A few decades ago in Kenya when you talked about visiting the city, it almost always meant Nairobi. Nairobi, which comes from the Maasai phrase ‘Enkare Nyirobi’, was initially a swampy, nearly worthless area. The name means ‘the place of cool waters’.

Today though, you can no longer use the term without qualifying it with a specific name because since then, Kenya has seen towns like Mombasa and Kisumu acquire city status alongside Nairobi. In this article, we give you the highlights of each city.

1. Nairobi

Nairobi City

During the early years when the British began their colonial rule in Kenya, they established a camp for the construction of the Uganda Railway in 1899. This camp became the site where Nairobi stands today.

It was selected as a stores depot, shunting yard (the place where trains are shifted from one track to another) and camping ground for the thousands of Indian labourers employed by the British to work on the line. This marked the birth of the city of Nairobi in 1963.

Since then the city has grown to become the safari capital of the world otherwise known as the ‘Green City in the Sun’ – a title it almost lost in the last 2 decades but now working hard to keep.

2. Mombasa


Mombasa is considerably smaller than Nairobi, and yet still the second largest Kenyan city with a population of 939,370 (2009). As a coastal city, much of the industry is driven by trade. There is an international airport in Mombasa and there are major highways connecting the city with the capital (Nairobi).

Located on the southeastern coast of Kenya, Mombasa is connected to the mainland via ferry service and bridges. Many parts of the city and outskirts are on the mainland. A large number of coastal resorts makes Mombasa very popular with tourists.

3. Kisumu


Kisumu is the third largest Kenyan city, with a population of over 968,909 (in 2009). It is a port town, but sits on the shores of Lake Victoria rather than the Indian Ocean. There are several animal sanctuaries in Kisumu, as well as a large museum that contains a full-size replica of a Luo homestead. Ferry service across the lake connects Kisumu with Tanzania and Uganda.

4. Eldoret


The city of Eldoret is in western Kenya in Uasin Gishu County. It lies south of the picturesque Cherangani Hills. The city’s population was 289,380 in the 2009 census. It is regarded as the fastest growing town in Kenya. It is also the second-largest urban centre in midwestern Kenya after Nakuru and the fifth largest urban centre in Kenya.

The name ‘Eldoret’ is derived from a Maasai word ‘eldore’ which means ‘stony river’ because the bed of the nearby Sosiani River is very stony. The white settlers decided to call it Eldoret to make it easier for them to pronounce it. Eldoret today is known as the Home of Champions, most of Kenya’s successful athletes have their roots in this city.

If you only knew of Nairobi now you know 3 more. Next time you are in Kenya be specific about the city you want to visit because there are four! We would love to hear about your experience visiting or living in any of these cities. What other towns do you think deserve an upgrade to city status? Share by leaving your comment below.