There is a good chance you are not coming all the way to Ethiopia just to visit Addis Ababa. Your trip will probably be based around Ethiopia's natural and cultural attractions like the churches of Lalibela or the Bale Mountains National Park. Addis Ababa with its lively hustle and bustle, however, is well worth spending some time in.
The city is full of a rich and interesting history and culture. It won't take you long to get a feel for it, in fact, around 2 days in Addis Ababa is the perfect amount of time to take in all the great things that Addis Ababa has to offer. Follow our Addis Ababa itinerary to make the most of your time there.
Addis Ababa doesn't get overloaded with tourists like other major cities around the globe as it is still a little off the beaten track so you don't have to worry about it being over-crowded no matter the time of year.
To begin with, head to the National Museum of Ethiopia, regarded as one of the most important in sub-Saharan Africa. The most famous exhibit is the paleontological showcase, found in the basement. There you can see two casts of Lucy, the partial skeleton of a specimen of Australopithecus afarensis, one sitting flat and the other standing like she might have 3.3 million years ago. It's amazing to see how small our ancestors were and imagine them as hunters and gatherers.
From the National Museum it's a short ride to the Ethnological Museum which is found within Haile Selassie's old palace and is encompassed by stunning fountains and gardens. The Ethnological Museum is one of the finest museums in Africa and shows Ethiopia's social and cultural history across two floors. Even if you are not a museum buff, this museum is well worth a visit as it provides a great glimpse into the life cycle of the different cultural groups in Ethiopia.
By now you are probably museum-ed out but it's worth going to the St George Cathedral & Museum, even if it's just to wander around the outside and take in the beautiful architecture. On the inside you'll see stunning colors and flashes of art amongst the architecture, paintings, and mosaics as well as starry sky blue ceilings. The museum holds ancient crosses, crowns, religious scrolls, and the coronation garb of Zewditu and Haile Selassi. Once you're done, it's time for one of the best coffees in Ethiopia. A short walk away is Tomoca, the capital's best coffee shop where you can smell the beans being roasted as you get closer.
After lunch it’s time to learn about one of the hardest times of Ethiopia’s history, the Derg. In the ‘Red Terror’ Martyrs Memorial Museum you’ll find a deeply moving exhibit of what life was like during the Derg dictatorship where over half a million Ethiopians were killed. There are English speaking guides available however you may prefer to visit the museum in silence.
Addis Ababa is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa and as you can see it is well worth spending a day or two there before heading out to explore the rest of Ethiopia.