The Stanley's Thorn Tree Café was Nairobi's essential notice board until the 1990s.
The Stanley: Our full report
Heralding itself as the first luxury hotel in Nairobi, the Stanley has been open for well over a century. It’s a well-known landmark on the Nairobi map, having accommodated the likes of Ernest Hemingway and Barbara Streisand over the years. Whilst it hasn’t changed much on the outside in the last half-century, recent refurbishments have brought the inside into the 21st century with modern facilities and efficient services – all the while keeping the hotel’s history and heritage alive.
Although the Stanley prides itself on being one of Nairobi’s finest hotels, its downtown location isn’t necessarily as desirable as it might appear – especially for travellers who are just overnighting here –you can expect to spend a good deal of time stuck in traffic getting to/from the hotel and airport. It’s much better suited to those visiting on business, and indeed, that seems to be the Stanley’s target market.
The central areas of the hotel are quite impressive, with a black-and-white chequered marble floor, leather sofas and pictures depicting the hotel’s history adorning the walls. Facilities abound here, including three different restaurants: a very smart Thai, which doesn’t allow children under the age of 12; the more relaxed Thorn Tree Café; and the casual Pool Deck, which as its name suggests, is set around the (heated) swimming pool. The Thorn Tree Café is built around a well known tree in Nairobi (although the original tree was felled, there is a replacement in its place) where people used to pin messages to - so it acted as the notice board for news in Nairobi for many years.
The Exchange Bar, which operated as Nairobi’s first stock exchange until 1991, retains a very colonial atmosphere, with brown leather Chesterfield sofas and dark polished wood: the type of place where a suited Englishman would look quite natural smoking a cigar with a whisky in hand! Bringing the Stanley into the modern era are a fully equipped business centre with meeting rooms; gym with steam room, sauna and massage room; a mini shopping arcade, car rental and art gallery.
The 217 rooms over eight floors are split into three different categories:
- The 160 Deluxe rooms are the smallest, with furnishings and amenities typical of an international hotel, including a safe, hairdryer and tea- and coffee-making facilities. They’ve tried to retain a little character, but we felt that the whole vibe was a little old fashioned, and the bathrooms are very small by comparison with the spacious rooms.
- The 32 Club rooms are slightly larger and have the added benefit of a 42-inch flat-screen TV, plus extras such as a turn-down service and free daily newspapers. As in the Deluxe rooms, though, the bathrooms felt very small by comparison.
- The 23 Suites vary in size and style – but are all substantially larger than the Deluxe or Club rooms. Three of these suites have two bedrooms connected by a sitting area, so are a good option for families or friends travelling together.
Our viewOverall, our views on the Stanley are a little mixed. It’s certainly a hotel with a lot of history, and they have tried hard to make the most of this in the central areas. That said, it’s very large, and in a fairly inconvenient location for the majority of travellers who are really in transit to or from the airport. If you’re willing to accept that the rooms and décor have a slightly old-fashioned quality about them, you might enjoy its quirky colonial charm, but those wanting something a little more personal should look elsewhere.
Ideal length of stay: We’d only really recommend this for a night at the start or end of your safari, unless you want to use time her to look around the centre of town, or you have business in Nairobi.
Directions: The Stanley is located in downtown Nairobi, so you should allow a good couple of hours to reach the airport – mainly due to the traffic.
Accessible by: Fly-and-Transfer
Food & drink
Usual board basis: Room Only
Food quality: On our last visit to the Stanley in September 2012, we didn’t get a chance to sample the food. However, there are a number of different restaurants to choose from, including a very smart Thai restaurant, a more relaxed café with a deli counter and pizza oven, serving a wide range of continental dishes; and a casual pool restaurant that serves a buffet lunch and à la carte dinner.
A selection of bar snacks is available in the Exchange Bar.
Dining style: Individual Tables
Dining locations: Indoor and Outdoor Dining
Cost of meal e.g. lunch: £10-15
Drinks included: No drinks are included.
Further dining info: There is 24-hour room service – accessible by the phones in the room.
Attitude towards children: The Stanley welcomes children of any age.
Property’s age restrictions: There are no age restrictions.
Special activities & services: The hotel can offer a babysitting service at an extra cost, although please note that this will be by a member of the housekeeping staff, who may not have any formal childcare qualifications.
Equipment: The two-bedroom suites are a good option for families. They can provide cots.
Generally recommended for children: The hotel retains quite an adult atmosphere, but children would be fine here.
Power supply: Mains Electricity
Communications: There is free WiFi, a business centre, and phones in all the rooms. There is good cellphone reception in Nairobi.
TV & radio: There are TVs in all the rooms.
Health & safety
Malarial protection recommended: Yes
Medical care: There is a doctor on call for guests. The hotel has a first-aid kit at the concierge desk, and there is a pharmacy next door.
Dangerous animals: Low Risk
Security measures: A doorman is on duty 24 hours a day.
Fire safety: There are fire extinguishers in the corridors and a fire evacuation plan in action.
Disabled access: On Request
Laundry facilities: Full Laundry Service - Extra Charge
Money: There is a safe in each of the rooms. You can exchange GB pounds and US dollars into Kenyan shillings.
Accepted payment on location: Visa, MasterCard and Amex are accepted without any surcharge.