In the past, if you’d asked me to describe Karen, I probably would have just listed all the ways it represents class, inequality, and the legacy of colonialism in Kenya.
All of which are valid issues that need to be addressed.
But now that I’ve actually lived there, I’ve learned to love Karen.
The sprawling suburb is only a short drive from Nairobi, but feels a world away from the hustle of the city. Whether you’re planning on moving here, or just want a short break from Nairobi, Karen has everything you need to unwind, relax, and enjoy life.
Karen Shopping Centres
Karen’s biggest shopping mall has everything you need in one place, including a few good restaurants, a medical centre and dentist, a Decathlon sports shop, and a Smart Gym.
The Hub also occasionally hosts free drive-in cinema nights, so look out for those.
You can also walk across the highway and enjoy a meal at Tin Roof Cafe.
The Waterfront Mall is an odd place.
First of all, it doesn’t have any ATMs. Also, it seems they had to build the ‘waterfront’ to fit the mall’s name. Finally, The Hub is a short distance down the road, fulfilling all your shopping mall needs.
There’s a nice CJ’s restaurant and a well-stocked Naivas, and the car park is much smaller than The Hub. So if you’re only doing groceries or you’re looking for a chilled lunch spot, Waterfront Mall might be a better choice.
If you’re in Langata, Galleria is the most convenient mall.
It’s quite big, with a Carrefour and all the usual selection of stores, restaurants, and coffee shops you find in every Nairobi shopping mall.
Langata Link Shops is a selection of independent stores selling Kenyan artisanal products.
Come here for locally-made candles, toiletries, clothes, and home decor.
Utamaduni sells all the classic ‘African’ souvenirs, decorations, masks, and clothes you could ask for.
Prices are fixed (if a little high), and proceeds go towards supporting local craftspeople.
There’s also a peaceful garden cafe that is worth visiting on its own merit.
Things to Do in Karen
Karen is home to some of Nairobi’s most well-known and popular tourist attractions.
There’s also plenty of less known attractions and fun activities that can easily keep you busy for a whole weekend.
Spend an hour getting up close and personal with beautiful, majestic, and sassy giraffes.
The Giraffe Centre is incredible, care-free fun for kids and adults. Besides feeding the giraffes and getting to know their unique personalities, it’s also great to just people-watch the other guests and soak up the atmosphere of unrestrained glee.
Make friends with the staff, and they’ll show you the ropes, so you get the best from your time here.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust is a leading NGO in Kenya, rescuing and rehabilitating wild elephants and rhinos.
Many of them are rescued as babies and raised at the NGO’s nursery in Karen, which you can visit for one hour a day (11 am-12 pm).
Baby elephants and rhinos are just… adorable. So, if you’re in Karen visiting the Giraffe Centre, make time to add David Sheldrick to your itinerary.
Right across the road from the Giraffe Centre, Oloolua is a huge nature trail winding through forests, waterfalls, and much more.
If you’re overwhelmed by the crowds at Karen’s other tourist attractions, Oloolua is a welcome relief and a chance to disappear into nature for a few hours.
There are also picnic areas along the trail if you want to stop and enjoy lunch.
If the Giraffe Centre wasn’t enough for you, and you need some even closer encounters with the animals, you could spend $1,200 to stay a night at Giraffe Manor!
Why the high price tag? You’ve seen the photos. Every morning, you’re greeted by a couple of the locals sticking their heads through the windows to eat your breakfast.
I’ll let you decide if it’s worth it.
Get an insight into a 20th-century European settler’s life with a short tour of Karen Blixen’s former home.
The house itself is actually relatively small and can be toured alone or with a guide. Either way, you’ll only need 20-30 minutes to see the whole thing. You can also wander around the vast garden – all that’s left of the Blixens’ once humungous, mostly unsuccessful, coffee plantation.
Just off the road from Langata back into Nairobi, Bomas of Kenya is an open-air museum celebrating the cultures and histories of Kenya’s 42 main tribes.
There are reconstructions of traditional homesteads to explore, along with exhibitions and cultural performances. Bomas of Kenya also occasionally hosts live music and contemporary cultural events.
Plan to stay for a few hours to take in everything.
Paintball Fury @ The Waterfront
Nairobi’s premier paintballing company has an excellent outdoor venue next to Waterfront.
The grounds are a mix of dense woodlands and buildings, making for an adrenalin-filled few hours shooting your friends in the face without a care in the world.
Mamba village is a large complex built around a human-made lake, home to some enormous crocodiles (mamba is Swahili for croc).
Picnic, restaurant, good value, boat tour, cycle around the lake.
Next to Talisman restaurant, Escape Room Kenya has three rooms for small groups of friends to solve, taking up to an hour each.
It guarantees a memorable afternoon of puzzle-solving and an excellent way to build your appetite before an incredible lunch at Talisman.
If you’ve got kids, Stedmak Gardens will keep them entertained for hours.
There’s a heated pool, animal park, amusements, and floating restaurant all in one place.
You can get up close and personal with some of Kenya’s most notorious snakes in the reptile house, check out some llamas, and enjoy a relaxing lunch afterward.
In case you’re wondering, yes, I’m obsessed with food.
And in my opinion, it’s worth coming to Karen and Langata just for the restaurants. Whether you want a day out of Nairobi or you’re spending a weekend, make sure you reserve a spot.
You won’t be disappointed.
Gyms in Karen
Considering the size of Karen and Langata, there are surprisingly few gyms here. Fortunately, the ones that exist are of excellent quality and conveniently located.
Smart Gyms Karen @ The Hub
Nairobi’s best gym franchise also has a branch at The Hub. Smart Gyms Karen is big, with plenty of excellent equipment for all workout and exercise preferences.
Membership starts at 3,800 Kshs per month (with classes included), and the gym is open until 10 pm.
Dojo Wellness focuses on offering small classes in CrossFit, personal training, and wellness activities, like yoga.
If you prefer working out alone, there are regularly scheduled gaps for ‘self-practice,’ but members are encouraged to join for the classes and group workouts.
Dojo also has a smoothie bar, steam and sauna, and physiotherapy services.
A well-equipped gym that opens at 5 am! Fitness Revolution is popular for its trainers, always on hand to help out, and onsite smoothie bar/cafe for post-workout refreshments.
Located behind Galleria Mall in Langata, FirstPower is a huge, open Crossfit gym that also accommodates plenty of other workouts, with membership plans to match your preference.
They also offer incredibly affordable personal training sessions, which you can split between two people.
Kofisi Karen (pictured) – Located across the road from Waterfront Mall, Kofisi offers a mix of communal areas, private offices and booths, a quiet space, and much more. It’s super comfortable and has everything you need from a coworking space.
Nairobi Garage Karen – Nairobi’s original coworking space also has a branch in Langata. Expect sleek, ultra-modern facilities (including showers, in case you’re cycling) and excellent value membership plans.
Apartments for Rent in Karen
Most rental properties in Karen are large family homes, but more affordable apartments are becoming available.
Nairobi Expat Housing is the best place to find affordable guest suites and apartments for rent in Karen. Expect to pay 50,000+ KES per month.
Langata Link has several apartments spread throughout Karen and Langata. Prices start at 80,000 KES per month for a one-bedroom.
Finally, check out Airbnb for the occasional bargain apartment rental. I’ve paid less than 50,000 KES for a 1 BR I rented via Airbnb.
Houses to Rent in Karen
Rental houses in Karen usually target families, with lots of bedrooms and a high price tag. You can find them in all the resources listed above.
Hospitals in Karen
The Karen Hospital is one of the best private hospitals in Nairobi. It provides an ambulance service and emergency and emergency services, along with an outpatient clinic and plenty of specialist clinics for a wide range of illnesses and issues.
Amber Medical has two branches, at The Hub Karen and Freedom Heights Mall in Langata. Both include a medical and dental clinic.
The Nairobi Hospital Outpatient Centre at Galleria Mall in Langata is a good option also.