Faced with some time between gorilla trekking and a trip to nearby Jinja, the source of the Nile River? Don’t miss the chance to scratch below Kampala’s chaotic surface.
Like the charismatic city of Rome, Uganda’s capital was also built upon seven hills. Today, more than 20 slopes and peaks make up the sprawling city.
It’s one of the fastest-growing cities with a predominantly youthful population in the world but, just like its European counterpart, the town endures as an enthralling cultural kingdom with ancient roots.
Kampala (where impalas once roamed – hence the city’s name) is a vibrant mix of old and new. Embrace the culture, history, and sizzling tastes of East Africa’s enigmatic metropolis.
Where To Stay
Set away from the bustling CBD, this blue-hued hotel offers a welcome respite from the Kampala bedlam.
The chic stay has everything a modern, mindful traveller needs, including sustainability as its core practice.
Their green philosophy is seen most gracefully in the curated artworks and collaborative interiors.
Ornate hand–beaded textiles adorn stylish bedrooms while funky recycled and upcycled furniture lends a playful atmosphere to the unique retreat.
The property also offers co-working hot desks and an exclusive members club for the who’s who of Kampala.
Take advantage of weekly live music, cocktail functions and motivational talks on offer. The views over Lake Victoria and the city of Kampala aren’t too shabby either.
Conveniently located in central Kampala, this comfortable, no-nonsense four-star hotel sits within easy proximity of a mall, several good restaurants, and the golf course.
Uncomplicated with an old-school feel, the hotel is consistent, clean and offers every necessity.
All rooms feature much-needed air conditioning, free high-speed internet, and high-pressure showers. More importantly, the hotel prides itself on excellent service, which it unequivocally delivers.
Affordable and conveniently located, this characterful backpackers’ hostel in Kololo offers private rooms that make for a top solo–traveller stay.
The art-deco building is topped by a spectacular rooftop terrace, where daily happy–hour specials are on offer. Do like the locals and toast the town with a cold Nile beer.
A good breakfast is included, and the reception offers excellent tips and booking advice on nearby adventures. Fat Cat was also awarded as the best hostel in Uganda by Hostel World in 2019.
Where To Eat
Open 24 hours a day, this vibey, proudly Ugandan joint offers homegrown classics such as Rolex (a delectable omelette wrap of avocado, cabbage, onion and tomato) and pillowy pilau.
This is a great way to sample the country’s trademark street food fare, but from a reputable, easygoing outlet.
Takeaways can be ordered in too.
This failsafe food chain has an expansive menu, and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
There are about eight restaurants to choose from, but all comprise cheerful and modern interiors with fresh juices and homegrown Ugandan coffees at a reasonable price.
Set upon the highest hill in Kampala with views of the city and lake, this is the ultimate sundowner spoil.
Stay for dinner at Chapter 2 Restaurant or simply order a cocktail from Ninety9, the sky bar.
Ask for one that includes Uganda Waragi – a locally produced gin.
A great option if you’re crippled with dining indecision.
There’s Mexican in a colourful environment at Que Pasa, affordable lunch and beautiful local brews at Endiro Coffee, plus shawarmas, curries and more.
A renowned dining destination for excellent Italian–based cuisine at Villa Kololo. Expect handmade pasta, crunchy-based pizzas, and romantic lighting – all the ingredients for an unbeatable evening.
What To Do
Start The Day With Sunrise Views
Climb the 306 steps to the top of the Uganda National Mosque’s minaret in Old Kampala, and see the city unfold in the sun with a 360-degree view from one of the largest mosques in Africa.
Take cash for the entry fee. For more insight into this and other buildings, download Uganda’s Built Heritage – a free mobile phone app that features over 60 of Kampala’s best architectural finds.
Book A Boda Boda City Tour
See the cities best sights from the back of a motorbike. The tour lasts between three and six hours, with significant stops in between.
Don’t miss the Mengo Palace, which tells the story of Kampala’s most recent past. It was the king’s residence until 1966, when the forces of Milton Obote, led by Idi Amin, drove Kabaka Mutesa II out.
A government palace still stands (closed to the public), but the underground torture chambers are sure to leave a permanent impression and understanding of the country’s zealous dictator.
Ask your guide to find an authentic roadside Rolex for lunch. Walking tours are also available if riding pillion isn’t up your alley.
Stock Up On Crafts
Banana Boat stocks an array of fantastic Ugandan items and the company works directly with local artisans to ensure your purchase support communities.
It is excellent for hassle-free shopping (no bargaining or haggling required).
However, if you’re visiting Kampala on a Saturday, do pop past the wholesale craft market nextdoor to the mosque for great deals.
Seek Out The Shoebill
Squeeze in a morning tour before or after your flight from Entebbe International Airport (roughly 40km and an hour’s drive without traffic from Kampala).
The tour includes a boat ride across Lake Victoria (look out for palm-nut vultures and pied kingfishers) before entering the Mabamba wetlands, home to the strange shoebill stork.
The global population of these curious birds is estimated at between 5 000 and 8 000 birds.
Kampala Travel Tips
Take both Visa and Mastercard credit card options, because drawing cash from ATMs can be problematic. Bring US dollars in small denominations – you’ll need cash to pay for entry fees to most sights.
Kampala is renowned for its terrible traffic. Uber is available, but it can take hours to get from A to B during peak hours in a car.
The most adventurous way to zip around is by boda boda – the local motorbike-taxi service.
They can be risky but make for the fastest means of transport in the city. Download the SafeBoda app or order a lift via Uber – just don’t get on without a helmet.
Get the indispensable paper (but waterproof) map to Kampala that costs roughly 30 000 UGX and is available in major bookshops, restaurants, and coffee shops around town (for example Endiro Coffee Shop).
The exceptional guide features top sights, tips and must-dos in and around Kampala.
Lastly, Kampala is not LGBTQ-friendly, and same-sex relationships remain illegal in Uganda.
SAA flies to Entebbe daily, except Tuesdays, from Johannesburg. Book your tickets today!