Lagos Travel Guide
There’s Nowhere Like Lagos
With a population over 20 million and a reputation that’s as fascinating as it is frenetic, Lagos can be a lot for the senses. First impressions of Lagos (or even pre-conceptions before you arrive) might be a city of back-to-back traffic, non-stop noise and a clear divide between the haves and the have-nots. While much of that is true, the spirit of the city lies in its food, art, music, make-anything-fix-anything attitude, and its resilience. Spend some time in Lagos and break agege bread with the locals and you’ll discover a city that is like nowhere else, and a people who are warm, welcoming and vibrant.
An oil rich country that has survived the ups-and-downs of oil prices and diversified into all manner of industries from textiles to technology, Lagos is the centre of it all. No longer the country’s capital (that moved to Abuja in 1991), it remains the hub of industry, the first port of call for visitors and often the only part of Nigeria that many visitors will see. Our travel guide is designed to help you experience the best of Lagos food, art and culture, and shopping.
A Brief History Of Lagos
The name of the city came from the first European-settlers, the Portuguese word for ‘lakes’. A watery name that’s fitting for a city of islands, bridges and waterways – even if there is no actual lake. The city’s history of trade and commerce extends back to the time of the Benin Empire with what was then known as Eko being a key trade place for everything from spice to slaves. From the middle of the 1800’s the British influence and colonial conquest became official with Lagos annexed as a colony in 1861. The British colonial power continued for a hundred years until 1960 when Nigeria obtained its independence.
Art, Culture In Lagos
Nike Art Gallery
If you only visit one place in Lagos to get a sense of the depth of culture and art in Nigeria, then this is the place. Spread out over four storeys, the Nike Art Gallery has an almost impossibly large collection of both traditional and contemporary Nigerian art. The gallery is run by Nike Okundaye, one of the country’s foremost artists and advocates for Nigerian art around the globe. Nike is often at the gallery dressed in self-designed traditional adire cloth, a beautiful indigo blue dyed cloth that is an important part of Yoruba culture.
Combining two Lagos’ highlights, food and art, Terra Kulture has been celebrating the best of Nigerian culture since 2003. The restaurant specializes in Nigerian dishes with everything from stewed catfish to spicy giant snail soup and fried yam. The building has a theatre with regular events including Nigerian language lessons, a small gallery with changing exhibitions and a shop selling unique cultural items.
Kalakuta Republic Museum
Fela Kuti is synonymous with Nigeria around the globe, and understandably so. Few, if any, other musicians have had such an impact on the Nigerian music industry and political landscape. The original Kalakuta Republic was part commune, recording studio, hotbed of political activism and Fela Kuti’s home. The museum allows visitors to learn the history of the man and the legends surrounding him.
Markets In Lagos
Hidden away, but worth making the effort to find, this is one of Lagos’s best markets and a gentler introduction to markets with a tourist-friendly feel. Surprisingly well laid out (Lagos markets can become a maze with no obvious layout) the market includes arts, crafts and cloth from throughout the country. Leatherwork, metal work, carvings and a wide choice of Ankara prints (that classic African wax printed fabric), there’s no shortage of take-home souvenirs on offer. Just remember, like much of Lagos, bargaining is virtually expected and part of the shopping process. If you have a little more time, there’s also resident tailors and seamstresses in case you want something entirely bespoke made for you while you wait (or collect another day).
Arguably the largest market in West Africa, Balogun Market is truly a mega-market in a mega-city. Spread out across several blocks on Lagos Island, you’ll find thousands of sellers, all of whom keen to make a sale, and offering everything from watches to kitchen appliances. The market is definitely best enjoyed with someone who knows their way around and can help you bargain if you’re new to Lagos. But when it comes to sheer scale and spectacle, the market is well worth a visit.
Eating In Lagos
From the spice of suya to the aroma of agege, eating in Lagos is a flavour journey. Nigerian cuisine includes some surprises (peppered snails anyone?) but is often so delicious and so unique, you’ll be craving it when you leave. Here’s a quick guide to some of the more common dishes on the Lagos menu.
Agege – a staple of the Lagos diet. Soft and slightly sweet white bread baked throughout the day and sold by sellers city-wide. Look out for the impressive balancing act of giant trays of agege on the heads of sellers. Try and get it fresh and enjoy on its own, with a little butter or with fried beans, spicy Nigerian stew or suya.
Suya – a spicy meat skewer (generally beef or chicken) flame grilled and sold all over Lagos. The real magic of suya is the spice, with every suya seller having their own secret recipe. The spice is typically a blend of peanut (or kuli kuli peanut cake to be precise), ground ginger, African Negro pepper and cayenne pepper. Ask the team at Southern Sun Ikoyi for their recommended suya spot.
Dodo – as exotic and surprising as Nigerian cuisine is, this isn’t meat from the extinct bird. In fact, it’s not meat at all. Dodo is fried plantain (usually made from plantain leftovers or over-ripe plantains) with a little pepper, oil and salt. A Nigerian favourite enjoyed with a rice dish.
Dundu – delicious egg-coated sweet potato fries.
Efo Riro – a rich and traditional soup often made with stockfish (air-dried unsalted fish), crayfish, pepper, locust bean and plenty of vegetables.
Edikang Ikong – a nutritious Nigerian vegetable soup (that like other Nigerian ‘vegetable’ soups doesn’t mean its vegetarian friendly) with plenty of pumpkin leaves, crayfish and often some beef.
Ogbono – a soup made with ground ogbono (African mango) seeds as well as a selection of leaf vegetables, chili spice and some meat. Enjoyed with fufu, rice or pounded yam.
Efo Elegusi (Egusi Soup) – seeds from melons, squash and gourds are dried and ground to become egusi. Egusi soup uses egusi to thicken it, along with goat, beef, or fish and leafy vegetables. A Nigerian staple.
Jollof Rice – a famous West African rice dish with tomatoes, onions and a meat pieces. It’s a hallmark of any large Nigerian celebration.
Oha (Ora) Soup – a leafy soup native to the south of Nigeria. Made principally with ora leaves. An alternative is afang soup, made with okazi leaves.
Ofe Nsala – known as ‘white soup’ is a spicy soup with habanero peppers, catfish, and yam. The perfect cold-day soup.
Moi Moi– a people-pleasing steamed bean accompaniment to jollof rice, fried plantain or even eaten as a snack.
Asaro (Yam Porridge or Pottage) – mashed yam boiled in palm oil with spices, onions, pepper and tomatoes
Peppered Snails – not for the faint-hearted, and exactly what the name suggests. Don’t let the name put you off, or the sometimes less-than-soft texture, the flavour is all in the sauce that goes with the snail.
Wildlife In And Around Lagos
Lekki Conservation Centre
Located next to the Lekki Lagoon on the Lekki Peninsula, the conservancy protects the flora and fauna of these unique wetlands. Guests can explore throughout the wetlands from a series of raised walkways (the longest canopy walkway in Africa) for a tree-top view of the plants and wildlife. Keep your eyes open for a chance to see endangered species like mona monkeys, as well as mongooses, chameleons, buck, crocodiles and duikers.