Known primarily as the confluence point of the Blue Nile and White Nile, the storied city of Khartoum is an intoxicating mix of cultures, religions and identities. Combining historic tombs and ancient civilisations with ambitious new developments, the city is a compelling paradox of both old and new. Here’s why intrepid travellers will want to visit to the Sudanese capital of Khartoum.
Khartoum is the gateway to the ancient sites of Sudan and an ideal base for travellers wishing to explore the country’s historic attractions. Begin in the city at the tomb of the Mahdi, otherwise known as Muhammad Ahmad, an important figure in Khartoum in the 19th century and a fierce opponent of colonial rule. His mausoleum was originally built following his death in 1885 but was destroyed by the British, only to be rebuilt with its distinctive silver dome. Visitors to the city will also want to venture north out of Khartoum to explore the famous Pyramids of Meroe. Built over 2,500 years ago and intended as the tombs for the Nubian dynasty, their structures differ from their better-known Egyptian counterparts and are far less crowded, meaning you can explore this fascinating place in peace.
An extraordinary spectacle, this weekly ritual at Hamed el-Nil tomb is not to be missed. Taking place every Friday afternoon at the tomb of Sufi leader Shikh Hamed al-Nil, Sufi worshippers take part in a ceremony known as dhikr. Intended as a way of communicating directly with God, a central tenant in Sufi religion, the practice involves chanting, clapping and twirling, and is both a moving and lively event to witness. As the sun sets, the ceremony ends and a Sufi dancer blesses the audience with frankincense, which is a symbol of faithfulness.
Intrepid travellers in search of an insight into Sudanese culture should visit the camel market on a Saturday morning for an unusual and entertaining experience. Camels are brought here from all over the country to be sold; people come here to buy camels for racing, travel and to serve as cargo carriers. The animals are bred accordingly, either for speed or strength, and camels that possess both characteristics will fetch the highest prices at the market.
Taking its name from its position on the banks of the Nile, Nile Street is Khartoum’s grandest thoroughfare. Wander past the splendour of the Presidential Palace and admire the mix of colonial era buildings as well as the more modern developments. Make use of the opportunity to enjoy a coffee perched on the banks of the Nile at one of the many cafés.
Arguably the best known of the city’s souks, Souq Arabi is the commercial hub of Khartoum and the atmosphere is suitably lively. Venture into the dazzling gold market to browse the glittering jewellery, wonder past the many fabric stalls or take a look in the leather boutiques, which often specialise in crocodile and snakeskin items, a Sudanese favourite.
Easily accessible from Nile Street via Tuti Bridge, Tuti Island is one of Khartoum’s more peaceful green spaces. Used primarily for growing fruit and vegetables for the city, this is also a great place to take a walk and see the point where the Blue Nile and White Nile meet. Up until recently, the island was relatively cut off from the city and the only mode of transport between the two was by ferry, until the addition of the suspension bridge in 2009.
Incorporating elements of Middle Eastern cuisine thanks to its proximity to the region, Sudanese food is largely fresh, aromatic and makes use of readily available ingredients. Travellers will want to try the staple dish of ful, mashed fava beans often served with olive oil and spices or a tomato and chilli sauce. This dish goes particularly well with the Sudanese version of falafel, tamia and kisra, a sorghum flour flatbread that is typically served with stews and soups. Al-Housh restaurant in Omdurman comes highly recommend and is popular with both locals and visitors. This large restaurant is known for its skilful preparation of what was traditionally Sudanese street food. Begin with a glass of hibiscus juice followed by agashe, meat grilled over hot sand.