The 031 is South Africa’s playground thanks to her lovely beaches, but there’s more that you can dive into – and it’s for free!
History buffs can spend hours at any one of the museums and art lovers will easily embrace Durban’s thriving creative scene. There’s also plenty on offer for outdoor and nature enthusiasts, and even classes for avid yoga devotees. Here’s the complete list of things to do for free in Durban.
Also read: Top 8 stays in Umhlanga for a seaside holiday.
1. Spend a day in the gardens
If there’s anything that will keep you occupied without spending money, it’s a trip to the beach. However, Durban also has a few gardens worth visiting – and entry is free!
The Sunken Gardens
The Sunken Gardens are right on North Beach and this historic treasure has been rehabilitated to be enjoyed by all. There are different stories about how the gardens came to be, but one is that they were built during the Great Depression to keep those without jobs busy.
Another is that the Sunken Gardens were a gift from Italian POWs (prisoners of war) during WWII who wanted to thank their South African captors for giving them freedom. There were no prisons in Durban to keep them in, so the Italian POWs had to agree not to escape.
Enjoy the aromas of over 200 rose species at Jameson Park. Also known as the Robert Jameson Park, the garden used to be a pineapple plantation and is now the home of dazzling rose displays.
For the Sunken Gardens and Jameson Park, call 0313224164.
Durban Botanic Gardens
Any list about gardens in Durban would be incomplete without a mention of the Durban Botanic Gardens. Africa’s oldest surviving botanic gardens has an impressive collection of orchids, cycads and ferns. Tel 0313224013 or 0313224014.
Don’t forget the Japanese Gardens, which were laid out in 1963. The bridges, cobbled pathways, water features, gazebos and blooms still capture imaginations today. The main lake near the Golden Frog is great for picnics and photo snaps. Tel 0313116975.
The People’s Park at Moses Mabhida is also a favourite chill-out spot in Durban and is certainly family-friendly. There’s usually a lot of activity, mainly of the sporting kind and a kilometre-long track is the perfect place to let off some steam. Another way to find happiness with exertion is to simply lounge on the spacious lawns with the glorious stadium in the background. Tel 0315828242.
2. Browse the art galleries
Gazing at art is the right kind of escape you need from the city and there are plenty of spaces in Durban to do that. The KwaZulu Natal Society of Arts or KZNSA Gallery has different gallery spaces (Main, Mezzanine and Park) that allow for grand and intimate exhibitions. Visit their website for exhibitions and opening hours. Tel 0312771705.
Durban Art Gallery
The Durban Art Gallery is also one of the city’s oldest and has a combination of historic and contemporary art. They’re open from 08:30 to 16:00 from Monday to Saturday, and from 11:00 to 16:00 on Sunday. Tel 0313112264.
African Art Centre
The African Art Centre on Florida Road has long showcased traditional African crafts and artworks and provided economic development to people from disadvantaged communities. Step inside to appreciate the artistic excellence of KZN’s talented local artists. Tel 0313123804.
To experience art in a warehouse space, head to artSPACE durban which is located on 3 Millar Road just off Umgeni. You’ll be amazed at how much creativity springs from this light industrial area. Tel 0313120793.
3. Walk through the art world at First Thursdays
You’re doing Durban wrong if you haven’t been to its edition of First Thursdays. It usually happens in the Station Drive Precinct and is a wonderful way to experience Durban’s creative overflow. I mean, where else in South Africa can you join a free Bollywood dance class?
Then, there’s also the occasional salsa sessions, as well as live music, art exhibitions and flea markets (you’ll just have to resist the urge to spend and just browse instead). The next First Thursday event is on 5 October. Follow their Facebook page to get all the details, from 18:00 until late.
4. Unwind in nature
Amanzimtoti Bird Sanctuary
You can see as many as 150 bird species at the Amanzimtoti Bird Sanctuary if you perch in one of the three bird hides. There is also a forested self-guided trail where you’ll be surrounded by indigenous trees and a pond where to watch waterfowl in their element. The landscape gardens is also reason enough to visit. Tel 0319031203.
Beachwood Mangrove Nature Reserve
The Beachwood Mangrove Nature Reserve is only open for a half-day once a month so treat yourself to it’s system of trails and spot mudskippers, fiddler crabs and different birds. It’s open every third Saturday from 08:00 to 13:00, but you must make a booking prior to visiting. Tel 0825592839.
Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve
The Umhlanga Lagoon Nature Reserve is small at just 26 hectares, but its dune forests provide an amazing retreat. Its idyllic boardwalks have decorated many Instagram feeds and you can hear the ocean humming in the distance. Various trees are labelled, such as the Coastal Red milkwood and mammals scamper about too, look out for are duikers (both grey and blue) and bushbuck. Guided walks take place daily at 09:00, 11:00 and 15:00. For more information speak to reception at Breakers Resort.
Burman Bush in Morningside is also a small coastal forest that has Durban’s largest blue duiker population. Take pleasure in walking through this indigenous forest with its 15 observation points and you’ll find Red beech, Forest fever-berry and Flat crowns. Remember to wear comfortable walking shoes because of the roots and rocks. 101 Burman Drive, Morningside, Tel 0313124466.
5. Get fit with free bootcamp and yoga
Revive your energy and get your circulation going by joining a free yoga class, suitable for both newbies and old hands. In Durban, the Fry’s Yoga Club meets at Fortune Coffee at 15 Station Drive every Monday at 17:30 ([email protected]).
6. Salsa under the sky at Suncoast Casino
Durban is considered to be South Africa’s version of Miami and what better way to demonstrate this than open-air salsa at Suncoast Casino’s Amphitheatre? Dance styles aren’t limited to salsa and include Angola’s kizomba, bachata from the Dominican Republic and rueda from Cuba. If you’re inexperienced, you’re more than welcome to join and you don’t have to have a partner either. The classes are hosted monthly from 15:00 to 17:00. Tel 0795237147 or [email protected].
7. Explore Durban’s history
What was once the Native Administration Department is now the KwaMuhle Museum. Inside you will learn about the history of Durban’s urban residents and the interactions between the city’s cultures. The department was notorious for its labour control system and the museum’s main attraction, ‘The Durban System’, shows this. There are photographs of early township life, cultural organisations and groups and the history of black political trade unions. The museum is open weekdays from 08:30 to 16:00 and on Saturdays from 08:30 to 12:30. 130 Bram Fischer Road. Tel 0313112237.
Old Court Museum
This museum used to be a recruitment centre and canteen during the Anglo-Zulu War. It may contain artefacts of the past, but there is a modern interactive touch-screen showing Durban’s history too. There is also a miniature car display and lovely art nouveau pieces. The Old Court Museum is open 08:30 to 16:00 from Monday to Saturday. 77 Aliwal Street. Tel 0313112229.
Durban Natural Science Museum
It might be South Africa’s smallest natural science museum, but it turned 130 this year and will educate many about the past of our natural environment for years to come. There are fascinating displays like the almost complete skeleton of the dodo and the life-size T-rex model. The museum also has the largest collection of birds in Africa and a display of 750000 identified insect species. The museum is open from 09:00 to 16:00 from Monday to Sunday. 234 Anton Lembede Street. Tel 0313112256.
The Addington Centenary Museum
Addington Hospital was first built at its seaside location in the late nineteenth century. The remains of the Ovington Court ship can be seen from the hospital, which is now a museum. There are displays of early and current medical equipment and other nineteenth-century artefacts. The Addington Centenary Museum only opens on Thursdays from 09:00 to 12:00. If the Thursday occurs at month-end confirm if the museum is open before visiting. Tel 0313272702.
Bergtheil Museum centres on the first German settlers and is located in Westville. There is a collection on South Africa’s military history and household items and photos as well as a reference library. They’re open from Monday to Friday, 08:30 to 16:00. 16 Queens Avenue, Berea West. Tel 0312660271.
If we’ve missed anything out, do let us know in the comments!