South Africa is often a fascinating mix of cultures, and few cities exemplify that better than Durban. The capital of the KwaZulu-Natal province has large populations of Zulu and Indian people, among many others, so the variety of attractions and activities – including many of the free things to do in Durban – reflects that cultural mix.
Here are some of the top free things to do in Durban. Of course, some of these attractions are places where you could spend money if you wanted to – but simply visiting them doesn’t cost a thing.
- Victoria Street Market – The Victoria Street Market is a two-story building with shops on both sides of busy aisles. It’s a feast for the senses, with colorful handicrafts and jewelry, musical instruments, and barrels full of Indian spices. Bring cash and haggling skills if you plan to buy anything, but it can be an exhilerating place to spend a couple hours even if you walk out empty-handed.
- Beaches – The waves that hit Durban’s beaches are from the warm Indian Ocean, so the beaches are popular places to be in nearly any weather. There’s a promenade along a particular stretch of beach called the Golden Mile that’s actually about four miles long, with the occasional pier jutting out into the water, and it’s perfect for walking or cycling. You can also just hang out and watch people playing or fishing on the beaches.
- Francis Farewell Square – The historic Francis Farewell Square in front of Durban’s City Hall is a nice place to watch the world go by for a little while, but it’s also an important spot in the city’s history. This is where the settlement that would become Durban began in the early 19th century. And if you’ve been to Belfast, you’ll recognize Durban’s City Hall – it’s an exact copy of the one in the Northern Ireland capital.
- Durban Natural Science Museum – Located inside Durban’s City Hall, the Natural Science Museum is one of the smallest in South Africa, but it’s absolutely worth checking out. This museum has a life-size model of a Tyrannosaurus rex, but even more interesting is one of the world’s only near-complete Dodo skeletons.
- Durban Cultural and Documentation Centre – To learn more about Indian culture in Durban and how the Indian population became such a major part of the city, head for this museum in the city center. There’s information here about Gandhi’s experiences in Durban, too.
- KwaMuhle Museum – The building that housed the Department of Native Affairs during the Apartheid years, when every black person in the Natal province had to register here, is now where you’ll find the KwaMuhle Museum dedicated to the history of race relations in Durban.
- Japanese Garden – There’s nothing quite like a walk through a Japanese garden to calm the spirit, especially if you need a break from the bustle of a city like Durban.
- Botanical Gardens – Durban is home to Africa’s oldest botanical gardens, which were established in 1849. And the main reason to visit is something you might not expect in a garden – fossils. Durban’s Botanical Gardens has one of the best collections of are what are called “living fossil plants,” cycads that pre-date the dinosaurs.
- Addington Centenary Museum – Anyone with an interest in medical history will want to visit the Addington Centenary Museum, opened on the 100th anniversary of the Addington Hospital’s foundation in Durban. The museum collection features many historic medical instruments and artifacts.
- Muthi Market – For what’s likely to be a big cultural shock, wander through the muthi market. Muthi is traditional Zulu medicine, and this street market is where you’ll find the Zulu equivalent of pharmacists selling all manner of plant and animal remedies for many ailments. It’s important to note that the muthi market is best visited with a guide, so although the market is free to visit you’ll want to hire a local guide to escort you through it. You can book a Durban market tour to explore both the muthi and Victoria Street markets in one tour.