Kampala is Uganda's national and commercial capital bordering Lake Victoria, Africa's largest lake. Hills covered with red-tile villas and trees surround an urban centre of contemporary skyscrapers. In this downtown area, the Uganda Museum explores the country's tribal heritage through an extensive collection of artefacts. On nearby Mengo Hill is Lubiri Palace, the former seat of the Buganda Kingdom.
Bustling Kampala makes a good introduction to Uganda. It’s a dynamic and engaging city, with few of the hassles of other East African capitals and several worthy attractions to keep you occupied for a couple of days. As the heartland of the Buganda kingdom, Kampala has a rich and colourful history, visible in several fascinating palaces and compounds from where the nation was run until the arrival of colonialism.
Built in 1922, this small palace is the former home of the king of Buganda, though it has remained empty since 1966 when Prime Minister Milton Obote ordered a dramatic attack to oust Kabaka Mutesa II, then president of Uganda. Led by the forces of Idi Amin, soldiers stormed the palace and, after several days of fighting, Mutesa was forced into exile. The building's interior cannot be visited, but the notorious underground prison here is open to tours.
There’s plenty to interest you here with a varied and well-captioned ethnographic collection covering clothing, hunting, agriculture, medicine, religion and recreation, as well as archaeological and natural-history displays. Highlights include traditional musical instruments, some of which you can play, and the fossil remains of a Napak rhino, a species that became extinct eight million years ago. Head outside to wander through the traditional thatched homes of the various tribes of Uganda; plus get a look at Idi Amin's Mercedes.
The Unesco World Heritage–listed Kasubi Tombs are of great significance to the Buganda kingdom as the burial place of its kings and royal family. The huge thatched-roof palace was originally built in 1882 as the palace of Kabaka Mutesa I, before being converted into his tomb following his death two years later. The tombs were destroyed in an arson attack in March 2010, however, and are still being rebuilt, with no end to the work in sight at present.
32° East Ugandan Arts Trust
This centre for Ugandan contemporary artists includes exhibit space, a library, workspace and resource centre. It is in the process of moving to a nearby space; keep an eye out for upcoming events on its website, including its biannual Kampala Contemporary Art Festival.
This classy little gallery features works by serious local artists. Downstairs has changing monthly exhibits, while upstairs is a permanent collection, but everything is for sale.
Kampala Hindu Temple
Right in the city centre, this temple has elaborate towers and a swastika-emblazoned gate. Peek inside to see the unexpected dome.
Makerere Art Gallery
Small, but definitely worth a visit, with fascinating monthly exhibitions; check the website for events. There are also some cool sculptures on the grounds.
Open to the public, a visit to parliament is an interesting way to spend an hour or two. You can either tour the building or see the government in action – during sitting weeks, parliament operates from 2.30pm Tuesday to Thursday and is conducted in English. You need to visit the public-relations department (room 114) to arrange a visit and make a written request to see question time. Usually you can arrange a visit on the spot.