Table of Contents
Things to do Lagos – Understand
Lagos is a huge city that sprawls into the Tropical Atlantic from the Nigerian mainland.
Just twenty years ago, the Lagos Governor (as it is also a state) said that his protectorate was a slum with no rules and no income. Things have changed rapidly since then and the city now boasts $115 million per month in tax revenue. This has enabled both the city and state to build infrastructure and provide basic services. The best example is Victoria Island, which is safer and has better roads, water and electricity (most of the time), as well as precious little air pollution because of the strong winds off the Atlantic and the rather new cars you will see there.
The city is challenged by corruption, crime and a general lack of maintenance care. However, the 100 billion in extra GDP from selling oil shows up mostly in Lagos and there are enough supercars there to fill several Top Gear episodes.
Clever entrepreneurs have set up businesses that cater to the newfound oil wealth and there are signs of a middle class from the tech, fashion and media industries.
Lagos is affordable now for US travelers with the exchange rate of 300:1, but it’s still pricey. Likely a remainder of the foreign exchange restrictions that plagued Nigeria is that you can’t use a non-Nigerian credit card in most places, although it works fine at most hotels. Visa and MasterCard cards work everywhere in the plentiful ATMs.
Things to do Lagos – Safety
Victoria Island is safer than its reputation. Crime is rather rare and not targeted towards foreigners. However, the mainland sees its share of highway robbery (literally) as well as more violent crimes. It’s something that goes neighborhood by neighborhood here. Lagos Island is choked with traffic and people, so it’s much more fluid.
In general, it is a good idea to get a hotel with excellent security and leave as many valuables behind as possible. Get an old iPhone to navigate with (conceal it as best as you can) and never take ATM/credit cards when you plan to walk. Driving is generally safe, especially on Victoria Island. When threatened, give up your belongings and get out as soon as you can.
Malaria is VERY common in Lagos, so you should take malaria pills. Note that the local parasite is resistant against Chloroquine, so buy some Malarone or Malanil back home (or buy it locally).
Things to do Lagos – Get around
Believe it or not, but I have yet to go to a city where Uber works as well as in Lagos! It is now likely the accepted way to get around in this city. Here is why:
- Drivers speak decent English
- Cars are spotless and well cooled down (though seat belts are often missing)
- Drivers know their way around and follow GPS directions
- Uber cars are everywhere and prices never surge
- Drivers take safety seriously, are patient and avoid dangerous traffic situations
- Drivers never failed to find my pick-up spot and always responded to my calls
It’s that good that it really changed my Lagos experience for the better (I had other challenges, but getting around was easy-peasy).
One issue is that most places are heavily secured compounds. Even if it says your destination is just 0.2 miles away, you will need to spend 20 minutes in an Uber getting out of one compound and driving through security at the next; take it easy and slow here.
Walking is an option on Victoria Island, but there are no sidewalks, it’s hot and it’s not exactly the safest place.
Things to do Lagos – Sights
Lagos isn’t rich in sights and the constant security concerns make it hard to just randomly enjoy the city. In fact, you have to carefully account for time of day, your transportation mode and fences. However, Lagos is a unique mix of oil money, an English-speaking West African nation identity and Mumbai-style slums. You’ll see many instances of decrepit Soviet-type buildings next to luxury hotels.
The contrasts of this city will give you goosebumps every time you leave your hotel.
This is more of a ruin than a museum, but it’s just NGN 300 ($1) to enter. The building and exhibitions are so decayed that you’ll feel sorry for everyone who works there; that alone might be something to see.
Close to the National Museum is Freedom Park, which is one city block walled in on all four sides. It has a number of interesting sculptures, but it’s also full of green water and trash and there’s lots of construction equipment everywhere. It is NGN 200 to enter ($0.70).
Its marina name implies boats and a calm waterfront to stroll around, but none of that is here. It’s noisy, polluted and crowded but it’s still worth seeing the business heart of Lagos (although ideally by car).
Opposite the National Museum is the MUSON Centre, a music, arts and culture site which has lots of history about Nigeria.
The biggest mall on Victoria Island isn’t huge with two dozen shops, but it features a movie theater and a major Shoprite supermarket.
The hotel is new, but isn’t as pretty as the name might suggest. The draw here is to have a drink or coffee at the pool area with its magnificent views over the water.
This calm beach needs to be accessed by boat – something I wasn’t adventurous enough to organize.
This new bridge, that just opened in 2013, has absorbed a US$100 million investment. The toll is NGN 250, so traffic is calm and it’s being used by joggers and walkers alike. The illumination is wonderful at night – maybe it’s a symbol of the new Nigeria?
The day I had planned for my trip there was a rainy one, so I cancelled. This beach is more known for its lounges and bars than for swimming.
Visible from almost everywhere on Victoria Island is this gigantic land reclamation on the southern shores of the island. It is the ‘new Dubai’, dubbed Eko Atlantic City, and has plenty of environmental problems, but will hopefully have plenty of livable areas as a model for the new Lagos.
This conservation area features Africa’s longest canopy walk and provides a respite from the (sub)urban Lagos sprawl. Make sure you take your anti-malaria pills – the disease really is very common and the mosquitoes will feast on you here.
Things to do Lagos – Eat & Drink
Spice Route is an Indian restaurant/lounge that morphs into a nightclub. When you mix all those things it often ends up being mediocre; not this one – it’s awesome in all areas.
Cafe Neo is a local coffee chain that takes coffee seriously. It has a number of outlets (none in a mall) and has managed to conserve the independent spirit despite being a mini-chain. The espressos are delicious, the croissants are yummy and the WiFi is fast.
Foursquare does not have the right locations for this chain. Google Maps does, surprisingly, so use that instead for directions.
This place is run by a Lebanese family who have an art store with an awesome collection downstairs and the stylish Art Cafe upstairs. It shares a similar name with a cafe in Kenya and has the same name as one in Uganda. It’s more French than Lebanese and attracts an artsy crowd (and no wonder with this moniker!)
Rooftop is a rather new lounge on top of Talindo Steak House, which has long had a lock on the best (and most expensive) place to eat in Lagos.
This upscale bar/club/restaurant has a gorgeous view over Lagos’ bay (from Lekki) and offers lots of fresh fish dishes and chilled drinks. You can sit outside and ogle the new bridge connecting Lekki and Lagos Island. It’s a great spot.
This is the main Mexican restaurant at the Eko Hotel & Suites, which is a classy, yet old, hotel. The inside is cozy and the service top-notch. I liked the chicken burger (though it gave me a nasty reminder the next day). So come here for a drink and just a snack rather than to eat a meal.
Even if you don’t stay here, it is worth making the trip out to this hotel. The landscaping and pool area are both gorgeous.
The rooftop terrace has a gorgeous view over the southern shores of Victoria Island and the new Eko City.
Oh and where else can you find such a colorful horse in the lobby?!
While this restaurant brand has lovely design, unfortunately the food is bland and overpriced.
Yellow Chilli is an African restaurant that gets rave reviews. I did not have the time to go myself, though.
Terra Kulture is an African restaurant and art gallery. It’s a cute little building and the art looks cool, so it’s a great find.
Not that you need to come out here just for the cute architecture, but Sweet Kiwi offers solid frozen yogurt in a colorful setting. It’s close to Lekki Ikoyi Bridge and makes for a quick rest stop.
Things to do Lagos – Where to Stay
I spent most of my time at the InterContinental Lagos, which is a good hotel anywhere and an excellent choice in Lagos.
I really did not like the Protea Hotel Kuramo Waters Lagos and found the Eko Hotel too old and expensive (though it has a pretty pool and gardens).
I felt safe and mostly comfortable at the Radisson Blu Anchorage Lagos, which has great views across the lagoon.