There is no shortage of incredible sights and activities to pack into your holiday to Nairobi, Kenya. From wildlife safaris, to beautiful Masaai arts and crafts, to enjoying morning tea while surrounded by giraffes, Nairobi will give you enough memories and photo-ops to last a lifetime. But Nairobi is so much more than just giraffes and elephants (although beautiful). If you want to discover Nairobi beyond the national park, be sure to visit these less touristic spots on your holiday.
So, you have your plane ticket to Nairobi and you have checked all there is to check on Instagram. Most likely you are ready for Nairobi National Park and, if you can afford it, Giraffe Manor. After all, where else can you enjoy breakfast with a gentle giant peaking through the window? Maybe you’ve seen photos from the Elephant Orphanage or the Maasai Market.
But what about those other spots? What if you’re on a budget and want to explore beyond your typical safari? Well, you’ve come to the right place! Check out some of the most fun, less-Instagrammed-by-tourists-yet-very-Instagrammable spots Nairobi has to offer!
HOTELS, CRIME, AND OTHER PRELIMINARY MATTERS
Before I continue, let me state the obvious. If you have time and can afford to do so, I suggest checking out the first places I mentioned in this post. Nairobi is the only capital adjacent to a national park. From here you can see anything from lions to giraffes and even leopards if you are lucky. Experiencing these beautiful animals through any or all of the aforementioned activities will be an unforgettable experience.
Also, here are some quick thoughts on where to stay: If this is your first trip to Kenya and you are traveling solo, I suggest you stay at a backpackers hostel (I stayed at Milimani). I’ve also heard good things about Manyatta, or you can find an Airbnb to meet people. If you have a larger budget, check out one of the various eco camps. Kenyan social media is buzzing, and there are lots of Facebook groups as well where you can reach out to meet new folks!
Nairobi, dubbed Nairobbery, does not have the best reputation when it comes to crime. So, let me address that quickly. Never run around with your smartphone in your hand or use it on a bus with an open window. It’s not worth taking the risk. That being said, I take my iPhone everywhere including partying. A lot of people worry about safety when traveling solo, but I have never run into any problems in Kenya. Just make sure you pay attention to your belongings and keep them hidden when you’re out and about. And, since Nairobi is filled with tourists and expats, you will receive less attention as a foreigner than in other places.
Nairobi is big, buzzing with crazy traffic, and at times overwhelming. Navigating the matatu (Kenyan bus) routes was always a struggle for me. Thankfully, you can always rely on this handy map for navigating around the city. East Africa is not yet a busy backpacking destination, but you can find long distance buses that take you from Nairobi to Kampala to Kigali and further!
Despite some of the challenges with culture and transportation you might face, Nairobi is the perfect place to visit for a travel-lover. If you have traveled before, you know that any place that challenges you is likely going to be the most rewarding.
WHERE TO EAT
Now, let’s get to the meat. Quite literally, because Nairobi has a great selection of food places specializing in interesting meats. But if you’re like me and prefer vegetarian options, don’t worry. There are plenty of spots that cater to various tastes and dietary preferences. Here’s a list of seven must-try spots in Nairobi.
1) Carnivore: If you love meat and want to try something new, head over to Carnivore on Langata Road. Here you’ll be able to try some rare delicacies like crocodile or ostrich.
2) Nyama Mama: Don’t be fooled by the name (nyama means “meat” in Kiswahili), this lovely restaurant has a great mix of Kenyan and foreign cuisine both with and without meat. They’ve also taken a Kenyan staple to the next level, taking mushy cornmeal ugali (or nshima) and turning it into fries! Aside from yummy food, Nyama also has great ambiance, colorful decorations, and kind staff. We were even given a gift on Christmas! They have three locations, I’d recommend the Delta one but any will do.
3) Wasp & Sprout: This hip stop in Loresho is one of my favorites. More than just a brunch spot (although their food is exquisite), this lifestyle brand also offers artisan beauties from furniture to cushions to clothes.
3) Tin Roof Cafe: You’ll find this cafe in Karen or Langata. If you’re looking for a healthy option, this is the place for you! They have delicious salads, smoothies, and vegan and gluten free options! (And as a bonus, they are very Instagrammable, too).
4) Mama Rocks: If you’re looking for a hearty meal in The Yard, Parklands, stop at Mama Rocks. It’s located right next to the Alchemist and the Made in Kenya Store. Mama Rocks might have the best gourmet burgers in all of Nairobi. Try the Mango Masai Mama or the T.I.A!
5) Talisman: This is another great spot in Karen. Feeling fancy? Come here for wine tasting, fine dining, and beautiful art.
6) Java House: Visit Java House for some Kenyan coffee, WiFi, cake, or even dawa (a traditional Kenyan drink). You can find Java House all over the city, in most malls and at JKIA.
The Maasai Market is a must, but you may not know that it changes location everyday. They have a variety of unique jewelry, bags, fabrics, toys, and more. Make sure to bargain a bit! Here’s where they are located from Tuesday to Sunday (refer to their Facebook page for updated locations):
Tuesdays: Kijabe Street (previously at Westlands Mall)
Wednesday: Capital Centre, not going to lie, I’ve never been here!
Thursday: Junction Mall, Karen, great for shopping but a bit outside and in the more expensive part of the city
Friday: Village Market, which has a great bookstore as well!
Saturday: Parking Lot behind the Hilton in the center, easy to access by matatu if you are coming from outside
Sunday: Yaya Center, also good for shopping and near one of Mama Nyama’s locations
Perhaps you want to do some souvenir shopping but are tired of crowded Maasai markets. Or maybe you are just looking for something different. Well, I have exactly the right place for you! Head over to the Made in Kenya store, conveniently located at The Yard in Parklands and right next to a great selection of food places. You’ll also be by one of my favorite bars in all of Nairobi: The Alchemist! Made in Kenya features fashion, art and jewelry from talented Kenyan artists and is definitely worth checking out.
The Alchemist Bar is open from 12pm onwards. It has become a popular nightlife spot with everything from live music, to electronic beats, to documentary screenings, to other fun events. Here you’ll find great graffiti, and a dance floor situated in front of a retired and painted double-decker bus. If you are not feeling the party life, come during the day. Alchemist Bar also has great wifi and comfortable couches with beautiful cushions for leisurely afternoons.
Tuesday is movie night and Thursday is reggae night. If you’re into the latest Kenyan beats, you might even recognize some of Kenya’s finest artists hanging around the Alchemist Bar. I’ve crossed paths and danced with Muthoni Drummer Queen and members of Sauti Sol.
From the Alchemist, head over to J’s to dance under a pretty ceiling of hanging green plants. Check out Brew Bistro Lounge with a great selection of craft beers and live music. Both J’s and BrewBistro have a wide variety of yummy dishes as well. As you may have noticed, food and nightlife go hand in hand in Kenya. Make sure to try hard boiled eggs with kachumbari (tomato salsa) and, if you eat meat, nyama choma (roasted meat) is a must!
Also, if you’re lucky, your trip may overlap with the famous Blankets & Wine festival! Time to use that blanket you bought at the Maasai Market and enjoy some live Kenyan tunes in the fresh outdoors!
Lastly, although not exactly a nightlife spot, Kenya International Convention Center (KICC) tower offers the best city views. From the rooftop you’ll get a stunning 360-degree view of the city that you won’t want to miss. The rooftop is open until 6:00pm on weekends and 8:00pm on weekdays. If possible, try to catch a sunset up there!
If you love nature and are on a budget, hop on a matatu towards Karura Forest off Limuru Road. Go for a run, a hike, or bring something for a picnic! You’ll have to pay a tourist price unless you’re a resident, but it’s managed by Kenya Forest Services and the fee is standard (and very reasonable). For me, Karura Forest is the Hampstead Heath of Nairobi. It’s near the heart of the city but calm and secluded. You can also spot monkeys and other animals here.
Want a more difficult hike? Head over to the seven Ngong Hills. Don’t underestimate these hills, and make sure to start in the early morning! If you’re up for an overnight trip out of Nairobi, I’d recommend getting a tent at one of the camps near Lake Naivasha (about two hours out of Nairobi by matatu). Fisherman’s Camp or Crayfish have cheap tents with mattresses and beddings right next to the lake.
From here, you can take a boat tour to see hippos. You can also take a matatu to Hell’s Gate (which inspired Pride Rock from the Lion King) or Mount Longonot. At Hell’s Gate, rent a bike and cycle around, do rock climbing, or walk through its gorgeous gorge.
Mount Longonot, an extinct stratovolcano, is my favorite spot. Entry is USD 26 but well worth it. Hiking the volcano is a bit of an uphill battle, but once you’re up on the crater you have the most incredible view of the Rift Valley! You can even circumvent the 7km crater. And, after all that hiking, you can relax near the lake with a cold Tusker Lager.
In my opinion, art in Nairobi is everywhere. But, to make it a bit easier for you, here’s some gems that I have found:
1) The Nest Collective — fantastic group of artists from various disciplines ranging from film to fashion to visual arts.
2) Kuona Artist Collective — located in Likoni Cloe, the previous home to Kuona Trust, this artist community hosts open studios, art fairs, and more.
3) GoDown Arts Center — I came across this initiative when researching for my thesis. They organize amazing events on urban life in Nairobi.
4) Nganya buses — Some of Nairobi’s notorious matatus are mobile pieces of art! These are often referred to as nganya. You’ll see the airbrushed faces of Obama or Mariah Carey and endless entertaining names and slogans. Sporting the latest bass equipment, the buses are more like night clubs on wheels. So, if you want to hear the latest Kenyan music and watch music videos on your commute, hop on a matatu. They can be a bit of a hustle, but they are an experience for sure. They are also the cheapest way of getting around.
Needless to say, Nairobi has everything you could want on an African holiday! Apart from the typical activities to see safari animals, you’ll also find great shopping, delicious food, vibrant nightlife, and outdoor adventures to fill your holiday (even on a budget).
We hope that this article has inspired you to visit Nairobi. If you have any questions about the destination please leave these in the comments below.
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Read More About Traveling In Africa:
- 5 Reasons Why You Have To Visit Namibia
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- Unexpected Sights Of Nairobi
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We Are Travel Girls Contributor Celia Breuer
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