The best museums in Kigali aren’t just stuffy places that acquire, research, and conserve the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity.
They’re also the best places to get a crash course in Rwanda’s history and culture. They’ll take you on a journey through the country’s past and present, and prepare you for your time in Rwanda with fascinating exhibitions and thrilling experiences.
My first time visiting any museum in Kigali was quite surreal. I cannot tell you the fear that ran through me when I saw a crocodile face-to-face at the Kandt House Museum.
So, whether you’re just passing through Kigali for a few days, you’ve recently moved to Rwanda, or you’ve spent your whole life here, make time to visit every museum on this list – you won’t be disappointed.
Kigali Genocide Memorial
- Location: KG 14 Ave, Ruhango
- Highlight: An audio guide device is provided for a more elaborate explanation of each stop within the memorial
- Open Hours: 08:00AM-05:00PM except on Umuganda Saturday: 01:00PM-05:00PM
This is a place of utmost importance to Rwanda and Rwandans, as it’s the final resting place for more than 250,000 victims of the 1994 genocide against Tutsis. The memorial also serves to educate about how the genocide took shape and examines other genocides in the 20th century.
In 1999, the City of Kigali provided the land for a place of remembrance to be built and to serve as a dignified burial site for the many victims’ bodies that were not properly buried. The process of burying victims began in 2001. The memorial opened in April 2004 – on the tenth commemoration of the genocide.
When visiting the Kigali Genocide Memorial, you can walk through exhibits, memorials, graves, and gardens. Guides are available to explain various parts that explain the history of the genocide, from preparation to execution and the aftermath. It is the place where one gets deep insights and can visualize such a significant part of Rwandan history.
Kandt House Museum
- Location: KN 90St,
- Highlight: The reptile area
- Open Hours: 08:00 AM-06:00 PM except on Umuganda Saturday: 01:00 PM-06:00 PM
Fun fact about this museum: it actually used to be Richard Kandt’s home during his time here in Rwanda. In honor of his life and his achievements, the Rwandan government turned it into the National History Museum.
The museum is divided into 3 areas. The 1st portrays life in Rwanda before the colonial period.
The second part of the museum presents Kandt’s deeds during the colonial period when Rwanda was under German and Belgian rule. Within this part, you’ll find an exhibition of live reptiles (snakes) that aims to explain the relationship between nature and history. After all, it’s also a natural history museum.
The third part covers the whole history of Kigali from before, throughout, and after colonialism, and how it became Rwanda’s capital.
The Campaign Against Genocide Museum
- Location: RN 3, Gishushu
- Highlight: A machine gun used by RPA, stationed on the rooftop.
- Open Hours: 08:00AM-05:00PM except on Umuganda Saturday: 11:00 AM-06:00 PM
Located in the Parliament building of Rwanda, visiting this museum feels like killing two birds with one stone. The parliament was home to the 600 soldiers of the Rwanda Patriotic Army (RPA), who prepared for the Broad-Based Transitional Government and the National Transitional Assembly (the transitional unity government under the Arusha Accords) in 1993-1994.
The museum also depicts how, after the UN troops retreated during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, the RPA initiated the Campaign Against Genocide Plan and how the RPA forces took the unilateral decision to stop the genocide, rescue victims, and defeat the genocidal forces, and how they won.
Rwanda Art Museum
- Location: KK 106 St, Nyarugunga
- Highlight: The flight debris from the FALCON 50’s presidential jet that went down on 6th April 1994.
- Open Hours: 08:00 AM-06:00 PM except on Umuganda Saturday: 11:00 AM-06:00 PM
The Rwanda Art Museum used to be the Presidential Palace from the 1970s to the early 2000s. This is one of the reasons this is such a historical building. The other: flight debris from when the presidential jet that belonged to President Juvenal Habyarimana was shot down in 1994, which can still be seen on site.
To provide visitors with an experience of Rwandan creativity, this museum also serves as a showroom and exhibition space for contemporary artworks crafted by Rwandan and international artists, exploring how traditional and modern imaginations can fuse. The museum also has an Art Kids’ Studio where artists can create and explore their talents and network with each other.
Rwanda Art Museum also hosts temporary and moving art exhibitions.
Museums Outside Kigali
There are various other museums outside Kigali that are also part of what makes Rwanda the beauty that it is today. For a full experience, check out:
- The King’s Palace Museum located in Nyanza, a reconstruction of the traditional royal residence, serves as an image of what the monarchy was, and is home to a few long-horned Inyambo cattle, some of which descend from the king’s herd.
- The Ethnographic Museum located in Huye, was a gift from the Belgian King Baudouin. It is now home to one of Africa’s finest ethnographic collections and, with its 7 galleries, provides first-hand insight into Rwandan culture.
- The Museum of the Environment located in Karongi near Lake Kivu, is designed as an educational center to help people understand, safeguard and ensure integrated and durable development. It also has a traditional herbal medicine garden on the rooftop.
There is always more to a place than the people, and no amount of articles or news reports can quite explain everything. One needs to be on-site to get the full experience. The best museums in Kigali provide a memorable, hands-on education in Rwandan history, culture, and heritage.
Hopefully, you will share with us your experience at any of these places in the comments. And don’t worry, the snakes at the Kandt House are kept safely behind glass.