The ultimate guide to visiting Nairobi in Kenya

The view of Nairobi city from the national park
NAIROBI SKYLINE

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 well worth a few days of exploration.

Where to stay

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, 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.

some wall art in nairobi in Kenya
GRAFFITI IN NAIROBI

Upperhill

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

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.

Nairobi CBD

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 

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

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 

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

A huge traffic jam in nairobi in kenya
THE BUSY CITY

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

A colourful bus driving through Nairobi in Kenya
NAIROBI TRANSPORT

Bus

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.

Taxi

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.

Private driver

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

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.

samosas served in a colourful bus in nairobi
YUM
  • 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.
  • 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.

Culture

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. 

Wildlife

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.

A close up of a giraffe
THE GIRAFFE CENTRE IN NAIROBI
  • 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.
baby elephants in the elephant sanctuary in kenya
ELEPHANT ORPHANAGE

 

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