The Ole-Sereni is a design-led hotel and one of the closest to Nairobi's International Airport.
Ole-Sereni: Our full report
Opened in 2009, the Ole-Sereni is the closest Nairobi has to an airport hotel, although its newer neighbour, the Eka Hotel, is a worthy challenger. The building, which formerly housed the US Embassy, borders the fence that runs along the north side of Nairobi National Park, and has a first-floor terrace giving direct (albeit rather uninspiring) views across the savannah.
Arrival at Ole-Sereni is somewhat disconcerting, as the security check and lobby area doesn’t house reception, which is up on the first floor and some way into the heart of the hotel. The mood en route is characterised by shiny surfaces, floor lighting and gaudy artworks.
In its main public areas, the hotel makes an impression that’s busy, youthful and smart, if a little tacky. At more than 100m in length, and barely 20m wide, the corridor-like shape of the Ole-Sereni gives it something of the atmosphere of an ocean liner, or an airport – albeit an airport throbbing with dance music – which is heightened by the number of air crew who routinely lodge here between flights, and sometimes party hard and late in the bars and corridors. Nevertheless, with its streamlined design, there’s an upbeat, positive feel about the Ole-Sereni which we liked, and the long first-floor terrace lining the park-facing side of the hotel, with a pool at its far end, is nice on a hot afternoon. The hotel is expanding: when we last stayed in November 2015, a new development was under construction.
Don’t get too excited about the Ole-Sereni's proximity to Nairobi National Park: there’s normally very little to see in the way of wildlife, and the landscape in this north-east corner could not be more dull. Moreover, the Ole-Sereni does not have any significant grounds or gardens beyond its car park: despite it’s location it feels very much a town hotel.
The Ole-Sereni has a large and expensive gift shop and a spa and gym. The main spaces in the public areas, however, are given over to the very large Big 5 restaurant, with indoor seating and a terrace overlooking the park, the next-door Waterhole sports bar, also with a terrace, the fourth-floor Eagle’s The Steakhouse and the Ngong Pool Bar. We thought the food was really good – surprisingly so – with perfectly prepared and presented à la carte orders arriving pretty quickly.
A note about service, though: if you have any special requests, be sure to put them in early, and Expert Africa will get them confirmed and reconfirmed. The staff at Ole-Sereni deal with a lot of transient guests and the hotel is essentially a 24-hour operation, so while it’s usually friendly enough, service can feel impersonal and it’s certainly not consistent.
Cramming 134 rooms onto its relatively restricted footprint, the Ole-Sereni offers 58 standard (dubbed ‘superior’) rooms, each with a walk-in shower, 48 'deluxe' rooms, with combination shower/bathtubs, 26 significantly larger 'club' rooms, with shower and bathtub (two of which face the city, the remaining 24 the park), and two suites. In the superior and deluxe rooms, the even- numbered rooms are south-facing and have a park view, while the odd-numbered rooms look north, towards the city.
High-thread-count sheets are a sure-fire way of making the beds feel super comfy, and all rooms have room-entertainment systems, but superior and deluxe rooms are both the same, small size, while the walls are notoriously thin and rooms near the Waterhole bar can be noisy.
Most guests here are literally passing through, and activities based from the Ole-Sereni are not top of mind. The most obvious trip is to Nairobi National Park: the park’s East Gate is just 4km away, along a stretch of the Nairobi–Mombasa road that doesn’t usually suffer from traffic jams. The hotel can organise a visit at any time, but we recommend getting to the gate when it opens at 6.00am, for the best chance of seeing something exciting, like an aardvark, leopard or lion kill. Alternatively, if your timings work, you might join the hotel for their regular bush barbecue, on the first Saturday of every month – an afternoon game drive followed by supper.
Our viewGlitzy and flamboyant as it is, we wouldn’t normally gravitate to this kind of hotel. But the Ole-Sereni holds two strong cards. Firstly, it really is quite close to the international airport, making transfers relatively painless; and secondly, its food is excellent and deserves its good reputation. Small rooms with thin walls are perhaps to be expected in a city hotel, but a frequent lack of attention to detail is also something to be prepared for.
Ideal length of stay: 1 night
Directions: Allow up to an hour to cover the 12km to or from Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), or up to an hour and a half during the rush hour. For Wilson Airport, although only 6km away, allow an hour during daylight hours (main hours of Airport operation).
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Food & drink
Usual board basis: B&B
Food quality: The Ole Sereni has a deserved reputation for good food.
Breakfast is served 6.30–10.30am; lunch 12.30–3.00pm; and dinner 6.30–10.00pm. After this, a night chef is available for à la carte and room-service orders. Sandwiches are available from the Waterhole bar and coffee shop.
Daily food themes
Dominant themes are Mongolian, Italian, Indian, Chinese and grills. We had a really delicious medium-rare beef fillet with bourbon sauce and teppanyaki chicken with noodles.
Friday: all-you-can-eat kebab night
Saturday: steak and choma,
Sunday: brunch (under 10s free)
Wednesday: ‘Ladies night’ with 50% off selected drinks
Thursday: Managers’ hour for long-staying guests, with drinks and bitings on the house.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: £15-20
Drinks included: Not included, and sold for standard hotel prices. Local beer or glass of house wine from Ksh400 (about US$4); bottle of house wine from Ksh2,000 (about US$20).
Further dining info: There’s a room-service menu
Attitude towards children: Children are accepted welcome.
Property’s age restrictions: None
Special activities & services: During Sunday brunch there are trampolines, a bouncy castle, a magician and face-painting.
Equipment: Baby cots and highchairs
Notes: Babysitting services are not currently available.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Communications: Free WiFi throughout the hotel. The Ole-Sereni also has a business centre.
TV & radio: As well as room-entertainment systems, there’s DSTV (satellite TV) in the Waterhole bar.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: Two doctors are on close call, and there are first-aid kits at the concierge, reception and kitchen. A staff nurse is available in-house during the day. Nairobi’s main hospitals and clinics are all within a short distance (driving time subject to traffic).
Dangerous animals: Low Risk
Security measures: The hotel has a fenced perimeter with CCTV, and is guarded by askaris at te main gate checkpoint and at a security screen on entering the lobby. There are dog handlers in the grounds.
Fire safety: Appointed fire marshalls among the staff have top-up training every six months. Fire extinguishers are tested and fire drill is regularly practised.
Disabled access: In Place
Laundry facilities: Included at extra charge. No items are excluded. Machine-washed and dried.
Money: Digital room safes. Foreign exchange facilities are available.
Accepted payment on location: Cash payments may be made in US dollars, euros, pounds sterling or Kenyan shillings. Visa, MasterCard and Amex credit cards are accepted with a surcharge.