by Sofeeyah Lloyd & Conor Walsh
Attending a conference or event in Accra?
You’re heading to one of Africa’s most vibrant, exciting, and friendly cities. A city that dances to its own rhythm and where every street corner tells a story.
Like 99.9% of people who visit Accra, the entire Hallpax team has fallen in love with Accra’s beaches, people, jollof*, music, and just… vibes.
(*Okay, the Nigerians on the team might disagree about Ghanaian jollof, but let’s not get into that!)
In this quick guide, we’ll break down everything you need to know about visiting Accra for the first time – based on our many trips to the city.
Welcome to Accra!
Accra is not just a city—it’s a feeling, an experience, an ode to the beauty of life.
From the sun-kissed beaches of Labadi to the bustling inner-city markets around Makola, Accra will charm you, seduce you, and leave you wanting more. Don’t be surprised if you spend your last few hours here figuring out how soon you can return.
Okay, we’ll calm down and get into the practical stuff.
If you’re coming to the city for a conference, you probably don’t have much free time. And as much as we love this city, it has some challenges.
So, read this guide carefully and bookmark it for the future. Following our instructions guarantees you get the most out of your time here, and avoid some of the potential pitfalls that can ruin a trip.
Our Favorite Things to Do
Whether you’re an avid historian, a culture enthusiast, or just looking to soak up the local vibe, Accra offers a unique blend of experiences.
Here are 10 must-dos:
- Makola Market: Dive headfirst into the local culture. A riot of colors, sounds, and smells, where you can buy everything from traditional textiles to fresh produce.
- Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum: Pay homage to Ghana’s first president. This iconic monument, surrounded by well-kept gardens, offers a poignant glimpse into the country’s history.
- W.E.B. DuBois Center: Explore the home and final resting place of the African-American scholar and civil rights activist. The center also houses a small museum detailing his life and times.
- Independence Arch: This arch commemorates Ghana’s liberation from colonial rule. A visit here is a lesson in national pride.
- Arts Centre for National Culture: A haven for arts and crafts lovers. Browse stalls selling handmade kente cloth, wood carvings, beads, and traditional musical instruments.
- Jamestown Lighthouse: This colonial-era lighthouse offers panoramic city views. The surrounding Jamestown area is rich in history and vibrant street art.
- Labadi Beach: Accra’s most famous stretch of sand. Perfect for a stroll, horseback riding, or simply watching the waves while enjoying local music.
- Osikan Rock Oasis: A tranquil spot amidst the city’s hustle. This natural rock formation is surrounded by a fish pond, offering a unique dining experience.
- The Tetteh Quarshie Cocoa Farm: Discover the origins of Ghana’s chocolate production. This is the first cocoa farm in the country, and a visit offers insight into the cocoa harvesting process.
- Mmofra Place: Perfect for those traveling with kids. This eco-friendly park focuses on art and play, offering a range of activities designed to entertain while educating about local culture.
If you have some free time post-conference, check out the nicest attractions a short drive from Accra:
- Aburi Botanical Gardens (1 hr): These lush gardens offer a serene escape from the city. Discover a rich variety of flora, some over a century old.
- Shai Hills Resource Reserve (1 hr): A mix of savannah and woodland. Spot baboons, antelopes, and various birds, and explore historical caves and rock formations.
- Ada Foah (1.5 hrs): A paradise at the mouth of the Volta River. Enjoy sailing, fishing, bird-watching, or relaxing on its beaches.
- Cape Coast Castle & Elmina Castle (2.5 hrs): These UNESCO World Heritage Sites provide deep insights into the transatlantic slave trade.
- Kakum National Park (3.5 hrs): Experience the rainforest from a canopy walkway. The park is home to diverse species, including forest elephants and various birds.
- Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary (3 hrs): Home to a troop of sacred mona monkeys, this community-run sanctuary offers a unique cultural experience.
- Mount Afadja (Afadjato) (4 hrs): Climb Ghana’s highest peak at 885 meters and enjoy breathtaking views of the surrounding landscapes.
Where to Stay
Choosing the right neighborhood in Accra is crucial to an enjoyable, stress-free, and productive trip.
To minimize commutes, stay in an area close to your conference venue or offers easy access to main roads and transport hubs.
But if you’re less concerned with commuting and want to find the best place for your tastes, Accra has many unique neighborhoods that are a joy to explore.
Labadi Beach isn’t just about sea and sand; it encapsulates culture, cuisine, entertainment, and vibes that make Accra such a captivating and unique city.
The vibrant stretch of sand and surrounding areas are home to many of Accra’s best live music spots, restaurants, clubs, hotels, and conference centers. You might never leave!
Labadi is also located slap bang in the middle of the city, so if you stay here and must commute, you shouldn’t experience long travel times.
However, there are a few other fantastic neighborhoods in Accra, each with a unique ambiance and charm.
But first, our top restaurants in Labadi Beach:
- Skybar25: An upscale dining spot with panoramic views, offering a fusion of local and international dishes.
- Bosphorus: Combining Turkish delights with local ingredients, this eatery is perfect for those wanting a different taste palette.
- El Paso: A beachfront restaurant known for its seafood offerings, from lobsters to locally caught fish.
- Labadi Beach Hotel’s Restaurant: Ideal for a mix of local and continental dishes with beach views.
- Mama’s Kitchen: A local favorite, serving traditional Ghanaian dishes in a homely setting.
- Osu: Osu is just a short drive from Labadi Beach. This vibrant area is a tourist hotspot with its mix of local and international restaurants, bars, and boutiques.
- Airport Residential Area: A posh area close to Kotoka International Airport. It’s home to upscale hotels, eateries, and shops. Perfect for business travelers and those looking for a touch of luxury.
- Labone: An affluent neighborhood with a calm ambiance, Labone has several cafes, art galleries, and boutiques. Ideal for those seeking a quieter, more residential feel.
- Cantonments: With its well-laid-out streets and colonial-era architecture, Cantonments is not far from Labadi and offers a cozy environment with a mix of local and expat communities.
- East Legon: A rapidly growing suburb, East Legon is filled with trendy cafes, restaurants, and shopping areas. Its modern feel appeals to younger travelers and those seeking a contemporary vibe.
- Jamestown: One of the oldest districts, Jamestown is rich in history and culture. Its colonial-era lighthouse and street art are great if you like heritage and arts.
- Teshie: Located along the coast, this area offers beautiful beaches and local markets. Ideal for those seeking a seaside retreat within the city.
- Makola Market area: For the adventurous soul, staying near Makola will offer a deep dive into local life, bustling streets, and vibrant markets.
What to Eat
Accra’s culinary scene is a celebration of the city’s vibrant culture and rich heritage. Whether you crave traditional Ghanaian dishes or international cuisines, the city has something for every palate.
We won’t list every place to dine out (that guide is coming soon!), but here’s a quick rundown of the local dishes you need to try.
Popular Local Dishes
- Jollof Rice: A West African favorite, this spicy one-pot dish comprises rice cooked in a tomato sauce, often served with grilled chicken or fish.
- Fufu and Light Soup: A starchy accompaniment made by pounding cassava and plantains, paired with a light tomato-based soup containing fish or meat.
- Kelewele: Spicy fried plantains seasoned with ginger, garlic, and pepper—perfect for a snack or side dish.
- Banku and Tilapia: Fermented corn and cassava dough balls served with grilled tilapia and pepper sauce.
- Waakye: Rice and beans cooked with dried millet leaves, giving it a distinct color and taste.
Dietary Considerations and Tips
- Spice Levels: Ghanaian cuisine can be spicy. Always ask for your preferred level of heat when ordering.
- Vegetarian Options: While meat and fish are staples, many Ghanaian dishes can be made vegetarian upon request.
- Water: Stick to bottled water and avoid ice unless you’re sure it’s made from purified water.
- Street Food: Delicious and ubiquitous, but choose vendors that appear clean and have a high turnover to ensure freshness.
- Local Beverages: Try refreshing drinks like ‘palm wine’ or ‘sobolo’, but be wary of homemade alcoholic beverages with unknown alcohol content.
Getting Around Accra
Accra offers a mix of traditional and modern modes of transportation. Here’s a brief overview to help you get from point A to B.
- Ride-sharing apps: Uber and Bolt operate in Accra, offering more predictable pricing, convenience, and comfort.
- Private hires: Speak to your hotel or conference organizer if you want to book private cars to get around, or for your arrival at Kotoka International Airport.
- Taxis: These are abundant throughout the city. While some have meters, many operate without them. Always negotiate the fare before starting your journey. If unsure, ask at your hotel for estimated fares
- Trotros: These local mini buses are the lifeblood of Accra’s transport system. They ply specific routes, but stops aren’t always predefined, so you can flag them down or request a stop almost anywhere.
If you’ve been to major African cities like Lagos, Nairobi, or Cairo – you’ll be familiar with traffic on the continent. Accra is no different.
Traffic congestion and occasional chaos are part of daily life here. While it can feel unavoidable, there are some practical steps you can take to minimize the impact on your stay.
- Stay close to your conference location, for short commuting times. If your conference is at a hotel, maybe book.
- Traffic is heaviest in the morning (6:30 AM to 9:30 AM) and evening (4:30 PM to 7:30 PM) rush hours. Avoid non-essential travel during these times if possible.
- Plan ahead. Always factor in potential delays due to traffic, especially if you have appointments or need to catch a flight.
- Be patient. Traffic can sometimes come to a standstill, especially on major thoroughfares. Keep calm, enjoy some local music, embrace the pace of the city, or chat with your driver.
- Respect Street Vendors. It’s common to see street vendors on major roads, especially during busy hours. While they can contribute to congestion, remember they’re just trying to earn a living.
- Dress Comfortably. If you find yourself in a situation where you have to walk a bit, ensure you have comfortable shoes. Accra’s climate can be humid, so lightweight clothing is also recommended.
Cultural Etiquette and Tips
Ghana is renowned for its warm hospitality, rich traditions, and deep-rooted values. But it’s always essential to understand local etiquette, especially when attending professional engagements.
Here are some guidelines to navigate the local social landscape gracefully and sensibly.
Basics of Ghanaian Etiquette
- Greetings: A cornerstone of Ghanaian culture. Always greet people with a handshake, using the right hand. Traditional greetings may involve snapping fingers during the handshake.
- Dress Code: While urban areas like Accra are relatively liberal, it’s always a good idea to dress modestly. Women should avoid wearing revealing clothing, and men should avoid shorts in formal settings.
- Respect for Elders: Elders are highly regarded in Ghanaian society. Always show them respect by using appropriate titles or addressing them as ‘sir’ or ‘madam’.
- Gifts: If you’re invited to someone’s home, bringing a small gift as a token of appreciation is polite.
- Time: Often referred to as “Ghanaian time”, don’t be surprised if events or appointments run late. It’s a more relaxed approach to time, but always strive to be punctual as a visitor.
Cultural Dos and Don’ts
- Do use your right hand for almost everything, including eating, giving, or receiving items. The left hand is considered unclean.
- Do stand up when an elder enters the room as a sign of respect.
- Don’t point at people with your finger, especially elders. It’s considered rude.
- Do wait for an invitation before addressing someone by their first name.
- Don’t raise your voice in public areas. Ghanaians value calm and composed communication.
- Do be patient and avoid pushing or rushing, especially in public transport or local markets.
- Don’t take photos of government buildings, military installations, or people without their permission.
- Do ask questions and show interest in local customs and traditions. Ghanaians are proud of their heritage and usually happy to share.
Language and Phrases
Ghana boasts over 80 distinct languages.
However, English is the official language, making communication in urban areas like Accra relatively easy. Beyond English, Akan (which includes Twi and Fante dialects) is widely spoken, especially in Accra and the central parts of the country.
As a traveler, a few basic phrases in Twi, the most common dialect of Akan, can go a long way in endearing yourself to locals and enhancing your experience.
Useful Basic Phrases in Twi:
- Hello: “Akwaaba” (ak-WAA-ba)
- Good morning: “Maakye” (mah-AH-chay)
- Good afternoon: “Maaha” (mah-HA)
- Good evening: “Maadwo” (mah-AH-dwo)
- Thank you: “Medaase” (meh-DAH-see)
- Yes: “Aane” (ah-AH-nay)
- No: “Daabi” (DAH-bee)
- How are you?: “Ete sen?” (EH-teh sen)
- I’m fine: “Me ho yε fε” (meh ho yEH feh)
- Sorry: “Kafra” (kah-FRAH)
- Please: “Mepaakyɛw” (meh-PAH-kyew)
- Goodbye: “Nante yie” (NAHN-teh yieh)
A little effort in trying to speak the local language is always appreciated and can open doors to more authentic interactions and experiences.
So, go ahead and sprinkle your conversations with these phrases and witness the warmth in the smiles (and occasional laughter) you’ll receive in return!
Accra welcomes almost 1 million tourists and business visitors each year, and most leave without experiencing any issues. It’s probably one of the safest cities in Africa.
But, like any major city, taking precautions is important. Don’t walk around alone at night, be mindful of your belongings, and don’t wander too far off the main streets.
A few other tips from our many visits to the city:
- Plan ahead. If you’re exploring the city, bookmark attractions in your Google Maps, get advice from staff at your hotel or conference, and make sure all your devices are charged.
- Travel in groups. Not just for safety in numbers. Most experiences are best enjoyed when shared.
- Walk with confidence. Even if you’re unsure of your surroundings, don’t look it. If you get lost, pop into a shop or cafe to get your bearings.
- Use Uber to get around. It’s more reliable and safer than Bolt, taxis, or public transport.
- Buy a local SIM card. It’s easier for ordering Ubers, and you can use it for emergency calls.
- Avoid drawing unnecessary attention. Dress modestly, and avoid flashy jewelry or showing off expensive gadgets. Don’t make a scene or lose patience.
- Use ATMs in malls. They’re convenient, secure, and no one on the streets can see you using them.
- Areas of Caution. While many parts of Accra are welcoming to tourists, certain parts of Jamestown and the surroundings of Kwame Nkrumah Circle can be trickier after dark. Always ask local advice if unsure about an area.
Safety For Women
Traveling as a woman in Accra will require the same safety considerations as most major cities.
Following the instructions above will help you avoid most issues, but here’s a few more, just in case:
- Ghanaian culture is conservative. Dress modestly to reduce unwanted attention, especially when visiting religious or rural areas. Light, long-sleeved tops and knee-length (or longer) skirts or trousers are best.
- Ghanaian people are known for their friendliness, but be cautious if someone seems overly interested or invasive. Trust your instincts and maintain boundaries.
- While most areas in Accra are safe during the day, night-time can be very different. If you venture out to party, bring a friend from the conference.
- Use ride-sharing apps to get around. If taking a local taxi, ensure it’s registered, and share your route with someone you trust.
- If enjoying the city’s nightlife, always watch your drink and never accept beverages from strangers.
- Join group tours or outings when exploring less familiar or remote parts of the city. There’s safety in numbers, and it’s also an opportunity to meet fellow travelers.
Ghana is a conservative society and has gained much attention for increasing anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric from the government and other groups.
Homosexual acts are illegal in Ghana and can be punishable by imprisonment.
For more context, you can read our guide to LGBTQ+ conference travel in Africa.
Internet and Connectivity
Staying connected in Accra is easy.
You can pick up a local SIM card at Kotoka International Airport or in many stores throughout Accra. Popular telecom providers include MTN Ghana, Vodafone Ghana, AirtelTigo, and Glo.
Affordable short-term data plans in daily, weekly, or monthly bundles. And you can easily top up via mobile apps and scratch cards for the respective telecom companies.
Free WiFi is widely available in hotels, restaurants, and coffee shops. However, speeds can vary greatly. So, if you’re working outside your conference location, keep your phone topped up with data so you can hot spot it as a backup.
Pro Tip: Do a quick internet speed test before committing to a long remote work session in a new spot to ensure the connection meets your needs.
Visas and Entry Requirements
Ghana requires citizens of most countries to apply for a visa through their nearest embassy, and you’re expected to apply at least 45 days in advance.
There is visa-on-arrival (VoA) for citizens of some, mostly African, countries. The VoA lasts for 30 days, but you must provide the following to guarantee entry:
- At least one blank page on your passport
- Return or onward ticket
- Proof of yellow fever vaccine
- Hotel booking confirmation or address and contact for private accommodation (such as a friend)
Now you know (almost) everything you need to dive into Accra’s many delights.
We wish you a delightful stay and a productive conference. And, hopefully, we’ll see you in the city again before too long!