I didn’t like Nairobi the first time I visited. I’d spent the previous months in Livingstone, Zambia, then in the relatively quiet town of Bagamoyo in Tanzania, then up Kilimanjaro. So when I arrived in Nairobi, I felt that it was too hectic, big and intimidating.
But now, I LOVE it. Nairobi feels like home to me. Funny how things change.
I still hate the traffic, but once you spend a bit of time in the city, you’ll realise just how cool it is and how many great things there are to do in Nairobi.
Kenya’s capital is an exciting city, with lots of art and culture, fantastic social initiatives and a great nightlife scene. Plus it has a national park on its doorstep, how many other cities can claim that?
In fact, writing this post has made me want to move to Nairobi. Argh – I miss it so much!!! Luckily I’ll be back there in a couple of months!
So with this list, I aim to give you some ideas for the best things to do in Nairobi (organised by neighbourhood).
25 Incredible Things to Do in Nairobi
Central Business District
1. Go on a tour with the Nai Nami guys
One of my favourite things to do in Nairobi, is to go on a city tour with the Nai Nami guys. They’re all former street boys, each with their own interesting and turbulent history to tell about life on the streets of Nairobi.
This is different from a normal Nairobi city tour for the fact that the tour is more about them, rather than the history of the city.
They walk you through the streets of downtown Nairobi, a place where tourists probably wouldn’t (or shouldn’t) go alone, but with them, you’re safe, these are their streets and you always feel like they have you in their care. You can book your trip with them here.
MY TIP: Wear comfy shoes, you’ll do a lot of walking.
2. Take a Nairobi City Tour
You may also want to take a tour of the city itself, through the CBD and to some of the important historical landmarks in the city, like the parliament buildings, the Savova Stanley, KICC and Uhuru Park.
MY TIP: Be careful taking photographs. You are not allowed to take pictures of government buildings or in the CBD and the police have started fining people who do.
3. Stop for a Coffee at the Thorn Tree Cafe (of Lonely Planet fame)
At the bottom of the Savova Stanley Hotel, you will find the original Thorn Tree Cafe, which inspired the name for Lonely’s Planet’s Thorn Tree Forum.
In the middle of the cafe, there is a huge acacia tree where travellers can pin notices for each other. Hence why the name inspired the Lonely planet online forum.
Grab yourselves a cup of tea and a slice of cake and whilst your there, you can also take a little tour of this historic hotel which has hosted politicians, movie stars and even visiting royals (including the Queen) since opening in 1902.
4. Picnic in Nairobi’s Uhuru Park
Uhuru Park lies right in the centre of town and is a popular hangout spot for Nairobians. Uhuru means ‘freedom’ in Swahili.
I especially like it here on Sundays, when there are lots of families about, ice cream vans and fairground rides creating a nice and vibrant atmosphere. Take a picnic to get the most out of the experience.
MY TIP: Avoid Uhuru Park after dark or during any kind of political rallies.
5. Take in the Views at the Top of the Kenyatta International Convention Centre
The Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) is the 6th tallest building in Kenya, located in the CBD.
For a small fee, you can take a lift up to the top of the tower for one of the best viewpoints in the city. It’s a popular spot for tourists, as well as couples on dates as it’s also a nice place to watch the sunset in the city.
6. Shop ‘Til You Drop at the Village Market
Nairobi has no shortage of malls and one of the best is the pretty Village Market in Gigiri.
You can literally buy anything you need here, from designer clothes to Kenyan souvenirs and there are tons of restaurants and cafes for when you get tired of shopping.
The other malls I tend to frequent is The Hub in Karen and Galleria in Langata. Good places to go to the supermarket, pharmacy, ATM and pick up SIM cards.
7. Get Away From It All in Karura Forest
Near the CBD lies Karura Forest, a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of Nairobi.
There are plenty of things to do there, whether you just want to take in the serene environment or do something more active like walking, mountain biking or horse riding.
Visitors can get involved with tree planting and there’s also a pretty waterfall you can go and see. There are a few picnic sites so you could take one with you to make the most of your visit (just watch out for the monkeys) or eat at one my recommended restaurants nearby such as Amaica or About Thyme.
Parklands & Westlands
8. Buy Your Fruit n’ Veg at City Park Hawkers
Up near Westlands and Parklands, you’ll find City Park Market (or City Park Hawkers). There’s nothing majorly special about this market, lots of fruit and veg etc, but it is a great place to just get a feel for everyday life in Nairobi.
Around the back of the stalls there are some small local restaurants serving nyama choma (roasted meat) with ugali (maize porridge, staple food of Kenya) and kachumbari (onion/tomato salad/chilli salad).
MY TIP: Please ask before taking any photos of the stalls.
9. Learn About the History of Kenya at the National Museum
Visit Nairobi’s National Museum where you can learn about Kenya’s rich heritage including culture, nature, history and art.
As well as the museum, here you will find the Nairobi Snake Park, art galleries, shops, botanical gardens and a nature trail.
10. Decorate Your House at Wasp & Sprout
Not actually in Westlands but near enough, Wasp & Sprout is an amazing fair-trade initiative selling all kinds of wonderful things, like furniture, homeware, crafts and my favourite, their beautiful African fabric cushions! I love the ones by Kangarui.
They also have a lovely cafe selling breakfast, brunch, sandwiches and salads, as well as some nice cocktails, coffees, soft drinks and desserts.
11. Take a Kibera Township Tour
People are often torn about going on Kibera slum tours, which is one of the reasons I don’t include them in my Kenya group tours.
I think it’s a personal choice and I’m still on the fence a little, leaning towards the pro side.
In some ways I think Kibera tours can be good, as they are usually set up by people who have lived in Kibera their whole lives, providing employment for some of the residents. Plus they can show the positive sides of Kibera.
Many tourists to Kenya won’t have seen poverty before and believe me, when you do it can change your outlook on life dramatically – which I think is a good thing. These tours can also highlight issues to people who could potentially help create change.
Plus, if you buy from shops when you’re in Kibera, you’re supporting local businesses too.
On the other hand, these tours won’t benefit everyone and leave some residents feeling angry, degraded and exploited and I don’t want to make people feel like that.
Whether you take a tour is up to you, but if you do, research the company you go with and remember that a lot of the responsibility lies on you. Go, listen, observe and interact, but don’t be an insensitive camera-wielding asshole.
For more reading on the ethics slum tourism in Kenya, click here, here and here.
12. Support a Social Enterprise at Kazuri Beads
Kazuri Beads is a social enterprise, employing mostly women from disadvantaged backgrounds.
They mostly make jewellery and pottery and sell them to tourists and when you visit you can take a tour of the factory and meet the women who work there.
13. Stay at the Luxurious Giraffe Manor
The ultimate ‘things to do in Nairobi’ bucket list item surely has to be a stay at the luxurious Giraffe Manor.
The hotel is home to a number of endangered Rothschild’s giraffes who wander freely around the grounds. Guests can interact with the giraffes over breakfast and afternoon tea as well as any other time they feel like a visit!
My friend Brenna wrote an awesome and honest post about her stay at Giraffe Manor, if you want to know what it’s really like and, most importantly if it’s worth the cost.
14. Kiss a Giraffe at the Nairobi Giraffe Centre
If your budget doesn’t stretch to a stay at Giraffe Manor, do not worry! You can still hang out with the giraffes at the Nairobi Giraffe Centre, which is just next door to Giraffe Manor and is part of the same sanctuary.
Visitors can spend time with the giraffes, either interacting with them from a raised platform or down on the ground (as shown in my photo above). They also give informative talks about the species too.
You can stay as long as you like and it only costs $15… absolute bargain.
MY TIP: You will always get better photos from down on the ground, as the lighting is terrible up on the platform.
15. Learn All About the ‘Out of Africa’ Writer at the Karen Blixen Museum
If you’ve ever read or watched ‘Out of Africa’ (as I did whilst writing this post) you’ll want to visit the Karen Blixen Museum.
The museum at ‘the foot of the Ngong Hills’ is the former home of Danish writer and coffee farmer, Karen Blixen. While here you can take tours of the museum, learn about Kenya’s colonial past and get a cup of coffee at the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden.
16. Visit Marula Studios & Ocean Sole
A great place to visit on your trip to Nairobi is the Marula Studios, selling lots of different items including Ocean Sole Africa, products.
Ocean Sole is a cool social enterprise that recycles old flip flops that wash up on the beaches of Kenya and make them into cool objects – both art and more functional things! They also sell pottery, clothes, bags, belts and cards made in the Kibera.
One day I am going to have a giant Ocean Sole Africa elephant sculpture in my house. They are amazing! I also love their sculptures of Sudan, the world’s last male northern white rhino who passed away last year.
There’s a cafe and they also hold a Farmer’s Market here on Saturdays from 9am – 4pm. Closed on Sundays.
17. See the Baby Elephants at the Nairobi Elephant Orphanage
If you love elephants (especially baby ones), you’re going to love the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, (formerly the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust) a rehabilitation centre for abandoned or orphaned baby elephants (and other animals, occasionally rhinos) who are too young to survive in the wild on their own.
The elephant orphanage in Nairobi was started by Dame Daphne Sheldrick in the memory of her late husband, David, a legendary ranger of Tsavo National Park.
The elephants are cared for and then released back into the wild when they are old enough.
Visitors are allowed in at 11 a.m. each day for approximately 1 hour to see the elephants and listen to a talk by one of the keepers. Sometimes the baby elephants come up to say hello and I’ve had my foot trodden on many times!
You can adopt a baby elephant for as little as £35 a year which also gives you access to visit outside of the usual hours.
MY TIP: Arrive early so you can get to the front.
18. Buy Beautiful Souvenirs at Utamaduni – Artisans of Africa
Located in Langata, Utadamaduni has an amazing array of African crafts.
They sell all kinds of things from African inspired fashion and jewellery, to homeware and fabrics. Including my favourite Kangarui cushions!
There’s also a restaurant & garden where you can take a well-earned rest from all that shopping.
19. Visit Bomas of Kenya to Learn About Kenyan Culture
If you’re looking to get more information on Kenyan culture and history, take a visit to Bomas of Kenya.
The centre was set up to educate people about the different ethnic groups found in Kenya and to help preserve and celebrate the Kenyan culture. Visitors can watch music and dance performances and see the many exhibits.
There are a number of tours that visit Bomas of Kenya, along with the Girrafe Centre, Elephant Orphanage and sometimeS Nairobi national Park.
Nairobi National Park
20. Go on Safari in Nairobi National Park
Just outside the city, lies Nairobi National Park, one of the coolest things to do in Nairobi and one of the best places in Kenya to see the endangered black rhino (above), plus a ton of other animals including lions and giraffes.
If you’re limited on time, this is an awesome way to see a lot but without having to travel too far. Plus, you get the city of Nairobi as a backdrop.
Sometimes you’ll even see animals as you leave Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. I once saw a small herd of zebra on the central reservation. Weird, but pretty awesome.
You can book your Nairobi National Park tour in advance here or you can often book through your accommodation when you arrive.
Various Locations Around Nairobi
21. Barter Hard at the Maasai Markets
One of my favourite things to do is go to the colourful Maasai markets to bargain for some souvenirs including jewellery, wood carvings and clothing.
Each day the Maasai Market takes place in a different spot around the city 8 am – 6pm.
Monday: No market.
Tuesday: Prestige Plaza on Ngong Road (I think – check it hasn’t moved).
Wednesday: Capital Centre on Mombasa Road.
Thursday: Junction Mall on Ngong Road.
Friday: Village Market in Gigiri.
Saturday: High Court car park in the city centre.
Sunday: Yaya Centre in Hurlingham.
If you go, just be aware that there are lots of touts around who will offer to ‘help’ you, but really they’re in cahoots with the stall owners and just out to get as much money from you as they can, so try not to appear too interested and keep the conversion rates in your head. Start low and meet somewhere in the middle.
My favourite Maasai Market, though not part of the main Maasai Market, is the one at the Galleria Mall. It’s on every day and is much, much calmer and you can generally browse in peace, although you will hear a lot of ‘Come into my shop, looking is free.’ You may pay a little more but, it’s a lot less hassle.
22. Dine at One of the Many Restaurants in Nairobi
There are plenty of great restaurants in Nairobi where you can find all sorts of amazing cuisine from all around the world.
Some of my favourite restaurants include:
- About Thyme: A popular modern, yet cosy restaurant with a nice outside seating area. Their dishes are mix of Mediterranean and Asian mostly with a few bbq/steak dishes thrown in too.
- Carnivore: Nairobi’s most famous restaurant and dining experience, serving unlimited amounts of Kenya’s most famous dish, nyama choma (bbq’d meat). Choose from beef, turkey, chicken, rabbit, pork and ostrich. Always busy, so book ahead, especially if you are a large party. There’s also a nightclub.
- Talisman: Often named as the best restaurant in Nairobi with a varied and interesting menu, outside the city centre in Karen.
- Karen Blixen Coffee Garden: Great place to stop for a coffee and some lunch whilst on a day trip in Karen.
- Urban Eatery: Modern foodie paradise, with four different kitchens: Indian, Mediterreanean/Mexican/World, Asian/Sushi/Noodle Bar and Cafe/Bistro, as well as a frozen yogurt counter and a bar. They also do takeaway.
- Nairobi Java House: Popular chain café, there are a few throughout the city. Good locally made coffee and their chocolate cake is lovely!
- Artcaffe: Similar to Java House, there are a few throughout the city. I’m slightly obsessed with their Home Fries and smoothies.
- J’s Fresh Bar & Kitchen: Informal, trendy bar/restaurant. Great food and atmosphere. There are 2, one in Karen (new location close to Talisman and The Hub) and the other is in Westlands. Sometimes have DJ’s and live music.
- Tin Roof Café: Nice café near to The Hub mall in Karen. I sometimes come here to work as it’s nice and chilled.
- Haandi: Nairobi’s most well-known Indian restaurant, always tasty food.
- Diamond Plaza: The Indian hub of Nairobi where you’ll find great Indian food as well as lots of Indian spices, clothes, movies and it’s also the home of the Africa Yoga Project.
- Amaica: Near to Karura, serves lots of traditional Kenyan food. Mixed reviews.
- Mama Rocks: Gourmet burger van at The Alchemist (see below).
- Nyama Choma Stalls: These are all over the city, but try City Park Market and Kenyatta Market. There are also some street stalls in Karen, near to The Hub, if you don’t venture into the city.
- Cultiva Farmers Market: Farmers market and restaurant in Karen.
- Ranalo’s: Ranalo’s in the CBD is a popular local spot around lunch.
23. Eat Some of the Best Ethiopian Food Outside of Ethiopia
I feel like the Ethiopian food in Nairobi deserves its own point as it’s that good. Nairobi is known for having some of the best Ethiopian restaurants, outside of Ethiopia.
- Abyssinia: Abyssinia is one of my favourites – that’s where me and my group are in the picture above. They have two locations, one in Kilimani, the other in Westlands.
- Habesha: Another great Ethiopian restaurant I have visited many times. They also have restaurants in different parts of the city, one in Kilimani and one in Gigiri.
24. Experience the Awesome Nairobi Nightlife
Kenyans like to party, so there’s always somewhere to have a drink and a dance, so if you’re looking for cool things to do in Nairobi at night, look no further.
- Brew Bistro Westlands: Famous for their craft beers (but they do lots of other drinks too), there are two locations around the city, one in Westlands and one on Ngong Road. Check out their website here. Happy Hour 5pm – 7pm, occasional live music.
- The Alchemist: The Alchemist is a popular bar and beautiful, cool event space with food trucks, live music, open-air cinema, dj’s, shops and ping pong. Try the Mama Rocks burgers, they’re awesome! They also have the Made in Kenya shop here which sells all kinds of locally made good, such as jewellery, clothes, shoes and food.
- J’s Fresh Bar & Kitchen: As above, always enjoy their music and events when I’m in town and their food is good. This bar wouldn’t look out of place in Chorlton in Manchester – quite trendy/hipster. Mix of locals and expats. In Karen (J’s Karen Rooftop) and Westlands. Check out their Facebook pages for info about what’s on.
- Live at the Elephant: Great live music venue, often gets busy so you may need to book in advance, find info on their Facebook page here. In Lavington.
- Choices Pub: Popular local spot, good for well-priced drinks and dancing.
- Gipsy: Popular bar and club in Westlands, always busy on the weekend.
- The Oval – Artcaffe: Part of the Artcaffe cafe chain, but this one is also a night venue with salsa night on a Friday night. Popular with the after-work crowd during the week, and busy both Friday and Saturday night. In Westlands.
- Nest at Tribe: Rooftop bar at the Tribe Hotel with Moroccan decor and shisha. In Gigiri.
- Simba Saloon: This is the nightclub at Carnivore. Not somewhere I’d go all the time (I’m a bit ‘over’ big clubs with neon lights) but it can be fun on occasions with the right crowd. In Langata.
25. Go for High Tea
There are lots things that the colonial British brought to Kenya and one of the better ones was high tea (or afternoon tea as we British call it these days) which is usually served between 3pm – 5pm.
Many hotels in the city serve high tea, which usually consists of sandwiches, cakes, scones (with jam and cream – should be clotted) and of course tea. usually there’s an option to add a glass of something fizzy on the side.
The best places to find high tea in Nairobi are:
- K Lounge at Villa Rosa Kempinski
- The Lord Erroll
- The Tea Room at Fairmont The Norfolk (be sure to visit the famous Lord The Lord Delamere Terrace)
- Giraffe Manor (you have to be a guest there, unfortunately)
Have you been to Nairobi? Anything you’d add to the list?
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Plan Your Trip to Nairobi
Getting There: I always search for flights on Skyscanner. The main airport is Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Travel Insurance:This is Africa and medical care is not free. If you get injured or fall sick, you will have to pay for your medical care which could be very expensive, so make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance that will cover you for all aspects of your trip. I recommend World Nomads, Outbacker, or InsureandGo.
Resources: I’m a big fan of Lonely Planet guidebooks and usually travel with one wherever I go.
Tours: Don’t fancy going it alone? Join a small group tour and come on the Rock My Kenya Adventure tour or the Rock My Kenya & Tanzania Adventure tour.
What To Pack: See my comprehensive Africa Packing List.
Read More Kenya:
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