A few things to do in Nairobi’s Central Business District that don’t involve waiting in a stuffy government office.
Visit City Market for curios and freshly-cut flowers, and for your weekly meat shop. The curios section is situated in a large and airy hall with interesting architecture and lofty ceilings. Vendors sell jewellery, colourful fabric, carvings and other traditional mementoes. Right next door, the scene is that of a bustling meat market; white-coated butchers selling an abundance of seafood and meat cuts.
Still in a shopping mood? Bargain for anything from children’s clothes to batik to curtains on Biashara Street. This street, literally meaning the street of business, is crammed with quirky, family-run shops. It started out life as an Indian trading street, and many of the stores remain in the hands of their original owners. If you’re lucky, a friendly shopkeeper might give you a rundown of some local history.
Haria’s Stamp Shop
Haria’s Stamp Shop is a family owned business on Biashara Street that was started unofficially in 1944 by the first Mr Haria, a passionate stamp collector. In 1958, he registered it as a business, and in 1982, with the decline of mail and the rise of the computer, his children expanded it to sell souvenirs, postcards, magnets and branded merchandise. If you walk to the back of the shop, a small corner remains as a tribute to this past era, with stamps for sale from colonial East Africa.
The National Archives is situated in one of the busier parts of Nairobi and can sometimes get a little overwhelming. Once you’re in the door, enjoy the silence.
The building hosts a collection of historical artefacts, and homes Kenyan public and private historical documents. On the ground floor is the Murumbi African Heritage Collections, where you’ll find jewellery from West Africa, oil paintings by contemporary Kenyan artists, pottery by artist Magdalene Odundo and all manner of African art pieces. Point Zero Café, an open-air coffee house on the premises, serves up good coffee.
McMillan Memorial Library
McMillan Memorial Library opened its doors in 1931, and retains much of its early 19th century character. That said, a bit of attention wouldn’t go astray. Bits of tiling are missing, books on rugby rub shoulders with art history tomes, while the wooden flooring looks like it could do with a good polish. The library has a large Africana section, and many valuable first editions. Members, who pay a Ksh1,000 yearly fee, can come here to borrow books, or simply to find a quiet corner in which to work or read in peace.
If you’re looking for delicious ice cream served with a dollop of Kenyan history then this is the place for you. The walls of Nairobi’s oldest ice cream shop are covered in old photographs and it probably looks much the same as when it started in 1950: Formica counters, Coca Cola ads and faded posters from decades back adorn this space. Every Nairobian (and their parent) has a story about this place.
Head to Trattoria on a lazy Sunday evening and enjoy are grandstand views of Nairobi streets over a glass of wine and made-from-scratch pasta from this bustling, family-run Italian restaurant that was established in 1981. During the 1982 attempted coup against then President Daniel Arap Moi, this central Nairobi haunt didn’t close its doors once, even when the restaurant got caught in the cross-fire.
The Railway Museum brings joy to history buffs and playful children alike. Explore the inside of the main building for a rundown of the history of the railway in East Africa, with walls featuring photographs and maps of East Africa as it changed over the century since the railway was constructed. Explore your inner child in and out of the old trains and locomotives parked out in the yard.