Is Nairobi Nai-boring?
We don’t like tourist traps. And we especially don’t like expensive tourist traps. So, since Nairobi is tourist trap central, it may seem like a horrible place to visit. At second and third glance too, probably. But it doesn’t have to be! We dug deep, deftly avoided the traps, and managed to find enough adventurous and interesting things to do in Nairobi to make for an unforgettable 24 hours.
24 Hours in Nairobi Itinerary Map
All the highlights of this 24 hour itinerary of things to do in Nairobi are in this map. To save it to Google Maps on your phone, here are our easy instructions for using Google maps offline.
There’s no more fitting way to start a day in Nairobi than getting yourself stuck in chaotic traffic.
Do so by taking a rideshare to the epicenter of the chaos, the Central Business District (CBD). CBD is a fitting name for this part of town, because you could benefit from a heavy dose of CBD to keep you relaxed.
Tasty Breakfast at Swahili Plate
Use Swahili Plate to calm your nerves from the many near accidents you avoided on your way over and mentally prepare for more to come while enjoying a dose of decent Kenyan food.
Get the mbaazi combo. It includes a filling lentil stew along with a couple of subtly spiced Kenyan donuts and tea and costs 350 KSh.
Shop in Africa’s Attic: the West African Market
About a fifteen minute walk (scurry, dodge, jump, and duck) across the CBD from Swahili Plates is the West African Market. It’s not marked on any map, nor is there any sign outside indicating its existence. To get there, plug in directions to the Safety Line Lodge, go up the dark flight of stairs beside it, and press the buzzer to be let through the locked gate.
The West African Market isn’t your typical market. It’s a two-storey apartment block consisting of about fifteen studio apartments around an open courtyard. Each studio is occupied by a live-in vendor and crammed to the brim with an astonishing array of masks, statues, carvings, beads, and fabrics they’ve collected from across Africa. Their clients are mostly international dealers, not the very infrequent tourists who somehow find the place, but they’re happy to take your money, too.
When you’ve seen enough masks, statues, and voodoo dolls to give you nightmares for years to come, consider getting a view of the city from the KICC helipad, before escaping to calmer parts of the city.
When you’re finished with the CBD, take an Uber to Dennis Pritt Road. While not far geographically from the CBD, it feels like it’s a different world.
It’s peaceful, lush, and well-to-do. Nothing captures this contrast, and the inequality of Nairobi, better than the State House, the enormous residence of the Kenyan president that you will pass on your way.
Get Down to “Business” at Roadhouse Grill
Roadhouse Grill is an awesome place to get a taste of nyama choma (Kenyan BBQ) and observe a different type of “work” life in Kenya.
In the early afternoon the place takes on a vibe that’s similar to a barbecue at a friend’s house back home: boisterous and fuelled by excessive food and alcohol. The only difference is that here you’ll be with Kenyan businesspeople living it up in the middle of a workday, not your friends on a weekend.
What makes the party, of course, is the food. The meat (chicken, beef, or goat) is chopped and weighed in front of you, then charcoal grilled to perfection. Prices are as low as the quality is high (half a kilogram of beef costs 350 KSh and heaping side plates of fries, boiled greens are 100). The only downside is that it takes forever to cook (we waited 80 minutes!), but it’s worth it.
A Walk (or Run, or Obstacle Course) in the Park
Next up is trading your meat sweats for exercise sweat. Make a quick stopover at wherever you’re staying to change into some activewear and head to one of our favorite Nairobi parks, the Arboretum or Karura Forest.
Both parks are excellent for walking or jogging, but if you’re into some more intense fitness like us you might want to consider:
- Fit Kenyan Bootcamp at the Arboretum (Tue and Thu, 5:30-6:30 pm). These drop-in group calisthenic workouts, which cost 600 KSh, are guaranteed to exhaust you, and a good way to meet locals.
- The Obstacle Course in Karura Forest. Though it is somewhat dilapidated, Kim and I found plenty enough obstacles and tires to put together a solid workout at this workout area located just inside the Thigiri gate on the west side of the park.
A Death-Defying Ride
If you aren’t sweating already from your workout, you will be after this next “activity.”
Since it will likely be rush hour by the time you leave the park, getting back to your accommodation for a shower and change could take an agonizingly long time. But it doesn’t have to. There’s an alternative most tourists (and even most locals) don’t dare consider:
Take a motorcycle taxi.
Wave down any motorcyclist in a brightly colored vest, negotiate your price (it shouldn’t be more than 250 KSh wherever you’re going), and hold on tight. Try not to scream as your driver breaks every single rule of the road (and sidewalk) to get you from point A to B as fast as possible.
It’s an exhilarating experience worth doing once, then never again.
A Different Kind of Kenyan Dinner at Nyama Mama
Nyama Mama is a restaurant that serves modern, creative, and tasty interpretations of traditionally bland Kenyan dishes. Though it’s a higher-end place, the prices are reasonable, especially the vegetarian dishes (about 650 KSh each). Be sure to get the ugali fries and chapati quesadilla as starters to share.
Kim and I so enjoyed Nyama Mama that we returned for a second go-around as our final meal in Kenya.
A Nightcap to 24 Hours in Nairobi
If somehow you’re not yet exhausted, hit up J’s or The Alchemist to experience a bit of the Nairobi nightlife. The crowd at both of these popular, casual nightspots is an interesting blend of younger well-off Kenyans, expats, and world travelers.
24 Hours in Nairobi is Enough…
If you follow this itinerary, you might have such a good time you’ll consider spending more than a day in Nairobi. Don’t. Get out of Naiboring, go to Lamu or one of the national parks and don’t look back.
…So Where to Next?
We found it SUPER DIFFICULT to plan a backpacking trip in Kenya, so please learn from the lessons we learned the hard way and shared here:
- The Good News and Bad News About Backpacking in Kenya
- The Top Experiences in Kenya for Adventurous Budget Travelers
- The Perfect 3-Day Itinerary in Lamu, Including Where to Stay and Who to Make Your Captain