Porto-Novo was founded by the Portuguese in the 16th century, and the capital still retains much of that influence. It is the second-largest city in Benin and home to a handful of tourist attractions, including many of the country’s most outstanding museums. The capital is also a great jumping-off point for exploring the rest of Benin, including the nearby city of Cotonou.
The fairly new Musée da Silva is one of the most popular highlights of Porto-Novo. The museum celebrates the city’s Afro-Brazilian heritage through an interesting collection of artwork, artifacts and photographs. The complex also houses a small library, hotel, traditional home and an open-air cinema that regularly shows French films.
The Musée Ethnographique de Porto-Novo is also worth a visit. The well-curated collection highlights the kings who once ruled over the region, and the small entrance fee is definitely worth it to see the rich selection of Yoruba masks, musical instruments and costumes.
For another glimpse of royal life in Benin, visit the Palais Royal du Roi Toffa, the former home of King Toffa. Also known as the Museé Honmé, the well-maintained palace details royal life in the late 19th-century.
Other sights worth visiting in the city include the Palais de Gouverneur, home of the national legislature, and the Jardin Place Jean Bayol, where a statue of the country’s first king stands in the center of a lovely plaza.
The best time to visit Porto-Novo is mid-January when the streets erupt in celebrations of the country’s Afro-Brazilian legacy. The enormous festival includes plenty of food, dancing and music sponsored by the Musée de Silva.
Just a 45-minute drive from the capital is the city of Cotonou, the primary port of entry and the largest city in Benin. Although Porto Novo is the official capital, Cotonou has blossomed into the economic heart of the country. The city is a great example of urban Africa, where scooter taxis zoom down wide boulevards, markets overflow with activity and locals are known for their friendly and welcoming disposition.
The highlight of Cotonou is the Grand Marché du Dantokpa, the seemingly endless market that is at once exhilarating and exhausting. From the massive space between the Boulevard St. Michel and the lagoon, visitors can purchase nearly everything under the sun. The labyrinthine lanes are crowded with stalls, and local vendors hawk everything from rubber sandals and bootleg CDs to more traditional fare like silver jewelry, colorful batiks and handwoven baskets. For a more bizarre shopping experience, visit the fetish market near the lagoon.
The Cotonou Cathedral is one of the country’s most beautiful buildings. The Roman Catholic church is known for its distinct white and burgundy tile work.
While Porto-Novo is relaxing and quaint, Cotonou is known for its incredible nightlife and energetic atmosphere. In the evenings, locals dance to Western pop tunes spun by DJs or take in live jazz and rumba performances at crowded clubs. There are also a number of good cinemas in the city that play both Western and African films.
Porto Novo Geographical Location
Porto Novo is located in the southeast corner of Benin on an inlet of the Gulf of Guinea.
The approximate population of Porto Novo is 224,000.
Porto Novo Language
French is the official language while the most common languages in the south are Fon and Yoruba. There at least six major tribal languages that are spoken throughout the Northern region.
Porto Novo Predominant Religion
- 27% Catholic
- 25% Muslim
- 17% Vodoun
- 16% Other
- 10% Protestant
- 5% Other Christian
Vodoun, popular religion in Benin, has its spiritual center in the town of Ouidah on the central coast.
Porto Novo Currency
The CFA Franc is the official currency of Benin.
Porto Novo Climate
It is consistently hot and humid in Porto Novo. There is usually rainfall throughout the year but May and June are the wettest while the rainy season is considered to last until October.
Porto Novo Attractions
- Kings Palace Museum
- Ethnographic Museum
- Musée da Silva
Other Attraction in Porto Novo
- Centre Songhai
- Jardin Place Jean Bayol