Welcome to Uganda’s capital, welcome to one of the craziest cities in Africa! Little did I know that visiting Kampala was going to be such a wild adventure when I headed out there very recently. On arrival I could sense the intensity, but it only got better when I started exploring the city.
This is your guide for the best places to visit and things to do in and around Kampala, based on my own experiences.
Many people traveling to Uganda skip Kampala as they hear there is not much to do. Well… if people keep on spreading these rumours, I don’t blame travelers. But after my experiences in the city I felt I had to tell tourists how incredible it is to travel to Kampala and at least give it a chance for 1 or 2 days. But to be honest…
Kampala is not for everyone!
Have a look at my vlog with my first impressions of Kampala and decide for yourself.
Traveling to Uganda to see the mountain gorillas in Bwindi National Park, see the tree climbing lions in Queen Elizabeth National Park or for a boat tour on the Nile River? Then visiting Kampala might not be your thing. Uganda’s capital is NOT a beautiful city, it not a clean nor a relaxing place, but it is one heck of an amazing experience!
I visited Uganda and Kampala twice in 2021 and even organized a Traveltomtom Uganda group trip for my followers.
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1. Climb the minaret of The Gaddafi Mosque
A must visit in Kampala is The Gaddafi Mosque, the main Muslim worship place in Uganda where the Uganda Muslim supreme council headquarters is located. By far the biggest mosque in Kampala, even Uganda, can accommodate up to almost 20,000 people in its main sitting area, gallery, and terrace.
Foreigners will have to buy an entrance ticket of 20,000 UGX ($5.4) which includes a little tour inside the mosque and one of the best things to do in Kampala: going up the minaret. It is about 300 steps up a winding staircase but the you will get some of the views over Kampala. My tour guide was a lovely older man telling me many cool facts about Kampala from up here while marvelling at the city below.
Initially, this mosque was built by Idi Amin Dada in 1972 but when Gaddafi, the late former leader of Libya visited Uganda he offered to take built a completely new mosque and funded the whole project. Therefore the mosque is commonly known as the Gaddafi Mosque. However, after Gaddafi’s death, the mosque was renamed to Uganda National Mosque.
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2. Owino Market | Incredible local market
After visiting more than 120 countries around the world, I have seen many local markets believe me. However, the Owino Market is next level and one of the best places to visit in Kampala.
This absolutely chaotic multipurpose market is located in downtown Kampala. Owino Market is one of the largest markets in Uganda and receives over 20,000 people daily. It is famous for its beautiful African print fabrics, second-hand clothes, shoes, bags, food, electronics, vegetables, herbs, medicines and anything else you can think of.
The government changed this market’s name to St. Balikuddembe Market in memory of one of the country’s martyrs who was killed in the area on the orders of Kabaka Mwanga in the 1880s. However, the name Owino is still stuck in everyone’s mind.
You can also buy souvenirs at local prices here. Be ready to bargain, because when they see a Mzungu prices go up! However, it is a much cheaper place to get some cool stuff from Uganda and even I found shopping quite fun here. There is just so much to see, endless impressions.
Keep in mind that the Owino Market is extremely busy and an ideal place for petty thieves and pickpocketing. So you should be vigilant at all times. Although super crowded, dirty and chaotic, it is safe to visit the Owino Market for tourists.
3. Nakasero Food Market
Another centrally located local market in Kampala is the Nakasero Food Market in downtown. It is a complete different experience compared to the Owino Market. They only sell fruits, vegetables, fish, spices and everything else food related at Nakasero Market. There is also a section with live stock.
My travel tip for the Nakasero Food Market is to go up some stairs in a nearby warehouse where you have great views over the market. A great Kampala photo spot if you ask me.
The market dates back to 1927 and is the oldest market in Kampala, it employs more than 10,000 people daily!
Visiting Nakasero Food Market is also much more relaxing Kampala activity than the crazy Owino Market. It is not covered, less chaotic and I recommend to buy some freshly cut fruits here and get a juice. If you are adventurous try one of the local delicacies: fried grasshoppers. I tried it, see the vlog, it honestly taste like salty crisps.
4. Visit the Shri Sanatan Dharma Mandal Hindu Temple
Located very central in downtown you will find another worship place worth going when visiting Kampala. The Shri Sanatan Dharma Mandal Hindu Temple is open for visitors and free of charge. The interior is an impressive sight. It is allowed to take photos inside, but you will be asked for a small donation.
5. Stroll through the Katanga Slums
Be prepared to see real poverty, otherwise this is not your place to visit in Kampala. Visiting the Katanga Slums is an eye opening experience and after you walked through, I am pretty sure that you will come out speechless. It is very dirty and polluted, but these people don’t have much choice. Life in the Kampala slums is though!
There is nothing special to do rather than walking through, but it is an impressive experience for those looking for unique things to do in Kampala. I very much recommend visiting the Katanga Slums and if you can please spend some pocket money here. Even as simple as buying a bottle of water can make a huge difference for these people.
It is safe visiting the slums? I did not feel uncomfortable but it is probably better if you are accompanied by a local, they also know their way around the slums.
6. Free walking tour of Kampala
The best way to get to know the city is guided by a local. Hop on one of the free walking tours in Kampala and you will be set to see the major tourist attractions in Kampala in a half day trip. These free walking tours are tip based and my favorite way of exploring a new city. See the link above for more info.
I joined a free walking tour with Steve, a young Ugandan guy who studied at Makerere University and set up a local company for showing tourists around his city. He was a lovely and funny guy, very calm and most important very knowledgeable.
We did a tour around Kampala for pretty much the whole afternoon and it was an absolutely mind-blowing experience. Without Steve I would have never gotten to some of the tourists spots he showed me and that are listed in this Uganda travel blog.
See more about the Free Walking Tour in Kampala in my Kampala vlog on Youtube.
7. Learn about Kampala life from students at the Makerere University
Makerere University is the most prestigious university in the country, the place where former prime ministers and other well known people from Uganda and East Africa have studied.
In 1922, Makerere University was established as the first institution of higher learning in Uganda and the whole of Africa. It’s located on Makerere Hill which is about 3km from Kampala city center.
It is worth to stroll around the University grounds. Apart from some great architecture, the university offers a serene environment with big green meadows to relax and hang out. Almost like a park feeling. Try to talk to some of the students and get a little inside in their views about living in Kampala. I am sure you will also spot some wildlife like monkeys and some huge and colorful birds.
The Makerere university is highly regarded across Africa for its huge contribution to knowledge and producing some of Africa’s greatest minds. Some of the powerful people who attended the university include the former president of Uganda Dr. Milton Obote, Julias Nyerere of Tanzania, Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, Joseph Kabila of Congo, and Mwai Kibaki of Kenya. Also American travel writer and novelist Paul Theroux once taught here. In all honesty I didn't know him, do you?
8. Pray at Baha'i Temple
There are only 11 remaining Baha'i temples in the world and this is the only one in Africa. Uganda has thousands of people who practice the Baha'i faith. A unique religion that I had never heard of before. The faith teaches the highest levels of humanity and is believed to have originated from Iran/Persia.
The Baha'i Temple is a beautiful yet peculiar structure built on Kikaya Hill. The location is very peaceful, soothing, and serene with great views.
Tourists come here to relax as they walk through the beautifully manicured gardens and get to learn more about the Baha'i faith. Unfortunately visitors are NOT allowed to take pictures inside the temple.
9. Visit Kasubi Tombs of Buganda Kings
One of the four UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Uganda and the only one in Kampala. For that reason alone already the Kasubi Tombs can’t be missed on this list of best things to do in Kampala.
They are important remnants of the Buganda Kingdom, the biggest Kingdom in Uganda. They hold a lot of cultural and spiritual significance in Kampala’s history. The Kasubi Tombs are located on Kasubi hill, northwest of Kampala city and are the burial site for the royal family of the Buganda Kingdom.
There are 31 others tombs distributed across the Buganda Kingdom, but what makes the Kasubi Tombs special is that there are four Buganda Kings buried here: Mutesa I, Mwanga II, David Chwa II and Sir Edward Mutesa II.
The main structure, called Muzibu Azaala Mpanga, is completely made from organic materials and marks the central point of the site. Built in 1882 as a palace for the Kabakas of Buganda and later in 1884 converted into royal burial grounds.
The site is a unique example of traditional architecture and has been described as one of the most remarkable buildings using vegetal materials in the entire region of Sub-Saharan Africa.
10. Walk the Royal Mile of the Buganda Kingdom
The Royal Mile is a tourist attraction in Kampala that is tree dotted lane which leads from the parliament of the Bungada Kingdom in one straight line towards the Lubrini Palace. It is a beautiful sight a little away from the city center, it is within walkable distance but a boda boda or Uber will costs you near to nothing.
11. Lubiri Mengo aka Kabaka’s Palace
Kabaka’s Palace sits on Mengo Hill Road in the Lubiri area and is the official historic residence of the Buganda King. Thanks to its strategic location on a hill, it offers great views of Kampala city.
This palace was built in 1885 and is also referred to as the haunted mansion of Kampala. The reason for this is that so many people were tortured to death here during Idi Amin’s dictatorial regime. Following the 1966 military coup, the palace’s subterranean storage tunnels were used to incarcerate political prisoners. The prisons can still be visited these days.
Visiting the Kabaka's Palaca is like what you call dark tourism, but it is definitely a unique thing to do in Kampala. The entrance fee is 35,000 UGX, which is around $10 USD.
12. Independence Monument
In the heart of the city near City Square Park you can find the Uganda Independence Monument. It represents a wrapped up man standing straight and holding up a child. It is one of the most symbolic and identically landmarks of Kampala.
It was constructed by the Maloba, a Kenyan student at the Makerere University just before the independence of Uganda in October 1962 and signifies a new born culture unwrapped and freed from its colonial masters. Around the independence monument there are some sign posts guiding you through the history of Uganda.
Unfortunately by the time I was visiting in June 2021 the monument was used for a promo campaign of the MTV Music Awards that were to be held in Kampala. Unfortunately due to political unrest it never took place.
13. Uganda Martyr’s Shrine
This religious site has a very sad history. Its structure resembles the shape of a typical African hut and features 22 copper pillars. The church’s interior is spectacular – it has a breathtaking vaulted ceiling and amazing wood carvings on the doors. The stained glass windows are a representation of the 22 martyrs who lost their lives because of their faith, in 1886.
The Uganda Martyr’s Shrines in Namugongo are very significant as they honor the local martyrs. Every year on Uganda’s Martyrs Day (June 3th), thousands of Catholic pilgrims from across the country visit the shrines to attend prayers in remembrance of the martyrs. June 3th is a public holiday in Uganda.
14. Visit Rubaga Cathedral (Saint Mary’s Cathedral)
Rubaga Cathedral is located on one of Kampala’s original 7 hills: Lubaga. This hill used to be the palace of Kabaka Mutesa I. The views from here are magnificent. The cathedral itself is grand and very well-built. In the front there is a statue of St. Mary and a memorial to the first African Catholic bishop in Uganda, Archbishop Joseph Kiwanuka.
Of all the cathedrals, this is one that you ought to include in your itinerary when visiting Kampala. It was built in the early 20th century and is the base of the Catholic church in Uganda. The land on which the cathedral is built was donated in 1889 to the French missionaries by the King of Buganda (Kabaka Mwanga II).
15. The Namirembe Cathedral
However, the most famous cathedral to visit in Kampala is the Namirembe cathedral. It is the oldest cathedral in Uganda dating back to 1890. Its amazing location on top of one of the original hills of Kampala, makes it a popular Kampala tourist attraction. Its impressive dome can be seen from many places around the city. The cathedral is surrounded by high palm trees and makes a really cool picture. If you want to attend a mass, there is Sunday service in English at 7:00 am.
16. Buy souvenirs at the East African Craft Village
A very tourist place but one that can’t be missed on this list of places to visit and on your Kampala itinerary. The East African Craft Village is the place to buy your souvenirs from Uganda. No need to think about what to buy in Uganda, here they have it all. It is specially dedicated to tourists, so expect to bargain or pay a little more than normal for some very colorful Uganda souvenirs.
17. Tour The Uganda National Museum
If you’re a fan of museums and would like to see some of Uganda’s cultural heritage, then a trip to the Uganda National Museum would definitely interest you. It is the biggest and oldest museum in Kampala so you should expect to find lots of ancient artefacts and exhibits here.
Visitors come here to see bows and arrows, traditional musical instruments, rifles and spears that were used by the great people of Uganda, a cultural village, the fossilized remains of an 8 million years-extinct Napak rhino and much more.
This museum is located on Kitante road near the British High Commission. It was created in 1908 by the then British Colonial Officer George Wilson. Visiting the Uganda National Museum is the best place to learn more about the history of Uganda. The Uganda National Museum charges and entrance fee of 15,000 UGX ($4.2) for tourists, bringing a camera costs an extra 5,000 UGX.
18. Visit the Taxi Park in downtown
You must think why visiting a taxi parking? But once you get there you will see. On one side there is an elevated street going uphill which gives you a perfect overview of the organized chaos of Kampala. The taxi park represents the daily life in Kampala better than anything else, this is were local people come and go when they commute between their jobs in Kampala and their homes on the outskirts of the city. Much more local than this experience it can't get.
19. Cooking class
I mentioned him earlier already in this article, but Steve, the one from the Free Walking Tours in Kampala also organizes Kampala cooking classes. Not only a great way to learn more about the local food culture in Uganda, but you get to taste it too. He organizes these cooking classes in Kampala at his home together with his wife. An absolutely recommended thing to do and another way of getting an insight into the local life in Kampala.
20. Go wild in Kampala’s nightlife
Kampala’s nightlife is one of the star highlights when you visit the city. Kampala is known for being very alive in the dark and is regarded as the Las Vegas of Africa. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the curfew was enforced, people here could be seen in the street at very ungodly hours partying like there’s no tomorrow.
At almost every corner of the city, there’s a bar or some kind of local hotspot offering drinks. When staying in the city center I can understand it looks a bit intimidating to mingle at local bars, but it is good fun and locals love seeing Mzungus. But keep in mind that not all spots are safe especially for foreigners so it is best to go with a local.
The most renowned places to party in Kampala are: Club Ambiance, Guvnor and Nyondo Club. Always take an Uber back home, it is not recommended for tourists to walk the streets of Kampala at night.
21. Indulge in hip restaurants and coffee places
One thing that Kampala is known for is organic and delicious food. You will find lots of restaurants and eateries serving a wide range of healthy dishes. Some of my favorite coffee places are: Endiro Coffee and 1000 Cups of Coffee.
The food in Kampala is affordable compared to other African cities so you don’t have to worry about denting your pocket too much when indulging on some delicious food. Also when traveling to Kampala you have to try the street food and of course you leave without eating a Ugandan Rolex, an egg chapati.
22. Experience the Kampala Festivals
One festival that stands out and you shouldn’t miss out on when visiting Kampala in October is the Kampala City Festival. It is a street festival with multiple stages and parades through the city. I would almost call it the Uganda Carnival.
Another important festival in Kampala is the Amakula International Film Festival where African drama and visual content are celebrated and promoted. This festival is organized by the Uganda National Museum. It is annually held around the end of March.
23. Boat trips on Lake Victoria
Last but not least for those looking for cool things to do around Kampala the nearby islands in Lake Victoria are a great place to visit.
The city of Kampala borders the shores of Lake Victoria in the Southeast. Lake Victoria is the second-largest freshwater lake in the world, Africa’s largest lake, and the world’s largest tropical lake. The lake is also famous for being the source of the River Nile, which you can find in Jinja, one of the best places to visit in Uganda.
The freshwater lake boasts some tranquil beaches, islands, and even some beach resorts. These ingredients make it an ideal getaway from the bustling city life. So when you are done with the above things to do in Kampala you can head to the lake.
Some of the tourist activities include fishing, sailing, cruising, boat riding, sunbathing, swimming, and partying. There are so many islands that you can choose from depending on the type of activity you’re looking to do.
The most popular islands to visit in Lake Victoria are the Ssese Islands, an archipelago of 84 islands, with Buggala, Bulago, Bukasa and Banda Island being the most famous for tourists. You can stay overnight here if you want the full adventure. Sunsets and sunrises suppose to be incredible. There are daily ferries to and from the islands. For more information about the Ssese Island ferry schedule click here.
Apart from the scenic shores and water sports here, some native wildlife can be found in the lake i.e. hippos, otters, crocodiles, turtles, and mongooses.
However, although listed as one of the best things to in Kampala, the islands are best visited from Entebbe, the city where the International Airport is located about 45 kilometers south of Kampala.
When visiting Entebbe don’t forget to swing by the remarkable Aero Beach. In my Aero Beach Travel Guide you can see what to expect: plane graveyard, big funny statues and of course a chill beach restaurant.
There you have it, all my top recommendations for the things to do in Kampala. In the beginning I already told you that visiting Kampala is actually pretty cool and worth it. The city will have you extremely ecstatic for a true African adventure. All the cultural places to see, the worship places, the UNESCO World Heritage site, the chaotic bustling city center, the warm tropical climate, the endless smiles of the local people and the lush green landscape sounds like music to the ears of most travelers, right?
Are you inspired to travel to Kampala and see this crazy but charming city in the Pearl of Africa? I hope I got you a little excited.
May you have any questions please leave me a comment below and I am more than happy to help!