After a day or two, most visitors to Nigeria wish they had planned to stay longer in the country.
Once they start seeing the sights, and meeting the people, they realize that there is way more to do than they had believed possible. Don’t make the same mistake – give yourself a long leash. For administrative ease, the country’s 36 states are grouped into six geopolitical zones. If you intend to stay in more than one state, plan your travels along the same lines; pick an anchor city, and take things one state or zone at a time.
In the South-South, for example, the scenic and slow-paced city of Uyo can be your base to explore the Niger Delta states. In the North East, Bauchi is a perfect base to explore the rocky landscapes of Plateau, Adamawa, Borno and Taraba states.
Narrow down your list with these top places to visit in Nigeria.
Make the most out of every adventure with help from our weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox. Abuja is a city with lovely parks and green spaces © peeterv / Getty Images
Best city for an intro to Nigeria
Whether you’re traveling solo or as a group, Abuja is your best introduction to Nigeria. By design, it is a city for holidaymaking: hills, public gardens and leisure parks dot the cityscape, right through its residential districts, so you’re guaranteed ample green spaces. Millenium Park’s landscaped grounds attract hundreds of picnickers; rent a mat inside the park and just chill. Aso Rock, where Nigeria’s presidential palace gets its name, looms nicely in the background.
Abuja’s wide walkways and boulevards make walking a pleasure any time of the day. If you’re traveling with kids, Central Park, Magicland Amusement Park, Jabi Lake Park and Arttech District are go-to family spots. Together, they offer dining, outdoor activities and games – from horseback riding and roller-skating to bicycle trails and go-karts.
Abuja is also a city for hiking, and there’s a trek up any of the city’s hills every weekend. Organized by hiking groups and clubs like Naija Adventurers, Tha Outdoor Tribe and Mantrek Hikers Club, there is little or no formality to join. Periodically, the hiking extends to landmarks in neighboring Niger, Nasarawa and Kaduna states.
Planning tip: Factor in a visit to Abuja’s newly opened Nike Art Gallery as you travel to or from the airport.
Best city for heritage and celebrations
Tourists come to Calabar to connect a number of nature and heritage sites: the Slave History Museum, Cross River National Park, Obudu Mountain Resort and the Afi Mountain Drill Sanctuary.
The Bakor (or Ikom) monoliths, a group of 300+ stones that are 1–1.5m-tall (3–5ft), are also one of the region’s main attractions. These centuries-old stones are believed by clans in the host communities to be their forebears. Some of the stones are within easy reach of Calabar, others are in more remote forested areas, with a permanent exhibition in an open-air museum at Alok, 156km (97 miles) north of Calabar.
Another reason to visit Calabar is for its thrilling events, culminating with the Christmas festival, a December-long fiesta of concerts and street parties. Another crowd-puller here is the carnival, a pan-Nigeria cultural parade with participation from at least half a dozen countries. Leboku New Yam Festival, one of the best known in Nigeria, held in August or September, also draws people in. On the eve, host communities perform ritual ceremonies to their “stone ancestors”, re-painting them in colored chalk and in readiness for the festival proper.
Best place to hang out on the beach
Lagos is a delight on many levels. The city’s coastline is already a busy corridor for resorts and beach houses. On weekends, Lagosians pour into a long stretch of private beaches to party and enjoy a suite of water-based sports. For the best beach experiences, take a short boat ride to Tarkwa Bay or hop in a car to Landmark Beach.
As the birthplace of Nollywood (Nigeria’s movie industry) and the now-global Afrobeats movement, the city has been at the heart of Nigeria’s entertainment boom for decades. In the last half of the year, Lagos’ creative side is in full swing as it hosts a long list of festivals, like the Lagos International Poetry Festival, Lagos Fringe Festival and Art X Lagos.
Its bustling metropolis aside, the “city of aquatic splendor” combines urban appeal with well-kept traditions. Downtown Lagos, home to the Eyo masquerade, is a network of Igas (palaces), shrines and markets. On its most westerly end, Badagry, once a town of enslaved people, is a place where tourists and pilgrims alike come to visit historical landmarks: Badagry Heritage Museum, Mobee Slave Relics Museum, Vlekete Slave Market Museum and Brazilian Baracoon, among others.
Planning tip: Lagos is at its partying best in December when it hosts multiple concerts, musicals and entertainment shows. The city is also less crowded during the period, meaning you can get where you want to be much faster.
4. Mambilla Plateau
Best for adventure travelers
A trip to the Mambilla Plateau is the ultimate Nigerian adventure. On this multi-day journey you’ll travel through vast savannah lands and long winding roads, driving up and down multiple hilly terrains, past dairy farms, streams, and rivers. At the Mayoselbe–Tunga stretch of the highway, you’ll come within a few feet of a tribe of monkeys.
Multiple waterfalls await you at Maisamari, Lemetela and Mbanga towns. But the goal of every visitor to Mambilla is to hike up Chappal Waddi (7936ft), the highest point in Nigeria. At Gembu, a major transit town near Cameroon, explore the Donga River on local paddle boats or visit any of the tea farms, the Highland Tea being the most prominent, where you’ll see harvesters fling the leaves over their shoulders into elongated, hand-made baskets strapped to their backs. Make time to explore Gashaka-Gumti National Park, the largest of Nigeria’s 17 national parks, all managed by the Nigeria Parks Service.
Planning tip: You can reach Gembu by road from Abuja, Jalingo and Yola. Visits here involve long overland travels by bus and motorbike, so it’s best to allow a week at least. Nature Connects, based on the Plateau, provides guiding and advisory services. Mambilla is suitable for hiking year-round, but best between December and March, when the grounds are less slippery. This is also the best time for wildlife spotting. The plateau is at its greenest between April and September; to visit some of its waterfalls, head there between September and December.
Get to know the history of Ilorin with visits to its key buildings, including Ilorin Central Mosque © Dejiayoola_xi / Shutterstock
Best city for culture and history
Ilorin, in Nigeria’s North-Central region, is usually not on the itinerary of tourists but deserves to be. The emir’s palace is at the heart of Ilorin’s cultural and spiritual life. Palace officials will show you around, the tour typically starting from the four pillars memorializing the emirate’s past wartime exploits. The multiple buildings within and adjoining the palace (Ilorin Central Mosque, for one), are markers of various periods as Ilorin transitioned in the early 19th century from an outpost of the Old Oyo Empire to a stronghold of the Sokoto Caliphate.
Its historical appeal aside, Ilorin has preserved many of its old cottage industries, including aso oke (handwoven fabric), mat- and basket-weaving. Visit the unmissable Dada pottery, to learn about the skills passed down among womenfolk for generations.
Planning tip: Ilorin, like other northern Nigerian cities, sparkles at Eid-al-Adha when the city hosts the annual durbar festival, a colorful equestrian parade in northern Nigeria. In August, there’s a traditional mass wedding ceremony, which takes place in Shao town (14km/9 miles away).
6. Northern Nigeria
Best region for architecture
Northern Nigeria is an outdoor gallery of eye-catching indigenous architecture – designed, built and decorated by master masons from the 19th century. From Sokoto and Kano (North-West) to Gombe and Maiduguri (North-East), your gaze is constantly met by brightly painted mosques.
The palaces and some public buildings are more elaborately decorated, with Hausa motifs and, in some cases, complemented by Arabic inscriptions. Palaces of the Emirs of Dutse, Bauchi, Gombe and Zaria, and the Shehu of Borno are star examples. Inside the Gidan Makama Museum (Kano) and Kanta Museum (Kebbi), formerly palaces, you’ll learn more about the history and culture of Hausaland.
There’s more Nigerian vernacular architecture in Jos, at the open-air Museum of Traditional Nigerian Architecture (MOTNA), which shares space with the Jos National Museum. Here, you’ll find lifesize replicas of huts and homesteads unique to different ethnic groups in the country. Among them: Tiv, Idoma and Afizere compounds. The Bight of Benin, modeled after the palace of the Oba of Benin, doubles as a restaurant.
Climb Idanre’s hills for epic views of the surrounding area © African footage / Shutterstock
Best place for ancient traditions and high-up views
Idanre is the site of an old hilltop settlement in Nigeria’s Western region. Tucked among the hills is the old palace that was home to 25 successive kings. The path to the palace, its low roofing propped up by carved wooden posts, is dotted by relics of a past civilisation, including potsherd pavements, a native court, a prison and a shrine.
The hills are Idanre’s main attraction. And looking out from 915m (3000ft) into the distance to the sprawling settlements at the foot of the hills, first occupied in the 1930s, is one of the most heartwarming views in this corner of the world.
Planning tip: Idanre hosts a number of festivals throughout the year. In February, young men march off to two caves on the hills for the annual bat-hunting festival. Orosun festival, in honor of the goddess of fertility, is held in May. The town celebrates Ogun (god of Iron) in October; the Ide festival, perhaps the grandest of all, is in December. That’s when the paramount ruler, the Owa, leads a procession up the hills to wear a crown seen only once in a year.
8. Enugu and the South-East
Best region for national history and nature walks
Enugu is the heartland of Nigeria’s South-East region, a status it earned in the early 1900s when huge reserves of coal were discovered in its hills. Today, more than a century later, its tranquil neighborhoods, pine forests and public parks makes it one of Nigeria’s touristy cities.
Begin your tour at the National Museum of Unity to understand the Igbo belief system. Part of the exhibition includes the Ijele masquerade, an important component of ceremonial gatherings in Igboland. Dig deeper into Igbo worldview at the Center for Memories. For more on Nigeria’s pre- and post-colonial history, head to the Nnamdi Azikiwe Centre, a museum and library that opened in December 2022, housed in what was the Premier’s Lodge of the old Eastern Region in the 1950s.
After touring the museums, travel up the Milken Hills to the pine forest of the suburban Ngwo town and onwards to the caves and waterfalls further down the trail. Alternately, from Enugu drive to Awhum town, famed also for its caves and waterfalls – and a monastery. The Ezeagu Tourist complex is within the vicinity; here, you can take a dip in the gentle rush of the stream.
Planning tip: If you are keen for more cave-themed adventures, then cross the inter-state border into Anambra State. The Ogbunike Caves, 77km (48 miles) southwest of Enugu, are a maze of tunnels and streams with lots of bats. Less well known, but no less spectacular, are the caves-waterfalls-rock complex at Ogba-Ukwu, 60km (38 miles) from the port city of Onitsha.