Ok, ok. I know. Kigali isn’t exactly a mecca of activity. It’s not a city with obvious tourist attractions and finding things to keep you occupied can be tricky. But, while Kigali’s wonders aren’t all that obvious, they’re there! You just have to look a little harder to find them.
Rejoice! That’s where I come in, my friends. Here’s a little list of some things that new arrivals, tourists, or even folks who’ve lived here for years might want to check out. To break up the list a little, I’ve divided things into categories: Boozy & Tasty, Cultural & Touristy, Sporty & Outdoorsy, and everything else. There are plenty of ideas so have a read and then head out and do some stuff!
Anyway… here’s my list, in no rational order…
Cultural & Touristy Things
Kigali is a long way off from being a cultural or tourist destination but it’s slowly adding cool things that are …
Attend One of Kigali’s Annual Events
There’s not a whole lot that happens each year in Kigali but things are improving slowly. Check out this list of annual events in Kigali to see if your time here matches up with one of the city’s yearly activities. Everything from marathons to music festivals to food fairs to rally car racing.
Take a Walking Tour of Nyamirambo
Nyamirambo is my favourite part of Kigali. It’s filled with character and the streets are almost always bustling with people – unlike the rest of the city’s sleepy streets. It’s where many of Kigali’s Muslims live and worship and somehow also houses loads of lively bars that seem to be open and busy any time or day. It’s awesome. But it’s also a little intimidating for the new visitor… which is where the Nyamirambo Women’s Center comes in. This group of ladies have created a walking tour around their neighbourhood visiting a hair salon, tailor, and a local house to help make lunch. It’s got to be Kigali’s first walking tour which makes for a fun morning. Plus the money goes towards supporting the women’s center which is an amazing cause. Win win!
Visit an Art Studio
The art scene in Kigali is small but growing. Each month sees new art shows and developments and the main reasons for this are the art studios which keep popping up. Ivuka and Uburanga are two of the more established galleries but Inema is a recent addition that has done a lot of great work both on the canvas and off – hosting lots of great events. Yego Arts is another of the newer galleries located in Nyarutarama near the MTN Centre. Spend an hour or two looking through their galleries, watching the artists and work, or just hanging out in their cool, friendly, spaces.
Go to the Library
Kigali recently opened a fancy new library. Not only is it in a snazzy building with a beautiful view (have I mentioned yet that Kigali is beautiful?) but it’s also a great idea and the first library in the country. The last time I was there, the organisation of the books needed a bit of work but there’s something charming about finding cookbooks mixed in with bibles and biographies. RaN Cafe is up top (shaded in a mysterious blue hue due to the plexiglass roof) that has decent food and a good view. Get a membership and take out books or just hang out, use their free wifi, or enjoy reading in what is a really nice space.
Watch Live Music
Live music is a bit of a problem in Kigali. As in, there really isn’t much of it. White Horse used to do reggae concerts every Friday but I’m not sure if that’s still happening. Tiamo in Kiyovu has a Congolese band that plays every Friday as well. It’s good music and a lively atmosphere. Serena Hotel will occasionally host bigger concerts (usually at a relatively high price) and Goethe-Institut often holds more cultural type music events like mandolin players and opera singers, usually for free. The Kigali Up! festival is held each July and is a fun, two-day event. Your best bet for keeping on top of music in Kigali is to subscribe to the Goethe-Institut’s newsletter or to check in regularly to my Kigali events calendar.
Go to a Movie
Century Cinema is Kigali’s only movie theatre and it’s the real deal, folks, complete with popcorn and movies on one of their big screens. The cinema is equipped with 3D and even have something called the ‘5D Experience’ which I have yet to try out. They get the latest movies (and sometimes even get them before their release in the US) and it’s a fun night out. If you’re more into smaller, independent, international films then head to the Goethe-Institut on Tuesday nights for German (or German-themed) films, or the Korean Embassy for Korean movies. The Kwetu Film Insistute and Heaven Restaurant also play the occasional movie and if you’re in Kigali in July, make sure to check out Hillywood. There’s also a movie theatre in Nyamirambo that will let you play your own movies if you can get a small group of people together.
Go to the Casino
Kigali’s only casino is small, tucked away on the fourth floor of the Top Tower Hotel, and is weirdly packed at all hours with Chinese men. It’s no place for someone familiar with the casinos of Monte-Carlo or Las Vegas. No high rollers or showgirls here – just Chinese men gambling quietly as the waitresses bring around trays of complimentary cold samosas. But as someone who doesn’t really like gambling all that much and often feels intimidated by card tables, I like it here! It’s relaxed, welcoming, and, as it’s open until 2am, it makes a fun stop after dinner.
Go Souvenir Shopping
Kigali isn’t exactly a shopping mecca but if you’re here as a visitor, you’ll probably want to pick up some souvenirs. Cooperatives are a good place to grab baskets, poo paintings, carvings and all things Rwandan-ish all at once. There’s one located near Simba Supermarket in town called ‘COOTRAC’ which is small but it has all of the usual stuff. People here tend to give good prices from teh start but there’s room for a bit of negotiation. The main souvenir place is called ‘Caplaki’ and is located between Cercle Sportif and the nearby roundabout. It’s large but every stall seems to sell the exact same things and, as this place sees a lot of tourists, they start their prices crazy high so make sure to bargain hard. Kimironko market also sells touristy things for cheap but you’ll have a far more hectic experience. If you’re into markets, though, this is the place to go. If you’re looking for something really nice items that are a bit more upscale and unique and crafted by talented local artisans then check out the Azizi Life Boutique located at Heaven Restaurant.
Take a Sunset Moto Ride
It’s probably smart to avoid motos as much as possible… but I’ve never claimed to be smart. Some of my most peaceful moments in Kigali come on the back of a moto just before the sun sets at around 5:30pm to 6pm. The light in the city is amazing and I love putting some earphones in and taking in the views from the back of a moto.
Have a Spa Day
Spa stuff like massages, manicures, pedicures and facials cost a lot less here than they would at home so take advantage and spend a day pampering yourself. I suppose The Serena is considered the best hotel in Kigali and it has a spa to match. If you’re feeling fancy and are in need of a day of pampering you can pay somewhere around $30 to use their jacuzzi, sauna, steam room and pool for the day. Make sure you drink a lot of the ‘free’ juice to maximize value. If you want to continue the luxury and really want to splash out, consider a spa treatment or massage. If you’re looking for a more affordable but still very professional spa treatment, check out Sunset Spa in Kibagabaga which do all kinds of massage, manicures, pedicures, facials and all that good stuff which Enya plays softly in the background.
Go for a Sauna
Saunas seem to be a pretty popular outing here in Kigali, not just reserved for clients at the fancy hotels. If you’re looking for a seriously sweaty cultural experience, head into Nyamirambo for a sauna there. Only for the brave! Read Katherine’s sauna experience in Nyamirambo before deciding if getting up close and sweaty with strangers is something you’re up for.
Boozy & Tasty Things to Do
Food and drink! Just a few ideas on what tasty treats Kigali has on offer.
Drink Coffee (and Tea!)
Rwanda is well known as having fantastic locally grown coffee and tea and, although most of the best stuff is exported, I’m still pretty happy with the offerings around town. The cafes in Kigali serve up all kinds of coffees – from basic to fancy to iced – usually in a nice, relaxing setting that makes it easy to while away the time with a few cups coffee and a good book. Or head to one of the supermarkets (Nakumatt has a good selection) to get some coffee or tea to brew at home.
Go for Brochettes
Meat on a stick… you can’t really go wrong and Rwanda does it well. I’d recommend getting a bit adventurous and wandering into any ol’ local place in your neighbourhood. Just look for any bar with ‘Primus’ or ‘Mutzig’ painted on the walls and they should serve brochettes (probably only goat or beef but fish and chicken can sometimes be found) with bananas, chips or potatoes. Ordering might be an adventure, your beer will be warm and your bill will be wrong, but your food will probably be cheap and really tasty (but be prepared to wait an hour or more as service is rarely fast). I’d guess that most people in Kigali have that one, super secret place that does the best brochettes ever… so get out there and find yours! Or if you want meat on a stick prepared in a more fancy way in a more formal setting then try Republika for an added bonus of large half carafes of wine, good music, and a nice atmosphere.
Go to a Milk Bar
Warm milk? Ew. EW. But, while you’ll never find me sampling the wares at a local milk bar, I know some people who love the stuff! So there must be something to it. At the very least, wander into one of Kigali’s many milk bars and have a little taste. You might hate it… but you might love it! Kacyiru near the US Embassy seems to be the milk bar part of town… just look for paintings of cows.
Aka benz! It’s pork by the kilo! But I have no idea why they call it aka benz. But that doesn’t matter much anyway… what matters is that it’s a big ol’ plate of pork and it’s tasty. Although I’ve really only had it a couple of times. Come Again Bar in Remera seems to be the go-to place in Kigali for aka benz. I’ve also had it in the bar behind Micha’s who go one step further by offering some scantly-clad lip-synching dancers as entertainment. Pork with a side of booty. Weird.
Eat Nyama Choma
I think in Kenya ‘nyama choma’ means ‘roasted meat’ but, in Rwanda, it almost always refers to roasted goat. Nyama choma isn’t found in every little local bar the way brochettes are, you need to know where to look. Car Wash is a popular place for it but my favourite is Sundowner. They serve it up with kachambari (salsa) and an amazing sauce. Add some cheap whiskey and some classic 90’s tunes into the mix and you’re in for a fun, carnivorous, and delicious night.
Eat a Giant Fish
There are some really great local places in Nyamirambo that will serve you a giant fish that you then proceed to rip apart with your bare hands with two friends. It’s a giant fish, it’s tasty, it’s fun, it’s cheap! I’d recommend checking out my old favourite Green Corner or, if you want a better view, head further up the hill to Panorama Ten to Two. The food will take forever so be prepared to wait awhile but I always think the wait is worth it.
Sporty & Outdoorsy Things
Kigali is a beautiful city with gorgeous weather and it – as long as you managed to avoid the two to three hour downpours during rainy season – is best experienced outdoors.
There are tennis courts scattered all around town, often made of clay which is a nice change from the usual hard courts. Check out this list of tennis courts and see which one is your favourite.
Climb Mount Kigali
It’s more of a hill but it’s still impressive and hiking up Mount Kigali makes for a really nice few hours worth of walking. There are several paths up… none of which I actually know. Your best bet is to head to deepest, darkest Nyamirambo towards Sun City Hotel (located near Panorama 10 to 2) and then keep walking up until you can’t go up anymore. There ‘s a bar at the top of the steep part so you can stop in for a well-deserved cold beer before continuing on along the top of the mountain.
Go to the Gym
Gyms in Kigali range in price and quality from Rwf 2,000 per session in cramped, sweaty rooms with broken machines to US$30 per day at the Serena for good equipment, ‘free’ juice, and changing rooms that actually smell nice. Plus everything in between. Whatever your budget, finding a gym and sticking to a workout plan is a great way to keep busy in Kigali.
Play Ultimate Frisbee
There’s a gang of people who play Ultimate Frisbee several times per week on the field at Cercle Sportif, Read this article about Ultimate in Kigali for more info but the best place to keep up to date on practices, rain-outs, tournaments and all of that fun stuff can be found on their Facebook group page. They’ve been going for years and sometimes organise tournaments.
Go Horseback Riding
While you’re up on the mighty Mount Kigali pay a visit to Fazenda Sengha, the horse riding school up there and trot around while taking in a really amazing view. You can either take a lesson in their horse ring overlooking the city below, or you can do a trail ride through the trees. They’re a small operation so email the owner (email@example.com) to book some quality horse time.
Mamba Club in Kimihurura is a little sporting mecca with a sandy volleyball court along with a small pool, table tennis, and a bowling alley to go with brochettes and beer they have on offer at their bar. Weekends see impromptu pickup volleyball games coming together on a fairly regular basis. The level varies with the Rwandan volleyball team sometimes coming to play, or just casual games between newcomers. Either way, everyone is welcome and it’s a fun way to spend a weekend afternoon and to meet some new people in a sporty atmosphere. Also check out Volleyball for Rwanda which is hoping to help improve the level of players in Rwanda.
Spend a Day at the Pool
The weather in Kigali is wonderful and weekends here are often spent chilling at one of the city’s many swimming pools. There are a bunch of Kigali swimming pools to choose from ranging in price, awesomeness, and levels of child volume. Serena is usually the quietest and most… serene. Mille Collines, Umubano, and Cercle Sportif are all fairly large pools that are decent for laps but are often crawling with kids. The pool at the Mano Hotel has the best view in town and, while it’s small, it’s not often busy. Aloha Club (located next to Caiman) seems to be a popular choice for that side of town.
Go for a Walk or Run
Kigali is a gorgeous city and walking its beautiful hills makes a great way to spend a day. I like walking in the valley between Kacyiru and Nyarutarama (by the ‘lake’) or the area behind the MTN Centre on the way into Kibagabaga. Or Nyamirambo offers up a more lively walk with plenty of people buzzing around alongside you. Check out my list of Kigali walks for a for some nice routes with interesting things along the way. Otherwise just get out there and explore!
Kigali’s hills make running here challenging but, if you persevere and make it to the top of those nasty hills, you’re often rewarded with a great view. If you prefer your running without hills, head to the Kimihurura roundabout. It’s around 1 km in diameter which makes keeping track of your distance fairly easy. Plus it’s a popular spot with other runners, walkers, and families who often have friendly words of encouragement as you pass. Kiyovu and Nyarutarama are also good spots with quiet, leafy, well-lit, pothole-free streets.
Enjoy Kigali’s Amazing Views
As I’ve mentioned a bunch of times, Kigali is pretty and you’ll find yourself being blown away by the views as you wander around. But to really take advantage of the wonderful views in Kigali, you’ll need to get up a few stories at least. Top Tower Hotel has a good view as does the balcony from the MTN Bourbon Cafe. Sun City Hotel in Nyamirambo gives a great view back to the city and kLab (on the top floor of Telecom House in Kacyiru) has the best view, in my opinion. This list of Kigali’s best views should help inspire you.
Take a Yoga Class
Yoga seems to have finally caught on in Kigali in a big way and there are two main groups offering classes – Yego Yoga and City Arts. Both offer several styles of yoga with a few different teachers. City Arts are located in Kimihurura and Yego Yoga offer classes at Heaven Restaurant in Kiyovu, Inema Arts in Kacyiru, and hot yoga at Mamba Club in Kimihurura. If you’re at all into yoga, these are the two groups you’ll want to get in touch with. There are also a few independent teachers around and the Serena Hotel usually offer classes with their membership.
The Hash House Harriers are a global movement of ‘drinkers with a running problem’. The Kigali club is very active and lively and they hold runs every Saturday. It’s a great way to meet new people, both locals and expats, and also to explore some hidden corners of the city. They set out a trail for walkers, too. Visit their Facebook page to meet the hashers and to keep on top of their plans each week. If you’re in Kigali alone and don’t know anyone, make time for a hash and you’re sure to have a few friends by the end of the day.
Bowling? Bowling! A bowling alley was set up at Mamba Club a couple of years ago and it’s a fun night out. They’ve imported all of the bowling gear and it’s slightly surreal being in what looks like a totally legit bowling alley that’s actually housed in a big shed. Pretty cool, nonetheless. The best part is the pin collection system which is basically a dude with a stick. Seeing arms poking out as you throw your ball down the alley adds a certain element of fear that you can’t get on bowling alleys anywhere else. The arms always get out of the way just in time but seeing them pop out at the last minute really gets the heart pumping.
I’m not really sure where yo put these next two things… so here they are!
There are lots of great causes you could get involved in if you plan on being in town for awhile. Teach yoga, serve lunch to hospital patients, design a website, play with kids… there are plenty of great organisations looking for committed volunteers to lend an extra set of hands and chip in with their skills. Don’t come expecting to have your food and accommodation paid for while everyone praises you for your amazingness. Just show up, help out where you can and you’ll be (hopefully) be rewarded with some new friends, great memories, and a positive experience. Check out my recommended list of organisations that are in need of volunteers in Kigali. I’m familiar with each one and think that your work with them would be much appreciated.
Go to Quiz Night
Quiz on Monday nights at Sol e Luna is a Kigali institution. It’s been happening consistently for years. Every week like clockwork. It’s packed with new arrivals and is 99% foreigners but it can be a pretty fun night and a nice way for a new arrival to get a bit familiar with the expat social scene.
That’s it! That’s my list, folks. I know I’m missing out on some things… I just don’t know yet what they are so if you’ve got some other ideas that need to be on this list, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!