Lonely Planet Local Clementine Logan moved to Nairobi for a job in journalism over five years ago and hasn’t looked back. She compares the city to the coconuts sold in its bustling markets – tough to crack open but sweet inside. She says the tantalising mix of energetic city life and calming nature has helped make Nairobi home.
When I have friends in town… an early morning game drive in Nairobi National Park, watching giraffes, zebras and rhinos silhouetted against skyscrapers, is definitely top of the itinerary. I also like to take them on a little tour of Karen, including the adorable elephant orphanage at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and a stop at the Giraffe Centre. A hearty lunch at Talisman is a must, then an attempt to walk it off in the Karura Forest. For a glimpse of Nairobi’s nightlife I’d usually take friends to J’s Fresh Bar and Kitchen for some live music (every Thursday) or if the timing is right, to the Wasp & Sprout for a raucous pub quiz.
When I’m up for a big night out… my friends and I will start by grabbing a bite at one of the popular restaurants in Westlands, like Mercado Mexican Kitchen and Bar, Haandi or Open House (for great Indian food). We then head to nearby 'Electric Avenue', which is host to a string of bustling bars. Havana Bar and Brew Bistro are favourites for good cocktails and dancing. For a cheeky late night snack, I’ll head to the Alchemist Bar and tuck into something from the Mama Rocks food truck that's located on its grounds.
What I like about the people here… is that Nairobians make time for greetings, smiles and chit-chat. You quickly come to recognise your local shopkeeper, industrious neighbourhood street vendor and M-PESA (mobile money) agent. Buying a quick bouquet of flowers on the roadside can easily turn into an insightful conversation and promises to return soon. When greeting people, venturing beyond 'Jambo!' and using the more colloquial 'Mambo vipi?' (How are things?) is often met with surprise and delight.
For a great view of the city… you can’t beat the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in the city’s central business district. It only costs around KSh500 (US$5) to take the lift (and stairs) up to the helipad. If you’re lucky you may find yourself alone at the top, looking down on the hustle and bustle of Nairobi life.
What I love most about Nairobi… is that to a certain extent, you can determine your own pace of life. You can choose between a lively nyama choma (grilled meat) joint or a quiet, artisanal cafe. You can sweat it out in CrossFit and Zumba classes, or unwind in a gentle yoga session. Heading into the central business district, with its intriguing mix of colonial and modern architecture and busy streets, offers a good dose of city clamour. In the same day you can go for a quiet walk through Uhuru Park or meander through a forest, hearing only birdsong.
When I want to get out of the city… I head to the hills, the Ngong Hills to be specific. Immortalised in the film Out of Africa, a hike over a few of these, with views over the Rift Valley, will leave you breathless in both senses of the word. If you’re a bit of an adrenaline junky, just an hour outside the city you can get your fix by ziplining over treetops and valleys in The Forest.
For best buys… Ngong Rd is a good place to start. Nairobi is pulsing with entrepreneurial energy and this road is lined with artisans selling everything from furniture and paintings to plant pots. The Made in Kenya store Parklands Rd has a sophisticated range of designers’ wares on sale. There is also an influx of mitumba (bundled second-hand) clothes at Toi Market (have your haggling skills up to scratch for some bargains).
For cheap eats… stop by Diamond Plaza or 'Little India' as it’s known and sample jaw-achingly sweet treats, crunchy, fiery bhajias (battered potatoes) and authentic Indian cuisine. This is a great place to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and juices. Head over to Kilimani to explore Nairobi’s expanding Chinatown, the streets dotted with affordable restaurants and red lanterns swaying in the breeze. The city also has a plethora of Ethiopian restaurants, the platters at Habesha are reasonably priced and great for sharing with groups of friends.
A typical weekend involves... a morning walk or bike ride in Karura Forest, sometimes followed by a lazy brunch at the River Cafe, taking in the panoramic views and monkey spotting over good coffee. Later on I might choose between an outdoor movie screening at the Alchemist Bar or an evening art exhibition at the Circle Art Gallery, which always draw a cosmopolitan crowd. I also love going to Nairobi’s cinemas which show a mix of Hollywood blockbusters and exuberant Bollywood movies (best watched over a bucket of caramel popcorn). Sundays are best spent with friends, perusing the colourful K1 Flea Market, or going on an invigorating walk in verdant tea fields.
When I need to relax… I head to one of Nairobi’s numerous spas or salons. For a simple manicure or pedicure I’ll usually go to the very affordable Honey Beauty in New Muthaiga Mall, where women from all walks of life enjoy a good gossip in hushed giggles. Devarana Luxury Spa, set within the dusitD2 boutique hotel complex is my pick for an indulgent massage, which I sometimes follow with Thai food from the nearby Soi.