Things to do
Visit the National Museum
Depending 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, is a popular option. However, locals say 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.
Stroll through Meskel Square, the City Center of Addis
Meskel Square is a must see landmark in Addis Ababa. The square is the key site locals celebrate Meskel (the finding 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, was discovered by an Ethiopian goat herder in the foothills of the Kaffa region around the 6th century. The capital, Addis Ababa, is a coffee lovers paradise. Kaldi’s, a chain modeled from Starbucks, is a fusion-style cafe serving a variety of caffeinated drinks. Adventurous coffee connoisseurs can visit Tomocca, a city landmark, favored by the locals. Tomocca is not just a cafe, it is a roastery and major exporter of coffee with several branches around the city. Stores are decorated with antique coffee roasting machines and photographs from Addis’s early days.
It is crowded, it is chaotic… it is Merkato
Merkato as it is known, is a giant sprawling market. Claimed to be the largest open-air market in Africa, Merkato has everything from electronics to imported clothes, Merkato is a rugged adventure characterised by small alleys branching off from the main streets, haggling with vendors and trying your best not to get lost. Despite guards and police patrolling, do not carry unnecessary belongings and be aware of pickpockets.
Have a night out to remember at African Jazz Village
Addis Ababa has a vibrant music scene, and it is a popular trend for establishments to have live music ranging from solo acoustic guitarists to full-on bands. Revamped in 2015, the Jazz Village, tucked away inside 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
Sitting 3,200m high, Entoto is most definitely the roof of Addis Ababa. Driving up the steep road from the nearby US Embassy compound, you’ll pass huts, highland vegetation, and, if you are early enough, a hyena or two. At the top of Entoto, King Menelik II built his office and used it as his headquarters during the founding of the capital city which lies in spectacular view 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, Ethiopian sweet wine made of honey, 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 indigenous herbs 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 too early in the afternoon, you might just lose the rest of your day…
Hang out on Bole Road
Bole Road is Addis Ababa’s Champs Elysee, featuring the capitals latest stores, restaurants, bars and cafes. It is a modern, fashionable district packed with shopping centers, the Edna Mall and Cinema, hotels, and plenty of both international and upscale Ethiopian restaurants. Close by is Bole Medhanealem, the largest Ethiopian Orthodox church in the city. It is an impressive, breathtaking masterpiece of architecture and a must see when visiting Addis Ababa. It is often busy with worshippers spending time within the beautiful mosaics on the church’s eternal walls and services are held in the open air around 6pm in the evening.
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 complemented with a 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, popular and affordable dish in Ethiopia and can be found in every restaurant in Addis. Our recommendation? Head over to Tikus Shiro, where they serve some of the best in town.
Take a Walk Through Piassa
Piassa is Addis Ababa’s old town. You will find Piassa past the National Palace, on a zigzag road lined with shops and cafes. You can find silver and gold shops here, and it is spectacular to see the creative competition among the jewelers in the area. You can also find Tea Room in Piassa, an old-timey cafe serving delicious, custard filled treats called Boxegna.
A night of culture and dance
Yod Abyssinia is the self-proclaimed Ethiopian Cultural Ambassador, and we don’t disagree! Located centrally near the airport, Yod Abyssinia is a restaurant doubling as a culture hall. During the evenings, you can witness spectacular displays of live music and dance from all over Ethiopia. This is a tourist-dense destination; however, it is well worth it! The food is scrumptious and tej flows at Yod Abyssinia. Make sure to join in on the dancing; eskista is all about the shoulders!
Got a sweet tooth? Bilos has you covered!
Ethiopian cuisine leans more towards savory than sweet, but that doesn’t mean your sweet tooth has to go dissatisfied! Bilos is a local cafe known for its pastry and cakes. With several locations across Addis Ababa, you are bound to run into one. Make sure to try the tiramisu or the chocolate cake or both!
Musical roasting: Fendika Azmari Bet
A very inconspicuous establishment, Fendika is an azmari bet. While patrons sit on three-legged stools, dine and drink tej, a vocalist accompanied by a masinko player walk around the room entertaining with some light humor at the patrons’ expense. Azmari bet like Fendika are fairly common around the country, but Fendika is one of the handful in Addis Ababa and certainly the most popular.