Kenya offers some of the richest cultural and wildlife viewing experiences to be had anywhere on the African continent, and quite often visitors simply transit through the capital Nairobi. However, the tenth largest city in Africa has much to offer visitors in its own right. Here are some tips for top things to do from guest contributor Ella Kiddell at The Classic Safari Company.
In the heady rush to reach Kenya’s game-filled plains and luxurious safari lodges, capital Nairobi is often seen as little more than a transit hub — but that’s a mistake.
Here, big game roams against a backdrop of skyscrapers, elegant grande dame hotels rub shoulders with trendy boutique places to stay, and the emergence of cutting edge designers has given rise to some of the best shopping in Africa. Nairobi is a destination of contrasts, combining the glamour of bygone colonial days with the buzz of a modern African metropolis, and is not to be missed.
Here are ten top things to do in Nairobi.
1. Walk with baby elephants at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is heralded around the world for its work in elephant conservation. The trust rescues orphaned elephants, rehabilitates them and releases them back into the wild. Some of the orphans are so small they need blankets to keep them warm and 24-hour care from keepers. The centre is open to visitors and small group tours for one hour per day (entry fee applies), while an annual adoption fee of $50USD entitles foster parents to visit the nursery at 5pm (by appointment) to see the orphans bedded down for the night and to chat to their keepers.
2. Check in to Giraffe Manor
Located a few kilometres southwest of central Nairobi, Giraffe Manor tells the wonderfully eccentric story of Scottish earl Jock Leslie-Melville and his wife Betty, who began raising one of the last remaining Rothschild’s giraffes in Kenya at this historic property in the 1970s. Now a luxury boutique hotel set in stunning grounds where increased numbers of the giraffe roam freely, Giraffe Manor is perhaps the only place in the world where you can share your breakfast with these elegant creatures.
3. Pucker up with a Rothschild’s giraffe
The Giraffe Centre sits within Giraffe Manor and provides day visitors with the opportunity to observe, hand-feed and even pucker up to the Rothschild’s giraffe. There’s an education centre for those interested in learning more about giraffe conservation, while the self-guided forest walk through the adjacent Gogo River Bird Sanctuary is a must-do.
4. Enjoy a fashionable stay at One Forty Eight
Just next door to Giraffe Manor, the former home of internationally renowned fashion designer Anna Trzebinski and her late husband and artist Antonio Trzebinski is now an uber-stylish boutique hotel and art gallery. With just eight rooms, One Forty Eight still feels like a private residence. The service is exceptional, the rooms are exquisite and the onsite boutique is a dangerous place to be with a credit card. If you’re into quiet exclusivity, boho styling and effortless chic, this is the hotel for you.
5. Take a drive on the wild side in Nairobi National Park
Few capital cities can boast big game roaming freely less than 30 minutes drive from the CBD. Nairobi National Park is home to more than a hundred species, including buffalo, lion, leopard, zebra and cheetah, and provides the surreal sight of wildlife roaming against a backdrop of skyscrapers. You can self-drive through the park but joining a qualified guide on a game drive offers a much more relaxed experience. For a real taste of the city’s wild side, stay at The Emakoko — a luxurious boutique safari lodge located on the edge of the park.
6. See a community project in action with One Horizon
Charitable tourism has received mixed press over the years. The key is to do your research. One Horizon is a not-for-profit organisation that offers the chance to see small-scale humanitarian programmes in action. Projects include schools, micro-farms, women’s shelters and support centres for the elderly. The fee you pay for your day-long excursion is channeled back into these programmes, and you’ll never be asked for an additional donation.
7. Dine at The Talisman
The Talisman Restaurant is a Nairobi institution and one of the city’s best eateries. Sit outside on the terrace on a warm summer day enjoying the garden in full bloom, or curl up by the roaring fire in winter with a hearty South African red. The menu features European dishes and contemporary African cuisine.
8. Visit the Karen Blixen Museum
The hallowed walls of Danish author Karen Blixen’s former home, now a museum, echo with the ghost of her pioneering spirit, and you can almost feel her presence. Whether you are an Out of Africa fan or not, the house is an intriguing relic of colonial Africa with well-preserved artefacts and original furnishings. Guided tours (included in the entry fee) are offered throughout the day and will deepen your appreciation of Blixen’s story. Be sure to leave enough time to wander the home and gardens at your own pace, soaking up the atmosphere and enjoying that famous view of the Ngong Hills.
9. Shop ’til you drop
The shopping in Nairobi is fabulous. Langata Link is the place to pick up stylish homewares and tasteful souvenirs at a range of price points. You’ll find more souvenirs at Utamaduni Craft Centre, which offers a variety of domestic and imported products. House of Treasures Emporium sells designer furnishings, leatherwear, jewellery and clothing, while Matbronze showcases beautiful cast bronze sculptures — everything from small suitcase-friendly options to full-size garden installations. Polka Dot Gallery displays reasonably priced artwork by local artists, and Kazuri Beads is all about chunky and colourful hand-made jewellery.
10. Step back in time at The Norfolk Hotel
Opened in 1904 and now managed by Fairmont Hotels, The Norfolk Hotel is one of Nairobi’s iconic landmarks. Famous guests have included Mrs. Neville Chamberlain, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt and many others. Sympathetic restoration has brought the property into the 21st century, but plenty of remnants of the past remain, including the original rickshaws once used to ferry guests to and from the hotel. High tea is served daily with a strong sense of occasion and decorum (a collared shirt is a must and shorts are not permitted). The hotel is a unique connection to Nairobi’s fascinating colonial past.