Being home to 3.3 million people, and foreigners from various countries around the world, Addis Ababa is a multiverse city, that has an amazingly diverse background, culture and looks. It is one of the most chaotic, but still inviting places you would be around the world. Visiting Addis Ababa is one of the best things you should do while you are in Ethiopia.
Since Ethiopia has never been under colonization and it is a seat of the African Union office, the capital Addis Ababa is called the capital of Africa. Its recent visa on arrival access to all African countries, and it has become a reality to its name.
Located at 2665 meters above sea level the city has optimal weather and has an active outside life. The winter has a fair amount of share of sunshine and rain in a single day, therefore, there is no extreme weather.
The diversity of the people and the culture created economic and social diversity. It is a formal setting in chaos. It might seem a random act of human gesture, but everything has a reason and every motion has its own beauty. The expensive cafes or the small street-side kiosk have their own place and beauty. You will truly witness a unique context.
Besides, you will experience the coffee, the culture, the religious activities, the chaos of Merkato, the slum and more. Addis Ababa is a story you will tell back in your country.
Here I will show you 12 things to do in Addis Ababa Ethiopia.
Social setting- Addis Ababa
1. Merkato, Africa’s largest open market
Merkato is not your ordinary street market. It is one of the most chaotic and crowded places in the city with various types of businesses and a diverse group of people. In its vast land, are various activities including the informal market, street markets, low-cost residences, recycling spaces and more. The vast activities, such as carrying objects from place to place, car and people in the same street is both risky and memorable to visit.
You will find almost anything in Merkato, from food to Chinese clothing to recycled furniture to souvenirs.
Merkato is not a place for visitors to go in without a guide. It is a complicated space with its health and security issues. It is always better to go with a guide and of course without your valuables. Since the place is hard to secure, there always are street pickpockets in these areas.
There are security people in the area and you will be safe but you will be safer with a guide. Someplace can become health issues, especially Atikilt Tera, that is a vegetable and fruit section, due to unorganized garbage spaces.
EAYOR. That means ‘Enter at Your Own Risk’, by the way.
2. Shiro Meda Market, Addis Ababa
Shiro Meda market is another competitive market to the Merkato. Shiro Meda, located few meters away from the US embassy, specializes in local dresses. If you are looking for a choice of local clothes and crafts, it is always best to visit this place.
The chaotic character of Merkato extends to this space in its own way. The movers, people carrying objects, cars with no separated way from humans and the negotiations, all make the scene surprizing. If you are looking to buy beautiful Ethiopian cultural cloths or local artifacts, this is the right place.
The cloths and artifacts are colorful handwoven and locally made.
Expect informal markets, negotiations, and a chaotic environment. This market is on the way to Entoto.
3. Meskel square
A giant square with stairs and paved surfaces, in the center of the city used to be a marching ground for military shows and gathering spaces for live government announcements. It was also used as event space before the LRT (light rail transit lines) were constructed changing the importance of the place.
Today, Meskel Square is used for Meskel event, which is celebrated on September 28, which is the best time to visit the place as well. You see passionate followers with their robs and white cloths chanting and singing. A religious celebration with its twist, burning a huge bonfire, and candle lighting in the evening, all is a nice experience to be part of.
If not, visit Meskel square on weekends where locals came to the place for a workout. This space probably has produced a lot of athletes or has inspired the fantasy of being a great runner in the future. Besides the square is Addis Ababa museum, book world, and Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum. (see no. 8)
You can always go jogging with the locals at the square. That will be a great experience.
4. The slums
It is a pity that slums became a point of tourism. Many places in the global south used them as tourist destination sites, to make money off the poor. Some, especially in Latin America, created a system where the collected money helps the poor gain more economic stability.
Slums are unique places, that you may not find in your home town. Organically built, they show the history of an area. Addis Ababa is full of such opposing spaces where the poor and the rich and completely different ethnicities and religious groups together live. You will see the overall social and socio-economic structure of the society in these areas. You will find how people interact and survive together. Know when to take pictures and ask for consent.
5. Giorgis Church
St. George church is one of the historic churches in the city. With its rich paintings, memorabilia of ancient scripts, crosses and religious garments, this Ethiopian orthodox church, is located in Menelik square in the Piassa area. With up to 3 dollars as an entrance fee, you can visit inside and around the church and see the history of the church, and its influence on the city.
6. Holy Trinity Cathedral, visit Haile Selassie tomb, historic artifacts
Holy Trinity Cathedral (Kidist Selassie Cathedral) and Museum is another significant church in the city for their historic influence and the ancient artifacts it holds. The well-detailed stone walled medieval impression churches are also a seat for religious leaders.
The museum contains historical memorabilia, crosses, emperor clothing, artifacts, religious manuscripts, and a tomb of Haile Selassie, Ethiopian king.
A place is also a burial place for a famous Sylvia Pankhurst that is known for her English campaign for the suffrage movement and her activism in the cause of anti-fascism.
Expect up to 6 dollars per person entrance fee.
7. Entoto Hill, St. Mary’s
At 3200 meters elevation, Entoto is the highest point in Addis Ababa, you can easily see the whole city at a single glance. Entoto was one of the places, before the Fil Wuha area, that king Menelik II lived in 1886, during the founding of the city. The palace has no much impressive things but still sits on the mountain, and yet is worth to visit.
Not far from the palace is a cathedral called into Maryam cathedral (St. Mary cathedral). Make sure to have your own car or you will have to walk steep slope roads for minutes before arriving at the locations.
2 dollars or less entrance fee.
8. Medhane Alem Cathedral
Located at Bole where the airport is located, and it will be one of the places that you will see on your arrival. It is a better and organized part of the city and has various services for all groups. Medhane Alem church is located at a place commonly known as Edna mall, with its graceful structures and minimal decorations.
Museum and History
9. The Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum
This museum, located next to Meskel Square, is a place to learn the history of a socialist government in Ethiopia and its aftermath in the 1980s. Located in a small space, this museum unveils the dark history of the time in detail. It displays the rise and reign of the communist regime of Derg, and its deeds that killed its own population, estimated from 30,000 to 750,000. Prepare to watch a real horror story and extremely terrifying display of skulls and malevolent stories.
10. National Museum of Ethiopia (Visit Lucy, early humanoid and more)
National Museum is located on the same street as the Holy Trinity Cathedral (Kidist Selassie Cathedral) and Museum. Being a secular museum, it contains local historic artworks, archaeological findings including the skeletal remains of Lucy, said one of the early hominids, remains of kings and royal families and more. Lucy is an almost fully collected skeletal system of humanoid that is 3.2 million years, found in the Afar region in northern Ethiopian in 1974.
In the national museum, you will find archaeological charts, images, videos.
In fact, this should be your aim, if you have time for the rest. This will show you most of what you will see in other areas. It will give you inspiration for what life looked like with a simple guided display.
Expect up to a dollar or much less per person entrance fee
11. Ethnological Museum and Addis Ababa University
Addis Ababa University, is a once palace of King Haile Selassie, is located at Sidist Kilo avenue, few meters away from the National Museum and Holy Trinity Cathedral (Kidist Selassie Cathedral) and Museum.
With or without a guide, you will have a chance to visit the university compound, the is once palace ground, and a building with rich historical memorabilia. Visiting the beds, the closets, the chairs and the rooms of the once palace building, you will learn how the royal family lived at the time.
Entrance is usually free, but expect up to 3 or more dollars or half if you have a student card. Only pay at the building entrance if asked formally.
12. Unity park/ Grand Palace
A palace turned to a tourist spot, unity park is one of the recently opened places in Addis a baba. The 20-hectare land that was a residence to top leaders of the country, is not turned in to a park. The park is officially opened at the present of Head of different States and IGAD members.
The place ahs zoo for black-maned lions and more than 300 animals, articulated gardens, culture corner, play space for children, sitting spaces, food court and shopping area. You will have a tour guide, that could take up to three hours. The cost of entry at the beginning of the opening of the park was 20 dollars for foreigners.
The park hosts more than 1000 tourists every day.
Location: Niger Street and Menelik II Avenue, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Working hours: 9:00 AM – 12:30 PM, 1:30 PM – 4:30 PM
Related: Is Addis Ababa Airport Safe?
Monuments and History
13. Monuments, Lion of Judah
Monuments are not well-serviced places in the city. This may not inspire you much unless you are into photography or documentation or into history. However, the monuments are very beautiful and are great sights to visit.
The lion Judah, located at Legehar Station, represents a lion of Judah that is used to represent the blood lion of the royalty that were thought to emanate from biblical Solomon, at the time Queen Sheba visited him, as indicated in the bible.
14. Derg Monument
The Dreg monument is another free-standing monument with no much protection and no many visitors. You may only have to visit this monument on your way to Piassa while you are in your car.
If you want to experience it first-hand, it is a pretty place to visit, the waterfall (rarely opened), the stairs, the monument, and the background forest all make the space attractive. It is one of the socialist monuments that persist until today.
15. Food and coffee
Being a place for local food, local culture, and local Ethiopian music, many cultural restaurants are fun places to be in. In many of these places, you will have cultural food, cultural drinks and dances, and local music. You will truly enjoy the whole set including dancing the local beat, that you will regret doing. There are various options for the cultural food and cultural setting restaurants in Addis Ababa ET.
Related: How to make Ethiopian Coffee at Home
-Tomoca is a choice for coffee drinkers. Its variety of Ethiopian coffee is a choice by many visitors.
-2000 Habesha Cultural Restaurant- 251 11 551 8358
Location: Bole Brass Area
Time: Lunch, Dinner
-Itegue Taitu Hotel
Anbessa Garage, 24 Gergi
Africa Avenue, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
16. Hot air balloon
Hot air balloon trip over the capital and the suburbs is a great way of having fun and learn about the city as well. If you have half a day, you can book a balloon trip and enjoy the day with your beloved ones. The balloon flight starts at Menegesha, HOletta area, 15 km west of Addis Ababa. You should schedule your flight on their website or call 251-926-845086
Things to do in Addis Ababa are much of an experience rather than visit and pass things. There are always new things that you will learn in the city. The diversity of the people in religion, culture and ethnicity and even income group makes a very diverse city.
While visiting Addis Ababa, you will need to follow a few rules.
- Never judge the people based on any persona standard, or never voice it in a way that provokes others. Ethiopians are very polite people and treat them as one
- Never carry a lot of money or valuables. Leave it at your hotel desk, not in your rooms.
- Never take a photograph of people without their consent. This is something that many visitors forget. Never forget these are human beings too.
- Always take pictures.
- Use a personal taxi, preferably a recent UBER type applications. The first one in the city was an app called a ride. These are metered and are cheaper.
- Pay only when asked. You may be asked for tips if you are visiting off the normal hours. But you have no responsibility to pay extra money.
- Respect rules, no matter how silly they seem, in the churches and in museums.
- Merkato seems chaotic even for the locals. It is always to be in groups and contact police if any problem arises.
- There are not many places that don’t allow taking photographs at this time( it was an issue for long). How ever, you should be careful when and where to take pics in Addis Ababa.
- Police phone number is 991, Redcross ambulance service is 917.
Generally, Addis Ababa is a worthy place for a visit. The social and economic differences in society and its historic past created places that need a visit. While visiting Addis Ababa it always to have in mind the historic past fo the city. When you understand the past you will easily understand where things fit on the historic line.
Some of the tourist designations are not formally designed or carefully protected. You may need to fit the puzzle your self.