Take a walk around Kampala on any given afternoon, and you’d be forgiven for guessing the nightlife is pretty quiet. The laid-back nature of the people might lead you to believe that they all head to bed early, after a cup of hot chocolate and some prime-time TV.
The reality couldn’t be more different.
In fact, Kampala’s night scene bangs every night of the week. A young, fun, and friendly crowd keeps the wheels turning until sunrise, and the list of bars and clubs is endless, with something for everyone. In fact, the nightlife here has made Kampala somewhat notorious as the party city of the region; something the Kenyans, Tanzanians, and Rwandans you’ll meet in town will certainly testify to.
If you’re ready to get your taste, here’s a look at six spots you could check out during your visit to the city.
Centenary Park is a small complex of bars and restaurants off the side of a shopping mall. It’s more conducive to a few friendly drinks with friends than a night of shenanigans. Laftaz Comedy Lounge hosts events during the week, with plenty of lounge seating to kick back on with a cocktail and enjoy the show. Alternatively, bars like Kyoto are perfect for spreading out with some friends and a round of beers. When the weekend comes around, things get a little wilder. On my first visit I got lost — twice — wandering through what seemed like a maze between different bars and lounges, but that’s all part of the fun here — there’s lots of action in one spot. Centenary Park gets bonus points for its great central location.
Acacia Avenue is one of the shinier streets in Kampala, home to the Acacia Mall and a few higher-end apartments and hotels. The place is also littered with bars and nightclubs. The Irish Pub Bubbles O’Leary’s and the adjacent Big Mike’s are two bars that always draw a healthy crowd of expats, although locals show up in numbers, too. For me it was the perfect spot to catch up on some sports — and the pub food isn’t bad, either. Further along the avenue are bars such as The Wink and Casablanca, attracting a more local crowd. For this reason, they’re perhaps a little more intimidating for the regular tourist. Don’t worry though — Ugandans are some of the friendliest people on the planet, and all well-mannered foreigners are welcomed with open arms.
Not far from Acacia Avenue is the Ntinda area, which is somewhat of a more contemporary and chic area of the city. Its indie flavour makes it quite popular with students, and it’s also littered with little restaurants and bars (some of which are a bit high on the price scale). Koko Bar, filled with stylish students at night, blares music out its windows into the street. A few blocks away — just outside Ntinda — is the popular Cayenne, which doubles as a restaurant and is one of the more well-known bars in town.
Depending on who you ask, this area can have a reputation as a seedier area of town. I wouldn’t say Kabalagala is dangerous, but it is definitely a different vibe than places like Acacia Avenue, and if it’s your first day on the continent, you may feel a little out of your depth. The clubs are big, loud, and crowded, so if that’s your scene, this is where you should head. Basic common sense is more than enough to keep you safe. There are also many venues to choose from, so it’s a good idea to head there with a local friend or guide to help you bar-hop through the best of them.
The Industrial Area
If you like your nightlife experience with a bit of flash, the Industrial Area is your best bet. Don’t let the name fool you, the clubs here are all about appearances, so expect to see blazers, high heels, short skirts, shiny sofas, and glitter. There are several clubs in this part of town, but Club Guvnor, Club Silk, and Club Play are the devilish trio that keep people sliding on the dance floor until sunrise. If you’re ready to glam up and hit the night hard, this is your neighbourhood.
For a slightly different vibe, there is a huge — and growing — Latin dance scene in Kampala. Salsa is big, along with other dances like bachata and kizomba. Almost every night of the week the dance community will gather in one of the bars around the city, usually starting with a free (or very cheap) beginner’s lesson followed by social dancing. This is a great way to meet new people, learn something new, and get up close and personal with the energy of Kampala’s wonderful people. It’s also ideal if you want to get out at night but you’re not so keen on drinking and partying. The venues change regularly, but the salsa association on Facebook has a good summary of the venues for each night. Ready to party? Here are a few quick nightlife tips before you go:
Security: Security is tight in most of Kampala’s night venues. That means metal detectors at the doors, frisking, and bag checks. In some areas you may also see armed officers patrolling the streets. Don’t be alarmed by this — it is standard procedure here and is for everyone’s safety.
Getting around: One of the trickiest parts of Kampala’s nightlife is getting from place to place. Boda bodas, or motorcycle taxis, usually run throughout the night and should cost you around 5,000UGX (USD $1.50), regular taxis will cost you between UGX 20,000–40,000 (USD $5–$10), depending on where you’re going. I’d highly recommend paying the extra for a cab if you’re new in town, as motorcycle taxis aren’t the safest and you may not be comfortable on them at night. As a foreigner, it’s also likely you’ll need to haggle prices. Having a few local friends with you is ideal.
Cost: Some places charge a cover. It largely depends on where you go and what time you arrive, and sometimes includes a drink. The cost is never prohibitive — a few dollars at most. As for the drinks themselves, prices vary but it’s usually very reasonable: it’s rare that you’ll pay much more than two or three dollars for a beer, if that.
Getting home: Don’t expect the clubs to shut down at 2 a.m. The nightlife goes well into the morning, especially on weekends, so don’t be surprised if the bartenders are still pouring drinks until breakfast. Just be sure to drink responsibly and get home safely.
Ready to check out Uganda's nightlife? G Adventures can get you there. We offer a number of group tours to the East African country, comprising trips to Kampala and beyond. Check out our small group tours to Uganda here.