Sprawling, chaotic and bustling with commerce, Lilongwe feels fit to burst. The nation's capital is initially a little underwhelming and it takes some time to get your bearings – you may wonder where the centre is – but once you've decided on your favourite restaurants, ferreted out the best malls and discovered those hidden leafy oases, the place really grows on you. A trip to the city market is an eye opener, with gleaming fruit and African music dancing over the animated faces of hawkers. It's also worth visiting Lilongwe Nature Sanctuary, which has recently been reinvigorated (though not after midnight, as lately hyenas have been appearing and opportunistically feasting on inebriated locals). A visit to the tobacco auction floors on the outskirts of town is a great photo opportunity, and within easy reach of the city are cool forest reserves and a famed pottery workshop at Dedza.
Lilongwe has two centres: City Centre (Capital City), home to ministries, embassies, smart hotels, airline offices and travel agents; and Old Town, with its guesthouses, backpacker hostels and campsites, bus station, main market, banks, tour companies and malls. The two centres are 3km apart and minibuses frequently run between them. The heart of Old Town is the market on Malangalanga Rd. Just south of the market is the main bus station. Just to the north of the market is Devil St, a narrow road lined with bars and cheap hotels, where you’ll also find the departure points for buses headed to Zambia or Tanzania.