Things to Do in Kampala
As the burial site of four Buganda kings, the UNESCO-listed Kasubi Tombs hold important cultural and spiritual significance in Uganda. The main Muzibu Azaala Mpanga structure is made from organic materials and marks the central point of the site, which sprawls across Kasubi Hill.
Located on Kampala Hill, the Uganda National Mosque caters to the country’s significant Muslim population and has a capacity of 35,000 worshippers. Completed in 2006, the temple was originally known as the Gaddafi National Mosque and serves as the headquarters for Islam in Uganda. Its 166-foot (65-meter) minaret provides panoramic views of the city.
Founded in 1908, the Uganda Museum in Kampala is considered one of the best museums in all East Africa. The museum’s extensive collection is divided among exhibits on Ugandan history, culture, science, natural history and archeology, making it a great first stop for first time visitors to get a thorough introduction to the country.
Highlights of the Uganda Museum collection include an exhibit on traditional musical instruments (some of which visitors can play), fossilized remains of an 8 million years-extinct Napak rhino and a cultural village filled with recreated traditional homes from various Ugandan tribes.
Although most famous for being the source of the Nile River, Lake Victoria also boasts the title of the world’s largest tropical lake. Despite its diverse species, scenic shores, and vital role in local industries, much of the African Great Lake remains off-the-beaten-track, making it the ideal getaway from Uganda’s bustling cities.
On June 3, 1886 in the town of Namugongo just northeast of Kampala, 26 young men were burned to death for their refusal to their Anglican and Catholic faiths. The Uganda Martyrs’ Shrine, also called the Namugongo Martyrs’ Shrine, was built on the site to commemorate the lives lost and was consecrated by Pope Paul VI in 1969.
The church, built in the shape of a typical Baganda hut, features 22 copper pillars representing each of the 22 Catholic men, all of whom were formally canonized in 1964, a first in modern Africa. On June 3 each year, Catholic pilgrims from throughout Uganda visit the Uganda Martyrs’ Shrine to pay their respects and attend mass.
Built in 1885, Mengo Palace (Lubiri) is the historic official residence of the Buganda king. Following a 1966 military coup, the palace’s subterranean storage tunnels were used to incarcerate political prisoners. Although the palace’s classic facade has been restored, chilling reminders of the Idi Amin dictatorship remain in the grounds.
Kisenyi, located in the heart of Kampala adjacent to the capital's central business district, is a huge neighborhood where some of Uganda’s poorest and most vulnerable residents live in extremely close quarters, many without access to running water. Despite these challenges, Kisenyi has a lively, vibrant atmosphere filled with informal businesses—everything from butcher shops and fresh produce vendors to furniture and metalworking shops. It’s been nicknamed Little Mogadishu after the 18,000 Somali refugees who call the slum home.
YARID, short for Young African Refugees for Integral Development, was founded in 2007 by a Congolese refugee living in Uganda. Today, the YARID Center seeks to empower refugees, orphans and other displaces persons through education, healthcare and training to become contributing members of society. What started as 350 kids, a soccer ball and a field has expanded to include English, literacy, business training and computer science classes; a women’s empowerment program; a full calendar of special workshops and an expanded Sports for Development program that addresses issues of ethnic violence, conflict resolution and youth unemployment.
The YARID Center welcomes self-funded volunteers to participate in its programs for a single day to three months. Common volunteer activities include teaching English, assisting in the soccer program and visiting area families.
Nakasero Market has served as one of Kampala’s main trade spots since 1895. The vibrant and often chaotic market offers insight into local life and serves as a stark contrast to the embassies and elite hotels that surround it. Fresh produce can be purchased in the the large outdoor section, while the indoor portion specialises in clothes, machinery, and souvenirs.
You haven’t seen a traffic jam until you’ve witness the Old Taxi Park in Kampala. Located in the triangle between Luwum, Burton and South Streets, the park serves taxis and minibuses headed to in Eastern Kampala and Uganda.
While a taxi park might not sound interesting at first, the Old Taxi Park has become one of Kampala’s most popular (and free) tourist attractions, as visitors come not just for transportation, but to witness the seemingly chaotic yet somehow functional scene as thousands of drivers in their white vans navigate the congested spot. Vendors wander through the maze of vehicles selling water, ice cream and snacks to drivers and passengers waiting to get out.