Town is not really a place you live… it’s more of a mish mash of shops, banks, hospitals, clinics, restaurants, cafes, and hotels. It’s got a crazy busy area down by Kigali Heights and it’s more quiet cousin up on the top of the hill by UTC. It’s an interesting part of Kigali where you’ll be able to run any errand you can think of. Yay, errands!
The whole town area is quite busy with people and traffic, especially at rush hour. Throw in a maze of one-way streets and closed roads and it’s usually better to avoid this area with your car or to come on a moto or bus.
Accommodation in Town
Some houses are for residential use and there are a few new apartments that have sprung up over the years (I think one side of M-Peace plaza is apartments), but I have yet to meet anyone who actually lives in town. Maybe they’re all hiding. Or maybe there’s a secret underground network of tunnels beneath us, through which the town-habitats are walking every day, while the rest of us are still blissfully unaware of this pollution- and traffic-free way of getting around Kigali. I mean, I’m just saying.
While it doesn’t have a lot of house action going on, downtown is jam packed with hotels, though, they’re either super fancy or super budget. Well, maybe the fancy places are more in Kiyovu, but either way the two areas join together so if you stay at either the Serena or Marriott, you’re basically still in town. Then it sort of drops off quickly to mostly 2-star places (at a stretch). There are a lot of very old, semi-sketchy hotels and guesthouses in town and I rarely hear of anyone staying in hotels in town.
Two exceptions would be Ubumwe Grande which is a new place and it has one of the best views in the city, and Galaxy Hotel which seems like a decent place that borders Kiyovu. Hotel 2000 might also be ok but it’s located in one of the busiest parts of the city. Then going down in quality and price from there, you have La Posh, Isimbi, Gloria Hotel, Impala Hotel, and Okapi Hotel which wouldn’t be my first choices for mid-ranged places to stay, but they might be ok if you need to be close to town and are on a budget.
Restaurants & Cafes in Town
Downtown is packed with restaurants and cafes, including quite a few hidden gems and lots of places that I haven’t been to yet. Most places won’t have parking unless they’re in one of the weird, giant, malls so that’s something to keep in mind. Marriott and Serena are nearby and have awesome (though very pricey) lunch buffets in case you’re looking to splash out on a feast.
- Bamboo – This Chinese restaurant sits atop T-2000 and it’s just as bizarre as the shop is. The Chinese food here is pretty good but I tend to stick to their sweet and sour pork or chicken and chicken fried rice and I’m happy, if unexciting. They have hotpot which is good for groups and they’ve got a fantastic view.
- Bourbon – Bourbon is Kigali’s answer to Starbucks, with prices to match. It’s one of the city’s oldest cafes and you’ll find a few of them around town. They used to be the only decent option when I arrived back in 2010 and I was probably here every other day. These days there are so many other choices and it’s nowhere near as busy. Plus their locations inside dying shopping malls like UTC and Kigali City Tower doesn’t help. But they do ok food and really good smoothies and the ‘Funky Monkey’ is still one of my favourite drinks in town.
- Brioche – Back when this place first opened, one of the partners was the dude who opened Baso Patissier who was a pastry chef of some sort. He’s left to do his own thing and Brioche has switched focus a bit to food. They’ve got a full menu but their cakes area always seems to be sparse which makes me sad. But their ‘Chocolate Bomb’ is one of the best things in the city, if they happen to have it.
- Camellia – The weird green building on the Car Free Zone street used to be called ‘Camellia Tea House’ and they had the best buffet in the city. They’ve been around for years and were sort of a more affordable, less swanky answer to Bourbon. Well, now they’ve expanded to around seven locations (mostly around downtown, weirdly close to each other) and their menu is suspiciously similar to Bourbon’s, though the prices are a bit cheaper still. Head to the branch atop the MIC Building for an awesome view.
- Chess Cafe – I love this little place. It’s small and nothing fancy, but the services is super friendly and their vegan soups and bread offer Kigali residents something different from the usual. They have a different soup each day and you can also ask for non-dairy milk for your tea and coffee. It was set up with the help of a Swedish person and you’ll see this in a few of the dessert offerings that I’m told are popular in Sweden. Their chocolate cake is gooey and rich and delicious and if you love chocolate as much as I do, it’ll be worth the trip.
- Dine Divine – This is a place that’s totally new to me and I’m so happy a friend recommended it! It’s amazingly affordable (we’re talking water for Rwf 300 kind of affordable) and the food is wonderful. It’s small and nothing fancy but their array of South Indian offerings will keep you happy. They’ve got a huge selection of dosa and different lunch specials each day that are an amazing bargain.
- Elite Food – This is more of a food court type place located in UTC but it’s worth a mention for their baklava. It’s delicious. They’re also one of the few places to get Turkish coffee, if that’s your think.
- Fantastic – Fantastic has one of Kigali’s best-known buffets, with the largest selection in town at a great price. If you want to sample a bunch of local dishes all in one place, come here. It’s very popular so go early and make sure to observe the talented Rwandan food-stackers as they pile their plates sky high to maximise value.
- German Butchery – I love this place. It’s super relaxed and they have some German beers and treats like pork knuckle and they even do suckling pig on the first Saturday every month. Their rotisserie chicken is amazing and there’s a shop on site with a fantastic butcher, as their name would suggest.
- Just Chill – Located in the basement of M-Peace Plaza, this restaurant is known for it’s affordable and good quality buffet and, mainly, for their their frozen yogurt bar. You choose your flavour and then you choose from a surprisingly large variety of toppings.
- Koko House – This restaurant has Kigali’s most epic jungle gym outside and a pretty decent indoor playing room as well, making it a great choice for families with young kids. I’m pretty sure it’s a play-to-play operation. They’ve got cocktails for the parents and a very creative menu that includes Asian food. The owner is Vietnamese and there’s also a spa on site.
- La Galette – This cafe attached to the supermarket of the same name is known for good food that’s mostly the usual fare but it’s done well. Their rotisserie chicken are something not found in so many places and it’s worth a try. It’s a relaxed place set beneath some trees and it’s popular for watching football. Plus you can get some groceries after your meal!
- Lahori Taste – This is a small Pakistani place sort of perched above the car free zone with an interesting view of the street below. I’ve been once and I’m not sure what differentiates this place as Pakistani since the food seemed similar to what you’d get an an Indian place. But I’m looking forward to trying again and this time I’ll see if I can try something Pakistani.
- Lin & Gao – A new Chinese restaurant atop M-Peace Plaza, this place currently holds the title for the highest view in the city. I’m told by a friend who knows better that the food is legit and I enjoyed my meal here a lot. Beware of taking the wrong elevator. One elevators goes to some sketchy room with a bunch of scantly clad, Asian women smoking and playing cards, and the other goes to the restaurant. I’ll let you figure out which is which because I’m evil like that.
- Preet – I’d heard about this little gem of a place for years before I finally got around to trying it. It’s a super-affordable, vegetarian Indian restaurant that serves mostly South Indian snack foods. It’s tiny and would certainly quality as a hole in the wall type of place, but the food is amazing. They don’t serve alcohol but it’s ok to BYO.
- Ubumwe Grande – This relatively new hotel has a rooftop pool (guests only) and a restaurant that’s open to all. It’s got a fabulous view and is a perfect spot for drinks. The food is ok but really the star of the show is the view so having a drink while perched on a chair by the railing is the main draw.
- White Horse – I have to admit that I haven’t been here in years but it used to be one of my go to places for lasagna. This place has changed names more times than I can count but it always seems to come back to White Horse. It used to be a popular place for live music but I have no idea what’s happening there these days, if anything. It might be worth popping in for a look if you happen to be nearby and hungry.
Nightlife in Town
My nightlife days are (mostly) behind me and I’ve never been much of a clubber type anyway, so I haven’t sampled much of Kigali’s recent nightclub scene. Downtown mostly gets quiet at night but Fantastic has live music every night at 8pm and Sage Cite has karaoke (or so I’m told). Cadillac has resurfaced below Bourbon at UTC after their Kimihurura location burned to the ground before our eyes several years ago. I remember the old place a being pretty fun and I’m told this new version is a proper club and a decent place to go for some dancing all all of those fun, clubby type things.
Shopping in Town
You can find pretty much anything in town and if you don’t have to worry about parking then it’s a good area to visit several different shops in search of what eludes you. Somehow Kigali City has managed to build several gigantic malls like CHIC and MIC that manage to have nothing interesting in them except cafes and a lot of empty space.
- Patel Supermarket – This small place across the road from T-2000 is known for having a good selection of grains, spices, and lots of hard-to-find items. It’s not as large or well-stocked as their recently opened location in Kimihurura, but it’s worth popping in to see what you can find.
- Sharma – Sharma is similar to Patel in that it has an excellent selection of grains, spices, and Indian treats. They’re also a pretty reliable source of tahini and gelatin – two things Kigali foreigners often seem to be in search of. They’re a medium-sized place that also sells some appliances, water towers, etc. They’re known for making delicious samosas.
- Simba – Simba used to be my go to supermarket way back in 2010 because they were reasonably well-stocked with the basics and a lot cheaper than Nakumatt. Then I slowly drifted over to Nakumatt for their better meat and produce sections and forgot about Simba. Well, since Nakumatt has closed, Simba really are the only large supermarket option in Kigali and it makes me despair. They seem to have gone way downhill over the years and people often complain about spoiled products and terrible service from management.
- T-2000 – T-2000 is a super huge Chinese shop that’s well known for having all things. You’ll find everything from meat, fruit, veggies, and other groceries to tools to garden furniture to bicycles. It’s got some great finds but there’s also an enormous amount of random crap. It’s the best place to come to kit out a Halloween costume, for sure, and it’s sort of a fun place to wander around.
Recreation & Entertainment in Town
Though more in Kiyovu, Serena and Marriott have beautiful pools, gyms, and spas. Mille Collines is a more affordable option and it’s great for laps. It’s popular on sunny Sundays for the combo pool and buffet, though I was told recently that this combo ‘deal’ costs Rwf 25,000 so it’s hardly the deal it once was. It’s a fun place to hang out though, even if you just go for the pool. They also have tennis courts.
Waka Global is a cool coworking space and gym. The gym has a climbing wall and a basketball hoop with a decent area in front to play. The coworking space host occasional events. Fitness Factory is another gym, located atop the Kigali City Market building.
Koko House is one of the best places in Kigali for kids and has a large sandbox and a really cool jungle gym type thing. Bamboo also has a kids’ place area. Century Cinema is inside Kigali City Tower and, though the rest of the ‘mall’ is being renovated and virtually empty, the cinema lives on and it’s a fun night out.