Exploring Nairobi: Masai Markets to African Cuisine

Nairobi, Kenya is one of the world’s fastest-growing cities, home to almost 3.5 million people from all over the world. The city represents a unique blend of African culture, remnants of British colonial influences, and twenty-first century multi-national industries. For world travelers coming to Africa for the first time, Nairobi is a great first step. Once you finish exploring this city, you are also in the perfect location to catch a coach or flight to beautiful places in Kenya like Mombasa, Kisumu, and Kitale or even visit Uganda and Tanzania.

Choosing a Place to Stay in Nairobi

If you are traveling on a budget, I would highly recommend booking through Airbnb. You can easily find a large private bedroom with an ensuite bathroom in Nairobi for under $25 USD per night. Try sticking to neighborhoods in the west end of the city such as Lavington, Westlands, or Kileleshwa. These neighborhoods are primarily expats, Kenyan government workers, or those working in the corporate sector. If you don’t mind traveling out a bit farther, the neighborhood of Karen is gorgeous. Last month, I booked a remote cottage in the woods of Karen through Airbnb as a little romantic getaway. As long as you bring plenty of food with you, Karen is the perfect place escape the hustle and bustle of the city and reconnect with nature the African way. For those of you who do not yet trust Airbnb, I highly recommend Khweza Bed and Breakfast. It is centrally located in the heart of Nairobi, its artwork stays true to Kenyan charm, and it has a beautiful rooftop restaurant overlooking the city. Rates go from about $30 USD per night with breakfast included. Breakfast is made up of freshly squeezed juices, eggs, sausages, pancakes, and fresh fruit. Can you say Yum!

Getting around in the Heart of Africa

Getting around Nairobi can be overwhelming to those new to the city. Boda Bodas (motorcycle taxis) are my preferred method of travel in East Africa, however, in Nairobi they travel extremely fast, weaving in and out through traffic, and you need to provide your own helmet. For anyone who is not Kenyan, both Boda Bodas and normal taxis on the street will try to charge you triple the going rate because they assume that you can afford it. In Nairobi, I always travel using Taxify. The application is similar to Uber, but it is significantly cheaper, and they also pay their drivers a higher rate. To use Taxify, you should get a local sim card (costing no more than a few dollars) and load up on data. If you are traveling all over Kenya, I recommend using Safaricom; their service works even in the most remote locations.

Shopping in Kenya’s Capital City

For those who like high ceilings, restaurants serving Western food, and more expensive things to buy, Nairobi is filled with malls. These malls usually have the same stores including restaurants, technology stores, book shops, clothing stores, grocery shops, and places to stop by for dessert. For Nairobi visitors feeling a bit more adventurous, downtown is filled to the brim with open street markets. These vendors sell anything from fresh fruits and vegetables to knockoff football jerseys. Street markets epitomize African culture with their bright colors, the somehow uniformed chaos, and demand to haggle.

Nairobi’s Food Markets

Nairobi is also home to several Masai markets located throughout the city. These markets are filled with traditional African crafts and epitomize Kenyan culture. Masai markets are home to both cheap tourist souvenirs and traditional handmade crafts that you probably could not find anywhere else in the world. It is your job to stay calm and centered amongst the shopkeepers who will undoubtedly bombard you with outrageous prices. One of my proudest finds in the Masai markets was a beautiful hard-carved wooden mask that I bought for $10 USD and was being sold for $100 in the shop next door.

Finding Traditional African Cuisine and Modern Favorites

Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant

One of my all-time favorite restaurants in Nairobi is an Ethiopian place called Abyssinia Restaurant. For those of you who do not know, Ethiopian food is best eaten with a large group. A good rule of thumb is the more people that you have at the table, the more variety you can try from the menu. The staff at Abyssinia are very accommodating, and you should trust their recommendations. My favorite menu item is the fried goat, although it is a staple in Africa I have only been blown away by goat meat at this place.

Traditional African Food

Mama Rocks Gourmet Burgers

Another one of my favorite restaurants in Nairobi is a gourmet burger place called Mama Rocks. Yes, I know, burgers are not very African, but seriously I would dare to say that this is my favorite burger place of all time. My favorite menu item is the Mango Masai Mama Burger. All of the menu items come with a unique African twist, are beautifully cooked, and are served in an artsy atmosphere. The burgers are massive, so if you have a small stomach make sure to order the mini version of the one you want, they are half price and a great way to mix and match if you just cannot decide.

Coldstone Creamery for the Homesick American

My final restaurant recommendation is Coldstone Creamery. For the Americans out there, I am well aware that Coldstone is an American ice cream chain. However, as an American who has lived in the UK for the last several years, I can guarantee that Coldstone is a luxury that is difficult to find outside the US. For some weird reason, this chain is nonexistent in Europe but is everywhere in Nairobi. In addition to their countless flavors, you can ask them to mix into your ice cream any amount of syrups, fruits, candy, or sprinkles. It honestly is a sweet tooth’s heaven. My favorite is the cake batter ice cream mixed with caramel sauce and heath bar. This is the perfect place for a homesick American. Whether you are an expat living in Kenya or are simply a tourist visiting Africa for the first time, Nairobi has something to offer everyone. It has a vibrant nightlife, countless restaurants, endless shopping, and even animal conservation parks where you can go on safari.    

DeDe Patterson

I am American graduate student in anthropology living in between the UK and Kenya. I love traveling the world, particularly souther/eastern Europe and Sub Saharan Africa. I love learning about new cultures, traditional practices, and of course traditional cuisines.