The capital of Angola, Luanda sits on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and is divided into two parts; Baixa de Luanda and Cidade Alta. It is the administrative, cultural and urban centre of the country, as well as being the third most populous Portuguese speaking city on the world. It is a fast growing city, with major reconstruction and development projects popping up all over the city, which has attracted numerous Portuguese immigrants over the past few years.
Luanda’s thriving business industry has made it quite an expensive city to visit, though this should not discourage you. Its new infrastructure means that it is a very comfortable city for tourists to visit, and, mixed with its warm climate, it is quite an appealing destination. There are also plenty of things to do both in the city and just outside of it.
Lets explore the best things to do in Luanda:
1. Visit the Saint Michael Fortress
This Portuguese fortress was built in 1576 by Angola’s first Captain-Governor Paulo Dias de Novais. It was once the administrative centre of the country and, unfortunately, became a holding place for slaves being sent to Brazil.
One of the things that is most beautiful about the fortress are the ornate wall tiles that tell the story of Angola’s history. It also displays plenty of other ancient relics.
In 1996 the Saint Michael Fortress became a UNESCO World Heritage site. Since then, it has become one of the most popular places to visit in the city.
2. Learn about the city’s contribution to slavery
The National Museum of Slavery (Museu Nacional da Escravatura) was founded in 1977. It is a small white building that sits along the city’s coastline.
Luanda’s history in the slave industry is not a pretty one, but those who want to learn more about it should definitely head to this museum. It displays photos and lithographs hanging on the walls telling the story.
Angola was one of the largest slave-traders along the west coast of Africa. The site where the museum sits is where slaves were baptised before being put on ships heading to the USA.
3. Walk along the harbour
Avenida 4 de Fevereiro, which is also known as Marginal, runs parallel to the Luanda Bay and is a great place for a nice stroll. Not only does it boast great views of the sea and the boats coming in and out of the port, but it is also lined with some beautiful buildings, like the Banco de Angola.
At one end of the avenue is the port, which is famous for its clock tower, while the old fort sits at the other end. It is the most prestigious street on the city and where many of its luxury hotels can be found.
Avenida 4 de Fevereiro is named after the struggle of independence in Angula, which was also the beginning of the Portuguese Colonial War.
4. Pay your respects to the first President
António Agostinho Neto was Angola’s first president after its independence from Portugal. He led the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola and was president from 1975 to 1979.
The iconic Agostinho Neto Mausoleum can’t be missed, as it is one of the most dominating structures in Luanda. The structure towers over the rest of the city, which, in addition to being a mausoleum, is also a museum.
It takes around 20 minutes to tour the structure, where there are numerous photos of him with other political leaders around the world, including Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and Honecker.
5. Go to church
The Roman Catholic Cathedral of the Holy Saviour (Sé Catedral de Luanda) is a lovely church that was built in 1628. It is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Luanda.
The church has been an important part of the country’s religious history, though in 1877 it was completely ruined. It was rebuilt between 1880 and 1900, which is what you will see today.
The church features three curved doors at the entrance, which are bordered by one larger curved façade. The cathedral was declared a building of Public Interest in 1949.
6. Wander around a palace
The Palácio de Ferro (Iron Palace) is a magnificent palace that was built in the city by world-renowned architect Gustave Eiffel. It is not as iconic as the builder’s other structures, but it is a stunning piece of architecture.
It is believed that the palace was built in France with the idea to have it moved to Madagascar by boat, but instead it ended up along Angola’s Skeleton Coast due to drifts from the currents. Portuguese rulers than brought it to Luanda.
It is a striking yellow building with fine wood details and decorative fencing. It has recently opened up as a diamond museum.
7. Mingle with wildlife
Quiçama National Park is the country’s only functioning national park. It sits around 70 kilometres from the city and makes for a popular safari day trip.
The 12,000 square kilometre park opened as a game reserve in 1938, but became a national park in 1957. Today, it is at the forefront of Angola’s wildlife.
The animal population in the park is thanks to a Noah’s Ark type operation where animals were transported here from Botswana and South Africa. Before that the animal population was quite low due to poaching in previous years.
8. Go surfing
Just a few hours south of Luanda is the world famous surfing beach of Cabo Ledo. The beach has one of the world’s longest point breaks at 500 metres.
Cabo Ledo features a long slow left, making it a great place for beginners to surf. It is a consistent place to surf and is certainly a world-call surfing destination.
The beach is also home to some quint bungalows, so it is also a great place to spend a night. Though it can easily be accessed in a day from the capital city.
9. Head to the mall
Belas Shopping is the country’s first modern mall and is not only a great place to shop, but also a great way to escape a hot day. The 120,000 square metre mall opened in 2007.
It is a large mall that is home to eight cinemas, an entertainment area, a food court and over 100 stores. There are also banks and a supermarket within the mall.
The majority of stores in Belas Shopping are local shops, making it a great place to look for and learn about local brands.
10. Enjoy a glamorous night
Head to the phenomenal Epic Sana Luanda hotel for a delicious meal and a unique night out. The five-star hotel is not far from Avenida 4 de Fevereiro and boasts great views of the bay.
First, dine in one of its fabulous restaurants, like Origami, which boasts spectacular views of the bay. Or feast on Italian at the hotel’s Vitrúvio Restaurant that features a superb wine collection.
After your meal, enjoy a cocktail or a glass of wine at the lobby Kosmopolis Bar. For something really unique, dance the night away at the chic Switch Supper Club, which is open on the weekends until 6am!
11. Go to the moon
The magnificent Miradouro da Lua is a landscape that sits around 40 kilometres outside of the city. It is famous for its moon-like surface, giving visitors the feeling that they are actually on the moon.
Translated to ‘Moon Valley Viewpoint’, Miradouro da Lua was formed by cliffs with sharp pinnacles that has been eroded from the wind and the sea. This gives it its moon-like surface.
It is an impressive site and one of the top attractions outside of Luanda. A day trip here should not be missed.
12. Relax on a beach
Just south of Luanda is the peninsula of Mussulo, which is known for its beach. It is not only a popular place for Luandans, but also for tourists.
The peninsula is 30 kilometres long and 3 kilometres wide, boasting a lovely beach that offers great views of the city. There are beach huts and restaurants lined along it, as well as a few hotels and resorts.
13. Learn about Angola’s history
In addition to the National Museum of Slavery, there are also a couple of other great museums in Luanda that are much less depressing. They tell another part of Angola’s history.
The National Museum of Natural History displays numerous animals that either inhabit or once inhabited the country. Fish, insects and birds are displayed, as are other diverse organisms.
The National Museum of Anthropology is dedicated to educating people about the country’s history and culture. It displays an impressive collection of traditional masks, sculptures, jewellery, musical instruments, weaponry and clothing.
14. Shop for local handicrafts
The Benfica Market is by far the best place to shop for local handicrafts in Luanda. It is just south of the city centre and best visited with a guide to ensure that you get the best deals imaginable.
The market has all kinds of handicrafts, including paintings, jewellery, textiles and baskets. It is also, unfortunately, known for its ivory trade.
Bargaining is key here if you want to snag the best deals. The market is also a great place to people watch.
15. Visit a national monument
The Fortress of São Pedro da Barra sits on a hill overlooking the city. The fortress dates back to the 16th century and was built on the ruins of Morro de Kassandama.
The fort became a national monument in 1932. Today, it is on UNESCO’s tentative list of for its historical importance.
The Fortress of São Pedro da Barra later became a holding place for slaves that were being shipped to the USA. More recently, it was used as a prison for arrested nationalists during Angola’s war of independence.