Main street Harare Zimbabwe by Ulrich Mueller ShutterstockAn aerial view of the main street in Harare © Ulrich Mueller, Shutterstock

From leafy streets lined with flamboyant trees to craft markets, trendy restaurants and thriving arts scene, lively Harare has everything you would expect of a capital city.

Major international airlines withdrew their services from Harare in 2007–08 and they have barely returned, so the capital has been shunned and bypassed by overseas visitors for quite a number of years. Even in the boom days of the 1980s and 1990s it seldom featured in tourist itineraries other than as an enforced stopover for connecting flights. When visitor numbers became virtually nonexistent in the early 2000s, Harare’s tourism infrastructure – such as it was – crumbled.

In the period following the introduction of the unified government Harare began to pick itself up with a degree of optimism unheard of for a decade. But that effect was temporary and was soon to be superseded by the rapidly deteriorating economic situation which saw many businesses fall by the wayside, and the desperate water and power supply situation was only making matters worse. Even now though, Greater Harare (estimated population 1.6m) is a very pleasant town with plenty of parks and open spaces, wide streets lined with jacaranda and flamboyant trees, and pedestrian areas with upmarket shops and craft markets. It enjoys a thriving arts scene with galleries and museums, trendy restaurants and nightclubs; in fact pretty well everything you would expect in a capital city.

But today you can’t help noticing the general feeling of decline in parts of the CBD. Traffic congestion, together with the closing down of many shops and restaurants and an increase of informal traders, has turned Harare into a city of two parts. The wealthy folks are still in town but over the years they have migrated to the leafy suburbs to the north where you’ll be surprised at the obvious affluence reflected in the beautiful private properties and the upmarket shopping centres that service them.

The city centre still has some attractions of interest to the visitor but generally speaking you’ll be drawn to the suburbs such as Avondale and Borrowdale for the best accommodation, shopping and dining.

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