If you didn’t know, staying at a hotel in Bole, Addis Ababa is generally considered the hottest and best place in town.
Let’s rewind though.
Addis Ababa is the capital of Ethiopia. It’s almost the same size as Chicago but has at least 2.5x more people. No one agrees on the exact population, but most believe that it is between 6-9 million residents.
The city, like every city around the world, has different areas and neighborhoods. Each with their own flavor and unique advantages. Here’s an overview of the main ones that travelers are likely to hear about and visit during their trip.
Bole (pronounced ‘bo-lee’) is considered the trendiest part of Addis Ababa. It’s the new downtown, and home to the business and entertainment districts. It’s also where the airport is located. (Unlike some airports that are outside the city center, as soon as you walk across the parking lot of the Bole International Airport, you’re already in the hub of the city.) Many more details to come.
Bole Atlas is still considered part of the Bole neighborhood. But it’s about 1 kilometer farther down the road than the rest of Bole.
Kasanchies is home to the United Nations, the World Food Program, and several Ethiopian Government Ministries. While it has some restaurants and a few bars, its main draw is being close to these organizations since each hold several large conferences throughout the year.
Haya Hulet, whose name literally translates as the number ‘22,’ is an up an coming district next to Bole. It’s a great neighborhood for residents living here as there are a host of small stores and business offices. But most travelers might find it a bit of snooze.
Piassa is the old downtown. Many of the buildings are small and crumbling, but there is a definite charm to this neighborhood. It has some cute little shops, cafes, and jewelry stores. It is also home to the 1st hotel in Addis Ababa (Taitu Hotel built by Empress Taitu) and the 1st coffee shop (Tomoca– which has thus expanded throughout the city, but the original in Piassa is still operational). The area can be dodgy at night, and there is a little too much hustling and pickpocketing for some travelers’ preferences.
Arat Kilo isn’t a place where travelers stay. But almost all will visit it since it’s the site of the National Museum which holds, Lucy, the oldest skeleton ever discovered. You also pass through Arat Kilo to get to the US Embassy, Shio Meda (traditional market), and Entoto Mountain.
Meskel Square (also known as, “Stefanos”)
Every morning, dozens of athletes sprint, play football and do pullups (using the bottom metal rod on billboard signs) to stay in shape at Meskel Square. It’s a common finish line for dozens of running races and often holds political rallies. There aren’t many cafes or restaurants nearby that would appeal to travelers, but it’s a charming place to drive through or explore in the early morning.
Old Airport is one of the most popular places for expats to live. It’s a high-end area near to the International Community School (that most diplomatic children attend) and has some great restaurants. It’s the neighborhood past Sarbet (see below). There aren’t many places to stay here, but if you have the time, you’ll find some great places to dine.
Sarbet, whose name means “grass house,” used to be a collection of local neighborhoods with roofs made from traditional dried grass. However, a lot has changed. Sarbet is now known as the home of the International Evangelical Church (IEC) and the large African Union. There are some great cafes springing up in the area including, “Bake and Brew.”
Mercado is home to the largest outdoor market in all of Africa. There is nowhere to stay here. But it’s worth knowing about regardless. It’s certainly not for every traveler as it is a complete sensory overload, but for the adventurous traveler, it’s worth a day time visit (not on a Friday or Sunday though as many of the stores are closed these days). It’s the kind of place where goats can be caught chewing “khat,” a local drug that gets them high, and men will carry five-plus stacked boxes on top of their head.
Why stay a hotel in Bole, Addis Ababa?
With all these wonderful places to stay, why choose Bole? Well to narrow it down, most travelers really only have the choice to stay in Bole, Bole Atlas, Kasanchies, and Sarbet.
But still, what makes Bole such a special place?
1) Walking distance to everything
Addis Ababa doesn’t have any great “sight-seeing” spots. There is no statue or sign or building that warrants a definite selfie. The best part of Addis Ababa is walking around. The streets are lively and exciting. You’ll see thousands of cafes and fruit shops where the oranges and avocados are perfectly stacked. You’ll see all kinds of entrepreneurs. Those selling puppies through car windows, shining shoes, self-appointed parking attendants, and those that operate a sewing machine under a piece of tarp.
Addis is the kind of place that is growing more and more modern, yet even the streets of Bole, will be forced to shut down as a herd of sheep wanders through the streets stopping traffic on both sides.
Bole, as the downtown of Addis, has more to see than anywhere else. Walk down the streets in any direction and you’ll find more to explore than time possibly allows.
As you hopefully already know, Ethiopia is the country that discovered coffee. It only makes sense that you drink as much coffee as considered safe.
You won’t regret it either. Ethiopian coffee is incredibly strong, but not acidic. Depending on which area it was grown in (the most famous being Harar, Yigarchaffee, & Sidama), the coffee can have a citrus taste or a chocolatey taste to it.
At our hotel, we serve traditional Ethiopia coffee, Americanos, macchiatos (which is the most favorite), vegan macchiatos (made with soy milk), iced coffee, and caramel iced coffee.
But if you want to grab a coffee outside the hotel, you’ll find endless choices in Bole. Three of the most beloved, big chains include Garden of Coffee, Tomoca, and Kaldi’s (which looks exactly like Starbucks). You’ll also find plenty of small cafes and those serving coffee from a traditional coffee ceremony.
We recommend you try a cup from the traditional coffee ceremony and a macchiato. It’s by far the two most popular options in the city.
Don’t like coffee? Try tea. Ethiopians make a great tea with cinnamon spice (chai be cumam), peanut butter tea (le ooze kebe), special tea (orange and pineapple juices served warm with honey) and ginger tea that is great in case you catch the flu (keshir chai).
Bole is great for cafe lovers because you’ll be able to explore hundreds. Just walk down the street and start exploring to find your cup of joe.
3) Best Restaurants are in Bole
Bole has more restaurants than any other area in town. Not just any restaurants either, some of the best that the city has to offer.
At Best Western Plus, we offer international and Ethiopian foods at our restaurant home, on the mezzanine floor, at our downstairs cafe, and at Janmeda, located on the 10th floor which offers views of the entire city. (Make sure you also try our cafe, Sweet Dreams, which serves some of the best desserts in Addis Ababa)
For those wanting to dine out, there are two choices: Ethiopian Food and International Food.
Almost every restaurant offers Ethiopian food, however, you’ll find the best ones are those that specialize only in Ethiopian food. Three of the best are within walking distance of our hotel including Kategnya (upscale Ethiopian food that appeals more to travelers), Tsgie Shiro, and Asmira Shiro. The last two are local favorites. The restaurants don’t have as much ambiance, but the food is super tasty.
For international food, it’s really too hard to list as there are Italian, Arabic, Asian, American, and Mexican within walking distance. However, many of our guests say they prefer:
- Efoy (local pizza place with rooftop view– order the pizza that comes with potatoes on top. Carbs on carbs is decidedly delicious).
- Pizza Hut (directly across the street from us and great if you are homesick)
- Loving Hut (for those wanting an all-vegan restaurant)
- Aladdin (Middle Eastern Food)
- Antica (known for teff pasta and pizza)
However, Bethany, at our front desk is an expert in our neighborhood restaurants and she can direct you anywhere you want to go.
Bole has more clubs, lounges, and bars than any other spot in Addis. If you want club music, jazz music, a more relaxed bar setting, a place that attracts more expats or place that attracts more locals, you’ll find it all in Bole.
5) Forgot something?
If you need some more clothes while you’re in town, there are several malls in Bole that sell Western-style clothes imported from the USA, Europe, and Dubai. Pick up anything you like including shoes and jewelry.
6) Souvenir Shopping
Staying at a hotel in Bole, Addis Ababa is great for picking up special gifts for yourself or those back home. You can find traditional clothes, jewelry, coffee cups, and other souvenirs at several stores.
Most travelers also enjoy Ethiopia’s wonderful selection of leather goods. Zaaf is an international brand based in Bole Addis that sells designer leather bags, purses, and wallets.
There are also two stores in Bole, Sabegn and Entoto Beth Artisan, that sell artisan creations. Here you’ll find everything from shot glasses, Ethiopian clothes with a modern twist, purses, and so much more. They’re great for finding gifts for those back home.
Lastly, you can buy Ethiopian coffee or our famous white honey at any of 6+ supermarkets in the Bole area.
Most people still equate Ethiopia as a poor country associated with famine. But the country is actually one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. Staying at a hotel in Bole, Addis Ababa allows you to see the other side that you might not have known existed. You’ll see some of the biggest most modern buildings in the city.
At the same time, staying at a hotel in Bole, Addis Ababa still gives you the ability to see an authentic part of Ethiopia. Meander down any of the main streets, and you’ll start to see more local homes and local dive bars.
People all throughout Addis are quite friendly, so you can easily meet some locals and learn more about what life is really like in the city.
9) Close to the Bole International Airport
Another perk about staying at a hotel in Bole, Addis Ababa is that you are very close to the airport. Our hotel is only about 1 kilometer away. The advantage of this is that when you get off a long plane ride, you don’t have to wait very long before you’re already resting in your hotel.
And you can make the most of your time in the city, by limiting your time stuck in transportation. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but when you’re only 5 minutes away from the airport instead of 45 minutes away (that’s how long it would take you from Old Airport area during rush hour), it does add up to make a difference.
10) Movie theater
You came to explore a new country. Or possibly you came for business or to see family. But if you’re staying for a long time, you might just need one night where you can totally relax. If that’s the case, head over to Edna Mall in the center of Bole (diagonal from our hotel) and watch a movie. They showcase local Ethiopian films and Hollywood blockbusters. One movie ticket plus popcorn will cost you about $3.
11) For Night Owls
For night owls, Bole is your only option. Most restaurants around the city close at 9 pm or 10 pm at the latest. Cafes shut down long before that.
Because Bole has so many clubs and bars, there are still restaurants and coffee houses that are open late– some are even open 24 hours.
So if you know you’re going to be craving a cheeseburger at 2 am, then Bole is the place for you.
12) The main meeting place
The great thing about staying at a hotel in Bole, Addis Ababa is that you are already in the prime meeting place. Most meetings, luncheons, and appointments take place in Bole. Partly, because that’s where most people already are. But also because there are just so many great places to meet. Plus, so many roads get you to Bole so it is one of the most convenient spots in town.
If you came for business or are meeting up with friends or travel guides while you’re in town, then Bole is the best spot for you.
Gyms are relatively hard to find in Addis Ababa. There are a few great ones scattered throughout the city, but luckily there are least 2 well-known ones in the Bole area. The most popular being Bole Rock which is located a two-minute walk away from our hotel. Bole Rock has swimming and heavyweight machines.
Of course, if you are a guest at our hotel, you can also use our gym, steam, and sauna free of charge.
14) Medical centers
There are very few, international standard clinics and hospitals in Ethiopia. However, in case of an emergency, there are two places that can help.
The first is Nordic Clinic which has all European trained doctors. It’s the place where most diplomats go. It’s located in Bole, and they are by far considered the #1 spot in the country.
The second is the Korean Hospital, also called MCM, located in Gurgi. That’s about 10 minutes away from Bole, but it is also known for great health care. Started and run by Koreans, it observes international standards and is the second most popular option for those wanting great health care.
It doesn’t matter if you’re not a, “juice” person. Ethiopia will convert you. Juice in Ethiopia uses only seasonal, local, tropical fruit, and it is delicious.
Juice in Ethiopia is really more of a smoothie– it’s fruit blended with water. Popular flavors include strawberry, banana, papaya, mango, guava, avocados, oranges, and watermelon. You can order one flavor or get a mix of as many as you like.
Most places add a small amount of sugar unless you specifically tell them, “No sugar.” Also, unless you’re drinking juice at our hotel or another international brand, make sure you double-check that they are using water from a water bottle and not tap.
Almost every place in Bole serves juice. It’s a great drink in the morning or during a hot afternoon.
16) Cultural restaurants
As a first-timer in Ethiopia, you must go to a cultural dance restaurant. While it sounds a bit touristy, it’s a really wonderful experience and locals enjoy going as well.
The two best ones in the city, Habesha 2000 and Yod Abysinnia, are both in Bole. The restaurants serve all Ethiopian food. During the dinner hour starting around 7 pm, there are music and dance shows. Professional dancers and singers choose a song from one of Ethiopia’s many cultural groups. They sing, dance, and even wear clothes traditional to that area.
It’s a great way to understand the diversity within the country while enjoying a nice night out on the town.
17) Things to see
Another great thing about staying at a hotel in Bole, Addis Ababa is that there are lots of things to see. For example, the 2nd largest cathedral in Africa, Bole Medanalem is of course in Bole. Ethiopia’s new football stadium is also located in Bole.
The great thing about Bole is that you get to see modern life, but you’re not missing out on the real culture. Addis Ababa, while it has rich and poor neighborhoods, is a lot more integrated than other international hubs.
18) Spas in Bole
After a lot of travel, there’s nothing better than being treated at a spa. Spas in Addis Ababa are great because they are high quality, but at a much more affordable rate than in Western countries.
You can schedule a massage at our hotel. Or for a facial, manicure, or pedicure, visit Boston Day Spa located in Bole. It was started by an Ethiopian who lived in the US. It feels very luxurious with beautiful decor, but it is very affordable.
19) You fit in better.
In some areas of Addis, locals are not used to seeing locals. They will, of course, be nice to you. But there will be a lot of eyes on you and perhaps a good amount of catcalling. The advantage of staying at a hotel in Bole, Addis Ababa is that there are a lot of other travelers and expats living or hanging out there. Not so many that you don’t feel like you’re missing out on the culture. But it’s enough that you won’t get as many looks or as much attention as you would in other parts of the city.
20) Easy for getting around
Bole is an easy place to get around in, even if you’re not walking. All the taxi drivers & RIDE drivers (Ethiopia’s version of Uber) know where Bole is and know all the spots in Bole. It’s very easy to stay here because every cab driver will know how to pick you up and drop you off. Since many drivers still speak little English, and assuming you don’t know much Amharic, Bole makes it very easy for both of you.
21) Always have power
If you’re coming from abroad, you might not realize how bad the electricity and water shortages can be in Addis. Spoiler alert, it’s bad.
The advantage of Bole is that power and water outages are rare. Of course, all big hotels like ours have generators and water tanks so you won’t experience it in your rooms. But even stores and restaurants in the Bole area have better infrastructure capabilities than the rest of the city.
Running out of electricity the first time sounds exciting, but it can be very inconvenient. For example, when you need to use an ATM, but can’t because there isn’t network. Or when you want to pay with your credit card, but the machine is down without power. Or you go to wash your hands at a restaurant, but they have to find a bucket of water that they saved up from the day before. You get the point.