If you’re looking for the best things to do in Dakar, Senegal, this post is for you!
Sitting on a peninsula kicking out to the sea, Senegal’s capital Dakar is one of the biggest cities in West Africa.
It’s a large, hot, dusty city, and it’s not exactly well known as a tourist destination (aside from the UNESCO-rated Goree Island), but if you’re on a wider trip to Senegal you can’t miss its chaotic capital.
Goree Island is a must-visit destination in West Africa, but there are quite a few other things to do in Dakar as well.
I spent a few days in Dakar on my recent trip to Senegal, and ticked off all of these attractions and activities; here’s what I thought of them all!
Best things to do in Dakar
The best things to do in Dakar include learning about the history of Goree Island, surfing or driving on Ngor Island, checking out the city centre museums and markets and enjoying local culture!
Here are the top attractions and activities:
1. Visit Gorée Island
A 20-minute ferry ride from the city, Gorée is a beautiful island with a harrowing history surrounding the Atlantic slave trade.
Like many other islands in West Africa, Gorée was used to imprison slaves from the 15th to the 19th century before they were sent to North America.
They were then boarded onto boats to make the journey to the USA or Caribbean.
The House of Slaves on Gorée Island is an emotive exhibit, with the jail cells where Senegalese and West African people were imprisoned and the “door of no return” which is where slaves would take their last step from their home continent.
You’ll learn about the history of the slave trade and Gorée’s involvement through the exhibits. It’s possible to visit without a guide, but having one will help you to comprehend the enormity of the slave trade. Take a look at a guided tour on Get Your Guide by clicking here.
I found it a very difficult place to visit, but it’s a very important history to learn about.
Aside from the House of Slaves, Gorée Island has pastel-coloured terraced buildings, viewpoints over the island and a small beach.
2. Ngor Island
Dakar’s other island, Ngor, sits just across from Ngor Beach (it takes just five minutes to travel to it from the mainland – check out my how to get to Ngor Island post here).
Ngor’s tiny and there’s not as much to do here than Goree, but it does boast a small, well-maintained beach with plenty of food stalls (we ate Theiboudienne, the national dish of Senegal) and alleyways and small roads lined with buildings adorned in street art winding the diameter of the island.
It’s well worth a quick break to if you’re feeling the intensity of the city!
3. Museum of Black Civilisations
The Museum of Black Civilisations is a vast museum documenting all you need to know about past and present African culture and customs.
There’s a focus on Senegalese and West African cultures, but other African cultures are also showcased.
While it’s an extensive, modern museum with plenty of exhibits and artefacts, not that much of the museum is in English. If you speak French, you’ll be fine – if not, I recommend using the Google Translate app with the camera function. This automatically translates the French onto your phone!
4. SCUBA diving
Dakar as a SCUBA diving destination – who would have thought it?
Nautilus Diving Center offers fun dives and SCUBA courses around Ngor Island and Soumbédioune. From Ngor Beach, you’ll head out to jump in the water and look out for fish, marine life and flora.
We did a day of SCUBA with Nautilus, and while it was enjoyable, we weren’t blown away with the amount of animals and marine plants that we saw and the sea water wasn’t the best quality, it’s a good experience for avid divers!
There are some shipwrecks on the seabed which could be interesting to explore – they’re for advanced divers only, and Nautilus does recommend that you do a dive with them in Dakar first to see what the conditions are like (currents can be quite strong!).
5. Mosque of the Divinity
While Senegal’s not a secular country, 95% of the population is Muslim – which means that there are a some incredible mosques in and around Dakar!
My favourite is the Mosque of the Divinity. This mosque stands strikingly against the sea with minarets soaring up into the sky.
It’s not open for non-Muslims to visit, but we took a walk around it, taking in the exterior.
There’s a small fish market around the base of the mosque, and you can walk up to the cliffs above (you’ll need to get a taxi from here) to take in a vista of the mosque.
6. African Renaissance Monument
A huge statue looking out to the sea, the African Renaissance Monument was bizzarrely built by North Korea and represents a man, woman and child gazing over the water.
It’s an enormous fortification – 52 m (171 ft) tall – and has 160 steps leading up to the base.
It’s free to walk up to the statue and enjoy looking up, and right at the top of the statue there’s a restaurant!
7. Surfing at Ngor Island
While there is SCUBA diving at Ngor Island, the currents and waves around the area are actually ideal for surfing.
Thanks to its location right in the very west of Africa, Dakar sees huge waves, swells and breaks that encompass some of the most adrenaline-boosting surfing in the world.
Boats leave Ngor Beach and journey out to the island, taking surfers to the best breaks in the area.
You can book surfing trips with Ngor Island Surf Camp; they also offer accommodation by the beach and on-the-ground assistance.
8. Day at Ngor Beach
In a similar area of the city, kick back on Ngor Beach and enjoy a day on the sands – Senegalese style!
At the weekend, local Senegalese families arrive on the sands early and spend all day there.
Enjoy street food, practice your French and sit on the sands with an ice-cold drink… It’s a local experience like no other!
9. Private tour around Dakar
One of the best ways to explore Dakar is by taking a private tour.
There are a few sights, such as markets, that are best visited with a guide – plus quite a few of Dakar’s attractions are rather spread out, so having the transport to get from A to B helps a lot.
10. Dinner at the Westernmost point of Africa
As I mentioned, Dakar’s home to the Westernmost point of Africa; and even if you don’t want to surf, you can stroll close to the Westernmost point and enjoy dinner here!
The actual Westernmost point of Africa is closed off to tourists currently, but you can head to this strip of restuarants (Google maps location). Here, there’s Casa Teranga, Senegal’s only vegan restaurant (among others!) and some market stalls selling souvenirs.
Watch the sunset, grab a drink and toast to a successful time in Dakar!
11. Dinner at La Cabane du Pecheur
La Cabane du Pecheur (fisherman’s cabin) is a fantastic seafood restaurant and guesthouse.
We actually stayed here while we were in Dakar; it was a comfortable, modern place to stay right on the beach.
For dinner, expect a range of seafood and fish dishes. There was only one vegetarian option – mozarella and pesto ravioli – but it was so tasty I had it on two nights!
Catch the sunset and see Ngor Beach come to life, sip on a cold glass of wine or local Gazelle Beer, and enjoy vistas out to the island.
12. Bandia Wildlife Reserve Tour
Bandia Wildlife Reserve is just over an hour from Dakar, and is one of the most popular destinations not just from the city but also from Saly and Pointe Sarene (Senegal’s beach destinations).
Bandia isn’t quite as epic as the other safari destinations in Senegal, but from here you can embark on a 4×4 tour around the reserve to look out for giraffe, zebra, antelope and rhinos.
The reserve is fenced in, and it does have a slightly zoo-like atmosphere, but all animals are free to roam around the area and in their natural habitat (they actually went extinct in this part of West Africa before being re-introduced in Senegal’s national parks).
It’s nowhere near the level of East African safaris, but it’s still awesome to see these animals and is a refreshing trip out of the city!
13. Day trip to Saly or Pointe Sarene
Saly, around a 75 minute drive from Dakar, is an ideal day trip if you want some beach time away from the capital city.
This golden coastline has been making Senegal famous in recent years. With bright blue waters, golden sands and swaying palm trees, Saly has plenty to offer when it comes to nature.
These days, it’s a little touristy, but you’ll find plenty of restaurants and bars that are ideal for relaxing in after a day on the sands.
I’d recommend travelling to Saly independently so you can spend however long you like there.
You can take sept-places (local shared taxis) to the beach town – these are the most budget-friendly way – or use a private cab. We used Yango in Dakar which worked really well.
There will be plenty of taxis available in Saly itself to return to Dakar. Before you get into a cab, however, make sure you agree on the price!
14. Visit the Pink Lake
Located around half an hour from Dakar, the Pink Lake (it’s actually pink!) is a popular day/ afternoon trip from the city.
Pink Lake (officially Lake Retba) is northeast of Dakar, and is known – as the name suggests – for a characteristic pink hue!
The colouration is due to the presence of Dunaliella salina algae, which thrive in the lake’s high-salinity conditions. These algae produce a red pigment to absorb sunlight, which, in turn, gives the lake its distinctive colour.
The intensity of the pink varies depending on the time of day and the season, generally more vivid during the dry season.
Lake Retba is also known for its high salt content, comparable to that of the Dead Sea!
However, all that said, flooding in 2022 caused an influx of fresh water into the lake which meant that’ it’s lost its characteristic rosy colour.
It’s still a lovely natural place to visit and explore, but don’t expect bright magenta waters!
15. Take a trip to Touba
Touba is one of the most unique places to visit in Senegal. Situated around an hour and a half from the city centre, it’s a popular day trip.
Founded in 1887 by Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, a revered Sufi leader, it serves as the spiritual center of the Mouride Brotherhood, one of the largest Islamic Sufi orders in Senegal. The city’s name, meaning ‘felicity’ or ‘bliss’ in Arabic, reflects its spiritual significance.
At the heart of Touba is the magnificent Grand Mosque, one of the largest in Africa and an emblem of the city’s religious importance. Completed in 1963, this mosque is a masterpiece of Islamic architecture, adorned with marble, towering minarets, and a striking green dome.
It stands as a symbol of peace and divine grace, attracting thousands of pilgrims annually, especially during the Grand Magal, a major religious festival celebrating Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba’s exile by French colonialists.
Touba is a city where traditional and religious values are deeply ingrained.
The Mouride Brotherhood’s teachings emphasize hard work, prayer, and devotion to their spiritual leader. This ethos is visible in the city’s culture and daily life, where residents often engage in community service and religious activities.
Unlike most other Senegalese cities, Touba operates under its own set of rules in line with Islamic law, including restrictions on alcohol and smoking.
If you visit Touba, you’ll notice the absence of conventional entertainment venues, replaced instead by religious and educational institutions. This unique aspect offers a glimpse into a community where faith profoundly influences every aspect of life.
Are you ready to visit Dakar?
If you’re on a trip to Senegal (and it’s a country well worth visiting), you can’t miss the chaotic capital of Dakar. There’s plenty to do here, and hopefully this guide has shown you them. Don’t forget to check out the rest of my Senegal posts for more information.