There’s certainly no shortage of sights in Freetown to keep you entertained for a few days before you set out to discover the rest of Sierra Leone. You’ll find world-class beaches within day-trip distance, islands, historical sights and a collection of interesting museums. Freetown’s 3 best museums are a great addition to your itinerary, allowing you to understand the country’s history and culture, and providing the perfect introduction to your Sierra Leone adventure. Let’s have a closer look at the 3 best museums in Freetown, what is there to see, and practical information to help you plan your visit.
Museums in Freetown You Can’t Miss
1. Sierra Leone National Museum
Just a short distance away from the famous Cotton Tree, one of the symbols of Freetown, you’ll find the Sierra Leone National Museum. The museum predates independence – it was originally established by the Sierra Leone Society in 1953, in order “to provide for the preservation of Ancient, Historical, and Natural Monuments, Relics, and other objects of Archaeological, Ethnographical, Historical or other Scientific Interest”. It is interesting to note that the museum is still housed in its temporary premises, in the former Cotton Tree Station at the junction between Siaka Stevens Street and Pademba Road. An extension of the museum was open in 1987, sponsored by the German Embassy. The museum is compact and can easily be visited in a couple of hours, and the dedicated staff is often happy to provide explanations and guided tours to interested visitors. You’ll find many interesting exhibits in the museum, highlighting Sierra Leone’s history and cultural diversity. One of the best known is the only photograph of Bai Bureh, the independence leader known for starting the Hut Tax War against the British in 1898. Bai Bureh’s drum, sword and clothes are also on display.
Other interesting exhibits include full body masks, some of which belong to secret societies from all over the country, featuring intricate woven designs with shells and beads, and masks made from animals’ heads.
There are also traditional musical instruments on display, and staff might give you a demonstration on how they are played if you ask. The museum is open from 8.30 AM to 4.30 PM Monday to Friday, 9.00 AM to 3.30 PM on Saturday, and it is closed on Sunday. Entrance tickets are $5 for foreigners, 5000 SLL for locals.
2. Sierra Leone Peace Museum and Memorial
The Sierra Leone Peace Museum and Memorial was opened in 2013 right opposite the Sierra Leone National Museum, making it easy to visit both museums one after the other. The 2013 opening date was not casual – it marked 10 years since the end of the brutal civil war that ravaged the country for over a decade. The museum stands on the location of the Special Court of Sierra Leone, a national institution aiming to honour the victims, sharing positive narratives, and promoting peace in the country. The Museum and Memorial take visitors on a journey through Sierra Leone’s brutal civil war and peace process, through a variety of mainly visual exhibits that also highlight the country’s cultural complexity. The exhibition is mainly outdoors and includes the Memorial Garden, with a memorial dedicated to the victims, as well as a tent, peace pole and peace bridge. There is also an archive containing documents related to the war, which can be accessed by visiting researchers. The museum is open from 9 AM to 5 PM Monday to Saturday, and it is closed on Sunday. Entrance tickets are $1 for foreigners, free for locals.
3. Freetown's National Railway Museum
The third Freetown museum is dedicated to the country’s railway – which might sound quite bizarre, since trains in Sierra Leone stopped running in 1975. The railway in Sierra Leone was established during the British colonial rule, connecting Freetown to the cities of Daru and Makeni in the interior of the country. After the railway ceased to operate, much of the country’s rolling stock and locomotives were sent back to the UK, and some were kept in a Freetown train workshop with the intention of welcoming visitors in the future. Plans were put on hold during the civil war, with some displaced people finding shelter in the workshop complex. After the end of the war, restoration began coordinated by the late Mohamed Bangura, the last general manager of the national railway. The museum was finally opened in 2005 and features a series of locomotives and passenger coaches, as well as historical information and pictures of the railway. The two most curious exhibits are a passenger coach specifically designed for Queen Elizabeth’s visit in 1961 (even though she never used it) and a tank locomotive dating back to 1915. The museum is open Monday to Friday from 9.30 AM to 4.30 PM, and on Saturday by appointment. Admission is free but donations are encouraged.