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Nairobi's Top Attractions

What to See in Nairobi, Kenya

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Kenya's capital Nairobi is often just a transit point for tourists heading out to enjoy a safari or beach holiday. But as you would expect from East Africa's booming economic hub, there are plenty of attractions to keep visitors and business folks content for a day or two of sightseeing. Because of safety concerns most visitors end up taking an organized tour of the main sites in Nairobi, rather than going it alone. Your tour operator can help with the logistics, or you can opt for one of these tours: Nairobi Tours, East Africa Shuttles, or Pro-poor tourism. Cost for a day tour usually runs between $150 - $400 per person, depending on the size of your group, transport and what admission fees are included.

1. Dame Sheldrick's Elephant and Rhino Orphanage

Dame Sheldrick has been raising elephant orphans since the 1950's when she lived and worked in Tsavo National Park. She established an elephant and rhino nursery in Nairobi's National Park in the late 1970's, as part of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Dame Daphne established the Trust in honour of her late husband David, the founding warden of the Tsavo National Parks, and a pioneer conservationist in Kenya. You can visit the orphanage at 11 am every day, for an hour (read my review). If you adopt an orphan ($50) you can visit at 5 pm every day after the babies have been fed and given a mud bath. The orphanage is located inside the Nairobi National Park. Visiting the orphanage and supporting elephant conservation is vital these days, as poaching is on the increase, especially in and around Tsavo National Park. See the Sheldrick Trust updates for news.
More about the fascinating life of Dame Sheldrick, or read her excellent book An African Love Story, by Daphne Sheldrick.

2. Nairobi National Park

Nairobi National Park
Nairobi Tented camp
Nairobi is the only city in the world that is gazed upon by zebra, lion and rhino -- in the wild. Nairobi National Park was established in 1946 long before the city burst its seams. Located just 7km from the city center, Nairobi National Park has a remarkably diverse eco-system for its size (117 km2). It is home to black rhino, lion, leopard, cheetah, hyena, buffalo, giraffe, zebra, wildebeest, elands, hippo and more than 400 species of birds. You can enjoy weekly wildlife sightings by checking out this blog. The park plays a vital role in education, it's proximity to the city allows easy access to school children who may otherwise never get a chance to go on safari. Game drives and a "safari walk" are on offer for visitors. Visitors can now also spend the night inside the park. The Nairobi Tented camp is an eco-camp with eight luxury tents with en suite facilities. This is a great option for travelers not keen on staying in Nairobi's city center. The park is open daily and the entrance fee for a non-Kenyan national is $40 per adult.

3. Nairobi National Museum

Nairobi National Museum
Nairobi National Museum
The Nairobi National Museum was founded in 1920, and established at its present location in 1929. It offers visitors the chance to learn about Kenya's history, culture, paleontology and art. The Museum building got a complete overhaul in the past decade, and reopened its doors in 2008. Many of the fascinating anthropological discoveries by the Leakey family can be found in the Museum. The large collection of stuffed birds is also impressive. A botanical garden and two restaurants make it a nice place to visit for a few hours and escape the more crowded, traffic congested city center. The Nairobi National Museum is open from 8.30 am to 5.30 pm daily.

4. Giraffe Center

Breakfast at Nairobi's Giraffe Manor
Giraffe Manor
The Giraffe Center is a successful breeding center for the rare Rothschild Giraffe, found only in East Africa. The center was established in the 1970's by by Jock Leslie-Melville, who successfully raised a baby Rothschild giraffe at what was then his home, in the Langata area of Nairobi. The breeding program has been very successful and several successful giraffe couples are back in the wild. An education center to teach school children about conservation has also done important work to raise local awareness about conservation issues. The center is open daily for tours and visits from 9am - 5.30 pm. Visitors can also opt to spend the night at the Giraffe Manor and enjoy breakfast with giraffe looking in to the dining room.

5. Kibera Slum Tour

Kibera Slum, Nairobi
Getty Images
Kibera is home to more than a million Kenyans, hailing from every national tribe, all living in a small area that covers just 2.5 km2. Slum tourism has some negative connotations, but tours are meant to benefit the local community and various social projects to better the lives of those living in Kibera. It is also an eye-opening experience for visitors to Kenya, who may otherwise only see a side of the country bereft of modern culture and "real life", especially those traveling on a luxury safari itinerary. The local guides are from Kibera themselves and offer a good insight into daily life. If you choose to visit Kibera, then make sure you always ask permission to take photos, and expect to spend a little money on local community initiatives. Kibera tours are walking tours, expect to get muddy shoes, but you are safe with a guide. Companies offering tours include: Kibera Tours, and Explore Kibera Tours.

6. Kazuri Bead Factory and Pottery Center

Kazuri Bead Workshop, Nairobi
Kazuri Bead Workshop, Nairobi
The Kazuri Bead factory and Pottery Center is a good stop for those interested in local crafts. The ceramic beads, pottery and leather goods are all handmade by disadvantaged women. "Kazuri" means "small and beautiful" in Swahili and was named by the founder when she started the company with just two Kenyan employees in 1975. The factory now employs more than 300 women, all working hard but with great joy (as you can see in this video). You can get a tour of the factory and watch the beads and pots get fired and glazed, it takes about an hour in total. In the weekends the factory/workshop may be closed, but the shop is still open, so you can purchase souvenirs. The Bead Factory is a popular stop en route to, or from, the Karen Blixen musuem, and other sights in the Karen neighborhood. Opening hours: Monday - Saturday 8.30am - 6 pm, and Sundays from 9 am - 4 pm.

7. Karen Blixen Museum

Karen Blixen Musuem, Nairobi
Karen Blixen Musuem, Nairobi
The Karen Blixen Musuem is housed in the very farmhouse where Danish author (Out of Africa) Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) lived from 1914 to 1931. The house is located at the foot of the Ngong Hills and was built in 1912, and bought by Karen and her husband Baron Bror von Blixen Fincke in 1917. The museum will delight fans of her books and of course the movie starring Robert Redford and Meryl Streep. The only disappointment voiced by visitors is that the real life Denys Finch-Hatton has got nothing on Robert Redford as far as looks (and hair)! The movie was not shot on location as the house was deemed too dark, but the set was built on the same grounds. You can browse through the house which is actually quite small, see her bedroom and dining room filled with furniture she apparently owned at the time. A museum shop sells some "Out of Africa" souvenirs, as well as handicrafts. The gardens are still lovely and the view of the Ngong Hills are of course unchanged. Opening hours are: 9.30 am to 6 pm daily.

8. Carnivore Restaurant

Carnivore Restaurant, Nairobi
Carnivore Restaurant, Nairobi
There are certainly better restaurants in Nairobi, but the Carnivore is just a fun, meaty tourist delight. As the web site says, the Carnivore offers a "Beast of a Feast" -- this is not a good place for vegetarians (but there is small menu for you). The meat is pinned onto Maasai spears and braised over a huge charcoal pit in the center of the restaurant. The meat used to be exotic game, but now comes from four legged beasts that everyone recognizes, namely pork, lamb, beef with the occasional ostrich and crocodile thrown in. The food is accompanied with "dawa", a staple Carnivore cocktail that will enhance your mood and make you brave enough to try some of the hottest accompanying sauces. The Carnivore can accommodate large groups, and often does, so this is not really a romantic dinner destination. Adjoining the restaurant is Simba saloon which hosts live music several nights a week. The restaurant is open every day for lunch and dinner. It's located 4km outside of the city center.

9. Shopping in Nairobi

Marula Studios, Nairobi
Marula Studios
There are plenty of gift shops in Nairobi's upscale hotels and shopping centers. Here are a few of my favorite places to shop for souvenirs. If you like markets and bargaining, check out the Maasai market held at various points in the city on alternate days (ask your taxi driver or hotel front desk). There are traditional crafts for sale, wood carvings, Maasai beaded necklaces, baskets and lots more. The downtown City Market is also worth a browse. For unique gifts, some made from recycled flip-flops and cans, head to Marula Studios in Karen. You can get a tour of the flip-flop recycling process, purchase a pair of Maasai sandals, and enjoy a good cup of coffee in the cafe. For innovative design, jewelry and unique home decor pieces, head to Spinners Web. For more crafts in a less hectic setting than the outdoor markets, check out Utamaduni Craft Center in Karen. The building houses over a dozen shops each selling traditional crafts, ceramics, cloth and more.

10. And More Things to Do in Nairobi ...

Samosas Frying, Nairobi
Isabelle Prondzynski
The above list covers some of the main attractions for those who just have a day or two to check out Nairobi. But if you have more time, Mark Wiens has put together a great list of 101 things to do in Nairobi. I'd especially recommend eating as much Indian food as you can, visit a market where locals shop like Toi or Gikomba, and listen to some live music.
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