Welcome to one of Africa’s greatest contrasts. Shepard’s push their flocks of sheep down the road past glitzy new shops selling brand name clothing. Pristine high rises tower over sprawling slums. Muslim shopkeepers sell next to Christian suppliers. Yes, Addis Ababa is a beautiful blend of old and new all mixed into one buzzing city. This Addis Ababa City Guide will help you get the most out of this enthralling destination!
Located in the core of Ethiopia at a high altitude of 2300 m, Addis Ababa is the economic centre of Ethiopia. The cities mixed population of 3.4 million people hail from all corners of the country. Ethiopians say that Addis Abba’s streets are paved in gold, referring to its economic boom in the past years. Flights from the eastern US to Addis Ababa start at around $900 USD.
Ethiopia’s capital city tends to get overlooked by many. Tour groups land here just to be whisked away by their bus to the country’s southern and northern frontiers. If you exclude this destination from your journey through Ethiopia you run the risk of misunderstanding the country as a whole.
Addis Ababa is a wonderful place to delve into the country’s history because of its fantastic museums, and diversified ethnicities. It is also the economic epi centre of the nation therefore the majority of the decisions for Ethiopia’s future are made here.
Those who arrive here usually only see the poverty and poor infrastructure, but they are just scratching the surface. The city boasts so many historic hotels, markets with shopping opportunities, and restaurants serving up the best cuisine in Ethiopia, it would be hard to miss Ethiopia’s capital.
Before Addis Ababa became the capital of the nation, there was a temporary capital called Ankober about 160km north of current day Addis Ababa. Ankober was the capital for the Kingdom of Shewa during the mid-18 centuries.
After a few mishaps involving the King moving the capital to Entoto, and shortly after moving again south of Entoto due to a lack of firewood, and the emperor’s wife “Taytu’s” fixation of the new area’s mineral hot springs. Taytu constructed her house here, and Emperor Menelik built it into the Imperial palace, which is still the seat of government today in Addis Ababa.
When Menelik II became the emperor of Ethiopia, he named Addis Ababa to be the capital city of Ethiopia. Since then Addis Ababa was seized and ruled by the Italians during WWII, and taken back into Ethiopian hands during the Liberation of Ethiopia.
These days Ethiopia is showing significant changes in its economic situation. High-rises and shopping malls are popping up everywhere. Much of the city is paved, and the government is looking towards cleaning up some of the cities slums. With so much change happening so fast it is hard to predict Addis Ababa’s future, but its resident are optimistic and high spirited.
Eating and Drinking
Addis Ababa appeals to all. If you’re in search of authentic Ethiopian food there is a smorgasbord of traditional eateries. If you just finished a two-week tour in the countryside only eating goat and Injera, well Addis will serve up plenty of international cuisine to fill those meals you’ve missed back home. Addis is also becoming known for its café culture, ironic seeing how this is the nation that invented coffee!
Kitfo is quite possibly the most well-known meal in Ethiopia. Kitfo is essentially raw beef or lamb served in a warmed butter laced with fiery Berbere spice. The “Bet” in Kitfo Bets refers to the eatery specifically for Kitfo itself.
Kitfo Bets are as Ethiopian as it can get, so if you are looking for a unique traditional experience in Ethiopia this is it. Don’t expect fancy at these joints however, as they tend to be places where locals go after work, or to enjoy a sports game, sort of a pub like experience.
This is one of Ethiopia’s most popular dishes, and most delicious! Doro Wat is a chicken stew slowly cooked in butter, vegetables, and spice blends. It resembles a chicken curry, but with a unique Ethiopian twist to it.
Doro Wat is always served plopped on top of a bed of Injera and usually paired with a few other spicy dishes. Most hotel restaurants will serve Doro Wat, and if you are lucky you can get invited into a home and get the homemade version.
Tej is a local honey wine that can either be served sweet, or highly potent. Tej Bets are local bars that serve this honey wine. Tej is for some reason always served in what looks like a science experiment beaker, and to get more Tej it is custom to bang the beaker against the table.
Tej Bets in Addis are a terrific way to let loose with the locals. After a few Tej have been consumed, live music usually proceeds, and you guessed it, it’s custom that the foreigners get up and shoulder dance with the locals.
Sights and Attractions
St George Cathedral and Museum
Erected after the defeat of the Italians in Adwa, and dedicated to St. George. The St George Cathedral is easily one of the best places in Ethiopia to get up close and personal and learn about modern Orthodox Christianity in Ethiopia.
With your entry ticket, you receive a free guided tour from one of the resident priests who can explain to you the religion and more on the history of the church. There are also plenty of artifacts to see including crowns, old crossed ancient paintings, jewelry encrusted with jewels, and large drums in which the priest will test your musical skills on.
This museum starts from the beginning of Ethiopia’s rich history with a large paleontology exhibit. Within the exhibit there are plenty of extinct animals on display, but the star of the show is the cast bones of the humanoid Lucy. The exhibit gives further insights to the finding of Lucy, and how Lucy connects to the different humanoid family trees.
Upstairs the Museum takes you into more recent Ethiopian history with farming tools, weapons, and religious artifacts from around the country. The National Museum is a definite must see for those who are interested in the long in-depth history of Ethiopia!
This museum is not just a building full of ancient artifacts, the building is a sight in and of itself! Set in the former palace of Haile Selassie, you will bare witness to a piece of Ethiopia’s grandeur history as you walk the halls great kings once roamed. The gardens and building are well kept and stunning.
The interior of the museum will take you through Ethiopia’s history and more importantly its culture. Many of the exhibits show traditional houses that vary from region to region, and folk tales illustrating unique ties to the different ethnicities in Ethiopia.
Regardless of what region you are visiting in Ethiopia, coming to the Ethnological Museum in Addis Ababa is a must so you can get the most of understanding this nation diverse cultures.
Many say that this is the largest market in Africa. Addis Ababa’s Merkato is by far the most fit for this title. The market is spread out like a spider web connecting different alleyways that are chalked full vendors selling everything from building supplies, clothing, baskets, spices, you name it.
To say that the Merkato is chaos is an understatement. The strong waft of spices through the air will burn your eyes, crowds of different ethnicities will enthrall you, and its vastness will keep you interested for hours. The Merkato is in many ways the best sight of Addis Ababa.
If you are wanting to shop for souvenirs than look no further, as the Merkato has the best shopping for arts, crafts, and antiques in all of Ethiopia. Many of the vendors are collectors, and have artifacts from every corner of the country, they also can explain to you what the history and age of the items are. Bargain hard as prices start high!
Author: Stephen Gollan