What to Do on a Layover in Kigali

Street scenes in Kigali | © Dylan Walters / Flickr
Street scenes in Kigali | © Dylan Walters / Flickr
Photo of Leah Feiger
16 October 2017

The Kigali International Airport is located just twenty minutes outside of the city center, and even a short layover in Rwanda’s capital city can lead to all sorts of adventures. With local restaurants, cafés, museums, and art galleries just a few miles away, Kigali is one of East Africa’s most accessible cities. Read on for our guide to your next Kigali layover.

How to get there

Most travelers require a visa to enter Rwanda, and though several passports (such as US passports or South African passports) do not have to apply in advance, most countries do. It currently costs US $30 for a 30-day visa. Find out your country’s requirements and apply for your visa before visiting.

Public transport in Kigali is not always convenient and, with limited time, it would be best to take private taxis or motorcycle taxis around the city. Official taxis from the airport to anywhere in Kigali should not cost more than 15,000 Rwandan Francs (or about US $18). Motorcycle taxis found right outside the airport gates will be less than 1000 Rwandan Francs (approximately US $1.3).

5 Hours

Although five hours is a tight layover, Kigali still has a lot to offer. The airport is located in the Kanombe neighborhood, which is just a few minutes away from the Remera and Kimironko neighborhoods. After going through customs, grab an airport taxi or motorcycle taxi to head to Remera. There you’ll find Chez Lando—a restaurant, hotel and Kigali institution. Serving up some of Kigali’s best brochettes (grilled meat or fish on a stick), chips, and cold beers, Chez Lando is located right on the busy Remera Roundabout.

Brochettes on the grill | © SnippyHolloW / Flickr

After a filling lunch, hop a taxi or motorcycle taxi (both will be located right outside Chez Lando’s doors) and head to Kimironko Market. Spend an hour or two wandering the winding corridors of Kigali’s biggest market, checking out the rows of colorful kitenge (Rwandan fabric), baskets, and all the fresh fruit and vegetables you can imagine. After stocking up on some souvenirs for the road, grab a taxi or motorcycle taxi located right outside the market gates to catch your next flight.

Kimironko market | Courtesy of Annette Swale

7 Hours

If you have seven hours in Kigali, head first to the Kigali Genocide Memorial. This memorial recounts, remembers, and analyzes the events of the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi through an eloquent and gut-wrenching display of photographs and varying exhibits. Though the museum is free, small donations are optional, and suggested.

Photographs at the Kigali Genocide Memorial | © Trocaire / Flickr

Spend a couple of hours learning about Rwanda’s past, then head to the Inema Art Center to engage with Rwanda’s present and future. Inema Art Center, one of Kigali’s most renowned galleries and creative spaces, was founded by brothers Emmanuel Nkuranga and Innocent Nkurunziza and is a perfect example of Kigali today.

Inema Arts Center | Courtesy of Inema Arts Center

After enjoying contemporary Rwandan art, head to Repub Lounge for lunch. The restaurant is located in the Kimihurura neighborhood of Kigali, an area known for some of the city’s best restaurants. Repub Lounge serves the city’s best upmarket Rwandan cuisine and its porch has one of the city’s best views. Enjoy a couple of brochettes (grilled meat or fish on a stick), misuzu (sweet plantains), and a heaping plate of isambaza (deep-fried small fish the size of your pinkie finger) before heading back to the airport.

10 Hours

Kigali’s best city tour company, Go Kigali, is the ultimate option for a ten-hour layover. Their tours meet at the Marriott Hotel in either the morning or afternoon, and, depending on the tour option you choose, you can spend up to seven hours zooming around the city accompanied by some of Kigali’s most knowledgeable guides. Tours start at US $55, and they visit the colorful Nyamirambo neighborhood to see a traditional milk bar and the famous Gaddafi Mosque, before heading to Kimisagara for a filling, traditional lunch, followed by a market tour and local fruit tasting. At the end of the tour, the air-conditioned van brings guests to the Genocide Memorial. Spend your last few hours in Kigali visiting the memorial before catching a taxi back to the airport.

Market visit with Go Kigali | © Leigh Woods/Courtesy of Go Kigali

14 Hours

Fourteen hours is the perfect amount of time to get a taste of Kigali life. Hop off the plane and head straight to the Marriott Hotel to catch the aforementioned (excellent) Go Kigali tour around the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods. If, however, a fast-paced city tour is not your ideal version of a layover, head to Hotel des Mille Collines to laze by the pool (made famous by the movie Hotel Rwanda) and grab lunch at their bar.

Pool at Hotel des Mille Collines

Pool at Hotel des Mille Collines | © Innocent Kaneza / Flickr

After the tour or pool session, while away some time wandering the wide streets in the city center, enjoying the sights and sounds that make this place so uniquely Kigali. Follow your exploration with dinner at one of Kigali’s best restaurants to taste some scrumptious Rwandan cuisine, then stop for drinks at Trophy’s Sports Bar. Exemplary of Kigali’s new foray into trendy restaurants and bars, Trophy’s creates Kigali’s best cocktails. It’s approximately ten minutes away from the airport, making it the perfect place to stop before catching your next flight.

Trophy’s Sports Lounge, KG 8, Kigali, Rwanda, +250 736 938 277

Trophy's cocktails

Trophy’s cocktails | Courtesy of Leah Feiger