Planning Your Trip
Itineraries & Day Trips
Things to Do
What to Eat & Drink
As the capital of Kenya, Nairobi is the natural first port of call for most visitors to the country. With a multicultural population and a plethora of attractions and activities to suit all tastes and budgets, there’s more to the city than its international airport, however. Come face-to-face with endangered rhinos and rescued elephant babies in Nairobi National Park, feed giraffes by hand at the Giraffe Centre, or shop for souvenirs at the nomadic Maasai Market. In this article, we take a look at the best ways to spend your time in Nairobi as well as practical information including what to eat and drink, where to stay, and tips for staying safe.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit: Nairobi is a year-round destination. However, for the best weather and optimum wildlife viewing both in Nairobi National Park and in other game reserves across Kenya, we recommend timing your trip to coincide with the annual dry season from June to September. There are two rainy seasons in Kenya: the short rains from October to November and the long rains from March to May. The latter is the least preferable time to visit Nairobi.
Language: Swahili and English are both official languages in Kenya. Of the two, Swahili is the most widely spoken.
Currency: The Kenyan shilling is the national currency in Kenya. It is divided into 100 cents and often abbreviated to KSh.
Getting Around: Nairobi has several forms of public transport, including shared minibuses known as matatus and buses operated by services such as KBS, City Hoppa, and Double M. However, the safest way for tourists to navigate the city is by private licensed taxi or rideshare app. Both Uber and Bolt operate in Nairobi.
Travel Tip: Although most visitors enjoy their time in Nairobi without incident, petty theft is common. Avoid becoming a victim by leaving flashy jewelry and expensive cameras at home, and keeping your cash in a concealed money belt. Never walk alone at night.
Things to Do
Nairobi is a vibrant (sometimes chaotic) capital that offers insight into Kenya's modern culture and its history, simultaneously. It also has more than its fair share of nature reserves and nearby national parks, while the surrounding Central Highlands are home to award-winning coffee and tea plantations. During your time in the Kenyan capital, you can expect once-in-a-lifetime wildlife encounters, eclectic shopping opportunities, and a wealth of international dining and drinking options—and that’s just to start with.
- Nairobi National Park: Located just 7 miles from downtown Nairobi and incorporating over 45 square miles of wilderness, Nairobi National Park provides a completely unique safari experience. Spot black and white rhino, lion, leopard, buffalo, giraffe, and much more, all within sight of the city’s skyscrapers. The park is also home to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Orphans Project, a sanctuary for baby elephants and rhinos that welcomes visitors once a day.
- Giraffe Centre: Head to the Nairobi suburb of Langata to visit the Giraffe Centre, a breeding project and conservation education center dedicated to the protection of the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe. You can pet and feed the giraffes from an elevated platform, attend talks on giraffe conservation, and spot native animal and birdlife on the center’s Nature Trail. Can’t get enough of the giraffes? Consider splurging on a night at the 5-star Giraffe Manor.
- Karen Blixen Museum: If you are one of the thousands drawn to Kenya by the book (and later movie adaptation) "Out of Africa," don’t miss the chance to tour around the original farmhouse owned by its author, Karen Blixen. The bungalow-style house has been immaculately preserved, and many of the items on display once belonged to the Blixens themselves. The Karen Blixen Museum also has a beautiful garden.
What to Eat and Drink
Thanks to a diverse community that includes immigrants and expatriates from all over Africa and beyond, Nairobi has an impressive culinary scene. Feel like French haute cuisine? You’ll find it here. Mexican cantinas, Brazilian churrascarias, Japanese sushi bars and so much more all have a place on the capital’s list of top restaurants; but make sure to save space for some local fare, too. For a mouthwatering introduction to Kenyan cuisine, choose Nyama Mama, a local brand with three outlets in Nairobi and a menu filled with delicacies such as goat curry, chicken and cassava, ugali chips, and chapati wraps. Flame-grilled meat is a staple in Nairobi, and you’ll find it at street-side restaurants all over the capital.
Nairobi has also earned itself a reputation as a nightlife hotspot, with a broad variety of drinking establishments that range from cocktail bars to raucous nightclubs with dance floors that remain packed until sunrise the next day. Westlands is the city’s nightlife epicenter, and the best place to base yourself if exploring Nairobi after dark is your top priority. Try Champagne & Fishbowls for an upmarket champagne bar experience, or head to Brew Bistro Rooftop to sample the best Kenyan craft beers. Top nightclubs include K1 Club House, Simba Saloon, and Black Diamond. For a uniquely Kenyan cocktail, order a Dawa: a blend of vodka, sugar, and lime mixed with a honey-coated stirrer.
Explore specific recommendations for dining out in Nairobi with our guide to the city’s best restaurants.
Where to Stay
Choosing the right neighborhood to stay in during your trip to Nairobi can make all the difference to your time there. Certain areas of the city are best avoided or require more caution if visited, such as Eastleigh and township areas like Kibera. (For more information, read our guide about safety in Nairobi.)
The best locations are suburbs like Karen and Langata, which put you in close proximity to many of the city’s top visitor attractions. Westlands is another good choice, especially if you are keen on embracing Nairobi’s lively dining and nightlife scene. The capital also has some pretty unique accommodation options. These include Nairobi Tented Camp, an eco-style safari camp situated within Nairobi National Park; and Giraffe Manor, famous for the resident giraffes that roam freely around its grounds.
Read our article on the best hotels in Nairobi for a more detailed overview of our favorite places to stay in the city.
The main port of entry for overseas visitors (both to Nairobi and to Kenya in general) is Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO). Located approximately 10 miles from the city center, it is the busiest airport in East Africa. Ask your hotel if they provide an airport shuttle; if not, use a licensed taxi or rideshare to travel from the airport to your final destination. Several international car rental companies including Avis and Europcar have outlets at Nairobi airport. Visitors from most non-African countries require an e-visa to enter Kenya, including the United States.
Culture and Customs
Tipping is at your discretion, with between 10 and 20 percent being a suitable amount for good service for waiters, bartenders, and tour guides. Tip porters, household staff, and car guards with coins or small notes depending on how much they have helped you.
Nairobi has strict smoking rules, so be sure to look for signs or other instructions that explain where smoking is and is not allowed.
Kenya is a predominantly Christian country. However, Muslim areas exist (particularly along the coast), and in these places it is advisable to dress modestly to avoid causing offense, especially in public spaces. Pointing at a person is considered an obscene gesture, but hissing at someone to get their attention is acceptable. Homosexuality is illegal in Kenya, and homophobia is also prevalent. That said, many LGBTQ+ travelers have had safe and enjoyable visits; however, it is advised to remain discreet about relationships as to not attract unwanted attention or harassment.
Key safety advice includes keeping valuables concealed, using licensed taxis or rideshare apps to get around, and never walking alone at night.
Money Saving Tips
- An easy way to save money on food and drink is to eat at local establishments instead of the city’s upmarket international restaurants. Look for street-side stalls with plenty of customers to get an idea of which one has the best food.
- Traveling by matatu or public bus is not for the faint-of-heart; the former often experiences problems such as overcrowding and a lack of respect for road rules. However, if you’re on a tight budget, the matatu and bus network connect you to most areas of the city for very little money.
- If you choose to get around by taxi, booking a driver for the day is often cheaper than paying for multiple individual trips.
- Don’t forget to negotiate for the best price when hailing a taxi, and be sure to agree on a price before accepting a ride. Most taxis do not have working meters.
- Haggling is also encouraged at local market stalls. As a rule of thumb, offer half of the vendor’s original asking price and then negotiate back and forth until you arrive at a price in the middle.
- Book tours with respected locally owned companies rather than foreign travel agents for the best rates.
- If you plan on renting a car anyway, you can save money on an expensive guided game drive around Nairobi National Park by opting to self-drive.
Kenya Airports Authority. "About Jomo Kenyatta International." 2021
Republic of Kenya. "Kenyan Visa Eligibility." 2020
Human Rights Watch. "Kenya: Court Upholds Archaic Anti-Homosexuality Laws". 2019