Nairobi is a busy modern city of approximately 2.9 million people and the de facto commercial capital of East Africa. Most businesses are headquartered in the city centre or in the industrial area to the southeast. Country and regional offices for the many international humanitarian organisations stationed here cluster in the leafy suburbs to the west. The United Nations compound is to the northwest. These areas are also where the large expatriate community and well-off Kenyans have made their base, although some people choose to live further out, in the rural enclave of Karen 20 km southwest of the centre. Housing is a mix of new-build apartments, townhouses, bungalows and large, detached houses in their own compounds. The Indian/Asian population is concentrated to the north of the city centre, while low and middle-income Kenyans and immigrants from surrounding countries generally live in the south and east. There are also a number of settlements, including Kibera, Africas largest slum, southwest of the centre, which has a population of one million. The poverty gap in Nairobi is extreme and has given rise to a soaring crime problem, as well as to a booming private security industry; most high-income accommodation has 24-hour guards (called askari), a locked gate, high boundary fence (often electrified) and internal alarm systems. There is a good range of modern shopping malls and supermarkets, especially in upmarket areas; basic items such as bread, milk, fresh fruit and bottled water can be bought easily and cheaply from locally run wooden shack stores called dukas all over town. Nairobi is well served by a large network of buses as well as 14-seater Nissan minivans called matatus, which ply set routes across the city but can be dangerous. Fares are cheap (usually Ksh20-40, with a Ksh10 surcharge during rush hour, when traffic is heavy). Taxis are plentiful but more expensive, and expatriates on long-term contracts generally opt to buy their own car.

City centre

The city centre can be divided into two parts. There is the central business district (CBD) proper, bounded by University Way to the north, Uhuru Highway to the west, Haile Selassie Avenue to the south and Moi Avenue to the east. The older and more atmospheric River Road area is to the east.

The CBD has the feel of a bustling modern city centre that is constantly on the move; banks, offices, ministries and other government offices occupy an eclectic mix of low-rise monumental buildings and modern skyscrapers. The CBD also has numerous shops and eateries, especially in the area to the north of Kenyatta Avenue, which bisects the area west-east. There is no housing in this area. In the southeast corner, at the junction of Haile Selassie and Moi avenues, is a small, peaceful memorial park to the 213 mostly Kenyan victims of the 1998 bombing of the United States embassy on this spot (the new embassy is in Gigiri to the northwest). Askari stationed outside most street-level premises ensure that security here is better than in other parts of the city.

The area around River Road instead offers a limited range of apartments and single rooms in old buildings, some of which are brightly coloured and have ornate balconies. The resident population is mostly Indian/Asian. Nyayo Market on Kirinyaga Road sells clothes and electronics (mobile phones and accessories); otherwise, shops here sell almost exclusively spare parts for vehicles. In stark contrast with the neighbouring CBD, roads and public services here are poor. Security is also bad. Buses terminate on Moi Avenue at the junction with City Hall Way; matatus, which are banned from entering the CBD, stop at various places around the edge.


This mixed-income African area due east of the city centre, and flanking the industrial area to the south, has seen progressive expansion over the last 50 years. At its heart lies Buru Buru, built as a middle-income estate in the 1970s and 1980s and inhabited by Kenyan business people and professionals and a few expatriates on short-term assignments; accommodation is mainly in small, two-storey townhouses in quiet cul-de-sacs. However, in recent years many properties have been converted into bedsits and single rooms for rent to a lower-income population, especially in the less affluent north. There is a good range of shops and amenities along Mumias South Road, the areas central artery; facilities include a petrol station, banks, supermarkets, a foreign exchange bureau and chemists, as well as a number of pubs and bars. Buru Buru Phase I (one of the estates six component parts, so-called after the relative stage of construction) has a private swimming pool, and a cinema is reportedly in the pipeline. The good facilities draw custom from outside the area, leading to heavy traffic along main roads. The area is served by bus and matatu. A taxi to the city centre costs around Ksh500.


This area roughly 15 km to the southeast of the city centre includes Nyayo estate and Avenue Park. The former, dating to the late 1990s, is popular with professionals and entrepreneurs in search of a peaceful and very secure environment; it consists of a numerous identical four-storey apartment blocks in gated roads and two-storey townhouses behind high concrete walls. The population is mostly Kenyan but there are a few Indians/Asians and expatriates as well. Part of the estate is still under construction. The roads are perfectly surfaced and bordered by neat flowerbeds and grass verges. Shopping is at the small collection of dukas outside the main gates or at the Nakumatt supermarket at the start of Airport North Road near the junction with Mombasa Road. The estate offers nursery facilities but there are no schools or leisure activities and residents go into town for their education and entertainment.

Avenue Park, to the west, is older and shabbier but slightly more expensive than Nyayo, due to its greater proximity to the city centre. Housing is a mix of two-storey townhouses and bungalows. On-site facilities include a small shopping centre comprising a butchers, beauty salon, chemist and laundry; fresh produce can be purchased from Bidii Market on the busy Outering Road directly opposite the main gates. There is also a gym nearby. Both estates are served by matatus; a taxi to the city centre costs in the region of Ksh500. Jomo Kenyatta international airport is close by.


Once home to Out of Africa author Karen Blixen, who lends the suburb its name, Karen is 20 kilometres southwest of Nairobis centre and is completely disconnected from the bustle, crowds and smog of the city. It has the feel of a sprawling country village, with a small collection of shops, a bank and a supermarket at its hub and several top-class restaurants sitting behind high gates along the wide lanes. All accommodation here is in large houses, most built during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s at the height of Britains colonial rule. Many of Kenyas infamous Happy Valley set of the 1930s kept houses in Karen for when they visited Nairobi, and it is still predominantly a white area. Few black Kenyans live here, perhaps because it is some distance from the central business district and can take an hour or more in rush hour to reach the city centre. Buses and matatus serve the two main roads Ngong Road and Langata Road which link to central Nairobi, but there is no public transport running along the long residential lanes between main routes, and few taxis serve Karen. A taxi from the city centre will cost KSh1,000. It is almost essential to own a car here.


Kileleshwa is quieter and greener than Kilimani, Hurlingham or Ngong Road and more of the 1950s and 1960s bungalows, set in large mature gardens, have survived the property developers. However, there are some apartment blocks here too. The roads are pot-holed but wide and bordered by low hedges. This is a smart, middle-class Kenyan suburb, but many expatriates with children find it a relaxing, stress-free area. There are no supermarkets but dukas sell essentials like fresh fruit, bottled water, toilet paper, painkillers, milk and bread. Only one matatu route runs through Kileleshwa, but a taxi to the city centre (four kilometres) should cost no more than KSh600, and to the restaurants, supermarkets and cinema in Hurlingham and on Ngong Road (two kilometres) KSh300. Dividing Kileleshwa from the city centre is the Nairobi Arboretum, a shady park popular with local families and prayer groups on Sundays. Unfortunately, security cannot be assured here.

Kilimani/Hurlingham/Ngong Road

Bounded to the north by Dennis Pritt Road and to the south by Ngong Road, bisected by Argwings Kodhek Road, these busy areas host many of Nairobis new-build apartment blocks. Most were constructed in the property boom of the last decade, replacing the expansive 1950s and 1960s bungalows which once sat back from the wide streets bordered by high green hedges. Few of the new blocks are taller than five storeys and many boast balconies, communal swimming pools and 24-hour security staff. The more expensive have gyms, saunas and health clubs attached. They tend to be popular with both expatriates and Kenyans, mainly single professionals, young families with few children or aid workers regularly sent into the field for months-long stretches at a time. There are four large supermarkets strung along the Ngong Road and one on Argwings Kodhek, while two of Nairobis most popular shopping centres, the Yaya Centre and Adams Arcade, are nearby. A four-screen cinema opened in March 2005 at Prestige Plaza on Ngong Road. There are two 24-hour petrol stations for last-minute supplies, as well as three banks with ATMs. Several of Nairobis most popular restaurants, many with outdoors seating, lie along Lenana Road just north of Argwings Kodhek. The Nairobi Jockey Club is west along Ngong Road, where there is a nine-hole golf course open to the public. There is a casino in Hurlingham. Local buses run along the main roads directly into the city centre (two-five kilometres), while a taxi to town will cost no more than KSh600.


Lavington is a suburb proper, a green haven lying halfway between the busier areas of Hurlingham and Westlands. Here the few modern apartment blocks are unobtrusive and the lanes linking busier roads are lined with large houses and bungalows set in an acre or more of well-tended land. Many have swimming pools. Some roads are gated with security staff screening all visitors. Lavington is popular with expatriate families perhaps with older children who enjoy the space offered by a large house with a garden. There are no supermarkets within the suburb, although there is a small arcade of shops including a patisserie, butchers, convenience store and bank (with ATM) at Lavington Green. At least four bus or matatu services loop through Lavington, linking with Hurlingham and the city centre to the south (seven kilometres), and again to the city centre via Westlands to the north (six kilometres). A taxi to Westlands will cost KSh500, or to town KSh700.


Muthaiga is Nairobis long-established Beverly Hills, four kilometres north of the city centre along shady lanes which climb and drop down hills dipping to the banks of three separate rivers draining the lush, wooded slopes. It is home to some very wealthy Kenyans, but is better-known for expatriates on long-term contracts or settled foreigners living in houses real estate agents term ambassadorial. There are no apartment blocks here. Most roads are gated, with 24-hour security staff. There is a small selection of shops at the Muthaiga dukas but the nearest supermarkets are at The Village Market (three kilometres to the northwest) or in the city centre. Buses and matatus ply the main route from the city centre along the Limuru Road towards Gigiri, but once at the turn-off into Muthaiga proper there is little public transport. A taxi to central Nairobi will cost KSh500, and roughly the same to The Village Market.

Nairobi West

Located due south of the city centre near Wilson airport (for domestic flights), the area of Nairobi West includes the estates of Nairobi West and neighbouring South C. The latter is home to a mixture of Kenyans, Somalis, Sudanese and Indians/Asians; accommodation is mostly in small, two-storey townhouses, some in gated roads, or single rooms in converted servants quarters. There are two main shopping areas, Mugoya and Akiba, with a good range of small shops and other amenities. The area also boasts a private sports club with facilities for children, as well as several mosques and churches and a Hindu temple. Nairobi West estate offers a greater variety of accommodation than its southern neighbour in a mixture of old and new buildings. Commerce centres around Muhoho Avenue, where there is a good selection of shops, bars and eateries. There is also a hospital in the area. Both estates are served by matatus, while buses run along the busy Mombasa and Langata roads to the north. A taxi into the city centre costs Ksh300.


Lying on the slopes of the enchanting Ngong hills some 22 km southwest of Nairobi, Ngong is a striking mix of rich and poor. The land originally belonged to the Maasai tribe but as of the early 1990s the traditional herdsmen began to sell it to new arrivals - professionals, entrepreneurs, government officials - from all over Kenya, who built elegant homes here. Housing is mostly in two-storey maisonettes on small plots of land; security is tight. The nearest social centre is Karen, a few kilometres down the Ngong Road towards Nairobi, but the attractive hill country offers good walking and the possibility of seeing lion, buffaloes, warthogs and hyenas. Ramblers must be accompanied by a Kenya Wildlife Service warden. Ngong boasts a good range of small shops and other amenities, including a small post office and a petrol station. Sitting in a fertile valley some 12 km away, Kiserian is a low- and middle-income area with a higher population density than its smarter neighbour; accommodation is a mix of basic low-rise apartment blocks, small bungalows and corrugated iron shacks. Local commerce is concentrated along the Ngong-Kiserian Road. Both areas are well connected to the city centre by bus and matatu; a taxi into town costs around Ksh1,500.


Pangani, northeast of the city centre, has changed recently as many of its original Indian/Asian inhabitants have moved out to the more upmarket Kileleshwa, Westlands or Parklands areas and a new wave of Indian immigrants from the coast and low-income Kenyans have moved in. The Indian/Asian population lives in modest low-rise apartment blocks and townhouses in the southern part of this area, where roads and public services are generally good, while Kenyans live in much poorer and more cramped conditions to the north. There is a reasonable selection of small shops, including a butchers, dry cleaners, stationers, hardware and general stores, on and around Fairview Road, but local business is on the wane. There are no leisure facilities in the area; local young Asians go to nearby Parklands or to The Village Market in Runda for their entertainment. The one cinema has recently been converted into a Protestant church.

Eastleigh, further to the east, is inhabited almost exclusively by Somali immigrants and refugees. The area is dusty, dirty and heavily congested with people and traffic, especially at rush hour, and the roads are poor. There is a limited amount of rental accommodation in ugly concrete apartment blocks; many former residential buildings have been converted into commercial space for clothing/textile outlets (the main local trade) or rooms that are rented on a daily basis. The area is dotted with dukas and small shops and is well served by buses and matatus; a taxi into the city centre costs Ksh300.


Parklands, due north of the city centre, is traditionally an Indian/Asian zone. The area is dotted with mosques and Hindu temples and there is a hospital, a university and school named after one of its most illustrious benefactors, the Aga Khan, who spent his early childhood in the Kenyan capital. Housing is a mix of apartments, townhouses and large, detached houses in private compounds, although some of the properties are in poor repair. Highridge shopping centre at the junction of Masari Road and 4th Parklands Avenue has a good selection of shops and other amenities, including two supermarkets, a late-night chemist, banks, an opticians, a bakery, a butchers (selling mostly beef, goat and chicken) and a furniture retailer. The area also boasts the colourful daily Hawkers Market on Limuru Road, which sells fresh fruit and vegetables, second-hand shoes and clothes. The landscaped gardens and indigenous trees of the nearby City Park offer a welcome escape from the noise and pollution of the city, as well as a good place to see monkeys and butterflies. Local entertainment centres around Diamond Plaza, a few steps from Highridge; known affectionately by the local population as Little India, this arcade of shops, bars and restaurants draws a mostly young crowd from within the area and beyond. The bars and clubs of Westlands are also just a short drive away. There is no bus service through Parklands but there are plenty of matatus on the main roads. A taxi to the city centre costs around Ksh300, while the fare to the industrial area in the southeast where many of the local residents have their businesses comes in at roughly Ksh800.


Riverside is Lavingtons slightly more upmarket cousin, which real estate agents term exclusive living. Rambling 1960s or 1970s houses with large gardens lie along steep slopes dipping down to the Nairobi River, and most roads here are gated, with security staff checking all visitors. The area is popular with diplomats and senior expatriate businesspeople, although Kenyas rich own a good proportion of the houses. There are some apartment blocks strung along Riverside Drive. This is where the apartment building boom started, and many of these blocks, while large and well-served, are beginning to look a little dated compared to others springing up brand new in Kilimani and Hurlingham. Riverside has no supermarkets and only a few locally-run dukas selling essentials, but Westlands with two large shopping centres, restaurants, bars and cinemas is less than three kilometres to the north. There are no buses or matatus running through Riverside. A taxi to Westlands should cost less than KSh300, and to town no more than KSh500.


Separated from Nairobi city centre by the 2,500-acre Karura Forest and several low, wooded hills, Gigiri houses both the United Nations (UN) complex and the new United States embassy, which was built here in 1999 after the former building in the city centre was bombed in 1998. The area is therefore popular with humanitarian workers and diplomats, drawn to the wide, leafy streets lined with impressive houses, all in an acre or more of landscaped gardens. There are no major apartment blocks here. There are a few small dukas, but Nairobis most upmarket shopping centre, The Village Market, is just west of the UN complex, boasting a multi-screen cinema, restaurants, an informal food court, a supermarket and dozens of boutique shops. There are several kindergartens and primary schools popular with expatriate children at Kabete, Peponi Road and in nearby Spring Valley. Buses and matatus link Gigiri with central Nairobi along the principal highway, Limuru Road, but once off into the residential areas public transport is scarce. A taxi to the city centre from the UN complex (seven kilometres) is KSh600. Owning a car is a great bonus here.

Thika Road

Thika Road running northeast out of the city centre supports a number of very different estates over a large area. Mathare North, some eight kilometres out of town, is an all-African zone inhabited by manual workers and daily labourers employed in the Ruaraka industrial area to the north; accommodation is mostly in single rooms and bedsits in unsafe-looking concrete blocks and roads are poor. To the southwest, between Mathare North and the city centre, are the sprawling Mathare slums. Fox drive-in cinema is nearby on Thika Road, but tickets are beyond the reach of local residents. Further out, past Moi International Sports Complex, is Kasarani, a new, up-and-coming residential area inhabited mostly by civil servants and young professionals. Housing is a mixture of smart new two-storey townhouses and shabbier low-rise apartment blocks, some of which are still in the process of being built. Away from the main roads, infrastructure is poor. There is a good selection of local shops, including a dry cleaners, beauty salon, bookshop, gym, chemists, supermarket and a store selling second-hand electrical appliances. There are regular jam sessions at the nearby Sportsview Hotel. Between Kasarani and Mathare North lies Ngumba Estate, a lower-middle class area inhabited by private sector office workers and business people. The accommodation is a mix of 1990s bungalows and more recent low-rise apartment blocks. Security is good here due to the proximity of the heavily guarded Kenya Breweries, which produce the immensely popular Tusker lager. On the north side of Thika Road opposite the brewery is Garden Estate, a quiet, leafy residential area offering attractive bungalows and large houses on their own plots of land. Rent is much higher here than in other parts of this area. Shopping is at dukas along Garden Estate Road or at the Nakumatt supermarket at the junction with Thika Road. Entertainment centres around Castle Inn, which has a restaurant, bar and childrens playground among other things. There are buses and matatus along Thika Road but traffic can be extremely heavy, especially at rush hour. A taxi to the city centre costs Ksh900.


Westlands is traditionally Nairobis party centre, a lively cluster of shops, restaurants, bars and nightclubs three kilometres to the northwest of the central business district. One of the citys largest modern shopping plazas, the four-floor Sarit Centre, is here, competing with two smaller centres nearby. There are dozens of restaurants, three late-night western-style bars, two nightclubs and a casino. Westlands is a favourite with Nairobis large Indian/Asian community. The residential roads ringing the busy hub are popular with Kenyans and expatriates, young singles in 1980s/1990s apartment blocks as well as families in older houses, all attracted by the spread of facilities. The quieter, smarter streets spread into Spring Valley to the north, where the apartment blocks give way to bungalows and large, detached houses. Some streets here are gated, with security staff screening visitors. There is a good primary school at Spring Valley. Westlands southern edge borders the busy Waiyaki Way, a main route out into Kenyas Great Rift Valley, which is served by dozens of buses and matatus heading into the city centre. Alternatively, a taxi there will cost KSh400.

Wanted in Africa
Wanted in Africa
Wanted in Africa, part of the Wanted Worldwide network, is a website in English for expatriates in Africa established in 2006. We cover Europe's news stories that may be of interest to English speaking residents along with tourists as well. Our publication also offers classifieds, photos, information on events, museums, churches, galleries, exhibits, fashion, food, and local travel.
Previous article Addis Ababa, a highland capital.
Next article Addis Ababa, a highland capital.