Kampala is the administrative and commercial capital of Uganda. While many people travel to Uganda for the water activities in Jinja and Gorilla trekking in Impenetrable Forest National Park, few ever stop and explore this fast growing city. Here are some of the things that you can do while in Kampala that will make you add it to your bucket list.
- Kasubi Tombs
Time: 30-40 mins
Charge: Ushs 15,000 (although there is no formal charging system. You can get in at a cheaper price if you negotiate plus they don’t give any receipts)
Tip: For the ladies, make sure you have a long skirt or dress otherwise carry a scarf to wrap around your bottom as shorts and trousers are not allowed on the ground)
Situated at Kasubi hill, the Kasubi tombs is a site where four Kabakas (kings of Buganda Kingdom) and important members of the Baganda royal family are buried. The site is an active political and spiritual ground where the Kabaka and selected elders of some clans come and carry out important ancient rituals.
On-site are traditional huts that have a thatched roof. The architecture of these houses is so unique such that the site became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 2001. In March 2010, under peculiar circumstances, a fire broke out nearly destroying all the buildings. The Buganda Kingdom administration together with the Country’s president vowed to restore the buildings. With the help of foreign aid, the restoration is underway and entrance to some parts of the tombs is restricted.
Next to the site you can see the traditional clothes made from the bark of Mutuba tree.
2. Catholic Martyr Church
Time: 30-40 mins
Charge: Ushs 5,000 if you want a guided tour
Tip: The Basilica is an active church, so be mindful and respectful of Christians attending for prayers and meditation.
In 1875, the king of Buganda Muteesa I wrote to Britain inviting the missionaries to come and spread the gospel, resulting to the arrival of Alexander Mackay of the Anglican Church Missionary Society to Buganda in 1877. A group of French Catholic White Fathers, led by Père Simon Lourdel (Fr. Mapera) appeared two years later. Arab traders coming in from Zanzibar had introduced Islam to the Kingdom.
The untimely death of Mutesa I in 1884 left the kingdom in the hands of Mwanga II, whose ruling was less charismatic than that of his father in the way that he dealt with foreigners. Mwanga II was happy of the influence the three religions had on his subjects, the converts now served a different authority and their allegiance at all cost could no longer be counted on. He then became determined to get rid of the new religions and all that followed their teachings.
His first killings were of three converts in early 1885, whose bodies were dismembered and burned. The killings continued to a showdown in May 1886 where Mwanga II demanded the converts to denounce their new religion and go back to completely obeying his orders. But the converts stood firm in their faith resulting in the execution of 26 Christians on 3rd June 1886 at Namungongo. Those killed included Kizito who died at a young age of 14 years. By January 1887 45 recorded converts had been executed, 22 of who were Catholic and 23 Protestants.
The 22 martyrs were declared ‘Blessed’ by Pope Benedict XV in 1920 and canonized to modern Saints in by Pope Paul VI on October 18, 1964. A shrine was built in honor of the Saints at the spot where Charles Lwanga was killed.
3rd June, when the majority of the martyrs were killed, is marked as a national holiday in Uganda. It is also marked worldwide in Church calenders as the day to honor the Uganda Martyrs. Thousands of Christians from all over the world visit the Martyr Church to observe the day.
3. Anglican Martyr Museum
Time: 30-40 mins
Charge: For Kenyans Ksh 500 and $5 for international tourists
Tip: The events that transpired in torturing the martyrs were gruesome, what is displayed in the museum, however necessary, it’s not for the faint hearted
The museum is 10 minutes away from the Catholic Martyr Church on a boda-boda. In it, is the core site where the actual martyrdom took place. The museum has recreated the whole process of how the Christians lost their lives with life-size art. You’ll see the command post where Chief executioner Mukajanga made his orders and execution plans, how the armed guards sharpened their tools in preparation and how the converts were transported here which bore the name Namungongo.
It is said the converts grew tired and weary as they walked to the execution site that the guards resulted in tying the legs and dragging them on their backs, mgongo. So when asked how they came, the coverts told others they had arrived on the backs, na mgongo.
The Christians were prisoned and tortured as they awaited execution. The torture took many forms including castration, plucking out eyes, mutilation and dismembering bodies all while tied up on a tree which came to be known as Ndazabazadde. The name originates from the lamentations made by mothers made when they saw their children tortured to death.
Those that survived the imprisonment and torture were then burned. They were made to fetch their own firewood, wrapped in reed mats and burned to death.
Walking distance from the museum is where Mukajanga and his aides went to clean their tools and cleanse their bodies after carrying out the executions.
4. Bahai Temple
Time: 15-20 mins
Tip: Don’t be shy to talk to the people on ground but respect and give space to those inside the temple
The Bahá’í Faith is a religion teaching the essential worth of all religions. The Bahá’ís believe that throughout history, God has sent to humanity a series of divine Educators—known as Manifestations of God—whose teachings have provided the basis for the advancement of civilization. These Manifestations have included Abraham, Krishna, Zoroaster, Moses, Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad. Bahá’u’lláh, the latest of these Messengers, explained that the religions of the world come from the same Source and are in essence successive chapters of one religion from God.
The religion main teachings are love and the need for humanity in order to have a unified vision for the future. The temple is only one in Africa but the faith is widely spreading.
5. Namirembe Cathedral
Time: We only spent a few minutes here but I can recommend 15- 20minutes
Charge: Ushs 5,000 if you want a guided tour for any day other than Sunday
Tip: The Cathedral is an active place of worship, so be mindful and respectful of Christians attending for prayers and meditation.
Saint Paul’s Cathedral Namirembe, commonly referred to as Namirembe Cathedral, is the oldest cathedral in Uganda.
Inside this red brick dome are the remains of Bishop Hannington who was murdered in October 1885.
You can get a spectacular 360 degrees view of Kampala while on the grounds and can even spot Lake Victoria.
6. Gaddafi National Mosque
Time: 30-40 mins
Charge: Ushs 5,000 if you want a guided tour
Tip: Ladies, wear a long skirt or dress and cover your head and arms. But you’ll be given scarfs at the registration office if you don’t have any. Wear comfortable shoes if you want to go up the minaret.
Gaddafi National Mosque also known as Uganda National mosque is the biggest mosque in East Africa. The mosque was commissioned by the late Colonel Muammar Gaddafi of Libya and given as a gift to Uganda.
To get to the top of the minaret, you have to take 304 steps.
But it is all worth it once you get at the top because you get a 360 degrees view of the 7 original hills of Kampala.
7. Lubiri Palace
Cost: The Palace is sadly not open to public and can only view from a bamboo fence.
Lubiri Palace is the former royal compound of the kings and presidents of Uganda. A tour here will help you learn and better understand Uganda’s history
8. Idi Amin’s Torture Chambers
Right next to Lubiri Palace is the prison used by Presidents/Dictators Idi Amin and Milton Obote to torture and execute people.
9. Old Taxi Park
Tip: The Park is in the cbd of Kampala therefore you might have to endure hectic traffic to reach it.
What are Matatus to Kenyans are Taxis to Ugandans. The chaotic park is worth seeing and makes for great photography.
10. Buganda Craft Village
Here you can buy African jewellery, clothes and sourveneirs.
11. Owino Market
This one of the biggest markets in East Africa, you’ll be spoilt for choice on what to buy here. Be ready to bargain though.
There are several monuments in the city set up to commemorate important times and people that make up the history of the country. They include Independence monument, Sir Edward Mutesa II monuments, World War Memorial monument among others.
13. Take a Boda Boda
Tip Taxify is available in Kampala, which gives you an option to go for the safe boda-bodas. They are carefully driven and the drivers even stop at the traffic lights. Be sure to wear a helmet at all times.
You have not experienced Kampala until you take a boda-boda ride around the city, it’s like motorbikes on steroids here. They are the fastest way you can move around given that the traffic is a bit much especially getting in and out of the city.
14. Eat the Local Foods
Some of the foods you should definitely try are: Matoke, Rolex, Kikomando, G.nuts sauce, Chicken on a stick
15. Enjoy The Nightlife
The city is known to be the social capital of East Africa with parts of it never going to sleep. You can enjoy a good night out in any of the night clubs. Listen to local music while enjoying what you’ll find to be very cheap beer.