Until 1899, the area containing Nairobi was deserted marshland. When the British Colonialists decided to link the Indian Ocean port of Mombassa with the Ugandan capital Kampala, Nairobi became an important staging post for the construction of the railway. The town quickly developed into the first port of call for people arriving in East Africa from Europe and Asia, who at the height of British colonial activity in the region numbered many.

By 1950, there were 80,000 European settlers in the city, who mainly lived in the larger European-style houses in the suburbs. There were also immigrants from other parts of the Empire, especially India, Somalia and the Sudan. This mixture of ethnicities gives Nairobi a cosmopolitan and diverse character that is not particularly common in African cities. Today, Nairobi’s population is between 3.5 and 4 million, and growing fast. It is the largest city in East Africa.

Although the city centre is safe to walk around, you should not walk alone in the urban sprawl, especially at night. If anyone asks you for the time or for a favour, it is likely that they are looking for an opening to rob you. A favourite trick of criminals is to enlist the help of a child who will run up and slap you across the face. As you give chase, the child’s cohorts will make off with your belongings.


[ Nairobi National Park] is unique, as it is the only park containing big game to border a large city. This means access to the park is easy, but you never quite get the feeling of isolation and being in the wilderness that other parks offer. You can watch all the classic species of African Safari in their natural habitat. Lions, cheetahs, leopards, giraffes, zebras, hippos and the rare black rhino are all to be found. There are also 400 species of bird, which is more than the entire British Isles, and would attract anyone with an ornithological fascination. This park is the first of its kind in Kenya, and has an infrastructure that makes getting in, out and around easy for tourists. There are also a variety of facilities available, including campsites, visitor centres and nature trails that can be taken on foot. A guided tour in a six-seat Land Rover costs 40 USD for adults and 20 USD for children.

Close to the park is the Sheldrick Elephant and Rhino Orphanage. Poaching of Rhinos and Elephants for Ivory is still a problem in Kenya, and poachers killing mothers for their tusks leave youngsters vulnerable and unlikely to survive in the wild. This institution is dedicated to raising them in a safe, but realistic environment, so at a later stage they can be released into a park in confidence that they can fend for themselves. Visitors can watch the young Rhinos and Elephants feed and bathe.

The other popular tourist attraction in Nairobi is the [ Karen Blixen Museum]. Karen Blixen wrote the classic autobiographical love story ‘Out of Africa’ about her time spent in Kenya between 1914 and 1931. She vividly describes her relationship with her lover and her environment. The book was turned into an Oscar winning film starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in 1985, which stimulated a huge interest in Blixen’s home outside Nairobi. The coffee plantation she worked on has now been turned into a national museum and attracts thousands of visitors a year. The museum is less of a record of Blixen’s life, and more of a monument to the thousands of Europeans who made their home in a strange, unforgiving landscape and came to be part of the character of the land themselves.


The city market on Muindi Mbingu Street is possibly the best place in east Africa to shop for souvenirs, known locally as curios. Held under an old aircraft hangar, the market offers more or less anything you could dream up. Traditional fabrics and crafts are alongside groceries and electronics. As you would expect, the prices seem very reasonable to a deep-pocketed westerner. For a specialised crafts market, try the traditional Masai market held on Tuesdays and Fridays on the corner of Moi Avenue. When in these markets, prices are not fixed and you will be expected to haggle, but bear in mind that the poverty of a vendor may force them to sell at an unfair price.

If you prefer to shop in a more controlled, air-conditioned environment try the African Heritage Centre on Mombassa Street. This contains department stores, fast food restaurants and a cinema.

Nightlife and Eating Out

A number of expensive restaurants emerged in the first half of the 20th century to cater for Europeans on Safari. One of the finest is ‘French Allen Bob’s Bistro’ which serves a mixture of European and African dishes. If a day watching lions hunt in the National Park has left you with an appetite for meat, try the Carnivore. Many different kinds of meat are available, including game, and these are cooked in the traditional Nyama Choma style, which involves slow roasting the joint over a barbecue. This will then be served with Ugali, which is a kind of bread and vegetables.

Kenya’s most popular club is called Florida 2000 discothèque, and is found next to the Kenya Cinema Plaza in Nairobi. The club opens at 21.00 and closes at around 06.00 but doesn’t really get busy until midnight. The club is actually a complex in itself, containing comfortable bars, places to eat and several rooms with different kinds of music, including traditional African, Caribbean, Hip Hop and Pop music. The club attracts a mixture of tourists, ex-pats and locals, and due to the presence of a friendly security detail, trouble is rare.

Tourist Information

PO Box 49918, Nairobi, Kenya

  • Web: []
  • Tel: +254 (164) 31405


Nairobi is served by [ Kenyatta International airport]. It is one of Africa’s busiest airports, as it handles both long-haul international flights and domestic transfers.