Nairobi is a bustled city, full of juxtapositions around every corner. A growing economy drives extreme project development alongside infrastructure that remains stuck in the 19th century – resulting in shiny malls and Jaguar dealerships without decent roads to get to them. But like many cities with a long history, Nairobi is spread out and divided into very distinctive neighborhoods.
Sas and I frequent a lot of Westlands area, where we live, thanks to tons of restaurants, bars, and shopping options. In Westlands area, you can visit art galleries (Circle Art and The Kuona Trust are the best in Westlands) to explore a bit of culture, where some of the best artists in East Africa can be found); be sure to catch Sir Elvis Otieno - or just “Elvis” - at the Galileo’s every Wednesday night; or if dancing is more your scene, hit up the Alchemist and J’s for awesome late night eats and DJ-fueled dance parties.
CBD is a must as well for any first-time visitor to Kenya, although be wary of your bags and avoid it during the night. Stroll through the ancient City Market to find curious as well as fresh fruit and meats for sale. The building is a sprawling landmark built near the old railway in the 1930’s and was originally the main source of groceries in town. Take in the view of the entire city from the top of the Kenyatta International Conference Center (KICC) where the old helipad is open to the public (no frills, don’t expect food vendors!).
Muthaiga offers a leafier version of the cityscape, taking you back to the days before skyscrapers and terrible traffic overran the city. Muthaiga, a wealthy suburb of Nairobi, is home to mostly Ambassadors, well-heeled Kenyans, and the oldest members only club in Kenya – the Muthaiga Club. It’s also home to the stunning Karura Forest, a favorite escape that makes Central Park look like a small dog park. You can explore ancient caves, old growth eucalyptus trees, and running paths for hours on end – often accompanied by Colobus Monkeys and dik-diks.
In Gigiri, you will find the best shopping in the North side of Nairobi at Village Market and the Two Rivers Mall – the largest mall in East Africa. But instead of wasting a day in the Mall, head to One Off Gallery and spend the day with Carol in her incredible horse farm cum art gallery, stuffed to the brim with some of the most famous artists in the country and East Africa.
If feeling up to it, you can also head a bit further out East to Kiambu and visit either the Kiambethu Tea Farm or Brown’s Cheese Factory for a lovely day. When you there, you should pass by Red Hill Art Gallery to see one of the more impressive private collections of African modern and contemporary art in the world. After a stop at Red Hill, relax with a Tusker at the Kentmere Club, a dated (or preserved, if you prefer) members only club to be transported back 100 years.
Finally, one of our favorite neighborhoods is Karen – home to much of the best tourist attractions for first time visitors. Karen houses the famous David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where you can come up close and personal to orphaned baby elephants; feed Giraffe’s at the Giraffe Center (our vote, if you can swing it, is to book a stay or lunch at the Giraffe Manor for the same experience although done from a 1930’s private mansion on 140 acres of conservancy); explore the Karen Blixen Museum, where Karen Blixen lived and wrote her memoirs to inspire “Out of Africa;” and finish your day with a visit to Talisman, the best restaurant in Nairobi.
Our favorite restaurant is Talisman, located in Karen. Order a Tumeric Ginger cocktail with gin, followed by an order of the Feta and Coriander Samosa’s, and feast on the Braised Belly of Pork with a glass of South African Shiraz – you can’t go wrong.
Tin Roof Café – the best salad bar in East Africa, this cozy gem has two locations (The Souk, Karen and Langata Link, Karen) but The Souk location is the nicest. Go for the Kenya Cowboy Steak sandwich paired with the salad bar – rinse and repeat.
If you are in the mood for authentic Japenese Izakaya, you must eat at Cheka for legitimately delicious Japanese food. Try the grilled chicken skin and salmon roll with the Soju ginger ale – to die for.
Java – our favorite standby diner. Think Starbucks meets your favorite upscale diner. You can order everything from guacamole toast to Banh Mi to Pork Carnitas Burritos.
Pizza 360 – the best pizza and pasta spot in town, and one of the only places you can get an IPA. Order the Salsiccia Burrata pizza and thank us later.
Nyama Mama – Nyama Choma, traditional Kenyan barbeque, meets Nando’s chicken. A lively spot where you know your meal will rock and satisfy any appetite.
Sierra – serves up the best burgers in Kenya, alongside their signature microbrew. Sit outside upstairs for a view.
Connect Coffee – the best coffee in Kenya, run by a Korean couple, they roast their beans daily to order.
The Alchemist – the best club in town, with constant live music every weekend into the wee hours. Plus, they have a pizza oven and a burger food truck, Mama Rocks, which is insane at 2am.
Havana – an old-school bar in the heart of Westlands, this standby serves a mean steak before the sun sets and turns into one of the more popular spots in Westlands.
Brew Bistro – head here for a fun night any night of the week and perfect views over Nairobi. Stick to the beer and drinks unless craving for a hearty burger.
If you are looking to pop some bottles and rage like a baller, head to B-Club (look for the Lamborghini’s and Rolls Royce’s if you are lost). Order Dom all night and sleep it off at the Kempinski.
J’s – excellent on Wed-Saturday nights, with Thursday being an exceptional night for live music run by Roots International.
If you are feeling a bit less like having a dance party, and simply want a nice cocktail with a view, head to Sankara Hotel rooftop for a cocktail by their pool.
Hemingways – for that truly old school experience, head out to Karen and stay in the leafy estate that is Hemingway’s. A slice of The Breakers in Nairobi.
Giraffe Manor – normally out of the price range of normal humans, this place is over the top in old school elegance and its main selling point is being awoken in the morning by a hungry Giraffe licking your face.
Tribe Hotel – the coolest hotel in Nairobi, this spot in Gigiri is loaded with tons of art and a modern African vibe, conveniently located to the big malls but overlooking a quiet forest.
Sankara Hotel – great city getaway with plush accommodations, excellent rooftop bar, and an amazing steak restaurant.
Kempinski Hotel – our go to hotel with everything in Westlands, conveniently located to everything.
Dusit D2 – the best boutique hotel in Nairobi these days, with lots of dining options. No views though, rather tucked away.
If you are on a budget, stay at Tune Hotels, which is modern, clean, and has awesome views and a killer rooftop with 360 degree views.
Circle Art Gallery – more collectible artists so steeper price tag, but you will find very interesting contemporary artists here pushing the envelope.
One Off Gallery – full of amazing pieces, always can find something here in many price ranges.
The Hub Karen – you can get all your shopping done for trinkets here, the best mall in Kenya. They have the Banana Box and Blue Rhino, not to mention a great coffee shop (Art Café) and restaurants.