Let’s dive into 30 must-see gems you’ll love and need to visit when in Kenya! Typically known for incredible safaris and the Masaai Mara, Kenya has so much more to offer
Kenya, a destination that’s far more than just safaris, surprised me with stunning UNESCO World Heritage sites, jaw-dropping beaches and unique culture such as the Swahili settlements that are hundreds of years old.
I’ve traveled Kenya as a solo traveller and digital nomad, showing you how you can do the same without breaking the bank! From northeast to southeast, I’ll share my favorite places, where to stay and how to get there so you can explore its magical culture.
Nairobi, the vibrant capital of Kenya, pulsates with energy, blending urban dynamism with a rich tapestry of cultural experiences. The city stands as the beating heart of East Africa, where towering skyscrapers coexist with sprawling markets and lush green spaces.
Nairobi is not just a gateway to iconic wildlife adventures but a destination in itself, boasting a thriving arts scene, exciting culinary offerings, and buzzing nightlife. From the bustling streets of the central business district to the serene landscapes of Karura Forest, Nairobi is fantastic to stay for a few weeks (especially if you’re a digital nomad!) and promises a dynamic immersion into the heartbeat of Kenya’s cosmopolitan soul.
1. Giraffe Center
The Giraffe Centre in Nairobi offers a unique and interactive wildlife experience. Situated in the leafy suburb of Karen, this conservation and education center is renowned for its efforts in the preservation of the endangered Rothschild’s giraffe.
As a visitor, you have the opportunity to hand-feed these beautiful creatures from an elevated platform and get really close! A visit to the Giraffe Centre is not only a delightful animal encounter but also a meaningful contribution to the ongoing efforts to protect these graceful giants in the heart of Kenya’s capital. One of the real must-see gems when in Kenya!
2 Nairobi National Museum
Nairobi National Museum stands as a cultural gem in the heart of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. It’s a gateway to the country’s rich heritage, showcasing a diverse collection that spans prehistoric artifacts, ethnographic exhibits, and contemporary African art.
The museum’s halls come alive with the stories of Kenya’s past, featuring fossil discoveries, traditional crafts, and artistic expressions that reflect the nation’s cultural tapestry. With its captivating displays and commitment to preserving Kenya’s cultural legacy, Nairobi National Museum stands as a must-visit destination!
3. Ole Sereni Hotel Rooftop
Perched atop the Ole Sereni Hotel, the rooftop offers a mesmerizing panorama of Nairobi National Park. Here you can witness where the bustling urban landscape seamlessly merges with the untamed wilderness.
This rooftop provides an unparalleled view of the park’s vast savannahs, acacia-dotted plains, and the iconic backdrop of the city skyline. I came here for sunset and saw ostriches, Gray Crowned Cranes and other birds roaming around. The sight of wildlife roaming freely against the Nairobi skyline creates one of the must-see gems in Kenya you cannot miss!
Best Cafe in Nairobi
Connect Cafe in Riverside has to be one of my favorite places in Nairobi. It’s ideal to work from if you’re a digital nomad, has amazing coffee and a great vibe. Make sure to come early for a spot on the long table.
Where to Stay in Nairobi
After trying multiple locations, Riverside was my favourite place! Erica Residences is located in one of the safest areas and is close to multiple shops and restaurants. I’ve extended my stay various times and found it to be the best value for money – with incredible views!
Lamu Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, proudly stands as one of East Africa’s oldest and most preserved Swahili settlements. For over 700 years, it has stood as a testament to the passage of time, remaining largely untouched.
The island’s allure lies in its unique blend of Arab, Chinese, and Indian influences. It creates a cultural tapestry that has fascinated travelers since the 1960s. Even celebrities like Mick Jagger have been drawn to Lamu’s timeless charm.
However, Lamu is more than a destination; it’s a living chronicle of history. It’s offering a rare glimpse into life as it was for centuries. The streets tell stories through stunning wood carvings and artistry, making Lamu reason enough to visit Kenya.
Beyond its historical richness, Lamu’s true magic lies in the warmth of its people and the fusion of cultures. It’s truly one of the friendliest and most welcoming islands globally.
4. Lamu Old Town
The heart of Lamu, Old Town and a stroll of it has to be on every traveler’s list. Lamu Old Town is renowned for its well-preserved Swahili architecture and is one of the must-see gems in Kenya! The narrow, winding streets are lined with coral stone buildings, characterized by elaborately carved doors, intricate wooden balconies, and inner courtyards.
Getting ‘lost’ will truly show you all the hidden corners! You’ll like get into a conversation with the locals who tell your stories from their lives, something I enjoyed the most. This, and wandering around to photograph every little detail. There are also official tour guides who will happily give you a tour. From what I’ve heard, the tour lasts for about 1 hour 30 minutes and cost between 20-30 US.
The streets here are narrow, making it impossible for cars to pass. So for years, donkeys became the solution and main form of transport. Some people even told me, that donkeys helped build the city.
Shela is the ‘prettier’ and more relaxed area of Lamu. It features stunning luxury villas and high-end hotels that stars like Naomi Campell or Mick Jagger liked to reside in. Start your day relaxing on Shela Beach, a stunning white sandy beach known for its tranquility and natural beauty.
Many cute shops invite you to browse. Make a stop for their intricate wood carvings, carpets and lots of typical African kitchen supplies and souvenirs. For dinner, head to
6. Dhow Cruise
Dhow boats are as iconic to Lamu Island as there are to Zanzibar in Tanzania. With their long history originating in Mozambique, they are truly a sight to be seen. Going on a cruise for sunset is something I cannot recommend enough. I’d suggest you inquire with your hotel as they always know a captain or you can also go directly to the harbor and talk to them.
Depending on the dhow, a 2-hour cruise will cost around 20 US per person.
7. Lamu Fort
Built in the 19th century, Lamu Fort is a major historical landmark. It has been renovated and now houses a museum where you can learn about Lamu’s history, culture, and the Swahili people.
8. Swahili House Museum
Visit the Swahili House Museum to see a typical Lamu house furnished with traditional items, offering insights into the daily life of the island’s residents.
9. Lamu Riyadha Mosque
The Riyadha Mosque in Lamu, founded in the late 19th century, actively serves as the longest continuously functioning and one of the most influential Islamic teaching institutions in the Swahili world. Presently, the Riyadha educates children across the entire Lamu archipelago and hosts advanced students from all over East Africa in both its regular madrasa (mosque school) and the Muslim Academy, accommodating approximately 50 students.
10. Lamu Museum
This museum showcases Lamu’s history, maritime heritage, and cultural artifacts. It really shows what role Lamu played in the local history and is a great stop while on your city tour!
11. Sand Dunes
Who knew there were dunes in Lamu? The Shela sand dunes, a 12-km sandy stretch are the only freshwater reservoir serving more than 30.000 people on the archipelago. You can access them by following the beach and passing by Peponi Hotel. Another way I enjoyed more, was to hike through the village past the Donkey Association. I’d suggest the second option as you’ll end up at a gorgeous viewpoint of the dunes and the bay!
Where to Stay in Lamu Island
Jua House in Shela
The stunning Jua House not only enchants you with its dreamy Swahili interior but also a 360 rooftop terrace. People from all Lamu come by to enjoy their delicious cakes & bread, right out of their own in-house bakery. The staff is more than welcoming and helpful with anything you’d need. From daily 4 pm tea time that’s accompanied by freshly baked cake, each of the rooms is individually designed, featuring woven blankets from South Africa, luxury towels from Ethiopia, and other unique refurbished furniture.
Makubwa House in Lamu
Nestled within Lamu Old Town, Makubwa House is one of African Nomads’ houses for their digital nomad retreats. The stunning Swahili/Omani architecture, open living room, and in-house pool make for a unique stay. From my living room desk, I could spot the ocean while working – just wow! If you’re looking for a must-see and stay gem in Kenya, Makubwa House is it!
Another stunning townhouse right in the middle of Lamu Old Town. Amu House features affordable and pretty rooms plus a great rooftop terrace. It’s a great place for doing morning yoga on their rooftop terrace, listening to the sound of the mosque by sunset time and get a taste of a true Swahili building.
Best Restaurant in Lamu Island
Peponi Hotel’s restaurant in Shela, Lamu, is a culinary haven blending coastal charm with exquisite flavors. Nestled in the idyllic setting of Shela village, this restaurant offers a gastronomic journey that complements the hotel’s legendary hospitality. A must-go and fantastic to work from as a digital nomad!
Malindi is a town located on the northeastern coast of Kenya, along the Indian Ocean. It is a popular tourist destination known for its beautiful beaches, diverse marine life, and rich cultural heritage.
Due to its location, it naturally marked a stopping point while exploring Kenya’s coast and I’m so glad I did!
12. Malindi Marine Park
Malindi Marine National Park is renowned for its coral reefs and daily boat trips. It’s a great place to go on a boat trip for some snorkeling and scuba diving. Once you’re in the area, stay for sunset as the beach during this time is the BEST.
13. Vasco da Gama Pillar
Erected by the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama in 1498, it’s one of the oldest European monuments in Africa. It serves as a historical landmark and shows the importance of Malindi. Pay a small fee to visit it or peak over from the nearby beach (like I did).
Malindi Best Hotel to Stay
Nestled on a one-acre plot, Allamanda Villa unveils a tropical garden paradise. You can opt for stand-alone houses like Frangipani & Allamanda House or apartments with separate entrances and verandas. I loved how each space is meticulously designed for comfort. The highlight is their private chef who works his magic in the kitchen for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He’s such a gem and even goes to source all the ingredients for you. It’s the ideal space for a short getaway or a family & friends reunion over the holidays.
Right by the Marine Park in Malindi, Villa Fortuna is one of several villas surrounding a tropical lush pool. The interior was lovingly inspired by the jungle, featuring a spacious bathroom, a large outdoor living area and includes breakfast – for only 30 US a night.
Bali House is located in the northern end of Malindi but the place itself was gorgeous. The staff was amazing, and you had a whole apartment to yourself! Very recommend this one!
Malindi Best Restaurant
Bar Bar Restaurant is your best option for great food, delicious coffee and a nice working session. A few of the seats have a plugin, and Wi-Fi is pretty decent!
How to Get to Malindi
As of the time of writing this, I’ve been discouraged from taking the road from Lamu to Malindi (October 2023). There were still some (albeit irregular) incidents with Al Shabaab in the area.
The easiest way to get to Malindi is to take a flight from Nairobi (1 hour). If you’re coming from Lamu it’s going to be a 30 minutes flight.
Watamu is a small coastal town located just 30 minutes from Malindi. Just like its bigger neighbor, the town is known for its stunning beaches, vibrant marine life, and unique attractions.
Unlike busier Kenyan tourist destinations, Watamu offers a tranquil and laid-back atmosphere, making it an ideal destination for some beach time.
14. Watamu Beach
The town boasts pristine white sandy beaches that stretch for miles along the turquoise Indian Ocean. Visit during low tide to witness the most pristine lagoon-like beach that turns into a sandbank. Trust me, this is one of the top must-see gems the Kenya coastline has to offer!
15. Gede Ruins
Located near Malindi, the Gede Ruins are ancient ruins of a Swahili-Arab trading town dating back to the 12th century. The site provides insights into the area’s historical significance and architecture and can easily be visited from Watamu and Malindi.
16. Mangrove Forests
Mida Creek, located near Watamu, is a fascinating ecosystem of mangrove forests, mudflats, and tidal sandbanks. It’s a haven for birdwatchers and nature lovers and you can enjoy boat rides, kayaking, and birdwatching!
No trip to Watamu is complete without visiting Lighthouse Restaurant. It’s the best spot in town, featuring an eco-interior, upbeat music, and hammocks to unwind in and watch the sunset. With lots of comfy seating arrangements on the ground, it marks the ideal place to end the day.
Get there early to grab a seat or reserve one of the sunset-facing hammocks. This has been one of my favourite must-see gems while in Kenya, the vibe was hard to beat!
How to Get to Watamu
The nearest airport to Watamu is Malindi Airport (MYD). From Malindi Airport, Watamu is approximately a 20-30 minutes drive away. You can also hop on a boda-boda or public Matatu to reach Watamu from Malindi. The cost is around 800 KSH or 5 USD for moto taxi, and less than 300 KSH for a public matatu.
Where to Stay in Watamu
Palm Garden Boutique Hotel is nestled away from the beach in a serene area. The aesthetic is gorgeous and the lush garden makes it a perfect place to unwind! Also – they’ve got a great selection of international drinks and dishes.
Check out all guesthouses, villas and hotels in Watamu for a great stay!
Kilifi is a lesser-known coastal town, situated approximately 56 kilometers north of Mombasa and 120 kilometers south of Malindi.
The region has a rich history, with evidence of human habitation dating back over 3,000 years. The local economy is known for agriculture, fishing, and tourism while also producing coconuts, cashews or mangoes.
18. Mnarani Ruins
These ancient ruins, located near Kilifi Creek, date back to the 15th century and showcase the area’s historical significance. The site includes remnants of mosques and tombs that provide great insights into Kilifi’s past as a trading port.
19. Fish Market
Kilifi is rich in Swahili culture, and it’s easy to engage with the friendly local community. You can go explore the local fish market down by the creek and see people’s catch of the day. This is also the best spot if you want to buy fresh fish – the women even clean them for you!
20. Bofa Beach
Kilifi is home to Bofa Beach, a pristine stretch of white sandy beach with turquoise waters. While walking the beach you can spot many kids going fishing, dancing, and going about their days. One thing I noticed was the absence of beach boys. Due to the few tourists, the vibe was more relaxed and local. It’s your best bet to get away, less touristy than Malindi and Watamu.
Where to Stay in Kilifi
Silver Palm Resort & Spa
Inspired by Arabian design, the 5-Star Silver Palm Resort & Spa is a whole experience. I got to explore their 2-bedroom Suite with a private pool and it was incredible. The Master bedroom revealed views of our pool, the palm trees, and the nearby ocean – literally one of the must-see gems Kenya has to offer! Featuring a spacious bathroom, walk-in closet and living room you can chill with a drink from your very own bar. Besides the stunning rooms and amenities, the food was my favorite part. Make sure you try the Zanzibar seafood and live-cooked fish – it’s some of the best food I had in Kenya!
How to Get to Kilifi
The nearest major airport is Moi International Airport in Mombasa, approximately 50 kilometers away. From there, you can hire a taxi or take a matatu (minibus) to Kilifi.
You can also take a direct shuttle for the most convenient journey from Mombasa and Malindi. The vans won’t stop along the way and take about 1 hour to reach Kilifi. I’d always opt for a direct car or van as you’re way more comfortable. However, many Matatu buses go the same route, just more crowded and it takes longer.
Curious about Tanzania, Zanzibar? Head over to my blog about the 20 most epic things to see and do in Zanzibar to plan your next trip!
Voted as Best Beach Destination in Africa for the 5th year running, Diani is one of the must-see gems in Kenya you cannot miss. The village itself is pretty spread out along the whole 17km coast. It pays off the take local tuk-tuks or moto taxis to experience the different beaches.
21. Diani Beach
When in Kenya, you need to visit Diani Beach and experience this gem for yourself! Diani Beach won’t disappoint. With its beautiful turquoise color, soft powdered sand, and warm water, stretches for approximately 17 kilometers along the coastline. It’s the ultimate place for a tropical beach getaway.
The camels on Diani Beach are a real institution by now. Every afternoon I’d see them walking up and down the beach or chilling in the shade. If you’ve never been on a camel, this could be your chance to tick this one off the bucketlist! A great way to explore the different areas of Diani Beach.
23. Kongo River Beach
Many locals have recommended the Kongo River Beach as the best beach to go to in Diani. It’s literally at the northern end of the Diani area, with many luxury boutique hotels nearby. You can dine in the Estuary Beach Lounge or bring a couple of drinks and sit directly on the beach.
On the weekends you’ll find many local families and friends enjoying the day. Seeing the sun go down, you’ll listen to people’s music and can sit back by the bonfire! You can also go for a boat ride in the river – one of Diani’s must-see gems that’s still much under the radar in Kenya!
24. Wasini Island
Diani serves as a gateway to Wasini Island, known for its marine life, coral gardens, and opportunities for dolphin encounters. This is a famous tour to take and one many people recommended to me. The highlight is the delicious seafood on the island.
25. Diani Local Markets
Right in the center of Diani, you can explore a bunch of local Masaai markets. Artisans are selling traditional crafts, African clothing, and souvenirs. They’ve got some of the nicest wood carvings, pictures and bags and it’s where I bought all of my souvenirs.
26. Colobus Monkey
Diani hosts the Colobus Conservation Center, dedicated to the protection of the endangered Angolan colobus monkeys. As a visitor, you can learn about these primates and observe them in a natural environment.
You can also spot them outside in the trees all around Diani, usually towards the evening. Their unique fur makes them one of the Kenya must-see gems for sure!
Best Cafe to Visit (and support) in Diani
Pallett Cafe is a gorgeous cafe right on Diani Beach and offers a range of delicious dishes whilst providing training and employment to deaf people. It’s a great way to learn some sign language while ordering and it’s nice to work from also!
How to Get to Diani
The nearest airport to Diani is Ukunda Airstrip, which serves flights from Nairobi’s Wilson Airport. Alternatively, you can fly to Moi International Airport in Mombasa, which is approximately 40 kilometers away from Diani. From Mombasa, you can hire a taxi or take a matatu (shared minibus) to Diani.
In Diani, you have dozens of tuk-tuks or moto taxis at your availability. As there isn’t much light after sunset, I would suggest you take one of them to get around. A ride should be around 100-300 KSH.
Best Place to Stay in Diani Beach
Diamonds Leisure Beach & Golf Resort is one of the top hotels in the area. Fantastic location right by Diani Beach, near some amazing restaurants and natural sights.
Mombasa, the coastal gem of Kenya, pulsates with vibrant energy and cultural diversity. This bustling city, perched along the Indian Ocean, features a rich history, influenced by Swahili, Arab, and European cultures.
I’d suggest spending 1-2 days here.
27. Fort Jesus
Fort Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stands as a testament to Mombasa’s rich history. This 16th-century Portuguese fort showcases stunning architecture and houses a museum that displays the region’s historical artifacts.
The entry is about 1200 KSH or 10 US.
28. Mombasa Old Town
Mombasa’s Old Town, with its narrow streets and vibrant markets, reflects a fusion of Swahili, Arab, and European influences. This area boasts distinctive architecture and historical charm, making it one of the must-see gems and a captivating experience for visitors in Kenya.
I suggest coming with a friend or hiring one of the official guides to take you around. Some taxi drivers told me it’s not always safe to walk around solo as a female, even in daylight.
29. Mombasa Elephant Tusks
The iconic Elephant Tusks, symbolic sculptures located in Mombasa’s heart, epitomize the city’s storied past and cultural heritage, captivating all who pass by.
30. Mandhry Mosque
Mandhry Mosque, an excellent example of Swahili architecture and one the must-see gems in Kenya! It combines the elegant flourishes of Arabic style with the comforting, geometric patterns of African design. Dating back to 1570, it stands as the city’s oldest mosque, featuring a gently rounded minaret.
Where to Stay in Mombasa
I’ve only spent three nights in Mombasa and stayed in the Nyali area. I found it to be the most convenient and modern area to be, near many shops and still close enough to the beach and the Old Town.
How to Get to Mombasa
Mombasa is served by Moi International Airport, located approximately 10 kilometers (6 miles) from the city center. Various airlines operate both domestic and international flights to Moi International Airport.
The Madaraka Express is a modern passenger train service that operates between Nairobi and Mombasa. The ride only takes between 4-5 hours to reach Nairobi and is a great choice if you don’t want to fly and rather see something of the local scenery. Some say you’d even see wildlife on the journey!
Kenya really has so much more to offer than just safaris and I hope this Kenya 2 Week Coastal Itinerary could give you some more inspo. I hope these 20 must-see gems and things to do in Kenya enrich your experience as much as they did mine!
Disclaimer: This article contains affiliate links. If you purchase using these links, I earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. I only recommend services and tools I know and trust myself. Some of the accommodations were sponsored stays, all opinions are my own!
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