A loud, multicultural, thriving metropolis with a “work hard, play harder” mentality, and plenty of wildlife in the middle of town – Nairobi is an accurate representation of modern-day Africa. Most travellers only glimpse this vibrant, energetic city en route to one of Kenya’s many game lodges – yet it is worth a visit in its own right.
A sporty start
Early risers might opt for a run in lush Karura Forest – located in the middle of the city, it offers a magical scenery of trails, trees and waterfalls, and is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of town.
Early morning city safari
Nairobi National Park is one of only a handful of national parks bordering a capital city – the juxtaposition of black rhino, lions, leopards, cheetahs and giraffes against a backdrop of city skyscrapers makes for a pretty irresistible Instagram opp. Self-drive or arrange a tour through your hotel to explore the almost 120 square kilometres of rolling savannah.
For the coffee lovers
Start your Nairobi adventure with a hefty dose of caffeine at Connect Coffee, a cool hangout that sources its beans directly from farmers in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. When you are buzzing and ready to hit the town, consider booking a walking tour through I Like Local, which offers history, city and market tours with local in-the-know guides
Adopt an elephant…
On the west side of the park is the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation programme in the world. Come between 11:00 and 12:00 to feed and play with baby elephants – then go one heartwarming step further and adopt one of the mischievous little toddlers.
Visit an icon
If “Out of Africa” is one of your all-time favourite films, then a visit to Karen Blixen’s house is a must. Preserved as a museum, the colonial property offers a glimpse into the famous author’s life between 1914 and 1931. Take advantage of a free guide, and make sure to explore the expansive gardens.
…and kiss a giraffe
More cuddling follows at Nairobi’s Giraffe Centre, where you can not only observe and hand-feed the highly endangered Rothschild Giraffes – but also lean in for a big fat giraffe kiss from the elevated heights of a feeding platform. It’s all for a good cause – the Centre uses proceeds to help breed and resettle giraffes.
Lunch – garden feast
Hip and happening Talisman restaurant within “Karen” (yup, there is a neighbourhood named in her honour) is the place to go for a relaxing alfresco lunch. An eclectic fusion of European, Pan-Asian and African cuisine is served amongst elegant Afghan rugs, sprawling terraces and idyllic gardens.
Stay in the area and combine lunch with yet more shopping at Utamaduni, a converted Kikuyu house that is a treasure trove of upmarket African crafts and art. Enjoy a bite to eat at the onsite restaurant and feel good in the knowledge that your newly purchased souvenirs will help local conservation and charity projects.
African fashion is currently making waves – and Nairobi is one of its creative hubs. For a mix of art and fashion, head to Souk in Karen, then get your next caffeine fix at the onsite Tin Roof Café. Alternatively (or in addition, if you are on a roll), check out the Kazuri Beads & Pottery Centre right next to the Karen Blixen Museum – the craft centre employs over 370 women from disadvantaged backgrounds. Admire the intricate process during a free tour, before shopping to your heart’s content in the adjoining boutique.
Late afternoon culture galore
Visit the National Museum to explore Kenya’s rich heritage, or the Go-Down Arts Centre for a foray into Nairobi’s burgeoning art scene: 10 studios within a converted warehouse in the Industrial Area that bring together visual and performing arts with a series of exhibitions, workshops and cultural events.
Get your first evening off to a good start with an ice-cold beer. Nairobi’s famous local brew is Tusker, which is readily available at any of the city’s countless bars. If it’s colonial splendour you are after – Lord Delamere Terrace & Bar serves steak and seafood amidst surroundings dating all the way back to 1904. Then go discover up-and-coming local bands at Live at the Elephant, where you’ll be mingling with a trendy local crowd.
If it’s good enough for Mark Zuckerberg, it’s good enough for us. The Facebook founder enjoyed whole fried tilapia with ugali maize porridge at Mama Oliech – a stellar fish restaurant that is wildly popular with locals. Carnivores might prefer Roadhouse Grill, which is known for serving what many call Nairobi’s best nyama choma (barbecued meat).
Tear up the dance floor
Nairobi’s nightlife is pumping – and Alchemist Bar is the place to go if you want to really get your groove on. One of the hottest nightspots in town, the bar boasts some of the city’s best DJs, killer cocktails and an outdoor lounge area to recover in between songs. For late night munchies hit the resident food truck on your way out.
Where to stay?
Rothschild giraffes wander around freely at this charming hotel-cum-sanctuary in Karen – and are known for poking their long necks through the dining room window to see what treats might be on offer.
One Forty Eight
A former private residence in the peaceful suburb of Langata, One Forty Eight offers plenty of artistic flair a amidst lush greenery.
House of Waine
Located in a serene garden setting, this 11-room luxury boutique hotel retains the feel of a stately yet welcoming family home.
Hemingways Nairobi Hotel
The tranquil, colonial setting, with its views of Karen Blixen’s green hills, belies the fact that the hotel is in the middle of a frenetic city.