Things to Do in Nairobi
Located just south of the city, Nairobi National Park is Kenya’s first game reserve and the only protected area in the world that sits so close to a nation’s capital. Visitors to the vast wildlife park are likely to spot black rhinos, lions, giraffe, and zebra, as well as some 400 bird species.
Home to a towering crew of endangered Rothschild’s giraffes, Nairobi’s Giraffe Centre supports conservation work and educational programs across Kenya. Here, visitors can feed giraffes from a treetop platform, walk a nature trail to the Gogo River, and learn about wildlife conservation at the on-site nature center.
A pioneering facility for the protection and rehabilitation of black rhinos and African elephants, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust saves injured and orphaned animals from the wild and rehabilitates them for a return to their natural habitats. This nonprofit park was founded in 1977 and operates within Nairobi National Park.
Known for its rich wildlife, Lake Naivasha is a nature lover’s paradise not far from the Kenyan capital. Situated at around 6,181 feet (1,884 meters) high in the Rift Valley ridge, the lake is home to hippos, exotic birds, and wetland flora, while its fresh water draws all manner of grazers, including zebras, giraffes, and buffalo.
The inspiration for animators of Disney’sThe Lion King, Hell’s Gate National Park covers roughly 26 square miles (68.25 square kilometers). Named for a gap in the red-tinged cliffs carved by the flowing waters of a prehistoric lake, it’s the only park in East Africa in which you can get out of your safari vehicle and hike freely.
Bomas of Kenya is a cultural center situated around 10 kilometers from Nairobi city, right near the main entrance to Nairobi National Park. Through art, crafts, music, dance, and architecture, it serves to preserve Kenyan culture, with artists performing traditional dances and songs from the country's major ethnic groups.
The center features replicas of traditional villages, which were built according to the same principles and techniques used by local tribes. The site is also home to one of the largest auditoriums in Africa, seating 3500 people. It is here that you can watch a selection of more than 30 traditional dances from the different ethnic groups in Kenya, including impressive performances from the Samburu and Masai warriors. Visitors can also sample a range of traditional African foods at the on site Utamaduni restaurant.
Bomas of Kenya is best enjoyed as part of a Nairobi sightseeing day tour. These take in the best attractions of the city and its surrounds, including the famous Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, the Nairobi National Park, the Giraffe Center, and the Karen Blixen Museum.
The Danish author ofOut of Africa lived in a coffee plantation farmhouse at the edge of Kenya’s beautiful Ngong Hills, where a small museum now celebrates her life and work. Since much of the original furniture has been preserved, it’s a fascinating glimpse into a colonial-era home and an interesting stop even if you haven’t read Blixen’s books.
The volcanic peak which gave Kenya its name is second only to Kilimanjaro among Africa’s highest points. Not surprisingly it is predominantly hiking and climbing which draw people to the Mt. Kenya National Park, with routes to match all abilities from keen first-timer to seasoned professional. Point Lenana is the most accessible of the mountain’s three peaks, but should only be attempted with guides.
From below, Mt. Kenya is a stirring sight with its jagged outline sprinkled with snow and criss-crossed by glaciers. And this – remember – is just south of the Equator. The mountain’s steep slopes ensure dramatic changes in landscape within a small geographical area, rising from grass plains to alpine heights. The National Park, an UNESCO World Heritage Site, is also an important source of Kenya’s water, with rivers and other waterways attracting myriad bird species.
With a massive permanent collection that combines history, culture, and artwork, the Nairobi National Museum is a must for travelers interested in Kenya’s rich heritage. Artifacts are displayed across two floors, and a nature trail winds through the surrounding grounds, a botanical garden, and collections of outdoor sculptures.
Once a colonial beef ranch, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy is now a leading wildlife sanctuary. Backdropped by Mount Kenya’s snowy peaks, the 90,000-acre (36,422-hectare) savanna preserve is home to several safari must-sees, including East Africa’s largest black rhino population and the last northern white rhinos in the world.
More Things to Do in Nairobi
Kibera, the largest slum both in Nairobi and Africa, is home to more than a million residents packed into an area less than a square mile (2.6 square kilometers). While life here isn’t easy—it’s one of Nairobi’s poorest neighborhoods and the lack of running water and electricity are constant problems—the slum has its own buzzing industries, which include rows of tilted shacks selling produce, charcoal, homemade breads, secondhand clothes, and shoes.
The Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) is a 28-story building located in the central business district of Nairobi. At 105 meters tall, the KICC is the third tallest building in Kenya and is used for national and international conferences and exhibitions, along with a variety of other meetings and events.
This terracotta, cylindrical tower reflects traditional African architecture, as does the use of cuboids inside many of the main rooms and halls inside. The KICC features a revolving restaurant with panoramic views of the city, and a number of different conference and meeting rooms. The main auditorium has a capacity of almost 800 people across tiered seating, including three balconies.
Kazuri beads factory is a fair trade success story in Nairobi that dates back to 1975, when it was founded. Kazuri was the brainchild of Lady Susan Wood, who was born to English parents in Africa. She began with two local women who made ceramic beads by hand – the word “kazuri” means “small and beautiful” in Swahili – and soon realized she could expand and help many more unemployed women.
Today, Kazuri employs more than 300 women, makes over five million beads a year, and exports beads to 20 different countries. The women have also begun to make other pottery goods with the same colorful designs.
Far more than just a home to archives and public records, the National Archives in Nairobi also exhibit everything from traditional art to stamps, weapons, and photography. Visitors can explore the small on-site museum, spend a quiet hour paging through a newspaper, or check out the archives’ collection of rare books from across Africa.
On Aug. 7, 1998, at the corner of Moi Avenue and Haile Selassie Avenue in Nairobi, what was then the United States Embassy was blown up in a terrorist attack, causing 218 deaths and thousands of injuries. The August 7th Memorial Park opened on the same date in 2001 as a tribute to the victims of the blast, and also to serve to educate people about the futility of violence.
The Memorial Park comprises a tranquil landscaped garden, a wall commemorating the names of those who died, and a sculpture made from the debris of the blast. The park also features a Conference Center and a Visitors Center with a Memorial Museum displaying various images and exhibits, plus a documentary about the events surrounding the tragedy.
Gleaming silver domes and geometric minarets rise above Nairobi’s Jamia Mosque, which is among the most important religious buildings in Kenya. While the interior is generally only accessible to Muslim visitors, all travelers can enjoy outside views of the mosque, easy to do while taking in nearby downtown sights.
The fast-paced streets of Nairobi buzz with an energy unique to the capital. But this constant bustle can be exhausting. Green grassy fields and scenic city views at Uhuru Gardens Memorial Park provide a welcome respite from the chaos and offer visitors a place to slow down. Weekdays are mostly quiet in this hillside park, and weekends bring local families out to picnic in the sun. The president uses Uhuru’s sloping hillside as stadium seating for his political speeches, so be sure to check whether rallies are scheduled before venturing to the park.