Travelers wanting to enjoy their time in Ethiopia will find there are plenty of things to do in Addis Ababa. This bustling capital city, home to almost 6 million, offers a little bit of everything. Set high up in the mountains, Addis Ababa, whose name translates to “New Flower,” is the 5th highest city above sea level.
It was first founded by Empress Taitu. Little did she know that Addis would eventually be home to the African Union, attract travelers from all over the globe, and regularly hold meetings for the world’s top political leaders.
Whether you’re a business person, a family, or a solo traveler, you’ll enjoy the endless things to do in Addis Ababa.
27 Things to Do in Addis Ababa
1 Meet Lucy
Lucy, considered the oldest skeleton in existence, was first discovered in Hadar, a small northern town in Ethiopia. She is now on display at the National Museum in Ethiopia (National Museum of Ethiopia, King George VI St., Addis Ababa; +251 11 111 7150). Learn all the basics of Ethiopian history and behold some of humanity’s oldest stone tools all for an entrance fee of only 10 birr ($0.40 USD).
2 Drink Lots of Coffee
You’re not a true coffee drinker until you have tasted Ethiopian coffee. As the first to discover it, Ethiopian coffee is characterized as strong without being bitter or acidic. Enjoy it in a traditional coffee ceremony where you’ll be served three tiny cups and a bowl full of popcorn (popcorn sprinkled with sugar and burning incense are a must in the traditional ceremony). Or try the local favorite– a macchiato. If you’re avoiding dairy, ask our baristas to make you a special “fasting macchiato” which uses soy milk instead.
3 Eat Ethiopian Food
It goes without saying that you should try the local cuisine while in town. Ethiopian food is a unique blend of tastes and spices. It starts with “Injera”, a fermented, gluten-free flatbread made out of teff grain. It’s then topped with colorful, dynamic-flavored stews. Meat lovers will enjoy the chicken dish called “Doro Wat” which comes with a hard boiled egg and grilled beef dishes like “Tibs.” Vegans should try “Beyayinet” which is a sampling of 5-7 different types of chickpea, lentils, potato, and beetroot stews.
4 Traditional Ethiopian Dancing
Locals love to dance. As home to over 80 different ethnic tribes, each one has their own unique style of dancing. While deemed, “traditional dancing,” locals of all ages regularly bust out these celebrated moves. We’re located in the middle of two of the best traditional music & dancing restaurants called Habesha 2000 (1.5 km away) and Yod Abysinnia (1 km away). Watch out though. At the end of the night, they might just call you on stage to join them!
5 Learn about the “Red Terror”
The Red Terror Martyrs’ Memorial Museum is a memorial to those who died under the Derg government. Taking place between 1974-1991, the memories of this bloody period are still alive in the hearts and minds of adults today. It’s a somber and chilling museum that displays torture instruments, skulls and bones, bloody clothes and photographs of victims. The admission is free although donations allow the museum to continue serving the public.
6 Visit Entoto Mountain
Need a little fresh air? Visit Mount Entoto. Located inside Addis Ababa, this small mountain is home to first palace of King Menelik and Empress Taitu. For about $5 USD, you can go inside and visit the nearby church and museum. You can also view a small September 11 memorial and the first Eucalyptus Tree ever planted in Ethiopia. There are a couple of great panoramic views along the way where you can stop and take a picture.
7 Meet people
Addis Ababa is a melting pot from people all over the world. Home to the African Union, you’ll find people from all over the continent and world living and working here. With Ethiopian Airlines being the largest in Africa, travelers are flocking to Ethiopia. It won’t be hard to meet some new friends while you’re visiting.
8 Enjoy Beer
The best way to cool down after a long hot day in Addis Ababa is with a nice cold beer. Try local favorites like Habesha, St. George, Anbessa, Walia, or opt for a Heineken that is now made locally. If you order a beer at our downstairs bar, Ferenssaye Legasseion, you’ll get a complimentary bowl of Kolo, a traditional Ethiopian snack made out of roasted barley, peanuts, chickpeas, and sunflower seeds.
9 Or Honey Wine
If beer isn’t your thing, try the local honey wine instead. Locals call it , “Tej.” Served in a beautiful glass jar, it’s surprisingly strong despite being so sweet.
10 Visit the Fistula Hospital
Started by Australian and New Zealand doctors, the Fistula Hospital saves the lives of countless women every year. Learn about their mission and how to get involved by going on a tour (currently occurring every Tuesday and Thursday although it’s best to call ahead). At the end, make sure you stop by their gift shop. It’s full of beautiful handcrafts supporting the women in employment opportunities.
11 Watch Traditional Weavers
Ethiopian Handwoven textiles are famous throughout the world. The ancient art of the loom is fascinating to observe. See for yourself by visiting a store like Sabahar, a Fair Trade company that started with 1 weaver in 2006 and now is employing 80 weavers. Their handmade cotton and silk textiles create ethical work opportunities for marginalized people in the community. You will love their scarves, hand towels, and shawls– great for yourself or a gift for someone back home.
If you are looking for even more souvenirs to bring home, the top shops in town are within walking distance of us. Most popular choices include Selam’s, Zaaf Leather Goods, Entoto Beth Artisan, or our very own collection located in the lobby.
13 Enjoy some R&R
Traveling to a new city, especially as one as bustling as Addis, can leave you a bit worn out. If jetlag has got you down, schedule a soothing massage, steam, or sauna at our in-house spa. What’s a vacation for after all?
14 Take a run
Ethiopia is famous for its Olympic-winning runners. To join in on the fun, go to “Meskel Square” early in the morning (around 6 am) where local sport enthusiasts gather to run and play football. You can also work with a professional athlete association called Run Africa that has trusted guides and even a former Olympic coach.
15 See the beautiful church
Medhane Alem Church in Bole, whose name means “Saviour of the World,” is the second largest cathedral in the whole of Africa and the largest in Ethiopia. It is located only a five minute walk away from our hotel.
16 Buy traditional clothing
Just past the American Embassy, in an area called “Shiro Meda,” is a line of outdoor vendors selling traditional clothes, scarves, and other souvenirs. Get ready to barter, and enjoy your time shopping next to saavy local shoppers.
17 Food that’s not injera…
If you’ve had your fill of Ethiopian food, there are plenty of international restaurants to enjoy. Fill up at home, our restaurant located on the Mezzanine floor, which hosts an American egg station at breakfast time, along with an array of global cuisine prepared fresh with the expertise of our Turkish chef. Our homemade desserts, famous in Addis, will get your mouth watering. If you’re exploring the city, you’ll also find plenty of authentic Indian, Chinese, Arab, and Italian restaurants. There is also a Pizza Hut located directly across the street from our hotel. And a wonderful Italian ice cream spot called, Tutto Gelato, within 5 minutes walking distance (the dark chocolate flavor is our favorite).
18 Learn about the culture
As the only country in Africa never colonized, Ethiopia is rather different than its neighbors. Learn about their unique culture including their calendar system (it’s about 7 ½ years behind the rest of the world! ) and their different way of telling time that starts counting at sun rise (example: 7 am is said as 1 o’clock in Ethiopian time.) Our team uses international time, but when working with outside tour guides or locals, make sure you specify the time as Foreigner-not Ethiopian time to avoid mix-ups.
19 Enjoy the Night Life
Addis is a city that likes to party it up. We’re located between the hottest bars and clubs of the city. All within walking distance or a 5 minute taxi ride away.
20 Learn Amharic
While there are 83 languages spoken throughout Ethiopia, most locals in Addis Ababa speak Amharic. Even if you’re only in town for a few days, there is no better way to make an Ethiopian smile than to speak a few words of their native language. Top words include:
- Selam – hello (literally translates at ‘peace’)
- Ishi– Okay
- Yet no?- Where is…?
- A-may-say-ga-na-low- Thank you
- Shint-a-bet – bathroom
21 Enjoy the Music
Ethiopia has a great group of local artists performing traditional songs, new pop songs, and international best-hits. Jazz lovers will particularly love Ethiopian jazz which has its own unique style.
22 Wander the Market
This isn’t for the faint at heart. The “Mercado,” as locals call it, is the largest outdoor market in all of Africa. Most tourists will find shopping here too chaotic and confusing. It it is, however, the most fantastic people-watching spot. Enjoy the lively vendors, the wandering goats, and the men with goods piled fascinatingly high on their heads. Warning, it’s not the best place for families with children and be aware of pick-pocketers.
23 Take a Walk
One of the best things to do in Addis Ababa is to walk around and explore the city by foot. Located in the business & entertainment district, when you leave the hotel and take a stroll down the street in either direction you’ll stumble across endless cafes, stores, and more. (Although, walking after dark is not encouraged).
24 Watch Football Game
This might surprise you, but Ethiopians are some of the biggest supporters of the English Premier League. Most are Manchester United, Chelsea, or Arsenal fans, but you’ll find the rogue Liverpool supporter as well. Enjoy a game with a cold beer on our 10th floor sports bar– the best place to view the city and while staying up to date on your favorite team.
25 Take a day trip
If you want to explore outside Addis Ababa, there are several nearby locations. Only an hour away is the charming town of Debre Zeit boasting several beautiful crater lakes. You can also take a hike in Menagesha Forest home to Anubis baboons, Guereza Monkeys, and endemic Menelik’s bushbuck.
26 Learn How to Make Injera
If you are really interested in learning how to make Ethiopian food, you can sign up for a cooking class with Gojo Cooks. It aims to teach you the rudiments of basic stable Ethiopian cooking including injera, shiro, and a coffee ceremony. Buy all the ingredients and spices before you go and “wow” your family back home.
27 Meet Locals
The best part of Addis Ababa is Ethiopians. Described as some of the warmest, most friendly in all of Africa. Take some time to meet locals. Whether it’s someone from our team, a tour guide, or someone at your conference, you might just find that the highlight of your trip was spending time with Ethiopians themselves.