Five Reasons Why You Should Visit Kampala

Written by Lizzie Williams (guidebook author of the Footprint to Uganda)

Historically the traditional capital of the Buganda Kingdom, Kampala was famously built on seven hills. Today’s capital of Uganda now sprawls haphazardly over more than 20 hills and is still expanding rapidly. Viewed from a distance the skyline features glassy skyscrapers interspersed with thick green vegetation, dusty red roads, clustered roofs and imposing cathedrals, churches and mosques. There is no more authentic way to tour this friendly city than on a boda boda (motorbike taxi), which will take you through every nook and cranny, saving you the task of climbing the numerous hills to see the city from various vantage points. There are several attractions and things to do that will keep you engaged for a few days; here are my top five things to do and why you should visit Kampala.

  1. Visit a place of worship with a view…

With several ornamental arches and copper domes, the National Mosque dominates Old Kampala Hill. Muslims are welcome at any time and the minaret is open to the general public outside prayer times, so climb the 304 stairs to the top for the spectacular views across the city. There are also good views from the brick-red Anglican Namirembe Cathedral at the top of Namirembe Hill and the huge St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral (commonly referred to as Rubaga Cathedral), with its two sets of steeple bells perched high on Lubaga Hill. The only Bahá’í temple on the African continent (and one of only nine around the world) stands at 38m/124ft on the crest of Kikaya Hill. It has amazing views as well as beautiful flowering gardens full of birds.

2. Shop in a vibrant market…

Kampala is dotted with colorful markets, including the frenetic Nakasero Market at the foot of Nakasero Hill, which sells fresh produce from eggs and chickens, to fish, halal meats and all kinds of vivid vegetables, tubers and fruit. Also try Kampala’s legendary rolex – not a Swiss timepiece, but a popular street food combining an egg omelet and vegetables wrapped in a chapatti (flat, round bread made without yeast). A little further west, Owino Market sells all manner of goods from food and spices to pots, pans and secondhand clothes. For typical Ugandan souvenirs such as wood carvings, woven bark cloth mats and pots, decorated gourds, musical instruments, leather and sisal (a strong white fiber) baskets and textiles, head to the Uganda Arts & Crafts Village behind the National Theatre on Buganda Road.

3. Admire an impressive monument…

Amongst the number of historical monuments scattered around Kampala, the striking Independence Monument at the top of Speke Road was unveiled by Uganda’s first Prime Minister Milton Obote on October 5, 1962 – the same day he laid the foundation stone for the Independence Arch at Parliament. Said to signify a newborn country let free from the bondages of colonization, the 6m/20ft statue depicts a mother with bandages around her legs and waist unwrapping and lifting a child towards the sky. Nearby is the monument to Sir Edward Mutesa II, the 35th of the Buganda kings and the first president of Uganda (1963–1966), who was often simply known as King Freddie. In the Parliament Gardens, the Stride Monument was built by a team of 11 sculptors and unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II in commemoration of Uganda hosting the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November 2007. Depicting a husband, wife and son striding forward, it symbolizes that the Commonwealth countries are developing together as a family.

4. Enjoy a day out on the shores of Lake Victoria…

Entebbe is a laidback town an easy 45km/28mi drive from the city and on hilly terrain along the north-western shoreline of Lake Victoria, virtually on the equator. It has several attractions, including the Botanical Gardens with a 1.5km/0.9mi stretch of beach on the lake and open woodland and patches of tropical rainforest perfect for bird watching. On Ngamba Island, 23km/14mi offshore and reached by boat, visitors can observe orphaned chimpanzees living in a heavily forested sanctuary. Another prime spot for birds, Mabamba Swamp covers over 160km2/62mi2 of the marshy papyrus-lined northern shores of Lake Victoria about 57km/35mi south-west of Kampala. Canoe excursions are available to find the more than 260 species, including the rare giant shoebill stork and tiny blue swallow.

5. Go on safari to see wildlife…

The 260km2/100mi2 Lake Mburo National Park is about four hours’ drive from Kampala and its closest park. Animals can be observed in tranquil surroundings of open plains, acacia grasslands, riverine woodland and marshes on a game drive or lake cruise, or on foot or horseback. Murchison Falls National Park, the largest (4,000km2/1,544mi2) and oldest park in Uganda, is a popular weekend escape from Kampala thanks to good tarred roads. The main feature is the Victoria Nile rushing through a 7m/23ft narrow gorge forming the famous Murchison Falls that can be viewed from a three-hour launch. The wildlife viewing from the river is superb and the boat is steered from shore to shore through hippo pods and past sandbanks where huge and contented crocodiles bask in the sun.

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