Kano, Nigeria, is an atmospheric, mud-walled, 1,000-year-old Muslim center in the far northern part of the country. On the edge of the Sahel (the fringe of the Sahara), Kano is the oldest city in West Africa and has many cultural and historical links to the ethnic groups of the southern Sahara. Kano is a bustling and interesting city with a population that exceeds 9 million—it has grown at a frenzied pace. Though it's noisy and crowded, Kano is much more bearable than Lagos, Nigeria.

In Kano, be sure to visit the walls of the Old City (there are 16 gates) and the massive Kurmi Market where trade has been conducted for centuries in the congested alleyways. Also in the Old City is the Central Mosque (closed to non-Islamic visitors, but worth seeing from outside, especially during a Friday service when many thousands of men pray inside and outside in the courtyard).

South of the mosque is the Emir's Palace (to enter you need permission from one of the emir's guards at the gate), and across from the palace is the Gidan Makama Museum (historic and crafts exhibits). Indigo cloth is dyed at the Kofar Mata dye pits. The Gidan Dan Hausa (an old colonial governor's mansion) is worth a visit to see its unusual Hausa and Islamic architecture. There are great views of Kano from the top of Dala Hill in the middle of the Old City, and from there you can look down on the old clay houses and frenetic markets.

Excursions can be made from Kano to Katsina Daura (a traditional Hausa town), Birnin Kudu (rock paintings) and Sokoto (sultan's palace, market, leather goods). Kano has one of Nigeria's busiest airports, and because of a large expatriate community, some Western shops and restaurants.

Note: As with all the northern Nigerian cities, Kano is staunchly Islamic and visitors, especially women, should dress and act respectfully (no bare legs or shoulders, no drinking alcohol in public, and so on). 520 mi/835 km northeast of Lagos.

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