Sierra Leone’s capital has grown into a busy, energetic city in the 225 years since the British first settled 400 freed slaves in the area around the famous cotton tree, on a site that was said to have been a slave market. The cotton tree is thought to be over 500 years old and forms an unusual and effective orientation point for the city’s maze of streets and alleyways.
Freetown is on the southern side of the third largest natural harbour in the world. It is a hilly site, so there are sea views from almost any point in the city. Charming Creole buildings intermingle with Freetown’s notable buildings, including the ornate law courts and the imposing St George’s Cathedral.
To the east of the main town are the buildings that used to make up Fourah Bay College, the first university in West Africa, founded in 1827 and completed in 1876. The college played a key role in Sierra Leone’s colonial history/ It was known as the “Athens of West Africa”, a reference to its reputation for educating the colonial administrators, churchmen and academics of the region.
The college’s first student, Samuel Adjai Crowther, went on to become the first indigenous Bishop of West Africa. Next to the college is the little-visited National Railway Museum, whose prize exhibit is a coach built for the state visit of Elizabeth II in 1961. The ‘Big Market’ on Wallace Johnson Street is the showcase for local artisans’ work and the place to pick up a bargain souvenir.
The Freetown peninsula is ringed by long stretches of white sand. Lumley Beach, on the western side of the peninsula, forms a focal point for local parties and festivals.
Freetown has a growing number of international standard hotels and guesthouses. Hotel Barmoi is a Sierra Leonean-owned hotel that offers good facilities including two swimming pools and a superb location overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. Country Lodge is located on Hill Station, up in the hills above the city centre where the British set up their colonial offices to take advantage of the cooler temperatures. Hotel facilities include a tennis court, large swimming pool and sweeping views over the city from one of the Freetown’s best restaurants.