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Where To Stay In Nairobi, Kenya – An Insider’s Guide

Heading to Nairobi? Pull your socks up.

Way up.

Lace your shoes up tight.

This city doesn’t mess around. Nairobi is one of Africa’s gems, one of the fastest growing cities in the world, and a city that never sleeps. If you want to know Africa, you need to know Nairobi. 

I’ve been visiting Nairobi for almost ten years now, and have grown to love the city almost like a second home. For most first timers this city easily overwhelms them, especially if it’s also your first time on the continent. However, that’s because most people arrive here unprepared.

Without knowing where to stay, how to get around, and the best places to stuff your face, Nairobi is going to intimidate most newcomers. That will mostly leave you dining in a few tourist restaurants and leaving thinking Nairobi is “just okay”.

However, a few insider tips is all you need to get a little deeper under the surface and feel Nairobi’s magic. Do that, and you’ll surely fall in love with it like the rest of us.

Africa for beginners?

At least on the eastern coast, Kenya is probably the most suitable city for first timers in Africa.

Everybody speaks English, it’s safe in most areas, almost all first world amenities can be found here, and people are very welcoming to foreigners.

On top of that, Nairobi Airport services airlines from most corners of the world, making it an easy entry point to the continent.

If you’re looking for a city to host your first Africa experience, Nairobi is one of the best options there is.

In this guide:

  1. Westlands (good for first timers)
  2. South B/South C (very local neighbourhoods, good for experienced travellers)
  3. Nairobi City Centre (centre of town, hectic but safe!)
  4. Karen (wealthy international area, far from the city centre)
  5. Kilmani (fast developing local area, popular with expats)
  6. Nairobi Airport (for overnighters)

Where to stay in Nairobi

Choosing the right place to stay in Nairobi is essential.

Nairobi is a huge city, and driving across town can take over two hours at the worst of times. Taxis aren’t exactly dirt cheap either.

That means you want to stay in a place that minimises your commute time and bases you around the main sights that you’ll want to see.

Below I’ll break down six of the best areas of Nairobi for tourists. Some are more accessible than others, but all can be good depending on the type of trip you’re looking for.

I’ll also recommend one or two accommodation options in each place, just to make things extra easy for you. All these places are vetted, so feel confident that you’ll be well taken care of!


Map of Nairobi

As you can see Nairobi is large and spread out, and as the city is still developing each area is quite distinct. Some parts may resemble Europe, others may resemble rural Kenya in many respects.

Most tourists should be looking to stay around the Westlands/City Centre areas, but other areas are definitely suitable too. It just depends on how comfortable you are getting around on your own, and what you plan to be doing during your visit.

With Uber now very established, reaching different parts of the city is much less of an issue than it was in the past. However it still helps to stay in the right part of the city, as you never know when your sightseeing plans can turn into a day of sitting in traffic.

Let’s take a look at each of these areas in detail:


Westlands

the Nairobi National Museum

Westlands is one of the wealthier suburbs in Nairobi and the most popular area for expats. It’s quiet, there are lots of supermarkets and shopping malls around, and streets are lined with gated compounds and apartment complexes.

Its proximity to the city centre makes it an ideal place for those wanting to stay somewhere central but not in the bustle of town itself. It’s also the centre of Nairobi’s nightlife scene.

If it’s your first time in Nairobi, this is where I’d recommend staying.

Things to do around Westlands:

  1. Visit the Nairobi National Museum.
  2. Head to Clay Oven for upper end Indian food – delicious and not too pricey.
  3. Urban Eatery is an upscale “food court” and one of the best places to chow in town. 
  4. Get pampered at Devarana – one of the best spas in the city.
  5. Hit Electric Avenue for the most vibrant nightlife in town. Alchemist and Havana are always fun, but avoid Brew Bar – always overcrowded with foreigners, and prices to match.

Where to stay in Westlands?

For the budget traveller:

Stay at the Mvuli Studio Suites. It’s an exceptionally well run apartment guesthouse in a perfect location. Should only run you $30ish per night which is an absolute bargain for this part of town. Best rates here.

For something nicer:

Stay at the Villa Rosa Kempinski. Equipped with two restaurants, a gym, a spa, breakfast buffet and beautifully furnished rooms, this is one of Nairobi’s top five star hotels and holds its own against most upper end hotels around the world. It’s perfectly located right in the middle of Westlands, and isn’t even that expensive for a place of this calibre. Around $250 should get you a king room outside of high season. You’ll get the best rates here.


South B/South C

Y1A0986 Nairobi

South B/South C are adjacent local residential areas full of high rise apartment complexes and the odd hotel. It’s right by the Nairobi National Park, and there are also a few shopping malls and supermarkets in the area. This is probably not the best place for an Africa first-timer, but if you’re comfortable being one of the only foreigners walking around this is a nice and affordable area to stay. It’s often a good choice for long term stayers on a tighter budget.

Things to see around South B/South C:

  • Go for lunch or afternoon tea at the Ole Sereni Hotel – it overlooks Nairobi National Park, if you’re lucky you’ll see animals.
  • Just walking the streets here is interesting – especially in South B. A good look at local Nairobi life.
  • There’s a nice food court out the back of Nextgen Mall – a good place to get some affordable local food.
  • Go ice skating at the Panari Center, a short drive from South C on Mombasa Road.
  • Carnivore is one of Nairobi’s most famous restaurants where you can sample different game meats. It’s on Langata Road, halfway between South C and Karen.

Where to stay in South B/South C?

For the budget traveller:

You can’t get better value than Juddy’s Place. Juddy runs this small homestay on her own; the rooms are cheap, the service is stellar. It’s a little secluded so Uber is a must if you want to get anywhere, but you won’t find many places that are better value for money. Best rates here.

For something nicer:

The Boma Hotel is easily one of the best hotels in Nairobi. It’s located just off the Mombasa Road, far enough that you’re not bothered by the ridiculous traffic, and not too far from the airport. Inside the hotel are two quality restaurants, a cocktail bar, pool, spa, gym, and everything comes with A grade Kenyan hospitality. Most importantly, rooms are big! You’ll find the best rate here.

People who stay down this way often like to stay at the Ole Sereni, as it overlooks Nairobi National Park and you can sometimes see animals feeding at night. However, in my opinion the Boma is superior as a place to stay, and you can always walk down to Ole Sereni for a meal or cocktail anyway to enjoy the view. 


Nairobi City Centre

Y1A0804 Nairobi

Things move fast in Nairobi town! Staying in town can be a shock to the senses at first, but it’s actually one of of my favourite areas of Nairobi. 

The city centre has changed so much since my first visit back in 2012 – back then all the cafes and restaurants were filled with expat businessmen and tourists. Nowadays, it’s filled with Kenyan students and young professionals, splurging on lattes and enjoying life.

Walking around the city centre is also totally safe, at least in the day time, and there are endless restaurants to try and friendly locals to talk to. Don’t be afraid to explore here, it’s the heart of Nairobi!

Things to do in Nairobi Town:

  • Walk through Uhuru Park. It’s nothing mind blowing, but you do see some interesting characters there.
  • Catch a show at the Kenya National Theatre (show times here).
  • Buy some souvenirs at the Maasai market. Remember to bargain hard here!
  • Tribeka Lounge on Banda Street goes off on the weekends. This is where to party if you want to mix with the local nightlife scene.
  • Just walking around town is an experience in itself. Lots of coffee shops, local stores and streets to explore. Make a day of it.

Where to stay in Nairobi city centre?

For the budget traveller:

Stay at the After 40 Hotel. It’s in the centre of town and does all the basics right – good rooms, wifi throughout, and a restaurant on site. Usually $50 is enough to get a you a basic room, depending on the season. Best rates here.

For something nicer:

There are a few options but I’d go with the Serena Hotel, just because of its location. It’s right beside Uhuru Park in one of the nicer parts of the city centre. It’s not as lavish as some upscale hotels, but it has just enough flash – outdoor pool, poolside bar, good wine selection, gym, spa – to keep you comfortable. Will likely run you at least $250 for a king room. Best rates here.


Karen

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Karen lies to the southwest of central Nairobi and is home to a large portion of Nairobi’s European population. Most residents here are upper-middle class, and you’ll notice how much more international it feels than other parts of Nairobi.

One downside is it’s quite far out of the city centre. However if you’re looking for a quiet getaway far from the Nairobi’s daily bustle, Karen’s your place. 

Things to do in Karen:

  1. Head to Talisman on Ngong Road. Not cheap, but the food is world class.
  2. Head to Giraffe Manor down in the Langata area – your Instagram will love you for it.
  3. Walk the Oloolua Nature Trail, a 5km walk, complete with caves and waterfalls.
  4. Head to Karen Country Club for a pizza and a game of golf.
  5. Go for a day at the races at Ngong Racecourse. The crowd is more interesting than the horses!
  6. Share some love at the Nairobi Animal Orphanage.
  7. Unwind at the Resurrection Gardens, a green sanctuary perfect for alone time and reflection.

Where to stay in Karen?

For the budget traveller:

Karen Little Paradise might be what you’re looking for. This is a small B&B that grows much of their own food on premises, various fruits and vegetables that you’ll inevitably get to enjoy during your stay. It’s quite secluded and you’ll certainly need a taxi to get anywhere, but if it’s an escape you’re after then look no further. Best rates here.

For something nicer:

Book yourself into the famous Anga Afrika Luxury Boutique Camp, right on the outskirts of Karen. You could think of this place as one of those exclusive country clubs, or perhaps a luxury beach resort (except it’s out in the Kenyan wilderness). Enjoy the nightly bonfires, gourmet meals from the onsite restaurant and days lounging by the pool. It will set you back around $200 a night, but its reputation is not for nothing – Anga Afrika is one of a kind. Get the best rate here.


Kilmani

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Kilmani was historically a British residential neighbourhood in Nairobi, but has since become a fast developing residential and commercial centre. There are several big malls and office buildings here, with more popping up every year, and the scene is very international. More recently it’s become popular with the large Chinese population doing business in Kenya.

Things to do in Kilmani:

  1. Try the nyama choma (grilled meat) at Coco Jambo – a beautiful outdoor restaurant perfect for long lunches.
  2. Experience African fine dining at Le Palanka – not cheap, but an experience not to be missed. 
  3. Go shopping at the Yaya Centre – a small but upscale mall popular with expats.
  4. Start (and maybe finish) your night out at Kiza. It’s a high end nightlife venue, bottles and everything.

Where to stay in Kilmani?

For the budget traveller:

Vine Homes is your place. This is a small B&B, convenient located within walking distance from Yaya Centre. Cooked English breakfast is on offer every morning and the rooms are excellent. $30 should get you a room outside of high season – awesome value for money. Get the best rate here.

For something nicer:

Easy choice – stay at the Yaya Towers. Basketball court, tennis court, gym, games room, swimming pool, BBQ area; it’s luxury living at its finest. It’s also right beside the Yaya Centre where you can get everything you need. About $195 should get you an apartment here for a night and if you’re wanting to vacation in style, you won’t be disappointed. Best rates here.


Airport

If you’re just overnighting it’s not a bad idea to stay by the airport. Nairobi traffic isn’t the friendliest and trying to get to the airport at peak hours is a nightmare. Besides, the airport isn’t in the middle of nowhere, there’s a few things close by to keep you busy.

For the budget traveller:

Claire’s Haven is the best option down here. It’s tucked away in a side street and not the easiest to find, but the value for money here is excellent. Good night’s sleep is guaranteed, and breakfast is included. 2km from the airport, $25 a pop. Get the best rate here.

For something nicer:

Stay at the Four Points. It’s run by the Sheraton and does everything right – spa, gym, pool, buffet breakfast. This is easily one of Nairobi’s best airport hotels  – located right beside Jomo Kenyatta, so you can rest easy and avoid the early wake up. Perfect for an overnight stay. 


More Nairobi tips

  1. Use Uber. It’s safer than taxis and has better vetted drivers than Taxify. There are many Uber drivers in Nairobi, so it’s never hard to find a ride.
  2. Get a sim card. There’s mobile data coverage everywhere in Nairobi and it’s affordable. Safaricom is the best network, make sure you take your passport with you as it’s required for every foreign user.
  3. Food safety is less of an issue now than it was 10 years ago, but eating in local street places can still give problems to foreign stomachs. I highly recommend you read my guide on preventing traveller’s diarrhea – it will come in very handy on a trip to Nairobi.
  4. Traffic is heavy. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport, especially during peak hours. Weather is also a factor – if it rains get ready for some epic traffic jams.
  5. Learn the language. English is widely spoken, but it helps to learn some Swahili before your trip. You might want to check out my Learn a Language in 7 Days guide.
  6. Get travel insurance! Travelling in Africa is unpredictable, insurance is an absolute must. If you’ve never purchased travel insurance before, this blog post should tell you everything you need to know. 

Any questions, leave them below. Enjoy Nairobi!

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Featured image: ninara @ Flickr

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