Porto Novo is the capital of Benin, but in name only. Benin’s second largest city of approximately 250,000 people is a nice change of pace from the bustling Cotonou and has many nice features. It is an easy one-hour car ride from Cotonou, and only 20 minutes from the beach.
Porto Novo, named by the Portuguese in the 1500s, is still today showing significant Portuguese influence. For its size, Porto Novo has quite of bit of culture and tourist attractions. Ouando, a district 3km north of the city center, has a large market and pretty good nightlife.
Minibuses and taxis go to Cotonou regularly and are cheap (600cfa for the 45 minute trip). You will most likely end up at the big market Dantopka in Cotonou unless you choose to descend somewhere before that. It can be quite intimidating getting out there especially in peak times. You will be immediately surrounded with people wanting to give you rides. They will grab your bags and start to usher you to their moto or car, so make sure you have a good handle on things before stepping out of the car.
Also, from the Porto Novo auto gare, there are taxis to Abomey and Lagos, Nigeria. For traveling north, head to Marche Ouanho and say you are looking for a car for your destination. Every hour or so, when filled, cars leave for Pobé and Ketou.
There are pirogues leaving from Porto arriving less-visited lake villages nearby.
Ask around down by the lagoon, about 50m east of the bridge for prices. No fixed prices, but usually expect to pay around 2,000 cfa round trip.
Traffic isn't overwhelming like in Cotonou. However, like Cotonou, the best way and easiest way to see Porto Novo is by zemidjan. A full day with driver waiting on you should cost 5,000cfa maximum. Not bad.
Museé Ethnographique de Porto Novo. This is an interesting museum that takes an intensive look into the past of Porto Novo’s kings. Displaying a good selection of fetishes, old Yourba king masks, costumes, and some musical instruments, this is definitely worth the CFA1,000 Entrance fee.
Palais Royal du Roi Toffa. This former residence of King Toffa is now officially called Musee Honmé. CFA 1,000 is the entrance fee. This well maintained, rather simple, palace is a nice look into how African royalty really lived. 1883 was the year King Toffa signed the treaty with French, agreeing to hand over land. The kingdom of Porto Novo was one of the longest lasting in Africa, lasting up until 1976.
Jardin Place Jean Bayol is a large plaza which contains a statue of the first King of Porto-Novo.
The palais de Gouverneur (governor's palace) is the home of the national legislature.
Museé da Silva. Celebrating Afro-Brazilian influence on the city, this fairly new museum offers a lot of variety. The museum grounds consist of a traditional house, a small library, an open-air cinema showing French films, and a hotel.
The unique and perhaps most colorful building in West Africa is the early 20th century Brazilian style mosque. A must-see.
Centre Songhai. Project Songhai has an interesting story and is a good example of a self-sustaining learning community. They attract students from all over West Africa for agriculture studies and they are pioneers in waste management and resourcefulness. The compound includes a dormitory residence, beautiful open-air conference centers, cyber café, nice restaurants and bar, and a small general store with fresh produce.
There is in mid- January a fete which celebrates Afro-Brazilian legacy is a large festival of food, music, and dancing; definitely worth checking out if you are around. Contact Musee de Silva for more information.
Ask around in Ouando, there is a decent swimming pool.
Across from the National Assembly, there are two nice parks with an outdoor patio/restaurant, and walking paths.
There are about four supermarkets with lots of variety. The big ones to ask for are Champignon, Paniere, Universe 7, all located on the same boulevard through town.
Adjarra Market, located 10Km north of Porto. Held every fourth day, this market is certainly one of the best in Benin. One can find unique types of tie-dyed fabric, amazing pottery, unusual musical instruments, various voodoo ornaments, and of course mainstream market items.