It’s commonly understood that the best way to explore a new place is to go straight to the locals. Each week in The Urbanist, we take that wisdom one step further by seeking out not just locals but local experts — those who are especially well versed in their cities’ newest and most noteworthy scenes — to give us insider tips. This week, we asked Folake Folarin Coker, founder, designer, and creative director of fashion label Tiffany Amber, for her recommendations in Nigeria’s largest city.
“Lagos is a lifestyle, a grand, hectic lifestyle. You either love it or you hate it, but I do believe everyone should experience Lagos at least once in a lifetime. It’s just one big adventure, really. There’s a lot to see. Lagos was not designed for tourists. It’s a work-in-progress. What Lagos is for tourists now is 5,000 times better than what it was, say, ten years ago. There’s a lot more to do. Still, people come here for other reasons and then they add tourism, fall in love with the city, and decide to stay or come back. Tourists should definitely visit Bogobiri House (9 Maitama Sule Street). Not to stay — it’s not luxurious at all — but to feed your eyes, to see the art and and get an impression of a typical Lagosian hotel. It’s full of pieces by local artists, who also helped to decorate the rooms. A lot of locals go to the Lekki Conservation Centre (19 Lekki-Epe Expy, Lekki Peninsula II), especially families with children. It’s the closest you can get to the zoo. There are loads of beach resorts — you drive out, you can be by the water, have a picnic. My favorite is Ilashe Beach, because it’s quiet and has a lot of private beach houses. Being there takes you on a mental holiday from the wildness of Lagos. Moist Beach Club is another favorite; it gives a calm and relaxing energy. I’d also suggest visits to Tarkwa Bay Beach, the National Theatre, and the National Museum. And they should visit them by Uber or licensed taxis. I wouldn’t advise tourists to use the BRT bus or an unlicensed taxi on the road. They’re too chaotic. And come December through March, because otherwise it gets really hot, humid, or rainy.”
“There are boutique hotels, and most of them reflect the local culture in one way or the other. I recommend Eko Signature (1415 Adetokunbo Ademola Street, PMB 12724) and Wheatbaker (4 Onitolo Road). They’re both five-star hotels. Everything just works at Wheatbaker. If you go there, you’re never going to be stressed. And the hotels will arrange a licensed taxi for you, so you don’t have to worry about the transportation.”
“There’s a misconception that Lagos is one of the most dangerous cities — it’s far from true. As a Lagosian and a regular traveler, I assure you that I find Lagos safer than a lot of the cities and countries I’ve visited. Don’t throw caution to the wind, that is, take all normal security measures like you would in any foreign land. Ikoyi, Victoria Island, and Lekki Phase 1 are central, and they’re the safest areas. Victoria Island is like Manhattan. Ikoyi is five minutes away from Victoria Island. There’s no traffic, it’s more residential. All the diplomats live there. It’s the wealthiest part of Lagos, the richest part of Lagos. But there’s still a lot there for other people to see, there are shops there, there’s loads of restaurants. If you’re in Ikoyi, you’ll want to go to Tarragon (50 Raymond Njoku Street), the in-house fine dining restaurant at the Culinary Academy, and Danfo Bistro for something more casual.
“If there is one thing you can count on doing for fun in Lagos, it’s eating out. One local dish you definitely must try is Jollof Rice. My favorite is ‘Nok by Alara (12a Akin Olugbade). The best way to describe the restaurant is haute couture African dishes. My favorite is this dish called Abula, a mixture of bean soup and draw soup. It’s completely traditional, and you have it with Amala, which is a “swallow” made from yam flour. It’s very delicious. Every Thursday to Sunday, I order it two or three times. That’s how much I love it. And La Brioche for the perfect breakfast. It’s just a normal Continental breakfast, but it’s really good.”
“Lekki Market for art and craft, Balogun Market for everything under the sun, and Law School Market for everything vegetables and sea foods. I go to the market during the week. Weekends are too crowded when everyone’s not at work. I brace myself for the craziness I’ll have to go through, because it’s really crowded, and it’s noisy. Very noisy. Lekki is probably the sanest. Every tourist that comes into Lagos goes to Lekki Market, because you have artists with loads of arts and crafts, fashion, clothes made with traditional fabric sold at reasonably good prices, clothes and bags and shoes. They have paintings, statues, carvings, anything you would want to bring home. Now, Balogun is the craziest market you can go to. You will find everything under the sun being sold there. Go to Lekki Market first. If it’s overwhelming for you, then you shouldn’t go to Balogun. The third, Law School Market, it is very local, but anything you are looking for in terms of spices and vegetables, you will find it. If you’re staying in an Airbnb and want to cook for yourself, that’s the perfect place to go for seafood and vegetables and spices. Sometimes you see the boats bring in the fish, fresh from the ocean.”
There’s a thriving arts scene in Lagos, especially because African art has broken into the international market. Now you have places like Sotheby’s selling African art. One of Ben Enwonwu’s paintings sold for a million pounds in London. There are so many different options, like Nike’s Art Gallery, and OYASAF Art Foundation. It’s the biggest private collection in Nigeria, and it’s owned by Yemisi Shyllon, the largest art collector in Africa. I think everything boils down to the fact that Africans really embrace their culture now, and maybe because of the international attention on the African lifestyle, it has broadened it’s appeal and suddenly everyone appreciates it a lot more. You can see that at the Arthouse Foundation (28 Norman Williams Street, Ikoyi), where they have live-work residencies for local artists, as well as a fund to send Nigerian artists abroad to participate in international art programs.
If you want to experience nightlife like a local, you have to go to the New Afrika Shrine (1 Nerdc Road, Agindigbi, Ikeja). That’s a place you would go to as a local. It was founded by Fela Kuti, so it has great historical significance. [Note: Tourists can learn more about Fela Kuti at the Kalakuta Republic Museum.] Let’s put it this way. When Macron came to Lagos a few months ago, that was one of the places he said he had to go to. He was a diplomat in Lagos years ago, and he remembered it as a place that he had so much fun. It’s not like a luxurious setting, but you just feel the vibes of Lagos in there. The wild vibes of Lagos, for lack of a better word.
There are so many options for outdoor activities. There’s kayaking at La Campagne Tropicana, golfing at Ikoyi Club 1938, and horse-riding at Ikeja Saddle Club. There’s the Lagos Polo Club in Ikoyi, too, if you’re interested in polo. Listen to classical music at Muson Centre, or see plays at the National Arts Theatre. Mix with locals at Freedom Park. It’s a park, and you can relax there, but there’s much more than that.
There are live music performances, entertainment, monuments, and so much to see. Terra Kulture too (Plot 1376, Tiamiyu Savage, Victoria Island). It’s dedicated to preserving Nigerian culture and language. There’s a restaurant, plays, book readings, exhibitions. If you’re really interested in the history of Lagos, there’s the Badagry Black Heritage Prison, about the trans-Atlantic slave trade.