the usual matches, but there also a variety of Moses Mahiba Stadium activities.
- For example, you can take Moses Mahida Stadium Tours (including on a Segway).
- The Big Rush the name of the Moses Mahiba Stadium Swing is the world’s largest stadium swing. The Moses Mabhida stadium bungee jump prices are reasonable at R695 a person (USD $45 or GBP £38). Children must be at least aged 10 though.
- If you want panoramic views of the city, take the Moses Mahida stadium skycar to the top of the arch (106 metres high). On the day we went, the Moses Mahida stadium skycar was not operational because of maintenance work. You can take the 500 steps for the adventure walk to the top but that was more work than we were prepared to undertake for a panoramic view.
In addition to all the Moses Mahiba Stadium activities happening inside, the People’s Park outside the stadium is a beautiful area with a cafe, children’s play areas and lawned spaces.
Sample Durban Food
Probably the best known Durban food export is the Bunny Chow – it’s a loaf of bread with the inside scooped out and filled with curry. The curry can be mutton, prawn, chicken or vegetarian. The Bunny Chow came to be because Indian migrant workers needed a portable lunch to take with them when they went to work.
Indians have also provided other popular Durban street food snacks such as spicy pineapple pieces, samosas and koftas (a type of meatball).
If you are looking for a street food market, check out I Heart Market which is conveniently located near Moses Mahibida Stadium but unfortunately open once a month. The I Heart Market website puts up the dates when the market is next on.
Afternoon tea is a popular holdover from the British time in Durban. One of the best places to have afternoon tea is the glamourous Oyster Box Hotel.
Fun Things To Do in Durban With Kids
You can do many of the above activities with your kids but these two activities are specifically family-friendly things to do in Durban for kids.
Join Ushaka Marine World Activities
A 40 acre marine-themed amusement park, there are plenty of Ushaka Marine World Activities. The Ushaka Sea World is the fifth largest aquarium in the World. The Ushaka Wet-n-Wild is a water park.
There is a Ushaka Beach and a Ushaka Village (a large retail center with shops and restaurants). In the afternoons, there is a free Zulu dance performance which does involve voluntary audience participation in parts.
Play in the Durban Beachfront Promenade Pools
The Durban Beachfront is fabulous for children with many activities geared for them – from simply playing in the glorious golden sand to visiting Mini World and the fun fair.
The Durban beachfront promenade pools though are specifically geared for children’s enjoyment with water slides and wading pools. Many children prefer playing in pools to swimming in the ocean and it’s wonderful that Durban has acknowledged this fact.
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We received a complimentary guided Durban city bike tour from Bike and Saddle which did not in any way affect the opinions given in this article. We did not otherwise receive compensation of any form, monetary or otherwise, from any of the products, services, hotels etc mentioned in this article.
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