Ghana's beating heart probably won't inspire love letters, but you might just grow to like it. The capital's hot, sticky streets are perfumed with sweat, fumes and yesterday's cooking oil. Like balloons waiting to be burst, clouds of dirty humidity linger above stalls selling mangoes, banku (fermented maize meal) and rice. The city's tendrils reach out towards the beach, the center and the west, each one a different Ghanaian experience.
The city doesn't have any heavy-hitting sights like Cape Coast or Elmina but it does have good shopping, excellent nightlife and definitely the best selection of eating options in Ghana.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Accra.
Jamestown originated as a community that emerged around the 17th-century British James Fort, merging with Accra as the city grew. These days, Jamestown is one the poorer neighbourhoods of Accra – full of beautifully dishevelled colonial buildings, clapboard houses and corrugated iron shacks – but it remains vibrant. For a great view of the city and the busy and colourful fishing harbour (haze and pollution permitting), climb to the top of the whitewashed lighthouse.
There is no front door or welcoming sign to the Makola Market. Before you know it, you've been sucked in by the human undertow from the usual pavements clogged with vendors hawking food, secondhand clothes and shoes to the market itself. For new arrivals to Africa, it can be an intense experience, but it’s a fun – if, perhaps, a little masochistic – Ghanaian initiation rite.
This arts institution, which takes its name from the word 'grandmother' in Akan, was founded by Ghanaian art historian, writer and filmmaker Nana Oforiatta-Ayim and has just opened a well-curated permanent space for exhibitions and screenings, including a workshop and library. Time your visit for one of the weekly events that focus on a deeper look into the current exhibition.
Ghanaian photographer Francis Kokoroko and his friends regularly host cultural events and art talks at this tiny, unbranded studio on the top floor of the Forico Mall in Osu. A young, stylish and interested crowd shows up when documentaries or discussions are hosted about such things as the rise of Hip Life music or how Ghanaian film posters developed their very own style.
Independence Sq, also known as Black Star Sq, is a vast, empty expanse of concrete overlooked by spectator stands of Stalinesque grace. The square is dominated by an enormous McDonald's-like arch, beneath which the Eternal Flame of African Liberation, lit by Kwame Nkrumah, still flickers. It stands empty for most of the year, except for special commemorations. Super churches sometimes get the authorisation to preach here. Across the street stands Independence Arch.
This tranquil park is full of bronze statues, fountains and wandering peacocks, with the mausoleum of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first leader, at its heart. It's a pleasant enough place to wander around, but the park museum is rather dishevelled. It houses a curious collection of Nkrumah's personal belongings, including the smock he wore while declaring Ghana's independence, as well as copies of personal correspondence and numerous photos of him and various world leaders.
Goethe-Institut, the cultural arm of the German government in Ghana, is also a popular events venue in Accra. If you’re in town on the first Saturday in the month, don’t miss the market where you can find everything from fresh pasta and organic vegetables to paintings and handicrafts. There is also a small biergarten-style restaurant selling German beer, bratwurst and sauerkraut. Check the programme to see what concerts or movies are on.
Come the weekend people flock to Accra's most popular beach to play ball games, frolic in the surf, go horse riding along the sand or party to loud dance music in the bars and restaurants that line the shore. Needless to say, if you're looking for a quieter experience, come on a weekday. Labadi is about 8km east of Accra; to come here, take a tro-tro (minibus) at Nkrumah Circle in Central Accra or along the Ring Rd.
This nature park close to the University of Ghana is the perfect spot to take a break from Accra’s relentless pace, and one of only a few green spots in town. Since a recent makeover, thrills for the whole family are possible: a canopy walkway (C20), a high rope obstacle course (C30), and more traditional activities such as bird watching and biking.