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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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).
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.
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
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.
Kokrobite is a fishing town and also one of the only places in Ghana to get a surfing lesson.
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)