The capital's Ethnological Museum is considered to be one of the finest on the continent. Intricately arranged exhibits narrate the story of Ethiopia and its peoples, all spanning two floors of the former residence of Emperor Haile Selassie, whose rooms are preserved in nearly their original state and open to visitors. Detailed written explanations are provided.
Although the National Museum contains a plethora of cultural artefacts, its most notable exhibit is the cast of Lucy, a female skeleton of the Australopithecus afarensis species, discovered in Ethiopia in 1974 and dating back as far as 3.2 million years. The museum also contains Ethiopian art from the 14th to the 20th centuries.
The chilling, heartbreaking exhibits of the Red Terror Martyrs' Memorial Museum are guaranteed to leave no visitor indifferent. Atrocities commuted during Mengistu’s Derg regime are laid bare, to be processed independently or with an English-speaking guide. The museum operates on donations alone; entry is free of charge.
A steep climb (or car ride) up Entoto Hill is worth the time if only for the spectacular views over sprawling Addis Ababa unfolding from the top. On Sunday, the hilltop Maryam Church is open for mass (closed other days of the week), and the Entoto Maryam Museum showcases artefacts and personal belongings of Emperor Menelik, whose humble palace still stands not too far away.
Typically octagonal, the stern-looking, neoclassical St George Cathedral was where Ethiopian rulers were inaugurated ever since its construction by the order of Emperor Menelik II, who dedicated the church to Ethiopia's patron saint, St George. Adjacent to the church is a museum containing religious paraphernalia.
It takes heart to venture into the chaotic-looking, sprawling marketplace of Addis Ababa, but despite what it may seem at first glance, the market is very much organised, subdivided into "quarters" dedicated to a specific kind of wares. Come with a guide to help you navigate; many vendors keep goods inside permanent stalls, so what it is that is being sold might not be apparent at first glance. Items worth browsing for are leather goods, silver jewellery, spices, and more.
The second in importance house of worship in Ethiopia, the Holy Trinity Cathedral contains the tombs of Haile Selassie and his wife; many more prominent figures of the country's history are buried on its compounds. The building itself is a curious mix of international styles.
The capital's atmospheric "old town" is known as the Piazza, its name gesturing towards the brief period of Italian presence in the country. The area still breathes an Italian air today, and there are a few landmarks remaining from the first half of the 20th century. A few good places to eat and budget accommodation are also to be found here.
After being relocated back to Ethiopia from Rome in the 60s, the symbol of Ethiopian monarchy - the Lion of Judah - marks the beginning of Churchill Avenue, one of the city's main shopping streets, running from the railway stations straight into the popular Piazza neighbourhood.
A hidden door inside leads into the crypt, where several Ethiopian royals are buried, along with Emperor Menelik himself. The marble tombs are a stunning discovery in themselves, but the real kicker is an original painting by Michelangelo also on display here. Come with a guide to get the full experience.
French dining doesn't get any better than this in Addis Ababa, a state of affairs carefully maintained by the restaurant's skilled French chef and owner. The menu lists everything from beef carpaccio to crepe suzette to specialities like beef fondue. Credit cards not accepted.
The treat of Habesha is doubled if you pay a visit for dinner (from 8pm onward), for it is then that the incredibly entertaining Ethiopian culture show starts, complete with music and performers clad in traditional local clothing dancing on stage. It is enjoyed by both locals and guests alike, and is an absolute must for first-time visitors.
The stylish space that is Galani has long enjoyed a reputation of being one of the capital's coolest cafes, complete with an art gallery and boutique in the floor above. At ground level, great breakfasts and lunches (and weekend brunches) are served, along with a whole list of coffee specialities.
Five Loaves is one of the capital's most attractive cafes: the deli display lets you see exactly what you're getting if it's just a quick meal or breakfast you're after (including freshly-baked pastries and cake); the second floor is reserved for slightly more formal dining, with an a la carte menu.
One of the classiest evening venues in Addis, Black Rose bar sits above the well-regarded Diplomat Restaurant, inviting diners to continue their night in the dimly lit space of the Black Rose. Here, locals mingle with visitors, and happy hour is a great time to go for drinks.
You almost wouldn't expect to find a lounge this sleek and with-it in Addis, and yet The Vault is just that - an establishment that could as well have been found in any European capital. The daily happy hour is from 5 to 9pm, and brings significant discounts on drinks and free snacks.
Having earned its great reputation with excellent live music nights on weekends, Flirt continues to gather patrons - in a new location, since recently. It is a very pleasant evening hangout location, and vibes heat up as the night progresses. Mondays are reserved for "Arabian Nights" with Middle Eastern music.
As upscale as it gets in all of Ethiopia, the lavish Gaslight night club at the swanky Sheraton hotel is far from being a casual affair, so do dress to the nines if you decide to venture here. Drinks tend to get pricey, and especially so by local standards, but the ambience really is one of a kind. First Wednesday of every month is jazz night.
It takes heart to venture into the chaotic-looking, sprawling marketplace of Addis Ababa, but despite what it may seem at first glance, the market is very much organised, subdivided into "quarters" dedicated to a specific kind of ware. Come with a guide to help you navigate; many vendors keep goods inside permanent stalls, so what it is that is being sold might not be apparent at first glance. Items worth browsing for are leather goods, silver jewellery, spices, and more.
The first footwear producer to receive certification from the World Fair Trade Organisation, soleRebels' cause is to provide its workers with honest compensation and contribute to sustainable development by using recycled car tires and natural fabrics in shoe production. And it's not just shoes, but clothing and accessories too.
The art gallery and shop hybrid, St George is definitely not for travellers on a budget, but those looking to purchase Ethiopian antiques or artwork (which ranges from scarves and bed linens to paintings by celebrated artists) will hardly find a better place to do so. Also stocks jewellery and books.
Much more modest in size, but with that also a lot more manageable, the Shiro Meda Market (also spelled "Chiromeda") sells Ethiopian textiles in all their forms, from Ethiopian wedding dresses to various types of clothing, linens, and fabrics. Make use of a guide if you can.
This quiet oasis of a workshop, only a stone's throw away from the Addis Ababa airport, is a great place to shop if the Mercato proves to be a tad overwhelming. Salem's is a much more relaxed experience that allows you to browse at your own leisure, selecting from fabrics, clothing, jewellery, woven items, and other crafts produced directly on site.
The bi-annual happening that is Anbar Marketplace (locations vary) gathers the best of local producers, many without brick-and-mortar shops, to showcase and sell their wares, from clothing and jewellery to all manner of edibles. There is a small entrance fee; live music plays and dining options are abundant.
Addis Ababa is a rather safe city where violent crime is uncommon, but travellers are advised to exercise vigilance and be weary of pick-pocketing and muggings which occur fairly frequently, and are not exclusively targeted at tourists (these have been especially common along Churchill Ave, in Piazza and Meskal Square). If invited for an unsolicited "culture show" decline politely but firmly, and continue on your way; this is one scam to which tourists have often fallen prey. Avoid talking to anyone approaching to sell you things in the street. Homosexuality remains both illegal (with punishments of up to 10 years imprisonment if convicted) and severely morally condemned in Ethiopia. So strong is the sentiment, that some hotels may refuse business to clients suspected of being in a same-sex relationship. It is strongly advised that same-sex couples keep a very low profile and avoid any form of public displays of affection.
Entry visas to Ethiopia are necessary for citizens of all countries with the exception of Djibouti and Kenya. Travellers must apply for visas in advance, but visas on arrival are issued at the Addis Ababa International Airport to nationals of 40 countries: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Luxembourg, Macau, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, North Korea, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Slovakia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Thailand, United Kingdom, United States. As of 2017, nationals of most countries eligible for visa on arrival can also apply for eVisa (first point of entry for eVisa holders must be Addis Ababa Bole International Airport).
Although the sun shines nearly all year in Addis Ababa, the absolute best time to visit is during the dry season, roughly from September to March. This period is also when two of Ethiopia's major festivals (Meskel and Timkat) are celebrated, which is done with great swing and accompanied by major processions. The summer months (June to August, the "rainy season") aren't the most favourable, especially for trips to elsewhere in the country.
Although the Bole International Airport is only a few kilometres away from the city centre, it can get quite costly to reach Addis Ababa if no prior transfer arrangements are made. It is strongly recommended to inquire with your hotel about possible pick-up/transfer service (these are offered by most lodgings). Yellow taxis can be hired at the airport arrivals area. Make sure the fare is agreed upon before departure.
Public busses aren't the most efficient way of getting around; instead, most locals use the smaller, faster blue-and-white mini-busses. Fares in these are very moderate and normally fixed. Destinations will often be yelled out by staff on board the mini bus at major intersections/hubs. Addis Ababa now also has a light rail system, with lines connecting north and south (stops at Merkato, Meskal Square, and Menelik II Square), and east and west (stops at Meskal Square and Mexico Square). Tickets may be purchased at stations.
Most taxis in Addis operate from 6am to 11pm. Short journeys (up to 3km) usually cost foreigners Birr60 to Birr80 (more at night). Medium/long journeys cost Birr100/140. If you share a taxi with strangers, the normal fare is split between the group. If you want to visit a lot of places in Addis Ababa, negotiate with a driver for a half- or full-day fare (Birr600 for a full day is pretty reasonable). A ‘city tour’ lasting a couple of hours should cost around Birr300 to Birr350. Taxis can be found outside larger hotels, as well as the National Theatre, national stadium and on De Gaulle Sq in the Piazza. At night, many line up outside the nightclubs.