Vibrant. Fast-paced. Chaotic. Lagos may be all three, but Nigeria's most populous city is many other things as well. This is a city that never sleeps, one where the locals live boldly and loudly. Their energy is high, contagious, and – for some first-time visitors – often overwhelming, too. However, stay long enough, and you'll soon come to love the city's exuberance.
Whilst the best part about visiting this metropolitan city is the people you meet, there's plenty to see and experience. These are the top 10 things to do in Lagos.
1. Take in the best Nigerian art at the Nike Art Gallery
Ranking high on the list of places to visit in Lagos is the Nike Art Gallery (pronounced nee-keh). This multi-story gallery, founded by Chief Oyenike Okundaye, houses thousands of incredible and diverse art pieces from artists across the country. Visiting this gallery is a great way to gain some insight into Nigerian culture and traditions expressed in the form of art.
Have a walk around and appreciate the displayed pieces or, better still, participate in a captivating cultural experience involving songs, dance, and the donning of traditional Yoruba outfits. For the latter, events are organized sporadically for guests or based on requests from large groups of travelers. Chief Nike often oversees and, as a storyteller and artist herself, she enthusiastically immerses visitors into the experience. Interacting with her is one of the highlights of a visit here.
2. Tackle the Lekki Conservation Centre canopy walkway
The Lekki Conservation Centre (LCC) is a serene nature park located within the heart of the city, contrasting completely with the busy life just outside. Established in 1990, the LCC aims to preserve the native biodiversity of flora and fauna in Lagos.
Get here early or visit during off-peak hours to enjoy a quiet and pleasant stroll on the boardwalk across the mangroves. You will likely run into several monkeys during your walk, and you might even spot a reptile or two. If you're feeling adventurous, head up to the 401m-long (1316ft) and 22.5m-high (74ft) canopy walkway that overlooks the forest. You will be rewarded with a stunning bird's-eye view of the park and the city.
3. Soak up the sun at Landmark Beach
Located on Africa's west coast, Lagos is home to a number of beachside resorts. Landmark Beach in Victoria Island is located right within the city, making it one of the most accessible spots for visitors. The stunning strip of beach is pristine, and the surrounding area is lined with a few upscale cafes and restaurants.
During the day, there's a family-friendly atmosphere with an inflatable water park and a children's play area. At night, the beach caters more to party-goers. From concerts and comedy shows to silent disco parties and game nights, Landmark Beach gives visitors the opportunity to experience nightlife in Lagos – some may find nighttime to be more vibrant than the day.
4. Catch a play at Terra Kulture
The Terra Kulture center brings together the best of Nigerian culture and art in one location. It hosts well-produced Nigerian stage plays and musicals that are guaranteed to thrill. Catching one live offers a unique understanding of Nigerian culture.
The center usually holds performances most weekends. However, many of the Broadway-type plays and musicals are on during public holidays. Look out for local favorites such as Saro the Musical, Wakaa the Musical, Fela’s Republic and the Kalakuta Queens and Wole Soyinka's Death & the King's Horseman. These critically acclaimed shows are excellent examples of Nigerian theater, combining electrifying performances that are educating and entertaining in equal parts.
5. Go shopping for fabrics at Balogun Market
For the adventurous, a visit to the largest market in Lagos, Balogun Market, can be the most memorable experience you can have in the city. Occupying multiple streets on Lagos Island, the market is a symphony of organized chaos. Here, you will find fabrics and other items in abundance and often at a cheaper price if you're able to bargain.
For a more relaxed experience, try Lekki Arts and Crafts Market. Here you can navigate through a maze of stalls to find unique works of art and handmade accessories. The atmosphere is much quieter, too, so you can stroll around at your leisure and strike up conversations with the vendors.
6. Tingle your taste buds with the local cuisine
No trip to Lagos is complete without trying out the local food. Nigerians take a lot of pride in their meals and often spend a considerable amount of time preparing them. This translates to deeply spice-infused delicious meals that will tingle your taste buds. A popular dish to try is jollof rice, a rice-based dish cooked in tomato sauce and spices. Another local favorite is suya, a street delicacy made of thin strips of skewered grilled meat.
If you're looking for an authentic food experience, try out any of the other staple foods that are commonly referred to as "swallow" because pieces of the meal are ingested by swallowing them wholly, along with soup. Pounded yam and amala, both made from yam flour and served with leafy vegetable soups, including efo riro and ewedu, are delicious swallow meals to try.
7. Tour the Kalakuta Republic Museum
The legendary AfroBeats musician, Fela Anukulapo-Kuti, called this place home until his passing in 1997. The three-story Kalakuta Republic Museum in the city's capital contains many of the artist’s musical instruments and personal belongings, showcasing his atypical lifestyle. Inside the museum, visitors can view historical photographs that follow Fela’s life from childhood to adulthood as well as his musical career and activism.
During his lifetime, Fela was a vocal critic of the ill-treatment of Nigerian citizens and corruption within the government. Despite often being penalized for his views, he remained outspoken against poor governance. His political views were often expressed in his music, nightclub sessions and in newspaper publications, snapshots of which can also be found hanging on the museum walls.
The museum offers guided tours to visitors who are interested in learning a bit more about Fela's works. In addition, a little way down the road is the New Afrika Shrine, where guests can enjoy live performances by Fela's children and get a feel of what it was like to see the artist himself in concert.
8. Drift through the Epe Mangroves in a canoe
The Epe Mangroves are quite an unconventional attraction, but if you find yourself in Lagos looking for a distinctive experience near the city, consider visiting. Here, you can drift through the mangroves in a canoe and get more acquainted with rural life in Lagos.
Pair your visit with a stop at the Epe Fish Market or a local palm wine factory for excellent opportunities to interact with some of the locals.
9. Take a trip to Badagry
Badagry is an ancient coastal town situated on the outskirts of Lagos. It holds a great deal of history as it served as a major port and auction point during the transatlantic slave trade era. Badagry is also notable for having the first primary school in Nigeria.
Despite its bleak past, Badagry has a growing tourist scene, with museums housing relics from the slave trade era, points of interest that follow the slave trade routes, and other notable historical happenings. You will also find a beautiful coastline, with beaches and resorts to unwind at.
10. Attend an Owambe
No activity captures the spirit of Lagos more than an Owambe. These extravagant parties take place every weekend in Lagos. These are gatherings for people who love to have a good time and often feature well-dressed guests in Aso-ebi (matching attire), lots of food and drink and, of course, music and dancing.
While visiting Lagos, chances are you will know or meet someone who is organizing or attending an Owambe. Most Owambes do not enforce a strict invitation-only policy – the more guests that attend could be seen as an indication of how successful the party is. So, if you do get invited or asked to tag along to one, don't pass up the opportunity! This is the perfect chance to immerse yourself in the culture and traditions of Nigerians.