The capital city of Ethiopia
and the natural first entry point for almost all international visitors. It also has a couple of special dark attractions worth their own separate entries here:
Addis is a large city, with officially some 4 million inhabitants (as of 2020), and while it is in some ways quite modern, with plenty of concrete high-rises and even the first metro system in sub-Saharan Africa, don’t be surprised to encounter herds of goats on the pavement or donkeys on the roads. The main city streets are often clogged with heavy traffic, which is quite chaotic when it is moving (but also when it’s not), so getting behind the wheel yourself is not recommended. The sights picked out here are probably best visited as a guided city tour, which are offered by a plethora of operators. You may have to have these tailored a bit, but fortunately at least two of the sites listed above are quite commonly visited places and de facto form part of the mainstream visitor attractions.
To be frank, Addis is hard to love at first sight – given the traffic chaos, the hassle, and the ubiquitous construction sites. In fact, you see more raw concrete of unfinished high-rises than you do the gleaming facades of finished ones. Beauty spots are few and far between, but do exist. Aficionados of modern architecture can find some interesting examples – e.g. the early 1960s Africa Hall (designed by a pioneering Italian architect). In recent years there has been a noticeable Chinese influence in Addis’s manic construction scene and businesses in general.
While for getting around it is reasonably safe to walk along Addis’s pavements and back streets (but beware of pickpockets at markets and bus stations), distances between places of interest are such that you’ll often have to get a taxi – or use public transport if you dare. The new metro may be of help – and it bypasses the often clogged streets, so can be faster – but the typical minibuses will be too much for many Western tourists. When taking taxis, fix a price before setting off – or use one of the newer metered taxis, which are said to be better value as well as less hassle.
The range of accommodation options in the capital is vast and though a bit thinner at the budget end of the scale, there are plenty of relatively affordable mid-range hotels of good standards, in addition to the usual pricier international chains.
Options for eating out are wider in Addis than anywhere else in East Africa, very affordable and many other countries’ cuisines, including European ones, can be found (e.g. Italian, Indian, French, even German), in addition to an impressive number of so-called ‘cultural restaurants’ that showcase Ethiopian cuisine. Some have English-language menus, but note that if you do not know much about Ethiopian food the names on the menus will mean pretty little to you. Consider e.g. “suf fitfit with firfir”, where the single English preposition won’t do much in terms of explanation – so better research names of dishes ahead of time! Aiding foreigners’ encounters with Ethiopian cuisine are special food tours during which several eateries are visited and a range of typical dishes introduced to visitors.
Addis Ababa’s international airport
is in the south-eastern district of Bole
and handles almost all flights into the country from abroad and is also the main hub for domestic flights – so much so that often you have to make a considerable detour via Addis to travel between two other places. (E.g. I couldn’t get straight to Mekele
from Gondar, as there are no flights between those two cities and overland travel would have taken way too long, so I first had to fly all the way south to Addis and then back north to Mekele the next day.) Make sure to be at the airport for check-in much earlier than you would in Europe or North America, at least three hours before departure for international flights, and at least half that for domestic connections.
- Addis 1 - cityscape
- Addis 2 - Meskel Square
- Addis 3a - tall building under construction
- Addis 3b - lots of unfinished construction sites in Addis
- Addis 3c - demolition too
- Addis 3d - another construction site
- Addis 4 - new metro
- Addis 5 - Africa Hall
- Addis 6 - modern Chinese addition
- Addis 7 - EBC
- Addis 8 - clock tower
- Addis 9a - finished and unfinished
- Addis 9b - ghost town apartment blocks on the edge of the city