Top Visitor Attractions in Nairobi – The Museums

Mention Kenya and most visitors will tell you about the great holidays to be had in the bush or beach. However, what many travellers are missing out on, as they zip in and out of the Nairobi, are the exciting cultural and historical attractions that are found only in the city. As an example, let’s take a look at a sample of Nairobi’s museums.

1. Nairobi National Museum
Established in 1910 by the British colonial community, the Nairobi National Museum houses a notable collection of Kenyan cultural, zoological and historical artifacts. It is located in the (aptly named) Museum Hill, about 10 minutes drive from the city centre. The recent refurbishment (2009) and expansion project has brought a fresh, contemporary feel to the galleries and incorporated a large number of locally produced art and sculpture works. Adjacent to the museum is the Snake Park that displays a variety of live reptiles and fish. Additionally, the Museum has a well-renowned department for archaeology and paleontology.

A visit to the museum is worthwhile due to its multi-faceted displays of culture, modern art and natural science, that span the history of country from early human origins through to the modern day.

2. Karen Blixen Museum
The basis of the Oscar winning film ‘Out of Africa’, this museum was the home of the Danish Baroness and author Karen Blixen. It is located in the suburb of Karen, about 10 km outside of Nairobi, and the entire area was once the Baroness’s 4,500 acre farm.

The 19th century style cottage with stone walls, red tile roofs and wide verandahs takes the visitor back to the era of European settler communities. The museum, now under the charge of the National Museums of Kenya, maintains much of its original construction materials and furniture pieces. The extensive, well-tended grounds and abundant trees make for a pleasant and serene setting with wonderful views of the picturesque Ngong Hills.

3. Kenya National Archives
Situated in downtown Nairobi on the busy Moi Avenue, the Kenya National Archives houses one of the finest collection of Pan-African cultural artifacts, African stamps, rare books and historical documents of any institution in Africa. Synonymous with the Archives is one man: the late Joseph Zuzarte Murumbi, Kenya’s second Vice-President and (perhaps more importantly) an ardent art collector. He singlehandedly gathered many of the priceless masterpieces to be found in the Archives, and it is said that what’s on display here is only the tip of the iceberg that is the Murumbi art collection.

For both art enthusiasts and amateurs, the Archives promise an invaluable glimpse into the vast riches of authentic African cultural and historical pieces from around continent. It’s well worth the tussle with the traffic for a visit to the Archives.

4. Railways Museum
Without the railway, Kenya might never have come into existence as a country. Originally the railway was planned solely for connecting the land-locked territory of Uganda to the coast. However, the overlooked the swamplands of Nairobi in between suddenly developed significance as a depot and administrative centre because of their appropriate position at the start of the highlands.

Over 100 years later and the Railway Museum, in the bustling metropolis of Nairobi, houses a splendid collection of railway memorabilia, relics and retired steam trains. Additionally, one can find out about the man-eating lions that terrorized the imported Indian rail workers and disrupted construction for many months.

5. Old PCs Building
Located right in the heart of Nairobi City next to the towering, drab Nyayo House, is a little known charming, one-storeyed stone building that’s almost a century old; the Old PC’s office. Now under the National Museums of Kenya, it was built as the office of the Provincial Commissioner by the colonial government in 1913.

For the European settler community, this is where all births, marriages and deaths were recorded; hence it was fondly referred to as the ‘Hatches, Matches and Dispatches’ office. Today the Nairobi Gallery records matters of a more artistic kind, through a variety of rotating exhibitions.

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