Hello fellow foodies. Normally, I write these guides about the capital cities of the countries I visit. Well, Lagos was the capital of Nigeria, until it was moved to the planned city of Abuja in 1991. But Lagos is still the largest city and cultural capital of Africa’s most populous country. Plus, I had an absolute blast there, so I wanted to recap my time in this vibrant, flavorful city. Without further ado…
Fun In the Sun
Lagos is a coastal city, on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean (technically the Gulf of Guinea) and the Lagos Lagoon. This means that Lagos offers one of my favorite activities: lying on the beach and doing a whole lot of nothing. The beaches are quite popular here, as they provide Lagosians (yep, that’s the demonym) the chance to escape the sweltering heat of the crowded city.
One of the most popular beaches in the Lagos area is Elegushi Beach, in nearby Lekki. It’s a popular beach for families, but it’s big for partygoers as well, with its bevy of restaurants and nightclubs. Quick word of warning though: the currents are notoriously strong, so stay close to the shore for some safe fun in the sun.
Tarkwa Bay, another popular beach, is an artificial island (how cool is that?) off the Nigerian coast. Located near the Lagos Harbour, this scenic beach is a quick boat or water taxi-ride away from the mainland (and the views on the 15 minute ride are spectacular). Tarkwa Bay’s shallow waters make it perfect for swimmers of all skill levels, which was great for me and my awkward dog paddle. And if you like to surf, this is the most popular spot in Lagos to catch a wave.
After a long day at the beach, you’ll probably be hungry. Luckily, there is plenty of great food in Lagos. In most of the places I’ve traveled to, street food is part of the din and hum of daily life (I always come back wishing more American cities would get on board, but I digress). Street food fuels Lagos’ millions of commuters as well. Fortunately for me, many of the offerings are vegan!
One dish that I fell in love with in Lagos was Abacha, an East Nigerian salad made from shredded cassava. It can be served in several ways – including with meat and eggs – but my favorite preparation featured palm oil and fresh vegetables. And it can be found all over Lagos. Frankly, you’d have to go out of your way not to find a good Abacha in this town.
Yams are another staple crop in Nigeria and if – while walking through the streets of Lagos – you see a smokey charcoal grill with yams roasting over top, I highly suggest making a beeline for that stall. Roasted yams are an affordable street snack that requires few adornments: usually a pinch of salt, some onions, bitter leaf (a shrub known for its healing properties), and – per my preference – a splash of that ubiquitous palm oil.
Perhaps you’ve been walking around so much that you’ve nearly broken your step counter (I swear it’s going to happen to me someday) and you’re looking for a place to sit down and eat. You’re in luck: Lagos has plenty of great restaurants as well. One of my favorites was Danfo Bistro: a bustling, colorful eatery on Lagos Island. Ewa agoyin is another popular Lagos street food, consisting of a boiled bean dip and freshly baked bread. Danfo Bistro takes this humble street food to the next level, topping it with fried plantain cubes. This was one of those meals I couldn’t shove in my face fast enough.
Ditto for the food at NOK by Alara. NOK is a luxury fashion brand that recently made a foray into fine dining. In its elegant, tranquil space (its adjoining bamboo-framed garden is my happy place), Senegalese-born Executive Chef Pierre Thiam offers fresh, imaginative takes on African cuisine. Tiam has been making big waves in NYC with his restaurant Terenga. So when I heard about NOK by Alara, I had to give it a try. I’m so glad I did.
Finally, I want to give a shout out to MarcoPolo. No, not the Italian explorer (though he was one of the OG travel bloggers, tbh) but the Lagos restaurant bearing his name. See, as one of Africa’s major tech and economic centers, Lagos has a sizeable immigrant population, including many Chinese nationals. With its white table cloths, silkscreens and comprehensive Cantonese menu, MarcoPolo has been feeding this community (and culinary explorers of all backgrounds) since 1989. If you ever get a craving for some solid Chinese food while wandering West Africa, this is the place to go.
When I wasn’t whiling away my days on the beach, I was brushing up on my culture. One of my favorite spots to do so was the Nigerian National Museum. If you ever want a crash course in the history and culture of the country you are visiting, check out that country’s national museum. Established in 1957, this museum features work from Nigerian artists, as well as millenia-old archeological finds. My favorite find was a terracotta head (known as the “Jemaa Head”) which ancient Nigeria’s Nok people fashioned over 2000 years ago.
Art lovers should also check out the Nike Art Gallery, the largest private art collection in West Africa. No relation to the American shoe company, the gallery was established in 2007 by Nike Okundaye, an artist and designer who fans know as “Mama Nike.” The gallery features works of traditional and contemporary Nigerian art, all thoughtfully displayed. Admission to the gallery is free (my kind of price) while guided tours will run you a little under $5.
If a walk in the park is more your speed, I suggest strolling around Freedom Park in downtown Lagos. Freedom Park was established in 2010, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Nigeria’s Independence. Ironically, it was built on the grounds of a former prison. Today it’s a beautiful urban oasis with monuments, fountains, an amphitheater, and several stages. It’s a great place to see a show or just soak up the chill vibes. I can’t tell who liked this park more, me or Zelda. I’m fine calling it a tie.
It’s not a Chef Jade guide without a little nightlife. And Lagos’ nightlife scene did not disappoint. One of my favorite nightlife hotspots in the Lagos area was Victoria Island, which is home to all kinds of swanky bars and clubs. For a night of drinks and dancing right next to the ocean, I like Quilox, a multi-story club where DJs keep the beat pumping all night long. For a more relaxed evening, check out the nearby Sip Lounge for sophisticated cocktails. Sip Lounge was my nightcap after I wore myself out from dancing at Quilox (it doesn’t take much).
If you’re looking for more casual vibes all around, head north of the city to Ikeja, where you can find smaller, more laidback spots like Club Uno, Rumors Nightclub, and Club Royale. By the way, if you want to drink like a local, you gotta get some palm wine. This sweet, almost milky drink is made from the fermented sap of the palm tree, and it’s one of the most popular libations in Nigeria. After enjoying a glass (Ok, several glasses; who am I kidding?) I can easily see why.
I Loved my Time in Lagos
Lagos is a city that has something for everyone, whether you want to enjoy some chill beach vibes, take in some art and culture, or party till the break of dawn. And if, like me, your mission is to eat just about everything in sight, you’ll find plenty here to keep you busy. And since I know you’ll be missing that delicious food when you come home, I’ve got a vegan Jollof Rice recipe that’s sure to please.
If you enjoyed this article or have suggestions on how we can improve it, please leave us a comment below. Also, make sure to check out other articles I’ve created or stories I’ve written about food culture – here.