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Founded in 1886, Addis Ababa is a gateway to the rest of Ethiopia, quickly acclimating foreign visitors to Ethiopian culture with its teeming, in-your-face ambience. Bearing a myriad of French and Italian influences, Addis Ababa balances remnants of European influence with its own uniquely African identity. Ethiopia is, after all, the only African country that was never a full colony. Addis Ababa is also home to the headquarters of both the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union, as well as an impressive number of traveler-friendly sites and experiences.
The Top 9: What to Do in Addis Ababa
This market is the largest open-air market on the African continent with over 100,000 vendors and shoppers every day! It is the commercial and economic hub of Addis Ababa, and almost anything and everything you might want can be found in this market. Even if you do not intend on purchasing anything, it is worth walking through Merkato just for the experience. The market is rife with pickpockets, so be alert; we recommend exploring with a guide.
2) City Center Walking Tour:
Put on a pair of sturdy shoes and set out for a tour of the historic center of Addis Ababa. Walk through Meskel Square, Tewodros Square, and pass the Addis Ababa Museum. Take in the Postal Museum, the National Library (said to possess every book ever written about Ethiopia), the Tiglachin Memorial, and the National Theater. Stop at cafés along the way for refreshments.
3) Art Galleries:
The Ethiopian government has been making a strong effort to promote Ethiopian artists. Feel like spending a mellow afternoon wandering through some art galleries, seeing what this city has inspired artists to create? Check out this listing of galleries in Addis Ababa.
Visit Entoto Menelik Palace, built on the site where Emperor Menelik pitched his tent and founded Addis Ababa in the late 19th century. Thanks to extensive renovation the palace is in good condition and is well worth a visit. The National Palace, also known as the Jubilee Palace, was built to commemorate the silver jubilee of Haile Selassie, the last Ethiopian monarch. There are plans to open the compound to visitors in the future, but at the moment, the grand palace can only be admired from the outside.
Need to buy souvenirs to bring back home? Shiromeda market is the best place to buy traditional Ethiopian clothing and the shopping experience is much calmer and far more low-key than navigating Merkato! On the way to Shiromeda, it’s worthwhile to check out Siddist Kilo, where the Ethnographic Museum is located. Just past Shiromeda is Entotto Mountain, which is a beautiful break from the hustle of the city. You can take a minibus up the mountain and walk around or go on a more strenuous hike.
6) Sheraton Gaslight Club:
Looking for somewhere to let loose and dance after sunset? Head to the Sheraton Gaslight Club, the best club in Addis Ababa for excellent world music and top of the line entertainment.
7) Africa Hall:
This building is the seat of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa. The most impressive highlight of this site is the stained glass windows by Ethiopian artist Afewerk Tekle, called “Africa: Past, Present and Future.” Tours can be arranged by appointment.
8) Historic Houses:
Though Addis Ababa is a relatively new city, the constant stream of immigrants and invaders has left its mark on the city’s face. Many historic townhouses built with Italian, Indian, and Armenian influences are protected by local NGOs from demolition and on display to the public as a testament to the city’s influences. In particular, check out Mahatma Gandhi Street and the Mohammad Ali House.
Churches are truly the focal point of communities in Ethiopia. Services are very early on Sunday mornings (usually around 6 a.m.), but you can visit most churches for a nominal fee. Most have a guard or other employee that will take you on a tour. Two of the most famous churches in Addis are Holy Trinity, where Emperor Haile Selassie is entombed, and Entotto Maryam, located on the beautiful Entotto Mountains just outside of the city.
When to Go
Throughout the year weather in Addis Ababa is temperate with occasional showers—very comfortable for an African city. June through September can get rainy; the best time to travel is between October and March.