Kampala Travel Guide: 15 Best Things to do in Kampala, Uganda
We want to share a guide to the best things to do in Kampala. Kampala is the capital and largest city in Uganda. It is also the business, finance, and cultural hub of Uganda. The city is situated in Central region of the country, about 40 kilometers from Entebbe International Airport.
It covers an area of about 189 square kilometers and has a population of around 2 million people. Most visitors on Uganda safaris are often driven up country, away from this bustling capital. We think there are 3 main reasons that people don’t tour Kampala.
One is lack of time. Many plan a packed safari itinerary focused on wildlife viewing with no time set aside to explore Kampala. The second is most visitors live in towns; you can understand they don’t find an idea of a busy city appealing. The third is fears related to safety and crime.
Kampala isn’t the safest city in the world, but you can safely explore the city if you take precautions. But is Kampala worth a visit? How do you spend a day in Kampala? Is Kampala safe for tourists? What is the price for a city tour in Kampala? We answer these questions and share our favourite things to do in Kampala in this handy guide…
Frequently Asked Questions About Kampala
1. what does kampala mean?
Kampala originally referred to only the present-day Old Kampala hill.
This is where Fort Lugard was located and the initial headquarters of the British colonial authorities in the soon to be Uganda Protectorate.
Before the British construction of Fort Lugard, the hill was a hunting reserve of the King (Kabaka) of Buganda. It had many antelope species especially the impalas.
When the British colonial officials were allocated this hill by the then Kabaka (King) of Buganda, they referred to it as “The Hill of the Impala”.
The Baganda people, in whose territory this British settlement was found, then translated “Hill of the Impala” as Akasozi ke’Empala. This was then shortened to K’empala and finally Kampala.
Kasozi means “hill”, ke “of”, and empala the plural of “impala”.
2. Is Kampala worth a visit?
The busy city of Kampala makes a good introduction to Uganda.
It is a dynamic and engaging city, with several worthy attractions to keep you occupied for a couple of days.
It is also a city where you can really learn about Uganda, whether you are interested in colonial history, Ugandan independence, or modern life in Uganda’s capital city.
From the ritzy suburbs to the busy Central Business District to large slum areas, Kampala is a multi-faceted city worth exploring.
If you are interested in history, African art, culture, music, food, crafts, or shopping, you are sure to find something of interest to do and see in Kampala city.
3. How do you spend a day in Kampala?
If you only have 1 day to see Kampala, I highly recommend booking a 1-day Kampala City Tour with a guide that can tell you everything about this capital city of Uganda and its history.
On this tour, you will visit most well-known monuments and top tourist attractions in Kampala.
Along the way you can taste Kampala’s streetfood on the colorful markets and submerge yourself in Uganda’s vibrant culture.
4. What is the price for a city tour in Kampala?
Prices for the Kampala city tour vary from around US$30 to US$100 depending on the hours of exploring (half-day or full-day) and your preferred mode of transportation.
You can choose a motorized city tour or a simple walking tour in Kampala. A combination of these options is advisable to cover more of all the top sights Kampala has to offer.
Tulambule Uganda safaris can customize the tour to your personal wishes and advise about what to do in Kampala or organize your safari.
Best Things To Do On A Kampala city Tour
Now it is time to discover the best things to do in Kampala in Uganda. Did I miss an important, fun, or unique thing to do in Kampala? You can leave a comment in the comment section below!
1. 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. The huge prayer hall is decorated with stained glass from Italy, an enormous blue and red woven carpet, and intricate chandeliers from Egypt.
It is mostly visited for its 60 meters high minaret.
Climbing the 306 steps to the top of the minaret rewards you with a stunning 360° view of Kampala city – the perfect way want to capture an aerial shot of Kampala city without flying a drone.
You can even book a dawn visit and watch the sun rise over the city to the uplifting sounds of the call to prayer. Gaddafi Mosque is also a perfect place if you want to learn about the history of the Islamic faith in Uganda.
Gaddafi Mosque Entrance Fee
The entrance ticket for the Gaddafi Mosque is about 5 US Dollars (20,000 UGX) for foreign internationals and 10000 UGX for nationals.
That includes a guide and a scarf to cover the women’s head, arms, and legs. If you you’re your Kampala City Tour with us, we included the ticket in the tour.
2. Take A Kampala City Walking Tour
The best way to explore the heart of Kampala City is by taking walking tour through the Central Business District. The tour offers a wonderful opportunity to get a glimpse of urban African life as locals live it.
You will experience the hustle and bustle of the city, take in the sights and sounds of the vibrant streets and mix with the locals.
You will also 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.
3. “Kampala Boda Boda” Tour
Popularly called “boda boda” in Uganda, the motorcycle taxis are the quickest way to explore 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.
These motorcycle taxis are not for the faint-hearted, but can take you anywhere in the city 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.
Did You Know?
The term Boda Boda originates from the Busia border of Uganda some 50 years ago. The Boda Boda have not always been these motorbikes. These were bicycles ridden across Uganda-Kenya border town of Busia. The name originated from a need to transport people across and between border posts without the necessary travel documents.
The bicycle owners would shout out boda boda (border-to-border) to potential customers, which loosely meant transporting people from one side of the border to the other.
From then on, people started referring to motorcyle taxis as boda bodas. Of course, in Kampala, there are no borders being crossed. Nevertheless, the name “boda-boda” remains.
4. Uganda National Museum Tour
Learn about Uganda’s past at the Uganda National Museum. The museum is located within the Kampala central division on Kitante road near the British High Commission.
It was established in 1908 by the then British Colonial Officer George Wilson, when Uganda was still under colonial rule. It is the oldest museums in the whole East Africa and provides an extensive look into the Uganda’s past.
At the National Museum, you will find an impressive collection of artifacts, exhibits on traditional crafts, and displays of Uganda’s diverse cultural heritage. Uganda Museum offers a captivating journey through time.
And it provides a unique chance to learn about Uganda’s pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial history, as well as the country’s ethnic groups, traditions, and customs. It is one of the best places to visit in Kampala for our history lovers and everyone who wants to learn more about Uganda.
5. Experience Serenity At The Bahai Temple
A visit to the beautiful Bahai temple offers a spiritual experience of some sort. Constructed in 1958, the temple sits on a beautiful spot on top of Kikaya hill, 7km on the Gayaza road, in Kampala City.
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 city 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.
It 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. The entry is free!
6. Tour Kasubi Tombs Of Buganda Kings
Until the end of the 19th century, Uganda was divided into 5 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 Kasubi Tombs are located 5 km away from Kampala city centre on Kasubi Hill.
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. Attending Traditional Dance Performance At Ndere Cultural Centre
The word ‘Ndere’ means ‘flute’ in local Luganda language. The cultural center has the biggest and the oldest traditional dancing troupe in Uganda.
This highly professional dancing troupe was founded in 1986 as a Uganda culural organisation for universal unity through music, dance and drama.
The centre organizes performances of over 40 different authentic dances and songs of the many tribes in Uganda, accompanied by various indeginous percussive, stringed and wind instruments.
Ndere Cultural Centre is one stop center to see Uganda’s diverse cultures showcased through the different traditional dances and songs. The shows takes place in the evenings on Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday. It is a perfect place to end your day after a Kampala city tour.
8. Explore Buganda Royal Tourism Circuit
The Buganda Royal Tourism Circuit includes:
- Kabaka’s palace & Idi Amin’s Torture Chambers
- 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. Market Shoppings
Popular Kampala markets include Nakasero (fruit, vegetables, spices, and grasshoppers) and Nakawa (everything – and slightly cheaper than the markets in town.
There is also Ggaba market on the the edge of Lake Victoria. It is a great place to pick up brightly coloured Tanzanian cloth (as well as all your fruit and vegetables.
The maze-like Owino was once Kampala’s best place for second-hand clothing, shoes and bags; the packed and chaotic downtown is still the best place for all kinds of bargains.
If you are into arts and crafts and souvenir shopping, there are 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 Martyrs Shrines
The Uganda martyrs 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 At Namirembe Hill
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 At Rubaga Hill
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
Take a walk around Kampala city on any given afternoon, and you would be forgiven for guessing the nightlife is pretty quiet.
The laid-back nature of the people might lead you to believe that they all head to bed early, after a cup of coffee and some prime-time TV. The reality couldn’t be more different.
In fact, Kampala’s night scene bangs every night of the week. A young, fun, and friendly crowd keeps the wheels turning until sunrise, and the list of bars and clubs is endless, with something for everyone.
In fact, the nightlife here has made Kampala somewhat notorious as the party city of the region; something the Kenyans, Tanzanians, and Rwandans you’ll meet in town will certainly testify to.
If you are ready to get your taste, you can organize a pub crawl and party like a local until morning. The main strip of bars and clubs is in the city centre along Acacia Avenue.
Here you will 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.
Other popular hangout places in Kampala include:
- Industrial Area known for its trendy bars, lounges, and clubs;
- Kisementi, a popular area filled with hip bars like Alchemist Bar, Sky Lounge Rooftop Bar with panoramic views of the city skyline and restaurants. There are also clubs that offers a mix of local and international entertainment, ensuring a diverse and lively experience for partygoers;
- Ntinda, a lively neighborhood where you’ll find a mix of local hangouts, clubs, and live music venues where you can enjoy performances by talented Ugandan artists and DJs;
- Centenary Park, a popular entertainment complex offering a variety of bars, clubs, and open-air venues.
14. Taste Local Foods
If music and dancing is not really your thing, Kampala city 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.
While in many countries, the word Rolex is usually synonymous with luxury watches, here a “rolex” is a popular street food. As Ugandans have been known to say: “We don’t wear Rolex, we eat them.” Rolex – the snack – is a shortening of “rolled eggs”.
The popular dish, found at roadside stalls almost everywhere in the city, is made from a vegetable omelette with added tomatoes wrapped up in a chapati. It has already achieved some notoriety beyond Uganda and in 2022 the Guinness World Records certified the world’s largest rolex.
A traditional Ugandan buffet is also essential: Shaka Zulu Foods is the favorite among locals. They serve full lunch buffets of various traditional meals, from pilau to Luwombo – a combination of meats in a peanut sauce with mushrooms and dried fish, all wrapped in banana leaves, steamed over a local stove for hours, and served with matoke, a starchy boiled banana.
For more upscale dining experiences, you can go to Nyanja Lake Terrace, Mediterraneo, Le Chateau Brasserie Belge, and Asian Fusion. There are also vegan-friendly menus at Holy Crepe and Aleph. Staying true to its big-city energy, there is something to eat for everyone in Kampala.
15. People-watching at Old and New Taxi Parks
The Old and New Taxi Parks are bustling transportation hubs that can be interesting places to visit and se in Kampala. It is here that taxis (matatus) converge.
Passing by the taxi park, away from the more touristy areas, offers you a chance to witness the vibrant hustle and bustle of Kampala’s transport chaotic public transport firsthand, and it’s a fantastic spot for people-watching.
It’s a chance to observe the vibrant street life, and it provides a glimpse into the authentic side of Kampala.
The taxi parks are a hive of activity, with the constant movement of vehicles and people, the sounds of honking horns, and the vibrant colors and energy that characterize the local transportation system.
The old Taxi parks are also a commercial center. Vendors set up shops around the park, offering a variety of goods and services.
The Taxi Parks offer great opportunities for capturing unique photos that reflect the essence of Kampala city. The vibrant colors, lively scenes and the constant motion of people and vehicles can make for interesting visual compositions.
Other things to do around Kampala
Kampala city is vast, and there are probably more beautiful places to visit or unique things to do. Kampala. The city also has a lot of monuments, like The Independence Monument, the Statue of Leadership, and the Nakasero Hindu Temple.
Kampala is also known for Makerere University which is Uganda’s oldest, largest and most prestigious institution of higher learning, first established as a technical school in 1922.
It is one of the best universities in Africa. Makerere University has also produced over 7 presidents including Ugandan president Milton Obote and Tanzanian presidents Julius Nyerere and Benjamin Mkapa. From Kampala, you can also plan other things to do in Uganda; for example;
- Gorilla trekking in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is an unforgettable experience that should be part of your Uganda safari itinerary
- Chimpanzee tracking in Kibale Forest
- Hiking Sipi Falls
- Go on safari in Queen Elizabeth National Park
- Going on a safari to Murchison Falls National Park, plus much more.
- Sheobill watching in Mabamba Swamp
- White-water rafting on the Nile River in Jinja
Where To Stay In Kampala?
Kampala Serena Hotel offers luxurious accommodation right in the middle of the city. The hotel is surrounded by acres of water gardens providing travelers with a peaceful sanctuary.
Latitude 0 Degrees which opened its doors in 2019 is perfect for travelers looking for a bit more privacy while still experiencing luxury. It is ocated in Makindye, just outside the central part of the city.
Located in the outskirts of central Kampala, Le Petit Village is also a tranquil retreat offering vacationers the ambiance of Ugandan village living complete with the amenities and facilities of an economy establishment. Other best places to stay in Kampala:
- Lake Victoria Serena Resort & Spa (Luxury)
- Cassia Lodge Buziga (Midrange)
- Speke Resort Munyonyo (Luxury)
- Sheraton Hotel Kampala (Luxury)
- Protea Hotel by Marriott Kampala (Luxury)
- Protea Hotel by Marriott Kampala Skyz (Luxury)
- Golden Tulip Canaan Kampala Hotel (Luxury)
- Humura Resorts (Luxury)
- Emin Pasha Hotel – Luxury
How To Get Around Kampala?
Arriving at Entebbe Airport and getting to Kampala, which is 40 kilometers away, is easiest with a private rental car or via the taxis that are available in abundance at arrivals; the drive is 40 minutes.
The main modes of transport within the city include boda bodas (motorbike taxis) perfect for travelers who like to get around cheaply (download and use the SafeBoda app to hail rides). There are also matutus (public minivan taxis) for the true Kampala experience and, of course, Uber.