Must see attractions in Benin

  • Sights in Cotonou

    Grand Marché de Dantokpa

    The seemingly endless Grand Marché du Dantokpa is Cotonou's throbbing heart, bordered by the lagoon and Blvd St Michel. Everything under the sun can be purchased in its labyrinthine lanes, from fish to soap, plastic sandals to goats, pirated DVDs to spare car parts. More traditional fare, such as batiks and Dutch wax cloth, can be found in the market building. The fetish market section is at the northern end of the larger market.

  • Sights in Ouidah

    Route des Esclaves

    The Route of the Slaves includes the slave auction plaza, the Tree of Forgetfulness (where slaves were branded with their owners' symbols and, to make them forget where they came from, forced to walk around the tree in circles) and the Tree of Return, another tree the slaves often circled with the belief that their souls would return home after death. There is a poignant memorial on the beach, Gate of No Return, with a bas-relief depicting slaves in chains.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Porto Novo

    Centre Songhai

    The Centre Songhai is a major research, teaching and production centre in sustainable farming. There are one-hour guided tours to visit the plantations and workshops. You can also buy the centre's produce – anything from fresh quail eggs to biscuits and preserves. Songhai is about 1km north of town. Every zem knows where it is.

  • Sights in The Atakora Region

    Parc National de la Pendjari

    This 2750-sq-km national park is one of West Africa's best for wildlife. Visitors may spot lions, leopards, elephants, baboons and hippos. The best viewing time is near the end of the dry season (November to February), when the animals congregate at water holes. With waterfalls, a woody landscape and good tracks, it's a pleasure to drive around. The park adjoins the Parc National d'Arli in Burkina Faso and is bordered to the west, north and east by the Pendjari River.

  • Sights in Abomey

    Musée Historique d'Abomey

    Abomey's main and seriously impressive attraction (and a World Heritage site since 1985), this sprawling museum is housed in two palaces, those of the ancient kings Ghézo and Glélé. The museum displays royal thrones and tapestries, human skulls that were once used as musical instruments, fetish items and Ghézo's throne, mounted on four real skulls of vanquished enemies.

  • Sights in Cotonou

    Fondation Zinsou

    Named after the family that started it, this fantastic exhibition space seeks to promote contemporary African art among Beninese people through photography, paintings and sculptures. The chic boutique sells beautiful art books and the cafe offers wi-fi access. The gallery regularly provides shuttles from schools to the centre in order to promote art appreciation and involvement.

  • Sights in Cotonou

    Cathedral de Notre Dame

    With its vibrant red and white stripes, this Catholic cathedral is not just a place of worship but also home to a small bookshop selling titles by regional writers as well as a handful of academic texts. The stripes continue into the inside with sandstone and cream-coloured arches. Beyond its pretty stripes, it's a quiet and cool escape from the bustle of the city.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Ouidah

    Zinzou Foundation Museum

    This museum of contemporary African art, housed in a stunning 1920s Afro-Brazilian villa, displays paintings and sculptures as well as light, video and sound installations. It's a classy affair, run by the Zinzou foundation out of Cotonou, a respectable organisation with a strong history of supporting Beninese artists. Most guides speak at least passable English.

  • Sights in Ouidah

    Musée d'Histoire de Ouidah

    Ouidah's main site is its Musée d'Histoire de Ouidah, housed in the beautiful Fortaleza São João Batista, a Portuguese fort built in 1721. It retraces the town's slave-trading history and explores the links between Benin, Brazil and the Caribbean.

  • Sights in Ganvié

    Ganvie Stilt Village

    This stilt village, located in the lagoon of Lake Nokoue, was created for the Tofinu people to stay safe from slave hunters. It has become part of their culture and way of life. The teetering houses, schools, churches and other structures form a ramshackle village. The villagers live almost exclusively from fishing.

  • Sights in Cotonou

    Fetish Market

    This market sells anything associated with voodoo, including varieties of tree barks and dried plants (both used in traditional medicine) and stalwarts for voodoo rites, such as dried animal parts, particularly skins, heads and hoofs (anything from ducks, turtles and horses to dogs and monkeys). Live rats and fish often make an appearance, as does hand-carved wood.

  • Sights in Porto Novo

    Musée Honmé

    This museum is housed in the walled palace of King Toffa, who signed the first treaty with the French in 1863. It focuses on the alounloun musical instrument, a long piece with a sliding metal ring, the key element in the local Porto Novo adjogan music. The museum traces the instrument's symbolism as a sound that echoed the king's strength.

  • Sights in Natitingou

    Musée Régional de Natitingou

    Housed in a colonial building built by slaves at the beginning of the 20th century, this museum gives an overview of life in Somba communities. The exhibition includes various musical instruments, jewellery, crowns and artefacts. Most interesting is the habitat room, which has models of the different types of tata somba (Somba houses).

  • Sights in Natitingou

    Kota Falls

    Fancy a refreshing dip? Consider heading to the Kota Falls, 15km southeast of Natitingou, off the main highway. You can hike around in the hills, swim in the pool at the bottom of the falls or just sit down and read in the cool shade of the undergrowth. Pure bliss! Hire a zem (CFA5000 per day) to get there.

  • Sights in Porto Novo

    Musée Ethnographique de Porto Novo

    Housed in a pretty colonial building, this museum is well worth a gander. The top floor is organised thematically around birth, life and death, with everything from costumes to carved drums. Downstairs there's an impressive display of ceremonial masks.

  • Sights in Ouidah

    Python Temple

    Those interested in voodoo could visit the python temple, home to some 60 sleepy snakes. The guide explains some of the beliefs and ceremonies associated with the temple.

  • Sights in Grand Popo

    Villa Karo

    On the main road through the village, Villa Karo is a small gallery with great exhibitions focusing on local art.

  • Sights in Cotonou

    Centre Culturel Français

    This busy cultural centre has a gallery, an outdoor theatre, a library and a cinema.

  • Sights in Cotonou

    Mosque

    This mosque's two white towers stand out in this city of low-lying structures. It's an interesting place to pause for a few moments for a spot of people-watching and to observe the coming and goings of worshippers. There's no public access inside.

  • Sights in Cotonou

    Fidjirossé Beach

    This pretty stretch of sand is a lovely place to embrace local culture and cool off. It's a favorite spot for Beninese to retreat to with families and is lined with coconut palms and a handful of buvettes for daytime snacking.