Famed for its forever-on-the-go CBD, vibrant social markets, all assorted restaurants and laidback nightlife, Mbabane is an adventure just waiting to be had. Unlike Eswatini’s hub, Manzini, this quaint city is much smaller in population and less chaotic; making it one of the most ideal parts of Eswatini to enjoy the local lifestyle scene without the hustle and bustle of a typical metropolitan. The best way to enjoy a visit to this beautiful Mbabane is to explore it inside out like a local would. Don’t know how to do that? Here’s a guide to experiencing Mbabane like a local.
Use public transport
I know what you’re thinking; loud noise, hive of activity, non-personalised travel but truth being told, you won’t feel like a local until you’ve hopped on a Kombie and mastered using the word Stesh for your drop-off points. Additionally, public travel will offer you a cheap inner city mode of travel, without breaking your bank with taxis, car rentals or guided tours. Our currency is equivalent to South Africa’s rand and their bank notes are acceptable means of payment. Luckily for you and your wallet, the standard fare for inner city is a mere six emalangeni. Move about like a local, I recommend it!
Learn the language
No, I don’t mean full on speak fluent SiSwati. That will take a lifetime and will require you relocating but learn the simple phrases that will aid in making your transition into Eswatini much easier. Although English is an official language and is used for communication throughout the country, nothing will beat making a local smile by chirping out a Sawubona (pronounced /sow:’bɔ:nah/) as a greeting or showing gratitude with a Ngyabonga (pronounced /nɡijaɓoːnɡa/) Be sure to get your hands on a What’s happening in Eswatini, a local publication that’s available at any restaurant or hotel- including ours. It has a list of very helpful local salutations and phrases.
Try out the cuisine
Fully immerse yourself in the flavour of Eswatini by enjoying a shisanyama styled lunch at Solanis or a traditional meal at Edladleni restaurant. Which you must do. Mbabane has a wide variety of eat-outs too. Go oriental at the Chinese restaurants (available in most cities of the world traditionally known as China town) or try out a good curry at the Indian spots. There’s also other fine dining places of Eswatini that you can visit such as the Calabash or Royal Villas in the Ezulwini Valley. For the more scenic spots take a drive up to Maguga Dam or stay in the city with Mountain Inn’s Friar Tucks restaurant and relax in the stunning views offered from this beautiful country.
Explore historical areas of the city
The city also has many historical areas. Like Checkers, a suburb with a name derived from it being the first mixed race section of the city. Today this suburb is home to schools, an office park, the Mbabane Clinic and a carwash with a barbeque hang-out that lets you eat while you wait. Take a moment to also visit The Prince of wales stadium too. A place of historical moments such as Prince Charles first visit to Eswatini back in 1997, then known as Swaziland, and most recently where the country’s first ever Pride march took place at in July last year. If you have enough time to spare,you could also opt to watch a performance at the Eswatini theatre. Ranking high in the list of the city’s oldest places, being inside the theatre feels like journeying through a time machine. Built in the mid 1900’s it now serves as a visual remnant of the colonial era; an antique standing in the middle of a growing city. The theatre is now a lab for the arts community and regularly hosts live shows, plays and offers occasional film screenings. Make a note to put visiting this theatre of history in your plans.
Visit an art gallery
Situated down town on Dzeliwe Street is a small gallery that plays jazz music from a stereo and serves the most delicious brownies. Previously known as Ndingilizi gallery, Bahle is a must-see. Perfect for anyone looking to get away from all the noise and activity of inner city. The gallery hosts occasional pop up sales, music shows and poetry readings, making it a local favourite for all the creative heads and fashionistas of the city.
Party like a local
Nights spent indoors can be amazing, yes, but Mbabane has one of the best vibes when the sun goes down and it would be quite a shame not to experience that. What better way to be a honorary local than to party like one. The city comes alive in the night-time, with locations suited for everyone’s kind of party. Like how the Albert Millin is perfect for casual conversation and millennial shenanigans or how the corporate people hang out at the Solana’s executive lounge. However, if you’re into flat out wilding out, then Solanis shisanyama, also known as big Solani’s, is just the place for you. Think live music. A dance floor. A pub and a restaurant that serves the best barbeque in town. That should be all the motivation you need to check-out this place.
Go shopping at the market
Whether you’re into collecting souvenirs, finding traditional crafts or simply thrift shopping, don’t leave Mbabane without having made a stop at the local market. There’s a fresh vegetable hall, a traditional medicine hall and a hall serving food for the local labourers in town. Whether you want fried chicken or an ox head it is available here. Out the back is the wholesale vegetable a fruit market. It sits right across the bus rank, making it easy to find and has a wonderland of different stalls . The locals love hanging out here; you’ll notice the men playing black jack or a game of draughts here and there. There’s fresh fruit, a laidback atmosphere and a vibrancy that cannot be found anywhere else.
There’s no better way of fully discovering this city without experiencing it through the eyes of a local. So throw caution to the wind, even if it’s for one day, and go on a wild hunt of discovering Mbabane fully and authentically. You will be surprised at how much you will learn from that.