8 Best Things to Do in Kigali, Rwanda

Kigali, Rwanda

Vicki Jauron, Babylon and Beyond Photography / Getty Images

Established as the capital after Rwanda gained independence from Belgium in 1962, Kigali is located roughly at the country’s geographical center, making it a natural gateway for visitors and an excellent base for exploring Rwanda’s best attractions. If you have time, plan to spend at least a few days in the city itself rather than simply passing through. While Kigali was devastated by the Rwandan Genocide in 1994, it has since been reborn as one of the cleanest and safest capitals in Africa. Skyscrapers and start-up companies provide a surprising contrast to the lush scenery of the surrounding hills, while contemporary art galleries, coffeehouses, and restaurants add to its cosmopolitan charm.

01 of 08

Go On a Guided Tour of the City

Panoramic view of Kigali CBD, Rwanda

Vadim Nefedov / Getty Images

B.P 1302, KK 722 St, Kigali, Rwanda
Phone +250 788 301 801

To learn more about Kigali from the people who live there, go on a guided tour where you can hear stories about the different neighborhoods you're passing through and ask questions about the local culture. Yambi Tours & Adventures offers several private tours highlighting the city's old town, art galleries, markets, and history, as well as food-themed tours featuring cooking classes. Kigali City Tour, meanwhile, offers guided trips to many of the places on our list, including the Kigali Genocide Memorial, Inema Arts Center, and Kimironko Market, among other interesting sites.

02 of 08

Pay Your Respects at the Kigali Genocide Memorial

Kigali Genocide Memorial

Michael Cook - Altai World Photography / Getty Images

KG 14 Ave, Kigali, Rwanda
Phone +250 784 651 051

In April 1994, members of the Hutu majority government of Rwanda initiated a genocide against the Tutsi people after decades of conflict between the two ethnic groups. By mid-July of the same year, approximately one million people had been slaughtered. 259,000 of them are buried in mass graves at the Kigali Genocide Memorial, home to three permanent exhibitions, the largest of which is dedicated to commemorating the events and victims of the Rwandan Genocide. After gaining an emotional insight into the horrors that shaped Rwanda’s recent history, take a moment to reflect on what you have learned in the Memorial’s tranquil gardens.

03 of 08

Bear Witness to the Tragedies at Nyamata Church

Human remains at a church in Kigali, Rwanda

 Doug McKinlay / Getty Images

V32V+9FF, Nyamata, Rwanda

For a more visceral education about the events of the Rwandan Genocide, travel about an hour's drive south of the city to the Nyamata Church Genocide Memorial. Here, approximately 10,000 Tutsi sought refuge within the church compound but were massacred when Hutu extremists used grenades to blast open the church’s locked doors. Today, the remains of more than 50,000 victims are buried at Nyamata. 

The church itself still bears the original bullet holes in the ceiling and walls, while the bloodstained clothing of the victims (as well as their personal items and some of their bones) are displayed inside as a heartbreaking reminder of why the events of 1994 can never be allowed to happen again.

04 of 08

Discover the Story Behind the Real-Life Hotel Rwanda

Hôtel des Mille Collines

Innocent Kaneza / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

2 KN 6 Ave, Kigali, Rwanda
Phone +250 788 192 530

Once the grandest hotel in the capital, Hôtel des Mille Collines was immortalized by the 2004 movie Hotel Rwanda, which followed the story of Hutu manager Paul Rusesabagina, who sheltered hundreds of Tutsi refugees here during the Rwandan Genocide. Although Rusesabagina’s role is now the subject of controversy, the hotel itself is a fascinating piece of Rwandan history. Its pre-1994 glory has faded over time, yet it remains a glamorous place to come for afternoon drinks at the poolside bar or to enjoy fine local and international cuisine at the fourth-floor restaurant. While sipping your cocktail amid the garden greenery, consider that the pool was once the only source of water for the refugees trapped inside the hotel. 

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05 of 08

Fine-tune Your Haggling Skills at Kimironko Market

Kimironko Market, Kigali

 Tom Martin / Getty Images

Kigali, Rwanda

For a truly immersive shopping experience, head to the vast warehouse complex known as Kimironko Market, the busiest and most popular market in town, with vendors selling wares from all over Rwanda as well as East, Central, and West Africa. Here, you’ll find souvenirs and crafts for rock-bottom prices as well as swathes of kitenge fabric that can be transformed into unique clothing by the market’s on-site seamstresses.

Kimironko is also a marketplace for local Rwandans, with different sections selling colorful fruits and vegetables, clothing, home supplies, and pungent meat and seafood. It’s chaotic, loud, and often overwhelming, but the kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, and smells serve as an authentic insight into everyday life in Kigali. Note that all prices here are considered to be negotiable.

06 of 08

Take a Cultural Tour at the Nyamirambo Women's Center

Nyamirambo Neighborhood, Kigali

Tom Cockrem / Getty Images

KN 132 St, Kigali, Rwanda
Phone +250 782 111 860

Located in Kigali’s multicultural Nyamirambo district, the Nyamirambo Women’s Center is a non-profit initiative intended to provide Rwandan women with the education and training needed to find employment. The ladies who work here use their skills to create high-quality children’s clothing, accessories, and home decor products out of traditional kitenge fabrics, all of which make stunning souvenirs while funding the center’s community programs.

Make sure to sign up for one of their popular walking tours, too. After a traditional snack and a lesson in Kinyarwanda, you’ll follow a local guide on a tour of Nyamirambo’s houses, independent businesses, and mosques, and afterward, enjoy a traditional lunch at one of the ladies’ homes. Sisal basket weaving workshops and traditional cooking classes can also be booked online.

07 of 08

Shop for Rwandan Art at the Inema Art Center

Inema Art Center
Inema Art Center
KG 563 St, Kigali, Rwanda
Phone +250 783 187 646

Founded in 2012 by two brothers with a passion for supporting and showcasing emerging Rwandan artists, the Inema Art Center is now one of the best contemporary galleries in the city, featuring the work of emerging and established artists from around the world and serving as a studio for 10 artists-in-residence, who typically work across a broad spectrum of different mediums.

The Inema Art Center hosts workshops and training programs for the next generation of Rwandan creatives, including weekly classes for orphans with artistic abilities, traditional dance programs for children, and a crafts program for women. Visitors can peruse their artwork in the gallery or shop for jewelry, linens, and leatherwork created by the center’s students at the gift shop. Keep an eye out for regular music and dance performances, too. 

08 of 08

Sample Rwandan Specialties Alongside the Locals

Inzora Tasting Board

TripSavvy / Cynthia Butare

Inside Ikirezi Bookstore 13, KG 5 Ave, Kigali, Rwanda
Phone +250 789 539 764

Nestled at the back of Ikirezi book shop, the Inzora Rooftop Café offers a fine example of Kigali’s flourishing café culture. Spectacular views of the city and its surrounding hills make the rooftop terrace especially scenic, while the house coffee comes from a cooperative that benefits over 2,000 farmers. The menu would do justice to any Western hipster hangout—think macadamia and chia seed granola followed by gluten-free brownies. Everything from the ingredients to the furniture is locally sourced. There's also a playhouse and kitchen for the kids. The café is an ideal spot for a leisurely brunch or evening drinks with a view. On Fridays, don't miss the café's weekly cocktail and tasting board event.

Known among visitors and locals alike as the place to unwind after a busy day, Repub Lounge has a loyal following in Kigali. Its African interiors use kitenge fabrics and hand-crafted furniture to create a convivial atmosphere, while the outside deck impresses with mesmerizing views of the city lights. The menu features Rwandan and East African cuisine with a focus on grilled meats (although there are options for vegetarians). The curry coconut fish is a particular highlight, while African-style sharing dishes are perfect for larger groups. Order a glass of wine or a local beer from the extensive drinks list, then sit back and relax whilst listening to Afro-inspired live music.

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8 Best Things to Do in Kigali, Rwanda