Antananarivo, Madagascar's vibrant capital city, is often passed over in favor of the island's unique countryside and beaches. However, you're within reach of all of these in Tana, as the city is more commonly known, with the added attraction of great historical sites and excellent shopping and dining on your doorstep.
The Rova of Antananarivo, also called the Manjakamiadana, is a fortified palace complex that looks over the city from the top of Haute-Ville. Be sure to see the tombs of the island's rulers near the entrance.
Visit Avenue de L'Indépendance (Independence Avenue), a mile of shops and stores located in beautiful 1930s buildings designed by Cantalou.
This hilly park to the southwest of the city is home to a zoo and arboretum and two museums. See some of Madagascar's plant and animal species before visiting other parts of the island.
This heart-shaped lake is a beautiful spot for a walk and looks spectacular when the jacaranda trees are in bloom each October.
Although not nearly as large as the historical Zoma Market, you'll still find plenty to buy in this extremely busy market. Vendors offer everything from clothing to household goods and all types of food.
Sitting on the mountain Analamanga 1480 meters above sea level, the Rova of Antananarivo (or Rova Manjakamiadana in the Malagasy language) offers a stunning 360-degree view of Antananarivo (or "Tana" for short) and its 12 cherished hills. In the company of a guide, explore the rich history bestowed on the Manjakamiadan (the Palace). In it you'll find the Queen's palace, part of a great royal complex built for Queen Rasoherina. Marvel at the royal artifacts saved from an arson attack that ravaged this seat of power in 1995 and make a point to stop by the tombs of the island's rulers right next to the entrance.
The Botanical and Zoological Garden is replete with lush vegetation and located in the capital Antananarivo. Explore the best of flora and fauna that Madagascar has to offer. Tsimbazaza means "where children are forbidden" but today kids and adults alike can revel in the garden's magic. Tred on the park's routes and discover examples of traditional houses synonymous with the country's diverse ethnic groups. Also, stop by the various enclosures and marvel at the captivating animals like the aye-aye (Madagascar lemur), which is exclusive to Madagascar. Refuel at the Grill du Rova after the enthralling exploration.
Perched high atop the twelve sacred hills of Imerina 12 miles outside the city, Ambohimanga is the birthplace of Merina kingdom and stands out as being one of the most enchanting and historical site in the all of Madagascar. Ambohimanga means "Blue Hill" and is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Walk through the Merina kingdom, which is a sacred city, and honor of the royal tombs and various places of worship like the Royal Pools Sacrifice Stones. Explore the Rova or the Ambomihanga's Palace that crowns the hill and discover the box where the King Andrianampoinimerina lived from 1788-1810. Get a scenic, breathtaking view of Tana while you're at it.
Sitting majestically on a cliff, this cathedral dating back to 1875 was where Malagasy Christian martyrs were killed by Queen Ranavalona I. Make a stop at the largest church in Madagascar which is both a historic and a landmark site and gaze at the captivating architecture. Make sure to walk around the cathedral and get exceptional views of the city.
Situated 200 meters from the central railway station, the Pirates Museum tells elaborate stories of old Madagascar. 300 years ago, pirates discovered the uncolonized island which became their secret hideout land. Explore the enchanting artifacts which depict the history of Madagascar. The museum is open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 5 pm.
Thanks to its elevation (4,200 - 4,500 feet above sea level), Antananarivo enjoys a mild, temperate climate with average temperatures of 71. Visit in October to see Lac Anosy at its best and avoid the wettest season from January to March if you intend to explore other parts of the island.
Ivato Airport is located 9.9 miles outside of town. The Madagascar Ariary is not convertible so do be sure to change currency at the airport bank. Take the Navette bus service to the city center for Ar10,000 or take a taxi for Ar50,000-70,000. The white minibus taxis are a cheaper alternative - they can get crowded but you'll only pay Ar400.
For affordable mid-range hotels, try the Hotel De France, Sole Hotel Madagascar, or Hotel Brajas.
Haute-Ville – a beautiful neighborhood that is defined by its hilly streets, elegant colonial buildings, and the Rova, which sits at its highest point.
Downtown – the city center district encompasses the historic borough of Analakely and it's where you will find the main train station and Independence Avenue.
Mahamasina – a vibrant area on the southeastern shores of Lake Anosy that's popular with artists and musicians.
The city has four main bus stations: Northern, Southern, Eastern, and Western. At each, you'll find a choice of buses, taxi brousses (bush taxis), and minibuses. If you don't mind being crammed in, minibus or 'taxi-be' is the cheapest option. Fares are set at Ar300 and you can hop on and off where you wish.
Taxi is the easiest option for tourists. Be sure to agree on fares before setting off and expect to pay Ar300 to Ar800 depending on your destination.
Traffic is heavy in Tana but confident drivers can rent a car in the city or from major brands like Hertz or Budget at Ivato Airport.
Find branded clothing and accessories in the stores and boutiques on Avenue de L'Indépendance. Try local markets like Analakely for cheap clothing and homewares, or visit malls like Galeries Zoom Ankorondrano and Avance Center to find everything under one roof.
You'll find stores selling food and essentials all over the city including supermarkets like Jumbo Score and Shoprite. Prices are Ar3,357 for a quart of milk and Ar5,891 for a dozen eggs.
Dine in laid-back restaurants that are popular with locals like Villa Vanille and Chez Sucett's or reserve a table at Le Carnivore Restaurant Bar & Lounge for dinner. A basic meal for two costs Ar20,390, while dinner at an upscale restaurant starts from Ar64,000.