9+ unmissable things to do in Kigali, Rwanda you will love

by | Feb 12, 2023 | Africa, City Getaways, Rwanda | 0 comments

2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

This post contains affiliate links. I may receive a small commission for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. You can read my full disclosure here.

Many travellers skip Kigali and head straight to the Volcanoes National Park for gorilla trekking, or to the lush shores of Lake Kivu. Don’t make the same mistake! Kigali is a vibrant, lively and exciting city, one definitely worth exploring for a day or two!

Located in the center of the country, Kigali is Rwanda’s capital and biggest city. It’s nestled amongst hills, ridges and valleys – very fitting for the capital of a country dubbed the land of a thousand hills.

In Kigali, you can not only find Rwanda’s only international airport. The capital is also home to a growing coffee culture, excellent restaurants, including Rwanda’s only tapas restaurant, and a vibrant art scene.

Here are 9 of the best things to do in Kigali – from unique activities and cultural experiences, to foodie highlights you can’t miss!
Rwandan food at Nyamirambo Women's Center
Boy squeezing lemons at Nyamirambo Women's Center

Join an activity at Nyamirambo Women’s Center

Nyamirambo Women’s Center (NWC) is a Rwandan NGO. It was founded in 2007 by 18 local women, aiming to address gender-based violence, gender inequality and discrimination. In 2013, NWC launched the product line “Umutima” (meaning heart in the local Kinyarwanda language), employing and training women to create accessories, children’s clothes and home decor.

Besides the income generated through “Umutima”, NWC is also founded by responsible community-based tourism, allowing people to get a glimpse into the local life and culture.

Rwandan food at Nyamirambo Women's Center
2-week Namibia itinerary

Nyamirambo Women’s Center currently offers 3 different activities:

1. Walking Tour of Nyamirambo | Join one of the women from NWC on a 1-2 hour walking tour around Nyamirambo, one of Kigali’s oldest neighborhoods.

Along the way, you’ll learn about various aspects of daily life and the history of Rwanda, and visit places like a hairdresser shop and a milk bar. To top it off, the tour ends with a delicious traditional lunch.

2. Traditional Cooking Classes | The tour starts with a trip to a local shop to get all the needed ingredients with Aminatha, NWC’s best cook. She will then take you back to her home, and teach you how to prepare 6 delicious, traditional dishes.

Of all things on this list, the cooking class is definitely one of the best things to do in Kigali!

3. Sisal Basket Weaving Workshop | Weaving is an old tradition in Rwanda and you’ll spot basketry products made of sisal fiber all over the country.

You’ll start by learning about the cultural history of the baskets, followed by an in-depth explanation of the process, from harvest to finish. You’ll then get to try weaving your own small sisal token. And just like the walking tour, this workshop ends with a delicious lunch at Aminatha’s house.

Prices and how to book

Each tour and workshop costs RWF 15.000 per person (approx. 14 EUR/USD), and RWF 3.000 for lunch (approx. 2.50 EUR/USD) for walking tour participants and basket weaving.

To book your spot, just send NWC an email to nwcoffice.kigali@gmail.com or give them a call at +250 782 111 860.

The profits of these tours go back into the center, to pay fair wages to the seamstresses, and to fund community engagement initiatives like a library, sewing courses, literacy and English classes, and workshops on women’s rights, health, and nutrition.

Visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial

If you only have time for one thing in Kigali, make sure to visit the Kigali Genocide Memorial. It’s devastating and heartbreaking, but at the same time, it’s also important to talk and learn about it, to make sure we don’t let history repeat itself.

The Kigali Genocide Memorial commemorates the 1994 genocide. It’s split into three different exhibitions:

  • The first and largest part of the exhibition documents the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. It gives insights into Rwandan society before colonization, and hardships of the everyday life. And then, it details the nature and horror of the  genocide, as well as stories of survival and rescue.
  • The second part addresses other massacres (some of which haven’t been recognized as genocides by international law), in Namibia, Cambodia, the Balkans, and Armenia, as well as the Holocaust.
  • The third part of the exhibition was the one that got to me the most. It’s dedicated to some of the children killed during the genocide. It includes photos of the children, and insights into their favorite foods and things to do, as well as their last words and way of death.

More than “just” an exhibition, the Kigali Genocide Memorial is also a resting place for over 259.000 victims of the 1994 genocide.

Prices & opening hours

The Kigali Genocide Memorial is open 7 days a week from 09.00 AM to 05.00 PM. The entrance to the memorial is free, and audio guides can be rented for USD 20 (or USD 30 including a Humanity Pin).

Enjoy a meal at Rwanda’s only Tapas Bar

When it comes to food, tapas are one of my favorite things. The fact that you don’t have to pick one single dish, but get to share multiple small ones makes eating out so much more fun in my opinion.

If you love tapas too, or if you’re just on the lookout for a delicious meal in Kigali, you can’t miss out on Rwanda’s only Tapas Restaurant, Casa Keza.

Enjoy some crispy croquetas, garlicky prawns, and honey-drizzled aubergines, paired with a glass of Spanish wine or Sangria. And if you’re more of a brunch person, visit Casa Keza for their all-day brunch including dishes like fluffy pancakes or Shakshuka.

Friday nights are bonfire nights at Casa Keza (weather permitting)! Enjoy some tapas and sangria by the fire, and sometimes, people even bring their guitars along and play a few songs.
Coffee shop sign
Cup of coffee

Check out some of Kigali’s cool coffee shops

Did you know that Rwanda produces some of the finest coffee in the world? The growing conditions for coffee beans are ideal, thanks to Rwanda’s unique climate and geography. In addition, the country is making great efforts to promote and support sustainable and ethical coffee production

In recent years, cool and unique coffee shops have started popping up all over Kigali!

They are hidden away at the back of bookstores, boast epic rooftops, roast their beans directly in-house, empower female coffee farmers… the list goes on and on!

For tips on where to go for a coffee, check out this list of the 5 best coffee shops in Kigali!

Have a drink at Hotel des Milles Collines

If you’ve seen any movies about Rwanda, chances are it was Hotel Rwanda, the movie about hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina who hid over 1.000 Tutsi during the 1994 genocide.

The movie is based on a true story that played out at Hotel Des Milles Collines in Kigali. The 4-star hotel sits on a hill, just 20 minutes from Kigali airport, providing beautiful views over the city. Head there for drinks at the pool bar, or for a dinner with amazing views at Le Panorama on the 4th floor.

Visit on Fridays to enjoy a Cultural Night with live performances of Rwandese songs and dances!

Talking to some of the locals, I noticed that not everyone sees Paul Rusesabagina as the hero he’s portrayed to be in the movie. I haven’t been able to gauge the whole story, but I have read that Paul Rusesabagina is currently in prison, and I think it’s important to mention this too.

2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

Visit some Art Galleries

Rwanda’s creative scene is on the rise and in Kigali, art can be found all over the city. Keep your eyes peeled for street art and murals, especially in the vibrant Nyamirambo, Kiyovu, and Kimisagara neighborhoods.

Browsing some galleries is one of the best things to do in Kigali to feel inspired and get your creative juices flowing, and here are some that should make it into your Kigali itinerary:

  • Inema Arts Center is a collective of Rwandan artists and much more than “just a gallery”. Besides showcasing the art of their local artisans from around the world, In also hosts yoga sessions and dance classes and provides a showroom for products crafted exclusively by women. And let’s not forget about the happy hour every Thursday! Plan your visit to Inema Arts Center here.
  • Niyo Arts Center hosts and displays art from 17 Rwandan artists. But at Nyio, the art is not confined to canvases! You will spot the gallery from afar, thanks to the bright and colorful property walls, building, and front yard. Complete your visit with a coffee break at the cute and artsy cafe on the property.

Browse Kimironko Market

To experience life in Rwanda from its most buzzing side, head to a local market. Set in a sprawling warehouse in the Kimironko neighborhood, Kimironko Market is the busiest market in town.

As soon as you step through one of the market’s four entrances, you’ll find yourself in a maze of stalls selling products from Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya, and the DRC. Locals from all over Kigali visit Kimironko Market to stock up on fresh produce and household goods, and it gets busiest in the early afternoons.

Take a stroll past stacks of exotic fruits and vegetables, mounds of fragrant spices, stalls selling fresh meat and dried fish, and large piles of egg cartons.

If you’re on the hunt for some souvenirs or clothing, head to the fabric sections, where you’ll find rows and rows of colorful Kitenge (African print fabric). You’ll also find seamstresses in the same area, ready to turn the fabric into unique clothing or accessories.

Whenever I travel abroad, I always use Airalo to get an eSim with local data. It’s the easiest way to stay connected abroad!
2-week Namibia itinerary
View from a terrasse

Sip a glass of milk at a milk bar

Rwanda’s answer to neighborhood pubs, milk bars serve exactly what their name suggests: Milk – fresh or fermented, hot or cold, and sometimes even straight from the tap.

Milk bars are usually quite simple, no-frills places with just a couple of tables, a counter, and sometimes a small menu including snacks like chapatis, samosas, and hard-boiled eggs. Locals come here to socialize, unwind, and of course, enjoy a glass of milk.

Visiting a milk bar is one of the most unique and best things to do in Kigali.

You can find them especially in the Kimisagara, Nyamirambo, Kinamba, and Kimironko neighborhoods. Look out for colorful signs saying “Amata Meza”, meaning fresh milk.

And make sure to avoid Inyange Milk Zone. The corporate milk bar chain is slowly replacing Kigali’s old-school milk bars. Check out some of these milk bars instead:

  • Kuruhimbi Milk Bar
  • Gira Amata Milk Bar
  • the milk bar across the street from Nyamirambo Women’s Center

Cruise around Kigali on the back of a motorbike

This might sound random but hear me out! Cruising around the city with a motorbike taxi is truly one of the most fun things to do in Kigali. While it’s one of the (if not THE) quickest ways of getting from A to B in Kigali, you’ll also get a glimpse of some different areas and the hustle and bustle on the streets.

To call a motorbike taxi, just stand on the side of the road and flag down a motorbike taxi (you can recognize them by the drivers wearing a red vest).

You might also see a few of them standing at a street corner waiting for customers. In that case, just approach one of them, tell them where you’d like to go, and agree on a price before hopping on the back (you’re welcome to haggle!).

I was told that for rides within Kigali, you should usually pay no more than 1.000 Francs
(or even less, if it is a short ride of only a couple of minutes).

Wearing a helmet is mandatory and motorbike taxis should always have a spare one for their passengers. Keep an eye on Google Maps during your ride. The streets in Kigali can be confusing, and you might have to give your driver some directions along the way.

2-week Namibia itinerary
2-week Namibia itinerary

More things to do in Kigali

Don’t be fooled, these are only 9 of the best things to do in Kigali. There is a lot more to do if you have time:

  • Hiking up Mount Kigali is one of the most active things to do in Kigali. Technically more of a hill, Mount Kigali sits on the western edge of the city. Starting point for the walk to the top is the Nyamirambo neighborhood (get a motorbike to drop you off at the Sun Hotel), and getting to the top will take you between 1-2 hours. The reward for the hike is some of the best views of the city you’ll get anywhere.
  • According to my Kigali Airbnb host, the Campaign Against Genocide Museum is the best museum to visit in Kigali. Learn more about the political events that led to the 1994 genocide, its effects, and the liberation struggle.
  • Covering an area of over 120 hectares, the Nyandungu Eco Parc is a lush oasis in the already green city. Visiting this leafy sanctuary is one of the best things to do in Kigali if you want to escape the buzz of the city for a bit.
  • Founded in 2012, the 1.000 Hills Distillery produces six unique drinks Made in Rwanda: triple distilled liquors, a coffee liqueur, vodka, light spiced rum, London Dry gin, macadamia nut liqueur, and single malt whisky. And then, there’s also an onsite cocktail bar and bistro, where you can get a first taste of the 1.000 Hills’ products.

Where to stay in Kigali

On a budget

You’ll be able to find many guesthouses and B&Bs in Kigali for less than 30 USD per night in a double room (or 20 USD in a single room). Fleur Guest House in the Rugenge suburb is a great base to explore Kigali, and in close proximity to many of great things to do in Kigali.

Mid-range

There are many great places to stay in Kigali if you have a budget between 50 and 300 USD per night:

  • The Nest Kimi is a small boutique hotel in the heart of the Kimihurura neighborhood, with many bars and restaurants in walking distance.
  • Heaven Restaurant & Boutique Hotel is a beautiful boutique hotel with a wonderful story. It was opened in 2008 as Kigali’s first international restaurant and hospitality training facility, and has since trained over 2.500 locals.
  • Stay at Hotel Des Mille Collines where over 1.000 Tutsi found refuge during the 1994 genocide. Make sure you book a room with “vue panoramique” (panoramic view) for some of the best views of Kigali.

In luxury

If you want to spoil yourself, book a room at The Retreat. One of Kigali’s best 5 star hotels, it really feels like a retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. It’s owned by the same couple as Heaven Boutique Hotel, and Kigali’s first eco-friendly, solar-powered resort.

All places mentioned in this post

Did you enjoy reading about some of the best things to do in Kigali? Don’t forget to pin this post on Pinterest to save it for a future trip to Rwanda!
9+ best things to do in Kigali Rwanda
2-week Namibia itinerary

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Hi, I’m Sara, a twenty-something Swiss on a mission to become a full-time travel writer and digital nomad.