Nairobi Now: Why the Silicon Savannah is the Place to Visit

On the move and on the up: here’s why the Kenyan capital should be top of your must-visit list.

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Nairobi has seen startling growth in recent years, thanks in part to the thriving tech industries that have seen the city lovingly dubbed Silicon Savannah, but also because of its creative community, which is helping to make it East Africa’s hippest destination. With an urban landscape that ranges from the gritty streets of downtown to the secluded charm of Karen and the forests of Karura, there’s much to discover.

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Catch up on Culture

The city’s contemporary arts scene is on fire right now thanks to talents such as sculptor Cyrus Kabiru and photographer Mimi Cherono Ng’ok, both of whom have received international acclaim recently. Circle Art Gallery represents emerging artists from across the region on the art fair circuit. Its space in Lavington hosts regular exhibitions, with recent highlights including painter Michael Soi and graphic artist WiseTwo.

Working on a more grass-roots level is Kuona Trust, a non-profit organisation that offers studios and residencies to artists and artisans. They welcome drop-in visits from the public, so you are free to meet with the artists and experience the centre’s collaborative atmosphere. A similar stalwart is The GoDown Arts Centre, which facilitates exchanges across the visual and performing arts. It’s worth attending one of their shows.

Take Some Time Out

When it comes to having a really good time in Nairobi, all roads begin and end at The Alchemist in Westlands. This centrifugal spot hosts all sorts of magic happenings and pop-ups within its laid-back, alfresco bar setting. There are open-mic and spoken-word events, club nights, film screenings and album launches, plus you’ll find food trucks – don’t miss the delectable Mama Rocks burgers – and retail spaces such as the Made in Nairobi concept store and brilliantly named The World’s Loudest Library, selling vinyl, books and comics. Basically, if a local doesn’t invite you here within the first few days of your arrival, you’re not meeting the right locals. 

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Tin Roof Café has two locations (Karen and Langata) and both are leafy havens of tranquillity for a healthy breakfast or lunch: opt for the salad bar or chapati wraps. Along the same lines is The Arbor eco café in Lavington, which serves everything from chicken wings to laksa curries in a garden setting. But the prize for the cutest coffee shop has to go to Wasp & Sprout in Loresho. This café-cum-craft shop is doing it for the Instagrammers with its cappuccinos served with heart-shaped foam. Drop by for a caffeine fix (or egg-tastic Sunday brunch) and leave with some handmade homewares.

For a more luxurious experience, the 5-star Tribe Hotel in Gigiri is a beautifully designed destination in which to unwind. Its Jiko restaurant offers an extensive seasonal menu, while the Nest rooftop bar feels like a secret Moroccan hideaway. If you fancy a holistic wellness or beauty treatment, look no further than the Tribe’s Kaya Spa. 

The Art of Shopping

Top of most visitors’ retail lists are the Maasai markets, and they’re certainly worth a visit. Setting up in different locations across the city most days of the week, these bazaars are the places to pick up delightful blankets, beadwork, baskets, toys, artworks and clothing. Once you’ve visited one, you’ll find the next is much the same – so choose wisely, haggle politely, and embrace the touristy hustle.

Malls are popping up everywhere in Nairobi these days and the finest is The Village Market in Girigi. PR executive Diana Opoti recently opened her concept store, Designing Africa Collective, here. It has an Afromodernist interior and stocks an expertly curated selection of African designers such as Ghana’s Osei-Duro, Nigerian Tiffany Amber and Imane Ayissi from Cameroon. Also in the complex is famed jewellery designer Adele Dejak, whose bold statement pieces made from brass, aluminium and bone will complete any outfit. And then there’s Sandstorm Kenya, which makes high-quality leather bags with a travel twist.

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Over at The Hub mall is The Urban African Lifestyle Company, a store run by a collective of young fashion designers headed up by Katungulu Mwendwa. This rising star was one of the first to break away from obvious Kenyan inspirations such as kitenge and kanga fabrics in favour of minimalist, often androgynous designs. Her desirable wrap coats and jersey dresses sit pretty next to Nyala sneakers and Wazawazi Kenya backpacks.

If you’re lucky, you’ll be in time for one of 2ManySiblings’ Thrift Socials. Sister and brother influencers Velma Rossa and Oliver Asike are putting fashionable Nairobi on the map with their collaborations with the likes of ASOS Africa and Ethical Fashion Initiative, but they first caught our attention thanks to their ability to turn hunting for second-hand clothing in the city’s vast mitumba markets into an art form. They have taken their Thrift Social event to Brighton, Amsterdam and Berlin, but it truly belongs at home, where you can shop for vintage in a festival setting surrounded by Nairobi’s coolest crowd.

Get Your Game On

No time to go on safari? No problem. Nairobi National Park lies well within the city limits and delivers a full wildlife fix. Antelope, black rhino, zebra, lion, leopard and hyena are among the game on the loose, as are more than 400 species of birds. Take a picnic, go hiking past the hippo pools or book a 4×4 game drive. 

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On the edge of the park is the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, which is home to orphaned elephants, and at the Giraffe Centre in Karen, you can get up close and personal with the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe. Stay at the swanky Giraffe Manor next door if you want to share your breakfast with them, too – they stick their heads through the doors and wait for treats, making for the ultimate African photo op.

So, arm yourself with Uber, and say ‘sasa’ (Kenyan slang for hello) to a few days of roaming around this diverse city.