A kind friend and colleague who lived in Nairobi for many years, and is a self-proclaimed foodie sent me a fantastic list of recommendations of things to do in Nairobi (and mostly great places to eat!)
Here is the full list of recommendations I received when I arrived in Nairobi, along with my additional comments and thoughts. It’s mostly a restaurant and eating-out guide, but with a few other things as well – in case any of you are in need of suggestions for things to do in Nairobi!
I bought a map and started marking out where things were in order to plan my culinary tour of the city!
KAREN (West part of the city. British gardens.)
Both the Talisman and Purdy Arms are fantastic places to eat and chill out. Because of the grounds, I would vote Purdy Arms for a Saturday brunch, but for dinner, Talisman has a cool vibe.
- *Talisman (New International with British undertones): High-end, rustic lodge feeling (if there is such a thing); nice gardens/outdoor dining; If you’re a big party, make a reservation, and maybe even if you’re small – it’s not cheap but it’s very popular!
Starters: feta and coriander samosas, sashimi tuna and avocado
Mains: pan-seared ostrich; braised pork belly; deluxe burger, prawn and calamari stir-fry – yum!
Desserts: cape malva, creme brulee
Drinks: really nice special juices, daily selection (I typically ask for no added sugar, if possible.)
Note from Maya – OH. MY. GOD. I loved this place – great food, fantastic atmosphere. If I could afford to I would eat here every day.
- *Purdy Arms (British gastro): best for late brunch/lunch on a Saturday (Sunday is a buffet and limited a la carte menu); gorgeous outdoor gardens/green space – it’s a great place to escape the pollution and noise in Nairobi.
Starters: Lamu seafood soup, or brie/sundried tomatoes samosas
Salad: grilled halloumi, butternut squash, couscous (ah-mAzing!)
Mains: grilled orange and mint snapper; bangers and mash; or savory pies
Notes from Maya – This place had a lovely vibe, and is great for kids – loads of activities for children, and a farmer’s market on a Saturday – it was a little busy on Saturday for lunch though, fairly crowded and noisy. I’d maybe come on a quieter day for relaxation but if you’ve got kids it’s the perfect place to keep them entertained all day (they have a bouncy castle, lovely big gardens for running about, archery, a climbing wall etc). The food was excellent too – I had a goats cheese salad that was lovely, and it looks as though you can rent out their BBQ space if you wanted to do a bring-your-own type Saturday BBQ (though I’m not sure – you’d need to check on this).
- Tmambo Karen Blixen: Lovely grounds and great grill. Swanky/British colonial
Also nearby in this area are:
- Karen Blixen Museum (which also has the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden – I haven’t been but it’s supposed to be good)
- David Sheldrick Elephant and Rhino Orphanage –open to visitors daily for 1 hour (11am-12pm) only. Cost is 500 KES to enter. Totally worth it, the baby ellies are ADORABLE!
- Giraffe Centre – open daily 9am to 5pm, 1000 KES to enter, and you can feed the giraffes. On the other side of this centre is the Giraffe Manor, where you can eat your breakfast with giraffes poking thier heads through the windows – although I’m told this is a super-pricey place to eat, and you can’t get from one part to the other – you’d have to ext the giraffe centre and drive around I think.
- Nairobi National Park – best to visit early morning (6am) or evening when the animals are out and about. Costs 5,000 KES for non-residents (about $50). This park is not as spectacular as Kenya’s other incredible parks, but it is the only city in the world with a National Park actually in the city! Also not bad if you wanna see some animals – I saw giraffe, zebra, a rhino, a lion, buffalo, gazelle, and much more.
KILIMANI / KILILESHWA / LAVINGTON (west-central part of Nairobi)
This area is where quite a few NGO offices are based, so good to know the area if you work in the sector!
The Junction Shopping Mall
Mediterraneo: Mainly italian, so pastas, pizzas, risotto, etc. It’s fairly nice, although I prefer Osteria for Italian food.
Artcaffe (Café/coffee): big chain but pretty good; several locations (including Junction, Yaya Centre, and Lavington Mall) but Village Market outdoor shopping mall is definitely the best. Good for brunch if you’re shopping at the mall.
The Phoenician (Japanese/Lebanese – yes both): You can get assorted things; sushi; they serve the Japanese dishes with miso soup and a little salad with a sesame dressing that you could drink straight. Good bento box options if you’re eating alone and you want to try a little of everything.
Maasai Market – comes here every Thursday on the 3rd floor car park (but this market moves around all week – see the link to find out more) Thursday is a quite nice and calm day to come and do your shopping – very laid back and relaxed compared to some markets, although it gets a bit more hectic in the evenings after work.
Nakumatt – This is a supermarket chain, can be found all over, but the one at Junction is HUGE and has almost everything you could possibly want to buy – food, household goods, toiletries etc. There’s a much smaller one at Lavington Curve mall as well.
Zucchini – This is a chain of really nice greengrocers – is also at ABC mall and other places.
There is also a cinema and lots of shops at Junction – clothes, knick-knacks, pharmacy, ATMs, etc
Several NGOs have their offices here as well.
360 degrees pizza – Italian Restaurant / pizza place, does really nice pizzas – and they deliver!
Seven seafood and grill – very posh fish and steak restaurant – pricey but very good food.
Tangerine Ink – Really nice salon for manicures and pedicures, hair etc
Zucchini – large one here for grocery shopping – lots of fresh fruit and veg, as well as hummous, cheeses, deli counter etc
Much smaller than some of the other malls, and not much here, but it has an Artcaffe, and opposite at Lavinton Curve there is a Nakumatt and Mambo Italia – a reasonable, if slightly mediocre Italian place, but not bad for pizzas/pastas etc.
Just past Lavington Mall there is a lovely Japanese place called Tokyo – great for sushi/sashimi/bento boxes – it’s run by a Korean guy so does excellent Korean as well as Japanese food. Has a nice vibe, and good atmosphere – set in an old colonial-style house with a nice chilled out garden, and you can also book private japanese-style rooms with paper walls and reed mats for an authentic experience!
Other restaurants in the area:
*Osteria (Italian): this has a few locations but Lenana Rd is the best, great outside courtyard for dinner, usually live music on weekends; Great pizzas, homemade pastas. – They have a lovely, candlelit garden, great ambience, also very romantic if you’re looking for a date night venue, and it’s right next door to Casablanca, a morroccan-themed nightclub that is pretty fun!
The food at Osteria was great (I had the Lobster Tagliatelli) but be careful if you order a “large” glass of wine – it is served in a bucket-sized glass! Trust me – a small glass of wine here is about as big as a large anywhere else!
Casablanca – next door to Osteria and across the street from Cedars, and does nice shisha, cocktails, and dancing/nightclub for later on. Very cool vibe, although often frequented by “mosquitoes” (a local euphemism for prostitutes I am told).
*Moonflower (Kenyan/New International): Palacina Hotel: Need reservations. upscale, great outdoor patio space (but not really green), awesome live band that plays jazz and Motown.
Note from Maya – I went on the wrong day and there wasn’t any music, and I wasn’t too impressed with the food – it was fairly mediocre and over-priced in my opinion, so I’m not giving the Palacina a great rating.
*Cedars (Mediterranean): baba ghannouj (roasted eggplant mashed); Shish Taouk, chicken cubes on skewers (delicious!)
Sierra (New International): swank rooftop lounge restaurant atop Yaya Centre, first boutique brewery – they have a chocolate stout that my friend adores; burgers and their fries are crowd pleasers
News Cafe – At the AdLife Centre, opposite Yaya Centre, this is a popular place on a Friday night for cocktails. It has a bustling, busy vibe, and excellent burgers and pub grub.
*Smart Village OR Habesha (Ethiopian): Smart Village has the best Ethiopian in Nairobi, but go for lunch and sit in the outdoor huts (the indoor dining space completely lacks atmosphere and charm). Others/many people will say to go to Habesha, because it feels more “authentic” but I’d rather eat where the food is the yummiest. Still, not a bad choice.
Brew Bistro (Drinks – heard food is good but never ate there): more towards Lavington/Junction area; really good mix of expats and locals; gets absolutely slammed weekend nights, but it’s fun and lively and a great dance party
*Sankara Hotel (Drinks): extremely nice – and pricey – rooftop bar; if you have the time, great place to listen to live music (ranges but a lot of Latin flare); FYI: there is an entrance at night/on weekends but best view of city
*Furusato (Japanese): a Nairobi fave – impressive sashimi/sushi boats
Mystique Gardens (Indian/BBQ): relaxed/family style, great for massive groups; you get a large round “hut” where you can order Indian dishes or grill out a selection of BBQ meats and sides
Tapas – in Westgate Mall
Zen Garden (International/Asian fusion): dinner- Bamboo dining room: crispy duck rolls; brunch- Jade coffee & tea house: Prosciutto, mozzarella, pesto, sundried tomatoes sandwich (I ask them to add rocket salad and get it on ciabatta as a toasted panini.); pizzas
Le Rustique (Brunch): crepes, pretty good coffee
Riverside Café (Brunch): very cozy along water and with fish eagles hanging around; on the weekends (same as Zen) can get VERY overrun by UN families.
Abassynia (Ethiopian): prefer Smart Village or Habesha, but if you’re up north; also, great for really large groups – the owners are really accommodating.
Haandi: Two words: masala fries. Yummy Indian. They deliver.
Open House – another recommendation for great Indian food. Try their chilly paneer or butter chicken.
Carnivore – Brazilian-style BBQ – This is in the south-eastern part of the city near the airport. You may need to book as it gets pretty busy, and it’s def not for vegetarians! It’s a meat extravaganza!
Has been somewhat controversial in the past, as they used to serve game meats there – You won’t find any major game meats there now (since the ban), but they do have ostrich and crocodile, in addition to your standard pork, beef, chicken, lamb and turkey.
Nakumatt – major supermarket chain – the one at Junction you can buy almost anything. There’s a smaller one in Lavington next to NRC office too.
Yaya Centre: A smaller family-owned supermarket, Chandarana. Next to Chandarana is also a great little Corner Shop, vegetable and produce store, as well as Gourmet Meat Products, one of the best butcher shops (they even have South African boerewors, i.e. sausages) Absolute favorite health food store, Healthy U (best location here for actual food stuffs, like bulk nuts, grain, etc., not just supplements).
Village Market: Zucchini is an awesome produce store, and particularly this location (I think) is the only one with baked goods — and the BEST! Muffins mmmm… This is also at Junction Mall and ABC mall.
Utamaduni Craft Shop: all sorts of artisinal crafts!!! You’ll shop til you drop! 25 minutes drive from city centre – this is also near the elephant orphanage and giraffes so could be combined as a day trip.
Village Market: Really cute shops and art stores (a bit higher end, proper shops)
Disclaimer: City Market: the main souvenir market is covered. Not sure I’d recommend it per se, because I think you can find things in the other markets of better quality and reasonable prices. It’s quite intense with vendors hawking you.
Warning: Maasai Market: Saturday weekend market in the Central Business District. A labyrinth of vendors. Too many hawkers. I prefer going to Sundays at Yaya Centre because it’s far more manageable, and the quality is superior.
Banana Box – shop in Junction Mall that has posh/expensive versions of things you can find in the market. Good for scoping out things to look for at the market!
Kuona Trust – this is near to Gracia Gardens hotel
MUSIC: Kenya/Africa has an vibrant music scene!!!
Tree House: great music venue
Choices: free live music on Thursdays; best blend of expat/local scene with really talented artists (LOVE LOVE LOVE)
Blankets and Wine: various events (depending on time of year, actually have free, outdoor music gatherings, where ppl bring their blankets and wine)
Maia Von Leklow: Check out her music, great voice
My local colleagues tell me that Bonfire Adventures is known to be one of the most reasonable tour companies, and lots of locals use them. Having looked into it they do seem to be cheapest, but it seems most of their deals are catered for locals, and therefore not packages, which was not ideal for me (for example they had a super-cheap 3-day Maasai Mara safari package, but it didn’t include transport from Nairobi to get there!).
Also this company was recommended by another friend, but was much more pricey: http://www.bestcampingkenya.com/camping-safaris/
In general, Maasai Mara safari options seem to be varied, from a budget option at $300 US for 3-days up to luxury safaris in the thousands of dollars. I’m told you get what you pay for, so expect the budget options to be fairly basic.
In the end I went with Big Time Safaris, and paid $330 USD for 3 days, all-inclusive. It was certainly basic, but on the other hand the drivers were great, and I saw tons of animals! Although the camp could have been nicer, you are barely there except to eat and sleep, so it didn’t matter much. I would certainly recommend it as a great budget option, but be prepared to have low expectations on the accommodation front, and to pile in with different tour groups on different days.
Kiambethu Tea Farm: Great nearby tea farm for afternoon lunch, tour and tea
Lake Navaisha: 1.5-2 hour drive for hike up Longuenot volcano and then visiting Lake Naivasha with the hippos and birds. You can stay at Camp Carnelleys, which is inexpensive and a sanctuary (with the most delicious feta coriander samosas). Carnellys also has a hippo boat ride you can do. Also go to Crescent Island Sanctuary, which is actually a crescent shaped strip of land, where you can walk openly amongst zebras, giraffe and wildebeest (no big cats to worry about, just steer clear of the ornery buffalo). There is also Elementiata Weavers and Pottery – just off the main road. You can also stay at an Air BnB at Lake Naivasha.
Make sure you take the Rift Valley Road to get to Naivasha to see the views
Lamu: cute, relaxing Moorish village on the eastern coast. Stay in Lamu House is gorgeous and the best restaurant!!! To sail around the area and venture through the mangroves, rent a dhow (traditional boat) for half or full day from Lamu House and they’ll pack you up a beautiful grilled fish lunch!
Note – Lamu House has apparently changed hands and gone a bit downhill so may not be recommended to stay there anymore.
*****Masai Mara: Absolute must!!!
Ensuite tent + Full Board = 6,000 KShs/person/day
Camp site = 1,000 KShs/person/day (low season ~ 600-700 KShs/person/day)
Meal – 1,000 KShs/person/day
Nyeri – Rhinos, OI, Pejeta, and Solio are all places to visit around here.
Samburu National Park
Somewhere around here is Umoja, the village run by women, who also run a campsite where you can stay and visit them in the village. I was gutted I didn’t get a chance to visit them on this trip, but it’ll be a priority if I ever make it back to Kenya!