Abidjan and its surrounding areas present visitors and locals with a host of activities for their enjoyment, leaving no excuse for those on business trips from abroad to remain in their hotel rooms. Although the crisis-ridden decade that came to an end in 2011 certainly hampered Abidjan’s vibrant nightlife, the security situation has been largely stabilised since President Alassane Dramane Ouattara came to power. The economic capital’s infamous roadblocks were dismantled in March 2013 as a new force – known as the Coordination Centre for Operational Decisions and comprising officers from the police, gendarmerie and the military – was established to maintain security. As security improves and economic growth has resumed, the “Pearl of the Lagunes” is once again flourishing. WHAT’S IN A NAME?: Legend has it that the name Abidjan resulted from a misunderstanding, when the first colonists asked a local man the name of the place. He replied “min-chan m’bidjan,” meaning “I just cut the leaves” in the Ebrié language, thinking he had been asked what he was doing. Today, visitors with a firm grasp of French are not hindered by such misunderstandings when out on the town, though it is often possible to get by with English, owing in part to the influence of neighbouring Ghana and Liberia. In any case, getting around this cosmopolitan city and finding the best places to wine, dine and have a good time is quite easy and very enjoyable.
Abidjan comprises four main areas. A cursory glance at a map will reveal how the city has been built around the Ebrié Lagoon in the centre, with two parallel bridges linking the southern areas to the northern neighbourhoods, and with the ocean on its southern flank and the interior to the north.
The first area includes all neighbourhoods south of the bridges, namely Zone 4, Biétry, Marcory, Treichville, Koumassi, Vridi and Port-Bouët. The latter two are industrial and port areas, while Treichville is a bustling commercial hub and best visited with locals when dining out. Zone 4, and Marcory and Biétry to some extent, boasts the highest concentration of dining and entertainment options for visitors. These areas are also located near the Felix Houphouët-Boigny International Airport in Port-Bouët, which lies along the same road heading east toward the sought-after beaches in Grand Bassam and Assinie.
ON THE LEVEL: Next, directly on the other side of the bridges, lies the Plateau, Abidjan’s business district and the location of most of the city’s hotels. The Plateau is Abidjan’s centre and is sometimes referred to half-jokingly as “Little Manhattan” owing to its relatively impressive skyline. Although this neighbourhood is crowded and lively during business hours, the streets are deserted at nights and on weekends. Nevertheless, some of the past glory of this former home of the French colonial administration remains, and there are several interesting venues in this part of town.
Other parts of the city of interest to travellers lie to the north and east of the Plateau, in the commune of Cocody. Cocody includes several neighbourhoods, such as Ambassades and Riviera, with a more residential feel and abundant greenery, and is home to many embassies, luxurious villas and the president’s residence. The 2-Plateaux neighbourhood can also be found in this part of town and hosts several clusters of restaurants and other venues. Finally, the largest commune in the city is Yopougon, which lies to the north and west of the Plateau, and is generally the poorest and least secure area. This part of Abidjan harbours an industrial zone, along with the famed Rue Princesse, where visitors seeking a taste of real Ivoirian nightlife can stop for a meal and drinks in the early evening when accompanied by an Ivoirian.
DINING: As a former French colony, it should be no surprise that Côte d’Ivoire has a host of excellent restaurants, though the uninitiated can have the pleasure of uncovering a wealth of culinary diversity when out on the town. Naturally, Ivoirian and French cuisine are very widespread, as is Lebanese, thanks to the long-term presence of a large Lebanese diaspora. Other types of eateries abound as well, including Vietnamese, Japanese, Italian, Spanish, Korean and Chinese.
Some of Abidjan’s elite dining experiences can be found at Treichville’s Aboussouan for those seeking an authentic Ivoirian experience, Le Grand Large in Biétry for a chance to run into the first lady, La Croisette to rub shoulders with ministers at lunchtime, Méchoui for first-class Lebanese cuisine and Hotel Ivoire’s le Toit d’Abidjan for the best view in town. For those on business in the Plateau, stop in for lunch at Abidjan Café or Chez Georges for a sunny ambiance, or get a quick bite at Salad and Sub in Rue du Commerce. For those famished after a late meeting, indulge your epicurean inclinations by having dinner at La Case Ebène, Chez Tuan or La Taverne Romaine. Perhaps the most popular fine dining attraction, however, and perhaps the best value for money, is Zone 4’s Le Montparnasse, featuring both Italian and French cuisine.
For those in search of a more relaxed atmosphere, Marcory’s Chez Ambroise should be at the top of the list. This is a quintessential Ivoirian maquis – a type of outdoor restaurant and bar – where one can order dishes such as attiéké, kédjénou and various traditional sauces, meat and fish dishes, all to the sounds of live Ivoirian music. For the best pizza in town, do not miss Biétry’s Di Sorrento, and drop by Le Kallisté bar/restaurant in Zone 4 for a casual dinner and a drink in a friendly atmosphere. Jardyland off Boulevard Latrille in 2-Plateaux has great fish and chips on Fridays, and Biétry’s Automatic can be indulged in by those who would like to smoke sheesha while enjoying Lebanese fare. Although slightly more upscale, Zone 4’s Kaiten provides a great atmosphere in which to enjoy Japanese cuisine and sushi, and for those in search of American food, Norima in Cocody provides the most authentic experience.
NIGHTLIFE: As for libations, avid imbibers can kick off the night by having a drink at trendy bars such as Che Café, Bar Blanc and Vodka Bar in Zone 4. Visitors can also quench their thirst by ordering ingenious, pricey cocktails at Empire in Zone 4 or Marcory’s Le Toa, with its excellent ambiance. In Zone 4, pool players can drop into Mary’s, l’Alizée or Che Café, where excellent tapas, cigars and an impressive wine list are available. Sports fans should head to Le Stade de France to catch important games on the big screen.
A trip to Abidjan, however, would not be complete without visiting Parker’s Place in Zone 4, perhaps West Africa’s most famous reggae club. This venue is home to an excellent house band. For those more interested in live jazz or blues, Empire, Piano Bar, Havana Café and occasionally Music’hall are all fun places to go in Zone 4, and the Plateau’s Le Filjim and 2-Plateaux’s Acoustic and Jardyland also host gigs. The same is true for La Boule Bleue in Zone 4, which has the added feature of providing pétanque grounds, a French game known colloquially as boules.
BOOGIE NIGHTS: As for dancing, options abound in Zone 4, whether to reggae beats at Parker’s Place, or pop in Vodka Bar, Blue Coconut, Empire and Mix. Revellers seeking a more Ivoirian experience can head to Marcory’s Pink or to Treichville’s Ritz, though it is recommended to be accompanied by a local. For a slightly more risqué ambiance, Saint Germain and l’Alizée are still considered respectable options. However, the city’s premier nightclub, the Life Star, is in the Plateau and on occasion receives visits from international DJs and celebrities, such as Kim Kardashian. After a night out, Chez Chris provides a fresh atmosphere in which to enjoy brunch and even serves American pancakes.
Many people leave Abidjan at weekends for the beaches in Assinie or Grand Bassam, or to relax by the lagoon on Boulay island or at the International Club & Paintball Park on the road to Dabou. For those who stay in Abidjan, daytime entertainment activities abound, with a cinema in the Prima shopping centre that occasionally features live acts, a go kart track and plenty of sports infrastructure.
ACTIVE INGREDIENTS: Fitness buffs can work out at the Calao in Treichville, the Ivotel in the Plateau, at the Hotel Ivoire’s fitness club or in 2-Plateaux’s Sporting Club, though Novotel and Hotel Tiama have gyms for their guests. Tennis courts can be found at the Hotel Ivoire and the golf club in Cocody, near the French embassy, as well as at the Athletic Club next to Mechoui restaurant in Marcory. American embassy staff host volleyball on Thursday evenings and have begun organising monthly softball games at the Lycée Classique in Cocody. Football can be played in Zone 4 near the Golden Hotel, and is often organised by local expatriates, while national team matches are played at Félix Houphouët-Boigny Stadium in the Plateau. Other sporting events, such as boxing and basketball, can be seen at the Palais des Sports in Treichville.
There is also no shortage of cultural options available, ranging from open air markets where artisanal goods can be purchased, to the frequent exhibitions in the Plateau’s La Rotonde des Arts Contemporains. Although damaged during the crisis, Treichville’s Le Palais de la Culture remains open and continues to host concerts and various other performances.
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