Umhlanga, the best area to stay in Durban
Sightseeing, shopping, beaches, restaurants, first-time visitors, nightlife, solo-travellers
Just a 20-minute drive away from Durban central is the thriving town of Umhlanga Rocks. The small town has exploded in recent years, with skyscraper hotels and business sectors all enjoying views of the ocean (and occasional pods of dolphin swimming past). Umhlanga's main attraction is the beach. A wide promenade runs adjacent to the shore, past the Whalebone Pier, the Lighthouse and the stylish, world-renowned Oyster Box Hotel, which has an unmissable 'all you can eat' breakfast buffet (complete with champagne and oysters) which will be a highlight of your Durban visit.
The majority of restaurants and shops are found along Chartwell Drive, but just a 4-minute drive away is Gateway Theatre of Shopping, ranking in as one of the 100 largest malls in the world. Here you'll find cinemas, cafes, and clothings stores galore. Umhlanga is close to Sibaya Casino, which has been designed with Zulu architectural influences.
Hotels in Umhlanga
Other areas to stay in Durban
THE GOLDEN MILE
Sightseeing, beaches, restaurants, couples
Stretching for 5.95 km, the 'Mile' starts from uShaka Beach and runs up to Suncoast Casino. This wide, paved promenade is a good spot to find breakfast cafes and is popular with joggers, walkers, cyclists and soccer teams doing early-morning fitness training. Look out for the Rickshaw drivers, with their hand-painted, ornate carriages. These drivers offer passengers hand-pulled lifts along the Mile, in keeping with a 130-year-old profession.
Walk along the Mile to connect with Moses Mabhida Stadium - for the thrill-seekers, try the world's tallest swing, the Big Rush which allows adrenaline junkies to plummet (safely) from the roof of the soccer stadium. For a more genteel experience (and the same phenomenal city views) take the Sky Car instead. At the end of the Mile, just before the harbour mouth, you reach uShaka Beach and uShaka Marine World. With its aquarium, restaurants, shops and water slides, it's a must-visit for all ages.
Hotels in the Golden Mile
Couples, business, first-time visitors, restaurants, parks, nightlife
Just a 10-minute drive inland, this is a quieter area, and there's a sense of grandeur shown in the older houses, wide streets and tall trees. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes in the area, along with Durban's classic nighttime stretch: Florida Road. Friday and Saturday night brings this road alive with restaurant-goers and party revellers. Order beers and burgers at Dropkick Murphys, Italian down at Mamma Luciana's and Mozambican chicken and prawns at +258. For a relaxed afternoon picnic, head to Durban Botanical Gardens.
This beautiful garden frequently holds day-time music events, and you'll see many couples doing photoshoots amongst the trees and flowers. Mathews Meyiwa Road is where you'll find all the surf shops, but for a real shopping experience, visit Victoria Street Market. There are markets for different produce, from meat and spices to clothing to traditional medicine. This is an iconic Durban experience, and be sure to hire a local guide to show you around.
Hotels in Morningside
KLOOF AND THE UPPER HIGHWAY AREA
Families, couples, business, restaurants, scenic, upmarket
A somewhat underrated place to stay, the upmarket Kloof suburb sits 550-meters above sea level and generally has a cooler climate, with bouts of thick mist which makes for lush vegetation. 20-minutes by car ride from Durban, it's close enough to visit the city easily but far enough that you can enjoy a whole host of new experiences, such as attending the Shongweni Farmer's Market on the weekends for local crafts and food. Kloof runs along the edge of the impressive Krantzkloof Nature Reserve, which is a huge gorge cut through by the Molweni river, which forms waterfalls and swimming pools.
The hike down to visit these waters is steep and often muddy, but there are viewpoints along the edge which are accessible by car and a short walk. For more views, drive to Bothas Hill. From restaurants like The View, and The Pot and Kettle, breakfast and lunch are served along with expansive views over the Valley of a Thousand Hills.
Hotels in Kloof
Families, couples, business, shopping, affordable
Adjacent to Umhlanga Rocks is the residential area of Durban North. Unpretentious and casual, many people live here because it's close to Durban, yet more affordable than Umhlanga Rocks. It may be quiet, but it has everything that you need - bigger houses, schools, restaurants, a beach, and shops. For the latter, visit La Lucia Mall which has grocers, fashion outlets and electronics. It also has a spice shop called Gorima's, where you can buy ingredients to make your own curry at home. Durban North borders the Umgeni River, which is connected to the ocean by an intricate ecosystem - the mangrove swamps. In 1980, this area was declared a national monument.
Walking along the boardwalks you'll spot fiddler crabs, mud skippers and learn about red, black and white mangrove trees, guided by helpful signage boards. Next, visit the Umgeni River Bird Park to see magnificent birds, both exotic and indigenous to South Africa.
Hotels in Durban North
Couples, beaches, solo-travellers, business
Visitors to this tiny coastal town will immediately feel like a local. With one road access, and steep hills leaving limited room for new developments, it's stuck in its small size - and that's the way everyone likes it. Umdloti is a 15-minute drive from King Shaka International Airport, and 15-minutes from Umhlanga Rocks. The beach at Umdloti isn't as crowded as the Durban and Umhlanga beaches, and most of the houses have sea views and are a short stroll - if not across the road - from the shores. For a small town, there's a surprising amount of good restaurants.
Visit Mundo Vida Restaurant for dining with a sea-side view, and walk along North Beach road to swim in the tidal pool. Birdwatchers can enjoy an incredible bird display at Mount Moreland between April and October. Half an hour before sunset each evening, millions of barn swallows congregate, swooping and flying about before settling into the reeds to nest after dusk.
Hotels in Umdloti
Families, couples, beaches, solo-travellers, first-time visitors
Ballito is the quintessential beach holiday town with many stretches of beach to choose from. Thompson's Bay has a small tidal pool and interesting rock formations leading to secluded beaches, and Willard Beach being the main beach is most popular. The coastline here is clean and well-maintained. Ballito is rapidly becoming popular with new homeowners and has many accommodation options, ranging from guest houses to high-end hotels.
There are many day-outings to pick between. Go tubing or waterski at Ballito Ski Park and enjoy sundowners at their pizzeria, or visit MonkeyLandKZN to lemurs and gibbon monkeys in a free-roaming sanctuary environment. Ballito is the perfect base to stay for a longer trip to Durban, allowing you to do day trips to all the major towns, but come back home to some of the best beaches that this region has to offer.
Hotels in Ballito