Here are things new arrivals, tourists, or even folks who’ve lived here for years might want to check out.
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.
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 a Movie
Century Cinema is Kigali’s only movie theater 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-Institute on Tuesday nights for German (or German-themed) films, or the Korean Embassy for Korean movies. The Kwetu Film Institute and Heaven Restaurant also play the occasional movie and if you’re in Kigali in July, make sure to check out Hollywood. There’s also a movie theater 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.
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 neighborhood. 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 favorite 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 favorite.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.