The capital of Nigeria until it was replaced in 1991 by Abuja, Lagos is the country’s largest city and ranks second only to Cairo as the most populated conurbation on the African continent. Lagos remains Nigeria’s financial and economic capital and is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa, and indeed the world.
Lagos lies on the Atlantic coast in the Gulf of Guinea, west of the Niger River Delta. It was visited by the Portuguese in the 15th century, and the city’s location—on a series of islands separated by lagoons—led to its name, which means "lakes" in Portuguese. The city served as a major center of the slave trade for nearly 500 years, until the British colonized it in 1861 and outlawed the practice. This enabled Lagos to undergo rapid growth, a boom that continued after Nigeria’s independence in 1960.
Modern-day Lagos has a reputation for crime, but the truth is that in recent years the government has spent a vast amount of money on security measures and there has been a huge reduction in general offences. Today, the city is as well known for its music scene and lively nightlife as it is for anything else, a fact borne out by the numerous foreign tourists who visit each year.
Lagos is a sprawling city comprised of several islands that separate Lagos Lagoon from the Atlantic. The city limits extend west to the mainland and the metropolitan area now stretches more than 40 kilometers northwest of the city center. The two major tourist areas are Lagos Island and Victoria Island. These islands are separated from the mainland by the Lagos Harbor channel, which drains the lagoon into the ocean.
Start your trip on Lagos Island; in addition to being the city’s central business district, it is home to the National Museum of Nigeria, an interesting collection of treasures including—somewhat ghoulishly—the very Mercedes in which President Murtala Muhammed was assassinated in 1973.
Also on Lagos Island is Iga Idungaran, the Oba’s Palace. The Oba is a ceremonial sovereign, and the recently renovated palace, complete with ornate wooden doors, totem poles, and statues, is one of the most important historical sites in Lagos.
South of Lagos Island is Victoria Island, popularly known as VI. It has its own sizeable central business district and is also known for its excellent shopping. During the day, its Bar Beach attracts many tourists drawn by the white sands and azure waters. Visitors may be surprised to know that the name is taken from the sand bars that characterize the coastline, and not from the seemingly endless row of drinking establishments.
Adjacent to VI is the Lekki peninsula. In addition to another excellent beach, Lekki has a conservation center with trails and platforms from which you can see monkeys, Duikers, and crocodiles in their natural habitat.
Dining out in Lagos can be a global affair, with cuisines on offer ranging from Chinese to Mexican, Indian to Brazilian. Nigerian food is well represented; traditional African dishes include beans and dodo, spicy stewed snails, pepper soup, and a local dish known as efo riro, a blend of fish, meat, and spinach with a spicy sauce. Restaurants can be found across Lagos, but VI is home to many of the most upmarket venues.
Lagos is famed for its music and nightlife scene, which used to be located around Yaba and Surulere on the mainland. In recent years, nightclubs have begun appearing on the various islands and these are now home to the main nightlife attractions.
VI is the newest entertainment hotspot; visitors can take their pick from beach bars, pubs, karaoke bars, live music joints, and trendy nightspots. Other areas also offer a glut of entertainment options, but as with most major global cities, it pays to be on your guard; stick to known areas at night and travel in groups where possible. Lagosians like to party late; for the best suggestions as to where to go, just ask around and at your hotel.
For a memorable day trip, head an hour west of Lagos to Badagry, an ancient slave trade port once known as the "Point of No Return." Founded in the 15th century, Badagry’s protected harbor led to the town becoming a key port for the export of slaves to the Americas. After the suppression of the slave trade, Badagry declined significantly, but became a major site of Christian mission work. Today, Badagry subsists largely on fishing and agriculture and maintains a small museum of slavery. Its nine galleries display shackles, photos, documents, sketches, sculptures, and other artifacts that span the 300 years of the slave trade.