14 Best Things To Do In Kampala

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Before or after partaking your wildlife safari in Uganda, you may take off sometime to tour Kampala, the capital city of Uganda.

Situated in the Central region of the country, this bustling city covers 189km2 and has a population of over 1.6 million.

As the heartland of Buganda kingdom, Kampala has a rich and colourful history, visible in fascinating palaces and compounds from where the nation was run until the arrival of colonialism.

The name Kampala derives from the Luganda expression Akasozi Kampala – “The Hill of the Impala”, a reference to the impala antelopes that grazed the grasses of Mengo Hill during Kabaka (King) Mutesa I’s reign.

Kampala is a city full of stark contrasts. There is the impossibly energetic central Kampala – its streets thronging with hawkers, shoppers, and the most mind-bogglingly packed bus and taxi parks you are ever likely to see.

As you head up Nakasero Hill, you quickly hit Kampala’s most expensive hotels and the urban core fades into something of a garden city. The contrast is thoroughly Ugandan, and just another reason many people love Kampala.

Here Are The Best Things Do To In Kampala:

  1. Take A Walking Tour Of The City Centre
  2. Climb The Minaret Of Gaddafi Mosque
  3. Have A Kampala “Boda Boda” Tour
  4. Visit The National Museum
  5. Experience Serenity At Bahai Temple
  6. Tour Kasubi Tombs Of Buganda Kings
  7. Attend Traditional Dance Performances At Ndere Cultural Centre
  8. Explore Buganda Royal Tourism Circuit
  9. Shop For Souvenirs
  10. Visit The Uganda Martyr’s Shrines
  11. Tour Saint Paul Cathedral – Namirembe
  12. Visit Saint Mary’s Cathedral – Rubaga
  13. Dive Into Kampala Night Life
  14. Dine At One Of The Many Restaurants

1. Take A Walking Tour Of The City Center

The best way to explore the heart of Kampala city is by embarking on a walking tour through the Central Business District. You get to walk along crowded streets and mix with the locals.

You visit the local markets to discover how traders dealing in fruits, vegetables, food stuffs, and other merchandize conduct business in very congested places. Their hospitality is awesome confirming that Ugandans are indeed friendly people.

You also tour shopping centers and commercial malls to witness a bee-hive of business activities in Kampala – and see the big taxi parks which are the center of chaotic public transport in Uganda.

Your tour also include some of Uganda’s significant landmarks like the independence monument, historical places of worship and cultural sites, giving you an insight into the journey of Uganda, her people and cultures.

2. Climb The Minaret Of Gaddafi Mosque

A gift from the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, the Gaddafi Mosque is a treat for both Muslims and non-Muslims.

Also called Uganda National Mosque, this impressive, copper-domed building is one of the largest mosques in Africa.

It is found on old Kampala hill close to the central business district and can accommodate about 12,000 worshippers.

It is mostly visited for its 60m high minaret. Climbing the 306 steps to the top of the minaret rewards you with a spectacular 360° view of Kampala city.

You can even book a dawn visit and watch the sun rise over the city to the uplifting sounds of the call to prayer.

It is a must visit place if you want to capture a perfect aerial shot of Kampala city without flying a drone. Gaddafi Mosque is also a perfect place if you want to learn about the history of the Islam faith in Uganda.

3. Have A Kampala “Boda Boda” Tour

Popularly called “boda boda” in Uganda, the motorcycle taxis are the quickest way to go around Kampala city.

You drive through busy city visiting the popular attractions and landmarks, access nice viewpoints, go to the suburbs and ghettos, visit historical sites, green spaces, eat in local places and taste the African cuisine, etc.

The boda boda can take you anywhere in Kampala without being hindered by the crazy Kampala traffic jam.

Note that you shouldn’t pick any random boda boda on the street as they’re huge safety risk and account for most accidents in the city.

There are more professional boda boda riders that have been trained and assessed to take visits on the Kampala city tour.

4. Visit The National Museum

The Uganda National Museum is located within the Kampala central division on Kitante road near the British High Commission.

It was created in 1908 by the then British Colonial Officer George Wilson.

It is one of the oldest museums in East Africa and provides an extensive look into the Uganda’s past. At the National Museum, you will find exhibits showcasing traditional musical instruments, pre-colonial African history, ethnography, and traditional lifestyles of various tribes in Uganda.

The museum contains historical artifacts that tell the origin of Uganda, information on the peoples and Uganda wildlife etc.

5. Experience Serenity At Bahai Temple

A visit to the beautiful Bahai temple offers a spiritual experience of some sort.

There is only one temple of the Bahai faith on each continent and Uganda is lucky to have the one for Africa. The temple’s stunning architectural design is something that every visitor on the Kampala tour should see.

Like all Baha’i temples, it’s a circular 9-sided dome.

Inside, fixed mosaic tiles from Italy line the dome’s arched roof, with coloured glass in the wall panels that came from Germany.

The green, amber and pale blue glass tinted windows filter the light coming into the temple, lending itself to an effect of lightness that bounces off the floor, well adorned with Persian carpets.

The temple is set in the middle of lush, green gardens with fields of brightly coloured flowers where many birds and butterflies flutter.

Bahai temple welcomes visitors of all faiths to pray and meditate in a serene environment.

6. Tour Kasubi Tombs Of Buganda Kings

Until the end of the 19th century, Uganda was divided into five kingdoms.

Kampala was the capital of the largest, Buganda, from which the country takes its name. Sadly not much remains from that time, but you can still visit the Kasubi Tombs, where four of the kings of Buganda, known as kabakas, are buried.

The UNESCO World Heritage site’s grand thatched building that housed the tombs was sadly destroyed in a fire in 2010, but a careful reconstruction is under way.

And taking a tour still offers the opportunity to get fascinating insights about culture and traditions of the Baganda people.

7. Attend Traditional Dance Performances At Ndere Cultural Centre

Ndere Cultural Center has Uganda’s biggest and one of the oldest traditional dancing troops. The centre organizes performances of different traditional dances of the many tribes in Uganda.

It is one stop center to see Uganda’s diverse cultures showcased through the different traditional dances. The dances are performed in the evening. Therefore the center is a perfect place to end your day after a Kampala city tour.

8. Explore Buganda Royal Tourism Circuit

Lubiri Palace in Kampala

The Buganda Royal Tourism Circuit includes:

  • Kabaka’s palace (Lubiri)
  • Bulange Royal Building which houses Buganda parliament (“lukiiko”), and
  • The Royal Mile, which is a path one mile long, connecting the palace to the parliament.

Taking a tour of these cultural landmarks is an educating experience on the pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial history of Buganda and Uganda, giving you a lesson about the rich cultures of the black people.

It is a revelation into the spectacular administration systems of a people that are absurdly portrayed to have lived a primitive wild life before the white man arrived.

As an extra to this tour you include the visit to the nearby Kabaka’s lake, a manmade lake.

The lake was created by the young flamboyant king, Kabaka Mwanga, with the intention of connecting to Lake Victoria so he could easily access Lake Victoria and one of his palaces at Munyonyo near the lake.

9. Shop For Souvenirs

Also among the top things to do in Kampala is exploring some of the many craft markets, galleries and shopping centre in the city.

If you want typical African crafts, visit the African Craft Village behind the National Theatre or the Exposure Africa market on Buganda Road. Here you’ll find a wide selection of handicrafts including wood carvings, leather and jewellery.

If you are a lover of art, Kampala also has great art galleries for you to quench your thirst. Even none art lover will fall in love with the beautiful and creative art pieces in the different galleries.

A number of art galleries are located within the city center and therefore easy to access. One such gallery is the Nomo Gallery.

10. Visit The Uganda Martyr’s Shrines

The Uganda martyr’s shrines tour is one of the most spiritually nourishing experiences for a Christian pilgrim.

It is also a great source of history about religion in Uganda.

The tour covers martyrdom sites where several converted Christian pages/helpers in the Kings’s Palace were killed.

The pages had disobeyed the orders King Mwanga II of Buganda that were contradictory to their faiths and accepted to die for their beliefs when the king ordered for their killing.

This is a whole day experience where you go tracking down the different sites of each martyr through the chaotic Kampala City before winding up at the pristine grounds of Namugongo Martyrs shrine where many Christians were executed.

11. Tour Saint Paul Cathedral – Namirembe

St Paul’s cathedral is the oldest Anglican Church in Uganda.

The vast red-brick building is over 100 years old. It is located on the top of Namirembe hill that offers more stunning views of Kampala city.

Namirembe is a Luganda word meaning ‘mother of peace’, but the history of its foundation was not always so. In 1875, Henry Stanley, the British explorer visited Kabaka Mutesa I’s court and told him about Christianity.

Mutesa I, enthralled by the stories that he heard, asked Stanley to write to Queen Victoria of England and ask her to send missionaries to Buganda.

Two years later in 1877, eight missionaries from the Church Missionary Society arrived in Buganda and began to preach Christianity and make conversions.

When Mutesa I was succeeded by his son Mwanga II in 1884, Christianity came under attack when Mwanga, angry that the Christian converts placed their God above traditional loyalty to him as Kabaka, resolved to wipe out the new religion.

Bishop, James Hannington, the first Anglican Bishop of the Eastern Equatorial province was the first victim, killed in 1885 on orders from Mwanga, and in 1886, he put to death 26 of his pages that refused to renounce Christianity.

It was only after Mwanga was deposed and exiled in 1899 that development of Namirembe as the main Anglican place of worship began.

12. Visit Saint Mary’s Cathedral – Rubaga

Saint Mary’s Cathedral, the seat of the Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church in Uganda, also has a long cultural and political history dating back to the heyday of the Buganda Kingdom.

In the early 18th century, Lubaga Hill was the administrative heart of the Buganda kingdom and its top sat one of the palaces belonging to Kabaka Ndawula Nsobya.

Many of Buganda’s military expeditions, including later ones against the colonialists were planned from Lubaga because of its strategic view. The hill derives its name from the Luganda word ‘okubaga’, which means ‘to plan’.

In 1891, King Mwanga who would later slaughter catholic converts donated Rubaga hill to Catholic missionaries through Bishop Joseph Hirth. Between 1891 and 1914, seven different rudimentary churches were built on the hill.

The first was burnt down in 1892 during the bloody religious wars to be replaced by another, until 1914 when there was need for a more concrete church to cater for the big catholic population around Rubaga.

Construction of the cathedral took 10 years and on 31st December 1925, it was consecrated.

13. Dive Into Kampala Night Life

If you want to get a taste of the famous Kampala nightlife, you can organize a pub crawl and party like a local until morning.

Known as the party capital of East Africa, Kampala is so celebrated for its buzzing nightlife. The main strip of bars and clubs is in the city centre along Acacia Ave.

Here you’ll find popular favourites Bubbles O’Learys-Irish pub, and Big Mike’s bar and nightclub, which regularly showcases excellent local bands.

And a little further up the road is Cayenne, a one-stop night out boasting a restaurant, poolside bar, and dance floor that keeps hopping until the sun comes up.

14. Dine At One Of The Many Restaurants

If music and dancing is not really your thing, Kampala is also known for is organic delicious food. You will find lots of restaurants and eateries serving a wide range of healthy dishes.

There are also amazing coffee places such as Endiro Coffee and 1000 Cups of Coffee. For more upscale dining experiences, you can go to Nyanja Lake Terrace, Mediterraneo, Le Chateau Brasserie Belge, and Asian Fusion.

Also as you tour Kampala, you try the street food and of course you leave without eating a Ugandan Rolex, an egg chapati.

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