One of Africa’s fastest-growing cities, Accra has a growing reputation for entertainment, food and beautiful beaches make it a fantastic destination for a layover or a short break.
The hot, hectic streets of Ghana’s capital may have their fair share of traffic jams and street hawkers, but you’ll also discover delicious local delicacies, fascinating heritage and a thriving nightlife.
While the close proximity of most of the key things to do in Accra mean it’s possible to explore on foot, the easiest way to make the most of 24 hours in the city is to grab a taxi from the official stand at the airport. Cabs are also readily available throughout the city, honking their horns to try and get your business, but as most are meter-free it’s essential you always agree a price with your driver before embarking on a journey.
Other options include hiring a vehicle with a driver, which can be done in advance or on the day, or for a more authentic (but slower) experience, you can join the locals by catching a tro tro, a network of mini vans that follow set routes.
If you’ve not picked up local currency at the airport, ask you driver to take you to a secure ATM and avoid changing cash in the streets.
With the heat and congestion building in Accra’s streets throughout the day, make the most of the comparatively quiet and cool early morning and head to one of the city’s most popular and colourful destinations, Mazola Market, which opens at 6am. This fascinating commercial hub at the heart of the city is a typical African urban market, where you’ll find stalls selling jewellery and textiles alongside kitchenware and bright bowls of fruit and vegetables, best bought in the morning when they’re still cool. Hawkers pack the surrounding pavements, offering everything from secondhand clothing to street food, making this a perfect spot for breakfast. Chose from the plentiful fruit on offer, head for one of the stalls piled high with fresh loaves, offering omelette or smashed avocado with toast, or ask where you can get local breakfast specialty waakye, a dish of black eyed peas and rice served with a variety of toppings.
Once you’ve had your fill of Mazola Market, head north to the National Museum of Ghana, a great place to start to gain an understanding of Ghana’s culture and often brutal history. Here you’ll find moving displays regarding the slave trade, as well as local crafts and ceremonial objects.
Next, travel south to Jamestown, one of Accra’s poorest, but most vibrant neighbourhoods. Full of colonial history, the city’s oldest district grew around the 17th century British James Fort and is known for its colourful and busy fishing harbour and distinctive lighthouse, which offers great views across the city (pollution permitting).
Head east along the coastline to Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park and Mausoleum, erected in honour of Ghana’s first president and then on to nearby Independence Square (also known as Black Star Square), a Soviet-influenced, modernist space created for military marches with the iconic The Independence Arch at its centre. On the beachfront by the square you’ll also find the Centre for National Culture, which houses a gallery and is an interesting place to pick up gifts, such as textiles, bags and beads.
Just minutes away, the district of Osu boasts the highest concentration of restaurants in the city, making it the best place to head for lunch. Popular restaurant Buka boasts Ghanaian and Nigerian specialties, such as okra stew and eba (dough balls), while Country Kitchen is known for its wide variety of home cooked Ghanaian classics, like fufu (pounded yam, cassava or plantain), banku (fermented corn and cassava dough) and jollof rice (spicy rice with meat).
One of the great things about Accra is that after a busy morning of shopping and sightseeing you can head to beach. Ten minutes beyond Osu by car is Ladadi Beach, the most popular beach in Ghana. Known as La Pleasure Beach, Accra’s residents love to congregate on this pretty stretch at weekends, so expect music pumping through the palm trees and huge football matches on the sand.
Accra is known for it’s vibrant nightlife and growing music scene, so if your layover allows you a night out, there’s plenty to choose from.
Head back to Osu to the areas around Cantonments Road, which everyone calls Oxford Street, for a good selection of restaurants and bars. Alternatively, if you have a pending flight and want to combine a traditional Ghanian meal with some live music, try Chez Afrique, just north of the airport in Labone.
If you have a little longer than 24 hours before you fly out, there are also some fascinating day trips and overnight stays you can take from Accra.
Around three hours away by road is Cape Coast, Ghana’s former capital city. While it’s a nice place to explore, with an interesting mix of architecture and colourful fishing boats lining the crescent shaped harbour, it’s Cape Coast Castle which provides the biggest tourist draw. This former slave castle, now a World Heritage Site, provides sobering sight into the atrocities committed here during the slave era.
Just inland from the Cape Coast is Kakum National Park, 607 square kilometres (234 square miles) of protected rainforest. Moreover, from the beautiful canopy walkway you can try to spot the resident wildlife, including monkeys, forest elephants, leopards and flying squirrels.