A city of freedom and new beginnings, Freetown in West Africa’s Sierra Leone is filled with historical sites and landmarks, each with its own story to tell. And it is not just the places, mind you. The warmth and hospitality of the people speak volumes to what a great city Freetown is.
From unique museums to a chimpanzee sanctuary to its famous Cotton Tree, let me share with you the best attractions and things to do in Sierra Leone’s capital city!
If you want more fun ideas and information, you can also read: Sierra Leone Bucket List: 10+ Best Things to Do in the African Country
Freetown Bucket List: Best Things to Do in the Capital of Sierra Leone
1. Tour the National Railway Museum
The National Railway Museum houses several locomotives that have survived the war and have been restored and on display. They serve as the historical heritage of the Sierra Leoneans.
Their collection includes “Nellie” which is a favorite among youngsters and is their oldest locomotive (made in 1915). They also have another locomotive named Number 81, four diesel locomotives, carriages and wagons, and a coach prepared for Queen Elizabeth II’s visit in 1961 (but was never used).
Aside from the displays, you can also have a go at riding a Wickham Pump Trolley!
2. Roam Through the Abandoned Fourah Bay College
The original Fourah Bay College, established in 1827, was the earliest and oldest institution of higher learning in West Africa, earning it the nickname “Athens of West Africa.” It attracted people from all over Africa seeking higher education, especially in the theology and education fields. In 1955, the building became a National Monument, and in the early 1990s, was abandoned entirely.
Now missing a roof, nature has reclaimed the abandoned Fourah Bay College, with vines and other plants creeping on its stone walls and floor—which is quite a cool sight to see! It’s also on the tentative UNESCO World Heritage Site list!
3. Walk Down the Old Wharf Steps
The Old Wharf Steps is one of Freetown’s oldest brick structures and is sometimes incorrectly referred to as “Portuguese Steps.” It was built in 1818 and served to connect the harbor to the city.
The stairwell’s magnificent view is so appealing that it is comparable to water streaming down towards the harbor. Many of the newcomers and freed African slaves have climbed these steps to start a new life.
4. Visit St Georges Cathedral
St. George’s Cathedral is one of the grandest and oldest churches in Sierra Leone and is the cathedral church of the Anglican Diocese of Freetown. Back in the day, many wealthy people from different faiths went here to get married because of its beauty.
Much of its charm remains to this day, with its spacious interior, glass-stained windows, velvet chairs, and more. This historic landmark is one you should not pass up when visiting Freetown!
5. Shop at Big Market
When visiting a new place like Freetown, more often than not, shopping is a part of every traveler’s list. And when it comes to shopping, look no further than Big Market. Located on Wallace Johnson Street, it hosts a collection of items celebrating the local arts and crafts.
From hand-woven items like baskets to elaborate wood carvings (and much more), you will definitely find the right souvenir to take with you! As for me, I bought two beautiful bracelets here for a total of $8.
6. Spot the Big Cotton Tree
If there is one historical symbol that best represents Freetown, it would be the Cotton Tree. Based on legend, the freed slaves who arrived on the shores of Freetown held a Thanksgiving gathering under the tree and gave the land its name, Freetown.
Known to have existed since 1787, the Cotton Tree still stands strong to this day. You’ll find this majestic tree at the heart of the city, near the Supreme Court building and the National Museum.
7. Tour the National Museum
Let’s take a look back at the history of Sierra Leone through the National Museum, situated at Siaka Stevens Street close to the Cotton Tree. Founded by Dr. M.C.F Easmon, it was established on December 10, 1957, and houses a vast collection of artifacts from around Sierra Leone.
There are many things to see and know inside that will pique your interest, from different garbs worn by tribal leaders to even an old light bulb from the Aberdeen Sierra Lighthouse. What’s more, the guides inside the museum are knowledgeable and will answer your questions regarding the artifacts and Sierra Leone as you tour inside.
8. Walk Through the Peace and Cultural Museum
The Peace and Cultural Museum serves as a memorial for the victims of the conflict that Sierra Leone went through, with the last civil war lasting for over 11 years and ending on January 18, 2002.
The museum aims to promote and preach peace and to educate both locals and tourists about the conflict’s history. Several monuments can be seen inside, like the two lions that symbolize Lion Mountain and in turn, Sierra Leone. On one of the walls, you can also see a memorial that honors the Sierra Leone Armed Forces who fought for peace in the many wars that the country went through.
9. Visit St. John’s Maroon Church
One of the oldest churches in Sierra Leone, St. John’s Maroon Church is a Methodist church located in one of Freetown’s districts, Maroon Town. The church became a national heritage site in 1956.
Established by the Jamaican Maroons as a place of worship in 1822, it was the center of social and religious activities in Maroon Town. Though the Maroons eventually integrated with Freetown society, many original Maroon families continue to worship in this community church.
10. Day Trip to Bunce Island
Bunce Island is a place with a tragic past but is nevertheless an important historic site of Sierra Leone. The Bunce Island exhibit is rich in information regarding Bunce Island’s slave trading history and is definitely worth a visit. You can also take a tour around the island, visiting some notable landmarks like the castle that once housed Africans who were forced to be sold as slaves during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade era.
“The easiest way to get to the island is by taking a boat ride from the Kissy Terminal, found in the eastern part of Freetown.
11. See the Sierra Leone State House
The State House is home to the President of Sierra Leone, much like the White House is in the United States. Built in 1895, it was formerly known as Fort Thornton, named after Henry Thornton, a leading abolitionist of the slave trade. It is located in central Freetown, at State Avenue, Tower Hill.
Though the State House is closed to the general public, you can still get a good view of the magnificent building from outside.
12. Visit the Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary
Tacugama is a haven for Chimpanzees who were rescued from cruelly being kept as pets or in danger of being hunted by bushmen for their meat. On a tour of the sanctuary you will be able to see some of the over 100 primates that call it home. If one—or more!—touches your heart there is even an adoption program where you’ll be an intricate part of the chosen chimps survival (see their website for more information).
If you want an even more bucket list worthy experience then book a stay in the lodge at the sanctuary where you’ll be staying amongst the chimpanzees and dozens of bird species that have been found there!
13. See King’s Gate
Also known as King’s Yard or The Gateway to the Old King’s Yard, it is the entrance to a compound where freed African slaves were temporarily housed and received medical attention during the suppression of the slave trade in 1807. Many of the liberated Africans climbed the nearby Old Wharf Steps to start a new life in Freetown.
The compound is now converted into a central government hospital. At the still surviving gateway, you will see a slab at the top with an inscription of what the building once was. The gateway was declared a national monument in May 1949.
14. Pick Your Favorite Freetown Peninsula Beach
Freetown has some world-class gems that keep tourists coming for more, especially their white sandy beaches stretching along the Freetown Peninsula. Below are some of the best ones to visit:
- Tokeh Beach: often used to showcase Sierra Leone’s tourist potential, and that speaks for itself. You can stay right on the beach at The Place Hotel.
- Lakka Beach: it is easily accessible (15 miles from Freetown). Stunning Atlantic coastline, and the seafood is a must-try!
- Sussex Beach: a beautiful mix of whites sands and rocky beach.
- River No. 2 Beach: a picture-perfect place where a seasonal river (called Number 2) meets the sea, with a backdrop of lush green mountains.
- Levuma: it means ‘resting place’ in the Mende dialect. The beach is shallower than the other ones in Freetown, making it perfect for a relaxing swim.
- Lumley Beach: a popular location for parties and festivals, especially the nightlife.
15. Take in the View at Leicester Peak
Leicester Peak is one of the highest points in Freetown, where you will get a stunning view of the city. On any given day, you may find some of the locals blaring their music while having a picnic on a bench with a loved one.
And that ends our list of places and activities to do in Sierra Leone’s capital city, Freetown. From its rich history to its many top attractions, it is no wonder why more and more people are coming here.
It feels satisfying coming across a place like this, and now you have a chance to experience it too. Who knows, just like the city of Freetown, this may be a start of a new life for you: living your bucket list!
Essential Tips for Visiting Freetown
Getting There: Freetown International Airport (locally known as Lungi International Airport) is a major hub and most airlines will fly into it. You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination. From the airport to the city center, you can use some reliable boat services (water taxis, private chartered speedboat and ferries) and private transport pre-arranged from the airport.
Where to Stay in Freetown: It’s best to stay near the city center, public transportation or the area that you will be spending the most time in. The Country Lodge Hotel is a great choice in the Freetown. For something on the less expensive side, try Ishmajoso Lodge located in Freetown. For a hotel with a little more extravagance, book a room at the Mamba Point Hotel . Or search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to VRBO that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Getting Around: Navigating all of Sierra Leone on your own would be super challenging, so it’s best to hire a tour company. We went with VSL.
Vaccinations: Check with your doctor, but a yellow fever vaccination is a must.
Insurance: It’s always a good idea to travel fully insured so you are protected in case of trip cancellations or medical emergencies. You can check out pricing at Travelex Insurance.
Universal Adapter: Your American plugged equipment will need an adapter. I use the Celtic Universal Adapter, which has brought me around the world with no problems.
This post may contain affiliate links. If you make a purchase through my links, I earn a commission that helps to keep this blog running—at no extra cost to you. For more information read my full disclosure.
More About Africa
Sierra Leone Bucket List: 10+ Best Things to Do in the African Country
Ugali (Nshima): All About Africa’s Staple Food
The African Big Five: The Top 5 Animals to Spot on Safari
African Safari in Tanzania: The Ultimate Itinerary and Tour
Africa’s Maasai Tribe: The Culture & Traditions of The People
Safari Animal Bucket List: 35 Top African Wildlife to Spot
Four Seasons Safari Lodge: Luxury in Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park