Durban, South Africa offers beaches, shopping, dining and entertainment
From the best food and drinks to fashion, the arts and surfing, Durban locals describe some of their favourite locations to sample what the city has to offer. Noted as an “alternative guide” to traditional guidebooks, residents give their own personal advice on visiting this unique South African tourist destination.
With laid-back appeal, the South African tourist destination of Durban invites visitors with its warm temperatures, warm water and fantastic beaches. From dining and entertainment options to beaches and shopping, The Guardian published what it calls "The alternative city guide to Durban, South Africa", a collection of narratives and photographs compiled by Gavin Weale and Siyabonga Mkhasibe from locals on the best places to do everything from eating and drinking to surfing and shopping.
Weale, the managing director at Live Magazine SA, begins with an overview describing the area’s most admirable qualities, from the 320 days a year of sunshine to the emerging gqom music movement that originated in the area and the annual film festival that it hosts. There’s also an effort underway to boost the city with the Rivertown Precinct development. Things like this are putting Durban on the map, in addition to hosting events such as the 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference and the annual MTV Africa Music Awards. As well, the location is home to the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra and the Playhouse Company.
It’s noted that the city is a mix of cultures, most evident in the harbour and downtown, while northern suburbs like Umhlanga most commonly cater to beachfront hotels and cafes. Indian influence is most prevalent in the sari shops and curries of Tongaat, Phoenix and Chatsworth, while less touristy areas include the townships of Umlazi and KwaMashu. The downtown area offers the opportunity to experience a little of everything, from fine dining and cafes, to barbecued meat and Indian curries.
Surfer Avuyile ‘Avo’ Ndamase has lived in Durban for two years and says he moved there to surf. He claims the city’s best waves are at New Pier, close to South Beach. While anywhere on the Golden Mile will work, he says South Beach is always a good choice. Outside of the city he points out Green Point, south of Durban about 40 minutes, and Cave Rock, with the best waves found in February.
As for surf shops, he suggests trying the Victoria Park location of 42 Surf Shop or Piranha Surf Galleria, found in uShaka Centre, for the big brands. The surfer also credits two surfing legends for starting Safari Surfboards in Durban in the mid 1960s, while acknowledging a larger surfing community still exists today. For surf lessons, boat trips or stand-up paddle boarding he points out the location of Ocean Ventures in uShaka Marine World. There’s also a beach skate park located on Snell Parade, close to North Beach.
For great beach culture he recommends New Pier with restaurants run by the lifesaving clubs. Friendly with good food is Marine Surf Lifesaving Club, found at Addington
Beach, while he also suggests the North Beach location of Durban Surf Lifesaving Club. It’s also advised to try the pizza, burgers or breakfast at Surf Riders Food Shack on Addington and Afro’s Chicken Shop, located on South Beach.
Local fashion designer Sibu Msimang writes that Durban is more conservative and relaxed than Johannesburg in terms of fashion, however she notes some young designers are starting to challenge tradition. She specifically mentions the 8 Morrison Street boutiques are a great place to start, located in the emerging Rivertown Precinct in South Beach. Here shoppers will find interesting high fashion from young designers like Brett Robson and Jacqui Emanuel plus more edgy street wear from designers like Rooispace, Swaggerwear and Spine. In addition, she points out the décor shop of Mi Africa and the gallery of Artisan with its hand-painted prints, fabrics and ceramics.
Westville’s Space Pavilion is noted for selling South African-made clothing that’s on-trend, including the classic yet unique style of designer Amanda Laird Cherry. Another designer, Colleen Eitzen, is regarded for constructing fashion that can work for multiple occasions.
Msimang adds its important to provide fashionable choices for women of all sizes in Durban, which is why she blends a more modern shape with bold prints and feminine-style at her studio in Morningside, what she calls the centre of the trendiest area of Durban.
Each first Saturday of the month the I Heart Market sets up for designers and local foodies to display their items for sale at the Moses Mabhida Stadium. This location is recommended for purchasing sterling silver and African beaded jewellery, handmade bags and quality handmade clothing. It’s pointed out that the brand Tempracha, street wear by Sanele Cele, is one to pay attention to in the future as he likes to experiment with fashion. Cele has a Morningside studio located on Umgeni Road. To get a bargain on vintage coats and clothing she mentions the Victoria Street area in the CBD.
Dining & Drinks
As the master distiller and founder of Distillery 031, Andrew Rall writes early morning is the best time of day during the summer months to dine in Central right by the beach. The Circus Circus café has five locations in the Durban area, serving up everything from scrambled eggs to an entire farmhouse breakfast for 64 rand, or about three pounds.
He notes that Durban is known for its curries, too, specifically mentioning Little India, located in Musgrave. He suggests sampling the yellow and red potato curies for less than two pounds plus traditional selections like madras, rogan josh and breyani, also called biryani. Well known for serving up roti rolls in the late night, Sunrise Chip ‘n Ranch is recommended as the place to go, commonly called Johnnies by the locals.
When it comes to drinks he advises that the Elangeni Hotel’s Panorama Bar is a great spot to view a sunset over the surf and bay, while Lucky Shaker in Umhlanga is popular for its cocktails by well-known mixologist Michael Stephenson. Rall advises ordering Nectar of the Gods, made with raspberry liqueur, gin infused with fresh nectarine, pressed apple and lychee.
He notes that Distillery 031 serves up such local ingredients as gin, vodka, absinthe and cachaca in its spirits along with gourmet street food such as the lamb jalfrezi burger, the oxtail and beef burger with pineapple jam and bacon and its own version of arancini rice balls called truffled biltong mac’n’chini.
Clubs and music
Musician Sandile Phakathi, also known as DJ Target, leads off the advice on clubs and music in Durban. He writes, “People in Durban love dancing, drinking and partying. They don’t like to sleep.”
Phakathi exclaims that locals also enjoy gqom, a fast style of electro music native to Durban. He plays in the club Chill Action Bar Point, next to South Beach in the Belmont Shopping Arcade. The club features two dance floors and slot machines. Other popular Central clubs mentioned include Havana Music Lounge, located on Monty Naicker Road and the often-packed Club101, located on Samora Machel Street.
Eyadini, located in Umlazi township, is noted for its inexpensive drinks, catering to a mixed crowd in an open-air environment. He also mentions Enhlanhleni Tavern, located north of Durban in KwaMashu and Under the Moon with its large outdoor dance floor in KwaZulu-Natal. For R&B and softer music he suggests the South Beach location of Egagasini.
Culture and arts
From the clubs to the arts, photographer Justin McGee describes art in Durban as “weird”. He suggests art comes in waves every couple of years or so. Young new artists commonly show at Artspace, a small gallery located just north of Central. Meanwhile, the longstanding Bat Centre is noted for its workshops and exhibitions in the harbour, helping teach painting and sculpture to promote local artists. It’s funded by an arts trust that is the legacy of a former Austrian adventurer and entrepreneur.
McGee writes that he gains inspiration from the beachfront. The Golden Mile, from South Beach to the Suncoast Casino and Moses Mabhida Stadium, becomes even more scenic as you travel north. The Bluff features mangrove swamps on the harbour’s other side.
He adds that Indian communities such as Tongaat are full of heritage, as he’s used the large sugar cane fields as backdrops for his collages in the past. He notes communities live within these fields.
Tips from readers
The article concludes with some additional Instagram photographs and recommendations from readers. A person identified as ID6425306 suggests heading north of Durban from August through October to spot dolphins and whales just off shore. The reader points out Salt Rock Hotel is a good choice for Sunday lunch oysters while the St Lucia River Estuary is fantastic for spotting wildlife including hippos.
Another reader, mccann09, recounts waiting out better sailing weather in Durban while en route to Cape Town. While in the city the person explored local neighbourhoods including the large collection of African arts and crafts at Phansi Museum and dined at the Glenwood Bakery, noted for its scrumptious bread. The wholesome Parc Café was also pointed out for its iced rooibos tea and coffee while the sailors purchased items for supper at Checkers grocery store. This particular reader also acknowledges visits to the KZNSA Gallery and the African Art Gallery. The People Mover bus is described as an affordable way to travel to the shore for people watching. Other mentions include a nice lunch at Spiga Café, a visit to Gateway Mall and the Musgrave botanical garden, along with a city-guided walking tour.
For a pick-up game of beach volleyball each Friday reader Nadia Ahmed points out locals are warm and welcoming. Players cap the game off with a drink at one of the local bars. Meanwhile the second hand bookstore of Ike’s was once owned by an anti-apartheid activist and still reflects his passion to this day. Reader OneEyedRat claims it’s the place to go for African literature or Africana work. This reader also suggests Afro’s for chicken burgers on the beachfront and Chairman for its jazz and drinks.
Noted for its beautiful scenery, exciting shops, delectable cuisine and fantastic beaches, visitors head to Durban in search of traditional and modern experiences. The coastal city is stylish, yet low-key, inviting those on holiday to come explore the many rich qualities that make it one of the most desirable destinations for holidays in South Africa.
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