Akwaaba to Accra Ghana
When visiting Ghana for the first time, you are greeted by the word “Akwaaba” on signboards at the airports. You can expect the locals to echo this word, which means “Welcome,” with their smiles and their hospitality throughout your trip.
My name is Kwame and I am happy to introduce you to Accra, Ghana – my home city. I am a student from Accra, but I have also studied in London and currently live in New York.
However, it’s easy to end up experiencing the perfectly manicured version of Ghana, built for tourists. You deserve to experience Accra like a Ghanaian, bumpy bits, nuanced personality, and all… check out my personal tips to help you experience Ghana this way!
Accra is the pride of Ghana, and I daresay, English-speaking West Africa. Sure, there’s Kumasi which is a less congested city in Ghana, Lagos and Abuja in Nigeria, which are more developed and modern, but the peace of mind a tourist stands to experience in Accra Ghana is unrivalled, in my opinion.
Photo courtesy of GVI USA
Accra Things To Do & See
If you’re into walking tours and soft late afternoon sunlight, you must visit Jamestown Lighthouse, Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park and Independence Square, possibly all around the same time depending on traffic. These locations are all historically significant and especially beautiful against the palette of a setting sun and a gentle ocean breeze.
1. Jamestown Lighthouse
The first Jamestown Lighthouse was built in 1871, and the current Lighthouse that you can see today was built in its place decades in the 1930’s. The fishing community in the area is extremely hospitable and hosts Sunday night street parties with memorable music and performances. Jamestown lighthouse is also a wonderful place to watch the sun set, every day of the week.
2. Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park
Kwame Nkrumah was a key figure in helping Ghana (formerly known as the Gold Coast) attain its independence. The museum and mausoleum named after him is in the downtown area of Accra and is dedicated to his exploits as one of Africa’s most prolific pan-Africanists and Ghana’s first prime minister.
Here, you will find pictures of him with famous people of the past like Fidel Castro, JFK, Jawarharlal Nehru and more. There are also exhibits that animate Ghana’s journey to independence.
3. Osu Castle
This Castle, known by some as Fort Christiansborg, was once the seat of Parliament. It was built and occupied by the Dano-Norwegians for 200 years when they started trading along Ghana’s Coast and eventually purchased by the British some 100 years before independence. Here you will see where Queen Elizabeth II stayed during her visits to Ghana. You’ll also see slave quarters where many Ghanaians were held captive. It is a humbling experience
4. Independence Square
Nkrumah commissioned the building of this square in honour of the visit of Queen Elizabeth II. Building work finished in 1961, and people have gone there to appreciate the Independence Arch and the Black Star Monument. The Black Star Square (within the Independence Square area) is right across the street and is where all major public gatherings are held.
5. Aburi Botanical Gardens
The Aburi Botanical Gardens cover a space of 160 acres and has rich biodiversity that will make you stop and smile! There’s a walkway accompanied by palm trees on each side, old buildings being gracefully reclaimed by nature, majestic anthills and the occasional hooded vulture.
6. Choose Tro-tos Over Taxis
A great amount of Accra’s charm comes from the beauty of the city and the pace of work and life that can make even the locals feel like they’re on an never-ending vacation. The best way to enjoy this is to opt for walks when you can and pick Tro-tros over taxis, both will give you the chance to enjoy the people and places more.
Photo of the streets around Makola Market Accra by Fiona of World Remit Comms
7. Eat An Enormous Breakfast Like A Local
Most Ghanaians eat an enormous breakfast and nothing else the entire day. My father often starts his day with Fufu and Light soup with fish (For an idea of how heavy this meal is, think two Big Macs).
8. Try Waakye & Shito
I preferred to start my day with Waakye (rice, and beans boiled with red sorghum leaves), and Shito, a peppery condiment worshipped around the country.
Vegans and vegetarians can find animal-free versions of both Waakye and Shito if they ask a local to help them avoid those.
Check out a recipe for Waakye in the video below.
9. Go To Katawodieso
The best place to try Waakye for the first time is in a hole-in-the-wall style restaurant called Katawodieso. The restaurant’s name translates into a phrase in English, “cover your own,” which is what you’d do with a takeaway box. Katawodieso is an inconspicuous shack wedged between two clothing boutiques on one end of La Crescent road in Osu.
The seating area, furnished with the most basic wooden chairs and tables is usually packed throughout the week with busy people eating hurriedly and sweating over steaming hot plates. Seating is scarce, but that’s okay… kata wo dea so.
Photo of Kokrobite Beach by René Mayorga
10. Go To The Beach
Unless you’re visiting Accra in the rainy months of May and June, the beach is a must. The catch is, for the best experience, you must go slightly out of Accra. There is a beach town about 45 minutes from Katawodieso that’s much cleaner, much less crowded, and much more intimate than Labadi beach in Accra.
11. Get a Surfing Lesson
Kokrobite is a fishing town and also one of the only places in Ghana to get a surfing lesson.
12. Stay at Big Milly’s Backyard
The place to go, after a 30-kilometre tro-tro ride west of Accra, is Big Milly’s Backyard. The Backyard is a boutique, bungalow-style hotel, with most rooms standing on their own as cute mud huts with straw roofs (Complete with power outlets and air-conditioning/fans)
13. Try Kenkey With Grilled Fish For Lunch
Why not enjoy some fresh fish while you’re in Kokrobite? Another popular Ghanaian dish is Kenkey with Grilled fish. Kenkey is a dish made by boiling fermented corn dough in corn leaves served best with grilled tilapia basted with a green pepper sauce (Vegans/Vegetarians can opt for a spicy salsa instead).
If you’re having a late lunch and heading back to Accra in the early evening, look out for the lights. About 15 minutes into your drive back to Accra, you’ll decline down a hill. On the way down, you can see what looks like all of the lights in Accra stretched out on the landscape before you.
In the video below you can discover how to cook Kenkey and fish.
14. Check Out the Purple Pub and Republic Bar and Grill
For evening cocktails, you’ll hop between two bars. Purple Pub and Republic Bar and Grill. Purple Pub is on Ring Road East (the major road right before the street Katawodieso is on).
Purple Pub is hard to miss on a Friday night, with cars parked on the curb of both sides of the road, and the occasional slowdown of traffic that comes with looking for street parking.
Photo by Kwame Antwi-darkwah
Purple Pub is on an abandoned road parallel to Ring Road. It is the first choice of locals of all classes with the singular goal of getting utterly drunk. The cocktail of choice is five fingers, but if you ask nicely, a local may show you where to get “Shocker,” a potent weed-infused cocktail. However, be careful, marijuana is illegal in Ghana. Ed Sheeran got away with drinking it during his Ghana visit because of his celebrity status, you might not…
The second bar, Republic is frequented by more tourists, but its variety of events like Karaoke nights and Wine and Paint nights draw some locals. The must-try a cocktail at Republic is the Kokoroko. Kokoroko is a slushie form of a local drink called “Bisap,” which is made from boiled hibiscus leaves, brown sugar, and ginger.
The must try meal on the menu is the yam chips and chicken. Chicken needs no explanation, but for those unfamiliar with yam chips, they are like potato chips but much starchier and much denser. This allows them to soak up sauces nicely without getting too soggy.
Vegans/Vegetarians can swap chicken for Shito or Kpakpo Shito (Green pepper variant of regular Shito and my personal favourite).
Photo by Kwame Antwi-darkwah
Accra Food & Restaurants
Typical foods you should try in Accra
Kenkey is prepared by boiling a ball of fermented cornmeal dough. It is usually paired with spicy salsa or a black pepper sauce with fish on the side. Vegans and vegetarians can leave out the fish and enjoy this all the same
Jollof is a spicy rice dish that is prepared by boiling rice in a tomato-based stew. This dish is, by far, the most popular in Ghana. It is enjoyed by all tribes, mostly with some grilled chicken and a shrimp-pepper sauce known as shito. It’s so delicious that vegans and vegetarians can have it entirely on its own.
Kontomire is a stew made with the spinach-like leaves of the cocoyam tuber. This dish is full of Omega-3 fatty acids, low in fats, and completely vegan if you ask for it to be made without fish.
Accra Restaurants I Like
The best place to try Waakye (rice and beans cooked with sorghum leaf sheaths) for the first time is in a hole-in-the-wall style restaurant called Katawodieso. The restaurant’s name translates into a phrase in English, ““cover your own,”” which is what you’d do with a takeaway box. Katawodieso is an inconspicuous shack wedged between two clothing boutiques on one end of La Crescent road in Osu.
Honeysuckle is Accra’s take on a sports bar. However, even if sports aren’t your thing, the glazed honey wings will be for sure. Honeysuckle is also based in Osu, and the menu here boasts your typical pub food like fried calamari, onion rings, burgers, etc.
Emma’s Chicken Sandwich Stand
Emmanuel has been grilling up chicken sandwiches and putting them in toasted baguettes for close to a decade. You’ll find his ““stand”” at the side of the road where the famous Tantra nightclub used to be, on an improvised grill made from a sawed-in-half barrel. The fact that Emma’s stand is not really a restaurant or even a stand should tell you how good it is. People have been going there close to 10 years for just a sandwich, only one item on the menu. This one, sadly, isn’t vegetarian-friendly
Papaye (pronounced Pa-Pa-yay!) has fried rice and chicken that people have sworn by for more than two decades. You’llYou’ll find this restaurant on Osu’sOsu’s Oxford Street. The menu has everything from its famous rice and chicken to fish and chips, and salads.
The main genres of Ghana are Afrobeat, Afrobeats (not a typo, Afrobeat, and Afrobeats are two very different genres), Hip Life, Hi-Life, and gospel. However, since most of the youth in Ghana listen to Afrobeats, we’ll touch a little more on it. Afrobeats is a hard genre to put a pin on. It has elements of hip-hop and RnB, original African “highlife” and a sprinkle of dance. Everyone seems to have a different definition of what exactly qualifies as afrobeats. Most can agree that it originated between Accra and Nigeria and usually contains a similar fusion of upbeat Caribbean-style dance drum patterns.
The Homowo festival is carried out in remembrance of past famines that occurred in Ghana’sGhana’s precolonial history. It starts with the planting of maize, and a period of quietness to help the maize grow (during this time, public noisemaking is strongly prohibited) and ends with a great feast.
This is an arts festival that takes place on the streets of Jamestown. Young people, who felt like their idea of art wasn’t being represented, started this event a few years ago. Here, you’ll mostly see graffiti paintings, abstract art, and young kids performing on rollerskates.
Two occasions that Ghanaians observe also act as great cultural highlights to show what is essential to the average Ghanaian.
A baby is taken out of the house for the first time and given a name. At outdoorings, babies are given a drop of water and of liquor as a symbolic introduction to the different kinds of pleasures of life.
The keeping of vigil over a corpse. This event is not unique to Ghana but represents the importance of spirituality in Ghana. Ghanaians place a lot of emphasis on life/death duality, and this can be seen in the way they treat these two events.
This cloth was initially worn only by royalty, chiefs, queen-mothers, esteemed warriors, etc. After colonialism, its use became more widespread. Now you can find kente cloth at any good market. If you’re in Kumasi, you can watch how it was woven in ancient times with the traditional loom.
Wooden sculptures are a big part of Ashanti art. Osei Tutu, the founder of the Ashanti Empire, sat on a golden stool; but his royal subject, advisors, people with the ability to bend his ear, sat on wooden stools.
Markets and shopping
This market was built in 1924 and destroyed in 1979 shortly after a military coup. The immortal market is back once again and a big part of Ghanaian life. Most of the vendors/workers in Makola are women, which makes for an exciting history lesson. When Makola was destroyed in 1979, hard-working women were blamed for the state of the economy. These days it is used by NGOs to encourage women to trade. You can find anything from produce to electronics in this market. It is possible to bargain over here, so you should definitely try.
– Accra Mall
Accra Mall was opened in 2008 with South African retailers Game and Shoprite on each end. This mall follows the same format as Western Malls. You’llYou’ll find a food court, clothing boutiques, electronic stores, and grocers.
– Provision stores
Provision stores are independently owned grocery stores, ranging in size from massive two-story buildings to wooden shacks with aluminum roofs. Provision stores are a good place for finding household necessities such as dish soap, plates, shower gel & pantry items