* Note this article originally appeared here on Traveller24.
In Mercer’s 2017 Quality of Living Survey, many South Africans – myself included – were rather surprised that Durban came out tops in South Africa. It was awarded the 83rd best quality of living for any city, followed suit a little later by Cape Town and Johannesburg with places 94 and 95 respectively.
A son of KwaZulu-Natal, I’d had many fond childhood memories of trips to Durban. A decade later, I was about to revisit city of summer. Having now lived in both Cape Town and Johannesburg, I had to see for myself what Durban had on her bigger brother and sister cities.
Chances are you’ll be arriving in the evening, so best head straight your hotel, check-in, and take that shower you’ve been thinking of on the flight – or if you’re from drought-stricken Cape Town, that dream bath. With a range of accommodation options to choose, I wanted something fairly central to both town and beach, and with a little luxury thrown in, and the Hilton
The Hilton is an iconic Durban hotel, with both a prominent place in the city’s skyline and hospitality scene. A recent upgrade has ensured that the Hilton lives up to everything you’d expect from a five-star hotel. The word ‘warm’ has become synonymous with Durban, and this certainly extends to the staff. After a day I was already on a first name basis with the staff and relished the chance to practice my rather rusty Zulu.
Try to get a room on a higher floor as the views are astounding, and if you have sea facing room, the ocean sunrise is something worth waking for. After that shower, head down to The Big Easy, at the bistro-style grill house. The eatery is the hotel’s in-house dining option and is the brainchild of local golfing legend Ernie Els. There’s a generous wine list to impress you, but go easy, remember there’s a whole weekend ahead.
I thought the best way to begin my Durban explorations, was with a look at some of its cultural history. Despite being native to the area, I was deeply moved by my morning on the Inanda Heritage Route: a collection of heritage hot-spots, not far from the city. I began with a visit to Gandhi’s home, now a restored museum, where you’re invited not only into the man’s home but also his humble but significant life. Bongani is the informed local guide, who sensitively guides you through the museum complex.
My second stop on the route was the Ohlange Institute, where guide Mandla introduced me to the home of first ANC president John Dube, who was a remarkable academic, author, speaker and much more. The location is also where Mandela cast his vote in the first democratic elections. Both locations are free to visit, and whilst are not the most well signposted, once there you’ll be thankful for the visit.
After an emotionally educational morning, it was time to clear the head and have a chance to put my feet in the water. The city’s famed ‘Golden Mile’ is a mere five-minute walk from the hotel. You’ll join hundreds of others walking, running or simply sitting soaking up the sun. Take a towel with and enjoy the famously warm ocean. If you’re keen to hang out with the locals, end the evening at The Jazz Joint for shish inyama (braai), and some house music.
Since the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the Moses Mabhida Stadium has been a proud feature of the Durban cityscape. The Skycar takes you up to the top of the stadium for astounding 360-degree views, and if you’re brave enough the try out the 220m Big Swing: the tallest swing in the world accordingly to the Guinness Book of Records.
It may seem a little crazy to visit South Africa’s favourite summer-city, and then choose to spend an hour or two in an icy environment, but a visit to Ice Arena is a total blast. A recent upgrade means a larger and more classy ice rink, and whether you’re a novice or an ice-whizz, there’s fun to be had for all ages.
The last day in Durban calls for some outdoor action, and where better than uShaka Marine World, one of Durban’s key attractions. Reclaim your inner child in the water park, shop away at the Village Walk, and of course marvel at Sea World, Africa’s largest aquarium.
Before flying out I decided on a dose of decadence to end my visit to Durban and chose High Tea at The Oyster Box. The luxurious spaces of the hotel are such a sensory encounter, that a mere walk through the hotel is an experience in itself. Throw yourself at the savouries, cakes, and yes, even samosas and chilli bites. You may put on the calories, but you’ll leave Durban with a happy heart and tummy.
Yes, #durbanhasmore, and a long weekend is a good starter, but this magnificent city deserves a longer break. Durbs, I’ll be back.