The town was surveyed in 1850, laid out in 1854 and named after Sir George Grey who governed the Cape Colony between 1854 and 1861. Its coat of arms feature elements of that of Sir Grey, together with the Zulu name of the area, Umgungundlovana ‘place of the elephant’.
Having been both a garrison and supply depot for the military in the Eighteenth century, Greytown is on the battlefield route. It was also at the centre of the Natal Rebellion of 1906 (also known as the Bambatha Rebellion), and celebrated its centenary in 2006.
The mainstay of the local economy is agriculture; livestock; maize; timber and sugar cane. Several areas are well preserved as both wetlands and grasslands, but as one travels north towards Msinga (one of the last areas of traditional Zulu life) and Dundee, the vegetation changes dramatically to thornveld. The museum and town hall (venue of the trial of Din Zulu KaCetshwayo) in Greytown are National Monuments.