Welcome to Addis Ababa
Popular Tours including Addis Ababa
Fusing history, culture, landscapes and wildlife along a perfectly paced circuit, this trip is a synthesis of the very best experiences on offer in Ethiopia’s northern highlands. Explorations of the ancient cities Axum, Gondar, Bahir Dar and Lalibela are broken…
“Addis” as it’s often known, is the world’s third-highest capital city, standing tall at 2,665 meters above sea level. It’s a city that has worn its heart on its sleeve since it was founded by Ethiopian Emperor Menelik in 1892. Boasting a cityscape that changes almost daily, with rickety wooden scaffolding creeping slowly skyward, Addis has more than enough history and sights to warrant more than a stopover.
Amharic, the national language, is widely spoken throughout the country and is predominant in Addis Ababa. The principal foreign language is English, but you will also find many people who speak French, Italian, and Arabic.
Historian Carlo Conti Rossini once characterized Ethiopia as a “rich cultural mosaic”. He could have also been speaking about Addis Ababa itself. Each of the country's multitude of ethnic groups is represented somewhere in the capital, as are a large number of foreign residents from all parts of the world who contribute to the city's cosmopolitan atmosphere.
"Perhaps the highest praise one can direct at this chaotic, contradictory and compelling city is this: Addis Ababa does feel exactly as the Ethiopia capital should feel - singularly and unmistakably Ethiopian" says travel writer Philip Briggs and we believe that the best way to see and experience this beautiful city is with the best local guides Brilliant Ethiopia has to offer.
Things to do
Visit the National Museum
Based on your preferences, there are several different museums to visit. The Museum of the Martyrs (Red Terror Museum), a memorial established in 2010 for the victims of the Marxist Derg regime. But the best museum in Addis Ababa is the National Museum of Ethiopia. The home of Lucy, the most famous skeleton of Australopithecus and our oldest hominid ancestor, might not be the largest or most luxurious museum in the world, but it offers a wide collection of artistic, historical, and archaeological exhibits. With admission of only 10 Birr (£0.30), witnessing our storied ancestor is essentially free.
Stroll through Meskel Square, the Centre of Addis Ababa
Meskel Square is a must see landmark in Addis Ababa. The square is the key site locals celebrate Meskel (the foundation of the True Cross of Jesus Christ) every year on September 27th. It is also a popular venue for early morning joggers, peaceful demonstrators, and can serve as a good point of reference for local transportation and for getting into the center of the city.
Coffee lovers, you're in for a real treat!
It is impossible to separate Ethiopian culture from coffee. Ethiopia is the land of the finest premium quality Arabica coffee in the world and, as legend would have it, and was discovered by an Ethiopian goat herder in the foothills of the Kaffa region around the 6th century. Tourists are spoiled for choice. Kaldi’s, a chain modeled from Starbucks, will serve exactly what you expect. However, more adventurous coffee connoisseurs can try Tomoca, a citywide chain favored by the locals.
It's crowded, it's chaotic...it's Merkato.
The Addis Merkato as it is known, the term coming directly from Italian, is a giant sprawling market that is home to anything and all things Ethiopian that you would ever want to lay your hands. Claimed to be the largest open-air market in Africa, Merkato has everything from electronics to imported clothes, comprises small alleys sprawling off from the main streets. Even though security is sound, with plenty of guards and police patrolling, do not carry unnecessary belongings and be aware of pickpockets.
Have a night out to remember at African Jazz Village
Revamped in 2015, the Jazz village, tucked away at the Ghion Hotel – an oasis of calm next to Meskel Square – is Ethiopia’s premier jazz location. Every Wednesday and most weekends, followers of “Ethio jazz” congregate together at the cozy circular auditorium. Locals and expats alike mix in a venue that you would be forgiven to think was lost in the 70s. Whilst there is no set event schedule, jazz enthusiasts hold out hope of catching a glimpse of the founding father of Ethiopian Jazz, Mulatu Astateke.
Don't miss the St. Mary Church of Entoto
At 3,200m in elevation, Entoto is most definitely the roof of Addis Ababa. Driving up the steep road from the nearby US Embassy compound, you’ll pass huts of various shapes and sizes, highland vegetation, and, rumour has it, if you are early enough, a hyena or two. At the top of Entoto, Menelik II built his and used it as his headquarters during the founding of the capital city, below. Nearby you will find St. Mary’s Church. This architectural gem hosted Menelik’s coronation and further down the hill on the back side of the building are the remains of Menelik’s rather modest palace. Oh, and did we mention that the view of the city from Entoto Hill is just breathtaking?
Indulge in some 'Tej'
Tej (or Ethiopian honey wine) could be the oldest alcoholic beverage in Ethiopian history, with early records of the drink dating over 1,000 years. Often made at home or “Tej bet”, Tej is a honey wine flavored with an indigenous herb much like hops and could easily be mistaken for orange juice on account of its hue and slight viscosity. Just don’t start drinking it in the afternoon, you might just lose the rest of your day…
Don't leave without trying the 'Shiro'
“Shiro” is a delicious stew whose primary ingredient is powdered chickpeas or broad beans combined with special herbs and spices. Depending on the region, the stew is complimented with a whole host of additional spices ranging from chili peppers to ground ginger. It is typically served atop injera, a large sourdough flatbread, which is produced with teff, a local gluten-free millet. Shiro is perhaps the most nourishing, ubiquitous and affordable dish in Ethiopia and is pretty much found in every restaurant in Addis. Our recommendation? Head over to Tikus Shiro, where they serve some of the best in town.
If you're visiting Ethiopia, chances are you're flying into Bole International Airport in Addis. It's worth reserving at least one full day, either at the start or end of your tour, to explore the city. Our guides can help you get the most out of your time in the capital.
Places to Stay
As one of Africa’s developing tourist destinations, Addis Ababa is starting to align its accommodation options with the rest of the continent. Whilst it is true that it doesn’t have the high-end options that one would find in London, Paris or New York, properties are always clean, comfortable and the staff always have a ready smile on their face. Below are a few of our recommendations:
One of East Africa’s select hotels, the Sheraton Luxury Collection has long been the gold standard for luxury accommodation in the capital. Built just over 20 years ago by one Africa’s richest patrons, Sheikh Al-Amoudi, the rooms are certainly luxurious by any standard, and its facilities mean you barely need to leave your hotel, with every need – spa, restaurant etc. service on site. Whether or not that’s a good thing is entirely your call, but needless to stay, it’s an absolute treat to stay here.
Marriott Executive Hotel
The new Marriott Executive Hotel is located in Meskel Square, the heart of Addis. The Marriott boasts some of the largest hotel rooms in the city, with each room enjoying separate bedroom seating area and kitchen outfitted with oven, refrigerator, and kettle. For guest requiring longer stays, groceries can delivered through the hotel’s delivery service. An exercise room will help keep you fit for a day of exploring. The pool, with attached pool bar and lounge, is a great place to relax at the end of the day.
The Addissinia is a favorite of many tourists to the capital. This small but tidy, centrally located hotel offers a good quality restaurant and a free airport shuttle service. The hotel is short drive from Addis Ababa Bole Airport and its rooms are equipped with a flat-screen TV, minibar and ironing facilities, black-out curtains as well as tea-and-coffee making facilities. Guests can enjoy city views – including the newly constructed 60,000 seat National Stadium next door.
Weygoss Guest House
Weygoss Guest House is a clean, comfortable guest house not far from Meskel Square. Rooms are good sized studios, each equipped with a private bath, satellite TV, and a small kitchenette for cooking. There are several markets conveniently located nearby for those who want to prepare their own meals. Balconies offer impressive views of the city beyond the secured front gate. A shuttle will get you to and from the airport for a nominal fee; or, if you’re brave enough to drive, the Weygoss offers free on-site parking. Wireless internet is available at no charge.
Arequ Guest House
A choice that provided the weary traveler with a genuine family feel, Arequ comes highly recommended. Much akin to staying in someone's home, with cosy wooden fixtures and finishings and a friendly and professional service, you could no wrong in staying here for a few nights to escape the bustle of Addis. Be sure, though, to arrange taxi service in advance as the property is located somewhat off the beaten track.