Accra travel guide – What to do in Accra

The best places in Accra for shopping, art, culture and learning about Ghana’s rich history

Shopping

The Arts Centre/Centre for National Culture

This is less of a market and more of a bustling mini metropolis. Here you will find an array of stalls selling everything from wooden adinkra symbol carvings to an assortment of Kente-inspired clothing. As well as this you can find items ranging from serving bowls to fans and purses. One thing to be aware of when coming here is that you need to haggle – if you can it’s best to find a guide who knows the market well to take you around so that you can avoid paying astronomical prices. Expect to be approached and encouraged by every stall holder to look at their wares; some will sit and call you over whilst others will walk up to you with their t-shirts in tow. This is the best (and probably the cheapest) place to find souvenirs to take home for friends and family so make sure you make time to visit. Also be sure to bring cash as many vendors will not have card machines.

Global Mamas, Osu

If you are looking to do some socially conscious shopping, then look no further than Global Mamas. This shop is an NGO and sells everything from organic Fairtrade cotton batik clothing and household accessories to handmade earrings and Christmas decorations. A proportion of the sales of the store’s items are used to fund education programmes for the women (and their children) responsible for making all the goods on sale. This is another fantastic place to grab some souvenirs or do some shopping for yourself.

All Pure Nature, Osu

This store is a natural skincare lover’s dream. All the soaps and lotions in stock are made from natural ingredients and feature lots of ingredients which are unique to or are grown in Ghana. The shop is adorned with everything from moringa and baobab soap to pots of shea butter which have been lightly fragranced. I bought a couple of the soaps myself and I can honestly say I regret not buying more. They lather up wonderfully and leave your skin feeling beautifully soft. As well as a standalone store in Osu there is a slightly smaller All Pure Nature store inside Marina Mall.

The Shop Accra, Osu

This is probably the shop that stood out the most to me during my shopping spree in Accra. It is filled to the brim with artwork, clothing and accessories for those who want to buy trendy items which transition well from season to season. A lot of the items for sale are also handmade by craftsmen and women in Ghana. Some of the accessories I spotted would not look out of place in an Oliver Bonas or & Other Stories; these pieces instantly caught my eye! The shop also has an assortment of skincare, body care, homeware items, stationery and even a small café. It is truly a treasure trove of fantastic fashion that is both modern and traditionally Ghanaian at the same time.

Arts, History & Culture

The Kempinski Hotel and Gallery 1957

On the ground floor of the Kempinski Hotel in Accra is a fantastic free art gallery filled with works from internationally renowned Ghanaian artists. After wandering through the ever-changing exhibition head up to one of the many bars in the hotel, preferably the one by the pool that has a great view of the rest of Accra, for a cocktail and some freshly made plantain chips.

The name of the gallery is a reference to the year that Ghana became a country which was governed by its people and not by the British, its colonial oppressors since the nineteenth century.

Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum

This is a must-visit tourist destination in Ghana. Here you will find items that used to belong to Ghana’s first president and prime minister and the man who led the first African country to independence from its colonial oppressors in 1957. The museum within the mausoleum contains an abundance of information about his life as well as several photos of him with notable public figures from the past and present such as JFK, Queen Elizabeth II and Chairman Mao.

Aburi Gardens

It is said that Aburi Gardens was founded by a student of Kew Gardens in Richmond. Whilst these botanical gardens are not as large or as grand as Kew, they do hold an assortment of plant life. As is the case with a few of Ghana’s main tourist sites, these gardens were not particularly well maintained. Indeed, there were a few pieces of litter in and around all the beautiful trees and flowers. Greater maintenance is needed for sure, but it is still worth a visit.

Aburi also has a very cool and breezy microclimate and so if you need any respite from the hot and humid Accra weather a short trip to Aburi will help you cool off. Also – as we travelled up to the hills of Aburi our guide for the day showed us Bob Marley’s former home in Ghana.

Artists Alliance Gallery

If you are looking for artwork to decorate a house or authentic Kente cloth, look no further than the Artists Alliance Gallery. You will be able to find plenty of beautiful paintings and ornate large wood carvings for sale here. This large gallery even has a room dedicated to Kente where you can find out what each of the patters mean and choose your own hand woven authentic Ghanaian Kente cloth. I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures but rest assured this gallery is well worth a trip.

Jamestown

This historic part of Accra plays host to the Chale Wote Festival every year. Whilst trying to find my way to the Jamestown Café and other modern hipster places in Jamestown that I’d read about online, my sister, uncle and I were stopped near the lighthouse by a man who offered to give us a tour of the area. This is always something to be mindful about. Whilst people are very hospitable, looking like a tourist will always make people try and extract money out of you in some way shape or form. This is just as true in Ghana as it is in Brazil, South East Asia and quite frankly many tourist destinations around the world. I thought he might be able to take us to the modern part of Jamestown but he just took us on a short walk along the beach by the fishing boats and James Fort Prison.

We paid him 20 cedis for his time and we felt safe but the experience wasn’t anything to write home about. It was, however, interesting to see James Fort Prison. This was where Kwame Nkrumah was imprisoned shortly before becoming the first president and prime minister of Ghana.

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Why you should be planning a trip to Ghana post-lockdown

Ghana has much to offer to all who visit, whether you love food, art and culture, history, shopping or beaches. In this post I will be informing you of why you need to add this beautiful country to your travel bucket list.

It has been a wild year to say the least. The year started off with news of wildfires ravaging Australia. Next, COVID-19 hit the world hard and later the world suddenly decided to pay attention to the plight of Black people. In the wake of the killing of George Floyd so much of what black people have been saying over the past few years, decades and centuries about not just overt acts of racism but subtle microaggressions (which, to be honest, can be very macro), gaslighting and British imperial amnesia (regarding the slave trade and acts of genocide perpetrated by the British government) is finally being heard by the white masses and other people of colour who were hitherto unbothered by racist acts that they felt did not directly affect them or concern them. How times have changed.

I have found myself reflecting on a lot during this time, especially travel. As many of my friends and family are lamenting cancelled trips and the inability to confidently book any city breaks or far-flung escapes for the foreseeable future, I have been increasingly thinking about the future of travel in a post-COVID-19 world where many people have become more conscious of the racism that Black people face on a daily basis and have faced for centuries. I have been increasingly thinking about whether this will have any material effect on the way people travel or where people choose to visit going forward.

I have often felt that except for Northern Africa, Zanzibar and South Africa, Africa has not been a desirable travel destination for even the most ardent of travellers. Indeed, when I see maps that have pins which highlight cities that have been visited by keen explorers, I seldom see any in Africa. Instead I see clusters around Europe, South Asia, East Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the Americas. Literally everywhere else in the world seems to be a must visit travel destination except for all sub-Saharan African countries. Why is this the case? I have a few theories:

  • Decades of sub-Saharan African countries being negatively depicted by biased media outlets around the world as poor, as well as disease and famine-stricken, have made many people believe that these countries have nothing of interest, or of value, to offer tourists
  • These countries are also depicted as politically volatile and dangerous, which is ignorant and a mass over-generalisation. This is also an image which is perpetuated by biased media outlets
  • Travelling to these countries requires injections and medication that can be costly or off-putting to travellers

Regarding the first point, I would say that so many sub-Saharan countries have much more to offer than what you see the incredibly biased media outlets in the UK, USA and many other countries showcasing. Africa has so much beauty, culture, and hospitality to offer; I will be using my trip to Ghana in 2019 to showcase how rich a trip to a sub-Saharan country can be. About the second point, I would say that it is important to always proceed with caution, but to also remember that there is danger in all countries including the developed world. One only needs to watch the recording of the brutal murder of George Floyd to see that safety is not a given in a rich and highly developed country. Regarding the third point, there are several countries that require medical precautions, including vaccines and medication. For example, Brazil has seen a steady increase in the number of tourists visiting over the past few years and yet most visitors are required to get vaccinations for at least Typhoid, Tetanus and Hepatitis A. This illustrates that vaccinations and medication for travel need not be a deterrent.

As the world seems to be “waking up” (a phrase I still find laughable because it reveals the privilege that some people have to “wake up” to something that people have been suffering from for decades), I am suggesting that more people travel to Ghana. Yes, I am biased because my family hail from Ghana but there is so much more to my desire for more people to travel to Ghana. Ghana is a visually stunning country, the beaches in the Western region are some of the finest you will ever see. Moreover, last year Ghana amassed a whopping £1.5bn ($1.9bn) because of its “year of the return” tourism campaign. This campaign marked the 400-year anniversary (from 1619-2019) of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans to North America when they arrived at Jamestown, Virginia. The campaign aimed to encourage people in the African diaspora to visit Ghana and learn more about its rich history, culture, and outdoor activities. Ghana has numerous slave castles where the most learned of tour guides will give you haunting yet in-depth and enlightening accounts of what life was like for enslaved Africans before they were sent to the Americas. You will hear about how they were forced to endure truly horrifying and brutal conditions in the slave castles before leaving through the door of no return to travel across the Atlantic on the slave ships that would take them to the Americas.

Beyond learning about the rich history of Ghana there is plenty to do in terms of shopping, eating, drinking, lounging on beaches and engaging in other fun activities. In the next few posts, I will recount some of my highlights from my trip from my time in Accra and elsewhere in Ghana.

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