Kigali deserves more space in a tourist's itinerary than a one-night stopover bookending the ultimate adventure: trekking to see mountain gorillas in Volcanoes National Park. Over the last two decades, Rwanda's lush, hilly capital has developed into a vibrant cosmopolitan destination, teeming with art, culture, and cuisine. Plus, the attractive urban center is one of the cleanest and safest cities in all of Africa.
No matter how much time you have to spend in Kigali, you should plan to devote at least a couple of hours to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. The haunting museum explains the events that fueled the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and gives some essential context for the subsequent decades of peace and development in the country.
Then, explore Kigali's charming neighborhoods and attractions. Sip bold, sustainable java at Question Coffee Cafe. Shop for locally made souvenirs at the Nyamirambo Women's Center. Lose yourself in contemporary artwork at the Rwanda Art Museum.
As you plan your trip to Rwanda, don't miss out on everything the country's largest city has to offer. Plan your sightseeing with our list of the top things to do in Kigali.
1.Kigali Genocide Memorial
You can't begin to appreciate everything Rwanda has become until you understand the reasons behind the devastating Rwandan genocide—a conflict that killed some 800,000 people, most of whom were members of the Tutsi ethnic minority, in just 100 days. The Kigali Genocide Memorial sheds light on the historical events that led to the genocide and horrifying realities Rwandans faced in 1994.
Prepare yourself: A visit to the memorial (where 250,000 victims are interred) is emotionally demanding but gives tourists a foundation with which to comprehend this complex country. You'll start by watching a short documentary film about the Rwandan genocide before making your way through three permanent exhibitions, filled with artifacts, timelines, historical information, and photographs.
The main exhibit focuses on the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi and moderate Hutus. It explains how colonization affected Rwandan society and created divisions that previously didn't exist between Hutus and Tutsis. Then, through displays of powerful photographs, artifacts, and audio-visual displays on dark, circular halls, the exhibit unveils the events that sparked the genocide, what happened during those 100 brutal days, heart-wrenching stories of survival, and feats of rescue from locals and outsiders alike. Sculptures and stained-glass windows pepper the moving space, making it feel sacred.
You'll eventually make your way through the Children's Room, which displays a gallery of life-size portraits of the youngest victims of the genocide, some of whom were infants. It keeps the memory of the children alive through details about their favorite toys, sports, foods, songs, and more. The museum concludes with an exhibit on other genocides and massacres around the world, putting the Rwandan genocide into context and examining potential strategies for prevention and intervention.
After your visit, head outside to pay your respects to the victims in the Gardens of Reflection. The park-like setting offers the right atmosphere for quiet contemplation on everything you just saw.
Address: KG 14 Ave., Kigali
2. Inema Arts Center
Founded by a pair of brothers (both self-taught painters) on a mission to "tap the untapped potential of art in Rwanda," the Inema Arts Center has become the place to see contemporary art in Kigali since its founding in 2012. The building's exteriors are decked out in colorful murals that make it impossible to miss.
Inema Arts Center devotes its interiors to gallery space for 10 artists in residence. Tourists may see modern takes on traditional African crafts, abstract and expressive portraits, mixed-media works depicting scenes of African life, and some of the best artwork in Rwanda, depending on which mix of artists are on display during their visit.
The invitation to come admire the work comes with no obligation to make a purchase, but should you wish to take something home, the center can help arrange shipping.
In addition to visual art, the Inema Arts Center also hosts weekly dance performances, art-inspired yoga classes, gallery tours, and concerts. Get in touch with the center directly to learn about things to do during your visit.
Address: KG 563 Street, Kacyiru Kigali
3. Rwanda Art Museum
The Inema Arts Center isn't the only place to experience art in Kigali. Tourists can also check out the Rwanda Art Museum, an institution housed in the former Presidential Palace on the outskirts of Kigali. It's one of the country's eight national museums.
Opened in May 2018, the Rwanda Art Museum is the only contemporary art museum in Rwanda. It showcases the breadth of local creativity, as well as works from international artists. The sprawling space displays more than 100 works of art, including ceramics, sculptures, paintings, and experimental pieces made in a variety of mediums.
Interestingly, the grounds of the museum also contain the debris from the presidential jet that crashed on April 6, 1994. Pieces from the Falcon 50 aircraft jolt up from the grass like pinnacles.
Address: KK 106 Street, Kigali
4. Kimironko Market
Kimironko Market, Kigali's largest and busiest market, makes for an incredible afternoon of sightseeing. Hundreds of vendors have set up shop in the massive warehouse complex, hustling everything from bed sheets and carved masks to a cornucopia of produce sourced from all over East Africa. You'll walk single file through tight pathways, ducking beneath hanging t-shirts and negotiating space with women carrying large baskets on their heads.
If there's one thing you must take home from this market, it's bespoke clothing. Shopkeepers here will help you choose vibrant, patterned fabrics from thousands of options on offer. Then, you'll select from different styles of garments—anything from tank tops and wide-legged pants to leggings and dresses—before getting measured and handing the order off to one of the on-site tailors.
In about an hour, you'll have custom, made-to-measure clothes to wear on the rest of your adventures around Kigali (and a one-of-a-kind souvenir to take home!). Make sure you try them on before leaving the market, just in case you need adjustments
It's natural to want to capture this exciting slice of Kigali life in photos. However, many shopkeepers here are camera shy and prefer not to be photographed. Use discretion when taking snapshots, and always ask permission before photographing people.
Address: 194 St. Kg., Kigali
5. Nyamirambo Women's Center
If you want to shop for truly heartwarming souvenirs, swing by the Nyamirambo Women's Center. The women-founded organization was launched in late 2007 in an effort to address gender inequality and empower women.
In addition to offering free education and vocational training, it employs women at fair wages to fill its intimate boutique with ethically-made goods. Tourists can pick up beautifully printed tote bags, hand-woven baskets in every shape and size, patterned place mats, crocheted rugs, beaded jewelry, and local-inspired fashions.
If some of the best shopping in the area isn't enough of a draw, here's another reason why visiting the Nyamiramo Women's Center is one of the best things to do in Kigali: its community immersions. The group offers fascinating walks through Nyamirambo with guides who were either born in the neighborhood or live here now, taking travelers through local hair salons, mosques, tailors, and agricultural businesses.
The center also invites tourists to participate in traditional cooking classes and basket-weaving workshops. The experiences will give you an insider's view of Rwandan culture.
Address: KN 7 Ave., Kigali
6. Question Coffee Cafe
Coffee is a critical part of the Rwandan economy, bringing tens of millions of dollars into the country each year. But despite growing some of the finest beans in the world, Rwanda doesn't have much of a local coffee culture. It exports nearly all of its coffee.
Question Coffee is working to change that. It works directly with farmers to source the country's best beans, improve the growing and roasting techniques and supporting local growers.
Tourists can get a taste of this made-in-Rwanda product (and even take some beans home) at Question Coffee Cafe in Gishushu. Baristas serve a variety of speciality espresso beverages, pour-over coffee, and caffeinated drinks infused with unexpected ingredients, like tree tomato.
Looking for a deeper immersion into Rwanda's coffee culture? Check out Question's roasting and cupping classes and cooperative tours, which will explain the entire process, from bean to brew.
Address: KG 8 Ave., Kigali