If you are wondering what to visit if you are only in the city for a short time, a Nairobi walking tour is a wonderful way to enjoy the captivating capital of Kenya. Many people simply pass through the city, en-route to a safari, but if you have time to spend a night, you should certainly get out and explore.
I only had 24 hours in Nairobi but left feeling I had made a connection with the city. As Kenya’s capital, Nairobi has a huge history, from being at the heart of human evolution to the colonial days and from being once a poster child for a successful post-colonial devolution, to the civil unrest that still bubbles under today.
By taking a Nairobi walking tour with a guide, you won’t only see the main tourist places in Nairobi, but you will also hear their stores and share their experience of life in the city.
I was lucky enough to meet Charles, my guide who I am still in touch with, who helped me not only enjoy the city, but also feel safe and make the most of my 24 hours in Nairobi.
You may also like: 10 Cool and Unique Things to do in Nairobi
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Arriving in Nairobi
The plan was to fly into Nairobi, out of Johannesburg with a whole lot of adventure in between.
Looking back, as a first solo trip it was one hell of a learning experience, particularly having lost my wallet, phone and Passport in Dubai airport, but that’s another story.
Getting a visa at Nairobi Airport
Jomo Kenyatta International Airport is simple, just follow everyone off the plane to the visa desk, pay $50 and pass on through.
There are several options on visas into Kenya, so make certain you get the correct one. I had a simple Kenyan tourist visa, but you can also get a transit visa if you are travelling straight through and out of Kenya which I believe is $30 or a multiple entry visa for $70.
If you plan to leave Kenya and re-enter, make certain you get this one otherwise you will end up paying the full $50 again upon re-entry. Bear this in mind if you are visiting some of the neighboring countries such as Kampala in Uganda or Rwanda before coming back to Kenya.
All of these visas are available for UK citizens at the airport, although other nationalities should probably double-check before flying. It is also possible to avoid all this by getting an e-visa before your visit.
Getting a taxi from Nairobi airport
After clearing immigration I gathered my bag and wandered out of the airport. As soon as I emerged I was accosted by loads of different people all crying “Taxi Taxi” – I found it rather intimidating.
I had read a lot about taxi scams and being careful as you pass through from the baggage area. The subtle hangover still lasting from my over-enthusiastic goodbye drinks in the UK made it seem dreamlike (or nightmare) as drivers tried their hardest to grab my luggage and take me with them.
The first man to approach me grabbed my arm and tried to drag me to a car, he was leading me to the car park, pointing at his car.
I didn’t want to get in the first taxi I came across as I wanted a bit of time to gather my thoughts and explained that I wanted to get some water. This didn’t deter him, he walked me to a café, watched me buy a bottle of water before saying “Let’s go now, let’s go”.
His car was away from the main taxi area, which was a concern, and seemed to be pretty beat up so I chose not to trust him and moved on. I ended up having to get uncomfortably firm with him and asked him to leave me alone, I don’t want a taxi . . . I didn’t even say please.
I told myself to relax as I sipped on my water, strolling around looking for someone who looks trustworthy and had an official sticker on it on his taxi, but every other step there was someone else wanting me to get into their taxi.
It dawned on me later that I had no idea what an official sticker should look like but I guess the idea was there.
Finally, after around 15 minutes I picked my taxi. Little did I know that the previous guy had been following me and I nearly caused a fight between the first guy who took me to get water and my chosen taxi driver.
Apparently, if you lie and tell them you are not after a taxi to try and lose them and then get in someone else’s, they take offence.
However, now safely in my cab, I was on my way to downtown Nairobi.
The ride from the airport turned out to be okay. The taxi driver was a nice guy, we chatted as we sat in traffic, trying our best to stay cool.
As we sat in traffic I noticed the minibus behind us had had enough. Sick of the queue the driver steered it onto the footpath, honking like crazy as pedestrians dove to get out of the way and off it went, into the distance.
Luckily no-one was hurt as the bus sped out of sight leaving the taxi driver and I, still stationary in the gridlocked traffic, chewing on the dusty pollution and wondering whether it is better to put the window up and bake in a car with no air conditioning or continue to gradually shorten our life expectancy, through the onslaught of carbon fumes.
24 Hours in Nairobi
Arriving at my hotel
As my taxi dropped me off at my hotel, I was very surprised to see a guard brandishing an AK-47 stood at the door to welcome me. I later went on to realise this is commonplace, but the first time I saw it, I had quite a lot of questions running through my mind about my choice of hotel!
The New Oakwood Hotel is where I would be spending the night before heading off to Mombassa the following evening. It was basic and cheap, but right in the heart of the city. Unfortunately, the TV only had one working channel playing some awful music. I use the term music very liberally
An evening stroll
That evening I went for a walk. My aim was to find the Nairobi train station and buy a ticket for my onward train from Nairobi to Mombasa, but I got lost.
As I walked I felt very uncomfortable, I realised quickly that I was certainly not in a tourist area and I noticed that my hotel wasn’t special, almost every shop had guards brandishing an AK-47 or a shotgun outside.
Coming from the UK where there incredibly strict gun laws and even the police don’t commonly carry a weapon, seeing armed guards with weapons that look like they should belong to the bad guys in a James Bond movie, didn’t put me at ease.
As the sun set, I started to feel very nervous, I think this was culture shock setting in, and it was a lot scarier than I expected.
I decided it’d be best to head back to the safety of the hotel as it dawned on me, I didn’t really know anything about Nairobi, and didn’t want to be out alone after dark.
I spent the rest of the evening in my hotel, enjoying a meal in the hotel restaurant and the first of many Tusker beers, a rather nice Kenyan brew, while looking ahead to a fresh start in the morning and look for things to do in Nairobi with just one day.
My Guided Nairobi walking tour
The next morning, I still needed to buy my train ticket and thought it would be an ideal opportunity to discover what to do in Nairobi and main tourist attractions, but I didn’t know where I was.
I asked the receptionist in the hotel if they had a map, which they didn’t, but he told me of a tourist information place just around the corner where I could get a map of the city, so off I trotted.
Finding a map of Nairobi is harder than you think
One thing I noticed about Nairobi is that everyone wants to “offer” you something, be it a whistle to get your attention followed by calls of “taxi taxi” or just a quick chat and then ask for money.
My destination was within 400 metres and as I was walked I counted three separate people offering me taxi before a guy came up to me, right outside the tourist office, and asked me what I was after.
Getting quickly frustrated by all the approaches, I sharply told him that I just wanted a map and walked straight past him into the tourist office.
Once in there, the lady told me they had no maps but told me someplace else that would and pointed to the guy who I rather abruptly ignored outside, as someone who could show me where.
I thought it strange that a place advertising tourist information had no maps, but given that the hotel I stayed in pointed me this way I trusted the place and wandered off with the guy from outside, his name was Charles.
We engaged in small talk as we wandered off together to go to his tourism office. Once there I received my map but was also offered various safaris and day trips. After explaining I just wanted a map so I could get to the train station and book my ticket to Mombasa for later that evening, he duly obliged.
At this point, I was still sceptical of Charles but I was told he would be happy to walk me down to the station so I agreed. I appreciated the guidance and the company as we walked and talked about Kenya, living in Kenya and what it was like growing up here.
The walk took about 20 minutes but I scarcely noticed the time passing as he walked with me all the way to the ticket office.
Passing the madness of Nairobi bus station
Most of the route was simple enough but about 200m away from the train station you have to pass through the bus station.
I had never seen anything like it. There must have been about 100 buses all in a space, probably about the size of a football pitch, competing for passengers, screaming and calling out their best deals, it was complete pandemonium.
Every bus had a man outside just shouting noise. I could only assume he was telling you where the bus was going, it must have made sense to the locals but it appeared to be insanity to me.
The buses themselves were tiny, just like VW camper vans, no bigger, it astonished me how many people could get inside, it must be like Dr Who’s Tardis inside, but I had no real need to find out!
Buying a train ticket from Nairobi to Mombasa
Charles walked me into the station and pointed out the ticket counter to the right where I managed to buy my ticket.
There are three different possibilities in buying a train ticket in Nairobi, first, second or third class.
The third class is simply a seat, second class gets you a bed in a sleeper cabin shared with 5 other people and first get you a sleeper shared with just one other, bedding and meals.
The variation in price between second and first is only about £5 and as it means you share your cabin with one other person as opposed to five, I reckoned it was £5 well spent (third was never really an option for my first overnight train trip).
A walking tour of Nairobi
After booking the train ticket to Mombasa, Charles walked me back and then asked what else I had planned for the day to which I honestly replied nothing.
He offered me the same trips as the other man in the tourist office, including a Nairobi city tour where you drive around seeing stuff.
Having been in a taxi yesterday and experiencing the Nairobi traffic first hand, I did not fancy this so I asked if we could do a guided Nairobi city tour on foot, to which Charles agreed and become my personal tour guide.
We walked . . . a lot . . . and talked, it was fascinating.
Nairobi National Museum
Charles and I started by visiting the Nairobi National Museum where there were fantastic exhibits. I learnt a lot about Kenyan history, how they obtained independence from the British in 1963, the Mau Mau uprising that led to it and about the fierce fighting in 1992 as the people struggled for fair and open two-party elections.
I also learnt a lot about the evolution of humanity, many of the most significant fossils in human history were found in this area of Africa, so close to the Rift Valley, and are on display here, including the wonderful Lucy.
I highly recommend the museum as one of the best places to visit in Nairobi if you have an interest in the history and culture. It has no frills or fancy bits but offers a wonderful learning environment and is a great way to escape the sun for a few hours.
Nairobi National Museum Snake Park
Just across from the museum is the snake park; a mini snake zoo.
On its own, it’s really not that special, although I was hypnotised for a while staring at two mating tortoises, they are slow at everything it turns out.
I had purchased an entry as a combined ticket with the museum and as a side attraction it is quite interesting, but definitely not worth a solo trip.
I came face to face with vipers, spitting cobras and black mambas, well, face to face with a sheet of glass in between.
While I was in the museum Charles waited for me outside, just chilling. When I was finished we left and walked back towards the city centre again.
Devil’s Corner Nairobi
As we walked we passed a spot that was known locally as Devil’s Corner, the site got its name after being the site of many killings during the fight for independence in the 60s and it’s said the streets ran red with blood.
Once independence was awarded, the new government donated that area of land to religion and Devil’s Corner is now the site of three large churches and a synagogue, nothing like building on the Devil’s own land, I love the idea.
From there we headed to Uhuru (freedom) park. Here is where you can get a brilliant view of Nairobi and is where all the Prime Ministers and Presidents come to be sworn in and take an oath in a very public way. It used to be that they would take an oath in private so no-one really knew what they were promising to do.
It is also the site that Pope John Paul the 12th held mass back in 1980 when he visited Kenya.
As a Christian, Charles was very proud to have been there. This got us talking about religion, which as you can imagine took quite a bit of time and got us through to lunch.
A traditional Kenyan lunch
I asked Charles to take me somewhere very traditional for lunch and I wasn’t disappointed.
Next to the Library, there was a large, open plan eaterie where you order and pick up your food before taking a seat at the communal tables. In each of the corners, there were basins for you to wash your hands before eating but one thing I noticed was missing . . . knives and forks.
I had chicken soup and Charles had fish, both served with ugali, it is a local maize dough-like product. This stuff you could say was A-maize-ing (sorry) – but with no cutlery or napkins eating soup was quite a challenge, messy but a lot of fun.
Being polite, I waited for Charles to start. Really I just wanted to know how the hell I was meant to eat this stuff and watch him. The ugali is essentially a lump, kind of like edible play dough (tastes a bit like play dough too), but this meant it was easily moldable.
So, the way to do it is rip off some ugali, mould it into a rough spoon shape, dip it in your soup and stick the whole thing in your mouth, fascinating and awesome, I would be happy to eat every meal like that.
The only drawback to my lunch was the very skinny chicken. I struggled to find the meat on the bone. This also set the seeds for my later developed theory that you can tell the overall wealth of a country by the plumpness of their chickens.
As the afternoon came to an end I had to go back to my hotel to pack and get to the train station for my overnight train to Mombasa. As we went our separate ways Charles offered to meet me again later to help me get to the train station, an offer I gratefully accepted.
True to his word, he met me later at my hotel at 5 pm and walked with me to the train station, even helping with my bags. Once there we said our goodbyes and on I got the train to Mombasa.
Leaving Nairobi by train
There was a little confusion at the station as in the UK when you buy your ticket that’s your ticket, you don’t need anything else. Here it is a little unusual.
Although I had purchased my ticket, as I tried to pass through to the platform, the guard wouldn’t allow me and pointed me back to the ticket office.
Rather confused I headed back in there, expecting I’d somehow been scammed. Luckily no, it turns out if you have pre-bought a ticket, you have to exchange that for a boarding pass before you can access the train.
It’s worth knowing this in case you have to leave some extra time for it, but, don’t worry too much about that kind of thing, this is Africa and as everything is always late, you’ll have plenty of time to work stuff out.
Get your Nairobi city tour itinerary
If you are looking for a trusted tour guide in Nairobi, can’t speak highly enough of Charles and his skill as both a guide and a human. He was the perfect companion for a tour of Nairobi so I feel it’s only right to leave his details.
In our day together we visited the Kenyan National Museum and Snake Park, Devil’s Corner, Uhuru Park and enjoyed A traditional Kenyan Lunch.
If you are thinking of going to Kenya please please get in touch with him, he is a qualified guide and offers trips all over the country and even into Uganda. The most popular ones include tours to the Masai Mara, meeting tribes and watching the great migration.
One of the best things about Charles is that he is easy to work with, he will completely tailor a tour to suit you.
He can also arrange trekking trips to climb Mount Kenya. If you would like to find out more, head to his website Trekking Kenya or find him on Facebook Right Time Safaris.
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65 thoughts on “Nairobi Walking Tour: What to do with 24 Hours in Nairobi”
Hello Matthew, wonderful article things have changed much in Kenya but the beauty of nature is still there, one of the changes is that the visas are no longer issued on arrival and are still issued online evisa system, another thing is the introduction of the standard gauge railway that is used for trips from Nairobi to Mombasa which is more comfortable than the old trains and takes less time.
Nice blog, thank you for sharing your experience, things have really changed from the time you visited, Kenya , Nairobi is still a pleasant country. Notable changes are the visa the government of Kenya through the immigration stopped the issuance of visas on arrival and strictly issue evisa one needs to apply online. The other change is the train system there is a modern train(SGR) which takes less time than the old train and is more comfortable you can apply for your ticket online as well.
If I find myself in Kenya, I will follow your steps. I took my first walking tour in Belgrade and then went on to Budapest and Prague.
wonderfull blog. thanks for sharing usefull information.
Thanks. I am Charles you talk about. I didn’t know you wrote about me. Am still in tourism and enjoying my guiding work and arranging safaris here.
Charles! I’m so happy you found it! Hope you’re keeping well. I really hope to visit you again sometime. I’ll reach out when I do 🙂
I am really thankful to have the information from this blog.
An excellent article about Nairobi. Worth reading as it is very informative backed up by sharp pictures. Everyone traveling to Nairobi must read this one
Thanks for the interesting post. Such a informative post about the trips.
I’m sure you don’t mean to be but there’s a lot of what you wrote that is so patronizing and condescending. As an African American who just got back from Kenya and Nairobi this is really insulting low key. 1st of all everybody wasn’t always late just because it’s Africa. People were generally on time for the activities that I did. In fact if anybody was late it was our tour group not the guides. People went out of their way to be hospitable to make sure that things were just as we needed them. It’s a city of 5 million people why would you start walking and have no idea where you’re going. And your fear was based on your race not on anything anybody was doing to you. Again I’m African American I’m not gonna go wandering off into a large complex city I don’t know well. There’s just some really negative stereotyping about Africa that I don’t know if it’s just British or white people or what. my experience in Nairobi for A-day and a 1/2 was a city of contradictions. we had air conditioning in our taxi which was prearranged. we stayed at a lovely hotel that had a beautiful buffet that included Kenyan food and traditional Western food. There’s just this undercurrent of patronization I guess you can’t hear.
Hi Shari, thanks for the feedback, I appreciate it and am sorry you felt the need to comment as you did. This was written as my honest experience of traveling to Nairobi for the first time which was a fair number of years ago now, much has changed in me as a traveler and the world. Overall my experiences in Africa were life-changing and I love the city. Any negativity relates to my perception, not the city. However, that is obviously not clear enough if you feel I am attacking the city and its people, this is just not the case. I will certainly review the post and see where I can clear that up.
Although I can’t disagree with anything you have said, it does sound like we had very different experiences. Yes, I can’t hide the fact I am white and my fear was based on standing out. It is not something I have had to deal with in the past and was very unsettling and real. Also, in relation to guns, I have never been exposed to people holding shotguns on the street in front of banks and hotels, I think an element of fear is pretty justified. Would I feel the same way now? Probably not, but as I mention, this is the first solo trip I took and there was a large element of culture shock.
You also mention your air-conditioned, pre-booked taxis and your tours were never late, this is very different from the experience I had when staying in budget hotels and getting public transport all over East Africa, with most of my questions about lateness being responded to by “TIA” and a shrug. I’m sure organised tours are very different from catching public transport. So while I certainly appreciate you had a very different experince, it seems we were also traveling in very different ways, so there is certainly an element of that to be expected.
Once again, I appreciate you taking the time to give your feedback and wish you the best for your future travels. Africa is an amazing place filled with amazing people.
Very Nice Post. I am very happy to see this post. Such wonderful information to share with us. I would like to share it with my friends.
Hi, as regards the visa. A single entry visa allows you to enter Kenya, exit to any East African county and return to Kenya without paying any extra visa fee so kindly update that in the article but otherwise great article.
Hey Robert, thanks for the feedback and information. Appreciate it.
Nice post, Thanks for sharing this information!
Man you are roasting us, our thin chickens potray our wealth? You’re funny
Haha, sorry, my skinny chicken index seems to be more legit the more I travel. Your checked aren’t that skinny though, I have seen thinner. Your country is great 🙂
I Call Nairobi an all-inclusive city. From the Wildlife parks to nature sites and walking trails, not forgetting historical and city strolls, are what makes it special.
This is such a well-detailed article. A stroll around Nairobi is such an adventure. My favorite place for a nature trail is the Karura forest. It’s so calm and serene. I definitely recommend it.
Thanks for share the useful information about Nairobi city tour. I liked your blog.
Your journey seems amazing! And who would’ve thought Nairobi offers much more than its beautiful nature, like museums, and historic street Devil’s Corner. The food must be delicious!
I have never heard much of Nairobi but thanks for sharing the information. I enjoyed reading it.
Great tips you gave us, they can be crucial when we head to such a big and complex city as Nairobi is. They have great spaces to enjoy local history and nature I see.
Great pictures and recommendations! Thank you for sharing your experience
To travel here by myself looks like it would be overwhelming but worth it. Great tips especially about being able to get a visa on the spot.
This sounds like a crazy experience! How nice that you found a nice local person to show you around.
I have never heard much of Nairobi, enjoyed getting this much of knowledge about this place, Thanks for sharing!
Wow! This looks like quite the tour! I would love to visit that museum.
They have a snake thing similar to where you went in Bangkok. My friend had to go to film and was behind the glass … I was scared just from the snap chats he was sending! Looks like a cool place to visit. I hope to eventually travel to Africa at some point and will keep your book/articles in mind 🙂
I’m glad you hooked up with a guide that made your tour great! We’re always worried about dealing with shady characters in a foreign country but it looks like everything went nicely.
What an amazing an amazing post. I would love to visit the museum looks great. Thanks for sharing a great post x
The museum looks cool especially the Centrepiece
I love walking tours! Took my first one in Belgrade and then continued to Budapest and Prague. If I find myself in Kenya, I will follow your steps!
I feel like I read the script to an Anthony Bourdain episode. Eating with the locals, learning about the history of your destination, an authentic experience!
This is so cool and very personable. A private guide is always the best option. You don’t feel like a tourist then. This must’ve been fantastic.
This is so exciting to read since I’m from Mombasa myself! But your post tells me you’ve only seen the rare, slum-side part of Kenya; that wouldn’t be recommended for any tourist. You definitely need to come back and see the real, luxurious and beautiful Kenya.
It can be quite hard to put your faith in a stranger’s hands, but I am glad you did! Charles seemed like the perfect guide for you. It’s great to have found a trust worthy companion along your travels.
He was fantastic, highly recommended to anyone that may be visiting. Thanks for the nice comments.
Like you at first I would be wary of anyone trying to sell me anything when I am walking through any public space. I am glad it ended up working out for you as it seems you now have a life long friend. I want to visit Nairobi now! I can only imagine what the train ride was like. Looking out the window into the great unknown.
I didnt know you could do a walking tour in Nairobi. If I ever have the opportunity to explore Nairobi, I will. Thanks for Charle’s info, that should be very useful for future reference.
He’s a great guy to know, very knowledgeable and has first-hand experience of living in the city through its troubled past. You’ll have a blast with him.
Nairobi is high up on my list of cities to visit in Africa and so want to get up there asap. Not sure if I want to see a derailed train
Haha, the train was a bit of a shock. Be sure to hit up Charles if you ever get there, he’s a top guy to know.
It’s nice to know that there are cities in Africa that are so beautiful. Thank you for this great write-up. Will hope to visit one day.
Thank you for showing us nairobi. The insight really nice
It looks as though you certainly had a great tour of the city and saw many sites. The museum looks interesting.
It was very interesting, thanks. So many historical artefacts about the evolution of the species. Highly recommended.
awww this looks amazing, its giving me travel envy.
This sounds really awesome!
What a lovely post! I can say, just from reading it, that you had an amazing time there. Thanks for sharing! 🙂
Thanks. It was a pretty spectacular trip.
I have never been to Nairobi. Interesting post. Thanks for sharing.
Travelling sure does open one’s mind! We learn to trust more and be more accepting. 🙂
Nice Post! Thank You for sharing!
This is so interesting . amazing adventure 🙂
Like you at first I would be wary of anyone trying to sell me anything when I am walking through any public space. I am glad it ended up working out for you as it seems you now have a life long friend. I want to visit Nairobi now!
Thanks. It’s difficult to trust when you are out of your comfort zone but sometimes you’re lucky, others you’re not. If you do visit Nairobi, be sure to get in touch with Charles, he can help you with pretty much anything you need.
I really enjoy your style of writing. Kenya is high on my list to visit, so I appreciate the details you’re putting on your post. Thank you for sharing.
Halef – the Round The World Guys
Thanks Halef. If you do visit be sure to get in touch with Charles. He can help you with pretty much anything you need from airport transfers to tours. Thanks for reading.
I haven’t read much about Nairobi before, but really enjoyed this! Isn’t it great when somebody amazing comes along and completely disproves any pre-emptive thoughts and opinions you have?! Charles sounds like he was a fantastic guide (and now friend, no doubt!).
Thanks, it was amazing and you’re so right, I love it when someone completely changes my preconceptions. I had read a lot about ‘Trust no one’ and had that fear that everyone just wants to rob me, but it’s not true at all. I’m not saying there are no bad guys, but for the most part they all just want to show you their culture and let you enjoy it. I have kept in touch with Charles and hope to go back and visit his family someday. If you visit do try and get in touch with him.
Oh god, I can imagine how insane the bus station must have been like. I’ve been to a couple of places recently where the traffic was absolutely bonkers (with crazy shouting from all directions), but I have a feeling Nairobi is even worse. Sounds like you had a great time, though – I would love to go on one of these train journeys sometime!
It was amazing and yes, the bus station was mental. How anyone knows what’s going on with always boggle me. Still, an amazing adventure and that was just the beginning!
I didn’t know you could do walking tours in Nairobi. Did you go to the Giraffe centre? I haven’t been to the national museum but it looks cool!
I didn’t have time to do much else outside of the city. The best bit was just absorbing the atmosphere and walking in the city while everyone is just doing their thing. It felt authentic.