The ultimate guide to visiting Nairobi in Kenya
Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, is an exciting, sprawling mess of concrete that starkly contrasts the natural beauty found in the rest of Kenya. Many people rush through Nairobi on their way to safari parks or beaches beyond, but if you have time then Nairobi is full of the culture and colour, and is well worth at least a few days of exploration.
When To Visit Nairobi
June to October is the dry season in Kenya so during these months there will be little rainfall. If you’re planning on doing a safari trip during your visit to Nairobi then this is the best time of year to visit Kenya as there will be little rainfall and wildlife is easier to spot due to the bush being less dense. Animals are more likely to be spotted at the watering holes and now is the time that the great migration occurs, when thousands of wildebeests make their way to the Masai Mara in Kenya.
During the wet season of November to May you’re more likely to experience bad weather, but it’s also when you’ll find the best deals on flights and accommodation. If you visit during these times just make sure you check all the places you want to stay are open, as a few lodges shut down for low season.
I visited Nairobi in April, shoulder season. Mornings and evenings were cold, and some days bought rain though not enough to ruin any of the activities you might consider doing on a longer trip to Kenya. The temperature during the day was often warm, though not too hot. Perfect weather for exploring a city!
Where To Stay In Nairobi
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As you would expect from any capital city, Nairobi has a range of accommodation to suit every need. You shouldn’t struggle to find somewhere to stay, but you may struggle to choose! There is no obvious centre in Nairobi, and the attractions are spread out so you will probably have to travel no matter where you base yourself.
Here is a summary of some of the areas you may want to consider when searching for the right place to stay, and some of the places you should try and avoid if possible.
Milimani/Dennis Pritt: Central and Cheap
Central, with some reasonably priced options. This district is within walking distance to the CBD but much cheaper. It is also near to many museums and some of Nairobi’s more notable nightlife venues. It is however a long distance from the airport. Try Casablanca Villas for somewhere cheap, welcoming and safe.
Upperhill: Central and Upmarket
Again, this district is very central and within walking distance of the CBD. It is Nairobi’s most exclusive neighbourhood and you will mostly find 4 and 5 star hotels here though there are some budget options available if you search around.
It is also very convenient to get around by public transport (Kenyatta National Hospital bound bus #7 ) which literary stops by the gate of every building in the area.
Kilimani: Cheap and Cheerful
This is the cheapest district listed so far. Here you will find lots of restaurants and places to eat and it is also close to several major shopping malls. Buses to the centre are easy to find.
Palm Valley is in a quiet area and has a nice, homely feel.
Nairobi CBD: Business Central
The Nairobi CBD is full of chain hotels and is obviously conveniently central, with museums and nightlife on it’s doorstep. It isn’t the cheapest area but most of the hotels here are set up for business men and women and run shuttles to and from the airport. Uber is widely available.
Downtown Nairobi: Cheap but be cautious!
This is where you will find some of the cheapest accommodation in Nairobi, but be careful, it isn’t all up the standards you might expect. Downtown is busy and hectic so you may want to avoid this area if you’re more of a nervous traveller. It’s from this area that you can catch long journey buses
Syokimau, Mombasa Road: Good airport links
This area has some great budget hotels as well as some more expensive ones. It has good links to the airport and is within easy reach of some of Nairobi’s must visit spots.
Westlands and Riverside: Safe but expensive
This district is very central and smart, with lots of restaurants and malls in close reach. It is on the more expensive side though you will find some bargains out there. It is a safe feeling district with good transport connections to other parts of the city.
WHERE TO AVOID IN NAIROBI
Just like in any city it is important to be a little careful in Nairobi. Avoid the downtown areas past Tom Mboya which are very busy and a perfect spot for pickpockets.
There have been reported muggings in the Central Park, Uhuru Park and Serena Hotel area. These areas are quiet and not well lit after sunset so take extra care.
The slums of Kibera are not somewhere to venture to without a guide.
How To Get There
There are frequent buses that run between the airport and the city centre. They depart from the bus stops outside units 1 and 2 at regular intervals and take around 45 minutes (depending heavily on traffic!) They will cost around KSh40. Bus 34 runs every 20 minutes between downtown Nairobi and the airport from 0600 to 2100 for a fare of KES35. Minibuses run by hotels in the area rotate between the airport, city centre and tourist attractions.
Official taxis, operated by Kenatco are available outside the arrivals hall, make sure you agree a price in advance. Ubers have become very common in Kenya and are a reliable way to get around the city. You can pre-book a taxi in advance here, if you’re like me and get a little nervous about sorting it all out when you arrive!
Another option is to hire a driver for your stay in the city. As attractions are quite spread out this may be a good option to help you get the most out of your stay and give you a feeling of security when travelling around.
Eating Out In Nairobi, Kenya
It is possible to find whatever you fancy in Nairobi. One minute I was enjoying Thai cuisine, the next minute I had a mouth full of vege burger and chips. But you can’t leave without trying some of Nairobi’s most popular popular local foods.
Nyama choma (roasted meat), ugali (cornmeal), irio (peas and potatoes), kachumbari (tomato and onion salad), githeri (beans and corn), hearty stews, grilled corn, mutura (sausage), mandazi (doughnuts) and locally brewed beers are just some of the favourites here.
To save money I didn’t eat out here very often, but here are some of the top rated restaurants in the city, or for a much more thorough guide to eating out in Nairobi go here!
- Carnivore – This is probably the most famous restaurant in Naiobi and specializes in a range of ‘interesting’ roasted meats. Lamb, pork, ostrich, beef, chicken, crocodile, and other meats are roasted on traditional Maasai swords over a huge charcoal pit and then served to guests. For a vegetarian this wasn’t somewhere I paid a visit to but I have heard it is an experience. It’s so popular that you can book a tour here-transfers and a guide!
- The Thorn Tree Café – Found in the historic Sarova Stanley hotel in central downtown Nairobi, this bistro style café is most famous for its once-popular message board located at the centre of the restaurant. You may recognise the name as it serves as the namesake for Lonely Planet’s online forum.
- Java House – Stuck for somewhere cheap and easy to eat? This chain cafe/restaurant can be found all over Kenya and is a convenient stop. They are cheap, serve familiar food like sandwiches and burgers and offer a wide selection of coffees too.
Where To Go In Nairobi If You’re Looking For…
Unsurprisingly for a capital city, Nairobi is full of culture. Most people rush off on safari and miss a lot of the wonderful places Nairobi has on offer. Here are some of the most popular attractions in the city.
- African Heritage House – African Heritage House is a showpiece of African culture and heritage and contains an invaluable collection of African art. You can even stay the night here, in rooms full of artwork and sculptures.
- Bomas of Kenya – A tourist village where you can learn more about traditional Kenyan culture. They offer daily performances and there is also a restaurant serving traditional Kenyan cuisine.
- City Tour – The best way to get to know more about a city is to take a guided walking or driving tour.
- GoDown Arts Centre – This huge warehouse is home to Kenyan creativity in arts and media. They run a number of community projects and you can visit art exhibitions and attend performances here too.
- Karen Blixen Museum – Learn about the life of Danish writer, Karen Blixen. Her house has been converted into a museum and the exterior of the house was also used in the film based on Blixen’s famous book Out of Africa.
- Nairobi National Museum – This museum covers the history of Kenya and Kenya culture. There is also an art gallery and other attractions within the grounds include a botanic garden and a nature trail.
Nairobi is a city that is full of wildlife. From it’s lush green spaces to it’s numerous animal sanctuaries, you won’t find a city that is more in love with it’s creatures.
- David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust – This sanctuary rescues and protects orphaned elephants and rhinos from throughout Kenya and then releases them back into the wild. You can visit from 11am-noon every day to watch the baby elephants being fed and taking mud baths (be prepared to get messy!) Go here for the ultimate guide.
- Giraffe Centre – The famous Langata Giraffe Centre protects the highly endangered Rothschild’s giraffe. For just £7, you can either feed these beautiful six-metre beasts or stand back and watch.
- Giraffe manor – Just opposite the giraffe centre is the famous Giraffe Manor, where you can literally share breakfast with a giraffe. Prices are obviously not cheap!
- Nairobi National Park – One of the main reasons most people come here is because Nairobi is the only major city in the world where you can see lions, giraffes, and rhinos in the wild! This national park offers all the usual game drives and you even have the option to spend the night there.
You can book numerous tours to visit the animal sanctuaries in Nairobi, and although it’s very possible to find your own way there the tours do make it all a lot easier! Check them out here.
Day Trips From Nairobi
If you’re using Nairobi as a base from which to visit more of Kenya then you won’t be disappointed. Lots of Kenya’s most stunning attractions are just a day trip or two away, so it is more than possible to see a little more of the countries incredible diversity.
A must visit if you are staying in Nairobi for your whole trip to Kenya. This safari park is practically within walking distance of the city, which is kind of amazing in itself. Here you can get a taste of Kenya’s famous wildlife, with four of the big five located inside the national park. There are plenty of companies that offer tours. This one has great reviews, and you’ll have a jeep all to yourself for prime photo opportunities.
Lake Nakuru has a massive population of Flamingos and an abundance of other wildlife. Lying in the volcano-strewn Rift Valley, it is one of a chain of 8 lakes which stretch the length of Kenya from Tanzania to Ethiopia.
One of my favourite places in Kenya, and you can see it in a day trip from Nairobi! This conservancy is top of it’s game for rhino conservation, and houses the last two Northern White Rhinos in existance. It is a must visit in my opinion! You can read about Ol Pejeta in more detail here.
Planning a trip around Kenya? Make sure you check out this ultimate guide to 10 days in Kenya and these must visit destinations, and add them to your Kenya itinerary.