A local’s guide to Durban, South Africa: 10 top tips

A local’s guide to Durban, South Africa: 10 top tips

Surfers have long known about the year-round draw of Durban and now a new direct BA flight from London makes its subtropical shores more accessible

a surfer rides a summer cyclone wave at New Pier beach, Durban.
 Take the tube … a surfer rides a summer cyclone wave at New Pier beach, Durban. Photograph: Chris Van Lenne/Getty Images

Beachfront

Durban has always been a beach town, but the promenade has never been more vibrant, with street performers, sand sculptures, stalls and paddling pools. The front has a growing number of restaurants: the Joint is the latest, with local-style meat dishes and beers plus an upstairs bar with sea views; Afro’s Chicken Shack, in a bright yellow former shipping container, does chicken burgers and tjips (chips); and California Dreaming has a deck for dolphin spotting and serves bunny chow. uShaka Marine World has two good restaurants: Wahooz on the promenade, with free Sunday music sessions, and Cargo Hold, where sharks swim past the tables. Early in the morning, everyone is out paddleboarding, kayaking, cycling, jogging and surfing – there are kit hire shops, and two free open-air gyms.

Main street

Florida Road dining and shopping area.
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 In the pink … Florida Road dining and shopping area. Photograph: Alamy

The Florida Road area north of the centre retains a colonial air, its elegant villas adorned with Victorian lacework balconies, but now there is a great range of restaurants, cafes and bars. Catch a few tunes while sipping cocktails at the Charlatan, try tandoori wraps at Roti & Chai,or wood-fired pizzas at the Firehouse. The southern end in particular buzzes with activity. CityRoast cafe features Vusi, the baritone opera-singing barista, and shares the space with Falafel Fundi, for typical Durban fusion: chicken schnitzel roti anyone? These are cooked by charismatic chef Saar Ben Hamoo and served with great home-made lemonade. Around the corner is the pairing of Ike’s Books and vinyl shop Khaya Records. The bookshop, in a turn-of-the-century building, was an activist meeting place during the apartheid years and has a vast selection of secondhand books on Africa, modern novels and curios. Watch out for the, plus regular book launches and debates. Next door, Khaya Records is not just a record shop but a venue for gigs and events.

Creative district

Momenti Artisan Gelato
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Transformed in recent years into a huge venue for shops and artisanal food producers, Station Drive Precinct also has great vintage clothing at the Vintager, furniture, jewellery, the African Art Centre, and pop-up events. Food is a major element: Parkside serves a great potato and chilli frittata, Khuluma make fresh baked goodies and coffee, and Momenti (pictured) does adventurous gelato and sorbets – try the turmeric, or fresh coconut, black sesame and honeycomb. Station 43 is the venue for gigs and food, and even has its own brewery: That Brewing Co.

City tours

Phansi Museum, Durban, South Africa
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For an intro to the city, try Justin Perumal’s Wild Routes (prices vary). They are especially strong on arts, from street art and graffiti in Glenwood to the highbrow KZNSA gallery. Another outfit, Beset, does regular free public walks showing visitors the grittier side of the city. Another must-see museum is the Phansi (pictured), whose extraordinary collection of Zulu beadwork, ceramics and crafts is housed in a lovely 19th-century colonial villa in Glenwood that was once the home of Esther Roberts, a campaigner against racial injustice as well as a collector of African arts and crafts. The museum has regular exhibitions and cultural events. Durban Botanic Gardens is an oasis in the city, established in 1849, is Africa’s oldest surviving botanic garden, great for a picnic under the trees or cream scones in its tea garden. It’s also a popular venue for outdoor concerts.

Zulu-style barbecue

A traditional South African bunny chow, Indian curry served in a hollowed out loaf
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 Photograph: Alamy

Bunny chow (half a loaf filled with curry) is Durban’s most famous local speciality: try it at the Britannia Hotel or Cane Cutters in Glenwood. Patels in Yusuf Daddo street does vegetarian bunnies. Less well-known to outsiders is shisa nyama, an informal barbecue where Zulu people celebrate one of the world’s most carnivorous diets. Typically it’s where you go after a night out, to deal with your babalaas – hangover – but evening sessions can mean music and dancing. Much of township life is difficult to access for outsiders, but Max’s Shisa Nyama in Umlazi is a good place to sample it. Run by the Max Mqadi, it has become popular with both locals and tourists. The busy Sunday sessions attract top local DJs.
 maxslifestyle.mobi

Beachfront stays

Curiocity backpacker hostel
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 Curiocity backpacker hostel

For early morning surfing, there is nothing like staying on the beachfront. At boutique backpacker hostel Curiocity (dorm beds £13) the dorms are clean and cheap (there are private rooms, too) and it does film nights, braais and beach yoga. Also handy for the sand is the retro style Blue Waters Hotel(doubles £51 B&B) with fabulous sea views from most rooms. D’Urban Elephant (doubles from £65) is an elegant, six-room Edwardian-era guesthouse on Berea ridge, full of regional art and found objects. Its garden and pool overlook the harbour and ocean, the backdrop for a cooked breakfast on the veranda. Guests can use the kitchen, though the restaurant strip of Glenwood (Helen Joseph Road) is within walking distance.

Markets

Muthi medicine, market, Victoria Street.
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 Muthi medicine, market, Victoria Street. Photograph: Getty Images

I Heart Market is held on the first Saturday of the month on the lawns outside the Moses Mabhida stadium, the World Cup venue whose arch boasts a panoramic view of the city and ocean. The market has local designers, food and drink stalls, crafts, clothing and a whole lot more. Another great spot is Muthi Market on Victoria Street: muthi is traditional medicine and Durban is home to one of Africa’s largest markets. Despite a serious fire this year, the market is an amazing place to wander around, full of unusual sights, smells and strange juxtapositions. Durban has several other interesting markets, and the best tour is with Markets of Warwick.

Bakeries and cafes

Tasty sandwiches from Glenwood Bakery
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 Tasty sandwiches from Glenwood Bakery

The Glenwood Bakery is a busy breakfast spot also open in the evenings for pizzas. On the other side of town, Bread the Artisan Bakery in Lilian Ngoyi Road has an interesting range of sourdough. Peter, their baker, is always experimenting with new breads, such as black sage, Egyptian dukka and so on. Antique Café on Churchill Road is exquisitely decorated with Indian saris and antiques. Its courtyard is a lovely spot for breakfast or lunch. The Crazy Korean overlooks the sea just across the Umgeni river, and its irrepressible chef, KJ Lee, has a fantastic selection of Korean food, some cooked at the table. There is a guesthouse attached.

The Chairman

cocktail at the Chairman

A group of young Durban architects have taken a dilapidated building in a rundown part of town and transformed it into something incredible. Huge wooden doors lead to a funky bar area filled with a crazy collection of furniture and artefacts. There’s a popular courtyard out back where customers lounge around on cushions. The cocktail list includes a “voodoo child”, with kiwi fruit and blackcurrant vodka, there’s an extensive whisky menu and they serve great pizza. There’s also an art gallery and live jazz. This is not an area to wander around late at night, but fine by taxi. Another great bar is Lucky Shaker in Umhlanga, north of the city, where a bunch of creative guys make unique cocktails with locally sourced ingredients.
 146 Mahatma Gandhi Road, thechairmanlive.com

Catch some music

drumshack durban
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The Drumshack hosts weekly community drum jam (£2 entry) at the Castle-on-Main, a 1952-built castle in Hillcrest, 30km west of the city centre, with djembes on sale for those who want to keep drumming after your trip. Also worth catching is the Zakifo music festival in May, a celebration of Indian Ocean music at locations around the city.

British Airways starts direct flights from Heathrow to Durban three times a week on October 29, from £599 return.

When to go
Durban has a sub-tropical climate with mild, sunny winters and hot, humid summers (with most rainfall between October and March). The city is the gateway to KwaZulu-Natal, with its many varied attractions, from the Drankensberg mountains in the west to the wetlands of the Elephant Coast in the north-east.

Exchange rate: £1 = 19 South African rand
Dinner for two with wine £23
Beer in a local bar £1.30, coffee £1.50

Source: www.theguardian.com

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