Kenya’s capital city, Nairobi, is the perfect base for exploring the country. From here, you can head south to beach towns like Diani and Mombasa along the Indian Ocean coastline, go north to hike Mount Kenya and other mountain ranges or drive through national parks, west to the renowned Maasai Mara National Reserve which is teeming with wildlife, and more. There is a decent road and train network leading to different parts of the country, and both domestic and international flights go through the capital.
Nairobi, the economic hub of East Africa, is a city of contradictions. The frenetic streets of the CBD’s River Road are a stark contrast to the sequestered forested folds of the Karen suburb. Wildlife roams within the Nairobi National Park while just outside the borders, with the city’s highrise buildings in the background, residents impatiently wait for traffic to ease up. The park is home to four of the big five; lions, leopards, buffalos, and rhinos.
It’s entirely possible to live in one reality and never encounter the other. Whether you’re looking for a trendy instagrammable cafe or an upscale sophisticated restaurant, galleries showcasing local artists, nightclubs where you can dance till dawn or a chic bar where you can kick back with a mojito and watch a live band any day of the week, hiking trails and more, there’s never a shortage of things to do. Pick from the plethora of coworking spaces frequented by the city’s creatives or start ups.
Before you go, there are things to consider. Power blackouts do happen sometimes, but some commercial premises have generators. It’s easy to get around the city, whether by matatu or boda boda (motorbike taxis) like the majority of people. Uber and other ride-hailing apps are cheaper than in most U.S. cities. The WiFi here is good, as is the 4G+ network coverage. Kenyans also largely use a cashless mobile money system called M-Pesa for any transactions, whether that’s rent, groceries at the market or to send money to friends and family; you automatically sign up—without a local bank account—by getting a Sim Card, the main telecom company being Safaricom.
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This green leafy neighborhood is largely removed from the hustle of Nairobi. Named after Danish author Karen Blixen of the 1985 ‘Out of Africa’ Hollywood movie fame, this was one of the areas zoned for British settlers during the colonial period. While there are a lot of gated communities with cottages, townhouses, and old mansions, apartments have now been built in parts of the neighborhood. Affluent families and expats like living here because of its excellent amenities and exciting activities. In fact, most tourists coming to Kenya for safari will likely spend a day or two in Karen before heading off to the game reserves. It’s also a key business hub, and the main malls are The Hub, The Waterfront and Galleria.
For coworking spaces, it’s a toss-up between Nairobi Garage and Kofisi. Both have serene garden spaces with scenic views, beautiful interiors, and prioritize community building. There are really cool Airbnbs too, such as The Brandy Bus which is a converted double-decker school bus that sits on the expansive green backyard of a family home; spend a few quiet days here wrapping up any stressful projects. The eclectic salad bar at Tin Roof Cafe is enough reason to work from here; it sits at the Lang’ata Link Shops, where you can browse through rows of beautifully laid out stationery, jewelry, skincare, clothing, homeware, etc., crafted by various local artisans.
Karen is not short of activities to pass the time. The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust where you can actually adopt an elephant has a popular public feeding time every Saturday from 11:00am, when you can watch orphaned elephant calves guzzling milk formula and mud bathing. At Giraffe Center, feed pellets to a tower of Rothschild giraffes either from your palm, or, if you’d like a wet sloppy ‘kiss’, place it between your lips. Karen Blixen’s old home is now a museum. Further down at The Bomas of Kenya, tour the replica of traditional Kenyan homes for insight into the culture of the people. If you’re looking for something a bit more active, hiking trails like Oloolua Nature Trail have a cave, picnic site, campsite, and a waterfall.
The dining scene here is a world of its own. Check out the Saturday organic farmer’s market on Marula Lane for live music, food, and mingling. You will want to make a reservation at the rustic Cultiva where innovative farm-to-table dining is the name of the game. If you have a date, the renowned Talisman Restaurant is as romantic as it gets, particularly when all the lights come on in the garden at night. To get your sushi and sake craving sorted, Haru never disappoints.
If you prefer a more centrally located neighborhood with trendier spots and good nightlife, Karen might not be the area for you.
You could spend most of your time in Westlands and never feel like you’re missing out. It’s a busy upperclass neighborhood with plenty of cafes, restaurants, bars, and coworking spaces. You’ll mostly find apartments here, with a good mix of locals and expats, and while costs can be high, its location at the center of everything makes it worth it. A lot of places are within the same driving radius too, so transport costs won’t be high. It’s one of the best neighborhoods in the city for partying, and even has accommodation options for backpackers. The main malls here are Sarit Center, Westgate and ABC Place. Nairobi is not the most bike-friendly city, but just outside Westlands is an urban forest, Karura Forest, which has a waterfall and beautiful trails where you can go walking, biking, or have a picnic.
You’ll be spoilt for choice when picking a coworking space since Westlands has more options than anywhere else in the city. Ikigai is spread across five green acres overlooking a dam. It is dog-friendly and offers free yoga and meditation sessions to members. Jenga Leo, named after the board game, has the same ethos of community building, and its vibrant space houses a restaurant and gym. The Foundry Africa has an adjacent quaint cafe, Cafe Kaya, while being plied with pizza; stay until evening for the cocktails. At Indigo, you’ll feel like you’re working in a cool concrete treehouse filled with local art and sculptures, and where even the signage is in Nairobi slang called sheng’.
Book a private pod for the day to work at The Library Restaurant. Across from here, get a table at any of the eleven restaurants and bars at the trendy Nairobi Street Kitchen, and try global cuisine. A little after Westlands, Wasp & Sprout run by husband and wife duo Chris and Angela Neale offers cozy artsy interiors and the best southern fried chicken and waffles in town. Browse through the art at Noir Gallery before getting a quiet table in the well-manicured garden to hit those deadlines. Stick around till happy hour when music events take place on rotation. For Indian food, head to The Mayura at Kenrail Towers; the portions are huge and they make some of the best curries and flatbreads around.
This is largely a residential neighborhood close to embassies, offices, commercial buildings, bars, restaurants, and international schools. The main mall and landmark here is the Yaya Center, where you can spend an afternoon browsing through African fiction at Bookstop Ltd, sampling cheese at Brown’s Food Co which has a farm open for day tours in Limuru, working away at Artcaffe which has the best coffee and pastries in Nairobi, right down to the niche Buttons and Bows where you can find tailoring supplies. You’ll mostly find high-rise apartments in Kilimani, and rent here is higher for Nairobi.
There’s a vibrant party scene in Kilimani, favorites being B-Club where Kenyan celebrities like to hang out. The roads always lead to the adjacent Ngong Road though, where you’ll find hotspots like Clique Lounge and Onyx Lounge which regularly feature DJs and local musicians, and Brew Bistro & Lounge which has craft beers from its own microbrewery. You’ll find the city’s creatives, like renowned painter Michael Soi, working away at The GoDown Arts Center. For runners, you can find sidewalks in parts of the neighborhood, but you can also drive a short distance to The Arboretum.
Coworking powerhouse Nairobi Garage has an office here. Pawa254 is a space where you’ll find photographers, graphics designers, writers, filmmakers, and activists; they regularly host poetry, spoken word, and music shows. If you work in tech, iHub is the space for you.
What Kilimani does best, is perhaps the food. From Mama Oliech, whose Kenyan cuisine has drawn both Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg during their visits to Nairobi, to Habesha, where you’ll find delicious sharing platters of Ethiopian cuisine. Mama Rocks, founded Kenyan-Nigerian sisters Natalie and Samantha, makes gourmet burgers that reflect their heritage, while Unseen Nairobi will introduce you to indie movies and documentaries you might otherwise have never heard about, as you sip excellent cocktails.