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Brazzaville, Congo - 12 best things to do
If you’re on safari in the Congo then you’ll pass through Brazzaville. Don’t sell yourself short, allow at least 2 full days to explore the city.
Don’t get confused between these two Congos
- Brazzaville is capital of the Republic of the Congo, also known as Congo-Brazzaville. It’s largely safe and friendly, situated on the northern bank of the Congo River.
- Kinshasa on the other hand, situated directly opposite on the southern bank of the river is capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo. This is the DRC, formerly Zaire.
- The Republic of the Congo has French colonial connections. It’s friendly with a population of around 4,6M in an area of around 342000km².
- The DRC on the other hand has Belgian colonial connections. It’s a touch more chaotic with a bigger population of around 82,2M within a much larger area of around 2345000km².
Safe and laid back, Brazzaville has plenty on offer
Take time, soak up the charm and colour. You’ll discover a characterful city with modernist architecture; a Basilica, colourful markets, French-style patisseries, first class restaurants and street culture.
Because most visitors are short on time here’re our top 12 best things to do in Brazzaville.
1 St Anne’s Basilica
Constructed by local priests in 1949 and designed by Roger Erell, a French architect. The Basilica is instantly recognisable because of its green roof. The tiles are shaped like snake scales and are believed to ward off any evil spirits from the church (in the same way that gargoyles keep watch over the cathedrals of medieval times.) Today St Anne’s Basilica is the seat of the Bishop of the Archdiocese of Brazzaville. Visit on a sunny day if you can because sunshine streams into the church through the roof lights.
2 The Sacred Heart Cathedral
This is Central Africa’s oldest (existing) cathedral. De Gaulle visited in 1944, Pope John Paul II visited in 1980 and it’s the resting place of Emile Biayenda following his murder in 1977. Despite internal renovations in 1952 and 1993, the traditional colonial style exterior remains well-preserved. Excellent views over Brazzaville and Kinshasa.
3 The Nabemba Tower (or Elf Tower)
Brazzaville’s tallest building (106 metres over 30 floors) is named after Mount Nabemba. It’s easy to spot this skyscraper because it has a distinctive concave cylinder shape. It lies to the south of the city on the banks of the Congo River. Voted one of the “10 Most Beautiful Buildings in Africa 2016”, it costs £3 million to maintain annually!
4 Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza Memorial
The body of Brazzaville’s founder Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza was returned to Congo in 2006. His remains are buried under this white marble mausoleum. There’s also a statue of Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza standing on the banks of the Congo River. The memorial holds exhibitions where you can learn all about his life and the explorations of the early Europeans in Congo. Usually open daily.
5 Poto-Poto Market
Cool shopping at Poto-Poto Market, you may be able to book a trip through your hotel or get a taxi. The unpaved backstreets are lined with stands selling colourful fabrics. Especially popular with local brides looking for material for their big day. For local crafts and pottery head to the Ouenze and Moungali markets. A true cultural experience!
6 Poto Poto Painting School
Established by Pierre Lods in 1951. Lods was a French Mathematician and amateur painter whose passion was the driving force behind the school. Today it’s one of the most well regarded artistic centres in Central Africa. Works of art are on sale.
7 Marche Plateau Ville
Otherwise known as the Plateau City Market. The place is awash with African voodoo dolls, masks, clothing and leather goods. Popular for jewellery, beads, paintings, sculptures and ceramics. It’s also the only market which sells flowers. Don’t forget to bargain - it’s a must!
8 The Cataracts or Rapids
Head to the Rapid hotel, the beaches of the ‘cataractes’ or the Site Touristique Les Rapides for a breathtaking view of the Djoue Rapides of the Congo River.
9 Brazzaville Beach Hotel
The Hotel is in a good location on the banks of the Djoué River overlooking the Djoue barrage waterfall. It’s about 15 kilometres from the town. A great spot to get away from it all, unwind and relax on the restaurant terrace.
“Nganda”, a typical Congolese bar for the very adventurous! This place is local… serving chicken fresh off the barbecue with sides of kasava and plaintain, washed down with chilled beer and plenty of loud music! Right on the roadside, this is street culture Brazzaville style at its best!
11. Street culture - Les Sapeurs
Taking inspiration from the French colony of its former years, the members of the ‘Societe des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Elegantes’ (otherwise known as the ‘luminaries of the ‘Society of Tastemakers and Elegant People’) take to the streets. Clad in vintage hats, crocodiles shoes and designer suits, they add a touch of “je ne sais quoi” to the proceedings. Quite a dandy display!
12. Where to Shop
- Tala Na Miso - visit for brassware and wood carvings. Nearby Marche du Plateau craft market is on the same road to arrange to stop off at both
- Poto Poto Painting School - a shop window for well regarded artists
- La Paille et La Poutre - for a selection of crafts from South Africa. (It’s just across from the park.)
- Open air Painting Market - meet the local artists and buy their paintings, sculptures and copperware. Sharpen up your bargaining skills, you can put them to good use here!
- Souvenir D’Afrique - for local trinkets and souvenirs. Again, an easy visit after the Marche du Plateau, it’s on the same road
- Olympic Palace Hotel Craft Shop - for local crafts
- Small Crafts shops - local artists sell their paintings. (Close to the fire brigade, Metro stop and railway.)
On your travels look out for the ice-cream sellers who get around on two wheels and the street trolleys selling the very strong “cafe fort” for that caffeine kick.
Slightly battered local green taxis will take you from ‘A’ to ‘B’ any ride in town costs just US$2. Finally, have the taxi to yourself rather than ride with another passenger as you would in any city worldwide.
City tours are available which include the Nabemba Tower, St. Anne Basilica, Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza Memorial and Cultural and historical sites. They also visit the Congo Tank Graveyard where hundreds of old tanks used in the Great War of Africa remain. A unique and eerie experience tucked away just outside the city.
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