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Addis Ababa and Surroundings

The temperate and well-watered ‘New Flower’ founded by Emperor Menelik II at the close of the 19th century, Addis Ababa is world’s third-highest capital city, set at the base of the Entoto Hills, and the diplomatic capital of Africa, having served as the headquarters of the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union) since its inception in 1963. A cosmopolitan modern city steeped in ancient Ethiopian traditions, it boasts world-class tourist amenities and a lively nightlife, yet it also offering access to some fine museums, atmospheric old churches, and lush montane forests and other green areas.

  • Historic churches on the Entoto Hills include rock-hewn Adadi Maryam, which was crafted by the 12th century King Lalibela, and the coronation site of Emperor Menelik II.
  • The National Museum of Ethiopia has a wonderful palaeontological hall housing the 3.2 million year old skeleton of ‘Lucy’, along with pre-Aksumite statues from Yeha dating back over 2,500 years.
  • The beautiful Anwar Grand Mosque, with its green domed roof and towering minaret, is the city’s largest and oldest Islamic shrine, built in 1922.
  • Notable for its unusual Arabic-styled facade, the central Selassie (Trinity) Cathedral is the final resting place of Emperor Haile Selassie. The suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst and former prime minister Meles Zenawi are also buried in its grounds.
  • The IES Ethnographic Museum includes displays relating to the cultures of South Omo, a wonderful collection of traditional musical instruments, and Christian icons from the Middle Ages.
  • Ethiopia’s tallest skyscraper, the New Africa Union Building, is a 99.9m high tower block that took over from African Hall as the African Union headquarters in 2012.
  • Menegasha National Forest is Africa’s oldest conservation area, protected by imperial decree since the 15th century, and a variety of monkeys and endemic birds can be seen along its network of footpaths.
  • The mysterious Tiya UNESCO World Heritage site comprises around three dozen engraved megaliths erected in the 13th century to mark mass graves.
  • The resort town of Bishoftu is known for its beautiful crater lake, which are enclosed by lush vegetation, and support a wealth of birds ranging from pelicans and cranes to parrots and canaries.

Other urban attraction include Africa’s largest market, a thrilling live music scene embracing traditional azmari bards and contemporary Ethio-funk, and several traditionally styled 'cultural restaurants' restaurants that celebrate the country’s diverse and unique cuisine.

Getting Around

Bole International Airport (www.addisairport.com) is where all international flights to Ethiopia land. It is also the departure point for Ethiopian Airlines (www.ethiopianairlines.com) flights to Bahir Dar, Gondar, Aksum, Lalibela, Mekele, Dire Dawa, Semera, Arba Minch, Jimma, Gambella, Assosa and other domestic destinations.  The airport lies 5km southeast of the city centre at the end of busy Bole Road.

Airport taxis (yellow) and regular taxis (blue and white) are available to meet all flights, and many hotels offer airport transfers. Taxis can also be used to get around the rest of Addis Ababa, while local tour operators offer day tours of the capital or to surrounding places of interest.

Accommodation

Addis Ababa boasts an excellent selection of accommodation to suit all tastes and budgets. These range from five-star international chains to smart boutique hotels and a great many moderate and budget options. Outside of Addis Ababa, Bishoftu also has a cosmopolitan selection of resort hotels, while more basic accommodation is available at Debre Libanos, Menegasha National Forest and Tiya.

Other Practicalities

Addis Ababa is well known for the lively Meskel (Finding of the True Cross) festivities held at Meskel Square on 27 September. Other holidays such as Ethiopian New Year (11 September), Gena (Ethiopian Christmas; 7 January) and Timkat (Epiphany; 19 January) are celebrated colourfully throughout the capital. These holidays fall one day later in leap years.

Good areas for handicraft shopping include the central Churchill Avenue, Haile Selassie Avenue in the Piazza area, and Shiro Meda Traditional Cloth Market, the latter being the main outlet for the many skilled Dorze weavers living in this part of the city.

Spanning altitudes of 2,350m to 2,600m, Addis Ababa has a pleasant climate year round but can be chillier than expected at night and in the rainy season. Bring warm clothing.

  1. The steaming Filwoha Hot Springs - now a popular health spa – persuaded Emperor Menelik II to relocate his capital to Addis Ababa in the rainy season of 1886.
  2. The old railway station or La Gare (Legahar) was inaugurated by Empress Zewditu in 1930, as was the Lion of Judah Statue in front of it.
  3. The city’s central landmark, Meskel Square is named after the colourful Finding of the True Cross festival held there annually on 27 September (28 September in Leap Years).
  4. The Red Terror Martyrs’ Memorial Museum is superb but harrowing, and is dedicated to the violent political campaign that killed many thousands of Ethiopians under the Derg regime of 1975-91.
  5. Some fascinating artefacts and photographs from the city’s early days are displayed at the Addis Ababa Museum, set in a former royal residence behind Meskel Square.
  6. Italian-designed Africa Hall was inaugurated by Emperor Haile Selassie as the headquarters of the OAU in 1961.
  7. The Selassie (Trinity) Cathedral is the final resting place of Emperor Haile Selassie. The suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst and former prime minister Meles Zenawi are buried in its grounds.
  8. Adorned with fascinating murals depicting important events in Ethiopian history, Beata Maryam Church also has a mausoleum where Emperor Menelik II is buried alongside his wife and daughter.
  9. The IES Ethnographic Museum in the University of Addis Ababa includes displays of cultures of South Omo, a collection of traditional musical instruments, and Christian icons from the Middle Ages.
  10. The National Museum of Ethiopia has a wonderful palaeontological hall housing the 3.2 million year old skeleton of ‘Lucy’, along with pre-Aksumite statues from Yeha dating back over 2,500 years.
  11. St George’s Cathedral, built by Emperor Menelik II to commemorate victory over Italy at Adwa in 1896, was the coronation site of Empress Zewditu and Emperor Haile Selassie.
  12. The city’s main commercial hub, Addis Merkato, extends over more than a square kilometre and houses over 7,000 small businesses.
  13. The city’s largest and oldest Islamic shrine, the beautiful Anwar Grand Mosque was built in 1922 and has a green domed roof and green towering minaret.
  14. Ethiopia’s tallest skyscraper, the New Africa Union Building (not open to the public), is a 99.9m high tower block that took over from African Hall as the African Union Headquarters in 2012.
  15. Extending for 10km2 over the Entoto footslopes, the Gulele Botanical Gardens offer great birdwatching and rambling among indigenous flora on the northern verge of the city.
  16. Set at an altitude of 2,900m, Entoto Maryam Church, together with its museum and restored palace, is a relict of the short-lived capital established by Menelik II in the Entoto Hills in the early 1880s.
  17. The megaliths at the Tiya UNESCO World Heritage Site south of Addis Ababa can be visited in one day with the rock-hewn church of Adadi Maryam and Melka Kunture Archaeological Site.
  18. Set in a sheer canyon north of Addis Ababa, Debre Libanos Monastery led the Ethiopian Orthodox Church from the 1460s until Italian troops destroyed the original building in 1937.
  19. An easy day or overnight goal from Addis Ababa, Bishoftu lies to the east, amidst a field of volcanic calderas, several with beautiful crater lakes and modern resort hotels nearby.
  20. The lovely Menegasha National Forest - home to most of Ethiopia’s endemic forest birds - can be visited in conjunction with the new Born Free Sanctuary, where several black-maned Abyssinian lions are housed in large enclosures.
  21. The modern Oromia Cultural Centre houses a museum and a theatre.