Rwanda's capital Kigali is a lively hub of creativity and surrounded by beautifully verdant landscape (Photo: Getty Images)

A thriving arts and culture scene has emerged in Kigali in the last couple of decades. The Rwandan capital is today a lively hub of creativity with exciting food, fashion, art, crafts and music to discover in every corner. Moreover, since Rwanda is a relatively small country with excellent roads, Kigali’s central location makes it the perfect base for discovering must-see highlights beyond the city – not least the mountain gorillas of Volcanoes National Park.

Discover Kigali’s thriving art scene

Rwanda’s capital Kigali is an artistic hotspot with a host of galleries to discover in the centre, many of which support local charities and causes.

Apart from its rich collection of paintings, sculptures, mixed media artworks and other pieces from a host of Rwandan artists, Inema Arts Center organises lots of events including art classes and always has artists in residence. Artists gather daily at NP Art Gallery, meanwhile, founded by self-taught painter Patrick Nzeyimana, which offers creative painting sessions and other workshops and events as well as a selection of works to buy. Another must-visit is Niyo Arts Center, which also has resident artists and gives a proportion of its profits to charity.

If you love fine food and art, opt for Choose Kigali, a restaurant that also has several floors of gallery space showcasing a rotating selection of African contemporary art.

Seek out the capital’s best craft and design

Traditional Rwandan basket weaving

Traditional basket-weaving is a highly regarded craft in Rwandan culture (Photo: Getty Images)

Rwanda’s capital is spotless, safe, and boasts a stable economy, so it's no surprise that young creatives are flocking here, producing fabulous craft and design. A prominent example is Winnie Kalisa, who taught herself pottery by watching videos online and now produces sought-after tableware and other items. At Azizi Life Studio, meanwhile, not only can you purchase gorgeous artisan baskets, wall hangings, jewellery, bags, candles and trays, but try your hand at workshops. Others to check out include jewellery designers K’tsobe, Abraham Konga and Kicirwanda, and Go Kigali’s boutique shop at Kigali Marriott Hotel, featuring items created by around 50 designers.

Go on a street art walking tour

Kigali is home to a vibrant new art scene that has emerged in the last few years – and the trend has a degree of governmental support and a paint manufacturer has even provided paints. Often triggered by a desire to promote social change or creativity, street artists have produced large artworks and murals in bold colours right across the city. Locations for street art come and go, but striking examples have appeared in central neighbourhoods such as Remera, Nyamirambo and Gikondo, and around social enterprise Impact Hub in the Kiyovu neighbourhood, near the university.

Soak up the city’s fashion

Vibrant Rwandan tapestry, Kigali

Rwanda's fashion scene is a vibrant tapestry of traditional and contemporary influences, with a growing emphasis on sustainable and ethically sourced materials (Photo: Getty Images) 

Fashion is another area where Kigali has excelled in the last few years. Kickstarted by a government initiative to promote Rwandan talent abroad, the city is now awash with exciting, young, innovative designers producing striking clothes from casual to couture, plus footware, jewellery and accessories.

Look out for the work of designer Moses Turahirwa, who launched brand and store Moshions in 2015, whose couture pieces have strong Rwandan and Bantu references and use botanical dyes and sustainable textiles. Nyamirambo Women’s Center has a sewing shop transforming kitenge – the colourful batik-printed fabrics seen around much of Africa – into wonderful dresses, shorts and more. Other designers and stores creating and promoting Rwandan fashion in Kigali include Rwanda Clothing, Sonia Mugabo, House of Tayo, D and D Clothing and Haute Baso.

Sample Kigali’s exciting food scene

In recent years restaurants and cafés have blossomed in Kigali, serving both local and international cuisines. A removal of red tape for start-ups has helped boost the sector, but it can also be attributed to the ‘can do’ attitude prevalent in the country.

At the forefront of this food revolution is Congo-born, Germany-trained chef Dieuveil Malonga, who opened much talked-about Afro-fusion restaurant Meza Malonga in the capital in 2020. He has combined Zulu, Bantu, Maasi and other culinary influences on the continent to create spellbinding dishes.

Brochettes – skewered grilled meats and fish – are very popular in Rwanda and the Repub Lounge serves some of the best, along with a great view of the city and often live music. Another local treat is the rolex, a chapati stuffed with omelette that's served at many neighbourhood restaurants. For lots of choice in one place, try Four Points By Sheraton Kigali, whose three restaurants and bars promise variety and high quality – grab a drink at pool bar Coco Fizz, where the speciality is "anything with bubbles", a succulent burger or baked tilapia with pit-roasted peppers at FP Social, or perhaps a Rwandan craft beer (and some big-screen sports, if that's your thing) at Brew Bar.

Immerse yourself in the community at a street market

A woman carrying fruit, Kigali market

Markets in Kigali bustle with vibrant colours and lively energy, showcasing a rich array of locally crafted goods, from traditional handwoven baskets to colourful textiles (Photo: Getty Images)

Street markets are a fantastic way to immerse yourself into the day-to-day life of a destination, and Rwanda’s bustling, colourful markets are no exception.

Kigali’s biggest market, Kimironko, is easily navigable and the different product categories are often grouped together. Open daily, it sells everything from fruit, vegetables, meat and fish to shoes and fabrics – you can even get clothes made for you while you wait, by women with treadle sewing machines. Goods at Kimironko market come from all over Rwanda as well as numerous neighbouring countries, including Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya. It's fascinating to watch the lively bartering for the myriad products. 

Take an excursion from the city

A gorilla in the Kigali jungle

At Rwanda's Volcanoes National Park – an easy excursion from the capital – visitors get a very rare opportunity to see mountain gorillas in their natural habitat (Photo: Getty Images) 

Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is one of the very few places you can visit mountain gorillas in their natural habitat. Watching playful youngsters, motherly females and mighty males interact is unforgettable. Fortunately it is an easy excursion from the capital, and you'll be accompanied by expert trackers and guides, in groups of no more than eight.

Nyungwe Forest National Park is another very worthwhile excursion from Kigali, where you can observe primate species in the heart of the rainforest. Akagera National Park is also easily accessed and teems with wildlife, including around 490 bird species.

Further possible day-trips include King's Palace Museum at Nyanza, 100km south of Kigali, a stunning reconstruction of a traditional royal residence, and Lake Kivu, where you can kayak, mountain-bike or hike, or simply enjoy a sundowner while admiring the magnificent landscapes.

Centrally located Kigali Marriott Hotel is an ideal base for all these superb excursions, and its impressive outdoor pool and attractive lounge areas are very welcoming after a day on the road.

Published: January 19, 2024

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