Kampala Attractions Or Things To Do In Kampala
Rapidly growing, active, and cosmopolitan, Kampala (“hill of impalas”) is more than Uganda’s capital city, it is the unrivalled cultural and economic center of Uganda. But if you don’t have your Kampala attractions checklist list ready, here’s what to do in Kampala for a memorable stay. Though the list isn’t exhaustive, in this post we try to point you in the direction of some of the best attractions in Kampala you shouldn’t skip.
1. Kabaka’s Palace
This is the place where Uganda’s history of the nineteenth century begins. At the top of Mengo Hill is the palatial residence of the Kabaka or king of Buganda, the biggest kingdom in Uganda.
At the time of Uganda’s independence, Mengo was at the forefront. It was then as it is now. Within its central location are other features which include the palace, the parliament block both of which are unique architectural designs. Within the fences of the Mengo Palace lies a darker side to Uganda and Kampala’s political history. There is an underground bunker that was used as a torture chamber during the 70s after the fallout of the Kabaka (king of Buganda) and Apollo Milton Obote when the palace was turned into an army barracks.. This is one of the most fascinating places you will visit in Kampala. Today, Mengo place has been reinstated to its former royal glory and the majesty of the atmosphere tells.
From the palace is the Royal Mile which you should take the delight of walking. The Royal Mile road connects the palace to Bulange, the administrative block of Buganda Kingdom. Half way between the two is a unique feature of the traditional long drum, engalabi, divided by a gate. Only the king of Buganda drives through this gate on his way from the palace to the Bulange.
A visit to this place takes you back in time to the former excesses of the Buganda monarchy.
2. Old-Kampala Mosque or Gadaffi Mosque
For one of the most mesmerizing views of Kampala City, visit the Gadaffi Mosque and climb its minaret to enjoy the breathtaking views of the city from the top of Old-Kampala hill. You will also be able to take outstanding photos of Kampala’s skyline. Gadaffi Mosque is the largest mosque in East Africa and it confidently dominates Kampala’s Central Business District skyline. The mosque has the minaret with two balconies. Each balcony offers a sweeping 360 degree view of Kampala city and its environs. The National Mosque is a sacred place and those wishing to visit it must dress appropriately. Shoulders, thighs, and cleavage cannot be exposed. In other words, no short skirts, shorts, tanks tops are allowed. Women visitors to the mosque are required to cover their heads, arms, legs before entering the mosque. Head scarfs are provided by the guides for cover before entering the mosque. You will also be required to remove your shoes before entering the mosque.
Named after the former leader of Libya, Colonel Muammar Al-Gadaffi, this architectural gem was originally built in the 70s but construction ceased when President Idi Amin was deposed in 1979. The second reconstruction of the Old-Kampala mosque in 2006 was mostly financed by Colonel Muammar Al- Gadaffi and that’s why it’s called Gaddafi mosque.
3. Namirembe Cathedral
Kampala is home to some magnificent cathedrals and Namirembe Cathedral is one of them. It is one of the iconic features that you shouldn’t miss seeing in Kampala. The enormous brown cathedral also knows as St Paul’s Cathedral sits on one of the seven original hills of Kampala. It was the home of the missionaries of the Anglican Church hence their establishment. To date, it is the home of the Anglican Church in Uganda. It is also the biggest Anglican Church in the whole of East Africa. The cathedral enviously displays off its beauty that is lined with an avenue of different species of young and old trees This scenic beauty of brown and green is one of the best places with Kampala’s skyline view.
4. Rubaga Cathedral
Rubaga Hill, today, is the home of Rubaga Cathedral, the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church in Uganda. Here you discover the history of Catholic religion in Uganda and the journey of the pioneer missionaries from Europe on their maiden journey to the interior of East Africa. Built on top of the former site of King Muteesa I’s royal palace. The cathedral was completed around 1925 as the fifth church after the first four had been destroyed. It is the largest and most elegant cathedral in Uganda.
If you are looking for peace and tranquility stashed away from the bustle and hustle of the city, then this is the place to go to. And we are more than glad to take you there one of our city tours, just let us know when.
5. Kasubi Tombs
This vast conical hut of thatch is the royal burial site for the fallen kings of Buganda Kingdom. They stand erected atop a Kasubi Hill in a large cone-shaped grass thatched building. The tombs were originally built with reeds, timber, and grass. It has only one door and no window. The interior decor of the tombs is very unique to itself. The walls are plastered with brown backcloth all over the place. Backcloth was the traditional wear of the Baganda before the coming of the Kanzu and the Gomesi. It was also the traditional burial outfit. In the absence of caskets, the demised would be lowered into their graves wrapped in backcloth. Being a burial site, Kasubi Tombs is covered in the backcloth as a symbol of grief. A big backcloth curtain stands between the common area and the grave side which is not accessible to the public. The expansive land on which the tombs seat has a number of ficus trees from which the backcloth is harvested. In 2001, UNESCO declared Kasubi Tombs a World Heritage Site, one of three in Uganda. However, in 2010, the tombs were destroyed in an inferno that claimed most of the tombs. Luckily, the remains of the former kings weren’t affected by the fire because they had been buried deeper underground than in typical graves.
The tombs have been in existence from as far as 1822 when king Muteesa 1 was on the throne. He had constructed a palace at this hill on the same land. This palace stills stands to date and still evokes the same astonishment as it did 100 years ago.
6. Kabaka’s Lake
This is considered the largest man-made and the only lake of its kind in Uganda. The Kabaka’s Lake was an ambitious idea of King Mwanga II. Mwanga II, too many, is known as the one the kabaka or king behind the killing of Uganda Martyrs. However, during his reign, he mobilized all the 52 clans to take part in the digging of the lake. The lake is located at the foot of Rubaga and Mengo hills. The intention was to connect the lake to L Victoria situated at Munyonyo. It is also argued that Mwanga loved staying around water, reason he needed a water body near the palace.
The beauty about this lake is that it is fed by the underground springs that help to keep the water fresh. That is how it has survived for over a century. The lake is a good location for birding opportunities with over 100 species recorded around the area.
Every year, there are traditional boat competitions on the lake organized by Buganda Kingdom as a means of bringing people together.
7. Uganda National Museum
This museum, the oldest in East Africa was started in 1908 at Old-Kampala. It was then moved to Makerere University School of Arts in 1942, then finally to its current permanent home on plot 5 Kira road in 1953.
A visit to the Uganda National Museum offers you a glimpse into the different cultures and the archaeological history of Uganda.The museum has public galleries which display ethnography, iron age archaeology, natural history of Uganda, traditional architecture, traditional music instruments. It also has a temporary exhibition gallery which features various temporary exhibitions like “The Unseen Archive of Idi Amin”. The museum also displays some of the vehicles of the former presidents of Uganda like Idi Amin, Milton Obote and Yoweri Museveni. In the same gallery is the vehicle used by the last British governor to Uganda before independence. The museum also contains a collection of varied species of snakes, insects, and birds in Uganda. It has attendants who are also musicians and who upon visitor request can describe and play for you some of the traditional Uganda musical instruments like the xylophone.
The museum today is home to a number recent occurrences in the country. You can always be sure to learn a couple of things about Uganda for the few hours you are there.
8. Baha’i Temple
Ascend up Kikaya Hill to discover another highlight of Kampala City, Baha’i Temple. But this is no ordinary temple; it is the only Baha’i temple on the continent of Africa. The temple is designed with ornate nine sided walls that represent the nine recognized religions of the world. The shrine is surrounded by an expansive well-manicured garden. Few gardens in Kampala capture the grand essence of beauty like this seemingly endless garden. You can see lots of birds on the property. This temple attracts visitors who are believers of various faiths. The temple is open for visits every day of the week.
9. Nakasero Market
This is also known as the all food market. It is the place where all types of food are sold. In case one cannot find a certain type of food, be sure, you will find it at Nakasero. It is the only market where all fresh food deliveries are made. It is a stop center for both wholesalers and retailers in the food industry.
The name Nakasero is derived from the Luganda word, “Akasero“, a basket. The people that used to come to the market often carried a shopping basket, akasero hence the name Nakasero. The market was established in the early 40s as a market place for the whites and Asians that stayed in Nakasero and Kololo neighborhoods. This target market is what shaped the kind of foods that were stocked up in the market. Unlike the locals that grew most of their own food, the Asians and whites mostly bought everything they used at home. It was later upon the emergency of the educated local class that could not grow their own food that they were able to shop from Nakasero market.
The market is a bit distanced from the hills of Nakasero and Kololo as it lays on the lower side of the central business district but nonetheless, it attracts a wide number of consumers. They say the more things change, the more they remain the same. Nakasero has remained the same overtime. It is the place where the shopping of all fresh fruits and rare vegetables is done so, check it out when in Kampala.
10. Owino market
Owino Market is the heartbeat of the Kampala’s informal economy. It is also called St. Balikudembe Market. Balikudembe is one of the two Uganda Martyrs that were killed at this very spot where the market stands. It is the market place where you can find that particular brand of a button that all your household stores uptown no longer shelf.
Owino was a famous tailor around this market. So famous that his workplace became the GPS on which all other landmarks were established. Owino market specializes in used second-hand clothes and shoes from North America, Europe and Asia. Besides the used clothes, you can buy grains, fruits, used books, local crafts etc. It is located in downtown area of Kampala across the Nakivubo Channel.
One common word you will hear while at Owino is fasi fasi. There are so many people crossing paths and for one to get a right of way, instead of the sirens, you just say “fasi fasi” and the way is created. It is the unscripted street language. In this market, you have to be so active as you mind your wallet, you have to create way for those by passing and at the same time pay attention to the hawkers calling you out. Everyone and everything demands of your attention.
You have not challenged your attention to the limit if you have not gone shopping at Owino. Let’s take you there on one of our Kampala walking tours, you will comeback a happier person.
11. The Old Taxi Park
Call it the meeting place of all Kampala’s public transport minivans. The old taxi park is the center point of all public movement. An aerial view of the taxi park will show you thousands of “taxis” also known as matatus facing different directions and yet they are all destined to go somewhere at a particular time. From afar, they look to be so congested yet in that very congestion they never knock each other. Each taxi is always ready to drive off to its final destination. The old taxi park is also locally known as Paaka Enkadde.
The park is a beehive of activities; from the touts calling out passengers to board their respective taxis, to hawkers vending their merchandise to potential clients, then there are the service providers; mobile money kiosks helping passengers transact, cobblers mending shoes, waitresses vending food, and others carrying luggage.
The old taxi park is a busy abyss that never goes to sleep. It is located in a depression ringed by plazas and shops that seem to never close. Every exit before you is an entrance to yet another discovery.
12. Ndere Center
Uganda is a country with multiple cultures. From the north to the south, east to the west, you will find people of different cultures. One particular item is language and dance. Dance is such a big identity to each person.
At Ndere Centre, you get to see the different dances from some of the major tribes of Uganda at their weekly shows. These three hour performances usually happen every Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday at Ndere’s home in Kisassi.
You get the opportunity to enjoy non-stop entertainment featuring traditional dances, singing, musical instruments, and history lessons about the various tribes of Uganda. The beauty of this experience is that you get a chance to participate in some of the dances at the end of the show.
13. Performing Arts Events
Kampala is the pulse to the creative, liberal and performance arts. Everywhere you go, comedians are ready with punchlines and a poet is waxing philosophical with a creativity that’s no holds Bard.
Nile Basin Safaris offers guided city tours in Kampala. Get in touch with us to plan your next Kampala City Tour during your safari with us.