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In Kenya's capital you'll find some excellent accommodation...

Nairobi Tented Camp offers a real bush feeling.


Nairobi: in detail

Nairobi trips: the full story

Kenya’s sprawling, traffic-choked capital is an unavoidable stopover on many itineraries, and most people wouldn’t choose to spend longer in the city than necessary. But Nairobi is not nearly as bad as its ‘Nairoberry’ reputation might suggest: there are some great hotels and restaurants, and the shopping opportunities – in malls or outdoor curio markets (so-called ‘Maasai markets’) – can be very good. More importantly, Nairobi has some creditable must-sees of its own, of which the standout attraction is the remarkable Nairobi National Park.

  • All our road transfers in Nairobi are handled by a very long established and highly reputable safari operator and you will be met outside the arrivals hall by a uniformed driver-guide. At the end of your safari, your driver-guide and private vehicle will be at your disposal throughout the time you are in Nairobi until you need to check in for your flight. This means you can comfortably have some dinner somewhere and get to the airport in good time. Earlier in the day, if time allows, you may well be able to visit one or more of Nairobi's attractions. Please ask as about this before finalising your booking.

Flying into Nairobi and where to stay

The main Nairobi airport is Jomo Kenyatta International, known as JKI or JKIA. When departing from this airport, it's useful to know that access to the airport area requires a security check on the access road, in which all passengers have to leave their vehicles. You're advised to leave all bags in the vehicle, otherwise you'll have to pass them through an x-ray machine.

The city’s second airport is the domestic airport, Wilson airport, which is closer to the city centre. Most safari flights leave from Wilson. There are no flights between the two airports and transfers between the two frequently take an hour or more.

Nairobi may leave every visitor with a different impression, but one thing everyone agrees on is the indescribable madness of the traffic. Traffic jams of stationary vehicles lasting for hours are commonplace on many of what would be the city’s arterial roads if the traffic were moving. Tales of Nairobi residents who took less time travelling from European capitals to Nairobi than from the airport to their homes are legion and commutes of three to four hours – in both directions – are not unusual. All the traffic to the central highlands, the Rift Valley and northern and western Kenya passes through the city. While major road-building projects are beginning to relieve the pressure, you shouldn’t underestimate the potential for delays in one of the most snarled-up cities in the world. Bearing that in mind, and depending on your timing, there’s a lot to be said for staying close to the airports in the southeast, or even in Nairobi National Park itself, which now has highly recommended options.

The JKI Airport area and Mombasa Road

If you want to avoid the city’s traffic, which as the rush hours get longer, is increasingly unavoidable for most of the day, then staying out of town in the south-east, close to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), is probably the best solution. As well as a hotel at the airport itself (the Four Points by Sheraton Nairobi Airport and the Crowne Plaza Nairobi Airport) there are two popular hotels – the Ole Sereni and the Eka – about 12km from the airport. There are two excellent options in Nairobi National Park – the traditional, luxury-under-canvas Nairobi Tented Camp on the west side of the park, and a superb safari lodge, The Emakoko, on the south side of the park, closer to the airport. Then if you take a 30-minute drive down the Mombasa highway towards the coast you’re on the Athi Plains, where the Swara Plains Conservancy, a former game ranch, offers a charmingly rustic safari lodge and surprisingly good wildlife viewing.

Karen & Langata

Many visitors opt to stay in the leafy suburbs of Karen and Langata, in the south-west of the city where there are several very pleasant and comfortable country-house style hotels and guesthouses. There are several worthwhile activities out here, too, including the captivating elephant orphanage run by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, where you’ll get close encounters with tiny pachyderms; the Giraffe Centre run by the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife, where you can look into the eyes of a Rothschild giraffe at treetop height; a number of interesting crafts shops and workshops; and the Karen Blixen Museum celebrating the life of the colonial-era, Danish writer who lived here.

The Central Business District & West Nairobi

If nothing but central Nairobi will do, or you want to stay in one of the city’s iconic old hotels, dating back to the early years of the last century, than you’ll be staying in the central business district (CBD), or simply ‘town’ to most Nairobians. You’ll be able to walk to the Kenyatta International Conference Centre for 360-degree, rooftop views of the city, to the National Archives and City Market, and to take a short cab ride to the National Museum for an introduction to Kenya’s cultures and wildlife.

Westlands and Gigiri

These relatively central parts of Nairobi to the north of the CBD offer the convenience of being close to some of the city’s best shopping centres and restaurants and not far from the National Museum and the city centre’s handful of attractions. Gigiri has the Village Market, Nairobi’s best shopping mall and entertainment complex, which is also close to one of the city’s best green spaces, the beautiful Karura Forest, where you can safely go birdwatching, walk to caves and waterfalls, or go for a run.

History of Nairobi

The first inklings that a city was going to appear here came in May 1899, when the British builders of the railway into the interior built a camp here as they figured out how to get the line up the steep slopes ahead and then down the vertiginous escarpment into the Rift Valley beyond. The city started life as a supply depot, railway switching yard and campground for the Indian labourers working on the line. The location was originally called Nakusontelon, ‘Beginning of all Beauty’, but the name it came to be known by came from the Maa words enkare nyarobi, ‘the place of cold water’, which the Maasai used to describe the area.

Without any planning, the settlement took root and was made the capital of the newly formed ‘British East Africa’ in 1907. In 1902, the Stanley hotel (now the Sarova Stanley) had opened, followed two years later by the Norfolk. The city grew rapidly in the run-up to World War I and was the capital of the dissolute ‘Happy Valley set’ in the inter-war years. There was a further burst of settler arrivals, and increased migration from the countryside, after World War II. After independence in 1963, the city centre started sprouting high-rise buildings, but as the city spread out in every direction, the old central business district lost its shine in the 1980s and early 90s and acquired a notoriety for beggars, street children and muggings. Since the late 1990s, it has been transforming again as businesses return, and a limited amount of beautification has taken place: even street lighting has been installed and the term “nightlife" once again has a meaning.

Meanwhile, the relentless spread of the suburbs – up to Kiambu and towards Thika, down to Kitengela and Athi River, out to Kiserian, and to the lip of the Rift Valley – continues unabated.


If you want to do some souvenir shopping, Naiobi’s markets are irresistible. Try to visit one of the weekly, so-called ‘Maasai markets’ that rotate around various car parks and shopping mall rooftops: their prices tend to be lower than those in the curio shops. City Market, in the CBD, tends to be quite pricey, but it’s open daily. Other markets, like Kariokor and Gikomba, are very much markets for local produce and daily needs. If you’re interested, your driver would be able to escort you.

Nairobi landmarks

If you’re going to be stopping over in Nairobi for a day or more, one excursion option would be a half- or full-day city tour. These normally take in Nairobi’s broad Kenyatta Avenue, lined with shops and offices and with its palm tree central reservations. Just a stone’s throw from Kenyatta Avenue is the first president’s mausoleum, City Square and nearby the Kenyan Parliament building. Just behind, stands the iconic Kenyatta International Conference Centre, with its heli-pad roof. It’s easy to take the elevator to the top for superb views of the city. To the south you’ll see the sidings and railway yards at Nairobi station, where the Railway Museum makes for a fascinating brief visit. There are more substantial exhibits at the often overlooked National Archives on Moi Avenue, which includes some very good ethnic crafts and weaponry. For this kind of thing, plus a lot of stuffed animals and birds, you should reserve a couple of hours for the National Museum. While it doesn’t match everyone’s expectations, it does do a reasonable job of preparing you for what you’ll see on safari.

Nairobi National Park

This is no Central Park or Wimbledon Common: Nairobi National Park covers 117km² and, in an area that in any other capital would be suburbs, the park is a rolling wilderness of grasslands, streams, woodland and ravines, where lions hunt, black rhinos browse, white rhinos graze and giraffe do their slow motion cantering against a skyscraper background. At the other end of the wildlife spectrum, on one recent visit, we stopped to watch a young python moving off the earth road one evening, and paused to look at a large leopard tortoise – significantly out of its species’ normal comfort zone at this altitude. If you stay either in the camp or lodge located in the park, you may be able to do a short night game drive, as they have permission to transfer guests to or from the airports after dark.

Dozens of species of plains wildlife, including wildebeest, impala, zebra, hippo, waterbuck, warthog, eland, jackal and hyena (the only major absentee is the elephant) live completely natural lives in Nairobi National Park, only stopped from wandering into the city by a fence along the northern boundary, but free to move out onto the plains to the south across the Mbagathi River.

You have a good chance of seeing lions in the park (on our last visit, two big males were tussling over the weighty head of an eland) and sightings of leopards and cheetahs, although much less common, are far from unknown. Leopards used to be notorious for making nocturnal sorties out of the park to hunt dogs in the south-west suburbs. That unauthorised activity seems to have been taken over by lions, which sometimes appear unexpectedly in suburban streets.

Where to stay in Nairobi

Our suggestions for places to stay in Nairobi

Four Points Nairobi Airport

Four Points Nairobi Airport

The Four Points by Sheraton, set within the perimeter of Nairobi International Airport, is ideally located for a first or last night in Kenya.

91% (144 reviews)
The Emakoko

The Emakoko

The Emakoko is a luxurious, owner-managed safari lodge in a beautiful gorge on the edge of Nairobi National Park.

97% (116 reviews)
Eka Hotel

Eka Hotel

The Eka is an affordably priced business-class hotel in a relatively convenient location between Nairobi International Airport and Wilson Airport.

86% (62 reviews)


The Ole-Sereni is a modern, stylish hotel neighbouring Nairobi National Park and located 6km from Wilson domestic airport.

79% (59 reviews)
Crowne Plaza Nairobi Airport

Crowne Plaza Nbi Apt

The Crowne Plaza Nairobi Airport (formerly known as the Lazizi Premiere and now part of the InterContinental Hotels Group) is the oldest hotel at Nairobi International Airport.

88% (59 reviews)
Macushla House

Macushla House

Macushla House is a very pleasant, small, owner-managed bed and breakfast hotel in a leafy part of southwest Nairobi, very convenient for visiting the Giraffe Centre and Sheldrick's Elephant Orphanage.

91% (53 reviews)
Giraffe Manor

Giraffe Manor

Giraffe Manor is a unique, perennially popular lodge on the outskirts of Nairobi, offering up-close-and-personal encounters with the rare Rothschild giraffes that roam its extensive grounds.

98% (35 reviews)
Aero Club of East Africa

Aero Club of East Africa

The Aero Club of East Africa is a private members' club in the grounds of Wilson Airport, Nairobi, offering offering comfortable rooms and a good restaurant, bar and swimming pool to non-members.

82% (34 reviews)
Tamarind Tree Hotel

Tamarind Tree Hotel

The Tamarind Tree is a stylish international hotel in a great location next to Wilson Airport.

90% (21 reviews)
Karen Gables

Karen Gables

Karen Gables is a small, high quality hotel in Nairobi with expansive gardens and only seven rooms.

100% (14 reviews)
Hemingways Nairobi

Hemingways Nairobi

Hemingways Nairobi is a luxury country-house style hotel, with a spa and gym, in the wealthy suburb of Karen.

98% (8 reviews)
Nairobi Tented Camp

Nairobi Tented Camp

Nairobi Tented Camp is the only tented camp located inside Nairobi National Park, making it a great option for a true safari stay close to the city and airports.

88% (5 reviews)
The Norfolk Hotel

The Norfolk Hotel

The Norfolk Hotel is one of the oldest hotels in Nairobi and has a reputation for its colourful history dating back to 1904.

100% (6 reviews)


The Palacina is a complex of accommodation options in a quieter part of central Nairobi.

84% (5 reviews)


Hogmead is a stylish, luxury boutique hotel/homestay in a secluded part of Langata in south-west Nairobi, very close to Nairobi National Park and the elephant orphanage.

80% (2 reviews)


Sankara is a strikingly built hotel in the bustling central Nairobi suburb of Westlands, primarily used as a business stay, with very good dining and leisure facilities.

90% (2 reviews)
Eden Nairobi

Eden Nairobi

One Forty Eight is a very stylish boutique hotel in one of the leafiest corners of the southwest Nairobi suburb of Karen-Langata. The Giraffe Centre at Giraffe Manor is just a 10-minute walk away.

100% (1 review)
Karen Blixen Coffee Garden and Cottages

Karen Blixen Coffee Garden and Cottages

Karen Blixen Coffee Gardens and Cottages is small luxury boutique hotel located in the peaceful suburb of Karen.

60% (1 review)
The Stanley

The Stanley

The Stanley is a large, traditional hotel – the oldest in Nairobi – offering a range of facilities.

No reviews yet


Design-led, contemporary hotel in the Village Market area of Gigiri, a largely diplomatic and luxury residential suburb 10km north of Nairobi’s central business district.

No reviews yet
Acacia Camp

Acacia Camp

Acacia Camp is a rustic and affordable safari camp in a wildlife sanctuary a 30-minute drive towards Mombasa from Nairobi’s international airport.

No reviews yet

Our travellers’ wildlife sightings in Nairobi

This is their success for sightings in Nairobi.
Click on a species for more detail. How we work this out.


88% success


87% success

Black Rhino

81% success

White Rhino

78% success


76% success


75% success


60% success


53% success

Spotted Hyena

48% success


12% success

Striped Hyena

5% success

Wild dog

5% success


3% success


3% success


0% success

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