A Solo Traveler’s Guide to Nairobi

The stunning landscapes of Hells Gate National Park are easily reached from Nairobi
The stunning landscapes of Hell's Gate National Park are easily reached from Nairobi | © Alex MacNaughton / Alamy Stock Photo
Nannette Holliday

Home to four million, the Kenyan capital of Nairobi is an intoxicating blend of modern city life and easy access to some of the world’s best wilderness areas, including the Maasai Mara and beaches of Mombasa. In fact, it’s the only global capital that borders a large game reserve. You’ll be amazed at all of the attractions it has to offer.

What’s the vibe for solo travellers to Nairobi?

Nairobi is peaceful, and solo travellers are unlikely to experience any issues, regardless of gender – you’ll even feel safe dining alone. A great way to enjoy Nairobi is with a taxi driver on a negotiated day rate, who’ll doubtless end up doubling as your local guide – ask your hotel for contacts.

A Nairobi trip overview

As one of Africa’s top destinations, Nairobi is full of exhilarating attractions. It’s worth spending several days exploring before or after heading out on safari.

The 28-storey Kenyatta International Convention Centre offers stunning city views

Discover Nairobi’s rich history at the National Museum and Railway Museum – the fully restored locomotives are a fave for fashion and music video shoots. Afterwards, stroll the lush Botanical Gardens, between the National Museum and Nairobi River. Get a 360-degree perspective of the city from the top of the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), then do some haggling for arty bargains at the colourful Maasai Markets.

Breakfast time at Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Enjoy the city’s wild side with a half-day safari at Nairobi National Park, and check out its population of black rhinos. Or visit the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust elephant orphanage, where feeding time will have you smitten. Can’t afford to stay at Giraffe Manor? The same Rothschild giraffes vie for your attention next door at the Giraffe Centre, for a tenth of the cost. If you’re a fan of Karen Blixen’s novel Out of Africa, her home-turned-museum is a must-see; the volunteer guides bring everything to life.

Crescent Island, in Lake Naivasha, is a haven for wildlife

Day trips include a visit to Lake Naivasha, which is home to hundreds of hippos. The lake is adjacent to Hell’s Gate National Park – rock-climb the towering gorges or just soak in the hot springs. There’s something for everyone in and around Nairobi, and plenty of incredible moments to enjoy.

Where to stay in Nairobi

Diverse accommodation options include boutique properties and high-class hotels, hostels, plush lodges, campsites, tented camps and locally run B&Bs.

1. African Heritage House

Hotel

Lounge area at the African Heritage House, with a multitude of rattan furniture, woven rugs and cushions, and colourful geometric patterns on the walls.
© African Heritage House / Expedia

A stay here immerses you in indigenous aesthetics, from West African Dogon masks to unique woven furnishings. Overlooking Nairobi National Park, this spot is Instagram gold, with Malian-style turrets and mud wall designs.

2. Sarova Panafric Hotel

Hotel

Rectangular outdoor pool at the Sarova Panafric Hotel, surrounded by palm trees and white sun loungers.
© Sarova Panafric Hotel / Expedia

This hotel in the CBD is steeped in Nairobi’s history. Admire its famous guest list and enjoy the timeless interior, modern African fabrics and artwork. The tranquil pool, bar and restaurant are a reprieve from the city bustle.

Stay at Sarova Panafric as part of Culture Trip’s exclusive seven-day Ultimate Kenyan Safari Experience.

3. Wildebeest Eco Camp

Camping

A large tortoise sits next to an outdoor pool and in front of a row of tented safari lodges at Wildebeest Eco Camp, Nairobi.
© Wildebeest Eco Camp / Expedia

Welcome to Nairobi’s first permanent tented camp. Step off the plane and straight into a tranquil, tropical paradise. You’ll find it hard to believe that you’re only 8km (5mi) from the city and all its action.

What to do in Nairobi as a solo traveller

4. Brown’s Cheese Factory and Tasting Room

Cheesemonger, Farm Shop, Contemporary

Less than an hour’s drive from Nairobi, every Thursday, Friday and Saturday you’ll be treated to welcome drinks, snacks, a factory tour, cheesemaking demonstration and tasting, and a seasonal lunch sourced from their organic garden. There is a minimum number, but always room for a solo visitor.

5. Kitengela Glass

Art Gallery

Stained-glass window at Kitengela Glass, depicting a large tree.
© RZAF_Images / Alamy Stock Photo

Wonky glass sculptures, mosaic paths, funky, fairy-like cottages, majestic chandeliers and stunning murals… Against a backdrop of Nairobi National Park, this is a wonderland of artisans and a photographer’s delight. Enjoy glass-mosaic classes, swimming and horse riding.

6. Aberdare National Park and mountains

Natural Feature, Park

A single cataract of water at Chania Falls, Aberdare National Park, tumbles into the pool below.
© Dorling Kindersley ltd / Alamy

In the shadows of mountain peaks, discover big-tusked elephants, leopards, rhinos and hyenas, gushing rivers and waterfalls. Aberdare is a vast wetland with two permanent water holes for the Big Five and many other endangered animals.

You’ll spend several days within Aberdare National Park and the Maasai Mara as part of Culture Trip’s exclusive seven-day Ultimate Kenyan Safari Experience.

Eating and drinking in Nairobi as a solo traveller

Sample exotic meats and dine al fresco at Carnivore

Nairobi’s foodie scene suits all tastes and budgets, from small carts serving Swahili barbecued meat to Italian pizza joints and vegan restaurants. Most are around the city centre, Westlands, and the affluent suburbs of Karen, Loresho and Gigiri – perfect if you’re doing Nairobi solo.

Everyone raves about INTI on top of One Africa Place. Its Nikkei cuisine (combining Peruvian and Japanese influences) is as gorgeous as the 360-degree views.

Talisman is a social hub of small rooms decorated with Kenyan crafts and glassworks. The candlelit courtyard sparkles, and pan-Asian, European and African foods tantalise your taste buds.

Carnivore does Nairobi’s best nyama choma: chunks of crocodile and ostrich cooked over open fires on Maasai swords and washed down with their famous dawa cocktails, big on ginger, lemon and alcohol.

Take in eye-catching Westland views at the Brew Bistro Rooftop Bar. Or try Hemingway’s Bar in Karen and enjoy the tinkling piano music, A-grade cocktails, fine wines, rare whiskies and cognacs. Savour unique Levantine foods in atmospheric surroundings at Villa Rosa Kempinski’s solo-traveller-friendly Tambourin rooftop lounge. The private cabanas, meze platters and sweeping views are breathtaking.

Stay safe, stay happy in Nairobi

Get a local Safaricom SIM when you arrive. It’s cheap and has the best coverage, for easy city navigation and calling Ubers. Use indoor ATMs: if one eats your card, it’s easier to retrieve that way.

Getting around in Nairobi

Avoid buses in favour of yellow-striped licensed taxis: they are the most comfortable mode of transport. Find them at hotel entrances, or ask your hotel to call you one. Uber and Bolt are also popular – Uber offers an affordable ride-sharing option.

Cultural need-to-knows

Most Kenyans are Muslim, so dress conservatively. Shaking hands and small talk in English or Swahili is common. Learn the basics: habari (hello); niko sawa (I’m fine); kwaheri (goodbye); and asante (thank you). Always ask permission before taking a photo of somebody. And expect to pay them – keep small denominations of local cash with you.

Fancy journeying with like-minded travellers? Join Culture Trip’s seven-day Ultimate Kenyan Safari Experience as part of a small group, and discover even more of the country’s amazing landscapes and activities.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

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