Many visitors breeze right on through Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s somewhat ramshackle capital, but rich rewards await those who delve deeper into the melee.
Here are some of the highlights that await in the city founded by Emperor Menelik II back in 1887, whose name means ‘new flower’ in the local language Amharic.
If you’re feeling inspired by Addis Ababa but need help planning your trip, UK-based tour operator Far and Wild organise an 11-day “Historical Ethiopia” tour, which includes visits to the Simien Mountains National Park, the rock churches at Lalibela and plenty of time in the capital. You’ll take part in an interesting highlights tour of Addis Ababa which includes a visit to Mt Entoto Park and The National Museum. Prices start from £3,195 including international flights, internal flights, activities, accommodation and some meals.
Must grab a coffee
Follow the locals’ lead and kick off your day at one of the capital’s excellent coffee shops, putting some pep in your step with a caffè macchiato or two.
Top picks include Café Choché adjoining the city’s former train station, La Gare, which also serves up a select menu of treats such as Belgian waffles with melted chocolate in its courtyard garden. Another solid option is the expanding To.mo.ca chain whose original outlet on Wavel St, dating from the 1950s, is a local institution.
More traditional style coffee outlets centre on the unrushed coffee ceremony, so central to the local culture. Having first roasted the beans and brewed the coffee in ‘jebanna’ clay pots the sellers pour out a procession of tiny little cups from on high, sweetened with sugar and sided by some roasted kollo grains or popcorn.
For insight into the Land of Origins’ long and eventful past head to the city’s handful of museums. Most popular is The National Museum, whose somewhat random and sparse collection of attractions is headed by the skeletal remains of ‘Lucy’, one of our early hominid ancestors.
A more comprehensive range of exhibits awaits at the Ethnological Museum near Meskel Square, set within a former palace, while the nearby Red Terror Martyrs Museum offers an altogether more sobering experience. This powerful, if unsettling, exhibition casts light on the bloody period the country endured under Colonel Mengitsu’s dictatorial Derg regime, which ran from the Revolution of 1974 until his flight in 1991.
When it comes to trying Ethiopian food one word stands out over any other — injera. This spongy, slightly sour tasting flatbread, made of teff flour, makes a showing at most meals, typically accompanied by a hearty choice of ‘wat’ (stew) and/or tibs — small piles of sautéed meat or veg. Simply tear off a section of the rolled out injera and scoop up the goodies.
Good bets for local fare such as injera include the branches of Kategna Restaurant. If you get a taste for it you can even order it at breakfast where the popular dish ‘fir fir’ — a dish of chopped up rolls of injera fried in stew and served up on a rolled out injera — is guaranteed to keep you fuelled up until lunchtime.
Must go to church
Many of the city’s most impressive structures relate to Orthodox Christianity, such as St George Cathedral & Museum. Commissioned by Emperor Menelik II to commemorate the nation’s 1896 victory over the Italians it features artworks by local artist Afewerk Tekle.
Medhane Alem Cathedral in Bole is the second largest in Africa while Holy Trinity Cathedral’s impressive granite tombs mark the final resting places of Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife, Empress Menen Asfaw. Opposite you can find the tomb of British suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst who moved to Addis in the 1950s.
Other prominent religious sites in Addis include the Anwar Grand Mosque while in front of the cute old colonial station, La Gare, you can tick off the Lion of Judah Monument — symbol of the former monarchy — which sits marooned on a grassy traffic island.
Must go loco for Entoto
Many organised or taxi tours take in Mt. Entoto on the city’s outskirts. This elevated area overlooking Addis is a favourite with training athletes, including those getting in shape for November’s Great Ethiopian Run.
Most, however, come for the octangular church-cum-museum of Entoto Maryam. Plus, the grounds of the nineteenth-century Kiddus Raguel church, an easy walk through the local Eucalyptus trees from Entoto Maryam, house the remains of one of Ethiopia’s famous rock-hewn churches. For another rock-hewn church head to Washa Mikael, in Yeka district.
Must bag some souvenirs
From Ethiopian silver crosses and woven baskets to football shirts and embroidered local dresses Churchill Avenue and its offshoot Nigeria Street is a happy hunting ground for souvenir shoppers. Bags of local coffee, available at outlets such as To.mo.ca, make another good gift.
For a more immersive local experience delve into the Merkato in Ketema district, said to be Africa’s largest open-air market. As hectic as it is huge, go with a guide to make the most of the experience.
Must grab a treatment
A nice way to recover after a hard day’s sightseeing, and iron out any lingering jetlag, is to grab a massage or treatment at one of the city’s great value spas.
Many of the best are to be found in Bole district, a short taxi ride from the airport. Good bets include Boston Day Spa.
Must get into the rhythm and booze
Come nightfall it’s time to check out the city’s bars and clubs. Road Runner bar in nearby Haya Hulet is a great spot to grab a few drinks around the cosy fire, enjoying the affable owner Tony Hickey’s extensive collection of African music before hitting one of the city’s music spots.
Personal favourites include Fendika Azmari Bet on Zewditu St, in Kazanchis district. I’ve spent a few great evenings here catching the ever-revolving roster of excellent local and regional musicians, playing to an always packed house.
Venues such as Yod Abysinnia and Checheho Cultural Restaurant attract a busy mix of locals and tourists with their mix of regional music and dance performances backed by local eats and drinks.
Another Addis highlight is catching some ‘Ethio’ Jazz. The sound was pioneered back in the ‘60s by artists such as Mulatu Atsatke whose African Jazz Village venue can be found at the Ghion Hotel. Another good bet is the Jupiter Hotel where popular nights include Thursdays.
If you’re staying in Bole local nightlife options range from the Beer Garden Inn, with its onsite German-style brewery, to the livelier Flirt Lounge, Black Rose and Mojito Bar.
The five-star, 90-bedroom Golden Tulip in Bole has lead-in Deluxe rooms from Euros 145 per night, for two sharing. Highlights include the attentive service, cosy modern rooms and the great food, from local to international dishes. The location is another plus with the bars, restaurants and shopping of Bole on its doorstep, Addis airport within two miles and the city centre a short taxi ride away.
TOUR: Far and Wild organise an 11-day “Historical Ethiopia” tour which includes two days in Addis Ababa at the beginning and end of the trip. As part of the tour, you’ll visit Mt Entoto Park, The National Museum and Merkato, where you can shop ’til you drop for coffee and souvenirs.
FLY: Ethiopian Airlines flies daily from London Heathrow to Addis Ababa, increasing to 10 times a week during summer (June 2 to October 27, 2018). Prices for the flight, which takes seven hours 35 minutes, start from £580 return in Economy and £1,840 in Business, including all taxes, fees and charges.
Passengers who fly internationally with Ethiopian are entitled to a discount of approximately 75% on the base fare for domestic flights. If you have already booked your international flight you can only obtain the discounted price through the airline’s call centre or at its sales offices. If starting a new booking then the discount will apply online if all the flights are booked together.
With Transit Visas available on arrival the city also makes a logical stopover.
GET AROUND: The new Chinese-built light railway, opened in earlier 2018, has helped ease travel around Addis Ababa. Rail buffs should also check out the new Chinese-built rail line connecting Addis’ outlying Furi-Lebu station to Djibouti, via the eastern city of Dire Dawa.
For long distance bus services consider Sky Bus or Salem Bus, whose services leave from Meskel Square.
Disclaimer: this article was sponsored by Far and Wild