- 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.
Freetown, like the rest of Sierra Leone has 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 to Freetown, 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.
Freetown International Airport (IATA: FNA), in Lungi (on the other side of the estuary from Freetown), Tel: (232-22)-338405. As of early 2013, the ongoing refurbishment of the airport is nearly complete. Departure procedures, which used to be very difficult are not not a problem. 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 small boats, some covered, some not, from Mahera Hotel to the Aberdeen bridge for Le180,000 (40USD). The hovercraft service has resumed under the Helog name. It arrives/departs from Man of War Bay, Aberdeen. The crossing can be unpleasant if the sea is rough. The Pelican and hovercraft are convenient for most foreign travellers as they avoid the slow route through the crowded east end of Freetown. The helicopter now only operates a charter service.
Another possibility is on the overloaded 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 and has been known to take 8 hours. By road it is 4+ hours to the city, via Port Loko using some poor roads.
Finally, some private boats cross the estuary. This is not recommended at night.
Unfortunately, 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 is also 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.
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 almost complete. Unfortunately, the Sierra Leone Roads Authority have given up maintaining other roads, which means they are increasingly in poor condition.
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 (1,000 leones), 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), and there are others that hopefully other Wikivoyagers will figure out and write about here. If you are looking for downtown, locals call it "Tong."
One can approach a taxi and charter it (cha cha) for a few hours, a day, or even days if one wishes. A decent price per hour is about $5, for a day around $50. Taxis can be hired for a complete journey, which really should not exceed the equivalent of $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 travelers, 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 $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 $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/taxi. The roads are barely passable and watch the speed bumps on the beach road and Sir Samuel Lewis Road. There are small stalls outside of Alex' bar selling 'tourist' fare. There is a fashion boutique at Family Kingdom. Various other stalls can be found on the Lumley Beach Road. There are some more modern shops not far from the Mammy Yoko Hotel on the beach road. There are plenty of hawkers on the beach selling sunglasses, fruit, peanuts, clothes, etc.
There are several colonial stilt houses at Hill Station. Most are in a poor state but offer insight into how people lived in the past.
- Cape Sierra Leone Lighthouse (At the end of the peninsular close to Burmoi Hotel. Head towards the new radar tower.). The lighthouse was built in 1812 by the Portuguese. It is in very good condition (it has been refurbished in 2010). There are some stunning views of the Atlantic ocean. If you are lucky, the local staff will show you around.
- National Rail museum, Cline Street. Open M-Sa 10:30AM-5PM. The museum has several steam/diesel locomotives and carriages, including one used by HM Queen Elizabeth II during her state visit. All have been restored. A guide will usually show guests around. Entry is free, but donations are gratefully received. Open Monday-Saturday 1030-1700.
- Sierra Leone National Museum, Siaka Stevens St.
- Tacugama Chimpanzee Sanctuary, ☎ , e-mail: 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 (approx. 10 USD), 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. The peninsular-road is currently being reconstructed and it is complete from Lumley to Goderich. 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.
- Lumley Beach The main public beach close to Freetown itself facing the Atlantic is beautiful with white sandy beach, shops, restaurants, hotels, golf course, as well local clubs.
- 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.
- 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.
- Hamilton Beach Unfortunately this beach has become a mining site.
- Sussex Beach The popular Franco's restaurant is here. Nice setting, good food but really bad service.
- 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), depending on your starting point from Freetown. If you take this route, take a right turn at Waterloo and follow the new road.
- Tokeh Beach
- York Beach Grey sanded beach, but interesting little fishing village with some old Portuguese remains.
- Black Johnson Beach
- John Obey Beach Stunning beaches and two small restaurants (if you can find them). Home of the recently settled Tribewanted initiative.
- Bureh Beach Stunning beach and river. Not many restaurants so bring your own for a great picnic.
- 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.
- Mamah Beach
Bunce Island is arguably the most important historical site 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 $300.
Neither option guarantees much guidance when you actually arrive, though. The 95-some-odd-year-old caretaker, Pa Braima Bangura, retired in 2011, but will still join you if you pick him up in Pepel, the village across the narrow on the north side of the river. He does not, however, speak English, so you'll need a Krio translator. Interestingly, his guidance diverges pretty strongly from the information available on the internet, so you can decide who knows what's what!
So, if you are a solo traveller without $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 (~$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 a good $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 (~$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 $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.
- Take a boat from Toke to Banana Island and a bbq on Jonobo beach
Local crafts are relatively inexpensive for tourists, especially given the time and skill required for hand-made items.
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.
- Fresh peanuts called "Granite" (ground nuts) from the local sellers on Lumley beach and throughout Freetown.
- Angels Delight, Family Kingdom, Aberdeen, +23222 273257.
- Crown Bakery Restaurant, Freetown Centre. This is the only "Western" restaurant downtown. You can order ice with your meal here.
- Crown Bakery Express, Wilkinson Road. Clean and modern sandwich bar. A good place for lunch and WiFi.
- Diaspora, 2 Pricilla Street (off Shiaka Stevens).
- Prince's pizza (take-away), 125 Wilkinson Road, ☎ .
- Roy's Beach Bar, Lumley Beach Road (Kinston upon Hull Highway). Good food served on an elevated platform on the beach.
- 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.
- Country Lodge Hotel Restaurant, ☎ 00232 22 235589, fax: 00232 22 235688. HS 51 Hill Station, ). Excellent views over the city, live jazz on Thursdays. The peppercrust stake is very good, the salads are a bit small.
- Mamba Point 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.
- Sierra Lighthouse Restaurant (Turn left in front of Bintumani Hotel), ☎ . 5 Man of War bay.
- Atlantic Restaurant, Beach Road, Lumley, +232 76667677.
- 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.
- Balmaya Arts Restaurant, 32B Main Motor, Congo Cross, +23222 230055.
- Bamboo Hut Bar and Restaurant, ☎ . 70A Wilkinson Road.
- The Solar Hotel restaurant, near Man o' War Bay. Now closed for refurbishment.
Apart from the hotels and restaurants, there are many bars along the beaches, particularly at the Aberdeen end of Lumley Beach. Man of War Bay in Aberdeen has several popular bars and restaurants, all of which have terraces overlooking the bay.
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, although now it appears to have closed and is in poor condition. Star beer is now 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 itself 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.
- Hill Station Club. Gentleman's club, dating from colonial times. In a much dilapidated state but the bar still serves beer.
- Oasis, Murray Town Road (100m 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.
- O'Casey's Blues Bar, Man of War Bay. A new bar on the bay. Sometimes with live music.
- The Office, Man of War Bay. This is the place to be seen! A very popular wine bar with a wide range of music (expect anything from ABBA to the latest international hits).
- Quincy's (Paddy's), Sir Samuel Lewis Road (Near Aberdeen Bridge). It was one of the oldest bars in Freetown. It declined in recent years, but has now been reopened as Quincy's.
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. Conveniently close to town centre and clean. From around $8 per night.
- YMCA, 32 fort street, ☎ 022-22-3608. Fan single/double rooms with breakfast. Le80.000/130.00.
- Andys Guest house, p z turntable. $18.00.
- 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, a new island resort, bungalows with en-suite, restaurant and bar 00232 78 819515 www.lakkabeachresort.com
- Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel, 17 Lumley Beach Road, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Freetown's first truly 4 star hotel. Recently refurbished to a very high standard. It is well located near to local bars and the beach.
- Hilton Cape Sierra Hotel. Closed before Christmas 2008 for refurbishment. The original hotel has now been completely demolished. It is planned to reopen as part of the Hilton chain in 2014, but construction work has not started as of June 2014. The hotel is well located next to the Atlantic and will have direct access to Lumley Beach.
- 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. $150.
- Bintumani Hotel, ☎ .
- Cabenda Hotel, 14 Signal Hill Road. From January 2009, the UN has exclusive use of the hotel.
- Hotel Barmoi, Aberdeen (Behind the Cape Sierra Hotel), ☎ 232-22-234933. 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 can be unreliable. This is one of the most popular hotels in Aberdeen. Book ahead to be sure of a place. $124-150.
- Country Lodge Hotel, HS 51 Hillstation, ☎ ̟232 22 235589, fax: 00232 22 235688. Hill Station. Well located and popular hotel overlooking Freetown. Has a pool, fitness room and good bar/restaurants.
- Family Kingdom. Across the road from the beach.
- Kimbima Hotel. Near Man o' War bay, Aberdeen. Overlooking the Atlantic. Take the road to the Bintumani Hotel and turn right just before the hotel entrance. Good rooms from $110/night.
- 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.
- 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 now has a nice swimming pool.
- Sierra Lighthouse Inn, ☎ . Man of War bay, Aberdeen. Also has a fine restaurant offering Lebanese and local cuisine. The grilled fish is highly recommended.
- 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.
- Roy Guest House, 54 Lumley Beach Road, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Small but good hotel next to one of the most popular beach bars. $120.
- Greece, 5 Sir Samuel Lewis road, P.O. Box 528, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- United Kingdom, 6 Spur Road, ☎ . Also provides assistance to citizens of France
- Serbian Consulate, DSTV office, Wilkinson Road.
- US Embassy, Leicester, ☎ . ,
Violent crime is rare in Freetown. However, there have been some incidents in Lumley and Aberdeen at night, near to the clubs/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 94.3MHz (FM) and Western style commercial station Capital Radio on 104.9MHz.