Nairobi is the capital and largest city in Kenya. The name "Nairobi" comes from the Maasai phrase Enkare Nyirobi, which translates to "the place of cool waters". However, it is popularly known as the "Green City in the Sun".
Nairobi was founded in 1899 as a simple rail depot on the railway linking Mombasa to Uganda. The town quickly grew to become the capital of British East Africa in 1907. Nairobi eventually the capital of a free Kenyan republic in 1963.
Nairobi has an estimated population of 4 million, Nairobi occupies 684 square kilometers and is currently the 13th largest city in Africa. Now one of the most prominent cities in Africa both politically and financially.
Nairobi is an established hub for business and culture and is home to many companies and organizations, including the United Nations Environment Programme and the UN Office in Africa.
A number of international events have been held in the city among them being the annual Nairobi Marathon, sponsored by Standard Chartered bank.
This has become a signature sports event that brings together runners and supporters from all over the country as well as foreign participants to Nairobi, the beautiful capital city of Kenya and home of the greatest distance runners in the world.
History of Nairobi
Nairobi is the capital and largest city of Kenya. The city and its surrounding area also form the Nairobi County. The name "Nairobi" comes from the Maasai phrase ‘Enkare Nyrobi’, which translates to "cool water.
The area Nairobi currently occupies was essentially uninhabited swamp until a supply depot of the Uganda Railway was built by the British in 1899 linking Mombasa to Uganda.
The location of the camp was chosen due to its central position between Mombasa and Kampala. It was also chosen because its network of rivers could supply the camp with water and its elevation.
This would make it cool enough for residential purposes for not only the thousands of Indian laborers who came to Kenya seeking to be employed to work on the railway line, but also for the British settlers. With such an apt location, it had soon grown big enough to become the railway's headquarters.
The city was first incorporated in 1900 as the Township of Nairobi. The regulations governing it were published on the 16th April, 1900 under the powers vested in Sir Arthur Hardinge, H M Commissioner at Zanzibar by Article 45 of the East Africa Order-in-Council.
The regulations defined the township of Nairobi as “the area comprised within a radius of one-mile-and-a-half from the present office of H.M. Sub-Commissioner in Ukamba" and authorized the Sub-Commissioner to nominate annually a number of the leading residents or merchants to act with him as a Committee.
By 1903 the use of the railway as a medium of exporting produce as well as importing equipment had become noticeable, and there was some talk of finding permanent markets in South Africa.
Nairobi was growing at a fast pace and new people arrived with every ship that docked at Mombasa. There was a little post-office halfway down Government Road, near the new municipal offices, which had been opened the previous year, these offices were grandly known as “Town Hall.”
In 1905, Nairobi replaced Mombasa as capital of the British protectorate, and the city grew around administration and tourism, initially in the form of big game hunting.
As the British occupiers started to explore the region, they started using Nairobi as their first port of call. They were encouraged to settle in the country, and Nairobi was their natural choice due to its cool climate and fertile soils. British authorities hoped the Settlers would develop a modern economic sector.
In 1919, the Nairobi Township community formally became the Nairobi Municipal Council. Its boundary was extended to include surrounding part-urban settlements. The boundary was again extended in 1927 to cover 30 square miles.
In July 1920 it was proposed that a more distinctive title be adopted for the chief of the municipality of Nairobi the capital of the protectorate. The title Mayor was suggested. It was not until 1923 that the title was officially applied.
In the early years the growth of the Town had been controlled only by economic forces with no coordination of development. In an attempt to order the situation, a Town Planning Consultant was appointed in 1926.
Jacaranda Jim Jameson from Kimberly also submitted his town planning report in 1926; he had a great quickness for planting Jacaranda trees for the beautification of the town.
With the expansion and rapid growth of African wage earners there arose the problem of housing them. This was tackled as energetically as strained wartime resources would allow. Ziwani was a Municipal Housing experiment; Starehe, a Government Staff Housing venture and finally Kaloleni.
The development of Local Government in the Town was determined by racial considerations. Thus membership in the Town Council was dominated by Europeans, followed by Asians.
It was not until July 1946, that the first African Councilors, Muchohi Gikonyo and Khamisi took their seats. It was as the Mayor remarked an historic occasion in East African Local Government.
In April of the same year, the Council’s attention had been directed to the fact that in 1950 Local government in Nairobi would be fifty years old. The council gave some thought to the form that suitable celebrations might take and it was suggested by Alderman Vasey that the town should seek the status of a City.
Top Things to Do in Nairobi
The gateway to Kenya is undoubtedly its capital city, Nairobi. As the transportation hub of the country, the city’s airports, roads, trains, and bus stations are responsible for ferrying guests to various destinations.
These includes aquamarine waters of the coastline, the expansive Rift Valley Lake region, the wide open savannahs of the Maasai Mara National Reserve and verdant landscapes of the central highlands.
However, those on African safari in Kenya would be mistaken to leave the capital unexplored. This is as it has proven time and time again to be one of the African continent’s most dynamic cities. Read on to discover but a taster of what this magical East African gateway has to offer:
1. Nairobi National Park
Whilst tourists flock to Kenya’s Maasai Mara in the hopes of spotting the Big 5 and the thundering Great Migration, its capital city is a safari destination in its own right.
It is also the only place where you will find a national park abutting a capital city. Enjoy the novelty of reaching the reserve by taxi and photographing a giraffe against the city’s distinctive skyline.
2.Karen Blixen Museum
The famed memoir and film adaptation, Out of Africa, has generated many a romantic notion about Kenya and the continent at large. The house in which author Karen Blixen lived between 1917 and 1931 has been lovingly preserved as a museum in Nairobi, affording visitors the opportunity for an intimate look into a piece of personal history.
3. David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
Situated just outside Nairobi National Park, this wildlife trust has a carefully developed program for introducing baby elephants and rhinos back into the wild.
Once a day visitors to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust can see these ivory orphans being bottle fed and taken for a daily mudbath. This makes for heart-warming viewing but be warned: things can get messy when these titan tykes come to feed and frolic.
4. Maasai Market
A stroll through Nairobi’s Maasai Market is the ultimate stop for keepsakes from your Kenyan adventure. It also gives you a chance to marvel at the creativity and ingenuity of local artisans and their distinct brand of artefacts.
With its venue changing every day of the week, this colourful open-air market is certainly something to track down while in Nairobi, and is a fascinating (and somewhat chaotic) way to spend a day. Remember to bring your bargaining A-game!
5. Try Local Cuisine
What is a visit to East Africa and Kenya’s hub without sampling the local fare? Nairobi is packed with local culture and cuisine aplenty. Nyama Choma is one of the most popular dishes in the country and consists of meat slow-cooked over hot coals until tender and juicy, accompanied by rice and a tomato relish.
Other favorites include Mandazi (a sweet doughnut) and roasted makai (made from maize and available from vendors on many street corners).
6. Giraffe Centre
With their distinctively mottled coats and adorably long limbs, giraffes are undoubtedly some of the most easily recognizable animals in Africa. Nairobi’s Giraffe Centre is dedicated to the protection of the endangered Rothschild giraffe – a species endemic to the open grasslands of East Africa.
Visitors to this non-profit can feed and interact with the center’s giraffes and keep an eye out for the several warthogs that live here, too.
|Languages spoken||English, Kiswahili|
|Currency used||Kenya Shillings|
|Area (km2)||696 km²|
Sports & nature
Nairobi National Park
The city of Nairobi boasts it’s very own national game park where lions and buffalo’s roam free! It is located just moments away from the city center and is one of the best Nairobi attractions. Don’t miss a safari at Nairobi National Park!
Nairobi Safari Walk
Nairobi Safari Walk, funded by the Kenya Wildlife Service is a great way to learn about the animals of Kenya and to view the various natural environments Kenya has to offer. It is located at the headquarters of Nairobi National Park
Nairobi Animal Orphanage
The Nairobi Animal Orphanage is a shelter of abandoned or injured wild animals. The Nairobi animal orphanage offers visitor a chance to see wildlife up close and personal and even pet a cheetah!
Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage
Orphaned baby elephants and rhinos are cared for and offered a chance to survive at the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage. The roly polly baby elephants are fed with monster baby bottles and run around the compound gingerly.
Nairobi Giraffe Centre
Nairobi Giraffe Centre, you can see these magically cumbersome animals up close and personal. Feed lanky giraffes from a platform and even touch a giraffe tongue! A popular activity in Nairobi, Kenya!
Nairobi Snake Park
Not only can you see black mambas and puff adders at Nairobi Snake Park, there are also lizards, birds, crocodiles, turtles and fish! The Nairobi snake park was recently renovated and if you enjoy snakes or reptiles, this Nairobi attraction can’t be missed! Located at the Nairobi National Museum compound, Museum Hill, Nairobi, Kenya
Nairobi Mamba Village
Nairobi Mamba Village is a giant resort park, including activities, a hotel, restaurants, opportunities for relaxing in gardens and a crocodile farm! It’s a great place to escape the city and enjoy Nairobi’s beautiful green scenery and fresh air!
Maasai Ostich Farm
Maasai Ostrich Resort is located on the outskirts of Nairobi in a town called Kitengela. For 200 KSH, adults can ride around on an awkward ostrich with spotters. Afterwards, don’t forget to indulge in a plate of excellent grilled ostrich or a juicy ostrich burger!
Nightlife in Nairobi is bustling to say the least. Live music is everywhere and even nightclubs host a mix of DJ sets and guest bands. There are plenty of bars and discos in the city centre but the best are to be found in the suburbs, particularly in Westlands. Be warned: persistent prostitutes frequent many bars, even the more upmarket ones.
Bars in Nairobi
A chic Moroccan-themed lounge, Casablanca boasts cosy silk covered sofas, an inner room that resembles a Bedouin tent and some of the best shisha in Kenya. Enormously popular with the expat community, other highlights here include a comprehensive cocktail menu and a lengthy wine list – a rare commodity in Nairobi. It’s not the most feverish of bars, so don’t expect thumping house or live reggae bands, but it has style in spades and plenty of space to relax.
Address: Lenana Road, Hurlingham, Nairobi, Kenya
Telephone: +254 20 723 173.
Champagne & Fishbowls
One of the most upscale drinking spots in Nairobi, Champagne & Fishbowls is endorsed by Veuve Cliquot and really does serves up fishbowl cocktails in a variety of sensational hues. Part of the slick Seven restaurant, it might sound like a tacky homage to bling, but in reality it’s sleek, well-appointed and well-staffed. Yes, Nairobi’s flashier types congregate here, but it’s still worth a visit if only for the extensive champagne menu.
Address: Waiyaki Way, Westlands, Nairobi, Kenya
Telephone: +254 737 776 677.
A mixed crowd of expats and Kenyans gathers at this fun, friendly bar in the suburbs of Nairobi. Don’t expect a chic lounge or anything approaching it: the Gipsy Bar is cheerfully cheesy and boasts three themed rooms, including one that looks a bit like a gentleman’s club circa 1952. Music is a mix of imported pop, old-fashioned dad rock and African beats, and there’s a snack menu should you feel peckish in between beers.
Address: Woodvale Grove, Westlands, Nairobi, Kenya
Telephone: +254 20 444 0964.
Lord Delamere Terrace
Named after one of the first British settlers to arrive in Kenya, the 3rd Baron Delamere, Hugh Cholmondeley, this elegant bar allows the colonial era to live on. Located at the smart Norfolk Hotel, visitors have been gathering at this historic watering hole since 1904 for a sundowner in front of the setting African daylight, and it’s still a prime spot in Nairobi for an evening gin and tonic. They also serve a great menu of European and Asian food.
Address: Harry Thuku Road, Central Business District, Nairobi, Kenya
Telephone: +254 20 226 5555.
This friendly top floor bar comes complete with pool tables, cheap food and a wide selection of drinks, including the ubiquitous Tusker and Safari brand lagers. It’s extremely busy at weekends, mainly thanks to its reasonably priced drinks menu and the even cheaper pool on offer. Zanze is always welcoming and attracts an eclectic crowd of mixed locals and expats, and although weekdays tend to be quieter, plenty of Nairobi city workers swing by for a cold beer on their way home from work.
Address: Moi Avenue, Central Business District, Nairobi, Kenya
Telephone: +254 20 222 532.
Clubs in Nairobi
One of the biggest and coolest clubs in Nairobi, Florida 2000 is set in a warehouse-style space with a vast dance-floor, several bars and a barbecue restaurant called the Choma Cave. Packed come weekends, the club pulls in a boisterous crowd who dance shoulder to shoulder as the working week gives way. Local DJs spin on the decks, and visiting celebrities, like Coolio and Shaggy, have allegedly been spotted showing off their moves.
Address: Moi Avenue, Central Business District, Nairobi, Kenya
Telephone: +254 706 577 009.
New Florida Nightclub
One of Nairobi’s coolest dancing spots, this loud and lively nightclub in the heart of the Kenyan capital is known as the ‘Mad House’ - and it certainly lives up to its nickname at the weekend. The crowd is predominantly local, the music mixed and the atmosphere frenetic. Most of the locals stick to beer (Tusker and Safari are popular) but there’s no shortage of cocktails and mixers either. Arrive early enough to check out the building – it’s not dissimilar to a flying saucer that has collided with an office block.
Address: Koinange Street, Central Business District, Nairobi, Kenya
Telephone: +254 20 221 5014.
If you want to be thrown straight into a Kenyan blowout, head to Simba Saloon along the road from the airport. This huge nightclub is also enormously popular with locals and is heaving on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights. The crowd is a mix of Kenyan party people, expat teenagers, global travellers and aid workers on their nights off. For the ultimate Nairobi night out, dine at the adjoining Carnivore restaurant, and then dance off dinner at Simba.
Address: Langata Road, Lang’ata, Nairobi, Kenya
Telephone: +254 20 600 5933.
Live Music in Nairobi
With its rustic varnished log walls, bougainvillea-draped courtyard and safari-themed décor, Klub House may not be a sleek New York-style jazz club, but it’s still extremely good fun. DJs, jazz bands, reggae outfits and even country music stars grace the stage at this popular Parklands haunt where the drinks (mostly beer and spirits) come well-priced. As a result, it never really empties, particularly at weekends when it is packed all day and well into the early hours of the following morning.
Address: Ojijo Road, Parklands, Nairobi, Kenya
Telephone: +254 717 969 500.
Ngong Hills Hotel
Bands from across Kenya and East Africa play at this relaxed hotel venue on Ngong Road every day of the week but the Sunday Jam session is the most popular. There, you’ll find dancers and acrobats to entertain the children, and nyama choma (roast meat) for the adults. Drinks are relatively expensive by Nairobi standards, thanks in part to the hotel location and the largely expat clientele. Nonetheless, the cheerful atmosphere and live music more than make up for it.
Address: Ngong Road, Ngong Hills, Nairobi, Kenya
Telephone: +254 20 3860 894.
Don’t come here expecting a traditional pub experience, because what you’ll get is anything but. One of the most buzzing bars in the Central Business District, Simmers boasts a taproom stocked with every sort of booze imaginable and a tasty menu based on a mixture of Western classics and African favourites. But of all the diversions on offer, music is what Simmers is best known for, and its excellent house dancers are always on hand to show how the partying is done.
Address: Kenyatta Road, Central Business District, Nairobi, Kenya
Telephone: +254 20 217 659.
Theatre in Nairobi
Kenya National Theatre
Opposite the Norfolk Hotel, Nairobi's main playhouse puts on classic and contemporary drama and musicals, with the emphasis on Kenyan actors and playwrights. One of the best theatres in the region, the regular performances here are always packed. Although it’s the heart of the theatre scene in Kenya, theatre-goers are often treated to visiting shows from other African countries.
Address: Harry Thuku Road, Central Business District, Nairobi, Kenya
Telephone: +254 20 225 174
Ignore its odd title; this small theatre venue is well worth checking out. As the name suggests, most of those who frequent its halls are professionals from the surrounding offices but don’t let that put you off: the theatrical and dance performances are second to none. Home to the well-known Phoenix Players theatre group, who regularly perform productions by western and Kenyan playwrights, it offers a more intimate playhouse experience than the Kenya National Theatre.
Address: Parliament Road, Central Business District, Nairobi, Kenya
Telephone: +254 20 225 506.
Culture and history info
The history of Nairobi began with the Lunatic or "Looney" Express. In 1899, when the builders of the "Lunatic Express" railway line decided to set up camp at "Ewaso Nai´beri", they likely had no idea that they had just sown the seeds of what would become the largest city in the region. They chose to camp in this place because Nairobi was cool and well supplied with water. It is no wonder that the local Maasai people had named it "Ewaso Nai´beri" meaning "a place of cool waters". The cool temperature was a welcome relief from the hot Mombasa coastal sun the British had to contend with as they built the railway line from Mombasa to Uganda.
Nairobi also offered an escape from the man-eaters. The fact that "Ewaso Nai´beri" was a swampland reduced the likelihood of an encounter with lions. During the construction of a bridge at Tsavo a year earlier, two very large male lions killed and ate more than 135 of the railway workers.
This railway line, meant to connect the East African interior with the rest of the world, had been named the "Lunatic Express" by skeptics doubting its economic worth. However, the British were unable to pronounce this complex name and, instead, coined their own name from the original, calling it "Nairobi". The Looney express camp gave rise to the town that would later become the City of Nairobi
Everyday Nairobi life is a bustle of activity as people go about their business. Nairobians juggle work, and personal and family obligations, while still finding time to enjoy their social favorites and contribute to the community. For locals, a typical weekend in Nairobi is very busy, from business/networking functions, sporting events and recreational activities to family weddings, barbecues and church events. Nairobi never slows down.