Nairobi, Kenya is a city of contrast. It has bustling streets and skyscrapers, just like any capital, but it’s also connected to the natural world in a way that many other large cities are not. As with anywhere in the world, the value of the wild part of the city is often under threat by the potential for economic expansion and growth. But, in Nairobi, the combination of wild places and development still exists and is worth exploring. Learn more about the activities that can help you enjoy the best of Nairobi.
1. View Nairobi From Above
The most distinct and iconic building in the Nairobi skyline, Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC)
offers people the chance to view the city from above. Just outside the entrance in a large courtyard is a monument of Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of the country. After paying a small fee and receiving directions at the front desk, you can take the lift to the highest possible floor, climb several sets of steps, and eventually emerge out onto the helipad, one of the highest points of downtown. From above, it’s easy to see Nairobi’s diversity. There are huge buildings across the skyline, with many more soon to join them, represented by the many cranes dotting the 360-degree view. But there are also expanses of green. In the distance to the north, a large forested section can be identified as Karura Forest. To the south, the Nairobi National Park is a massive expanse of grassland.
2. Learn About Kenya’s History
Redone in 2015, the Nairobi National Museum
covers Kenya’s history, guiding visitors from the ancient past to the present day. One of the highlights is a fantastic display of wildlife specimens that forms the centerpiece of a room about Kenya’s animals. The museum offers guides, which are recommended for people who are interested in doing more than just browsing. For a small extra fee, you can also gain entry to the snake park, which is located just meters away. With snakes from all over Kenya and the world, along with fish, crocodiles, alligators, tortoises, chameleons, and lizards, this place is guaranteed to fascinate you and potentially make your skin crawl.
3. Attend an Event at MacMillan Library
One of the most iconic buildings in downtown Nairobi is the MacMillan Library, with majestic columns and two lion statues adorning the front entrance, it fosters a feeling of history and reverence as you enter. Originally built in 1931 by the British, Macmillan Library was only available to foreign colonists, and Kenyans were only allowed to reap the benefits of the library many years later. That history of exclusion, however, is being redeemed.
Book Bunk, an organization working to revitalize the Macmillan Libraries in Nairobi, has taken on the task of, not only restoring and fixing the buildings themselves, but also assessing and improving the current catalog of books and remaking them into centers for the community. This small organization is helping these libraries live up to all that they are supposed to be: safe and enjoyable public places for the community. MacMillan Library has an expansive catalog of one-of-a-kind and historically important books and is now also used as a place for cultural and educational events. While it used to only be a window into the past, it is now being developed into a place for the future.
4. Explore Nairobi’s Little India
Located in the heart of the Parklands neighborhood, Diamond Plaza is Nairobi’s little India. You’re pretty much guaranteed to get lost the first time you go, with its winding hallways, ramps, and stairway, but you’ll find plenty of interesting things along the way. In addition to delicious, authentic Indian food, DP is known for being a place you can find almost anything you need. Stores with clothing, electronics, and groceries line the halls and you can also find plenty of entertainment, including a rock climbing gym, a yoga studio, and a cinema.
5. Experience Wildlife in the City
Nairobi is the only city in the world that has a national park within its city limits, and Nairobi National Park
does not disappoint. Along with zebras, giraffes, and various types of antelope, there’s always a good chance that you’ll see lions, leopards, buffalo or rhinos. In fact, Nairobi National Park is one of the very best places in the entire country to see the endangered rhino, with each one monitored closely by Kenya Wildlife Service
rangers. In most places in the park, you can also see a clear view of the Nairobi city skyline. There’s nothing like looking at a giraffe, rhino, or lion with skyscrapers and bustling streets in the background.
6. Hike Through Karura Forest
The late Wangari Maathai, the first African woman and first environmentalist to win the Nobel Peace Prize, has left a significant legacy in Kenya (and beyond), not least of which is Karura Forest. Her activism in the ‘70s and ‘80s resulted in a tree-planting movement and the protection of this beautiful place. Three times larger than New York’s Central Park, this forest offers a breath of fresh air in the heart of the city. It’s a great place to walk, run, or hike, and an excellent spot for a picnic. There are entrances to Karura at different locations around the city, with several featuring restaurants where you can buy a good cup of coffee or a delicious meal.
7. Shop at Maasai Market
If you’re visiting Nairobi, Maasai Market is the best way to buy affordable souvenirs. It takes place in a different location every day of the week, making it likely that there will be one near you at some point during your stay. It’s a good idea to come in prepared, or maybe visit twice: once only to look and the next time to purchase. You are expected to barter and if it’s obvious you’re a foreigner, the prices will be higher. But rather than worrying too much about getting the best possible price, decide what you want to pay and try to get a price close to that. It can be somewhat overwhelming for newcomers, so the best way to succeed is simply to smile, say hello to vendors briefly, but keep walking until you find something that you want. You’ll be impressed with the creativity and quality of the items for sale.
8. Stroll Through Uhuru Park
Uhuru Park, directly across from the city center, is another thing we can thank Wangari Mathai for. The large park was under threat by developers in the late 1980s, but this city thankfully still has this treasure to enjoy. Here you can find vendors selling biscuits, sodas, and water for refreshment, old monuments that, although fairly run-down due to lack of maintenance, represent different parts of Kenya’s history. One area of the park has a small carnival, with rides for children and paddle boats that can be taken out onto a pond. Toweringacacia and jacaranda trees are the home to marabou storks, with their massive wingspan and impressive height. Another part of the park is often used for large events, including primary political moments, like inaugurations. It also has a beautiful view of Nairobi’s downtown in the background. As is the case with any public space, Uhuru Park is a place where all are welcome. You may see the homeless sheltering under a tree, just meters away from a businessman in a suit on his lunch break. Walking through on one of Nairobi’s many sunny days, you get the feeling that you are experiencing an essential part of this city.
9. Enjoy Nairobi’s Restaurant Scene
Because of Nairobi’s incredibly comfortable climate, most restaurants have outdoor seating areas where you can enjoy delicious food while also experiencing the fresh air and sunshine. Nyama Mama has modern Kenyan food, with fun twists on traditional dishes. Wasp & Sprout has a delicious brunch and their space is decorated with a rotation of different artists’ work. River Cafe, located inside Karura Forest’s Limuru Road entrance, surrounds you with the green of the forest while you enjoy your meal. Talisman is well known far beyond Kenya’s borders for having incredible food and service and is a great place to have a celebration and indulge. Throughout the city, there are plenty of places to enjoy a delicious meal with fresh ingredients, friendly service, and plenty of sunshine.