- For other places with the same name, see Freetown (disambiguation).
Freetown is the capital city of Sierra Leone and is the heart of the Western region. It is on a peninsula on the south bank of the estuary of the Sierra Leone River. The city lies at the foot of the peninsula mountains and faces one of the best natural harbours on the west coast of Africa. The peninsula is home to some of the finest beaches in Africa - Lumley Beach, Lakka Beach, No. 2 River Beach and Toke Beach are some examples.
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Freetown, like the rest of Sierra Leone, endured some very difficult times during the civil war. It was occupied by rebels twice and the resident population and infrastructure suffered badly. As stability returned, many Sierra Leoneans fled the rural areas to the city to escape the carnage. Though the country has been peaceful since 2002, the population of the city is still much higher than it was prior to the war. This has put pressure on land and local services. Many areas of jungle have been cleared to house the new residents. Some claim that the US government has not helped the situation with their new embassy development at Leicester. Some blame the new developments for severe flooding of the city during the rainy season. Deforestation has also been blamed for a shortage of water in the city.
- 1 Freetown International Airport (FNA IATA Lungi International Airport) (in Lungi, on the other side of the estuary from Freetown), ☏ . The airport was refurbished in 2012-13. Departure procedures, which used to be very difficult, are not a problem any more. Airport facilities and experience compare favourably with other countries in the region.
Getting from the airport to Freetown can be a challenge and the safety of the various operators has been questioned. There are a number of fast boat services that cross the estuary, and most foreign visitors use this option for roughly US$40. To pick them up, just walk to the right after exiting the airport building. Sea Coach Express (Pelican Water Taxis) operate boats from next to Mahera Hotel to the Aberdeen bridge for Le180,000 (leones)). Sea Bird Express can take you to Murray Town and Sovereign Ferries to government wharf. The hovercraft service no longer operates. Sea Coach Express or Sea Bird are convenient for most foreign travellers as they avoid the slow route through the crowded east end of Freetown.
Another possibility is on the overloaded Government ferry which runs to the main part of Freetown. A seat on a bus which uses the ferry costs Le60,000. The bus takes passengers to Rawdon Street in the center of Freetown. This trip can take 3 hours or more, and has been known to take 8 hours. By road it is at least 4 hours to the city, via Port Loko.
The ticket for Government ferry costs Le11,000.
Finally, some private boats cross the estuary. This is not recommended at night.
Thefts from hold baggage were very common at the airport, especially on the way out of the country. There have been recent improvements to security. It is still wise to carry anything of value in your cabin luggage. Having your checked baggage wrapped in cellophane at your point of origin is another good tactic.
Sierra Leone's public railway service was closed in 1974. A railway museum has been opened at Cline Town and is well worth a visit. Many of the original railway buildings and signs can still be seen in and around Freetown, particularly at Hill Station and Congo Cross. It used to be possible to walk along much of the track bed, starting near the Hill Station Club and dropping down the hill via Congo Cross into Freetown, but road construction has made the route hard to find.
Many roads in Freetown are being reconstructed and a bypass road is also being built to link the western part of Freetown to the rest of the country, cutting out the congested eastern part of town. The roads via Leicester and along the coastal part of the Freetown peninsular are also being reconstructed. Work has made good progress on the roads through Aberdeen and Lumley, including the beach road which is complete. Regent Road from Wilberforce through Hill Station has been completed as a dual carriageway. Maintenance of other roads is often very poor.
Local taxis run fixed routes and are shared rides. For the uninitiated, there is no real way to figure out where they are going, and they're busy making a living rather than trying to explain everything to foreigners. But they're so cheap (Le1,000), you can just hail one and see how long it takes you the right way before making a turn! Empty taxis will assume that foreigners want to charter a taxi (see below) and not share it. To let them know you prefer a shared ride, just declare "no cha cha" when you get on board.
Poda-podas are a more miserable shared ride option, but are more straightforward for longer trips, as they display their start and end points on the front of the vehicle. If only you knew what those landmarks meant! "Lumley" will take you to Lumley Beach via the southern bridge, "Aberdeen" will take you to Aberdeen via the north bridge from Murray Town, "Eastern Police" will take you to the big clock tower at Kissy Road on the East Side (this is a good place to get dropped off to find a poda-poda to Waterloo). If you are looking for downtown, locals call it "Tong".
You can charter a taxi (cha cha) for a few hours, a day, or even days if one wishes. A decent price per hour is about US$5, for a day around US$50. Taxis can be hired for a complete journey, which really should not exceed the equivalent of US$4 for a trip within Freetown. The drivers do expect to be negotiated with, so don't be scared—be cheeky and negotiate! A very convincing bargaining tactic is to let the driver know that if he gives you a good price and you like his service, you will keep him on your speed dial for longer chartered rides. Having a trusted taxi driver on your phone shortlist is generally a very good idea for female travellers, anyway.
However, if you feel this isn't the route for you, hotel taxis are usually available in much better condition; and they are regulated. These will also cost up to around US$10.
Car hire is possible and can normally be arranged through the hotels or local car dealerships. They will normally come with a driver. Journeys outside of Freetown often may require a 4-wheel drive vehicle and will cost more, typically US$150 plus fuel per day, including driver.
However, if you wish to mingle with the locals—which is encouraged, as it creates more social inclusion—you may be surprised. Local people can help you find your way around town, hire taxis for you, and introduce you to their friends and families and, in some cases, ceremonies taking place. They can also cook for you, as Sierra Leoneans are very hospitable people. Many tourists tend to fall in a trap where they visit and hang around with only familiar people. It's better to see visiting Sierra Leone as a social/cultural holiday, allowing visitors and locals to exchange customs and at the same time experience the "diamond in the rough". Seeing the good and bad parts is what makes visiting Sierra Leone an experience to remember.
Many of Freetown's attractions are underdeveloped and not well publicised. The relatively low numbers of tourists visiting has meant there was not adequate incentive or financial reward for developing them. However, there are many hidden gems that can be well worth finding. It is not unusual to be the only visitor to some of them.
A visit to the Aberdeen district will give a break from the busy city centre. It's a short drive from any part of Freetown by car or taxi. The roads are now very good, but watch the speed bumps on the beach road and Sir Samuel Lewis Road. There are small stalls along the beach road selling 'tourist' fare. There are some more modern shops on the beach road at various points. There are plenty of hawkers on the beach selling sunglasses, fruit, peanuts, clothes, etc. Just behind the Tourist Office is a good craft market - much less hassle than Big Market.
There are several colonial stilt houses at Hill Station. Most are in a poor state but offer insight into how Colonial Officials lived in the past. Downtown the old board houses are typical Krio architecture showing influence from the Caribbean.
Wilkinson Road is home to many larger businesses and retail outlets. Also some of the more popular restaurants.
- 1 Cape Sierra Leone Lighthouse (At the end of the peninsular close to Barmoi Hotel. Head towards the radar tower.). The lighthouse was built in 1812 by the British. It is in good condition (it was refurbished in 2010). There are some stunning views of the Atlantic ocean. If you are lucky and can find someone, the local staff will show you around.
- 2 National Rail Museum, Cline Street. M-Sa 10:30AM-5PM. The Sierra Leone National Railway Museum is one of only two government-funded railway museums in the world, the other being in the UK. The museum has several steam and diesel locomotives and carriages, including one which was planned to be used by HM Queen Elizabeth II during her state visit. All have been restored. A guide will usually show guests around. By donation.
- 3 Sierra Leone National Museum, Siaka Stevens St. See artefacts from the past including masks, relics from the war, local costumes - guided tours.
- 4 Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Outside Freetown and will require a 4 wheel drive vehicle. Follow the Regent road through Hill Station and Leicester. Watch for the entrance on the right. Open twice daily at 10:30AM & 4PM 7 days a week by appointment. Le 30,000, Le 15,000 for children.
- Charlotte falls.
The beaches are beautiful and unspoilt. Most popular places like Lakka Beach, No. 2 River Beach and Bureh Beach offer simple but descent accommodations. Poda's (minibusses) will only take you until Lakka junction. If you want to continue with public transportation you'll need to go by okada (motorbike). If you're driving yourself a good vehicle will be required as the road conditions are pretty bad once you leave the main road. The peninsular-road is being reconstructed and it is complete from Lumley to Sussex. The beaches are often not well sign-posted, so watch carefully or use GPS. The tracks to the beaches can also be very poor.
The following beaches are listed counter clockwise around the peninsular, starting at Aberdeen.
- 5 Lumley Beach. The main public beach close to Freetown itself facing the Atlantic with shops, restaurants, hotels, golf course, as well local clubs. The beach is popular for football, running and is normally crowded on holidays and the weekend. A paved pathway now runs the length of the beach, popular for walking and jogging, especially when the tide is in.
- 6 Goderich Beach. Goderich is not known for its beach - most people drive past on the way to other beaches. Anywhere else, this would be a top attraction.
- 7 Lakka Beach. Takes about 10 minutes driving from Lumley. Here are many places to eat and sleep. The Hard Rock Café (no connection to the international brand) on the rocky peninsular has great views on the beach and offers, just like Paul's and Club Med, superb fresh seafood. These places also have excellent accommodation. Palm Beach (formally the Cotton Club) is in a very bad shape but will soon be renovated.
- 8 Hamilton Beach. This beach has become a mining site.
- 9 Sussex Beach. The popular Franco's restaurant is here. Nice setting, good food but really slow service.
- 10 No. 2 River Beach. Driving further, for another 20 minutes will get you to No. 2 River Beach. The villagers have set up a community project to look after this stunning beach and river outfall. There are some small craft shops and a bar serving cold drinks and fresh fish/lobster. If you are old enough to remember the 1970s Taste of Paradise commercial for the Bounty chocolate bar, this is where it was filmed.
As from Tokeh junction you'll find yourself driving on an excellent, modern and smooth paved road. However, the following beaches are also well reached driving around the other side of the mountains (Bai Bureh Rd or Regent Road), depending on your starting point from Freetown. If you take this route, take a right turn at Waterloo and follow the new road.
- 11 Tokeh Beach.
- 12 York Beach. Grey sand beach, but interesting little fishing village with some old Portuguese remains.
- 13 Black Johnson Beach.
- 14 John Obey Beach. Stunning beaches and two small restaurants (if you can find them). Home of the settled Tribewanted [dead link] initiative.
- 15 Bureh Beach. Stunning beach and river. Not many restaurants so bring your own for a great picnic.
- 16 Kent Beach. Besides the beach, Kent has some interesting historical sites. First off there is the 'slavery administration office', where slaves were kept and registered before sending them away. You'll find remains of the walls and buildings of this colonial settlement. Secondly you can visit an old residence of Siaka Stevens.
- 17 Mamah Beach.
- 18 Banana Island Beaches. Two of the most secluded beaches in the country.
Bunce Island is one of the most important historical sites in Africa with regards to the history of the United States. Attempts by African Americans to find their ancestry via DNA testing have shown more ties to Sierra Leone than to any other country, and the slave forts of Bunce Island were the busiest in the then-called Rice Coast of Africa, sending countless numbers of captured slaves to the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida.
While the ruins are fairly large, they are completely overrun with vegetation, and long-awaiting restoration. There is no development of tourist infrastructure here whatsoever, unless you count the guestbook.
Getting to Bunce Island is simple enough if you are willing to drop at a minimum $150 to charter one of the long wooden fastboats from Kissy Ferry Terminal. For a nice speedboat from Aberdeen, where the speedboats leave for Lungi Airport, you'll need about US$300. Neither option guarantees much guidance when you arrive, though.
So, if you are a solo traveller without US$150 to blow, this becomes a gruelling adventure. The most sensible way to do this (and it's anything but sensible), is to catch a passenger boat (one of the long dugout wooden motorized fastboats) from Big Wharf (to the east of Kissy) in Freetown straight to Pepel (~US$2). There will in all likelihood be only one of these per day, only on weekdays, and it should leave around 3PM or so, so you would need to be there earlier to make sure you get on it. Try to see Bunce Island upon arrival, so you can catch the fastboat back early in the morning, after staying in Pepel with the permission of the chief (budget at least US$15-20 in leones so that you are able to pass 10,000 notes to all the necessary hands). Realistically, this won't work, though. So plan to spend the morning going to the island, then return to Pepel and hire a moto-taxi to take you on the 90 minute dust-choked journey back to Tagrin (~US$5-10) to catch the Ferry to either Kissy or Government Wharf in Freetown. The boat back and forth to Bunce Island from Pepel, including waiting, is going to run at least US$30 in leones. Yeah, budget travel to Bunce Island doesn't really work.
- A round of golf or tennis at the club just off the beach at Lumley.
- Gamble at the Casino in Aberdeen.
- Search out the remains of the railway infrastructure, from Hill Station, via Congo Cross to the center of Freetown.
- Discover colonial warship wrecks by scuba diving or snorkeling at Banana Island and a bbq on Jonobo beach
- Sport fishing Charter a boat for some world class game fishing or join the amateur angler's short fishing trips from Banana Island's fishing lodges.
Local crafts are relatively expensive and little is unique to Sierra Leone (some items on offer not actually made here) except country cloth, gara (tie-dyed) cloth, batik pictures and wood carving.
Freetown has a few high-quality restaurants, but very little in the tier below that. Being on the Atlantic coast, some excellent seafood is on offer. Barracuda, grouper, and lobster are readily available. Freetown has a large Lebanese community. Consequently, some very good Lebanese food is available at most restaurants. Following the opening of an ice-cream factory, ice cream cafés are becoming popular.
- Fresh peanuts called "Granite" (ground nuts) from the local sellers on Lumley beach and throughout Freetown.
- 1 Crown Bakery Restaurant, Wilberforce Street, Freetown Centre. The only "Western" restaurant on the city centre.
- 2 Crown Bakery Express, Wilkinson Road. Clean and modern sandwich bar. A good place for lunch, and has WiFi.
- Diaspora, 2 Pricilla Street (off Shiaka Stevens).
- Prince's pizza (take-away), 125 Wilkinson Road, ☏ .
- 3 Roy's Beach Bar, Lumley Beach Road (Kinston upon Hull Highway). Good food served on the beach road.
- Senegalese restaurant, Wilkinson Road (coming from town, on the right side after the Methodist school (the place has green and blue neon lighting). Excellent fish kebabs.
- 4 Country Lodge Hotel Restaurant, ☏ , fax: . HS 51 Hill Station. Excellent views over the city, live jazz on Thursdays. The peppercrust stake is very good, Mongolian night every Friday
- 5 The Hub Restaurant (also does take-away pizza/delivery), 4 Regent Rd, ☏ . Wilberforce. Fully air conditioned and very popular. Be careful not to get stuck in the car park.
- 6 Sierra Lighthouse Restaurant, 5 Man of War Bay (Turn left in front of Bintumani Hotel), ☏ . One of the oldest restaurants in Freetown now, it has a good view over the bay.
- 7 Indochine Restaurant, 64 Sir Samuel Lewis Rd, ☏ . Aberdeen. Particularly good Chinese/Thai food in a smart air-conditioned restaurant. They have another restaurant in Conakry.
- 8 Balmaya Arts Restaurant, 32B Main Motor, Congo Cross, ☏ .
- [dead link] Bamboo Hut Bar and Restaurant, ☏ . 70A Wilkinson Road.
- 9 Mamba Point Restaurant at Lagoonda (Close to the Hilton Cape Sierra site). Refurbished to a high standard in 2015. The people behind this came from the Mamba Point at Wilberforce which is now the Hub. They brought the staff, great food and name with them. It is rated as one of the best restaurants in Freetown. Arrive early and sit on the terrace with the best view over Man o'war bay. They also have a smart air conditioned indoor section. The Lagoonda Casino is upstairs.
- 10 Bliss Restaurant, Wilkinson Road (Opposite RFSLAF HQ). Fine Asian food. They have indoor and outdoor seating. This is one of Freetown's long serving places and worth finding (there is no sign outside).
- 11 Gigibonta, Lumley Beach road. Italian style cakes and ice-cream in a new café. Expensive but very nice. Free wifi is available.
Apart from the hotels and restaurants, there are many bars along the beach road.
There are countless small bars along every street, often catering for just a handful of customers.
A "must-see" for any visitor was Paddy's on the road into Aberdeen. This bar is famous and was the only place to be consistently open during the war, now it is renamed as Quincy's. Star beer is available on tap in better bars. Also worthy of a visit is the Hill Station Club at Hill Station. This old gentleman's drinking club was looted during the war, but the building survived and the bar will be opened for visitors. If you are lucky you will be allowed to see the snooker room, where the tables appear untouched for many years and old champions' names are still on the sign boards.
On Sir Samuel Lewis Road (same as Paddy's) there is also a small local pub, called Tribes, with a pool table.
- 1 Hill Station Club. Gentleman's club, dating from colonial times. In a much dilapidated state but the bar still serves beer.
- 2 Oasis, Murray Town Road (100 m down from Rokel Bank on the opposite side of the road. Drive down a track and it looks like a private house.). One of the few decent places to drink/eat in Murray Town. Good food, but most noteworthy for the excellent fruit smoothies.
- 3 Quincy's (Paddy's), Sir Samuel Lewis Road (Near Aberdeen Bridge), ☏ . It was one of the oldest bars in Freetown. Quincy's serves a small selection of freshly made grilled food with a handful of sides. The bar stays open until dawn and operates as a nightclub. A VIP section allows customers to party in air conditioned luxury. Two good pool tables are always busy with a great atmosphere. In their own words, they 'don't close, until you finish drinking!'
- 4 Papaya, Family Kingdom, Aberdeen. Elevated bar which has replaced Angels Delight restaurant. Serves limited range of good food - kebabs and pizza.
Freetown has some high standard hotels. All in the splurge section will offer air conditioned rooms with power available 24 hours per day. Most will also have Internet access, with some providing wireless access too. Hotels in the Aberdeen area are closest to Lumley beach. There are very few options in the main part of the town itself. During the busiest time of the year (December–March) it can be hard to find a room, especially with the closure of the Cape Sierra Hotel and Solar Hotel (all in Aberdeen). Booking ahead is advised.
- Ohio 99 Regent Street, Freetown. Small, well run guest house with flushing toilets, showers and small drinks bar. Close to town centre and clean. From around $8 per night.
- YMCA, 32 fort street, ☏ . Fan single/double rooms with breakfast. Le100 000/150 000.
- Andys Guest house, p z turntable. US$18.00.
- Sweet Mother’s Guesthouse, Lumley Beach Road (new road). Complimentary breakfast included. Run-down place with security issues but it’s quiet, private and friendly with accommodating staff. US$25.00.
- ELNA’s Guesthouse, Lumley Beach Road (next to/ right of Sweet Mother’s Guesthouse. Well-kept, with much better facilities than Sweet Mother’s. 450,000.00 Leones min.
- Blackheath Guest House, Wilkinson Road, Tel:(UK) +44(0)7946 886849.
- Freetown Inn Hotel, Howe Street (town centre). A new hotel offering continuous electricity and airconditioned rooms.
- Lakka Beach Resort, an island resort, bungalows with en-suite, restaurant and bar 00232 78 819515 www.lakkabeachresort.com
- 1 Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel, 17 Lumley Beach Road, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Freetown's first truly 4-star hotel. It has been refurbished to a very high standard. It is near local bars and the beach.
- 2 Hilton Cape Sierra Hotel. Due to reopen in 2019 or 2020 or 2021. The hotel is next to the Atlantic and will have direct access to Lumley Beach.
- 3 [dead link] Leone Lodge, Lumley Beach Road. Reasonable hotel directly across the road from the beach. Popular with the mining companies, so can be difficult to get a room. Wireless internet works intermittently. Close to some of the beach bars/restaurants. US$150.
- 4 [dead link] Bintumani Hotel, ☏ .
- 5 Hotel Barmoi, Aberdeen (Behind the old Cape Sierra Hotel site), ☏ . Well run hotel with good views of the Atlantic Ocean and two nice small pools. Best rooms are in the lower block. Cheaper rooms in upper block have no view. Wireless internet is available and quite good. This is one of the most popular hotels in the country. Book ahead to be sure of a place. US$124-150.
- 6 Country Lodge Hotel, HS 51 Hillstation, ☏ , fax: . Hill Station. Well located and popular hotel overlooking Freetown. Has a pool, fitness room and good bar/restaurants.
- 7 Family Kingdom. Across the road from the beach.
- 8 Golden Tulip Essential Kimbima (Kimbima Hotel), Bintumani Drive. Near Man o' War Bay, Aberdeen. Overlooking the Atlantic. Take the road to the Bintumani Hotel and turn right just before the hotel entrance. Refurbished and rebranded as Golden Tulip in 2016.
- 9 Lacs Villa. If you need to be in the Brookfileds/New England area then this is a good option. Also close to the government ministries in Youyi building.
- 10 The Hub Hotel (formerly Mamba Point), Wilberforce (Top of Spur Road, not far from British High Commission). They have one of the best restaurants in town, including a smart sushi restaurant. The hotel has been upgraded and renamed. It has a nice swimming pool.
- 11 Sierra Lighthouse Inn, ☏ . Man of War Bay, Aberdeen. Also has a fine restaurant offering Lebanese and local cuisine. The grilled fish is highly recommended.
- 12 Lungi Airport Hotel (Turn right out of airport then first left). Close to the airport. Has good air conditioned rooms, swimming pool, bar and power most of the time.
- 13 Roy Guest House, 54 Lumley Beach Road, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Small but good hotel next to one of the most popular beach bars. US$120.
- 14 New Brookfields Hotel, Jomo Kenyatta Road, New England, ☏ . Refurbished hotel in the New England area. This is a few minutes from the centre of Freetown. US$150.
- 15 Atlantic Lumley Hotel. Luxury hotel on the Lumley Beach road. Opened in second half of 2017.
- 16 Swiss Spirit Hotel & Suites Freetown (Swiss Spirit Hotels & Suites), 38 Spur Road, Freetown, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 10:00. Swiss Spirit Hotel & Suites Freetown is in the trendy residential area of Freetown, close to the British High Commission, not far from the Lumely Beach and the Freetown Golf Club. Guests arriving from the airport should take the Sea Coach Boat Service followed by a 15 minutes transfer from the jetty to the hotel by car. From US$ 110.
- 17 Home Suites Hotel, Aberdeen roundabout. One of the new breed of luxury hotels appearing in Freetown/Aberdeen. Home Suites is a very high standard modern hotel with a good restaurant. Fully air conditioned. Credit cards are accepted.
Violent crime is rare in Freetown. However, there have been some incidents in Lumley and Aberdeen at night, near the clubs and bars. Petty crime is common - take care of possessions and be wary of leaving valuables in rooms. Thefts from luggage at the airport on the way out of Sierra Leone are quite common. Do not leave valuable items in luggage.
The unrelenting heat and humidity can make life uncomfortable. For anyone not used to this, an air-conditioned room to sleep in will be almost essential. BBC World Service can be heard on 94.5MHz (FM) and Western style commercial station Capital Radio on 104.9MHz.
Government buses depart for Bo at 06:00am. Le150,000.