Time and time again, Kampala sadly has not been ranked among the most popular cities in Africa, and you might not hear about it that much among top cities on planet earth; yet every year, thousands of tourists flock Uganda’s capital to dine in what the city has to offer. Could it be that it is just understated, or is it that this mush of city beauty is still little-known?
Uganda being my home country, it has always been my innermost passion to travel around it and get to know every single bit and detail of its gorgeousness. Its light, life, space, people, cultures, sounds, cities and lavishness; which are not found anywhere else in the world, totally stole my heart.
Being young in mind, I always thought that travelling entirely meant driving far and wide to distant places. My country, actually the Pearl of Africa; made me crave for sprawling savannas, the real African safari, impenetrable forests, soaring mountains and ancient tribes. Little did I know that some really magnificent features were located merely a walkable distance from where I live; in a city that I had known for years but never tried to consider visiting as a tourist destination, Kampala.
Ok, this might be too bold a statement to make, but when you take into account everything in this city, Kampala isn’t just the chaotic place that you see in the news, there is a whole lot more that fascinates the heart, soul and mind.
Here are some highlights for a day visit:
The Gadaffi mosque, if left out of a Kampala city tour, that trip would be incomplete. The ancient mosque ranks high on my list because it furnishes some of the best views of the entire city. The mosque itself is an impressive building, beautiful to the eyes. These spectacular views here are purely mind-blowing and in such great contrasts, presenting an upmarket juxtaposed with the organized chaos of the bustling Kampala downtown.
Probably, one of the most popular places in Kampala is the Kabaka’s palace. This is the historic seat for the king of Buganda kingdom positioned on Mengo hill. In terms of architectural beauty, this palace is one of the most iconic buildings that Uganda’s tourism presents. It being the main home of the Royal family, it’s not a wonder why it is huge and also beautiful. Besides the palace’s design and architecture, its incredible gardens make it exceedingly wonderful to visit. Of all the pieces of architecture in Uganda, the kabaka’s palace is one of the most beautiful ones without any doubt.
And then there is the Baha’i temple, another beautiful place in Kampala that caught my eye from the time I first visited it. A place so divine that I simply thought that I had reached heaven; it being a religious site. Located on a quiet hill distant from the business district, Baha’i temple has my favorite green space in Kampala. Its extensive grounds are perfect for a picnic to spend a chilled day. And for bird lovers who would not want to travel to distant places; the temple gardens are the real deal for birders looking for a birding spot close to the city.
The cultural life in this city is second to none. The Uganda National Museum is where you will find a sample of the diversity of Uganda’s cultural heritage. The long forgotten exhibits displayed here will transport you to an alternative universe that was so prehistoric. When I visited, I got stuck in a fantasy movie in which artefacts spoke sense to my brains. If it’s about Uganda’s culture, then it’s the Uganda national museum that I would strongly recommend.
Another interesting place that forever amazes me and leaves me in shock is the Owino Market. This is the kind of place that you are supposed to go alone, because when you go with five friends, you are most likely to lose each other and probably come out with a missing shoe. However, it’s still an experience that you will love, just to appreciate the daily hustle of the lower-class Ugandan contrasts with the wealthy who live minutes away on the manicured lawns of Kololo and Nakasero.
There is nothing you can fail to get here; this market sells almost everything. The widest range of second hand clothes that you will ever see; I actually first saw it here. All sorts of clothes can be found here including some really cool designer labels; I recently found myself a very nice Nike shoe at a very negotiable price inside Owino market.
Still in Kampala, walk down the Rubaga cathedral and Namirembe diocese with striking views of the city. Visit the craft markets for the most cherished souvenirs in remembrance of the day that you walked around the magical capital city of Uganda.
A city that doesn’t sleep:
Now when it comes to night time, when the darkness merges, covering up the sunlit sky, the city becomes even busier. I have never seen an engaging city in East Africa like Kampala at night. All sorts of tribes, whether a Mukiga, Muganda, Musoga or Muzungu (a luganda word that means a white person), people from all walks of life simply become young, wild and free.
With all the night clubs, bars and lodges widely open, they illuminate the dimmed nights in Kampala. The “party animals” of the city usually start with simple dinners at one of the restaurants like KFC (still figuring out whether this is Kentucky Fried Chicken or Kampala Fried Chicken), Café Javas, Piato restaurant, Seven seas at Sheraton hotel, and several other good restaurants that are moderately priced. It’s no longer hard to find a descent meal for all budgets in Kampala. Nice restaurants are now almost on every street of Kampala.
Having satisfied the bellies, it’s now time to drink and wine. I’ll tell you that there is a pub or club on every street in Kampala. A young, friendly and fun crown keeps awake till sunrise, dancing to the hit songs from local and international artists in different spot of Kampala city. The list of bars, lounges, pubs and clubs is endless, but I cannot fail to at least list down the best spots that catch fire at night with either music, comedy, drama or anything interesting for life.
The great central location of the Centenary Park has some peak points. The park being a complexity of bars and restaurants, it’s a conducive place for a few drinks with friends. During the week, you can enjoy the Laftaz Comedy Lounge show with a cocktail. Still bars like Kyoto are just perfect for a round of beers with some friends. And on the weekends, it even gets wilder. I am not a person that so much loves hanging out at night, but this place left me doubting my long term negative thoughts about night life.
Ntinda town is another spot for night life lovers. Located just a few kilometers away from Kampala centre lies a more contemporary and chic area of the city. The area is quite popular with students, dotted with several restaurants and bars. Koko bar and Cayenne which doubles as a restaurant and a bar still. If anywhere around Kampala, and I would love to hang out throughout the night, Ntinda is obviously one of the first options I’d consider.
About dancing and partying all night, Kampala has a blend of styled bars and night clubs with pool tables, special dance floors, drinks with all kind of music and more. In Kampala, Ugandans will always get their dancing shoes ready every day of the week; a common phrase is “every day is a weekend”.
Consider Capital Pub, a famous hang out in Kabalagala made up of 5 different bars with pool tables and muddling music to dance to.
You might also want to checkout Al’s Bar in Kansaga opens every day 24/7 with wines, beers, pool table and music. Still Kampala’s corporate party animals flock Jokers, a large bungalow on Buganda road with several in house bars, muchomo (Grilled meat and chicken), dining and cold drinks.
Club Rouge with its warm and stylish ambience is another famous spot for a night visit during the early hours of the night. Club Venom, very neat and tidy. It is undoubtedly one of the most popular dancehalls with its space, nice décor and well lit bars I have never seen in Kampala clubs. Club Ambiance-Bukesa is absolutely one of my best clubs in Kampala, both on the outside and the inside, I actually think there is no “night lifer” in Kampala like this club.
If only I had more space to go on and on and on…
Whether day or night, Kampala simply has the magnetic magic that absorbs you with sounds and scents so different from all other cities of the world. All you have to do is to stroll about with eyes wide open in order not to miss a single detail about the city.