Nairobi is the hustling, bustling capital of Kenya. This is a city of extremes; of towering city blocks and colonial outposts. A city of high-end malls and designer clothes next to village markets with fruit towering high above your head. Of extreme poverty and unspeakable wealth. In this blog post, I will tell you the best things to do in Nairobi – and also share some awesome travel tricks for your trip to Nairobi.
In Nairobi, you can spot a giraffe on your way to school and have a family of warthogs stop traffic at a city junction. You can pay $700 dollars a night for a hotel room but pay a cleaner $70 for a months work.
Nairobi is real Africa, wicked and wonderful. Ferocious, feral and utterly sublime.
Table of Contents
- 1 How to get to Nairobi
- 2 Getting around in Nairobi
- 3 Things to do in Nairobi, Kenya
- 3.1 Nairobi National Park
- 3.2 Karura Forest
- 3.3 David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage
- 3.4 Giraffe Centre
- 3.5 The Village Market
- 3.6 Karen Blixen Museum
- 3.7 Day trip to Naivasha
- 3.8 Carnivore a meat lovers mecca
- 3.9 Shop your heart out at Spinners Web
- 3.10 Ngong Hills Walk
- 3.11 See animals up close – Safari Walk
- 3.12 Take a surreal day trip to Kitengela Glass
- 3.13 Take a tour at Kazuri Beads factory
- 4 Where to stay in Nairobi
- 5 Best time to visit Nairobi
Updated: May 2019
*This is a guest post by Nadine Murphy, a freelance writer, and blogger. You can find more of her amazing work on her own blog, The Expat Mummy.
**This article contains affiliate links. This means that I may receive a small commission from potential sells – this happens at no additional cost for you!
How to get to Nairobi
As Kenya’s capital, most flights fly into Nairobi’s Jomo Kenyatta International Airport which is located on the outskirts of the city, about 30 minutes by taxi.
Local flights are easily available and fly into the smaller city-based Wilson Airport.
The new SGR train runs daily from Mombasa. It stops at 8 destinations in between and is cheap, clean and quite fast.
Local buses are available but are very basic with little in the way of luxury. There is no formal bus station. You contact the office directly and find the closest departure point from you. Local companies include:
- Akamba Buses
- Eldoret Express
- Easy Bus
- Coast Bus
It is only recommended using buses in Kenya if you’re an experienced traveler.
Getting around in Nairobi
To get around in Nairobi, there are several options. Each of them has different benefits or disadvantages, and it’s up to you which one you prefer and use.
Nairobi has Uber and Taxify but both are unreliable, often you will order one to find it never turns up. Ask your hotel or restaurant to order you a taxi to get a good driver that drives you to all the places to visit in Nairobi.
By Boda Boda
Small taxi motorbikes you will see everywhere. You will get where you are going for very little cost but may be taking your life into your own hands. This transportation method is not really recommended for tourists.
These are local buses & minivans that pick up and drop off passengers on shorter routes. Some Matatus are a work of art, graffiti painted with music blasting at top volume. Ask a local where the matatu is going and hop on and hop off as you will. Matatus are very inexpensive and bring you to many of the tourist attractions in Nairobi.
Kenya bus company offers a more rigid timetable and routes – and more reliable service than the Matatu. You can check out their time tables online.
It is possible to hire a car in Nairobi, although driving in Nairobi is a hair raising experience for very confident drivers only. In addition, police corruption is rife, be prepared to pay bribes if needed.
Things to do in Nairobi, Kenya
Nairobi National Park
Location: Main entrance on Langata road
100 km of untouched savannah, woodland, and wetland is home to Kenya’s native and very much wild animals. Nairobi National Park is located within the city borders and offers an incredible and authentic safari experience. All the big 5 roam wild here except elephants which were relocated due to human-wildlife conflict. If you stay in Nairobi, the National Park should definitely be one of the places to visit in Nairobi.
If you’re into Safari, check out the Top 5 Safari Destinations in Africa
Location: Main entrance on Limuru Road
Karura Forest is a huge area of indigenous forest located within the city. Bike and walking trails criss-cross this jungle of trees and flowering plants. Karura is a wildlife haven with monkeys, antelope, civets, genets, honey badgers and even jackals. The River Café within Karura is a great place for lunch, which you shouldn’t miss!
David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage
Location: Magadi Road
The world famous orphanage rescues orphaned and injured elephants from all over Kenya. Visiting time is at 11 AM, where you can meet the orphans and experience a talk by one of the wardens. This is super informative and certainly one of the best things to do in Nairobi.
Location: Duma Road, Hardy
The Giraffe Centre offers sanctuary to the endangered Rothschild Giraffes. At the Centre, you are able to meet, touch and feed the giraffes as well as learning about their endangered status.
The Village Market
Location: Limuru Road.
Go shopping at the best mall in Kenya. There are over 20 good restaurants, and an excellent food hall as well as one of the widest selection of shops from local chains to secret antique shops.
Karen Blixen Museum
Location: Karen Road
If you watched out of Africa before coming to Kenya then you need to visit the Karen Blixen museum. The Baroness gave away many of her belongings before leaving Kenya but over the years the museum has worked to reclaim them. Her house is now nearly completely intact. It’s a fascinating step back in time and if someone asks me what to do in Nairobi, I’ll definitely mention this museum.
Day trip to Naivasha
Location: Rift Valley
Get out of Nairobi and visit the sublimely beautiful Lake Naivasha. The 90-minute drive takes you down into the rift valley through fields where wild zebra and giraffe roam. Naivasha lake is a freshwater body of water that is home to over 500 hippos and many different species of birds. Boats can be hired to view the hippos ( slightly hair raising experience at times!) or you can visit Carnellys for a chilled lunch but the lake. Watch out for Colobus monkeys in the trees and the listen for the screech of fish eagles.
Going to Naivasha is one of the best day trips from Nairobi – and incredible experience when traveling Kenya.
Carnivore a meat lovers mecca
Location: Langata Road
A Nairobi institution: Styled like a Brazilian Churrasco, your waiter serves you endless cuts of meat served on Maasai swords, The meat which is barbequed over hot coals includes crocodile, ostrich balls and many other types of Kenyan game meat. Carnivore invented the Dawa cocktail, a vodka and lime drink so delicious it is now severed in every bar in Kenya. If you eat meat, this is one of the best things to do in Nairobi!
Shop your heart out at Spinners Web
Location: Kitisuru Road
Kenyan streets are stuffed with people selling local crafts but if you don’t have the time or inclination to haggle with people on street corners then head to Spinners Web for your baskets, kikoys, and jewelry. The prices aren’t much more expensive than those on the streets and are often cheaper than at the Maasai market. It sells a huge range of trinkets, souvenirs, clothes, and art.
Ngong Hills Walk
Location: Kona Baridi
The Ngong Hills, made famous in Karen Blixen’s book, are picturebook pretty hills that sit South West of Nairobi. The undulating hills offer majestic views back towards the city and over the rift towards Magadi. Take a taxi to the start at Kona Baridi. The walk over the hills is approximately 5 hours. At the other end hail another taxi or brave a Boda Boda. Take a guide with you, there is some human crime and a good chance of bumping into some of Kenya’s less friendly wildlife.
Still, the Ngong Hills Walk is one of the places to visit in Nairobi, even if you’re just staying for a few days.
See animals up close – Safari Walk
Location: Entrance to Nairobi National Park on Langata Road
Safaris are incredible but there is no guarantee of seeing animals. The safari walk is a circular walk where you can visit lions, leopards, rhino, hyena, cheetah and more. The animals have been rescued from throughout the country and are unable to be released back into the wild. If you want to have a guarantee to see these majestic animals, the Safari Walk should be on your list on what to do in Nairobi, Kenya.
Take a surreal day trip to Kitengela Glass
Location: Kitengela, through Ongata Rongai
Kitengela Hot Glass makes world-famous glass. From wine glasses and vases to windows and lanterns. Once you’ve visited Kitengela you will notice it everywhere in Kenya. There are now 5 shops in Nairobi but a visit to the kiln is an absolute must. A 45-minute journey from Karen, Kitengela is more a surreal art gallery than glass blowing factory.
Dali-esque art merges with sparkling glass to make it a day trip from Nairobi like no other. Watch the skilled laborers create exquisite glass that you can take home. Shop their reject shop for amazing deals or have a bite to eat in the café.
Take a tour at Kazuri Beads factory
Location: Mbagathi Drive, Karen
Kazuri beads run a small bead factory and shop in Karen. Their handcrafted beads are each individually made by local women. Kazuri was started by two mothers looking for work, as their beads increased in popularity they were able to offer employment to other out of work women. Kazuri now employs over 340 women, offering them a much-needed lifeline.
Kazuri sells its beads individually or uses them to create gorgeous jewelry. See the beads being made then shop it up. They also sell beaded sandals and household goods such as vases and ornaments.
Where to stay in Nairobi
Nairobi is East Africas biggest city. It has gone from sleepy town to metropolis in half a century. The industry has boomed. Buildings are constantly being built up and knocked down. East African residents flood the capital in search of work. More money means an influx of cars so traffic is an increasing problem. Roads are widened, houses are built, Squalor is rife but so too is beauty. Crime is on the decrease but certain inner city areas are best avoided particularly at night.
Despite this, there are many peaceful and beautiful areas to stay in Nairobi. Here is a quick list of areas to search for your accommodation in Nairobi, Kenya.
*If you plan to stay in an Airbnb in Nairobi (there are plenty of options!), you can get over 40$ off by using this link.
Close to the CBD, this is Nairobi’s center for restaurants, bars, and shops. Two huge malls the Sarit center and the ill-famed Westgate are here. This is an awesome area to stay in Nairobi and extremely popular for foreign expats.
Hotel Suggestion: Villa Rosa Kempinski
Muthaiga and Gigiri
Former colonial areas with a genteel feel, known as the Beverley Hills of Nairobi. Gigiri is home to the Village Market, a huge mall with 20+ restaurants and some of the best shopping to be found in the city.
Hotel Suggestion: Orchid Homes, Gigiri
The United Nations and many embassies are here so you will find leafy streets with palatial Ambassadorial homes. Also close to Gigiri for places to go out and a generally safe area. However, there are no hotels directly in the area, so it might be hard to find a good place to stay there if you’re just traveling Nairobi.
Karen and Langata
On the outskirts of Nairobi, this is a rural area with a lot going on. If you are here for animals then it is close to Nairobi National park, the Giraffe Centre and the Elephant Orphanage. Malls are popping up and there are some great restaurants to eat at. These areas might be a great option if you are mainly in Nairobi for wildlife and animals.
Hotel Suggestion: Karen Gables
To find the perfect accommodation in Nairobi for you, you can check out this guide of the best hotels in Nairobi, Kenya.
Best time to visit Nairobi
Nairobi sits on Kenya’s highlands. Its elevated location was chosen by the British colonists because of its cool climate. Winters can dip down to 12 degrees at night and the summers, whilst still firey, lack the exhausting humidity of the coastal areas.
Generally, the best time to visit is between the short rains which are October-November and the long rains which runs from April-June. The summers are long, hot and dry.
The winter season June – September is sunny but cooler, it is also migration time should you be tempted to hop out of Nairobi over to the Maasai Mara to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world.
I hope you liked this guest post by Nadine Murphy and it helped you plan your trip to Nairobi – and added some cool places to see in Nairobi. If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to comment down below and I’ll try to get back to you as soon as possible.
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