Cape Town isn’t South Africa’s only coastal capital. A 20-minute drive along the honeyed coast from The Oyster Box, Durban is one of South Africa’s most colourful, yet rarely explored cities. It’s an eclectic mix of contemporary cafés, chic boutiques and mesmerising galleries. Here, we explore the city’s lesser-known treasures, admiring its rich heritage and profiling its lesser-known hangouts with our cultured Durban guide.
An edgy arts scene
The arts scene in Durban is talented and varied, sitting among the most promising in Africa. Art is central to the city’s culture, a deep reflection of its diverse population and international influences. Its premier art institution, the Durban Art Gallery was the first to start collecting African art in the country. Located in Durban’s high Baroque City Hall, the museum has been instrumental in inspiring global appreciation for African crafts.
Following in its acclaimed footsteps, several other mesmerising galleries now celebrate African artistic heritage across Durban’s lively streets. The BAT Centre on the Embankment is dedicated to supporting Durban’s incredible community of local artists. Its exhibition spaces feature contemporary art, from portraiture to music, poetry and even dance, with a dedicated theatre in situ.
Other arresting institutions include the non-profit KZNSA, which provides an engaging exhibition space and platform for local artists to display their newest creations. Centred on inclusivity, its exhibitions and workshops are open to all; many exhibitions invite reflection by focusing on prevalent present-day issues. A spacious interior combined with modern café and crafts store make the KZNSA a favourite hang-out in every Durban guide.
The coolest cafés
Like every city around the globe acclaimed for its burgeoning arts scene, Durban is home to a suite of bohemian cafés, each as characterful as it is unique. While the city’s coffee scene is perhaps the best on the east coast, Durban’s cafés are much more than vendors of immaculately brewed espressi. Each is a curated culinary masterpiece pioneering Durban’s food trends. When it comes to the atmospheric, Antique Café combines sublime plant-based cooking with a quirky Alice-in-Wonderland setting that is especially felt when dining in its garden. Mismatched antiques grace every meal, from charming old crockery to odd-ended cutlery.
Perhaps the most famous of all Durban cafés, meanwhile, is Colombo Coffee & Tea, the city’s historic micro-roaster dating back over a century. With a global selection of green coffee and tea, each of which is specifically sourced to ensure quality and ethics, Colombo brews its beverages with a rarely encountered ritualistic craftsmanship. Interested customers can even learn from the experts on a barista masterclass or a sense-awakening coffee tasting.
Durban might not be as celebrated a shopping destination as Johannesburg or Cape Town, but its emporia are among South Africa’s most mesmerising. In the heart of town, a nexus of boutiques presides over 8 Morrison Street. Ranging from casual urban wear to signature fabrics and formal apparel from acclaimed local designers, this collection of fashion-forward tailors is defining Durban’s contemporary clothing scene.
In addition to independent boutiques, several markets routinely pop up to add yet another layer to the city’s rich cultural landscape. No Durban guide would be complete without a nod to the I Heart Market, which sets up in the beautiful Point Waterfront on the first Saturday of every month. Offering handmade clothes and accessories, as well as flavourful local delicacies, the market brings to life Durban’s ever-growing community of creatives.
Of all Durban’s many shopping experiences, perhaps the most unique is Durban’s Spice Emporium. Founded by immigrants from India at the turn of the 20th century, the family-owned store has since grown over four generations, introducing Durban to the incredible spices of the old maritime silk road. Each of the Emporium’s three outposts is studded with bright mounds of fiery red and ochre yellow spice powders. To acquaint yourself with the intricate flavours of each, embark on our exclusive chef-led spice masterclass, which combines a visit to the Spice Emporium with the opportunity to create your very own curries.
Stay at Red Carnation Hotels’ The Oyster Box to enjoy all Durban has to offer, either with our unique experiences or via a short, coastal drive from our Umhlanga location.