Planning to Spend One Day In Nairobi? Here Are Our Suggestions On How To Make The Most Of One Day
Nairobi is Kenya’s capital city and is typically used as the gateway for entering the country. Many people will come here as a jumping-off point for a safari but never really tour around the city itself.
We found ourselves in Nairobi since it provided an excellent direct flight to our next destination, so we made a brief stopover. With limited time, we decided to see as much as we could in this vibrant city. Here is our suggested list of things to do in Nairobi in one day.
Highlights of One Day in Nairobi
Background On Nairobi Kenya
Nairobi is the capital city of Kenya with a population of 4.4 million. It is a large city and very well developed compared to many cities we have visited in Africa. The road system is well connected (although busy with a lot of traffic) and there are many sights to see that are close to the city centre.
And it is super convenient for taking a safari. Kenya’s smallest national park sits inside the city of Nairobi. It is 117 square kms and has four of the big five living in the park– lions, leopards, black (and white) rhinos, and buffalos.
And if you visit the elephant sanctuary you will see the fifth member of the big five. There are also many giraffes, zebra, antelope, hippos, and crocodiles. It’s pretty impressive for being in the city!
How Can I Spend 24 Hours In Nairobi?
There is a lot to see so be sure to make the most of your time there. Nairobi is a very busy city and the driving there is crazy – even being a passenger can be a little overwhelming with the bottlenecks and of course left-hand driving complicates things.
To use your time wisely we highly recommend having a competent driver and tour guide to give you the best experience. They know the ins and outs of the city and can make sure you see many places and most importantly make sure you remain safe.
Additionally, many of the sites are located in the neighbourhood of Karen which is a 30-40 minute drive from the Nairobi CBD (Central Business District).
✅ The tour we took while in Nairobi for the day is no longer available but here is a highly-rated tour that covers all the same locations.
Supporting Women At The Kobe Tough Bead Factory
Wondering where can I spend the day in Nairobi? Well, there are many places, but Kobe Tough should be your first stop. This is a women’s cooperative where they make incredible beads.
The business is owned by a Kenyan woman named Christine who initially had a leather goods business that she started in 2019. During the period of COVID, several businesses closed and seeing a need, she expanded her business to take on the female employees of a local bead factory. So now the business – Kobe Tough offers both leather and bead products.
The company logo is a turtle shell which is proudly displayed on a banner when you enter the premises. The shell represents strong products and the resilience of the women who work there. This location helps to support 445 women – single mothers, widows, and orphans since 50% of all proceeds go to the women working there.
Upon our arrival, we had a lovely girl greet us and provide background about the location and the business. She then brought us to the first area where the women were working, and they all got up and sang us a song while they happily danced to the catchy melody. The popular African song is called Jambo Bwana and was now familiar to us as we had heard it many times during our travels through Tanzania and Kenya.
After our warm welcome, we were shown the work that was being done in that area. The women were carving the clay into small pieces and shaping them into beads that would be strung into necklaces and bracelets. They were happy to show us their process and we were given little clay turtles that showed the intricate work being done.
This is also where we met Mama – she was one of the original craftswomen who had been making beads for over 30 years. She was so pleased to show us the beautiful necklace that she was working on. Her bright smile lit up the room and it was a treat to meet her.
We were shown the large drums where the clay that comes from the slopes of Mount Kenya is kept for two weeks in water with regular stirring taking place. This is to enable it to thin out so it can be filtered, and all the impurities removed. The clay is then transferred into large racks where it is covered and stored.
From here it is cut into slabs that the women will work from cutting it further into small balls that will be shaped into beads. The heavier work is completed by 6 men who work for the cooperative.
Once the beads are formed, they are sun-dried and then fired in the kiln for 8 hours at 1000 degrees celsius.
Following this process, they are painted in different colours and designs and fired again giving the finished product a beautiful glossy finish. From here the beads are strung into necklaces and bracelets. The women also make small animals as well.
We were taken through the process from start to finish and observed the women doing all of the work by hand. It was very impressive.
We also visited the area where they were decorating the leather items with tiny beadwork. The leather items are created by Masai women in the villages and brought to the factory where some of the products, such as belts, are finished with beading. The work is very detailed and intricate and can be customized to include words or names.
At the end of the tour, you are brought to the onsite store. There are so many colours and styles to choose from – it is a shopper’s paradise. We purchased some necklaces, bracelets for Christmas presents and a leather wallet. Each item is very well made and reasonably priced.
We were happy to support these hard-working women in their efforts. Once you purchase a few items at the onsite store, you can share their beautiful products with friends and family by shopping online at the following link.
This is definitely a place to stop and should be included when considering things to do in Nairobi in one day.
Visiting With Baby Elephants
Our next stop of the day was to the Nairobi National Park where the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is located. The timing of this visit is important since the baby elephants from the nursery are only brought out to visitors once per day from 11:00am-12:00pm.
Upon our arrival, we were brought to the elephant demonstration area. It was quite full, so we went to the far side and joined the other numerous people who were anticipating the elephant’s arrival.
We could see them coming from across the field and they seemed quite excited to be fed by the keepers. The first group that arrived were the younger ones and they were so cute – they just couldn’t get enough of the milk in the bottles.
As we watched them speed through their milk and start to chew on some provided tree branches, we could see some of them expressing their personalities. They were playing or as the keeper said being naughty – pushing each other or instigating those who were happy to just play in the dirt.
The keeper that presented the group spent time introducing us to each of the elephants – knowing them easily by name. And told us why they were in the orphanage. Their stories are quite sad and many of their mothers had died due to drought or lack of food. Thankfully they were found and brought to this amazing facility.
He also explained in detail the process that the babies undergo to eventually be reintroduced to the wild. The process takes place over many years – usually upwards of 10. But this process has been very successful and to date they have released more than 300 elephants to live with wild herds.
After the younger group had eaten and made the rounds, the older orphans came out and we met each of them as well. We were fortunate that where we were standing, we were able to pet several that came near to the ropes. It was an awesome experience to touch their backs, see their trunks up close and look into their inquisitive eyes.
The head keeper also relayed many facts about elephant behaviour that were fascinating including that they flap their ears to cool themselves down, if they trumpet while flapping their ears, they are happy and if they raise their ears high and wide it means they are warning the others about something.
After the hour-long presentation, we went to see the area where you can adopt an elephant and we made a donation enabling us to receive monthly updates about our elephant Ahmed. With only $50.00 per year, visitors can help support the important work being done at the elephant orphanage in Nairobi.
Visiting the elephants was certainly the highlight of our day in Nairobi so be sure to plan in advance to visit this special location.
Trying Local Foods
Since many of the tours follow the same circuit, it was suggested by our tour guide that we make a lunch stop first before going to the Giraffe Centre to avoid a large crowd. We agreed with this plan and were taken to a local eatery to enjoy some local Kenyan food.
Thankfully our guide explained some of the dishes so we had an idea of what would be offered. It was also recommended that we sample the lunch buffet so that we could try a variety of options.
Kenyan food is simple, hearty food and we enjoyed the majority of the items served. Highlights included:
- Mokimo – made with potato, corn, blended pumpkin leaves and onions (a very interesting green colour but one of our favourites)
- Chapati – similar to a tortilla made from wheat flour, cottonseed and carrots
- Ugali – a starch made with corn or maize flour with boiled water
Shopping For Souvenirs
With full bellies, we had a quick look at the souvenir shop located in the same plaza as our lunch spot. Never have we seen a store so chock full of merchandise. While wandering the aisles, I was afraid that things would fall from the shelves or tumble down if we created a slight breeze!
There was no shortage of items to consider. Of particular note were the incredible wood carvings – some of very large animals like giraffes or wildebeest. We would have loved to have one to display in our garden at home but couldn’t imagine the cost of having one shipped all the way to Canada!
We settled on an interesting magnet to add to our growing collection.
Feeding The Giraffes
It was now time to explore another popular spot in Nairobi – the Giraffe Centre.
The Giraffe Centre was created by Jock and Betty Leslie-Melville. They originally founded the Africa Fund for Endangered Wildlife in 1979. After becoming aware that there was a serious problem with the Rothschild giraffes losing their habitat, they became involved and started by bringing two young giraffes to their home to raise and breed them.
This eventually led to the opening of the Giraffe Centre in 1983 on the same land (60 acres) that surrounded their home.
The Centre focuses on educating Kenyan school children and invites visitors to interact with these incredible animals.
We had read about this interesting location, but I don’t think anything quite prepares you for the close proximity you will have with the giraffes. When you enter the centre some small signs detail the types of giraffes that are housed there.
The only type of giraffes here are the Rothschilds. They are distinguished by their white legs which look like they are wearing socks. And also their brown patches with dark spots inside.
Almost immediately you enter a boardwalk area, and you can see the crowds of people feeding the giraffes. The centre has done a great job setting up these raised boardwalks which bring people to the level of the giraffes enabling you to come face to face with them.
We were handed a small cup with pellets and encouraged to hold them out in front of the giraffe’s face on the flat of our palm. They readily come right to your hand and with their enormous tongues delicately pick up the pellet. If you aren’t paying attention, they will happily take all the pellets from your little cup, so you need to watch where you are holding it.
This was quite the experience. We have been on safari and of course, seen giraffes from a vehicle – even had them come fairly close while chomping on trees but this was very different. Talk about up close and personal! They were so personal that you ended up with your whole hand covered in saliva! Don’t worry there are washing stations available afterwards.
We spent time with each of the three giraffes that were hanging around the boardwalk and really enjoyed feeding them and checking out their incredibly long eyelashes and what looks like purple tongues.
In residence there are currently 10 giraffes. There are several mature females – Betty, Kelly and Daisy that were all born in the wild. The male named Ed is the father to all the calves in the tower (group of giraffes). The Giraffe Centre is focused on breeding and has released more than 40 giraffes into safe game parks in Kenya.
We also caught a very informative lecture while there and learned many fascinating facts about giraffes. Did you know that giraffes only sleep for 30 minutes per day???
They sleep standing up and for only a few minutes at a time. Here are some other interesting facts:
✦ Giraffes eat 65 kgs of leaves per day
✦ The average male weighs 2000 kgs
✦ Gestation period is 15 months but a female can hold off giving birth for up to 3 months if the rains haven’t come
✦ Males live on average 15-18 years and females live approximately 25 years
✦ Giraffes produce infrasonic sounds to communicate with each other
✦ They can see 1.5 miles away
✦ When you see tears in their eyes it is to clean their eyes – not because they are crying
✦ They have no bone marrow – their bones are very dense to hold the weight of their body
We found these animals to be captivating and the centre to be one of the most unique activities to do in Nairobi. They are such gentle giants and really magical to watch as they lumber through the grasslands. But keep in mind that they are incredibly strong – there are warning signs to watch for head-butting if you aren’t paying attention to them.
We didn’t have extra time to spend but if you do there is also a nature trail that is 1.5 kms long, a tea house and gift shop.
Also on this property is the Giraffe Manor which you can see from the centre. This is the original home of Jock and Betty that has been converted into a very upscale hotel. You can expect the giraffes to visit on the patio and they typically come at breakfast time and pop their heads in to visit with the diners of the hotel. It is very well known as a unique property to stay at in Nairobi.
Learn About A Significant Person in Nairobi
Our final stop on the tour was the Karen Blixen Museum. Karen was the famous author of the book Out of Africa. She was a Danish woman who came to live in Nairobi in the early 1900s. During her time here she tried unsuccessfully to grow coffee under the direction of her husband. Unfortunately, coffee isn’t a crop that thrives in this area of Kenya, and it failed.
Her story was documented in her book as well as in the subsequent film that starred Meryl Streep and Robert Redford. Karen Blixen was a very well-known woman in her time – with more than 6000 acres in her possession she learned the ways of the Kenyan people and ingrained herself in the community. With her coffee plantation, she employed many people and provided medical care and support to many.
Her marriage was more a situation of convenience which meant her husband left for long periods of time leaving her to manage things on her own. She also had a love affair that ended tragically when her lover was killed in a plane crash. Eventually in 1931, she left Kenya and it is said that she never returned.
Her property was sold off and divided up into estates where many homes have now been built in the suburb known as Karen. Eventually, the house was purchased by the Danish government and given as a gift to the Kenyan government in commemoration of its independence. This led to the museum being opened in 1986.
The house is a wonderful walk through of Karen’s life at that time. Many of her personal effects are housed here and it has been displayed as it would have looked during that time period. You can visit with a guide who explains everything you are looking at.
A walk through the kitchen, the dining room, the sitting room, and the bedroom gives you a glimpse into the woman that Karen was and her values. You can also view some of the artwork that she painted. Unfortunately, no picture-taking is allowed inside the house.
Outside, the grounds are beautiful. You can understand why she loved this location at the foot of the Ngong Hills. Your guide will take you around the grounds as well to see some of the original farming equipment and also a replica of the coffee processing machinery that would have been used in the factory.
On site is also a coffee shop and gift shop if you have some time to relax and enjoy the surroundings.
Karen Blixen was definitely an influential person in Nairobi – as you leave the Museum you will see the medical college that was started by Karen. And as you drive through the suburb called Karen, you will see the beautiful estate homes that are now built within the prestigious neighbourhood.
There is also the Karen Shopping Centre, the Karen Hospital, the Karen Police Station, the Karen Primary School, etc.
Finishing Your Evening With A Superb Meal
You will often see a suggestion to enjoy a meal at the Carnivore Restaurant. This is a very popular location within the tourist industry. We had received advice from some that had already been there that while it was fine, but other nicer places are less touristy to visit in Nairobi.
We decided to have a meal at the Mawimbi Seafood Restaurant. This is a local place that has a hip vibe with both inside and outside seating. In the centre of the outside seating is a swimming pool with blow-up swans floating in the water.
We enjoyed a wonderful meal of calamari, sushi, crab avocado salad, and dumplings. Everything was nicely presented and super fresh. They offered yummy cocktails and a good selection of wines to complement our dishes. The staff was friendly, and the atmosphere was relaxed and laid back.
It was a great end to our one day in Nairobi and we would highly recommend a meal here.
Things To Do In Nairobi City Centre
If you find yourself with a little extra time, be sure to check out some of these other places that are located in the city centre.
Nairobi National Museum
Most recently known as the National Museum of Kenya, this location underwent a large expansion and modernization project that re-opened in 2008 as the Nairobi National Museum.
The Museum is focused on culture, history, arts, and nature. It initially started as a location for societies to collect and house the artifacts of East African heritage. Over the years this has grown into a location that has permanent and temporary exhibits that cover a wider range of topics dating to early man, cycles of life, trade and exchange and the history of Kenya.
Thorn Tree Cafe
Located in the Sarova Stanley Hotel is a famous café. This location has a popular acacia tree in the middle of the restaurant that was initially planted in 1959. There have since been two other trees planted in its place.
It is understood that the thorns on the tree were used for tacking notes to its trunk for passing travellers – sort of like a post box. This tradition has been replaced by message boards that now surround the tree, but the thought is still there.
The café was long used as a central meeting point and boasts that many famous people used to spend time here – the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt.
While we aren’t famous, we still managed to enjoy the Colonial-style restaurant and some tasty cakes along with coffee and hot chocolate.
Each day there is a Masai market hosted in the parking lot of different shopping centres within the city. Here you can see the items spread out for viewing. There are a wide variety of things for purchase including beaded jewelry, paintings, soapstone carvings, wooden sculptures, textiles, etc. This can be a good spot to select souvenirs to take home and bargaining is expected.
✅ Please make sure to read our article about the tour we took with Nairobi Street Kids. This is a fantastic tour to see the real life in Nairobi.
Is Nairobi Worth Visiting?
In our opinion, there are plenty of things to do in Nairobi and all make the city worth visiting. It is relatively easy to see several sites in a limited amount of time due to their proximity to each other. Tour operators have done a good job of creating day tours that group the major sites together.
Do You Need A Visa For Visiting Nairobi?
Just recently the Kenyan government announced that it will no longer require visitors to apply for a Visa. This new policy is set to take place as of January 1, 2024.
Best Time To Visit Nairobi
It is best to visit Nairobi during the dry months of January, February, and July to October. In November and December, you can expect the short rains and from April to June are the long rains, so these months are best avoided.
How To Get Around Nairobi
As mentioned previously, driving in Nairobi due to the congested roads and aggressive drivers, is not recommended. Numerous tour operators are providing comprehensive tours in and around the city and will make your time in the city hassle-free.
✅ This is an excellent tour that will take you to all the recommended locations safely.
For shorter trips, they do have Uber and Bolt in the city. This is also a recommended option from a security standpoint as walking at night is not advisable.
Where To Stay In Nairobi
We stayed at the Fairmont Norfolk. This is a beautiful property located in the Nairobi CBD. The property has quite a bit of history and has maintained its status as a premier location in the city. And we felt safe with the security measures that were in place to enter the property.
The rooms were comfortable, and the restaurants on site were great including the incredible breakfast buffet. We loved the staff at this hotel as nothing was too much trouble for them. Overall, it was a great stay and would be our first choice while visiting Nairobi.
Final Word….Things To Do In Nairobi In One Day
If you were wondering, is it worth spending time in Nairobi? We think from the above description of the interesting sites you can easily see in one day; it is somewhere to definitely plan to visit. The people are friendly, the major sights are educational and informative, and everything is easily reachable from the CBD. We would highly recommend spending some time in this vibrant city.