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14 Best Things Do In Kampala – Before Or After You Go On Safari
What are the best things to do in Kampala, Uganda?
Although most people visit Uganda for its gorgeous scenery and abundant wildlife, many Uganda safaris will start or end in Kampala city in central region of the country. This bustling hub of economic, political and cultural activity is Uganda’s capital, administrative, and commercial center.
Originally built on 7 hills, the city now sprawls out over 20 hills and covers an area of approximately 189 square kilometers. Uganda’s biggest city, Kampala has a population of about 1.6 million.
The city is also rated as the best to live in East Africa. As the heartland of Kingdom of Buganda, Kampala has a rich and colourful history, visible in the fascinating palaces and compounds from where the nation was run until the arrival of British colonialist.
The name Kampala derives from the Luganda expression Akasozi Ke Empala – “The Hill of the Impala”, a reference to the impala antelopes that grazed the grasses of Old Kampala Hill during the reign of King Mutesa I.
A friendly and safe place, it is worth spending a little time in Kampala city before heading out into the wilds for your safaris in Uganda.
What follows is our pick of the 14 best things to do in Kampala before or after you go on a Uganda safari.
Our 14 Best Things Do In Kampala
Kampala City Walking Tour
Among the best things to do in Kampala is a walking tour. On this tour, you walk through Kampala’s busy Central Business District. You traverse crowded streets and mix with the local people.
You can explore the local markets to observe how traders dealing in food stuffs, fruits, vegetables, and other merchandise do business in very congested places.
Their hospitality is awesome confirming that the people of Uganda are indeed friendly.
You can also visit the shopping centers and the city’s commercial malls to witness a bee-hive of business activities in Kampala – and see the big taxi parks which are the center of Uganda’s chaotic public transportation.
Your Kampala city walking tour can also include some of Uganda’s key landmarks like the Independence Monument, cultural sites, and historical places of worship. This will give you an insight into Uganda’s history, its people, and their cultures.
Climbing The Minaret Of Gaddafi Mosque (Uganda National Mosque)
Number two of our best things to do in Kampala is climbing the minaret of Gaddafi Mosque.
Also known as the Uganda National Mosque, this magnificent copper-domed structure was a gift from the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.
The mosque is located on the old Kampala hill close to the central business district. It is one of the biggest mosques in all of Africa and can accommodate around 12,000 worshipers.
Gaddafi Mosque is frequently visited for its 60 meter high minaret. Climbing the 306 steps to the top of the minaret rewards you with a breathtaking 360° view of Kampala city.
You can even schedule a dawn visit to watch the sunrise over Kampala to the uplifting sounds of the call to prayer. If you want to take a beautiful aerial photo of the city without using a drone, you must visit this place.
The mosque is also an ideal pace to learn about the history of Islam in Uganda. A visit to this mosques is indeed one of the best things to do in Kampala and can be enjoyed by Muslims and non-Muslims.
“Boda Boda” Tour Of Kampala
Motorcycle taxis, known as “boda boda” in Uganda are the fastest, cheapest, and easiest way to get around Kampala. On this tour, your driver will take you through bustling city visiting the most prominent attractions and landmarks. It is one of the best this to do in Kampala.
You will get access to beautiful viewpoints, explore suburbs and ghettos, historical sites and green spaces, dine at local restaurants, and sample Ugandan cuisine. The boda boda can take you everywhere in the city of Kampala without being hindered by the city’s crazy traffic jam.
Please note that you should not randomly choose a boda boda on the street, since they pose a significant safety risk and are responsible for the majority of accidents in Kamapala.
There are more professional boda boda riders that have been trained and assessed to take visitors on the Kampala city tour.
Uganda National Museum Tour
Number four of our best things to do in Kampala is the tour of the Uganda National Museum.
The museum is situated along Kitante road, within the Kampala central division, close to the British High Commission. It was founded in 1908 the British Colonial Officer at the time, George Wilson.
It is one of the oldest museums in all of East Africa and offers a comprehensive look at the history of Uganda. At the museum, there are displays of Uganda’s traditional musical instruments, pre-colonial history, ethnography, natural history, and traditional lifestyles of various Ugandan tribes.
The museum exhibits historical artifacts detailing the origin of Uganda, as well as information about its peoples and wildlife along with many other fascinating things.
Enjoying The Serenity At Bahai Temple
Also among the most interesting things to do in Kampala is a visit to the beautiful Bahai Temple.
This excursions provides a spiritual experience of some sort. Only one temple of the Bahai faith exist on each continent, and Uganda is fortunate to have the one for Africa.
The amazing architectural design of the Bahai Temple in Uganda is something that every traveler on a Kampala tour should see.
Like other Baha’i Temples, it is a circular nine-sided dome. Inside, fixed mosaic tiles from Italy adorn the arched roof of the dome, with coloured glass in the wall panels that came from Germany.
The green, amber and pastel blue glass tinted windows filter the light entering the temple, creating an effect of lightness that bounces off the floor, well adorned with Persian carpets.
Bahai Temple is set amidst verdant, green gardens with fields of brightly coloured flowers where many Uganda birds and butterflies flutter. Bahai temple can be visited by people of all faiths to pray and meditate in a safe serene environment.
Touring The Royal Kasubi Tombs of Buganda Kings
Number six of our popular things to do in Kampala is the tour of the Royal Kasubi Tombs, a sacred burial ground of four former Buganda Kabakas (Kings).
This huge grass thatched structure is an architectural masterpiece and a historical icon that was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
However, the grand thatched building of the site that housed the tombs was sadly destroyed in a fire in 2010, but a careful reconstruction is under way.
And taking a Kasubi Tomb tour still offers the opportunity to get fascinating insights about culture and traditions of the Baganda people the largest of the 56 tribes of Uganda.
Enjoying Traditional Dance Performances At Ndere Cultural Centre
The Ndere Cultural Center has the biggest and one of the oldest traditional dancing troops in Uganda.
Ndere is one stop center to see the diverse cultures of Uganda showcased through the different traditional dances and music.
The performances takes place in the evening and attending them is also among the best things to do in Kampala. Ndere Cultural Center is a perfect place to end your day after a Kampala city tour.
Exploring Buganda Royal Tourism Circuit
Also among the best things to do in Kampala is exploring the Buganda Royal Tourism Circuit.
This tour covers 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 parliament to the palace.
The tour of these cultural and historical landmarks is an educating experience on the pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial history of Buganda and Uganda. It offers a lesson about the rich cultures of the black people.
It is also 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 an excursion to the nearby Kabaka’s Lake, a manmade lake.
The lake was created by the young flamboyant Buganda king, Mwanga, with the intention of connecting it to Lake Victoria so that he could easily access Lake Victoria and one of his palaces at Munyonyo near the lake.
Market Shopping (Shopping For Souvenirs)
Also another of 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, you can visit the African Craft Village behind the National Theatre or the Exposure Africa market on Buganda Road. Here you will 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.
Visiting the Uganda Martyr’s Shrines
If you are looking for more interesting things to do in Kampala, you can take a tour of the Uganda martyr’s shrines. It 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 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 full day adventure is where you go tracking down the different sites of each martyr through the chaotic Kampala City. The tour ends at the pristine grounds of Namugongo Martyrs shrine where many Christians were burnt alive.
Touring Saint Paul Cathedral At Namirembe Hill
Things to do in Kampala can also include a tour to the St Paul’s cathedral.
Saint Pual’s Cathedral is the oldest Anglican Church in Uganda. This vast red-brick building is over 100 years old. It is located on the top of Namirembe hill that offers more stunning views of the city of Kampala.
Namirembe is a Luganda word for ‘mother of peace’, but the history of its foundation was not always so. In 1875, Henry Morton Stanley, the British explorer visited Kabaka Mutesa I’s court and told him about Christianity.
Mutesa, thrilled by the stories that he heard, asked Stanley to write to Queen Victoria of United Kingdom and ask her to send christian missionaries to Buganda.
Two years later in 1877, eight missionaries from the Church Missionary Society arrived in Buganda. They began to spread Christianity and make conversions.
When Mutesa was succeeded by his son Mwanga in 1884, Christianity came under attack when Mwanga, angry that the Christian converts placed their God above traditional loyalty to him as Kabaka. Mwanga planned to wipe out the new religion.
The first victim was Bishop James Hannington, the first Anglican Bishop of the Eastern Equatorial province. Hes was killed in 1885 on orders from Mwanga. Also in 1886, Mwanga 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.
Visiting Saint Mary’s Cathedral At Rubaga Hill
Saint Mary’s Cathedral is the seat of the Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church in Uganda. The church 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 British colonialists were planned from Lubaga because of its strategic view.
The Rubaga hill gets its name from the Luganda word ‘okubaga’, which means ‘to plan’.
In 1891, King Mwanga who would later slaughter catholic converts donated the 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. A visit to Saint Mary’s Cathedral is among the best things to do in Kampala.
Enjoying Kampala Night life
Another of the best things to do in Kampala is enjoy the city’s vibrant night life.
The city is known as East Africa’s party capital, so much so that visitors regularly come from Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania to party the weekend away.
The main party area is along Acacia Avenue. Here you will find popular local favourites including Bubbles O’Leary’s Irish Pub, Big Mike’s bar and nightclub, Kurb bar which sometimes hosts live music. And a little further up the road is Cayenne, which has a restaurant, a poolside bar, and a dancefloor.
Outside the city centre, Kabalagala is known for being a slightly more seedy area. But it still has a few quirky options including Deuces, and Café Cheri.
Or head up the road to Bugolobi for excellent cocktails at The Alchemist. Enjoying nightlife is indeed among the fascinating things to do in Kampala.
Dining At One Of The Many Restaurants
If music and dancing is not really among your favorite things to do in Kampala, the city is also renowned for its delicious organic food. The food in Kampala is as diverse as its culture, with almost every tribe having its own traditional dish.
To explore pearl of Africa, Uganda without fully immersing yourself, particularly when it comes to the food would be robbing your tastebuds of greatness.
Although in several countries across the world, the word Rolex is typically synonymous with luxury watches, in Kampala city of Uganda, the “rolex” is a famous street food. It is a burrito-like dish consisting of an omelet wrapped in a chapati with onions and tomatoes.
The Uganda Rolex offers various renditions of the staple street food. But to have the full experience, visit any street vendor selling them all over the city.
A traditional Ugandan buffet is also vital. And St. Anthony’s and Shaka Zulu Foods are favorites among locals. They serve full lunch buffets of various traditional meals, from pilau to “luwombo” .
The Luwombo is a royal dish and 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 matooke, a starchy boiled banana.
While local cusine is abundant in Kampala, other cuisines are also available. You can visit Cantine Divino in Kololo to try the city’s best streak, El Pecado to taste authentic latin cuisine or Yujo Izakaya to make use of your chopsticks and enjoy the best Japanese food.
Vegan-friendly menus are also available at Holy Crepe and Aleph. Staying true to its big-city energy, Kampala offers something to eat for everyone.
Frequently Asked Questions About Kampala
1. Is Kampala Worth A Visit?
2. How Did Kampala Come To Be Called So?
3.What Is Kampala Best Known For?
4. How Do You Spend A Day In Kampala?
You can spend a day exploring the top attractions and enjoying the best things to do in Kampala including the touring the Uganda National Museum, Uganda National Mosque, Bahai Temple, Kasubi Tombs, Kabaka’s Palaca, Namugongo Matyrs Shrine, Local Markets, Craft Centers and art galleries, plus much, much more. You can explore Kampala’s attractions on a guided walking tour, a city drive, or a boda boda tour.
4. Is Kampala Safe?
Kampala is safe. However, petty crimes including pickpocketing, car break-ins, phone snatching and mugging would be your biggest safety concern in this city. The petty crimes are mainly common in the congested spaces of the city and in the ghettos.
If you are on a guided Kampala city tour, you will shielded from these risks and your guide will ensure your safety. Like many other democracies across the globe, Uganda occasionally goes through short periods of political change. This is also centre around Kampala and during this time Kampala city can be avoided.
6. Is Kampala Safe For Female Tourists?
Kampala is safe for female travellers; in fact, most parts of Uganda are well-suited for female travellers in general. The locals are friendly and hospitable, and English is widely spoken. As a female traveler, it is always best to adopt the safety practices you would travelling anywhere in the world, like not walking alone at night in cities.