Like many African capitals at the moment, Accra is undergoing rapid transformation. Not a week goes by without a new restaurant or boutique opening, mall after mall being built and blocks of new apartments springing up across the city. Returning diaspora and international entrepreneurs are flocking to the city keen to tap into the rising middle class and unexplored opportunities that more saturated markets can't take.
Increasingly friends in London are giving up the grey skies and cold nights for more exciting job markets, and Accra is high on the list of where to begin a new adventure professionally and personally. So if you've been following our Instagram of late you'll have noticed that 2014 was the year we fell in love with Ghana in a big way, having travelled there three times over the past few months for a mixture of work and play. We've even casually started calling people 'chale' (an endearment meaning friend), craving kelewele at odd times of the night, and learnt to azonto with the best of them, so we feel somewhat qualified to give advice on how to spend a few hours should you happen to find yourself in Accra.
Accra is often described as a soft landing into West Africa- it's the much calmer more relaxed little sister to nearby West African powerhouses Lagos or Abidjan. Yet it's not to be underestimated as it's remains the West Africa HQ hub for many international companies with the laidback lifestyle drawing in young professionals from across the region giving the city a relaxed cosmopolitan vibe. It does however still feel like a small city. The nightlife revolves around one or two places each day of the week, it's very easy to bump into acquaintances regularly, and there's that sense that somehow everybody knows each other. However when that intimacy all gets a bit too much, just an hour or two drive outside the city you can find yourself on the whitest of beaches sipping on coconut water. While infrastructure hasn't kept pace with growth making traffic jams and 'lights off' still major problems for the city, a new generation of entrepreneurs are bringing a buzz of creative energy to the city that can't help but be contagious.
Whether in town for business or pleasure, these are our favourite tried and tested Accra hotspots that are worth adding to your itinerary.
2pm: Lunch with Maman Africa
If for some God forsaken reason we only had time for one meal in Accra, it would be at Chez Clarisse (aka Maman Africa) in Osu (On 8th Lane, past Mamma Mia pizzeria 0242984828). An unassuming, plastic chairs on a street corner kind of place, what matters here is the food. As soon as the grilled chicken and tilapia hit the table covered in a glorious onion and tomato salsa, with some soft but still crispy kelewele (plantain) and attieke (a couscous like side dish made out of grated cassava), it was every woman for herself. Don't bother with cutlery, this is a job that needs your full attention and both hands to complete efficiently. I'm pretty sure I saw elbows being used in the fight to get to the last piece of this chicken at the opposite table, so if in doubt it's probably safer to just order two. Afterwards wander down to Oxford Street and explore Accra's main high street.
6pm: Coco for Cocktails
Warm up that Friday feeling at Coco Lounge in the new three-storey Icon House Stanbic Heights building which is set up cafe style by day and an informal but elegant cocktail lounge by night. Think higher end comfort food with hearty quesadillas, delicious rice bowls and fun inventive cocktails set to the beat of energetic latin music. I made the mistake of ordering the lentil salad which while delicious was not generously sized so if you're going to go healthy don't be afraid to order like a greedy healthy person. Still this instantly became an Accra favourite- you just can't dislike a place that gives out 'free shots for the happy tables' on Tequila Thursdays.
For more cocktails and chilled vibes head to Kaya in Labone just in time for happy hour at 9pm, an old colonial style house that's been converted into a restaurant and bar. The cocktails are just as delicious and extend playfully beyond the classics which you can sip while lounging on the open verandah or lush garden sofas. A versatile venue, come by on Monday evenings for movie nights in the garden or a farmers market on Saturday mornings.
By now you'll be in the mood to dance and Twist is the place to do it. Twist is that place everyone loves to hate but somehow everyone still ends up there at the end of the night. A friend summed it up best as the "hangout of the wealthy Ghanaians and a few in the know expats that want to mingle. You should go here once but after midnight and dance the night away to Kanye and Jay Z, for the comedic value of how seriously everyone takes themselves if nothing else." Anywhere we can dance until the sun comes up to afrobeats and has a pizzeria in the garden is fine by us.
10am: The 'About Last Night' Breakfast
The only cure for last night's antics is an early breakfast at french bistro Bread & Wine, another SBA favourite. We'd prescribe a light breakfast on the garden terrace, or if you want to get straight into the day grab a coffee and croissants to go from the in situ bakery. However to be honest B&W is perfect any time of day. Their dinner menu is an exquisite list of French classics and perfect for an intimate dinner over a bottle of wine, or come for the ambience for some poolside cocktails. Last time we were in the city we checked out their Thursday night poolside BBQ and cocktail party where you're sure to bump into Accra's business and creative crowd looking for a relaxed yet entertaining evening.
11am: Retail Therapy
In the same neighbourhood of Osu, is one of our favourite places to freshen up our wardrobe with some local design- the Christie Brown boutique. Christie Brown is one of Ghana's most well known brands. While you can't get up close and personal with her runway collections which are made to order only, the ready to wear pieces that are available are a fun mix between the recognisable wax prints and silkier fabrics. You can also pick up some colourful fabric from nearby Woodin or the famous Makola market and take them to a tailor to create you something bespoke like the local fashionistas. If you have any money left after leaving Christie Brown, spend it next door in Pinocchio on the best ice cream you'll find in Accra to get your energy levels back up.
2pm: Art Centre Market
You'll need bargaining skills of steel for the the Art Centre in downtown Accra- a maze of stalls selling handicrafts from all over the region and the best place to pick up gifts and souvenirs. You'll find everything from shoes, bags and jewellery to interiors and paintings. For first time visitors, the vendors can be a bit overwhelming but don't allow yourself to be pushed around and you'll bag yourself a bargain. You might need to negotiate some extra baggage allowance too though.
4pm: Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park
A short walk from the Art Centre market is the peaceful Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park, honouring Ghana's first President at the very spot at which Nkrumah declared independence in 1957. At the centre is the final resting place of Nkrumah and his wife making it an interesting place to reflect on Ghana's history as you wander through the calming grounds.
6PM: DINING IN STYLE
Saturday nights are relatively quiet in Accra as most people have church the next morning- no small feat in a country like Ghana where it can last for most of Sunday. Start with dinner at Santoku which is said to be Accra's best restaurant, serving Nobu style Japanese food.
Afterwards you can't go wrong with a few akpeteshie cocktails from Republic which are made with a local Ghanaian palm spirit served in flavours like hibiscus and the cassava fries the perfect accompaniment. The party spills out on to the street where the DJ and good vibes will keep you entertained for the whole night. It's an expat haven but a favourite of the local cool kids too- and was top of the list of everyone giving us Accra recommendations. There you're sure to meet some people who'll tell you where the next party is and party hop with them as most people do in Accra, otherwise we recommend checking out Shisha Lounge, Bedouin or Firefly too.
9am: Beach Brunching
A perfect Sunday in Accra would begin with the buffet brunch at the Labadi Beach Hotel which trust me when I say is the stuff of dreams, offering pretty much everything you could possibly feel like from healthy to indulgent. Even if you're not staying in the hotel, you can visit the restaurant as an outside guest and then languish by the pool resting your food baby. Just behind the hotel the beach also comes alive on a Sunday afternoon with beach cafes each hosting their own party or you can even horseride along the shore.
There's still so much that we didn't get a chance to see but we can't wait to get back to Ghana to do some more exploring and uncover some new spots. If you've come across somewhere amazing on your travels through Ghana let us know in the comments!
Written by Kiran Yoliswa, SBA Co-Founder