Begin your sightseeing at Olumo Rock, its most visited attraction. The tour begins with a briefing at the Lisabi Garden, named after one of the town’s earliest warrior-leaders; here, you can buy bottled water or palm wine to take with you on the climb. Hike to the top (137m/450ft) to get a birds-eye view of the ancient town.
On your way up, guides narrate the story of how this place served as a shelter for thousands fleeing the multiple wars in Yorubaland in the 19th century, including bloody and repeated battles with the warriors of Dahomey. You get to step back in time by entering one of the caves preserved from that period. There are at least two shrines – usually with priests seated in front of them – on the way, both tied to the early history of the town.
Abeokuta is also well known for its colorful adire (indigo-dyed) cloth, an heirloom that has been passed down for many generations and over the centuries. Families can still be seen producing reams and reams of it in various compounds (there are no official tours of these compounds, but you can arrange with a local guide to take you to one). Shop for these fabrics at the purpose-built Adire Mall, a short drive from Olumo Rock.
On your way out of Abeokuta, drop in at the striking Olusegun Obasanjo Presidential Library (OOPL), a multiplex on 37ha of land. The name is somewhat misleading – it’s more than a library, and there’s enough to keep you here for a day, so decide what to see and do (and what to leave out) in advance. Among the facilities, there’s a cultural village, sports and recreation center, cinema, a wildlife park, an African fabrics center and theme park for kids. The main draw is its museum, which documents Nigeria’s political and economic history through the involvement of its two-time post-independent leader, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. Allow two hours for a tour of both wings in the museum. When you’re done, walk over to the Bamboo Grove, where you can relax over gourds of palm wine and plates of suya (barbecue meat).
Abeokuta is a little over an hour (100km) north of Lagos by road, on the Lagos-Ibadan Highway. You can get a shared taxi from the Ojota Motor Park or hire a car from your hotel to take you. Alternatively, you could go by train from the Mobolaji Johnson Station at Ebute Meta, or the Babatunde Raji Fashola Station at Agege.