Let’s get one thing out of the way first: Ethiopia is beautiful. The landscape, the history, the people, the food, everything is gorgeous. It’s one of the best places to travel to, period. And there’s Addis Ababa, the vibrant capital of Ethiopia, which means New Flower in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia.
Not only is it filled with cultural attractions, but it’s also located right between most of Ethiopia’s natural attractions, like the Bale Mountains National Park. Tl;dr: Addis Ababa is the perfect base for your Ethiopian adventures.
P.S And you can fly direct to Addis Ababa via Ethiopian Airlines’ 4x weekly services!
1. National Museum of Ethiopia
History buffs will love Addis Ababa for the many, many museums around, among which the National Museum of Ethiopia is considered the most important in not just the country, but in sub-Saharan Africa.
The three main levels hold cultural objects and traditional Ethiopian artwork. All of these show off the prestigious heritage of Ethiopia, a country with the distinction of being one of the few in its continent that have never been colonised.
Down in the basement level is where you’ll find the most famous exhibit—Lucy, the skeleton of the oldest human ancestor ever found. Would you believe she was named after a Beatles song? Equally exciting are also the remains of extinct animals, like the sabretooth tiger and the gigantic savannah pig.
Entrance fees are just 10 birr per person (S$0.25), and English-speaking guides are there to provide tours for a small tip.
Address: 2QQ6+6P4, Addis Ababa Arada, Ethiopia
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday — 9:00am to 5:00pm
2. Mount Entoto
Addis Ababa is also great for hiking, with its beautiful landscapes, especially at its high elevation (one of the highest capitals in the world). Not far from the city (just a quick 40-minute drive from city central) is Mount Entoto, the highest peak of the Entoto mountain range.
Apparently, it was from here that the second Emperor of Ethiopia saw the city of Addis Ababa and decided to crown it with the title of the capital. If you do make the climb, let us know if you feel the same.
It’s a great hike—pretty relaxing with the winding, gentle trekking paths—that takes only two and a half hours to reach the summit. You can also opt to take a taxi up the mountain in just 15 minutes instead.
Beyond the breathtaking scenery (the mountain is packed with eucalyptus trees, a koala’s fever dream), you’ll also pass by the Entoto Maryam church and the Entoto Maryam museum too.
What’s special isn’t just the collection of religious and ceremonial items, but also the fact that the building itself resides within the emperor’s former palace before he moved into the capital. Pretty sweet.
3. Addis Merkato
The crowded, chaotic market of Merkato is also one of the must-sees of Addis Ababa. It’s supposedly the largest market in Africa, with over 7,000 businesses hawking their wares to casual tourists and serious traders alike.
It’s nothing like your average market. There will be donkeys and porters ferrying various bags on their shoulders, and there will be herds of goats crossing the road.
Here you’ll find pretty much everything: from fresh fruits to traditional Ethiopian coffee pots, and handwoven shawls to exotic spices. Shopping is just part of the fun. The real entertainment? Haggling. It’s pretty much a game to see who can score the best deals around.
However, this area is also infamous for the occasional pickpocket, so it’s highly recommended to have a guide bring you around.
Address: Dubai tera building, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Opening hours: Open 24 hours, but closed on weekends.
4. Meskel Square
Meskley Square is, in essence, a town square, but where it gets its name from is the Meskel Festival that’s aptly held here every year.
Depending on the time of year, visitors get to watch a variety of concerts, parades, car races, and sometimes political demonstrations or take part in seasonal festivals. For a comprehensive list of festivals, refer to this website. It’s a popular spot for people-watching too.
Meskel Square has also been compared to Shibuya Crossing for being one of the most chaotic intersections on Earth. The only difference is there aren’t any traffic lights, there’s no roundabout, and there are no traffic cops in sight.
Address: 2Q66+3G5, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Opening hours: Monday to Friday — 8:00am to 5:00pm, Saturday — 8:00am to 12:00pm
Now this is something you won’t get to experience anywhere else. At the highest volcano in Ethiopia is where you’ll find an incredibly crystal-clear crater lake in the middle of the caldera. Wonchi Crater Lake, as it’s called, is where the community of Haro Wonchi (Wenchi Village) is based. It’s a bit of a road trip to get there, involving a good three-hour drive, but its unspoilt, man-scarce scenery really makes up for the distance.
The area was awarded the title of “Best Tourist Village” in 2021 by the World Tourism Organisation, and the reason is plain for all to see. Besides the crater lake itself, there’s also the dense alpine vegetation—which is home to numerous native creatures—a waterfall at the foot of the hill, as well as several mineral springs that make up the landscape.
To get to the base of the caldera where the lake is, you can either hike the 4km distance, passing through the gorgeous greenery, fields and traditional villages, or rent a mule for a relaxing and scenic ride down. Once there, you can have a picnic and enjoy the view, or go on a boat trip around the lake.
Address: QWV2+MC4, Shube, Ethiopia
6. Bale Mountains Safari
Most people would think of dry Savannah ala Lion King when they think of African wildlife, but Ethiopia’s safari experiences are nothing like that. You’ll find that kind of African safari experience further south in Kenya and Tanzania instead.
Rather than majestic giraffes and grand elephants, you’re more likely to see native Ethiopian wolves—the rarest canid in the world—instead. They’re found mostly north of Bale Mountains Safari, where the Sanetti Plateau is. Not only is it the most accessible safari from Addis Ababa (you can take a road trip that will last up to eight hours, instead of a charter flight), but it also doesn’t lose out at all in terms of wildlife density.
The Harenna Forest, found in the south of the park, is where you’ll find colobus monkeys, wild horses, and Menelik bushbuck among other animals. Keep your eyes peeled, you might be lucky enough to spot lions, leopards and even spotted hyenas.
Bale Mountains are best treated as a two to three-day side trip from Addis Ababa. There are plenty of accommodations available, whether as lodges or camps. Pick your type of rustic!
Address: VPPM+8PG, Rira, Ethiopia
7. Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela
We all know about rock sculptures—amazing works of art chiselled and polished from stone, but what if an entire building was carved out of a single stone? Up in Ethiopia’s north, the mountain town of Lalibela is where you’ll find eleven churches carved from volcanic rock.
This ancient holy city was built in the 12th century, under the king’s orders to create a new Jerusalem. It’s still frequented by Christians today, especially during Christmas and Easter. You’ll often find worshippers offering their prayers or reading religious texts here, but even those who aren’t of the faith are welcome to explore the amazing architecture.
It’s amazing to think how the interiors, with their semi-circular arches, doors and windows, as well as all the complex drainage systems, passages, tombs and catacombs, could be made out of one singular rock. Not only that, but there are also intricate human figure carvings and murals depicting scenes from the Bible on the ceilings and the walls.
While the churches are still preserved in their natural setting, some parts have been seriously damaged due to weathering over the past few decades. As such, it’s always best to see it as soon as possible.
Address: 22MV+79C, Unnamed Road, Lalibela, Ethiopia
8. Blue Nile Falls
Come rain or shine, you’ll always get to see a rainbow at the Blue Nile Falls. It’s also called Tis Abay, which means The Great Smoke in Amharic, which is a fitting name for a 42 metre waterfall and its thunderous spray of mist.
The waterfall is at its strongest during the months of August and September, but visitors have commented that it’s worth visiting even during its off-season.
It’s accessible from Bahir Dar, a town on the shores of Lake Tana that flows into the Blue Niles. Getting there requires visitors to hike a short 5km trail, which includes crossing a 17th-century suspension bridge, and it’ll lead you to a breathtaking vantage point. Though the journey might sound daunting, it actually only takes roughly 3 hours to complete, with plenty of time in between to gawk at the scenery.
9. TO.MO.CA Coffee
It’d be a shame if we didn’t mention Ethiopian coffee in a piece about Ethiopia, so here’s where you can find the gold standard of Ethiopian coffee: TO.MO.CA Coffee.
The shop looks a little antique—valid since it was established in 1953 and was the first coffee roasting company in Ethiopia to provide roasted and ground coffee to both international and local customers. There aren’t any seats even, but you can always lean against one of the stand-up tables and gaze pensively onto the street with a mug in hand.
While you could order just a regular cup of americano or latte, you have got to try Ethiopia’s most famous style of coffee, the caffe macchiato. Now, this has absolutely nothing to do with the caramel-laden milky sugar bomb from a certain global franchise. Instead, it’s a lil cup of espresso served with a dollop of foamed milk on top and served hot. Trust us when we say it’ll definitely wake you up, jetlagged or not.
And if you’d like, you can get coffee beans here too. They sell only Ethiopian Harrar Coffee Beans (a heady bean known for its wine and fruit-like flavour) at different levels of roast. Prices start at 270 Birr (S$6.80) for 250g.
Address: Wawel St, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Opening hours: 6:30am to 8:30pm
All that’s left to do is prep a notebook of common Armahic phrases like ‘konjo’ or ‘ameseginalew’ (locals love it when you speak their language) and you’re pretty much set to go!
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Best time to visit
The best time to travel from Singapore to visit Ethiopia is between October and March, when the weather is much milder and the rainy season too far away to put a damper on that holiday spirit.
While there are plenty of public buses and trams, they’re rife with pickpockets. Instead, it’s recommended to take minibuses instead, or if you’re planning to do some sightseeing, you could hire a taxi for a full day instead.
The official currency of Ethiopia is the Ethiopian Birr (ETB).