“No wahala” is a phrase you will hear a lot as soon as you get to Lagos. Wahala is the Yoruba word for trouble or problem and “no wahala” is the Lagosian way of shrugging off worries. Bumper-to-bumper traffic, frail public transport system, and rickety infrastructure—everyone is always in a hurry in this city, but “no wahala” encapsulates the Lagosian spirit of having a good time, no matter what. It is this spirit that grabs you when you visit Lagos.
Outside the manic bustle, the country’s commercial capital teems with energy, and spoils you with art, music and culinary delights. It is, in many ways, like an Indian megacity—a place of contrasts, home to both mansions and shanties. It threatens to burst at the seams, yet affords moments of peace, especially when basking by the vast western lagoon after which the city is named and the Atlantic Ocean that hugs the city’s southern border.
A true Lagos experience is about soaking in the liveliness and the contrasts, if possible while riding the yellow minibuses or danfo. However, these symbols of the city have also often been called death traps so get on board only if you’re used to the hustle. And remember to “shine your eyes”—the street slang for being alert and vigilant—when you’re in Lagos.
3 p.m. Dip into the Art and Culture
Most flights from India arrive in Lagos in the morning. Take the morning and lunchtime to soak in the sights and sounds before you head out to explore.
A visit to the National Museum is a good way to get acquainted with the art and culture of Nigeria. The highlight of the museum’s sizeable artefact collection is the collection of Benin bronzes, from the erstwhile Kingdom of Benin, parts of which are in modern-day southern Nigeria. Dating back to the 13th century, Benin kingdom was an African centre of power until the British wiped it out in the late 19th century. The other draw, especially for locals, is a black Mercedes with bullet marks, the car Late General Murtala Muhammed, a former Military Head of State, was riding in when he was assassinated in 1976.
After the museum, head to Nike Art Gallery, a 30-minute drive away, to know more about Lagos’s buzzy contemporary art scene. Housing over 15,000 works of art—paintings, sculptures and textiles—across four floors, it is more museum than gallery and a great introduction to Nigerian art. If you’re lucky, you might meet Nike Okundaye, one of the country’s foremost textile artists and the woman behind the magic. On most weekends, Mama Nike can be found with young local artists, who get together and share stories of their work over food and drinks. All visitors are welcome to join the music, dances, performances and masquerades that follow.
8 p.m. Get Some Great Grub
It’s time to let your hair down, Lagos style. But first, tuck into the quintessential Nigerian street food, suya—spiced skewers of beef or chicken, cooked over a charcoal pit. This Nigerian version of a shish kebab is said to have been traditionally prepared by the pastoral Hausa tribe in northern Nigeria. Today, it is the country’s most popular street food, sold in shops and stalls at almost every street corner. After the local feast, head over to Victoria Island by the Lagos Lagoon, the hippest place in town crammed with restaurants, cafés and bars serving local and international fare. Yellow Chilli is immensely popular for great local food, while Mexican resto-bar Bottles has local artistes belting out popular English and Nigerian songs every Saturday.
9 a.m. Go Where the Wild Things Are
In a city as busy and densely populated as Lagos, the Lekki Conservation Centre on the Lekki peninsula close to Victoria Island comes as a surprise. The urban nature park has raised walkways running through 190 acres of wetland that allow you to view the park’s wild residents. It is the natural habitat of a number of local animal species such as crocodiles, tortoises and mona monkeys. A 1,300-foot-high canopy walk, also Africa’s longest, affords some of the best views of the Atlantic Ocean in the city.
1 p.m. Lunch the Lebanese Way
Lagos has a sizeable Lebanese population—some, third or fourth generation migrants—and there are many well-known Lebanese joints in and around the city. Salma’s at Victoria Island does the Lebanese staples—think falafel, fatoush and kebabs—really well. All this served with a killer view of the Lagos lagoon.
3 p.m. Corner the Market
No visit to Lagos is complete without checking out the local markets on the mainland. Drive back to the mainland over the Third Mainland Bridge for a view of Lagos city and its skyline, a spectacle that highlights the stark contrasts in the city. While the skyline looms in the distance, the lagoon’s waters are home to Makoko, the world’s largest floating slum. Once a fishing village, Makoko is a complicated maze of stilt homes and narrow waterways that has attracted the attention of many a photographer and Instagrammer.
Back at the mainland, you are spoilt for choice in markets—Balogum is the biggest open-air market, while Computer Village is known for its electronic goods and the Epe Fish Market is always worth a visit. The busiest and one of the largest is Yaba Market, which sells everything from jeans, suits, and shoes, to Ankara fabric (a type of batik). It is action packed, with speakers blaring local songs, and shopkeepers calling out to get your attention. “Shine your eyes” here for pickpockets though. Like with the city, if you can remain unaffected and enjoy the chaos of Yaba Market, then you can possibly be called a true Nigerian or naija.
7 p.m. Feast on the Sea
Of Lagos’s many seafood joints, South African chain Ocean Basket is a fail-safe, affordable option. Take your pick from prawns, croaker, red mullet and many other Atlantic specialities. Wash it all down with Orijin, Nigeria’s favourite alcoholic beverage, made with herbs and kola nut.
7 a.m. Be a Beach Bum
Even though one doesn’t think of Lagos as a beach city, it is lined with beaches, both artificial and natural. The white sand Bar Beach, Eleko Beach and Tarkwa Island are among the most popular. Just a 15-minute boat ride away from the city, Tarkwa, an artificial island created along the Atlantic coast, is ideal for a swim, a fresh fish barbeque, or just to rent a table and chair and laze around watching the ocean and surfers.
11 a.m. Get on a Handicraft Haul
After spending even a couple of days in Lagos, it’s impossible not to lust after African art and want to take some of it back. The city has some of Africa’s most exciting art galleries such as the art and culture centre Terra Kulture, and a nascent but arresting street art scene with graffiti and public art installations. For knick-knacks and art keepsakes from Nigeria and neighbouring countries—think replicas of antique wooden windows by the Dogon tribe in Mali or recreations of Benin bronzes—head to Lekki Market. Make sure you pick up at least a few phrases in Nigerian pidgin to haggle with the sellers.
1 p.m. Make it a Memorable Last Supper
The most popular food in Nigeria and most of West Africa, available almost everywhere, jollof rice is a simple dish—tomato-flavoured rice, cooked with some peppers and meat, and a dash of condiments including thyme, bay leaves and curry powder. Head to Terra Kulture for a great plate of rice and the perfect ambience to end your Lagosian adventure.
Sunaina Kumar is an independent journalist who lives in Delhi. She has a bad case of farsickness, and likes to spend a little too much time in museums. When she doesn’t travel, she is a flâneuse in her city.