Nairobi Introduction Walking Tour, Nairobi

Nairobi Introduction Walking Tour (Self Guided), Nairobi

Adorned with the grace of savannah's majesty, the vibrant capital of Kenya, Nairobi, is where the rhythms of Africa intersect with the pace of urban life.

The history of this cosmopolitan metropolis dates back to the late 19th century when it was established as a British railway camp during the construction of the Uganda Railway. The city grew rapidly, attracting European settlers who saw its potential as a trading center. In 1907, Nairobi replaced Mombasa as the capital of the British East Africa Protectorate and, in 1963, became the capital of independent Kenya.

The origin of the name "Nairobi" is somewhat disputed. The most commonly accepted explanation is that it comes from the Maasai phrase "Enkare Nairobi," which means "cool water" or "place of cool waters." This refers to the Nairobi River, which runs through the city and provides a reliable water source.

“The pulse of Kenya resonates through Nairobi,” they say. Indeed, it does. Yet, apart from safari and wildlife – the country's staple attractions – the city is home to a number of historic sites and other places of interest. The Nairobi City Council building, accommodating the local government authority, is one such location, situated not far from the Kenyan Parliament.

Jamia Mosque serves as a place of worship for the local Muslim community; its distinctive architecture makes it a notable landmark.

Another prominent site is the Nairobi Railway Museum, showcasing Kenya's railway history with a glimpse into the country's transportation heritage. Kenyatta International Conference Center (KICC), the city's sixth tallest building, is a popular venue for public events.

Passing through Nairobi's central business district, Tom Mboya Street – named after a prominent Kenyan politician – is a major thoroughfare known for its bustling activity, shops, restaurants, and historical significance. Similarly attractive, from a public interest standpoint, are the vibrant open-air City Market and Uhuru Park.

Africa can change you forever, like nowhere else on earth. Many a visitor to this "vast, dusty continent, whose oldest roads are elephant paths," are drawn to Nairobi for its sense of adventure – where "the spirit of Maasai warriors meets the aspirations of a modern city." If you wish to experience it first-hand, this self-guided walk is for you!

(NOTE: as of lately, taking photographs and videos in certain places in Kenya, such as military installations, airports, government buildings, national parks, and private properties, have been prohibited or restricted without direct permission.)
How it works: Download the app "GPSmyCity: Walks in 1K+ Cities" from Apple App Store or Google Play Store to your mobile phone or tablet. The app turns your mobile device into a personal tour guide and its built-in GPS navigation functions guide you from one tour stop to next. The app works offline, so no data plan is needed when traveling abroad.

Download The GPSmyCity App

Nairobi Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Nairobi Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: Kenya » Nairobi (See other walking tours in Nairobi)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.1 Km or 2.5 Miles
Author: julia
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Nairobi City Council
  • Parliament
  • Railway Museum
  • Kenyatta International Conference Center
  • National Archives
  • Tom Mboya Street
  • Jamia Mosque
  • City Market
  • Uhuru Park
Nairobi City Council

1) Nairobi City Council

The Nairobi City Council serves as the local governing body responsible for overseeing the administration and management of Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya. As the largest among the 175 local authorities in the country, it operates under the guidance and direction of the Ministry of Local Government.

The main offices of the Nairobi City Council are located at City Hall Plaza on City Hall Way. City Hall, constructed in the 1950s, holds historical significance as it was the tallest building in Nairobi at the time of its completion. It features a prominent clock tower standing at a height of 165 feet. In 1981, the building was expanded with the addition of the 13-story City Hall Annex, providing additional office space for the council's operations.

The Nairobi City Council, with its central location and administrative authority, plays a vital role in the governance, development, and management of the city. It works towards enhancing the quality of life for Nairobi's residents, implementing policies and programs that promote progress, and ensuring efficient service delivery to the local community.

2) Parliament

The Parliament building in Nairobi is a captivating and significant architectural landmark that holds great appeal for both locals and tourists alike. With its distinctive clock tower, the building stands as a prominent symbol of Kenya's political life. Constructed in the 1940s during the period when Kenya was still under British colonial rule, the Parliament building offers insights into the nation's history and democratic governance.

Visiting the Parliament provides an opportunity to delve into Kenya's political landscape. The building houses archives that hold a wealth of official documents, agreements, and orders, offering a glimpse into the country's legislative and administrative processes. Exploring these archives allows visitors to gain a deeper understanding of Kenya's political heritage and the evolution of its democratic institutions.

For those interested in observing the workings of Parliament firsthand, attending an open session is an enlightening experience. The visitors' gallery provides a vantage point to witness the debates, discussions, and decision-making processes that shape the nation's governance. However, it's important to note that applause is not permitted during these sessions, as it is customary to maintain decorum and respect for the parliamentary proceedings.

Beyond its architectural and political significance, the Parliament building serves as a hub for democratic engagement and public participation. It serves as a space where citizens can engage with their elected representatives, voice their concerns, and actively participate in shaping the nation's policies and legislation.
Railway Museum

3) Railway Museum

The Railway Museum, located adjacent to the Nairobi Rail Station in Kenya, offers a captivating journey through the golden age of rail travel. As you step into the museum, you are transported back in time to the era of the East African Railways, which is now defunct. The museum showcases a remarkable collection of steam and diesel locomotives that date from the late 19th century to before World War II.

Immerse yourself in the history of rail transportation as you explore the displays of various passenger cars, trucks, and rolling stock. These meticulously preserved artifacts provide a fascinating glimpse into the past, evoking the sense of adventure that accompanied travel during those times. The Railway Museum offers a unique opportunity to appreciate the craftsmanship and engineering marvels of these vintage locomotives and their associated equipment.

In addition to the locomotives and rolling stock, the museum also offers insights into the remarkable story of the railway's construction. Learn about the incredible challenges faced by the laborers, who persevered through extreme conditions and encounters with man-eating lions that posed a threat to the construction camps. Through informative exhibits and displays, the museum sheds light on the extraordinary human endeavor behind the laying of the railway.

Since its opening in 1971, the Railway Museum has been maintained by Kenya Railways, ensuring the preservation and presentation of Kenya's rich railway heritage. To enhance the visitor experience, a miniature railway has recently been added, providing an interactive and engaging way to learn about the railway's history.
Kenyatta International Conference Center

4) Kenyatta International Conference Center (must see)

The Kenyatta International Conference Center stands tall as one of the city's prominent landmarks. With its 30-story structure overlooking the central business district, it serves as a symbol of Kenya's rich heritage and aspirations for the future. Notably, it holds the distinction of being the only building in Nairobi with a helipad.

Designed to reflect Kenya's tribal past, the Kenyatta International Conference Center embodies a unique architectural style. Its construction took place between 1966 and 1973, funded by the Kenyan Government.

The Kenyatta International Conference Center features The Courtyard, an inviting outdoor area adorned with a statue of Jomo Kenyatta, the first President of Kenya. The Courtyard encompasses beautiful fountains and ample paved space, creating a relaxing environment for visitors to unwind or for hosting outdoor stalls and exhibitions.

The Kenyatta also includes a captivating feature—an expansive helipad offering a panoramic view of the city. Situated on the rooftop of the KICC's iconic 30-story building, the helipad provides a unique vantage point for visitors to take in the breathtaking surroundings. The city's skyline unfolds before their eyes, showcasing the diverse blend of architectural styles that define Nairobi's character.

Whether one visits the helipad during the day or in the evening, the experience is truly awe-inspiring. It offers a unique and elevated perspective of Nairobi, allowing visitors to appreciate the city's urban charm, cultural heritage, and vibrant atmosphere.
National Archives

5) National Archives

The National Archives cente serves as a repository for preserving and safeguarding Kenya's public archives and records. Situated in a prominent building, the National Archives not only fulfills its primary role but also serves as a cultural hub for art and photography exhibitions in the heart of the city.

Visitors to the National Archives are treated to a diverse range of exhibitions, showcasing various aspects of Kenyan culture, history, and artistry. One of the permanent exhibitions features captivating photographs that depict the rich diversity of Kenya's tribes, offering a glimpse into their unique traditions and ways of life. In addition to photography, the National Archives boasts an extensive collection of paintings from across the African continent.

Furthermore, the National Archives center houses an exhibition dedicated to tribal artifacts, including weaponry, jewelry, masks, and other cultural artifacts. This exhibition provides a fascinating window into the daily lives and rituals of Kenya's indigenous communities, shedding light on their customs, traditions, and craftsmanship.

One notable aspect of the National Archives is its documentation of the struggle for Kenyan independence from British colonial rule. Through a curated display of photographs and archival materials, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the historical journey that shaped modern Kenya.

The exhibitions at the National Archives are typically located on the ground floor, easily accessible to the public. Additionally, the center offers an archival reading room on the second floor, where researchers and enthusiasts can delve into the wealth of historical documents and records housed within the facility.

The National Archives center itself is housed in a historic building that was once the Bank of India. This adds a sense of character and heritage to the space, providing a fitting backdrop for the preservation and celebration of Kenya's cultural and historical legacy.
Tom Mboya Street

6) Tom Mboya Street

Tom Mboya Street, formerly known as Victoria Street, holds a significant place in the history and landscape of Nairobi. As one of the oldest streets in the city, it has become a prominent thoroughfare in the Central Business District.

Originally, the urban plan for Nairobi included two wide streets: First Station Road and Victoria Street. The latter was named after Queen Victoria, who served as the head of state of the East Africa Protectorate at the time. However, in recognition of the contributions and sacrifice of Tom Mboya, a revered Kenyan politician who was tragically assassinated, the street was renamed in his honor. To further commemorate his legacy, a monument was erected in his honor on Moi Avenue, which was formerly known as Government Road.

Tom Mboya Street is not only a street of historical significance, but it is also home to various landmarks and notable buildings. One such landmark is the Kenya National Archives, an institution that preserves and showcases the rich history and cultural heritage of Kenya. The archives serve as a repository of important documents, records, and artifacts that offer insights into the country's past.

In addition to the Kenya National Archives, Tom Mboya Street boasts a vibrant atmosphere with a mix of commercial, cultural, and social activities. It is lined with a diverse range of shops, restaurants, offices, and other establishments that contribute to the bustling energy of Nairobi's Central Business District.
Jamia Mosque

7) Jamia Mosque

Jamia Mosque is a significant Islamic center in the East and Central African region. It stands as an iconic landmark and architectural masterpiece in the heart of Nairobi's CBD. Founded by Syed Maulana Abdullah Shah in 1902 and constructed between 1925 and 1933, Jamia Mosque has been a focal point for Muslim religious activities and organization during both the pre-independence and independent eras.

The mosque holds great importance to Nairobi's sizable Muslim population, serving as the preferred location for Friday prayers. Over the years, Jamia Mosque has become a gathering place for Muslim religious, political, and intellectual leaders, who convene to discuss matters concerning the ummah (the Muslim community). In many ways, Jamia Mosque's history reflects the broader story of Islam in Kenya—a tale of seeking identity within a diverse mosaic of cultures and traditions.

Jamia Mosque underwent an extension in 1998, resulting in the addition of a modern wing. The mosque now houses a spacious library, a multi-purpose hall, a weekly newsletter called The Friday Bulletin, and even its own television station—Horizon TV. The Jamia Training Institute (JTI), previously situated within the mosque complex, was relocated to Jamia Towers to create additional office space for the mosque and Horizon TV marketing.

Architecturally, Jamia Mosque retains a classic Arabic Islamic style, characterized by the abundant use of marble and Quranic inscriptions. The mosque's design features three striking silver domes and twin minarets, which contribute to its distinctive appearance. Adjacent to the mosque, a row of shops, including a clinic and pharmacy, generates rental income to support the maintenance and upkeep of the mosque.
City Market

8) City Market

The Nairobi City Market is a beloved destination for Nairobi residents and visitors alike. While it is known for its diverse selection of butcheries offering a wide range of meats, including beef, goat, chicken, fish, and pork, it is the craft market that truly captures the attention of visitors.

The craft market, occupying both the central part of the building and the semi-open area behind it, presents a visually enticing display that is difficult to resist. Set against the backdrop of the market's picturesque ceiling, visitors are greeted with a variety of crafts and artifacts. From antique African artifacts and beadwork to basketry, jewelry, Kisii soapstone, and wooden carvings, the market showcases the immense talent and creativity of local artisans. Life-sized animal carvings are also on display, adding a touch of wonder to the vibrant atmosphere. The craft market is particularly popular among foreign visitors, and to facilitate their transactions, money changers have established their businesses within the market premises.

Originally built in 1930 near the railway line, which now runs along Loita Street, the Nairobi City Market initially served as the primary retail outlet for fruits and vegetables in the city. However, with the relocation of the railway line in the 1940s, the market gradually diversified its offerings. Today, while Wakulima Market on Haile Selassie Avenue has become the main distribution point for fruits and vegetables, Nairobi City Market has transformed into a vibrant hub housing a variety of businesses and services.

Apart from the craft market and butcheries, the market also features florists who offer beautiful flower arrangements for all occasions, ranging from general office decorations to weddings and funerals. Additionally, the market is home to several restaurants that cater to the city's lunchtime crowds, serving local dishes such as Nyama Choma (grilled meat).
Uhuru Park

9) Uhuru Park

Uhuru Park, also referred to as Freedom Park, is a prominent gathering place in Nairobi, where locals and visitors alike come to relax and unwind. Situated within walking distance of the city center, the park is adorned with well-maintained gardens and shaded trees, creating a verdant oasis amidst the bustling cityscape.

At the heart of Uhuru Park lies an artificial lake, which serves as a popular attraction for visitors. Many enjoy leisurely boat rides on the serene waters or traverse the footbridges to reach the small island within the lake. As you explore the park, you'll encounter numerous individuals indulging in picnics, engaging in outdoor sports, and even witnessing dance groups practicing their routines.

From various vantage points within the park, you can enjoy panoramic views of the city skyline. Additionally, Uhuru Park is home to several monuments that hold historical and cultural significance. One notable monument pays tribute to Wangari Maathai, an environmental activist who led protests to protect the park from demolition by President Moi. Her courageous efforts were recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize, and a monument stands in her honor within the park.

Another significant monument within Uhuru Park is the Independence Monument. This site holds great importance for the Kenyan people, as it was here that Kenya's independence was declared at midnight on December 12th, 1963. The monument depicts a group of freedom fighters at its base, with a towering column rising to a height of 24 meters. Atop the column sits a dove of peace, symbolizing the aspirations and ideals of a united and peaceful nation.

Useful Travel Guides for Planning Your Trip

16 Uniquely Kenyan Things to Buy in Nairobi

16 Uniquely Kenyan Things to Buy in Nairobi

Be it a quality read or a quality watch that you fancy most, either way you probably heard of the "Out of Africa" book (by Danish author Isak Dinesen) or the same title Oscar-winning movie, starring Meryl Streep & Robert Redford, shot in Kenya. And if you have, chances are that one day...