Want to spend some time in Uganda’s capital and you’re wondering what to do, here are some of the best things to do in Kampala that you should add to your Uganda itinerary.
Commonly known as the city of seven hills, Uganda’s capital, Kampala has increasingly become a popular (or rather an inevitable) stopover while traveling through Uganda. I am calling it inevitable because it’s literally the gateway to Uganda which means that you have to one way or another pass through it to connect to almost all the other parts of the country.
On the outlook of the city, you might think that there is not much to do but rather see it as a loud and chaotic city, but when you take a closer look, there are so many things to do and it will be a shame to visit Uganda and not explore this bustling city.
Although some people choose not to stick around or if they do, they just stay at their hotels or at most go out to a restaurant, I recommend taking off some time to see what Kampala has to offer. And as a local, I guarantee there are a number of places to visit in Kampala that will fill up your time in Uganda’s capital.
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Best things to do in Kampala
1. Visit the Bahai Temple
Outside of Kampala’s busy streets is the Bahai Temple sitting on the hilltop in the neighborhood of Kikaaya. As it is in every continent, Kampala is lucky to house the only Bahai Temple in Africa.
Aside from admiring the exterior of the temple itself, the green lush and well-maintained gardens make you feel like you’re in an entirely new place.
Since it is perched on the hilltop of a large plot of land, the temple offers incredible views of the city from all angles and the beautiful gardens that are covered in flowers and trees are perfect for picnicking. Its the perfect place to escape the busy city of Kampala while still within the city.
After enjoying the incredible views and strolling through the beautiful and enormous garden, you can enter the temple to learn more about the religion. There is actually someone to tell you more about the religion and answer all the questions you might be having.
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2. Visit the Uganda National mosque
Commonly known as the Gadaffi National mosque or the Old Kampala mosque, the Uganda National mosque sits on the hill of Old Kampala and is open to both Muslims and non-muslim tourists.
The mosque which was gifted to the Uganda Muslim community by the late Libyan President, Gadaffi has increasingly become one of the best tourist attractions in Kampala not only because of the incredible views it gives over the city but also the story it holds.
Though it is often overlooked by non-muslim locals, this skyscraper mosque is big enough to sit 15,000 worshippers in the hall, 1,100 in the gallery and 3,500 in the terrace making it the most prominent and biggest mosque in Uganda and East Africa at large.
The exterior architecture and design of the mosque excite revelers but its the interior that atops its beauty. From the beautiful and soft woven carpets, well crafted wooden Mihrab to huge exotic chandeliers hanging in the dome, a visit to the mosque will teach you more about the Islamic faith in Uganda.
Climbing the 304 steps to the top of the minaret will give you 360-degree views and you’ll be able to see all the 7 hills of Kampala. On top of that, you’ll be able to spot out some of the ”famous buildings” of Kampala like the Worker’s house, Mapeera House, Pearl of Africa hotel and so many others.
And just like in all mosques, everyone is expected to remove their shoes before they enter and women are required to cover their legs and shoulders. However, the mosque provides a scarf to cover up in case you didn’t carry one.
And a good plus is that the entry fee comes with a tour guide who will tell you everything you need to know about the mosque and answer all the questions you might be having.
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3. Visit the Uganda Museum
Located in the heart of Kampala, the Ugandan museum might not be as big as that in Egypt, but this little gem which is the oldest in East Africa (having been established in 1902) showcases a collection of Uganda’s cultural heritage that will teach you more about the country and its natives.
Though sometimes disregarded by many locals, as a tourist you’ll enjoy seeing the growth of Uganda from what might have seemed like lack of civilization back in the day to where it is now.
The museum has a number of sections from the Ethnography Gallery which houses over 100,000 objects of historical and cultural value, a Music Gallery that displays a comprehensive collection of musical instruments from all parts of Uganda to a gallery section that showcases some of the events that unfolded in the Idi Amin regime through photography.
A trip to the Uganda Museum will take you through the journey of seeing Uganda’s traditional musical instruments, weapons for each tribe in Uganda, hunting equipment, traditional housing and the general ways of life of all the tribes in Uganda. I gotta tell you that its an amazing experience that I believe you’ll enjoy.
And on top of exploring what’s inside the museum, you’ll be given an opportunity to see the traditional homesteads of each tribe. Since they’re in the backyard of the museum, some tourists end up missing them.
But now that you know about their existence, make sure you don’t miss them as its a fun way of seeing how different Ugandan tribes used to live traditionally.
Pro tip* You don’t need to make a reservation to visit, you can just show up at the museum and you’ll be given access. A ticket costs 15,000 Ugx for foreigners and 5,000 Ugx for locals.
4. Watch cultural dances at The Ndere Cultural Centre
Want to be treated to an evening of fun by watching different cultural dances from Uganda and some other East African countries? Then visit the Ndere centre.
The cultural dances by the Ndere troupe (which btw is the best cultural dance troupe in Uganda) are perfectly choreographed not only to entertain guests but also to tell a number of stories through dance.
And no, it’s not just watching dances, the show is mixed up with funny moments where the Troupe’s head tells incredible jokes that leave revelers dying of laughter.
Since its an evening of having fun, there is always a buffet that includes a number of local dishes and some international ones giving you an opportunity to try local dishes if you hadn’t yet.
The show normally starts at 7 pm but do not worry if you reach early, the cultural center has a restaurant where you can sit and chill or even better, stroll around the alley as you admire the beautiful paints. Need to buy souvenier, pass by the crafts shop to pick something – but I have to warn you that it’s quite expensive compared to other souvenir shops in the area.
Pro tip* There are 3 shows in the week; Wednesday & Friday starting at 7 pm and a family show on Sunday starting at 6 pm. The ticket goes for 80,000Ugx for foreigners and 45,000Ugx for locals and the buffet goes for 40,000ugx for everyone. To make sure you don’t miss a spot, book a ticket online. However, booking a ticket does not mean reserving a table, so to be sure that you reserve one, contact them directly on the phone number on their website.
5. Visit the Uganda martyr’s shrine at Namugongo
Looking for what to do in Kampala, then visit the Uganda martyr’s shrine in Namugongo.
The shrine that is dedicated to 22 Ugandan martyr’s and saints is one of the largest Christian pilgrimage centres in Africa.
Receiving thousands of pilgrims from all over East Africa especially on 3rd June which is the martyr’s day – (a day devoted to remembering the martyr’s), Namugongo shrine has become one of the Kampala places to visit by both Christians and non-believers who want to understand and ”walk” through the journey and sacrifices made by these faithful believers.
With a sitting capacity of 1000 people and the gardens big enough to accommodate double the number, the shrine stands tall with the glory of an ancient Ballisica whose architecture imitates the African hut.
And right at the extreme side of the grounds, you’ll be able to see the beautifully designed artwork that showcases exactly how most of the martyrs were murdered.
Pro tip* Entrance is absolutely free but I advise you not to visit when the martyr’s day (3rd June) is approaching as it can be extremely crowded by pilgrims that you may not have anywhere to step. And if you visit at the time of prayer, you can as well participate in the mass.
6. Explore downtown Kampala
If you want to get the real feel of Kampala, then take some time off to explore Kampala downtown. Though the word ” downtown” might mean an upscale part of the city in some parts of the world, downtown in Kampala totally means something else.
When you hear chaos, insane traffic, thousands of people moving every second with no known destination, disorganized taxi parks that make it seem like Kampala has more cars than people, food markets, second-hand cloth markets, basically the capital of informal businesses – that’ what downtown Kampala is all about.
But amidst all that chaos, you don’t want to miss experiencing that. There is no better way of learning about the livelihood of the locals than exploring Kampala downtown.
Some of the highlights of visiting downtown Kampala include; Owino market which is popular for selling second-hand stuff – (clothes, shoes, bags, name it,), Nakasero market- a food/vegetable market where you can buy literally any kind of foodstuff, old taxi park to be blown away by how transportation works in Kampala and many others.
But I have to warn you, as you explore Kampala downtown, be mindful of your property as there are quite a number of pickpocketers.
Pro tip* Downtown has a lot of hawkers that will very likely try to sell you stuff every chance they get. If you don’t feel buying anything, politely say no and move on. Also, if you have a daypack, wear it from the front instead of the back.
7. Buy souvenirs from the many craft villages
Feel like taking a little something to your friends and family back home? Then hop into one of the many souvenir shops around Kampala. Whether it is art, handwoven baskets, African print clothes or jewelry, to hand made African bags, there are a number of souvenirs to buy before leaving Kampala.
In Kampala, the biggest and most known craft villages are the Craft market on Buganda road opposite Senana Supermarket and the Uganda Arts& Craft Village at the National theatre.
Since these are majorly tourist places, prices are higher but try to bargain as much as you can.
Protip* Though these are supposed to be locally made crafts, some craft shops mix in Chinese products. So be vigilant and look out for purely local products and not the Chinese coated artwork.
8. Visit the Kasubi tombs
Enlisted as a Unesco World Heritage site in 2001, Kasubi Tombs is a burial site for the Kings of Buganda kingdom – a prominent tribe in Uganda.
The main catch is to see the largest grass thatched building on earth and admire the unique architecture that stands out from other similar constructions.
A visit to the tombs will help you learn more about the country and Buganda in particular, its cultures, traditions, and customs of the Ganda people.
Pro tip* If you’re a person that is excited about learning about the customs and traditions of a certain ethnic group, then Kasubi tombs are one of the places to visit in Kampala Uganda. But if it’s not your cup of tea, it’s better to opt for other things on the list.
9. Visit Namirembe and Rubaga cathedrals
Also known as St Paul’s Cathedral Namirembe, this red-bricked cathedral that sits atop Namirembe hill on a well-maintained green garden is the oldest Anglican cathedral in the country.
It’s the spectacular views it provides over Kampala and the historical attachment that draws tourists to this incredible place of worship.
Also, the cathedral serves as the provincial cathedral of the Church of Uganda. And due to the recent renovations, the cathedral looks more beautiful than ever.
On this very note, you can also visit Rubaga cathedral which is the Archdiocese for the Roman Catholics in Uganda and also the oldest Roman Catholic cathedral in the country. It sits on the crest of Rubaga hill giving spectacular views of the bustling city of Kampala.
The decorations and arches inside the Rubaga cathedral really bring out the Roman feel that will leave you in awe of the exotic touch.
Protip* Since the two cathedrals are not far from each other, you can visit them at once – one after the other. It’s also free to access both cathedrals but donations are highly appreciated.
10. Visit the Kabaka’s palace and Idi Amin’s torture chambers
Locally known as the Lubiri, Kabaka’s palace is the official residence of the King of Buganda kingdom.
Seated on the summit of Mengo hill, the cream big building sits in the center of a large piece of land that houses a number of buildings and features. This includes the fireplace (locally known as Kyoto Gombolola) whose fire never goes out, you’ll also find the current Kabaka’s official dwelling known as Twekobe (since he chose not to stay in the ”official residence” due to too much bloodshed in the past).
The palace also houses the current King’s collection of photographs showing his life since he was young to his current state.
Within the palace, you’ll also be able to explore Idi Amin’s torture chambers (locally known as Empuku). Even though the torturing ended many years ago, the pain of 2000+ people who lost their lives here at the hand of Idi Amin is still felt while visiting. The cries, the blood, the pain can literally still be felt through the walls.
I f you plan on spending some time in Kampala, I hope that this post of the Kampala attractions gave you ideas on how to enjoy Kampala without leaving the city.
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- Uganda travel tips to know
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