Having shaken off the clutches of colonialism in 1963, Nairobi, or Kenya for that matter, may not be as old as, say, Rome or London. However, from the time the British landed to long after independence, many historical sites were established that help narrate the city’s story, one that started as a train stop. For anyone visiting any destination, it is a good idea to pay homage to the heritage of a place. When in Nairobi, try and learn all you can about the city’s past and open your eyes to what drives Kenya’s capital. You can also choose among the best hotels and vacation rentals if you’re still not sure of where to stay. For a blast into the past, we’ve listed 10 historical sites and monuments in Nairobi for you to visit. Learn about them below.
1. Nairobi National Museum
As with any other museum, the Nairobi National Museum may not be considered a historical site in itself, but the fact that it houses numerous artifacts of historical significance earns it a spot on this list. If you’re interested in learning about the country’s various communities, there’s a permanent exhibition on Kenya’s heritage just for you.
However, perhaps the most impressive exhibits are in the early man section, where actual fossils, discovered in the country, are displayed. This includes the fossil of a proconsul that dates back 18 million years, which encouraged archaeologists to consider Kenya as the birthplace of humankind.
Nairobi National Museum
Address: Kipande Rd, Nairobi
Website: Nairobi National Museum
Opening hours: 8:30am - 5:30pm (daily)
Price: 12 USD (adults) 6 USD (under 16 yrs)
2. Nairobi Railway Museum
This museum is probably the most important to Nairobi since the city started off as a railway depot. The museum itself is housed in former East African Railway offices, buildings that look and feel very pre-colonial. Still, it is the exhibits here that will fascinate you: each one paints a picture of the city’s heritage. From old, disused trains to railway artifacts, there is no doubt that this museum is an important historical site in the city.
Also, get to learn about the man-eating lions of Tsavo, which got a taste for human flesh during the construction of the Mombasa - Nairobi railway in the late 1800s. The very carriage from which a British superintendent was dragged by these beasts is on display here.
Nairobi Railway Museum
Address: Railway Station, Nairobi
Website: Nairobi Railway Museum
Opening hours: 8am - 5pm (daily)
Price: 10 USD
3. Nairobi Gallery - Old PCs Office
What today is referred to as the Nairobi Gallery, was once the colonial government’s office, built in 1913. It was strategically set up at the very center of Nairobi, probably for quick access to every corner of the city. During that era, the colonial Governor used this office as his base of operations, the main tasks being to register births, deaths and marriages.
The office served its function until 1983 when it was transformed into what it is today, a gallery of sculptures, artifacts and paintings that showcase the diversity of Africa’s communities. There’s a lot of history to learn here, so make sure you drop by.
Address: Kenyatta Ave, Nairobi
Website: Nairobi Gallery
Opening hours: 8:30am - 5:30pm (daily)
Price: 10 USD adults, 5 USD children below 16 yrs
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4. Karen Blixen Museum
If you’ve heard of the book ‘Out of Africa’, you probably know of Karen Blixen, its author. This eponymous museum used to be her home and it was built in 1912, but it wasn’t until 1917 that Karen bought the property, which came with a coffee plantation. Then, after Karen’s book was turned into a movie, (which was a worldwide hit, by the way), this home, which now belongs to the Kenyan government, was turned into a museum. Get the book, if you haven’t already, watch the film and visit the Karen Blixen Museum. The original, early 1900s decor has been maintained and props from the movie have been used to keep the spirit of Karen and her life’s work alive.
Karen Blixen Museum
Address: Karen Rd, Nairobi
Website: Karen Blixen Museum
Opening hours: 8:30am - 5:30pm (daily)
Price: 12 USD adults, 6 USD children under 16 yrs
5. McMillan Memorial Library
Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing
This public library sits at the very heart of the city and it’s a particularly conspicuous building because of its discernible historic architecture. Its facade is of Nairobi bluestone and lion sculptures welcome you at the entrance as if standing guard. Built by the McMillan family, its doors were officially opened in 1931 by the colonial Governor. Its neo-classical design is reminiscent of old British architecture. During the colonial period, this was a European-only library but it is, today, open to all who love books.
McMillan Memorial Library
Address: Banda Street, Nairobi, Kenya
Opening hours: Mon - Sat: 7am - 6pm (closed on Sun)
6. Uhuru Gardens Memorial Park
Photo is only for illustrative purposes
The word Uhuru is Swahili for freedom and it is here that the festivities began after the country attained its freedom from Britain. The Kenyan flag, for the very first time, was hoisted at this park, earning it a very significant place in Kenya’s history. Various monuments dot the landscape of Uhuru Gardens, each one with its own story. One is comprised of three statues, seemingly struggling to erect a pole on which the Kenyan flag is attached. This monument is a depiction of the fight for independence. The second is a fountain, at the center of which there are three statues, seemingly holding up a pillar, and the centerpiece is a 78-foot (24-meter) high monument.
Uhuru Gardens Memorial Park
Address: Off Lang'ata Rd, Nairobi
Website: Uhuru Gardens Memorial Park
Opening hours: 8am - 6pm (daily)
Price: 2 USD for parking
7. Jeevanjee Gardens
This two-hectare (five-acre) park is found within the city center, a green space that is today a spot for Nairobians to pass their time during the week. However, behind its present chilled-out reputation, lies a deep and interesting history. In 1906, Jeevanjee Gardens became property of the public, after it was donated by Alibhai Jeevanjee, an entrepreneur and one of the earliest settlers in Nairobi. Fast forward to the 90s and unscrupulous developers and government officials threatened to transform this green space into a highrise shopping complex. Thousands rejected this proposal, protested, lobbied and finally won. Today, this little park in the city has statues of the founder, Jeevanjee, as well as one of Queen Victoria, which was unveiled in 1906.
Address: Monrovia Street, Nairobi
Opening hours: 24 hours (daily)
8. City Park Nairobi
Another park on our list, this one is found outside the city center, a short drive to the neighborhood of Parklands. Its status as a historical site is well earned, owing to its advanced age and tumultuous past. Founded in 1921, it was once a sprawling 91 hectares (221 acres). Much like Jeevanjee above, this park also faced threats of encroachment. Today, 60 hectares (148 acres) of the park remain and it is now a protected area. Within the city park, there’s a memorial park, in which Kenya’s second vice president, Joseph Murumbi and his wife, were buried.
Address: City Park Dr, Parklands, Nairobi
9. Kenya National Archives
Found in downtown Nairobi, this imposing building, much like McMillan in number five above, doesn’t attempt to hide its age. Its construction as a bank started in 1928 and was completed in 1931. However, most of its history lies within the building, which is a treasure trove of historical records that go as far back as the pre-colonial era. Visit and check out the century-old newspaper copies, pictures of the then Nairobi, as well as artifacts and displays that honor the freedom fighters.
Kenya National Archives
Address: Moi Ave, Nairobi
Website: Kenya National Archives
Opening hours: Mon - Fri: 8:30am - 5pm; Sat: 8:30am - 1pm (closed on Sun)
Price: 2 USD
10. War memorial statue
Finally, this statue is an homage to the native Africans who fought alongside the British soldiers during World War I. It stands in the city center, on Kenyatta Avenue. Sculpted in 1924, it was erected on-site in 1928, a constant reminder of the casualties of war. The monument is made up of three statues: African soldiers who aren’t identified by name, but clearly members of the Kings African Rifles and Carrier Corps.
It is said that the Germans used East Africa as a battleground for a senseless war that was only meant to distract the British from the main arena: Europe. The War Memorial Statue portrays the deaths of African soldiers that need not have happened.
War Memorial Statue
Address: Kenyatta Avenue, Nairobi
A trip into the past
For some fun things to do, take a trip into the past by checking out these historical sites and monuments in Nairobi. The ten listed above may not be centuries old, but they have a wealth of stories to narrate, most of which are in reference to the colonial and pre-colonial era. So while exploring the national parks and other tourist attractions of Nairobi, be sure to include these cherished sites.
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