The ultimate guide for visiting Khartoum
Khartoum, the capital city of Sudan, is the sixth-largest city of Africa and stretches at the confluence of the Blue Nile and White Nile featuring more than 8 million inhabitants. Since it’s a vast metropolis, we didn’t expect a lot about its visit, but in the end, it was a delightful surprise. Khartoum is made out of three distinct cities: Khartoum, Bahri, and Omdurman. The three cities are divided by the Nile and its two arms. The Blue Nile flows between Khartoum and Bahri, the White Nile between Khartoum and Omdurman, and the merged Nile between Bahri and Omdurman.
How to spend 24 hours in Khartoum
1) National Musem of Sudan
The National Museum of Sudan is the main attraction in Khartoum. Built around 1960, it boasts a remarkable collection of archaeological finds from the Pre-History period (250.000 BC to 3000 BC) to the Kingdom of Meroe (300 BC to 350 AC), and some beautiful temples saved by UNESCO and transferred from the area of Lake Nasser. After the construction of the Aswan Dam, the UNESCO moved some temples and tombs to Khartoum that would have been submerged by the waters of the Nile. Some of these temples are perfectly preserved dating back to almost four thousand years ago. On the second floor of the museum, ancient Christian frescoes are on display, representing the richest collection so far discovered in the Nile valley. The museum is located along Nile Avenue, next to the confluence between the White and Blue Nile. Entrance fee 10 SDG. Opening time: Tuesday to Sunday from 8 am -5.30 pm (Friday 8 am to 11.30 and 2 pm to 5.30 pm; Monday closed).
2) The Great Mosque of Khartoum
It’s worth a stop to see the Al Kabir Mosque (or Great Mosque), the most important religious building in Khartoum. The foundation stone of the Grand Mosque was laid on September 1900 and was opened on December 1901. Built in Islamic-Turkish style, the Al Kabir Mosque has two minarets and its interior features only a few decorations to keep it simple and create an intimate atmosphere. Some of the columns are not plastered and show the original red bricks of which they are made. The mosque can host up to ten thousand faithful during prayer. It is located along El Baladiya Avenue.
3) Nile river sunset boat tour at the Nile confluence
After the long day spent around Khartoum, not to be missed is the relaxing cruise along the Nile with the sunset at the confluence of the Blue Nile, coming from Ethiopia, and the White Nile, coming from Uganda. The confluence is known locally as “Al Mogran”, and the two branches of the White and Blue Nile feature two distinct colours (the white Nile is muddier) before mixing together forming the Nile. You’ll find some boats along Nile Street, next to Corinthia Hotel and Tuty bridge or at the Blue Nile sailing Club. Alternatively, you can see the Nile confluence from Al Mogran Family Park or White Nile bridge.
Warning: the best view is indeed from the bridge, but it is considered as “strategic”; therefore, it’s prohibited to take pics from it. In case you take some shots, you could be approached by the police (they often dress as a civilian) and get into trouble.
4) Mahdi Tomb and Khalifa’s House Museum
The original Tomb made in honour of Muhammad Ahmad (also known as “Mahdi”) was built in 1885 after his death. The British blew up the building and even threw the Mahdi’s ashes into the Nile to prevent it from becoming a pilgrimage site and a rallying point for the Sudanese people. The present Mausoleum was rebuilt around 1947. Mahdi is one of the most important Muslim figures of the 19th century, and he’s considered as the national hero of Sudan. He was a fierce opponent of the European colonialist regime by fighting hard against the British army and their Egyptian allies. The visit is free, and it’s open for non-muslim too. Next to the Mausoleum, you can visit the Khalifa’s House Museum. It was the house of the Mahdi’s successor, Khalifa Abdullah, and features a collection of various remnants from old battles such as rifles, spears, banners and patched robes, but also old coins, old British newspapers and the cupola saved from the ruins of the ancient Mahdi’s Tomb.
5) Omdurman market
A thing not to be missed is the hustle and bustle of the lively Omdurman market, said to be the largest souk of East Africa. This ancient market covers an area of about 150,000 m2. With its thousands of small shops, it houses all types of goods, from everyday necessities to handicrafts, artefacts, souvenirs and various items.
6) Al Morada (Al Mawredah) fish market
The market takes place every day in a small area in Omdurman on the western bank of the Nile river. It’s said to be one of the oldest in Sudan and well known for being the best place to buy fresh fish in town. The market is usually bustling early in the morning when the fishermen gather here to display the catch for sale. Click here to read more.
7) Al Moheli camel market
Located in a dusty area at the western outskirt of Omdurman city, it is the largest camel market in Sudan. Most of the camels brought here are raised in Darfur and Kordofan regions and sold to the Egyptian market or the Gulf States. The area also features the cattle market, and along the road, you’ll see many groups of goats, donkeys and cows. The camel market takes place every day (morning and early afternoon), but the best moment for visiting is on Friday morning when it is hectic. Click here to read more.
8) Hamed al-Nil Tomb and Sufi ceremony (on Friday)
If the day of your visit is on Friday, you don’t have to miss the Sufi ceremony at Hamed al-Nil Tomb. It’s one of the most exciting sights and the highlight of any visit to Khartoum. Sufism is associated with Sunni and Shiite Islam, and its practitioners are called Sufis or Dervishes. Every Friday, between 4 pm and 5 pm, the “whirling dervishes” gather together around the Tomb of Sheik Hamed Al Nil, a 19th-century Sufi leader of Qadiriyah order, to celebrate the Sufi ceremony. At first, a circle is formed by reciting words of gratitude to the prophet Muhammad. Immediately afterwards, the dervishes begin to circle the inside of the circle. With the help of music, the scents of incense and religious songs, they arrive dizzy entering a state of trance. The place is very crowded, and the audience interacts with the singers, dancing to the rhythm of percussion instruments. At the end of the ceremony, just before sunset, one of the dervishes walks around the audience with incense giving them a blessing. The Tomb is located in Um Badda District.
9) Nuba wrestling
Initially practised by the populations inhabiting the Nuba mountains in the southern part of the country, Nuba wrestling is an old Nubian tradition in Sudan. The goal is to get your opponent on his back as quickly as possible. It is not allowed to kick, punch or grab clothes; therefore, the fighter tends to grab the opponent’s legs to throw him on the ground. Young men from all over Sudan come to Khartoum to challenge each other and emerge as local celebrities. The Sudanese Nuba Wrestling Federation organizes matches every Friday around 4 pm in El Haj Yousif Stadium. Click here to see the location.
Other attractions in Khartoum
If you have more than a day, or you have different interest, Khartoum offers other interesting spots. For example, you could visit the Republican Palace Museum, the Natural History Museum, the St. Mattew’s Cathedral (the Roman Catholic archdiocese built at the end of 19th century) or the University of Khartoum (the most significant and oldest university in Sudan). If you like markets, you can have a look at Souk al Arabi, a big market next to the Great Mosque.
Need to know about Khartoum
1. Khartoum International Airport: the small airport is located in the centre of Khartoum. On arrival, be ready to face a long queue to get to the passport control. If you need to exchange your currency, there is an exchange shop in the arrival hall. Once out of the building, you can reach your accommodation by taking a taxi (around 150 SDG). A new airport is under construction about 40 km south of Khartoum.
The departure terminal is tiny and essential, and there is only an entrance. Therefore, the security guards will let you inside only 2 hours/2 hours and a half before your flight. If you arrive at the airport earlier, you will have to wait outside the building. Inside of it, you’ll find a couple of bars and a small souvenir shop.
Notice: the foreigner is required to declare his presence to the competent authority within three days of entering Sudan at the Aliens Registration Office (Shari’a Al Sahafa Zat, close to the Sudan University of Science and Technology). You can do the Police registration yourself (bring the passport, a photocopy of it and a couple of passport-sized photos) through the local tour operator or even asking the reception of your accommodation. It costs around 600 SDG.
2. Accommodations: Khartoum offers a good range of accommodations, and you’ll find several hotels in the downtown. We slept at the Anwar Almedina Hotel. You can also check with the Taj Mahal hotel, Downtown hotel and business centre, Dadnas Hotel, Bouganvilla hotel, or Soluxe hotel. There are some more comfortable and expensive hotels such as Corinthia hotel, Al Salam Rotana, Assaha Hotel, Coral hotel or Grand Holiday Villa hotel.
3. How to move around: you can move around the city by taking a taxi or a tuk-tuk (for a short trip) for a few Sudanese pounds. Khartoum is chaotic; therefore, be ready to be stuck in the traffic for a long time.
4. Where to eat: you’ll find several good restaurant restaurants along the main streets in the downtown of Khartoum. The price starts from a few Sudanese pounds for shawarma and falafel to something more expensive if you choose a fancy restaurant. We ate at the Syrian Castle restaurant and the excellent Assaha restaurant. Click here to find out the best restaurants in Khartoum.
5. Currency exchange: the official currency is the Sudanese pound. You can exchange your money in the local banks (8 am to 2 pm – closed on Friday and Saturday) or in the few currency exchange shops. You can also try at Al Waha Mall, the most known mall in the capital city.
The credit card is not accepted because of the US sanctions, and you can’t withdraw from the ATM either. It’s possible to pay for the hotels directly using USD. So as in all the African countries, remember that they only accept US Dollars issued since 2010 (better from 2013) and in good condition (no rips, pen stains, scotch tape…etc..). Take in mind that could be a bit difficult to exchange your currency out of Khartoum, and they usually exchange or accept only US dollars.
We travelled with Amal Travel & Tourism (the owner, Mr Ali, is a fantastic person that will make all the efforts to make your trip unforgettable). If you are also looking for a local guide, we highly recommend Mr Abdul. He’s responsible for the archaeological sites in the area of Khartoum and speaks English, French and Russian (WhatsApp: +249 999024000).