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Downtown Durban in South Africa

Updated on October 3, 2014
The beautiful coastline of Durban
The beautiful coastline of Durban

Tropical Durban, South Africa

Durban is located in the Province of Kwazulu Natal and is situated on the East Coast. The Indian Ocean is warm with beautiful sandy beaches and the Durban Port is the busiest in South Africa.

Many of the street names have changed and the city centre used to be a great place to go to but it has become a little unsafe as any city centre would. There are many things to do in Durban and it is beautiful with an amazing climate all year through.

When heading to downtown Durban be sure to walk with a friend and do not have cellphones, jewellery and cameras in plane sight!

It is a must see and all you have to do as a tourist is just be cautious and careful.

In the day a visit to the beach and local museums is a must and by night it is something to see!

History of Durban

Vasco da Gama a Portuguese explorer discovered Durban on Christmas day in 1497 where he named it Rio de Natal (Christmas River) as he thought many rivers flowed into the bay. In those times the bay was isolated from the sea by a sandbar, crocs, hippo's and flamingo's. The bay was fringed with dense mangroves beyond which lay a ridge of hills with elephants, hyena's and lions. The bay was visited by a number of slave traders and mariners due to the protective anchorages.

In 1823 Lt James King commanded the Salisbury to trade up and down the South African coast and bad weather forced them to shelter in Durban where King realised the importance of Port Natal. He tried to claim setlement but was unsuccessful.

Lt King was befriended by King Shaka who granted him land around the bay and the rough uncertain life diminshed the small amount of settlers. King died of dysentery in 1828.

One of the earliest settlers was Captain Allen Francis Gardiner who tried to convert the Zulu's to christianity and had to retreat to Berea as he was shuned by King Dingane.

In 1835 a total of 15 settlers proclaimed the town and named it Durban in honour of the Governor of the Cape, Sir Benjamin D'urban.

The settlers did not do much with the town and had no streets for about twelve years after there proclamation but in 1850 an Irishman named Byrne had been to the bay and wanted to make money by shipping in settlers.

In 1860 the first of several thousand Indians arrived to work in the sugar cane fields and with them arrived Indians who were free to do business.

The Voortrekkers arrived in 1838 and were massacred by the Zulu's along the way. The british sent in a force in 1842 to maintain order and were besieged by the Voortrekkers.

Dick King and his zulu servant had to ride to the British Garrison in Pietermaritsburg to get help.

In 1844 the British annexed the Southern Port of Natal.

Today you can see a statue of Dick King in the city centre of Durban on the Embankment near the harbour and the old wagon tracks made by the Voortrekkers are still visible on the Umlazi River.

George Cato laid out the town with three main streets (100ft) wide to turn a wagon and sixteen oxen and that is why the streets of Durban are so wide. In 1860 a railway linked the harbour with the small town and in 30 years reached all the way to Johannesburg.

Although most of the Indians came to Durban to work on the sugar cane farms on indentured contracts many were passenger Indians able to trade and that has formed a major part of Durban's community. Grey Street in Durban is a well known street for trading with Indians today. The Victoria Street market is also well known for the spices and fresh fish caught by the Indians. It is not a very safe area to go to today but it is worth going to try the authentic spices and for the experience of this well known market.

The discovery of gold and coal boosted trade in South Africa and the sandbar was removed from the bay in order to make it wider for shipbuilders and mariners to pass through.

The expansion of the railways attracted people from the Transvaal which established Durban as a major tourist destination, which is still that way today.

In 1935 Durban was granted city status as it had a number of satelite suburbs which was incorporated into the town.

In 1996 Durban was further enlarged to become the Durban Metropolitan region by including areas north, south and west of the town.

In 2000 Durban was further expanded and is now know as the unicity.

Roma Revolving Restaurant
Roma Revolving Restaurant
Durban City Hall
Durban City Hall
Victoria Street Market
Victoria Street Market
Grey Street
Grey Street
The Playhouse Company
The Playhouse Company
Durban Harbour
Durban Harbour

Places of Interest

There are so many things to do in Durban. Roma Revolving Restaurant is located in John Ross House on the Victoria Embankment, where you can get a 360degree panoramic view of the city, harbour, sea and buildings. If you are lucky enough to go there on a clear day you can see the Drakensberg Mountains too.

Durban City Hall was completed in 1910 and it has been left the same. It houses the Natural History Museum, public library and muncipal buildings. Be cautious around the city centre as there are a number of beggers and pick pockets on the streets.

Victoria Street Market has over 170 stalls and was first opened in the 1870's. The Indian community in Durban is the largest outside of Asia. The bright colours, smells and tastes are something to explore and you can buy fresh fish from the market, incense, spices and clothing.

If you want to make a day of it then head down to Grey Street (Dr Yusaf Dadoo Street) to explore the cultural heart of the Indian community. Clothing, materials and the narrow lanes will give you the essence of the old "bartering" town.

These two streets are not very safe and you should avoid going there with jewellery and pockets of cash.

The Playhouse Company is also in the centre of town and it has a number of plays and performances which sometimes portrays the essence of the Zulu Kingdom. It is a beautiful building and worth going to see.

The Durban Harbour is situated on the Victoria Embankment and there are a number of restaurants to visit but booking a day cruise on board a boat that takes you out to sea is a must!

You can experience the harbour and take in the fresh air, the smell of the ocean and the feel of the waves as you leave the harbour and enter the sea where you might be lucky to spot a dolphin.

Maritime Museum
Maritime Museum

Maritime Museum

The Maritime Museum is located at the Durban Harbour and it is only R5-00 entrance fee. It offers an insight into the influence of maritime culture on local life and the lives out at sea. The steam tug; J.R. More, the minesweeper; SAS Durban, the NCS Challenger and the Ulundi are exhibits that you can see and explore.

Victoria Embankment, Durban, South Africa:
Victoria Embankment, Durban, South Africa

get directions

Theme Park and Water world
Theme Park and Water world
Underwater Scuba Walk
Underwater Scuba Walk
Dolphin Show
Dolphin Show
Cage Diving
Cage Diving
Marine Parade Durban Beachfront
Marine Parade Durban Beachfront

Ushaka Marine World and Marine Parade

Ushaka Marine World is a new edition to the Downtown Durban and it is like an oasis after passing Point Road. The road to get there is not an attractive sight at all but once you reach Ushaka, there is a great atmosphere and plenty to do.

Ushaka was opened in 2004 and it is a 16 hectare theme park where you can watch a live dolphin show, take a breathtaking walk through the aquarium, jump into the water with the sharks (cage diving) or put on a scuba suit and walk under water! If that's too much adventure for you than you can soak up the rays at the water world and enjoy the slides or simply chill on the beach, drinking a coctail.

The suggested route would be to go along the Promenade where you can take in the ocean view and the holiday vibe before you arrive there.

With many places to eat whilst sitting on the beach you can only get that full holiday feeling.

Addington Beach is beautiful but you have to beware of tramps, beggers and thieves! Swimming is a must in this ocean as the waves are not rough and the water is fantastic. They offer paddle ski's and surf boards for the braver traveller.

When you are on the Durban Beachfront do not forget to have a Riksha Ride. It is an experience! You can also take a look a mini town where there is a model of the entire city of Durban. Don't forget to have a look at the stadium which hosted the World Cup 2010.

The beachfront has numerous hotels and the city centre itself has many museums for you to explore but ideally the best thing to do in Durban is "Chill out and soak up the rays bru."

Placs to Avoid and Danger Zones.

Durban is beautiful and there are many places to explore but remember that when you are in Africa it is not a good idea to walk around advertising that you are a tourist. Keep jewellery in the hotel safe, keep cash at a minimum and don't flash it around, camera's and cellphones should be concealed. Always go somewhere in a group and if taking a taxi, get your hotel to organise it for you. Keep away from quiete little streets and dark corners and do not entertain the beggers or tramps and be alert!!

Point Road, West Street and Addington are places to avoid walking through. There are a number of cheap accommodation places around those areas which sadly does bring a bad element to the city as does any city centre.

Always ask your hotel for help with transport and don't walk alone!

Other than that it is beautiful and there is plenty of history in Downtown Durban for you to explore, with palm trees, the ocean breeze and the best climate in the world.

Map of the City of Durban

The Golden Mile
The Golden Mile


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    • Tashaonthetown profile imageAUTHOR

      Natasha Pelati 

      16 months ago from South Africa

      Thank you Johan, Durban has changed a lot but it is still one of the best places to be

    • Johan Smulders profile image

      Johan Smulders 

      16 months ago from East London, South Africa

      A really excellent article on Durban. Although living in East London we often visit Durban as we have a son who lives in Durban North. You photos and information is first class. Well done!

    • Nadine May profile image

      Nadine May 

      5 years ago from Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa

      I'm so glad to have read your hub just now. What great information. I should have done my research on before creating the images for my first chapter: The self employed housewife! I will create a link in my first chapter to your great hub.


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