21 things to do in Addis Ababa

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Addis Ababa might not be the most obvious city break option, but it still has a lot to offer — even for casual travelers. Search for flights on Cheapflights.com.ph and read on for our list of things not to be missed.

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Transportation from Addis Ababa Bole International Airport into the city is usually via taxi or light rail. We recommend taking the light rail into the city (and back to the airport), and using cabs between destinations while in the city center. Plan an hour in either direction.

With those details sorted, it’s time to see the sights…

Visit with Lucy at the National Museum

photo credit: @mflangdon
photo credit: @mflangdon

The National Museum at the nexus of Hailae Maryan Mamo, Sahie Silase and Welete Johanis isn’t the largest or most luxurious museum in the world, but it offers a wide collection of artistic, historical, and archaeological exhibits. The highlight of your visit will be the skeleton of Lucy, the most famous skeleton of Australopithecus remains- our oldest hominid ancestor. Admission is so cheap too, that it is essentially free. Also check out The Ethiopian Ethnological Museum for a look at the nation’s cultural history, and the Red Terror Museum commemorating the hard times of the 1980s and 90s.

Enjoy an Ethiopian breakfast

Fuel up for a day of exploring with an Ethiopian breakfast called fit-fit (or fir-fir), which is made from shredded bread, butter and spice called “berbere.” It’s not hard to find in Addis Ababa, but if you’re ready to splurge for your first meals, head to Kategna Restaurant on Gabon Street and order their scrumptious shiro fit-fit.

Visit the Meskel Square

The Meskel Square is one of the most famous landmarks in Addis Ababa. It’s a popular venue for public events and festivals, most notable the Meskel Festival, which commemorates the time the crucifix was introduced to Empress Helena of Constantinople, as well as the start of spring.

Get lost in the Merkado

photo credit: @svantebergma.n
photo credit: @svantebergma.n

Remember that scene in Indiana Jones where he chases Nazis through an impossibly crowded and busy market in Africa? That market is a sedate public park compared to the scene at Addis Ababa’s Merkado. It’s the largest outdoor market in Africa and could eat up a week of tourist time all by itself. Come for the colours, the sounds, the scents and the people-watching. Leave laden with foods and local souvenirs purchased after just the right amount of haggling. For more shopping, head to the Churchill Avenue shops (colloquially called Souvenir Street), or the less aggressive Shiromeda Market.

Stop by the Anwar Mosque

If you are in Addis Ababa’s Merkato, don’t miss the chance to check out the impressive mosque located in the vicinity as well.

Admire the Lion of Judah monument

Aside from being a symbol of Ethiopian royalty, the statue also has an interesting history. After being taken to Rome by the Italians, it was only returned to Ethiopia in the ’60s.

Take a photo of the Arat Killo

Constructed to commemorate the country’s independence from Italy’s fascist occupation, the Arat Killo is a symbolic monument that any visitor to Addis Ababa shouldn’t miss out on.

Visit the St. Mary Church of Entoto

Colleen Taugher, The Church of Entoto Hill, via Flickr CC BY 2.0

The St. Mary Church is one of Addis Ababa’s most popular places of praise. Not only is the architecture stunning, but the church is also famous among its many devotees, who believe in its holy water’s miraculous healing powers.

Indulge in some honey wine

Yes, honey wine is a thing in Ethiopia. Also known as tej, you can get your hands (or lips) on this sweet wonderfully sweet drink at any wine house (or tej bet).

Visit the oldest church in town

Since we’re on the topic of “oldest,” a visit to the oldest church in Addis Ababa is also worth the visit. Kidus Raguel Church, located on the Entoto Hill, was erected during Emperor Menelik II’s time and is an impressive structure with a lot of history.

Catch the views from Entoto Hill

Oh, and did we mention that the views of the city from Entoto Hill are just breathtaking?

Eat at a “dancing restaurant”

Pmsafari2425, Traditional dancing via Flickr CC BY 2.0

It’s considered a bit touristy, but sometimes when traveling, a touristy experience can be a lot of fun. Give yourself a couple of hours to fully enjoy this experience. You’ll sit down, watch traditional dances from several of Ethiopia’s tribes, and sample nibbles from across the spectrum of Ethiopian dishes. There’ll be drinks, too, naturally with beer less expensive than water and honey wine available at most eateries. Yod Abyssinia has an excellent reputation, but getting in on short notice is sometimes a challenge.

Hang out at Bole Road

Addis Ababa’s hippest street, featuring the city’s coolest bars and trendiest cafes and restaurants. It’s the place to be seen in the capital and the best place to people-watch.

Check out the Parliament Building

Interested in architecture? Don’t miss the chance to see the city’s Parliament Building. Built during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie I, it is an essay in Art Deco style — a must-see for lovers of design.

Try shiro at Tikus Shiro

Shiro is one of most famous dishes from Ethiopia. A chickpea or bean flour stew, it’s often eaten with injera or flatbread. Head over to Tikus Shiro, where they serve some of the best in town.

…and the kitfo at Totot Kitfo

stu_spivack, kitfo, via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Another Ethiopian dish that you definitely must try is the kitfo (sometimes spelled as ketfo), which is minced raw beef seasoned with different spices and butter and taken with delicious injera. Where should you go for some of the best kitfo? We suggest Totot Kitfo, which is famous with the locals.

Dance at Fendika Azmari Bet

For a small cover fee, you can enjoy some good Ethiopian music you can dance to at this local joint. If you come on Friday, there’s also a jazz night, where you can enjoy the best music this city has to offer.

Enjoy Ethiopian coffee

Eugene KimEthiopian Coffee via Flickr CC BY 2.0

Early Ethiopian civilisation was the first to discover coffee, which should come as no surprise to visitors who try the coffee in Addis Ababa. Tourists can go to Kaldi’s, a chain modelled from Starbucks which will serve exactly what you expect. More adventurous coffee connoisseurs can try Tomoca, a citywide chain favoured by the locals.

Visit the Oromo Cultural Center

If you’re interested in finding out more about Ehtiopia’s arts and culture, pay a visit to Oromo Cultural Center, where they host a series of events and shows on a regular basis.

Go to the Gullele Botanical Garden & Park

If you want to escape the hustle and bustle of Addis Ababa, this is a nice place to explore. Aside from the botanical garden, visitors can also hike through the forested area.

Catch some jazz at the Itegue Taitu Hotel

Not everybody thinks of jazz when they think of Ethiopia, but more people should. During the 1960s and 1970s, the city was a centre for innovative and classical jazz performances, until the communist regime of the 70s-90s shut it down. Since the 2000s, the musical style has seen a resurgence. The Jazzamba, located in the Itegue Taitu Hotel, is one of the best ballrooms to hear what’s happening jazz-wise in Addis Ababa. Even if you can’t catch a show, the club and hotel are worth a visit for their own jazz-age vibe.

Of course, your Addis Ababa adventure begins with booking your flights. Maximise your savings — and leave more exploration funds in your budget — by using Cheapflights.co.ph. Bundle it with your hotel and rental car for even more rands still in your pocket at the end of your trip.

21 things to do in Addis Ababa was last modified: June 27th, 2019 by L. Bautista
Author: L. Bautista (46 posts)

A self-confessed breakfast-skipper, who likes to spend her time exploring new places and cultures.