Move over big cats. Big cities are another great reason to visit Africa. While our hearts will always belong to the continent’s breathtaking wilderness (and its inhabitants), we have a soft spot for urban environments, too, such as Cape Town, Johannesburg, and, of course, Nairobi. Set in Kenya, the crowned jewel of safari, Nairobi is a burgeoning cultural capital worth exploring pre- or post-safari.

With seemingly boundless energy, Nairobi is a place of amazing contrasts, where race, tribe and origin come together to form the city’s unique character. Its art galleries and markets are our favorite way to get a pulse on contemporary culture. Here are a few of our top spots to visit when in town.

Central Nairobi

1. The Nairobi Gallery

The entrance to the Nairobi Gallery building. ©Nairobi Gallery

The Nairobi Gallery building itself is a work of art, constructed in 1913. Originally the site of Nairobi’s births, marriages and deaths records, the structure showcases Nairobi’s colonial architecture, typical of government establishments at that time. It’s even better indoors. Among the exhibitions that have passed through here is the Joseph Murumbi African Heritage Collection, a wonderful assortment of artifacts collected by Kenya’s first Vice President, a key person in the country’s independence movement. Today, in addition to such artifacts, travelers can also see featured works from major modern African artists.

2. GoDown Arts Center

A mural on the wall of the GoDown Arts Gallery. ©GoDown Arts Gallery
A mural on the wall of the GoDown Arts Center. ©GoDown Arts Center

This multidisciplinary center for contemporary art was established in 2003 and aims to nurture East Africa’s creative potential. We always find a visit worthwhile, even if only to admire how GoDown has transformed the once car-repair-warehouse into an imaginative hub complete with a wall dedicated to evocative graffiti tags. At the nucleus of this space, you’ll find a main performance stage, visual arts studio, art gallery for major exhibitions, and discussion rooms, where you can experience everything from contemporary dance to public seminars to classical music. You can even strike up an insightful chat with current artists in residence.

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Northern Suburbs – Banana Hill

3. Banana Hill Art Gallery

Telling the Beginning by Ssali Yusuf

Founded by a pair of well-respected local visual artists, Rahab and Shine Tani, Banana Hill Art Gallery now exhibits the work of more than 100 artists and sculptors, principally from Kenya and East Africa. It’s a great place to get a feel for East Africa’s movers and shakers as well as the latest rising stars to the scene, such as Ron Ogwang, Haji Chilonga, Kivuthi Mbuno and Kigozi David.

4. Village Market

The Village Market houses a variety of African artifacts and exhibits. ©The Village Market
The Village Market houses a variety of African artifacts and exhibits. ©Village Market

Not far from Banana Hill, you’ll find Village Market, Nairobi’s vibrant complex boasting lifestyle shopping, dining and entertainment. Inside, meet the city’s most talented craftspeople, selling beautiful creations ranging from glass, jewelry, original clothing designs and more. Designing Africa Collective, one of numerous shops you’ll discover here, is our favorite. The Collective works with, and highlights, emerging “premium Africa” and independent designers. Fashionistas, this one’s for you.

5. One Off Contemporary Art Gallery

Mother and Child by Peter Elungat

If you’re enjoying the area’s offerings, then here’s another reason to stick around: One Off. This contemporary gallery is committed to exhibiting only the very best art from East Africa, Ethiopia and Sudan…all in a gorgeous five-acre property. The gallery focuses on sophisticated, contemporary art from the regions top artists, including Peterson Kamwathi, Beatrice Wanjiku and Jackson Wanju. They also have regular short-term exhibits that you won’t want to miss, like New Works, which focuses on bold, dramatic pieces from a selection of One Off exclusive and associated artists, including Smithsonian-featured artist Collin Sekajugo.

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Southeast Suburbs – Langata

6. Matbronze Wildlife Art

A life-size elephant sculpture with glowing eyes will greet you as you enter Matbronze Art Gallery & Foundry. ©Matbronze Wildlife Art
A life-size elephant sculpture with glowing eyes greets guests as they enter Matbronze Art Gallery & Foundry. ©Matbronze Wildlife Art

For more traditional art, check out Matbronze‘s world-renowned collection of sculptures, mostly featuring East African wildlife. The gallery, founded by Denis Mathews, sits in the historic suburb of Karen (not far from the Giraffe Centre), where it became the first bronze foundry on this side of the continent. Visitors are invited to catch a sneak peek of the magical creation process, such as bronze smelting and lost-wax casting.

7. Langata Link Shops

The Lanagata Link shops are a great option for craft and produce shopping or just relaxing in the shade.

Langata Link is a wonderful new option tucked away in a charming little business center, where people often carry on their phone conversations under the shade of acacia trees. The shops surrounding the small patch of green prioritize quality and sustainably made products. They also work with numerous small-business producers, including many of Kenya’s top artisans as well as community projects, like Kawangware Street Children, a local NGO dedicated to protecting and empowering local kids from the dangers of street life. Among their many youth programs, Kawangware shows youth how to design and hand-make silkscreened, eco-friendly gift bags, greeting cards, gift-wraps and T-shirts. After a feel-good shopping spree, take a break at the delightful little open-air restaurant, The Tin Roof, centrally located nearby.

8. Utamaduni

Discover textile treasures at the Utamaduni Art Center.

Textiles is the name of the game here. The Utamaduni offers a collective of 18 vendors within a converted colonial-style house with a café out front. We love the bold African designs covering the house’s façade, and the lush patio area where you can sit down to a meal and enjoy the simple tranquility of this peaceful space. Inside, this treasure trove of African crafts and antiques is teeming with lovely fabrics, traditional artifacts, and nice jewelry.

9. Maasai Market

maasai market
Visit the Maasai Market to see unique handmade goods of all kinds.

We can’t forget the famous Maasai Market, held in a different location every day of the week. Travelers will find 30 to 60 vendors (many of whom are also the craftspeople) selling all kinds of carvings, baskets, jewelry, home décor and lots more. The boisterous market is busy and upbeat with young people eager to meet and talk with foreign shoppers. We never fail to leave more inspired than when we arrived!

Plan Your Visit

Call or email us to learn more of the great arts & culture that Nairobi and other African cities have to offer!

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