Top Ten Things to Do in Ghana: Greater Accra Regional Edition
7 January, 2019: First, a quick geo-historical sketch will set the right tone and context to this ultimate top-10 list of things to do in Accra, Ghana. Ghana is a coastal country bordering the Gulf of Guinea at the mouth of the Atlantic Ocean and comprises 10 distinct and culturally diverse regions. It’s capital city, Accra, is also the capital of its Greater Accra Region. Ghana, formerly known as the Gold Coast, was the first Saharan country to gain independence from colonial rule, changing its name on that historic occasion in 1957 from the “Gold Coast” to “Ghana.”
Because of its rich culture and history, there are more ways to spend your time in Ghana than could ever possibly be summarized here. This article will therefore be limited to the Greater Accra Region, and specifically Ghana, providing you with highlights of some of the most culturally and historically important and interesting things to do in Accra, Ghana.
Top Ten Things to Do in Accra, Ghana
1. Visit the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and Memorial Park. This site is dedicated to Kwame Nkrumah, the first leader of independent Ghana (1957-1966). The mausoleum houses the body of both President Nkrumah and his wife Fathia. You can watch a quick video of the mausoleum and memorial park here.
2. Visit the National Cultural Centre. Situated next to the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and Memorial Park is the Centre for National Culture, more popularly known as the Arts Centre. It is essentially an arts and crafts market, but unlike any other you may have seen, this one is a giant treasure trove of spectacular artistic talent at bargain prices. And by bargain, I mean you WILL have to bargain the prices down, as there is no fixed price and the price quoted to you will depend on the degree to which you are perceived as a foreigner (obroni) versus a local. For more on the bargaining culture in Ghana, read this post. And for a quick visual tour of the Arts Centre, watch this video.
3. Visit Independence Square. Sometimes referred to by its former name Black Star Square, Independence Square is a square of high historical significance that hosts several monuments dedicated to Ghana’s struggle for independence from British colonial rule. Some of these monuments include the instantly recognizable Independence Arch, the Black Star Gate, the Liberation Day Monument, and the statue of the unknown soldier who represents all the Ghanaians who lost their lives fighting for independence. The square is located next to the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and Memorial Park and is the site of the annual Independence Day celebration on 6 March, when it is filled to its 30,000-strong seating capacity. You can watch a quick video of Independence Square here.
4. Visit the W.E.B. Du Bois Memorial Centre for Pan African Culture. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868-1963) was an African American historian and civil rights activist from Massachusetts who spent the latter part of his life in Ghana, at the invitation of President Nkrumah, compiling the Encyclopedia Africana. The W.E.B. Du Bois Memorial Centre for Pan African Culture opened in 1985. It houses a museum displaying his personal library and a collection of his works as well as a shrine containing his grave and the ashes of his wife, Shirley Graham Du Bois. For a glimpse of the Du Bois Centre, watch this short video.
5. Visit the National Museum. The National Museum of Ghana opened on the eve of independence on 5 March, 1957. It is the biggest and oldest museum administered by the Ghana Museums and Monuments Board and hosts collections of archaeological, ethnographic, and fine arts works. Its archeological collection includes pieces ranging from the Stone Age to recent history. Its ethnographic collection comprises chieftain regalia, musical instruments, gold weights, beads, traditional textiles, traditional carved stools and masks, and ceramics. Its fine arts collection boasts contemporary Ghanaian paintings, including oil, acrylic, and pastel works. You can catch a visual tour of the museum in this quick video.
6. Visit Jamestown and Usshertown. Both Jamestown and its neighbour Usshertown are the oldest districts in Accra, having been established in the 17th century under British colonial rule and evolved from the colonial James Fort and Ussher Fort, respectively. They collectively constitute “Old Accra.” Both districts hug the Gulf of Guinea along the coast of Ghana and are primarily fishing communities populated by the Ga people of Ghana. Two popular festivals held annually in August by the Ga people include Homowo, a harvest festival, and the Chale Wote Street Art Festival, as the name suggests, is an art, music, and dance festival. (FYI, chale wote, in Ghana, refers to flip-flops and is a Ga term that literally means, “My friend, let’s go.”) Both Jamestown and Usshertown are characterized by a mix of commercial and residential activity, but more importantly still host historical remnants of their colonial past. For example, the Accra lighthouse (formerly Jamestown Lighthouse) was built by the British in 1871 and is still standing tall at 92 feet (28 metres). For a quick insight into the Jamestown community, watch this video.
7. Visit Osu Castle. Osu Castle, formerly named Fort Christiansborg after the reigning King Christian V of Denmark-Norway, is located in the Osu district of Accra and was built by Denmark and Norway in the 1660s. It was purchased by the British in 1850 after the abolition of slavery, when the Danes sought to sell it off due to its newfound unprofitability (it had been primarily used by the Danes and Norwegians for the trade of gold, ivory, and slaves). The British renamed it to Government House at independence in 1957, and it became the seat of government for Queen Elizabeth II’s representative, the Governor-General of Ghana. Since the establishment of a republic in Ghana in 1960, Osu Castle has housed the president of the Republic of Ghana, with little exception, although Flagstaff House (renamed to Jubilee House in March 2018) was used on two previous occasions as a presidential residence and was converted back to a presidential residence in 2018. A visit to Osu Castle is a grim but necessary reminder of the history of the slave trade as well as a hat tip to the transformation of an exploitative colonial space into a seat of government for a fledgeling but determined young nation claiming its stake on its homeland as a proudly independent nation. Here is a very quick glimpse of the castle grounds through a vlogger’s video narrative.
8. Sample the local cuisine at a chop bar. Eating local dishes is an essential part of better understanding a culture, and no overseas visit is complete without it. Therefore, among your top things to do in Accra, Ghana, a visit to a chop bar is an essential culinary experience entirely of its own class. Forget fancy restaurants and trendy foreign-style fast-food shops. There is no better place to get a robust sense of the flavours, smells, social vibe, and immersive baptism of the local dining experience than at a Ghanaian chop bar. You might be scratching your head, at this point, wondering what exactly a chop bar is. Chop bars are essentially little hole-in-the-wall back gardens or courtyards or homes of local self-made chefs who serve up generous portions of authentic Ghanaian cuisine that are meant to be eaten with authentic Ghanaian eating implements—the fingers! Before and after meals are served, dining tables are serviced with bowls of clean water and hand soap and hand towels for the prerequisite hand-washing ritual. Chop bars are typically packed with diners, some of whom may share the same bench and table with strangers, so diners never eat alone. Thus begins the culinary adventure that will give you insight not only into the depths of delectability and diversity of the local cuisine but also into the different manners of social expression such as through communal sharing, friendly conversation, and inclusive fraternization. Bon apétit, or as Ghanaians say, You are invited! (ie, you are welcome to share my meal, let’s eat together. Read more about Ghanaian dining etiquette here.) If you are hungry for more (pun intended), watch this medium-long but very interesting documentary of the chop bar experience in Accra.
9. Visit the Trade Fair Centre. The Ghana Trade Fair Centre is a 127-acre fairground built in 1967 by President Nkrumah and the largest fairground in the Greater Accra Region. It hosts numerous local and international events, including trade fairs, conventions, expos, and concerts. It typically hosts an annual international trade fair with around a thousand local and foreign vendors in attendance. While there remain ongoing government discussions about plans for a major renovation of the centre, don’t hold your breath and wait for these to happen before you visit—check out the events calendar here.
10. Visit Global Mamas store. While we’re on the subject of trade, the last top-10 recommendation for things to do in Accra, Ghana, is to visit the Global Mamas fair trade store. This store is a fair trade collective representing a large network of Ghanaian women who make crafts for a living. It is a great place to find made-in-Ghana fabric and crafts or to shop for unique, hand-made gifts while supporting the local economy. This is a great way to practice sustainable tourism during your visit! Since they offer cultural workshops as well, such as drumming, dancing, cooking, and bead-making workshops, it is quite literally an offer you cannot refuse!
I hope these top 10 recommendations for things to do in Accra, Ghana, become your go-to reference for future trip-planning. These top 10 things to do in Accra are not your run-of-the-mill touristy traps but represent the most important and effective ways to travel Accra, Ghana, with the appropriate cultural and historical sensitivity to appreciate a place that is so deeply and richly layered in millennia of history, demographic and political change, crushing tribulations, and hopeful celebrations. Don’t just visit Ghana with wanderlusting blinders on and mechanically check targets off your list. Visit with your eyes and ears and hearts open and listening and watching for all the subtle and not-so-subtle undercurrents that make this nation, as the national anthem proudly proclaims, so “great and strong!”
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