goKonrad’s Addis Ababa travel blog (Ethiopia)
Sitting at the helm of one of the world’s fastest growing economies, Africa’s diplomatic capital and fourth largest city will confound all expectations. This urban center serves as the gateway to Ethiopia’s mythical and ancient world and continues to earn its reputation for friendly people, delicious food, and the world’s best coffee.
Here are my favorite things to do in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia:
Merkato is the epitome of Ethiopian Markets. This massive market covers several square kilometers and employs an estimated 13,000 people in over 7,000 shops. Merkato is organized by what’s being sold. You’ll find spices in one area, TVs, green coffee, recycled materials, and a seemingly infinite category of products grouped together. It can be overwhelming, but it is one of the most fascinating experiences in Addis. Merkato s a beautiful blend of Ethiopia’s many different cultures and is the drumbeat of the Ethiopian economy.
Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum
This museum illustrates the tragedy of the socialist Derg Regime. The Derg was in power from 1974 until 1991 when the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, the current government of Ethiopia (EPRDF) drove them out. Amnesty International estimates that over a half million people were indiscriminately killed during this dark period in Ethiopia’s history.
Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. Coffee was discovered in the southwestern Kaffa region, hence the name coffee. To.Mo.Ca was established in 1953 as one of only a handful of modern coffee shops. It was started by an Italian man (the name To.Mo.Ca is abbreviated from Torrefazione Moderna Cafe, which translates to ‘modern coffee roasting’). The story goes that he had an incredible waiter who grew through the ranks and the waiter eventually bought To.Mo.Ca. Since then, Tomoca has been owned by 3 generations of the same family for over 60 years. This location in Piazza is the original location.
The Piazza Area
The Piazza neighborhood is the beautiful, old, and bustling area of Addis where the Italian influence shows most. It is full of old cafes and pastry shops, and is a great place to wander around. This was the original “downtown” of the Addis Ababa and its economic and cultural center, but in 1936 during the second Italian invasion, the Italians kicked the Ethiopians out of this area and pushed them to Merkato. This area became known as Piazza – a shopping and leisure area for the Italians only. Because of this history, the buildings are a beautiful mix of Ethiopian, Greek Armenian, Italian and Indian architecture.
Holy Trinity Cathedral
Holy Trinity Cathedral, known in Amharic as Kidist Selassie is the second most important place of worship in the country, behind the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum (in Northern Ethiopia). Holy Trinity Cathedral was founded in 1931 when Emperor Haile Selassie laid the first stone. Construction of the church however was disrupted as Ethiopians fought off the fascists from 1936 – 1941 during the Italian occupation. After a five-year break, construction on the church continued, and finished in 1943. The church is dedicated to those who lost their lives fighting against the Italians.
St. George’s Cathedral
St. George Cathedral was commissioned by Emperor Menelik II to commemorate his 1896 defeat of the Italians at the battle of Adwa. This was a huge deal as it meant Ethiopian retained its freedom and remains to this day the only country in Africa never to be colonized. The church is dedicated to St. George, the patron saint of Ethiopia (and the namesake of the country’s most popular beer) as his icon was actually carried into the battle of Adwa. The church was designed by an Italian with help from Greek, Armenian and Indian artists and built by Italian prisoners of war and completed in 1911. As a result the design of the church is a modern take on the traditional round Orthodox churches of Ethiopia and is octagonal.
The National Museum is a small and manageable museum broken into four floors: paleontology, historical and archaeological findings, ethnography and modern art. The museum is also home to Lucy, the most complete skeleton of an early human ancestor ever discovered – she is 3.2 million-year-old!
This hotel has a 1970’s African vibe and a truly Ethiopian feel – and is one of the few international hotels where locals actually hang out. I recommend visiting during their 5 – 7 PM happy hour when locals hang out and drinks are fairly priced.
When my friends were the on the ground guides for Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unkown in Ethiopia, this is where they sent him for the opening scene. It has one of the most diverse and extensive Ethiopian cuisine menus in town, a traditional and chic decor, and is packed with Ethiopians enjoying one of the best meals in town. This is one of Addis Ababa’s marque restaurants in town.
Get Local Expert Advice
Download the TripScout mobile app to have a self-guided tour and offline map of Addis Ababa (or learn more here). It was conducted by the top-rated tour company in town, Go Addis. I highly recommend their food tour, and for any on the ground tour needs you have.
Visit Lalibela, Ethiopia
Lalibela is a scenic and mountainous region known as “New Jerusalem.” The site includes 11 cave churches built by King Lalibela in the 12th century. The largest stone churches in the world are here and I would dare say that Lalibela is as impressive (if not more impressive) than Petra in Jordan, despite being much less well-known. Visit an Ethiopian Airlines office in-person and you can purchase a discounted ticket to Lalibela. These special discounts are an incentive to promote domestic travel and not available online. You only need 1 or 2 days in Lalibela, and I highly recommend it. Here are my photos from Lalibela.
I hope you enjoyed my Addis Ababa travel blog album!
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Addis Ababa travel blog