Nairobi Car Hire
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Nairobi is the capital city of the Republic of Kenya and the nation’s largest city, covering an area of 696 square km and with almost 4.4 million inhabitants in the city itself and 9.35 million in the metropolitan area. By far the largest city in east Africa and the highest (at an altitude of 1700m) its name is derived from the Maasai phrase ‘enkare nyrobi’ meaning ‘cool water’ as the Nairobi River passes through its boundaries.
Also known as the Green City in the Sun, Nairobi is a youthful, fast-paced and rapidly expanding city with a buzzing cultural scene, a wide range of excellent restaurants and a thriving nightlife. Heritage buildings in the original city centre have an Asian influence but it’s also peppered with modern glass and steel skyscrapers. A series of suburbs radiate out from the Central Business District, with salubrious areas to the west and north and more impoverished areas to the east and south. Sitting astride the boundaries of Kamba, Kikuyu and Maasai territories, various ethnic groups are represented in the capital and younger cosmopolitan residents will refer to themselves as ‘Nairobians’. The stunning natural scenery of Nairobi National Park, Athi Plains and Lake Magadi are on your doorstep and it’s a brilliant urban base for safari excursions.
Prices for hiring a car in Nairobi start at €65.62 a day for a compact model like a Toyota Corolla Fielder if you book off-season, and a Toyota RAV4 ̶ ideal for trips off the beaten track ̶ costs €119.32 a day. Hire a car in Nairobi with Enjoy and all of Nairobi’s attractions await, but first, take a look at some interesting facts on this exciting city.
- About Nairobi: this is a city that blends traditional and modern elements to electric effect. This is evident in its legendary live music scene, where local artists mix the indigenous benga genre with hip-hop and house, the art galleries which showcase traditional paintings and the ad hoc street graffiti, cuisine which veers from vendors selling local nyama choma (grilled meat) to fine dining restaurants, and the city’s concrete infrastructure interspersed by gorgeous green spaces. Diverse attractions abound here, from the inspirational Kazuri bead factory to the fascinating Giraffe Centre, and the hustle and bustle of the Maasai Market to the spellbinding serenity of the Zen Gardens. From the high-rise commercial buildings of the central business districts to leafy suburbs like Karen, Lavington, Hurlingham and Kilimani, and the nearby Nairobi National Park teeming with wildlife and spectacular scenery, this is a city that’s truly captivating.
- Airports and access: Nairobi is served by Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO), which connects the capital and the rest of Kenya to 45 nations worldwide and processes over seven million passengers annually.
- Famous Nairobi: renowned sons and daughters of Nairobi include singer-songwriter Roger Whittaker, film director Gurinder Chadha, actors Deep Roy and Edi Gathegi, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, cyclist Chris Froome, politician Uhuru Kenyatta, and dancer Francesca Hayward.
Although Kenya has been dubbed ‘the cradle of mankind’ for its seminal role in human evolutionary history, Nairobi is a relatively new city, everything here having sprung forth from a depot of the East African Railway between Mombasa and Kampala built in 1899. The area’s position between the coast and the British land in Uganda meant it was coveted by the British East Africa protectorate, water was readily available and its high elevation created a cool, temperate climate ̶ subsequent development was so swift that by 1907 Nairobi was abuzz with commercial activity and had stolen Mombasa’s crown as the capital city of British East Africa.
The first Kenyan tourists were big game hunters and the colonial authorities built several luxurious hotels to capitalise on this lucrative trade. Kenya was placed under a state of emergency by the colonial government between 1951-59 during the Mau Mau rebellion, when leaders like Jomo Kenyatta were imprisoned and thousands more Kenyans involved in the struggle for independence were placed in detention camps. After independence was declared in 1963, Nairobi grew at an alarming rate, with the result that its infrastructure was soon creaking under the pressure, vast shanty towns emerged on its outskirts and virtually all of the colonial style buildings were demolished and replaced by the concrete office blocks that still dominate the city today. Modern Nairobi is a vibesy capital with an outward-looking populace, many of whom have embraced a metropolitan civic identity that encompasses diverse ethnic groups. Visitors and locals alike enjoy attractions like the Karen Blixen Museum, National Museum of Kenya, sports like horse racing and the annual KCB Safari Rally, cultural events like the East African Art Festival and Kenyan Music Festival and the huge variety of cafes, restaurants, bars and clubs which are the city’s lifeblood all year round. This is a capital where any traveller who keeps their eyes and heart open can enjoy a unique and enriching experience.
Guide to Nairobi
From the cafes, restaurants and museums of its buzzing centre to wonderful wildlife just beyond the city limits, and a cultural calendar packed with eclectic events, Nairobi is a special city where everyone is welcomed with open arms.
City centre attractions
One of the foremost attractions in the city centre is Nairobi National Museum, which hosts an impressive collection of artefacts that date back to the dawn of time (like the homo habilis skeletal remains found by Mary and Richard Leakey at Lake Turkana) and a huge display of indigenous bird species. Embarking on a walking tour with the Nai Nami guys is another eye-opening experience ̶ these former street boys will take you off the beaten path as they bring the contemporary history of Nairobi to life through the lens of their own struggles. Finally, Uhuru Park is a relaxing spot to spend time at the weekend ̶ pack a picnic and lounge on the grass before treating yourself to an ice cream or a fun fairground ride!
Nairobi National Park
Just a short drive from the city, Nairobi National Park has a host of animal attractions, including the ‘big five’ (lion, leopard, rhino, elephant and buffalo), many more mammals of all stripes and over 400 bird species. There’s a vast network of walking trails where you’ll feel immersed in the natural habitats of the wildlife, a compound where you can interact with baby elephants and rhinos at close quarter, and the Giraffe Centre ̶ a conservancy project here you can feed endangered Rothschild giraffes. While many cities have a zoo in their environs, Nairobi is the only metropolis on Earth that has this type of wildlife reserve so close, therefore miss it and you’ll seriously miss out.
The Kenyan Music Festival is one of the highlights on Nairobi’s cultural calendar and it’s held in the Kenyatta International Conference Centre. Each year, music groups from schools, universities and colleges across the nation compete in tough regional competitions to reach these finals, where performances can focus on dance, vocal or instrumental music in African, Western or Oriental categories. Alternatively, the East African Art Festival at the Kenya National Museum showcases authentic traditional artefacts, contemporary paintings and architectural designs.
What to do in Nairobi?
From pulsating live music to cool crafts and ground-breaking community projects to attention-grabbing art galleries, there’s something different to do in Nairobi every day.
There are plenty of live music venues to choose from in Nairobi, but Live At The Elephant on Kanjata Road in Lavington is one of the best. If you want to find out what’s special about the Kenyan music scene, you can hear blistering performances here from excellent artists like Eric Wainaina, Atemi Oyungu, TeleVision, Ciano Maimba, the Beathogs and more. Performers play ‘in the round’ as the stage is in the centre under a tent, so the audience can see and feel the music from all angles. The venue serves delicious food and happy hour for drinks is 7pm, so you can really make a night of it here!
There are a handful of worthy museums in Nairobi, but the National Museum is one you certainly shouldn’t miss. Located in an impressive building set in lush grounds just outside the city centre, fascinating artefacts and exhibits here tell Kenya’s story from prehistoric to present times, the complex also houses the Nairobi Snake Park and Botanic Garden, and there’s a life-sized fibreglass model of the elephant Ahmed, who became a national icon at the peak of Kenya’s war against poaching in the 1980s.
If you’re a fan of the book ‘Out of Africa’ and its movie adaptation starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford, you should definitely make a beeline for author Karen Blixen’s House & Museum, where she lived between 1914 and 1931. This beautiful colonial-era home around 10km from the city centre is nestled in verdant gardens at the foot of the Ngong Hills ̶ this is the coffee farm which provided the backdrop to a story of personal struggle amidst stunning natural scenery which has continued to resonate years after it was first penned in 1937.
Eating out in Nairobi
Whether you want to feast on local fare focused on barbecued meat, snack at famous global franchises or sample high-end international cuisine, Nairobi’s gastronomic choices are considerable.
Want to try authentic nyama choma in a lively, sociable setting? Carnivore restaurant is Nairobi’s most famous venue for showcasing the barbecued meat which is Kenya’s most renowned dish and here you can watch your choice of chicken, beef, pork lamb, or even ostrich or crocodile being grilled to perfection on traditional Maasai swords in a gargantuan barbecue pit. This ‘beast of a feast’ will fill you up until the next day and a la carte or buffet options are available. The buffet is a good choice if you want to sample different meats but be prepared for the occasional pause in proceedings while chefs prepare diverse dishes ̶ for an unusual tipple, try the divine dawa (honey vodka). Prices range from €35 - €80.
Africa produces some of the world’s greatest coffee and at Connect Coffee in Nairobi you can sample the best brews sourced straight from farmers in Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia. Lip-smacking beans can be brewed into anything from a cappuccino to a flat white or long black and pastries, wraps and salads are also available. The labyrinthine menu can take a while to ponder over, so in order to save time, friendly staff will be glad to recommend the best choice on that particular day. Prices are very reasonable, with artisan coffees starting from €2.50 and snacks like paninis available from €5.50 upwards.
Crisp craft beer
If you’re a craft beer fan, don’t miss Brew Bistro & lounge, where you can sample five brilliant beers created in the onsite microbrewery, a host of German brands, salsa dancing and live music. Located at Piedmont Plaza, this superb bar also serves succulent build-your-own burgers ̶ beer prices vary but are reasonable given the quality, and filling snacks are available from just €5 upwards.
Transport in Nairobi
The main air hub serving Nairobi is Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (NBO) and Enjoy partners with trusted car hire providers at NBO like Green Motion Car and Van Rental.
Buses and boda-bodas
Nairobi has a municipal bus service which covers the city centre and suburbs, but it only operates during daytime hours and isn’t renowned for its safety record. Boda-bodas are motorbike taxis which are popular with locals, but for safety reasons are also best avoided. The optimal way to get around Nairobi while feeling secure is definitely by car.
Driving in Nairobi
This is the only capital city in the world which borders a game reserve and other interesting towns and cities are in striking distance, therefore there are plenty of open road adventures available. Here are just a couple of recommended road trips:
The drive from Nairobi to the attractive bayside city of Kisumu is 400km and takes six hours, so to make it worth the effort you’ll have to stay over for at least one evening. On the way you’ll enjoy outstanding views of the Great Rift Valley on the Nairobi to Naivasha highway, luscious lakes like Elementaita and interesting towns like Kericho and Nakuru. In Kisumu itself you can browse the main market for everything from suits to wigs and crockery, tree bathe and bird-watch in the forests of Ndere Island National Park and dance the night away to live Lingala music at the Oasis venue.
Alternatively, the trip from Nairobi to Oloitokitok near Kenya’s southern border with Tanzania is 230km and takes around four hours. Travelling on the Mombasa highway, you’ll pass the town of Emali before reaching Oloitokitok, where you can visit the majestic snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, and Amboseli National Park, which is known as the ‘home of the African elephant’.
You always drive on the left side of the road in Nairobi. Speed limits are 80km/h (50mph) on the highway, 50km/h (31mph) when traversing urban areas and 40km/h (25mph) when you’re driving off-road.
Roads in and around Nairobi are tarmac and usually in decent condition, although roads in more rural areas can sometimes be unsurfaced, therefore proceed with caution.
Seatbelts are mandatory for the driver and passenger here and using hand-held phones is illegal, although hands-free systems are permitted.
You should carry your driver’s license and car rental documents whenever you drive in Nairobi.
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