A Background On This Historic Hotel and What You Can Expect During Your Stay
When we were planning our stay in Nairobi we looked for a safe, centrally located hotel property that would provide us with a comfortable stay. We are pleased to say that the Fairmont Norfolk met all these needs and more. Read on for the history of Fairmont Norfolk Hotel and what makes it such a special place.
Highlights of the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel
It is often said that the history of the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel is a reflection of the history of Nairobi itself. That is because Nairobi was a fledgling town when the Norfolk Hotel, the first in Nairobi, was built in 1904. And that history is still evident throughout the hotel today.
When the Norfolk Hotel Nairobi was built nearly 120 years ago it was located near the rail depot on the Uganda-Kenya Railway which went through Nairobi and on to Mombasa. Nairobi’s unique location on the rail line led to the rapid growth of the city which replaced Mombasa as Kenya’s capital in 1907. The legend of the Norfolk Hotel Nairobi grew in step with the city.
At the beginning of the 20th century, travellers crossing East Africa would find refuge at the Norfolk after many days of gruelling travel. They would enjoy the oasis-like setting in its sprawling gardens and refreshing baths.
During the boom of Big Game hunting in Kenya in the early 1900s, the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel was the preferred lodging for hunters from all over the world. Many famous celebrities stayed at this grand hotel during their safari visits to Kenya. In fact, US President Theodore Roosevelt, organized the biggest and most extravagant safari ever held from the Norfolk Nairobi Hotel.
The Norfolk has been patronized by UK Prime Ministers Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill as well as the writer Ernest Hemingway who is said to have spent many an hour at the hotel bar.
The Fairmont Norfolk Hotel was featured in the 1985 movie Out of Africa, and the cast, including Robert Redford and Meryl Streep, stayed at the hotel during its filming. The movie is based on the autobiography of Karen Blixen who lived in Nairobi between 1914 and 1931.
There is also some darkness associated with the history of the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel.
On March 14, 1922, Harry Thuku, a Kenyan activist who was promoting the right for African-owned land in an increasingly colonial-dominated Africa, was arrested and jailed at the police station adjacent to the Norfolk Hotel. Demonstrators protested his arrest outside the police station, and after two days, when the protest became raucous, police opened fire on the crowd and killed 21 protesters.
All this happened within sight of Norfolk guests who were enjoying drinks on the hotel’s veranda. After independence, the street running in front of the Norfolk was renamed Harry Thuku Road in his honour.
Nearly sixty years later, in December 1980, a guest going by the name of Muradi Aksali booked a room at the Norfolk. He refused the room he was initially given and instead insisted on having one of the new rooms in the West Wing. He spent several days at the hotel, keeping to himself and refusing room service.
On December 31st, he was seen hurriedly leaving the hotel and several hours later, just before the New Year’s activities were to begin, a bomb exploded, destroying the West Wing representing 25% of the hotel property. The effects of the bomb were felt all around the hotel and the sound of the explosion was heard for miles.
The renovations to the Norfolk were started almost immediately after the explosion and continued through the end of 1982. Additional renovations were done in 1986 to the Kijabe wing. Renovations were also done in 1998 and 1999 to add guest rooms as well as updating the Reception Area and Restaurant.
When the Norfolk Hotel celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2004, it carried out more extensive renovations to its guest rooms and public areas. It was at this time that the hotel came under the management of the Fairmont Hotels and Resorts and became officially known as Fairmont the Norfolk.
It joins some of the most iconic hotels in the world including the Savoy London, the Fairmont Hamilton Princess, the Fairmont Banff Springs and the Fairmont Chateau Frontenac as part of the Fairmont family.
The Fairmont Norfolk Hotel Today
Despite its many updates and renovations over the last 100 years, the Fairmont Norfolk, has stood the test of time and still maintains the core of its original design and style. We had the opportunity to stay at this iconic colonial era property at the end of our Serengeti safari trip.
The main hotel entrance and lobby is very open and bright with gleaming floors and white walls straddled by tall, broad columns. As we walked into the lobby, we couldn’t help but feel the storied history of the place.
A sitting room, referred to as the “T Room” and where High Tea is served each afternoon, is located to the left of the entrance. It is fitted with sofas and cozy chairs surrounding a cluster of antique side tables.
Decorative cushions with printed African designs adorn the furniture. The sitting room is highlighted by a fireplace on one wall, bordered by a pair of floor- to-ceiling bookcases. A luxurious leopard-print rug sits in the middle of the room tying everything together.
Beyond the sitting room and up a short flight of stairs towards the back of the lobby is the Cin Cin bar. The T Room and the bar are subtly divided by a white hip-high railing. The bar area is quite a large, open space.
Nearly the whole floor is covered by a massive rectangular African rug that provides an inviting warmth to the whole room. Large, arched windows and a doorway lead to the bar’s covered patio which overlooks the gardens.
Walking from the main entrance down the centre of the lobby leads to a pair of large arched windows on either side of a matching doorway that exits the reception area and leads to the gardens and courtyard which is surrounded by the other three wings of the property. This is where the main accommodations are located as well as the other public areas.
The gardens are lush, well maintained and extensive. Little sitting areas with benches or chairs are scattered throughout the gardens providing lots of places to relax with a drink and a book. There are ten different exotic bird species that frequent the gardens of the Norfolk. The whole courtyard feels like a meditative oasis.
This is where you will also find some of the vintage vehicles and equipment that highlight the hotel’s past including a horse-drawn carriage and antique tractor. We have to admit that the courtyard with its lovely gardens was one of our favourite places on the property.
✅ Book your stay at the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel by clicking here.
The Fairmont Norfolk is a moderate-sized hotel with 108 beautifully appointed rooms and 17 suites. We stayed in a Fairmont Room which is the smallest of the hotel’s rooms but for us was still quite spacious at 30 square metres (323 square feet).
The fully tiled bathroom was a warm hue of light caramel and had a glass-enclosed shower with a rainwater showerhead. Like all of the rooms in the hotel, ours was appointed with premium bath products including shampoo, conditioner, body wash and body lotion. There were thoughtful touches such as a fresh rose in a bud vase in the bathroom.
A hairdryer is also provided as well as a pair of plush bathrobes and slippers (that were set out beside the bed each night at turn down).
A large closet with plenty of hangers was sufficient for the two of us and we made use of the safe that was on one of the shelves in a separate closet.
The room also includes a mini fridge with bottled water that is replenished every day. A kettle along with a drawer that contains glassware, coffee cups, tea, instant coffee and a bottle opener is located beside the fridge.
The king bed was covered in luxurious, soft, cream-coloured linens. We each had two pillows which were just the right amount of puffiness for us, but they do offer a pillow menu with different levels of thickness/softness if you prefer something different. The bed was super comfortable and, after two hectic weeks of safari trekking, we had our very best sleep at the Norfolk.
Dining at Fairmont Norfolk
The T Room
The T Room, located on the left of the lobby near the main entrance offers an afternoon High Tea each day in a traditional drawing room setting. The set menu consists of several exquisite teas and locally grown Kenyan coffees. The food menu offers up dainty sandwiches, scones and pastries including the Norfolk signature Strawberry Tart which is inspired by the hotel’s heritage.
While we didn’t have time to indulge in the Norfolk Afternoon High Tea, it did inspire us to try an Afternoon High Tea later on our trip in Abu Dhabi.
Cin Cin Bar
Another casual dining spot at the Fairmont Norfolk is the Cin Cin Bar which is open 24 hours a day. The Tapas style bar menu is quite simple but with an elegant African flair that is perfect for sharing.
We enjoyed a leisurely hour on the bar’s patio overlooking the gardens in the late afternoon after a tour of the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Karen Blixen Museum. It was the perfect place to relax and enjoy a gin and tonic while reminiscing about our wonderful day trip. We could easily imagine Karen Blixen and Denys Finch Hutton sitting in the exact same spot and doing the exact same thing nearly 100 years before.
We had one of our best meals in Africa at the Norfolk’s Tatu Restaurant. Because we had arrived late after a long day of travelling, we decided to just go with a light meal. We ordered some appetizers, starting with carpaccio and oysters along with a delicious roasted carrot and pumpkin soup.
While we were waiting for our food to arrive, the server brought us an ‘amuse bouche’ of tomato shrimp. After our meal, we were also given a lovely selection of delicious chocolates.
It wasn’t just the food that was great here. Our server was efficient, professional and engaging. When he brought our soup, he poured it flamboyantly into our bowl. He explained every spice in poetic detail and just made the whole experience quite memorable. This is definitely a place you want to dine at if you are in Nairobi.
The Lord Delamere Terrace
The Lord Delamere Terrace, which first opened in 1904, is an exquisite dining venue to the left of the lobby just off the main entrance. The Lord Delamere is beautiful and bright with large windows stretching to the ceiling along the whole length of the south wall. Classic columns line both sides of the room and a pitched ceiling with visible supporting beams and struts beckons to the venue’s historic past.
While this venue serves food all day long, we enjoyed the incredible upscale buffet breakfast both mornings that we were here. There were several serving stations in the middle of the room with dining tables along both sides. Each station was neatly arranged and organized offering different types of food.
The breakfast buffet was quite extensive and consisted of a variety of freshly made juices, pastries, cold cuts and cheese. An egg station offered up freshly cooked eggs of any style and hot items like sausages, bacon, beans, vegetables, fish, pancakes and waffles were also available.
While most buffet venues feel crowded and rushed, we certainly didn’t experience that at the Lord Delamere. Quite the contrary, the brightness and freshness of the room makes it easy to linger here and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. The tables, while casual, were roomy and each one was decorated with a vase of fresh flowers.
Both mornings that we ate here Kim started off with a glass of fresh mango juice which she described as amazing. Denis enjoyed a steaming cup of signature Kenyan coffee served in a classic French Press. On our first day we added to that by ordering a sparkling Mimosa. We can’t think of a better way to start off a day!
Fairmont Norfolk Amenities
Aside from the wonderful dining facilities and tranquil gardens, the Norfolk offers several other amenities to enhance your experience here.
A heated outdoor pool which is open every day from 6:00am to 7:00pm is located in the corner between the west and north wings of the property.
A well-equipped fitness facility is also located here as well as a sauna and steam rooms. You can also book a variety of spa treatments for a fee.
We have stayed in countless hotels around the world and Fairmont the Norfolk is easily one of the most secure places that we have stayed in.
First of all, the property is protected by a 9 foot brick wall with electronically controlled wrought iron gates. Security guards monitor the gates and only open them once they have discerned that it is safe to do so.
Every vehicle that enters the main gate undergoes an inspection, including the interior of the vehicle, the trunk and underneath the vehicle via special mirrors. While the vehicle is being inspected passengers are escorted into a small room to undergo a security check much like at an airport.
After the security check, passengers return to the vehicle which then passes through a second gate and proceeds to the main entrance.
While all of this security may seem a bit extreme, it is important to note that Kenya has been the target of terrorist attacks and we felt encouraged by the precautions the hotel had in place to ensure our safety.
Fairmont Norfolk Hotel Guest Services
One of the things that impressed us the most about our stay at the Norfolk was the staff who were all professional, patient and accommodating.
Upon our arrival at the hotel we were greeted by Jackline who checked us in and provided us with all the details for our stay. We saw quite a bit of her over the next 2 days and she was always there to greet us and give advice and answer all the questions that we posed.
On our second night at the Norfolk we had made a dinner reservation at Mawimbi Seafood Restaurant located a few hundred metres from the hotel. When we went to the front desk to ask Jackline for the best route to take to walk to the restaurant, she insisted that since it was after dark, she would have someone escort us.
Jackline told us to take a seat in the T Room and went off to get us an escort. Shortly afterward, a striking man in a suit and tie approached us and introduced himself as John from Security. We followed John out of the hotel property and down the street where we walked about 10 minutes to the restaurant. Before leaving us at the entrance, John gave us the hotel phone number and asked that we call him when we were ready to return.
This was a level of service that was totally unexpected and was offered to us without our asking but was greatly appreciated. We would probably have been fine walking on our own, but this gesture removed any concern that we might have had about our safety.
We found this same level of service throughout the hotel including at the bar, in the Tatu Restaurant as well as the breakfast buffet. It made our overall guest experience at the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel outstanding and memorable.
✅ Plan a stay at the Fairmont Norfolk Hotel when you are in Nairobi by clicking here.
The Perfect Location for Exploring Nairobi
We found Fairmont the Norfolk to be the perfect location for exploring Nairobi over the two days that we were there.
The Norfolk Nairobi Hotel location is close enough to the downtown that you could walk (though we recommend taking a cab) yet far enough to be away from the constant noise and activity. It truly is an oasis in the city.
In the two days that we were in Nairobi, we were able to see all of the things on our list and yet we were never more than a 30-minute ride from our hotel.
Check out some of the exciting things to do in Nairobi by reading our blog on what to do in one day in this city.
The Final Word…History of Fairmont Norfolk Hotel
It is not often that we devote a whole blog to one particular hotel, but in the case of the Fairmont Norfolk, we feel it is well deserved.
This is not just an ordinary hotel and understanding the history of Fairmont Norfolk Hotel is quite important. It is a hotel whose history meshes with the history of colonial Kenya and the growth of Nairobi in particular. Since its opening in 1904, it has been the preferred lodging for early settlers, big game hunters, world leaders and entertainers.
Throughout the decades it has remained true to its roots in terms of its style and grandeur yet still feeling like a modern luxury hotel. We enjoyed our time here and certainly recommend putting it on your hotel bucket list when you visit Nairobi.