Fascinating tourist destinations in the heart of Kampala

The National Theatre has a rich history and offers weekly stage performances. PHOTO BY GABRIEL BUULE.

What you need to know:

Grand options. Every time the word tourism pops up, our minds race as far as travelling long distances in the wild. Tourism is mistakenly becoming synonymous with travelling such distances and spending a fortune. We hardly imagine that such attractions are available within our reach. Kampala City is home to dazzling attractions, which present a rare and affordable opportunity for you to have great vacation. Gabriel Buule explores some of the remarkable tourist destinations that are worth visiting.

Uganda is undeniably a top tourist destination that attracts vacationers from near and far. Most local and foreign tourists enjoy the wild and beautiful sceneries, mostly hundreds of kilometres, out of the city. Sometimes those who find it hard to endure the fierce terrains and road transport, end up in hotels or sometimes, in the zoo at Entebbe and at the shores of Lake Victoria in Entebbe.
Besides Lake Victoria, the food, the warm and welcoming people, there are other amazing sites tourists can enjoy in Kampala City without having to travel longer distances.
The executive director of Uganda Tourism Board, Lilly Ajarova, acknowledges that Kampala City has a huge potential of becoming the number one urban tourist destination in Africa.

Ms Ajarova explains that there is a lot that Kampala offers that is already attracting tourists from the region and continent which includes city tours, night life, food, culture, music, and festivals.
“Kampala is a destination for faith-based tourists, who come to visit places such as Baha’i temple and Uganda Martyrs Shrine. Other tourists are interested in the rich Ugandan cultures, people and festivals that include Bayimba and Milege. Uganda’s historical sites, sports which include golf and motor rally also attract tourists to Kampala City,” says Ajarova.
Jack Kinobe Sserunkuuma, a cultural enthusiast and a veteran artiste revealed that art alone can play a pivotal role in boosting tourism in Kampala. Kinobe contends that music festivals, art, music, the people, beauty, history, film premieres, dance and drama shows can go a long way in snowballing the numbers of tourists in the capital city.

The National Theatre
Located at De Winton Street adjacent to the Parliament of Uganda, the National Theatre, currently known as Uganda National Cultural Centre, was inaugurated on December 2, 1959. It is a historical masterpiece with an iconic architectural structure inspired by a piano design that has been standing for many years.
Stuffed with rich history and art in the central business district, the National Theatre also offers routine arts events such as the Jam Session every Monday and the Uganda Cinema night.
The theatre provides an avenue for stage performances and also doubles as a cinema hall. The Nommo Gallery features exhibitions of art works by both Ugandan and foreign artists.

The centre is also home to state-of-the art craft village where locally made handicrafts, antiques and paintings are sold. The theatre is surrounded by restaurants that serve both African and continental dishes with hangout spots for beer lovers and ample and secure parking space.
While at the theatre, a tourist can easily access five star hotels such as Kampala Serena Hotel, Sheraton, among others.
For guests on political tours, the National Theatre boarders Uganda’s Parliament, State House and Uganda Media Centre.

The Kabaka’s palace in Mengo

Mengo palace
Mengo palace is the face of one of Uganda’s ethnic groups -the Buganda Kingdom, the home of Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II, the king of Buganda. Built in 1922, the palace has been home to several Buganda kings although it was once rendered empty in 1966, when the then Prime Minister, Milton Obote ordered an attack to oust Kabaka Mutesa II, who was the president of Uganda. While at the palace, one will marvel at the king’s house called Twekobe, Amin’s notorious torture chambers, among others.

Into the chambers, you will be guided to tour around the deadly hollows of Idi Amin Dada, with authentic messages of desperation written on the walls in human muck and blood.
Climaxing the sight of Mengo palace is the ceremonial drive called Kabaka Anjagala (the royal mile) from Bulange royal building that houses the kingdom’s parliament and the plaza called Enyumba Ya Masengere, which is home to Central Broadcasting Services and BBS television.

Namirembe Cathedral
Commonly known as Namirembe Cathedral, Saint Paul’s Cathedral Namirembe is Uganda’s oldest cathedral, the provincial headquarters of the Church of Uganda and the diocesan cathedral for Namirembe Diocese.
Atop Namirembe hill, the cathedral was founded in 1890. While at the cathedral, tourists have a golden opportunity to take an aerial view of Kampala City.
If you are interested in theology and religious tourism, Namirembe Cathedral is one adventurous place to visit within walkable distance from your hotel room.
Next to the cathedral is Namirembe Guest House and Java House where tourists can enjoy Uganda’s great coffee.

Kabaka’s Lake
To the local communities, it is called Kayanja ka Kabaka -literally meaning the king’s Lake. This is the biggest man-made lake in Uganda that was reportedly dag by 52 clans of Buganda between 1885 and 1888, during the reign of Ssekabaka Daniel Basamula Ekkele Mwanga II.
The lake that occupies two square kilometres, is about 200 feet deep and it is near Pope Paul Community Centre in Rubaga Division.
Although the king behind the lake is known for the killing of Namugongo Martyrs, some scholars and tourism pundits believe the Kabaka’s lake was one of Mwanga’s achievements.

The history
The architectural dreams of Buganda Kingdom still remain vibrant with the rich history about Mwanga, who wanted to construct a channel, wide enough for him to travel by boat on Lake Victoria to swim, fish and also connect to his other palace he had built at Mulungu Hill, near Lake Victoria. The channel would serve as an escape route in case of a conflict.

Namirembe Cathedral

Lake Victoria
From the fish at Ggaba landing site, the sunbath at Commonwealth Resort beach in Munyonyo, Lake Victoria is home to several lake side beaches such as Aero Beach, Imperial Resort Beaches, Botanical Garden Beach, One love Beach, Nabinyonya Resort Beach, Lido Beach, Lutembe Beach, Nabugabo Sand Beach, Ssese Islands, Bulago Island Beach, Ssese Gateway Beach, Anderita Beach beach among others. The beaches around the lake offer boat cruise experience.
Lake Victoria also acts as a gateway to other tourist destination such as Ngamba Island, Chimpanzee Sanctuary in an hour’s voyage, depending on the weather.

Rubaga Cathedral
Located atop, Rubaga Cathedral is current headquarter of the Catholic Church of Uganda. It is also the parent cathedral of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Kampala. Also known as Saint Mary’s Cathedral, it is the oldest Roman Catholic diocese in Uganda.and the home church of the Archbishop of Kampala.

Uganda National Mosque
Located on Old Kampala Hill, about two kilometres from Kampala City centre, the Uganda National Mosque houses the headquarters of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council. The mosque seats up to 15,000 worshipers and is a gift to Uganda, by the late Libyan President, Col Muammar Gaddafi.

What they said

Lilly Ajarova
executive director, Uganda Tourism Board “Kampala is a destination for faith-based tourists who come to visit places such as Baha’i temple, Uganda Martyrs Shrine, among others. Some are interested in the rich Ugandan cultures, people and festivals, historical sites, sports such as golf and motor rally.”

Jack K. Sserunkuma, cultural enthusiast
“Art, the music festivals, music, the people, beauty, history, film premiers, dance and drama shows can go a long way in snowballing the numbers of tourists in the capital city.”