15 December 2018

Rwanda: Things to Do in Kigali This Holiday Season

Kigali, the genteel capital city of Rwanda, is situated in the centre of the country and therefore easily accessible from neighbouring countries by road.

The city has evolved into an all-year-round holiday destination for both business and leisure travellers.

More quaint than other capital cities in the region, it has a rich history, breathtaking views and an eclectic social life.

On the surface, Kigali's attractions may not be so obvious. Do not let the uber neat and clean streets, and the seeming lack of hectic movement experienced in Kampala, Nairobi and Dar es Salaam fool you. It takes just a little digging to discover the gems hidden beneath the glossy veneer.

Here is an exhaustive list of things to do or places to go that new visitors and even locals can check out this Christmas holiday.

Foods and drinks

The Christmas holiday is the season of eating and drinking. So if you find yourself in Kigali indulge yourself in some tasty treats:

Brochettes

Brochettes are simply meat on skewers (Mshkaki in Kenya and Tanzania, and Muchomo in Uganda).

Of French culinary proven once, brochettes were brought to Rwanda by the Belgian colonialists.

This is now Rwanda's to go-to snack in homes, pubs, at get-togethers and even ordinary eateries around the city.

Brochettes come in different types of meat i.e. chicken, mutton, beef or fish and are normally served with fried plantains, chips or jacket potatoes.

One place to get arguably the best brochettes served with jacket potatoes with cheese in Kigali is Kwa Issa, which is a little place next to the Envy Night Club at Papyrus in Kimihurura neighbourhood.

You want to get there on Friday night at around 10pm before the club is swamped up by revellers.

Be warned, it can be a struggle getting a brochette during peak club hours.

Eat Akabenz

Akabenz is simply a sweet and savoury pork barbecue. The story is more or less an urban legend.

The snack is named after the Mercedes Benz.

One version of the story behind the names claims that somewhere in the countryside, a small nameless eatery, known only to the locals, began slow cooking pork in a sweet and savoury sauce. Through word of mouth, (no pun intended), news of the eatery travelled far and wide.

Locals who had to direct visitors to this now famous eatery, would simply say; "It will be the place with a number of Mercedes Benzes parked outside."

Today, Akabenz can be found at most local pubs and is served with fried plantains garnished with lime and chilli.

Places to get the finest Akabenz are Come Again Bar in Remera and Piano Bar in Nyamirambo.

Nyama Choma

Nyama choma, East Africa's famous roasted meat, found its way to Rwanda from Kenya, where it has wormed its way into Rwandan hearts.

Unlike brochettes or Akabenz, Nyama Choma cannot be found in every bar.

The Royal Car Wash in Kimihurura and Sundowner in Kimihurura remain the best places for the juiciest nyama choma.

Giant fish

Eating fish is nothing out of the ordinary but eating a giant fish is a real treat.

Nyamirambo is where you can find some great places to sample a giant fish with a couple of your friends.

This is Tilapia served with fries garnished with onions and lime.

Recommended restaurants are the Green Corner in Nyamirambo or Panorama Ten to Two which is farther up the hill from Green Corner, still in the neighbourhood of Nyamirambo.

Table d'hote

Table d'hôte is a concept where guests are invited into a host's home for an intimate dining experience with a set menu.

The concept is popular in France with various adaptations in Belgium, Sweden, India, Spain, Romania, Russia, Japan and Italy.

A good place to try this concept is Kigali's premier table d'hote which is OTamarillo on along KN 43 Street in Kiyovu.

Coffee and tea

Rwandan grown and brewed coffee and tea are world class.

The café scene has changed over the past decade, from a non-existent coffee drinking culture to dozens of cafes across the city.

There are many options when it comes to cafés. Places to find the finest coffee or tea are Java House, Brioche, Bourbon Coffee and Neo Café.

Sports and outdoor activities

Horseback riding

Over the past couple of years, Kigali has seen the emergence of activities like horseback riding.

There are currently two places where you can ride a horse.

The Fazenda Sengha nestled up in Mount Kigali right above Nyamirambo offers breathtaking views of the city on horseback. And about 20km east of the city centre is the Rugende Park.

Zip lining and archery

If you are an adrenaline junkie, zip lining is the perfect outdoor activity for you.

You can find this on Mount Kigali at Fazenda Sengha, where they also offer archery from the breathtaking heights above the city.

Skateboarding

In the past year or so, Kigali has seen an addition to its outdoor activities.

The skating park at SOS School in Kacyiru is a little skateboarding mecca where you can spend your weekend learning or trying new skateboarding tricks.

Tennis

Most of the tennis courts in the city are clay ones, which means you have to be ready for your socks to turn a nice shade of orange once you're done playing.

For a run around the court visit the Amahoro Stadium, Cercle Sportif, Nyarutarama Sports Club, Hotel Des Milles Collines and Umubano Hotel.

Ultimate Frisbee

Ultimate Frisbee also known as Ultimate, is one of the fastest-growing sports in Kigali

Frisbee is a highly competitive game with no referee and played with a round flying disc (a frisbee) weighing about 175 grammes.

Pick-up games are held three times a week (Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm and Sundays at 3.30pm) at the Cercle Sportif de Kigali.

Bowling

Bowling is a fun activity and makes for a great way to spend a day or an evening, particularly at the weekend.

The bowling alley at Mamba Club in Kimihurura is the only bowling alley in Kigali and the country for that matter.

It is not a conventional automated bowling alley but makes for a fun night out.

Hashing

The Hash House Harriers are a global movement of "drinkers with a running problem."

The Kigali chapter holds runs nearly every Saturday in different neighbourhoods around Kigali.

It has a Facebook page where you can keep up with what the Hashers are up to on a weekly or monthly basis.

This is also a great way for you to meet up with residents both local and expatriates.

Swimming

The weather in Kigali in December has been disappointing in the past few years for being unpredictable.

When it shines, you can decide to spend the day swimming.

You can choose from a number of swimming pools in Kigali; Mille Collines, Umubano and Cercle Sportif have the largest pools in town while the Manor Hotel has the most scenic view in town.

Golfing

The Kigali Golf Club located in Nyarutarama is a beautiful and well maintained 18-hole course.

For a modest green fee, you can play as a non-member with a caddie and a rent a bag (if you don't have your own) for a reasonable fee.

Tours, culture and nightlife

Mural tour

Art enthusiast or not, there are a lot of murals adorning walls in Kigali that you may want to check out.

Kurema, Kureba, Kwiga, which means create, see and learn, is a social enterprise based in Kigali focused on the creation of meaningful street art.

They conduct a mural tour across the city from Kimihurura to Nyamirambo neighbourhood to show off the city's finest street art.

Go Kigali tour

Go Kigali tour is a quality, well organised and informative tour of the city.

The tour guides are well-versed with the city and speak fluent English, French and Kinyarwanda.

They handle small groups of six people at a maximum. The Kigali City Tour goes through Mount Kigali, a mosque, milk bars, markets, art walk and a boat ride among other things.

Art studios

Kigali's art scene has grown over the years from a non-existent space to a complete landscape.

Art shows and exhibitions are still not that frequent but art studios like Inema Arts and Kigali Arts Centre are working to change that.

Museums

Whether you are looking for fun or knowledge, you can discover and learn Rwanda's multi-layered history by visiting museums.

There are four museums in the city; the Rwanda Art Museum (ex-president's place) located in Kanombe, the Natural History Museum (Kandt House) located close to the city centre, Campaign Against Genocide Museum at the parliament in Kimihurura and the Kigali Genocide Memorial located in Gisozi that features the skulls of 250,000 victims of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

Nyamirambo walking tour

Nyamirambo is a bustling neighbourhood, unlike the rest of the city, which is generally quiet and slow.

The Nyamirambo Women's Centre is an initiative of women who created a walking tour around the neighbourhood during which you visit a hair salon, tailor shop and a local house to help make lunch.

The 1,000 Hills distillery tour

1,000 Hills is East Africa's first craft small batch distillery, producing triple distilled hand crafted spirits.

They give tours around the distillery, demonstrating the distilling process for each of their spirits, walking you through the journey from grain to booze.

You can book tours online by calling or e-mailing.

Nightlife

Kigali's nightlife has come of age. There is clubbing, Salsa dancing and karaoke.

The Salsa dancing evenings usually occur on Thursdays at 8pm in Chillax Lounge in Nyarutarama and Saturdays at 8pm at both Ubumwe Grande in the central business district and The People in Kacyiru.

Karaoke is on Wednesdays nights at Club 514 in Kisimenti and on Thursdays and Sundays at Rosty Bar in Kisimenti too.

Clubbers congregate on Thursdays at Cocobean in Kacyiru, then Fridays at Envy Club in Kimihurura, Saturdays at Cocobean and Sundays at The People in Kacyiru.

Kigalians start clubbing at around 1am in the morning, not earlier.

Out of town

The Canopy Walk across the Nyungwe Forest National park, is a breathtaking experience out of town. Located in southwestern Rwanda, the walkway is suspended 50m above the forest canopy and is slightly over 200m long.

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