When planning a trip to Ethiopia, you’re most likely focusing on visiting destinations along the Northern Circuit, places like Lalibela, the Danakil Depression, or the Simien National Park. But no matter where in Ethiopia you plan on going your trip will undoubtedly start in the busy capital, Addis Ababa.
This bustling city is populated by over three million people, and is currently the fourth biggest city on the African continent! It has also been unofficially dubbed the diplomatic capital of the continent, as there are over 120 embassies and missions all over town.
Addis Ababa may seem like a chaotic jumble of traffic unappealing to the untrained eye. It’s not an easy city to navigate and not one with famous tourist attractions, but those that plan to spend a few days here will discover a lot of interesting things to do in Addis Ababa!
And we know what you’re thinking – “but is Addis Ababa safe to visit?”
The short answer: absolutely.
Apart from the odd pick-pocketer, Addis Ababa is actually one of the safest large cities in all of Africa. During our week-long stay in Addis Ababa, we roamed the streets and got a feel for the local culture without ever feeling unsafe.
Best time to visit Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa is suitable to visit pretty much all year long! The climate stays consistent all year long, though it does get a bit warmer between February and May.
Things to do in Addis Ababa
Most of the attractions in Addis Ababa are concentrated within the city centre, although there are a few that might require you to venture out a bit.
But fret not, if you are looking for an eco-friendly way to get around the city, consider taking Addis Ababa’s light rail train system! It was the first to open on the entire continent back in 2015 and has revolutionized public transport in the city. There are two lines – the North/South and East/West lines – and the train only costs $0.15 USD (4 Birr) one way.
Main Attractions in Addis Ababa
There are not a ton of interesting attractions in Addis Ababa, but some of the most important buildings in the city, including the Parliament building, Africa Hall, and the Ethiopian National Museum.
This museum is the perfect place to start understanding Ethiopian culture and history. They’ve even got an exact replica of the “Lucy” fossil – the oldest human skeleton ever discovered, which was found in Hadar, Ethiopia!
The Red Terror Museum is also worth a visit in order to help you better understand the massive humanitarian crisis that struck Ethiopia at the end of the 20th century. Most of the people that work at that museum are survivors themselves!
If you want to gain some insight into day to day life in Addis Ababa, take to the streets and watch locals go about their everyday life. You’ll come across many markets along the way. The main market in Addis Ababa, Merkato, is particularly interesting. It is perfectly safe to wander around on your own, but you will undoubtedly learn much more if you go with a guide.
There are a handful of awesome Addis Ababa city tours that will take you around to all of these places and more. Tours like this one, by the wonderful folks at Go Addis Tours, will take you around and show you some of the most important sights with a local who knows their way around.
Day trips from Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa is an excellent jumping-off point for a bunch of different day trips. Here are some of our top picks:
If you love hiking, this is probably one of the coolest day trips from Addis Ababa that you can take. This crater lake is the summit of an extinct volcano. Once you reach the lake, there is an ecotourism office where you can hire a local guide to show you around!
Debre Libanos Monastery and Entoto Mountain
Whether your Ethiopian trip is centred around wildlife and nature or not, this day trip is an incredible way to get acquainted with the Ethiopian countryside.
Menagesha Forest and Addis Alem
This is one of the most interesting day trips from Addis Ababa out there! You spend some time in one of the most visited natural attractions – the Menagesha Forest – for a picnic lunch, and then visit the town of Addis Alem just outside of Addis Ababa for a closer look at Ethiopian culture and history.
Ethiopian Rift Valley Lakes and the UNESCO Site of Steles of Tiya
This tour will take you through the Rift Valley, passing by the five crater lakes that make up the area. You’ll then take a boat to a small island for some bird watching, and end the tour by stopping at the Steles of Tiya – an incredible ancient monument.
Restaurants in Addis Ababa
Even for the picky eaters out there, Ethiopian food is a must try! The main ingredient of all Ethiopian foods is Injera – a spongy sourdough bread baked like a pancake that is served with a variety of meat and vegetarian based stews.
You should also try what locals call “spris juice” (also spelled “spriss” and “sprice”) – it’s 4+ layers of different fruit pulp piled into a cup and eaten with a spoon. So good!
One restaurant that is particularly famous is Yod Abyssinia. This place has got all bases covered – whether you just want to sample dishes from any of the many cultures around Ethiopia, or get a taste for Addis Ababa nightlife, you should definitely stop in here!
Oda Cultural Restaurant and Cafe
Another great restaurant to visit in Addis Ababa is Oda Cultural Restaurant and Cafe that showcases the best of Oromo culture and cuisine. The restaurant was made popular by Anthony Bourdain when it was featured on one of the episodes of No Reservations.
We recommend reading up on Ethiopian cuisine before arriving and solidify that internet knowledge by going on a food tour of the city. We joined a local tour guide from Go Addis Food Tour and spent an amazing afternoon exploring the city’s hidden restaurants and trying lots of delicacies including fried fish, raw beef, and the famous shiro stew!
Where to stay in Addis Ababa
There aren’t a ton of accommodation options to choose from in Addis Ababa. During our stay in the city, we bopped around every couple nights trying out different hotels.
There aren’t any eco-friendly options yet, but we liked the Caravan Hotel. It had good internet and served great local food.
How long to stay in Addis Ababa
Though the city itself is massive and sprawling, you don’t need more than a couple days to cover all of the important ground. You can pack sightseeing, a food tour, and a day trip into a two-night stay in Addis Ababa. Save the bulk of your holiday for exploring the rest of Ethiopia – the country has so much to see and experience!
Have you been to Addis Ababa? What other recommendations do you have for first-time visitors to Ethiopia’s capital?
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