1 - David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
The easiest and safest way to see Nairobi’s sights is to hire a car with a driver, and if you have a morning free, it’s wise to make an early start to beat the standstill rush-hour traffic. Your driver should be able to suggest the best order for taking in the sights to make the most of your time. Kenyan specialist tour operator Somak Safaris can organise a car and driver to visit five locations for £100 (tel +254 20 535 508/9; somak-nairobi.com).
For a charming insight into conservation in action, head for the jungly southern suburbs and the Mbagathi district, about 20km from downtown Nairobi, where the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is based (it is open to visitors only from 11am to 12pm, so be sure to factor this in).
The trust’s mission is to protect orphaned young elephants and rhinos, bringing them up and reintroducing them back into the wild when they are old enough. The animals, especially the babies, are heart-warmingly diminutive and cute – so much so, in fact, that many visitors stretch their hands out through the flimsy rope barrier to try to pet them as they caper around the exercise paddock like nursery children in a pre-school playground. Suggested minimum donation is Ksh 500 (£4).
2 - Karen Blixen Museum
Not far from here is the former home of Danish plantation owner and author Karen Blixen – swing by for the ultimate Out of Africa experience without going on safari. Blixen wrote the novel that was made into the seminal Oscar-winning film starring Meryl Streep as Blixen and Robert Redford as a big-game hunter.
Located in the leafy neighbourhood of Karen, named after Blixen, her former home resembles an English country cottage, with a red-tiled roof, gorgeous manicured grounds and a former coffee plantation laid out as she left them when she departed in 1931. Inside, the musty wood-panelled rooms have changed little since the 1920s and are tightly packed with memorabilia both from Blixen’s life and from the film (many of the scenes in the movie were shot in the house).
The friendly guides are informative and are only too happy to show you around. And if you arrive just after midday, you will miss the tourist coaches that frequently stop off here after lunch. Open 9.30am-6pm. Entry is Khs 800 (£6.60). Tel +254 20 882 779; karen-blixen.dk. For lunch you might want to try the Karen Blixen Coffee Garden and Swedo House, dating from the early 1900s, just down Karen Road. Open 7am-10pm; tel +254 20 882 138; blixencoffeegarden.co.ke
3 - Giraffe Centre and Giraffe Manor
For an up-close and personal experience, the African Fund for Endangered Wildlife’s Langata Giraffe Centre is a short drive away. It was set up in 1979 to protect and increase the population of the rare Rothschild’s giraffe, which has highly distinctive features. The animals have less angular and paler patches on their coats than the more common Reticulated giraffe, set against a background colour that is much creamier. Look out for their lower legs, which have no markings at all – it is often said that they look as if they are wearing long white socks.
The big draw here is the giraffe-height observation tower – keep still and quiet, hold out some food pellets and these amazing creatures will push their strong heads through and feed from the palm of your hand. Open daily, 9am-5.30pm. Entry is Ksh 700 (£5.80). Tel +254 20 891 658; giraffecenter.org.
If time allows, drop by the newly refurbished Giraffe Manor. This luxury hotel run by the
Carr-Hartley family, who have been operating safaris in Africa since the 1920s, was built to resemble a Scottish shooting lodge back in 1932. Rothschild’s giraffes roam free in the extensive grounds and frequently come up to poke their necks through the windows if residents are offering food. Visit giraffemanor.com
4 - Nairobi National Museum
Situated just outside downtown, the National Museum underwent a major refurbishment and expansion in 2007 and is now Kenya’s leading contemporary gallery space and national history museum. Housed in a striking building set among verdant grounds dotted with sculptures is everything from Born Free author Joy Adamson’s touching series of tribal portraits, to vast spaces filled with stuffed, life-size Kenyan animals, mammals and birds. Think of the 2006 film Night at the Museum, in which the exhibits come to life after dusk, and it will put you right in the picture.
Young and eager volunteer students offer informal tours either to groups or individuals, and their knowledge is impressive. Open 9.30am-6pm. Entry is Khs 800 (£6.30). Tel +254 20 742 131; museums.or.ke
5 - Kenya National Archives
In the busy heart of downtown, the Kenya National Archives (Jogoo House, Moi Avenue) is at the other end of the museum spectrum. Housed in an old, dark and dusty colonial edifice that was once the Bank of India, if we stick to the movie theme, this is pure Raiders of the Lost Ark. It is used mainly by researchers and students studying its “Memory of the Nation” collection, but there are two floors open to visitors, and the somewhat scattergun collection tracing Kenya’s heritage is unmissable and deeply memorable. Open 8am-5pm. Entry is Khs 200 (£1.70). Tel +254 20 222 8959.