If you imagine the world as a network of roads, Nigeria is one of less traveled.

Not for a lack of things to see or do, though. Whichever part of the country you visit, you’ll find a surprising range of experiences – and plenty of locals happy to point you in the right direction.

If you enjoy festivals, there’s more than enough to excite you – from the grand durbars (cultural and religious festivals) up north to the masquerade displays in the middle belt and down south. If food is part of the reason you travel, you’ll find a tasty variety across the country including fluffy jollof rice and hearty ogbono (African mango seed) soup. If your holiday isn’t complete without a visit to the beach, no worries: there are plenty of beaches and seaside resorts to choose from, from Lagos to Akwa Ibom.

As a country with more than 250 ethnic nationalities, you can expect to find several traditions that have endured for generations and are being kept alive in different communities. Here are nine of the best things to do in Nigeria.

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A horseman rides past the Emir's Palace during the Durbar Festival in Ilorin
The Ilorin Grand Durbar offers visitors a chance to see the Emir in public ©SAMUEL ALABI / Contributor/Getty Images

1. Attend the Ilorin Grand Durbar

If there’s any cultural, religious or ceremonial display worth seeing in Northern Nigeria, it has to be the durbar. This hair-raising parade includes hundreds of colorfully-costumed horses and riders in turbans of various shades. It’s hosted by cities like Kano, Zaria, Katsina, Bauchi and Gombe to mark Eid-el-Fitr, the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

In the historic town of Ilorin, which has hosted the event since the 1930s, the durbar is a three-day affair. The second day is the most significant; this is when the Emir, mounted on a bespoke horse-driven carriage, leads a parade of his traditional cabinet, royal dynasties and warrior families across the city. He stops every now and then to acknowledge cheers from the people and pay homage to ancestral landmarks.

Planning tip: This is one of the few times in the year the Emir is seen in public, so there is a massive crowd on the procession route. Go with the procession if you wish to mingle with the crowd or can’t trek for some three hours. If not, take a seat at the spectator stands within the palace where the main performances takes place.

2. Walk through Calabar’s old quarters

Long before Europeans poured into what’s now Southern Nigeria, the indigenous people – like elsewhere in the country – lived in a society structured around agriculture, ancestral worship and kingship. Inside the Old Residency Museum, a 19th-century pre-fabricated building, the main exhibition uses everyday and ceremonial objects to show what the capital of Cross River State, Old Calabar, was like pre-15th-century.

A tour of Old Calabar helps put this exhibition into context. At the towns of Duke and Henshaw, you’ll come across shrines and the Obong’s (paramount leader) palace, co-existing with a colonial-era cemetery, churches and schools. Along Marina Road, locals continue the same activities their forebears would have engaged in centuries ago, such as fishing, trading and boat building.

While the exhibition celebrates the creativity and ingenuity of the people of that time, it also shows the collapse of this world when European traders and Christian missionaries arrived. Their arrival led up to the transatlantic trade of enslaved people and the oil palm trade that replaced it. On the upper floor, you’ll get a clear view of the Calabar River that made all the above possible. Golden Anchor offers various themed tours around Calabar and state-wide.

Nigerian women sit next to their pottery which is for sale at the weekly Yola market
Nigeria potters have produced utility and ritual pots for centuries ©EMMANUEL AREWA/Stringer/Getty Images

3. Learn pottery making in Ushafa

For centuries, potters have produced utility and ritual pots in Nigeria, and despite flower vases and other decorative pots becoming more common in recent years, there are plenty of places that showcase how traditional pots are made.

At Ushafa, 30km from Abuja, there are at least four generations of women who make dozens of pots daily. The process begins with fetching bags of clay from a nearby field, followed by a round of crushing, pounding, soaking, and kneading. After drying, the molded pots are ready for firing and they’re stacked under a heap of straw and firewood before they reach their glorious final form.

Detour: Bwari, a 10-minute drive away from Ushafa, is also known for its pottery, and visiting the town is a good way of seeing how two communities close to each other can produce pottery of differing styles and sheens. Jos National Museum devotes an entire gallery to Nigeria's pottery collections.

4. Camp on the Mambilla Plateau

A trip to the Mambilla Plateau is the ultimate Nigerian adventure. The goal is to summit 2419m-high (7936ft) Chappal Waddi. The nearest city with an airport is Jalingo, in southeastern Taraba State. The real grind begins with a seven-hour-long road trip to Gembu, the nearest major town to the foot of the mountain. En route, you’ll pass caves, rushing rivers, rural homesteads, and several waterfalls.

Set up camp just feet away from the refreshing rush of a cascade, and hike up to the peak at dawn. Your persistence will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the surrounding landscape as you’ll literally be in the clouds.

Planning tip: Whether you’re flying from Lagos or Abuja, allow for five to seven days for this trip and prepare for cold weather. Make room for a stopover at Serti for a brief tour of the museum at Gashaka-Gumti National Park.

The two artifacts, which include a bronze cockerel and a bust that were looted from Nigeria over 125 years ago by the British military force, are placed on a table inside the Oba of Benin palace where it was looted in Benin City
Two looted Benin bronzes at the Oba of Benin palace © KOLA SULAIMON/Contributor/Getty Images

5. Watch bronze casters at work in Benin City

For hundreds of years, a secret guild of bronze casters working for the royal court of the Oba (king) in Benin City created intricate artworks using the 'lost-wax' sculpture technique. Today, some 15 family-owned bronze casters carry on the tradition along the bustling Igun St in Benin City.

The city has two new museums in the works: the Museum of West African Art (MOWAA) and the Benin Royal Museum, to be sited at the Oba’s palace. When completed, they’ll house the hundreds of bronze works being repatriated from museums and galleries abroad.

To see the contemporary pieces, venture along the road's art shops and galleries and you’ll find the casters in t-shirts, shorts and sandals bent over molds of reddish-brown clay, stoking massive wood fires, and chiseling and filing bronze and brass figurines. They operate under a guild, producing works on private commissions and for the tourist market.

Local tip: In the evening, and with the galleries and shops shut, sections of Igun Street transition to an entertainment zone with bars, street food and Afrobeats music.

6. Witness a traditional Iria (wrapper-tying) ceremony in Bonny Kingdom

In the Niger Delta island of Bonny, the Iria (wrapper-tying) ceremony, a traditional rite of passage in Ibani society to welcome girls into womanhood, is a big deal. It takes place in stages and involves private activities and public displays, all open to visitors.

The process begins with the Iriabo (celebrant) staying in a symbolic fattening room, where older women and minders bathe her and cook all her meals. Between meals, the Iriabo is doused in camwood and palm oil. On the eve of the big day, she is covered face to toe in elaborate tattoos of dye and indigo ink; as a tourist, you can observe the tattooing ritual (men are also allowed but must tie a wrapper before being allowed in) – and tourists can get one done for too, should they like.

Iria Day takes place in two parts. In the morning close friends and family visit the bride, chant, dance and place money in a bowl. In the afternoon, the bride, now dressed in colorful wrappers (damask and George are among the most popular), performs a series of dance routines to the cheers and applause of the gathering. Don’t just sit and enjoy the revelry – feel free to join in the dancing and singing.

A man stands by a sculpture near the sacred grove during the Osun-Osogbo Festival in Osogbo, Nigeria
Osun Sacred Grove is home to two of the oldest palaces in Nigeria ©STEFAN HEUNIS/Stringer/Getty Images

7. Explore Osogbo’s ancient history

There aren’t many places in Nigeria where you’ll find as many old palaces as in Osogbo. Two of the oldest are at the Osun Sacred Grove, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are a couple more around the Ataoja’s palace, a 15-minute walk from the grove; seen together, they are a great way to understand how Yoruba societies formed and evolved in the 18th and 19th centuries. Allow three hours for a comprehensive tour.

If you would love to see one of the most evocative expressions of indigenous spirituality, visit In late August when thousands of Osun devotees pack out the grove and the palace at the Osun-Osogbo festival, the annual gathering in honor of the Yoruba goddess of fertility. If you miss the festivities, Osogbo is still a delight to see at other months of the year.

Detour: Treat yourself to the celebrated Osogbo art scene. In addition to paintings and sculptures, the Nike Art Gallery (Old Ede Road) has a matchless collection of local fabrics. Its workshop for batik cloth-making is just across the road. The private residence (Ibokun Road) of the late Austrian Osun priestess, Suzanne Wenger, is well worth a visit too. Besides the drape of stool wood and artistic flourish on the outside, the ground floor has a gallery of traditional wooden sculptures.

8. Join an Egungun procession

June through August is Egungun (Yoruba masquerade) season in Western Nigeria, and Ibadan is where to go to experience this cultural carnival. A mark of ancestral veneration, masquerades emerge from various shrines and households, usually after a series of rituals have been performed, walking from house to house, street to street, and quarter to quarter, chanting and praying for individuals and families. Their costumes are stitched together from lace, satin, wax, damask and a variety of other fabrics, topped in some cases by carved wooden headdresses and see-through face coverings.

There will be drummers, singers, and – almost always – jubilant teenagers in tow. Feel free to walk and dance with the entourage. While some processions (like the Eyo Festival in Lagos) follow defined routes through the host communities, others (like Iyekiye in Iragbiji) chart their own paths, stopping every now and then to pay homage where necessary.

9. Sip herbal tea in Bauchi

Itinerant Chai (Tea) vendors are a big part of everyday living in northern Nigeria, and teas – served in pots, glass cups and flasks – are standard items on restaurant menus. In hot or cold weather, tea parlors are where locals go – not just to relax but also to socialize.

There’s always a variety of flavors to choose from, including cashew, strawberry, doum palm and basil. On the herbal side of things, you’ll find variants like malaria killer tea, anti-diabetic tea, garlic tea, and even anti-ulcer tea. For starters try Maiduguri tea, a special brew boiled with ginger, cloves and other roots.

In Bauchi, order tea from UK Mai Shayi, on the Dogon Yaro roundabout, or from The Cup Place on Murtala Mohammed Way. Both give you an opportunity to have small talk with locals and buy tea off the shelf. Bauchi Friends plans tours around the Bauchi metropolis and across northern Nigeria.

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Ikeja, Lagos / Nigeria - November 26th 2016 : Yinka Shonibare's Wind Sculpture VI at the Ndubuisi Kanu Park; Shutterstock ID 1753378721; your: Claire Naylor; gl: 65050; netsuite: Online ed; full: Lagos free things


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