Holiday Destinations in the Historic North of Ethiopia

The most popular destinations along the historic north circuit of Ethiopia are: 

  • Addis Ababa: the capital city, this is your start and end point on the historic north circuit. A sprawling metropolis, most visitors spend just a day in the city, before heading up into the countryside. 
  • Bahir Dar: the former administrative capital of West Gojjam province and the current capital of the Amhara Regional State, Bahir Dar is one the most beautiful towns in Ethiopia. Bahir Dar is often the first stop along a historic north circuit after Addis, and is the base for exploring the monasteries of Lake Tana and the Blue Nile Falls.
  • Lalibela: home to a series of rock-hewn monolithic churches and the famous Ben Abeba restaurant, Lalibela is one of the most popular destinations on the northern circuit, and if you venture outside of town, there is plenty to discover in the surrounding highlands.
  • Gondar: found in the Semien Gondar Zone of the Amhara Region, north of Lake Tana on the Lesser Angereb River and southwest of the Simien Mountains, Gondar is famous for its castle ruins, ancient bathhouses, and beautiful churches. 
  • Simien Mountains National Park: a region of incredible natural beauty, the Simien Mountains are one of the best hiking destinations in Ethiopia, and are home to endemic species like Gelada Monkeys, Walia Ibex, and Simien Fox.
  • Axum: situated in the Maekelay Zone of the Tigray Region, near the base of the Adwa mountains, Axum is known for its huge obelisks that tower over the centre of town, the tallest being over 33 metres. Dating back 1,700 years, these obelisks are the remnants of a once dominant Axumite empire.
  • Gheralta Montains: in the Tigray region of norther Ethiopia, the Gheralta landscape is one of vast flatlands broken by towering sandstone cliffs. Two beautiful lodges in the area, Gheralta Lodge and Korkor Lodge, are your base for exploring this remarkable region, and the ancient monasteries found hidden in the mountains. 

Map of Ethiopia

Map of Ethiopia

Classic Historic North Circuit

The classic historic north circuit in Ethiopia loops clockwise from Addis, taking you to Bahir Dar, Lalibela, Gondar, the Simien Mountains, Axum, and the Gheralta Mountains. 

While the core route is the same, there are a number of factors the influence the experience, including your choice of accommodation, the timing of your trip (the historic north circuit is particularly magical during Timkat or Ethiopian Christmas in January), and whether you choose local or professional guides. 

A typical historic north circuit is 12-14 days. 

Cultural & Historic Northern Tours

For those most interested in the historic monuments, ancient artefacts and culture of Ethiopia, a shorter loop around Ethiopia's north can take you to the major historic and cultural destinations: Bahir Dar Lalibela, Gondar, and Axum. 

Tours of the historic cities of Ethiopia are typically 6-10 days. 

Wildlife, Hiking & Trekking

The Simien Mountains are the best trekking destination in northern Ethiopia. There are a lot of options for trekking in the Simien Mountains, and hikes can range from day trips to 9+ days. 

For the ultimate hiking in Ethiopia experience, consider combining the Simien Mountains with community trekking in either Lalibela or Tigray. 

Tours off the Beaten Track

Some of the best experiences combine the wonders on the traditional northern circuit with regions off the main trail. In the north of Ethiopia, destinations off the beaten track don't come much better than community trekking in Wollo or Tigray, and an expedition into the Danakil Depression.