Kinshasa is the capital and by far the largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo with an estimated population of around 8 million people. It is located in the southwest of the country along the shores of the Congo River. On the other side is the capital of the Republic of Congo, Brazzaville. Together they have nearly 10 million inhabitants, making it the largest conurbation after Lagos and Cairo in the whole of Africa. Kinshasa is not of particular interest for travellers, and functions more as a places for business men, rather than independent travellers. It can feel a little rough around the edges as well, especially after dawn. The bustling markets still are one of the highlights.
Sights and Activities
National Museum of the Democratic Republic of Congo (Musée National de la République Démocratique du Congo), ☏ +243 12 61494. First opened in 1970, this museum moved to new premises in June 2019. Hosts a large selection of ethnographic objects.
Lola ya Bonobo, ☏ +243 818 141492. the world’s only sanctuary for orphaned bonobos. Since 2002, the sanctuary has been located at Les Petites Chutes de la Lukaya, just outside of Kinshasa.
Kinkole. A small village in the eastern part of the city’s rural area. It’s on the RN1 (Boulevard Lumumba), further than the airport. It has a nice restaurant area where you can enjoy all the local food on a terrace. A lot of people come here to relax so there’s a lot of people trying to get you into their business. If you go closer to the river there’s a fisherman market where food from the river is brought. Be careful if you want to take pictures, you’ll probably have to pay someone first as this is considered the international border.
Jardin d’Eden is a restaurant and music bar by the shores of the Nsele river, in the eastern part of the city’s rural area. It is further than Kinkole, after the airport. There is a really relaxing atmosphere there. You can eat, listen to the live band playing Congolese classics or even take a boat on the river Nsele. The food and drinks are affordable for middle class.
Events and Festivals
Commemoration of the Martyrs of Independence
This annual celebration is held every January 4th. Also known as Martyr’s Day, the Commemoration of the Martyrs of Independence is held as a double event to remember the victims of violence against human rights and also the martyrs of justice.
National Heroes’ Day
Referred to as “Heroes’ Day,” this public holiday is celebrated annually on January 17. It commemorates the death of Patrice Lumumba, the Congo’s popular leader. It is one of the two festivals that commemorate Lumumba’s fight for human dignity in the region.
National Liberation Day
The Congo observes National Liberation Day every year on May 17. This is a public holiday, so all offices and most businesses are closed. It pays tribute to the efforts of the Movement for the Liberation of the Congo rebel group who fought the government during the second war. MLC was led by Jean-Pierre Bemba, the son of Bemba Saolona, a Congolese billionaire. Street parades and cultural shows are held.
Independence Day is celebrated every June 30.
The world observes Parents’ Day every August 1, but in the Congo, it is considered a public holiday. Locals are enthusiastic about giving greeting cards and gifts to their family.
The Congo celebrates Youth Day on October 14. During this national day, different organizations host sporting events and other festivities for young people.
An observed as a national holiday, the country honors its military forces every November 17.
Unlike most Western countries, the Congo treats Christmas as a religious festival. It is less commercialized, so presents are uncommon. On Christmas Eve, churches stage musicals with at least five to six choir performances and nativity plays. Some communities enjoy festivities until dawn when Christmas Day services start at 9:00am Families typically prepare a feast at home, and for those who can afford it, pork and chicken are staples.
Kinshasa is hot and humid year round, with temperatures usually around 30 °C during the day and 20 °C at night, with a few degrees difference between the hottest and coolest month. Rain falls evenly spread out, but the June to August period is a bit drier as well as a little less hot.
N’Djili International Airport (FIH) functions as the main international airport in the country. Hewa Bora Airways is one of the largest airlines in the country, flying to and from Brussels, Douala, Johannesburg, Lagos and Lomé. Air France flies between Kinshasa and Paris. Other destinations with several airlines are Brussels, Harare, Brazzaville, Pointe-Noire, Addis Ababa, Nairobi, Casablanca and Luanda.
In the country, Hewa Bora Airways flies between Kinshasa and Lubumbashi and Mbuji Mayi and Wimbi Dira Airways between Kinshasa and Gbadolite, Gemena, Goma, Isiro, Kananga, Kindu, Lubumbashi, Kalemie Mbandaka and Mbuji-Mayi. Compagnie Africaine d’Aviation has an extensive network between Kinshasa and Basankusu, Bumba, Goma, Kalemie, Kananga, Kikwit, Kisangani, Lisala, Lodja, Lubumbashi, Mbandaka, Mbuji-Mayi and Tshikapa.
The railroad of Congo once covered the entire country during colonial times, but has fallen in to heavy disuse. While there is a central train station in Kinshasa, train service is erratic at best and does not run to many destinations for tourists. Tickets are usually only able to be bought the day of travel shortly before the train arrives and can prove to be difficult to get.
Apart from the road Matadi to Kinshasa a car is no means for overland travel. You might be successful with a 4×4 in the upper northern region (Bangassou – Nia Nia – Isiro) and maybe the axis Kinshasa – Lumumbashi. All other towns are accessible only by air transport or boat.
There are regular ferry services across the Congo River to Brazzaville.
Officially there is a city bus and it has been bolstered recently by some older buses from Belgium being gifted to Kinshasa to improve the routes. This system pales in comparison to the “taxi” system that has risen organically to serve the needs of the people of Kinshasa.
Essentially, these taxis are small buses. They run set routes between embarkation points that are the “stops”. The cost between these various points is usually around 350 Francs. If one’s destination is through multiple points, different taxis will need to be boarded to complete the route, making the system take a good deal of time during busy traffic hours.
People waiting at the stops will move their hands in a variety of gestures to signal which direction they are going. A taxi will then stop and pick up someone if they are going in the same direction and have space in the taxi.
This system works well for the locals. For visitors and foreigners, it can be quite difficult as one needs to know the hand signs, have knowledge of the routes, be ready to sit in cramped, hot vehicles with many other people, and deal with the potential dangers of these vehicles as many are barely road-worthy. Traveling through this manner absolutely requires local help for those unfamiliar with the system. One will also have to speak French or Lingala as the drivers do not speak English.
There are also traditional taxis for hire. They are available for single runs or can be hired by the day. This can be a tricky business and should be handled with care (especially at the airport) as there are those will take people to remote locations and rob them. Again, help from a local is best or using drivers that others in the area have past experience with and trust. Rates for these taxis vary widely and if one does not appear to be of African descent, there will also be an automatic premium added.
Lots of restaurants for ‘expats’ exist, where you can pay in dollars but it is very expensive. Don’t be surprised to pay up to $20 for a pizza (and $40 at the hotel for one). Many cheap roadside stalls exist, primarily outside of downtown’s Gombe.
Al Dar, near the hotel Memling, is a Lebanese restaurant in the centre of town. A shwarma sandwich runs about $3, and they have taboule, hummus and desserts as well.
La Bloque, Bandalungwa. One of the better known roadside stalls.
Mama Colonel, Bandal. An excellent restaurant. The menu has only 4 items – chicken, fish, fries and plantain – but they are barbecued to perfection.
3615, on the main Boulevard (next door to the Peloustore supermarket). Has an outdoor area as well as an air conditioned indoor area; and excellent food – from pizza to steaks and fish. Average price for a main dish plus drink is around US$20. Dozens of prostitutes, quite fun to watch, but if you are a man alone, you will get hassled.
Association Belgo-Congolaise (ABC). Serves meals for about US$10 in a nice outdoor terrace, though sometimes the quality of meals is questionable and the kitchen can close early. The menu includes traditional dishes such as river fish and fried plantains, or international fare like cheeseburgers and spaghetti. Food takes a long time to come. You can have espresso coffee rather than Nescafe.
Marie Kabuang – A bit difficult to find on the first floor of the Sultani Hotel (Avenue de la Justice), but totally renewed restaurant. Very stylish and modern. Breakfast and lunch (international food) for only US$15, guarantee for a fast service, excellent taste.
Cercle Elaeis/La Paillotte. Traditional and international food. Outdoor dining with view on the pool. Expensive but great country-club type setting. Packed with visiting expats and Lebanese families hanging by the pool on weekends.
Chez Gaby. Portuguese-style. At the upper end of the mid-range – the food is varied and excellent and if you want to splash out, you can also order imported items like foie gras and european wines.
Chez Philo. Offers a number of Congolese dishes and the standard Belgian-style fare. Good prawns (Cossa).
La Piscine. Outdoor tables arranged around a swimming pool-great settings and mediocre food for US$40-50 if you restrained yourself. Greek items an pizza as well as the usual dishes.
Girassol (just off the Boulevard), turn across from Sonas, on the corner where Icare travel is located; take the most right street; it’s on the right.
Le Roi du Cossa 220 Ave Mpolo (just off the Boulevard), Gombe. A Portuguese restaurant is always a good bet for seafood, and this is no exception. Some say these are the best Cossa Cossa in town.
Green Garden Indian restaurant in a great garden setting. Both North and South Indian cuisines in a lovely outdoor setting. Open every day, serve dosa at any time of day. Opposit Chez Delice, behind La Piscine, parallel to Boulevard.
Pizerria Extreme: reasonably cheap pizzas and other dishes. Turn off the boulevard at the Express supermarket corner… it will be on your left hand
Pizerria Opoeta and Greg’s bar: on the road towards the golf course: closest thing to an international pub. Good pizzas as well. Excellent seafood thanks to the Portuguese proprietors.
Mangoustan restaurant at the Memling Hotel: M-F it serves lunch buffet for US$40 with a large variety of Belgian and international dishes, and on Wednesday evening offers a lavish cheese and charcuterie buffet for $40 with a varying wine-by-the glass selection. Good value. Safe parking facilities. good to make reservations.
Café Conc (Le Caf Conc), Av. de la Nation. The most expensive restaurant in the DRC, allegedly!
Ciboulette. Second-most expensive. It’s in the Elais compound on your right.
Chez Nicolas, Avenue de la Justice. Italian restaurant which has been around for more than 25 years.
Le Cercle Gourmand, Av. Du Cercle, ☏ +243 999 901 001. High class restaurant, belongs to the golf club.
La Brasserie, 5, Avenue Rep Du Tchad (in Memling Hotel). Great food. Belgian-French influences with a few Congolese dishes. Rather pricy but worth it, generous portions and great service. Safe parking on hotel premises.
Turbo King is a darker beer, regular lagers are Primus (which some feel is the best local beer, brewed by the local Heineken brewery) and Skol. European Mutzig comes in smaller bottles! A bit more expensive, and slightly harder to find as it is brewed in Lubumbashi by Simba Breweries, is Tembo, a tasty amber ale preferred by locals and expats alike. Tembo garners the highest ranking for a DRC beer on ratebeer.com. Lots of expensive French and South African wine available in restaurants and supermarkets. Portuguese plonk goes for as low as $3 a bottle at grocery stores catering to expats (Peloustore, Express, etc.).
Kinshasa becomes alive most nights when residents head to Matonge, a place filled with dancing bars, restaurants and night clubs. Lately Bandal and Bonmarche are the more popular “quartiers” to visit the local bars and “discotheques”. Go to a local nightclub and learn how to dance Congolese rhythms.
Bar of Sultani Hotel. The style bar of the Sultani Hotel has been changed and is now providing a comfortable feeling and (jazz) partys every Friday, live music, no ticket to pay. Prices for drinks start at about 8 USD for cocktails.
Cockpit Bar, 5 Avenue Rep Du Tchad (In Hotel Memling). The Memling’s main bar. Classy setting. Business during the day, try their wild Congolese tea infused with lemongrass, a must. Cozy lounge in the evening with jazz, blues, soul music in the background. Happy hour from 6pm-8pm, where they do BOGO nights for draught beers and kwilu rhum cocktails and world music.
Bar La Piscine, 5 Avenue Rep Du Tchad (In Hotel Memling), ☏ +243 81 5557700. 12.00pm-10.30pm. The Memling Hotel’s pool bar, nice food, has an upper terrace, a little oasis overlooking the pool with semi-private little gazebos – great little romantic hangout. The pool bar & charcoal grill definitely serves the best burger and bbq in town. Safari BBQ in dry season. Does BOGO nights/Happy Hour for draft beers and kwilu rhum cocktails from 5 to 7pm. Enclosed, guarded parking on the hotel property.
Accommodation in Kinshasa can be very expensive. A consequence of the past problems mean that many organisations only recognise two hotels as having international standards. So the Memling and the Grand have a virtual monopoly. Prices of these two can be in excess of $300 per night plus breakfast.
Hotel de La Gombe.
CAP (Centre d’accueil protestant).
Hotel Phenix (Barumbu district) Rooms cost $20/10,000F. Power is intermittant and water brought in buckets. Get a room that opens up to the outside. Everyone knows this large building on the main road.
Procure St Anne This catholic monastery has a large compound right in the middle of town, close to the river and H&F supermarket, opposite American and Portuguese embassies. They have basic, but spacious rooms with air-conditioning and showers. Restrooms shared. Single rooms cost $40, breakfast included. Dinner is optional for approx. $10. Very nice, quiet garden and comfortable bar.
Hotel Pasha Situated right next to the Memling. Pasha has a restaurant that serves Pakistani/Indian/Bengali food at reasonable prices. The cook can speak Urdu/Hindi/Bengali/French, so communication is not a problem for South Asian people. Also you can order items that are not on the menu, i.e. if you are craving for some ‘aalu ka paratha’ or some ‘haleem’, just go and talk to Khursheed (0899431964).
Hotel Ave Maria. A well-run and well-located place frequented by NGOs and UN types. 60 USD.
San Pedro Hotel Kinshasa, Av. 18 Parcelles nr 16 Quartier Palais des Marbres (Palais des Marbres Ngaliema), ☏ +2439714444. Check-in: 13h00, check-out: 11h00. Confort maison d’une résidence privée. Situé à Kinshasa sur l’avenue 18 Parcelles dans le quartier résidentiel du Palais des Marbres, San Pedro est une résidence privée, d’un charme discret et d’un confort simple, réaménagée en petit hôtel, idéal pour les voyageurs à la recherche d’une atmosphère intime et paisible comme à la maison. $60-$100.
Residence Marika. A simple 3-star hotel just off the main Boulevard, with swimming pool.
Hotel Memling, 5, Avenue Rep Du Tchad, ☏ +243 817 001111, ✉ [email protected] Probably the best and second most expensive hotel in town. Has been around since 1937, and has since then maintained its place as the city’s Number One venue – now that’s a real reference, on this side of the river. Wireless Internet throughout, nice but small pool, bar and restaurants, good Belgium food. Expect to pay US$300/night plus $28 for breakfast and $30 for 24 hour access to Internet ($75 for week). Hertz car rental are at the hotel, along with mobile phone companies, gift shops and the usual souvenirs. Excellent conference facilities, the hotel is located within 5 to 10 minutes of the city’s main business and political ventures.
Grand Hotel, 7, Avenue Batetela, ☏ +243 81 55 53 001, ✉ [email protected] The Grand Hotel is the other fancy hotel in town – well located near the river, embassies and the Presidential residence; it is frequented by locals as well as internationals assisting with the DRC’s transition. It claims to be DRC’s only 5* hotel, but the only 5* feature is the price (from US$300/night plus tax). Extremely expensive and not particularly good food, with slow service. There are two accommodation blocks. The old one is now being completely refurbished. Slow wireless internet is available for $70/week.
Hotel Royal, ☏ +243 81 555666, ✉ [email protected] 4-star. Expect to pay US$270/night Bed &Breakfast, with Wifi, tea coffee and water complimentary. Restaurant, cafe, cigar lounge, conference centre, in the City Centre next to Brussels Airlines Office. edit
Sultani Hotel, 30, Avenue de la Justice, ☏ +243 89 816 6000, +243 81 885 3318, ✉ [email protected] In the city center of Kinshasa, close to the River Congo. There is wireless Internet included in the price and provided throughout the hotel. Prices start at US$175 for a room. The price/quality ratio is very attractive compared to the other hotels. The hotel offers a business lunch for $15 which is quite rare to get in the very expensive city Kinshasa. The team is motivated and speaks English, French, German, and Chinese.
Fleuve Congo Hotel, 119, Boulevard Colonel, ☏ +243 825 000 300. Renovated in 2012, Fleuve is now one of the most luxurious hotels in town.
Ledya Pyramide Hotel. Hotel Pyramide is a small, but luxury hotel, about 5 km out of the center of Kinshasa. All rooms have a bathroom with Jacuzzi, warm water, hairdryer and a Fridge. In March 2008 however, there was only cold water available and in insufficient quantities to take a proper shower or bath. Most rooms are very spacious (some are like a small apartment) and dispose of flatscreen TVs and one or two air-conditioning units. The hotel has no fax. Internet was said to be available but was this not tested (there was a PC at the reception desk with internet connection, but not for residents). The hotel also has an e-mail address, but the on-duty receptionist was unable to access it.
Faden House, 117, Avenue des Batetela, ☏ +243 81 99 43331, ✉ [email protected] A small guesthouse across the street from Grand Hotel. Great location in Gombe, a block away from the River Congo (great walking/jogging route) and many of the European embassies. About the same price as the Grand Hotel, but here the price includes free wifi in all the rooms, and no harassment from drunk foreign soldiers or local prostitutes. A calm oasis in Kinshasa. Some English spoken. Only 9 rooms (avoid rooms 1 and room 3). Also a well-used conference facility, and the quality of service deteriorates when staff are occupied with a function there. There are small fridges in the rooms, but no safe deposit facility; and only a couple of French/Congolese TV channels.
Le Voyageur, ☏ +243 81 500 5070, ✉ [email protected] Definitely one of the best hotels in town, located next to Elais; unfortunately it tends to be fully booked well in advance. All Elais amenities can be used.
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See also Travel Health
Don’t drink the local water. Bottled water seems to be cheap enough but sometimes hard to find for a good price. The best way is if you are staying in an upscale hotel that provides it with the room just tip the housekeeping staff to get extra bottles put in your room (usually if you tell them while giving them the money that works the best, and after the first 2 days of asking for the water you usually don’t have to worry about telling them anymore, just give them the $5 a day).
Make sure you have all required vaccinations – i.e. yellow fever, typhoid, etc.
Mosquitoes can be a problem in the entire city. Malaria medication should be taken.
See also Travel Safety
It is highly recommended that you have someone with you at all times that is a local (besides while being in your hotel). Cab drivers will usually stay with you too when going to local shops and making quick stops and will serve as your translator if you get a good one. Be careful with any equipment you have with you such as digital cameras and video equipment. Be careful also of what you take pictures of. Even if they say no photos only at the airport and of government buildings, a lot of times the police and UN people will get upset if you are taking videos at other places where technically it is supposed to be ok to do. Just be sure to have plenty of locals with you that know what they are doing and can provide security and a way out if you get stuck or in trouble. Follow their advice and pay attention when out and about. When in doubt about taking a photo of something don’t until you get very clear instructions that it is ok. Don’t keep cameras in open view unless you’ve been cleared to take a photo (which is just like taking a photo to them it seems). Also be equally prepared for hostility and positive reactions when taking photos.
When traveling by car, always lock all the doors before you set off, as it is not uncommon for opportunist thieves to try to open them and snatch belongings. For the same reason, keep bags and valuables out of reach and out of sight.
If you are approached by people claiming to be police, be wary. If they are not in uniform, they are probably not police but are most likely hoping to relieve you of your money and valuables. A common tactic is for a group of men in a car to show a fake police identity card and ask you to go with them to the police station. Do not get in the car; just walk away. Be prepared to run. Never lose your temper, but keep negotiating in a friendly way; in the end, they will give up.
Recent road scams have included a group of fake police officers in an unmarked 4×4 vehicle that will pull over unsuspecting people driving alone in cars, then forcibly take them in to their vehicle, drive them out to the country, rob them of everything and leave them stranded. While the main targets have been UN staff in obvious white UN vehicles, all foreigners driving should be wary of this group or others operating like them. For general safety, people should never drive alone in vehicles, especially after dark.
See also International Telephone Calls
The country calling code to the Democratic Republic of the Congo is: 243.
To make an international call from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the code is: 00