Addis Ababa

Addis Ababa

Things to do - general

Addis Ababa is known to locals as just “Addis”.  It is a quickly-evolving city whose economic growth is one of Africa’s greatest success stories. Addis Ababa was founded just over one hundred years ago. It is the capital is a multifaceted city that towers 2,400 meters above sea level on the Abyssinian plateau. There isn’t a cloud in the sky for about eight months out of the year. The warm sun beats down on culturally-stimulating museums and world-class restaurants. There are also fashionable boulevards and hip clubs. Addis Ababa has many surprises up its sleeve, ready to impress even the well-traveled visitors.

The Thought Provoking Museum in Addis Ababa

The thought-provoking National Museum is a great introduction to the rich history. This is of both Ethiopia and the continent as a whole. The highlight of the extensive collection is Lucy, the famously-fossilized hominid. It is dated at 3.2 million years old. Four main exhibition sections nearly overflow with artistic treasures. There are historic artifacts and cultural gems, including memorabilia from former rulers, ethnographic displays and archaeological finds from throughout the country.

The Dark Past Preserved in Addis Ababa

Between 1977 and 1978, the ruthless dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam ruled Ethiopia. He murdered as many as 100,000 Ethiopians. The Addis Ababa museum dedicated to the victims of the “Red Terror” opened in 2010. This is to honor the dead through haunting photographs. It displays detailed exhibits to educate visitors and locals on tolerance, peace and unity.

Addis Ababa’s ethnological Museum is another fascinating museum. It showcases body art, music, religion, burial rites, traditional games and more. This is from thousands of years of Ethiopian history. Housed in Haile Selassie’s former palace, the grand building itself is just as interesting as its collections.

Visitors can delve into the spirit of Addis Ababa at the Mercato. This is a huge open-air market nearly overflowing with aromatic spices. There are handmade carpets, vibrant cloths and authentic artwork. You can find everything from souvenirs to weapons there. Bargaining is welcome and expected by the sellers. If you are looking for something specific, hire a guide because the labyrinthine layout can be overwhelming. You won’t have to look far for an expert. Local boys are always hanging around the entrances looking for tourists. They will guide one through the dizzying array of shops for just a few dollars.

Addis Ababa’s nightlife really gets going around 11 pm and the party lasts until dawn. High-end bars stocked with top-shelf international spirits sit next to traditional pubs. Here you will enjoy a serving up tall glasses of tej, Ethiopia’s national drink. A mixture of honey and beer-like tela, the alcoholic drink is sweet and strong. Many night spots feature international DJs spinning the latest hits. Remember not to leave Addis Ababa without seeing a traditional music show. Belly dancers often sway to the azmari music, the traditional style played on single-string acoustic violins.

The only thing hotter than the nightlife in Addis Ababa may be the cuisine. World-class restaurants abound in the city, serving up spicy dishes that are usually eaten without utensils. If you visit during the Lenten season, be prepared to feast on mostly vegan cuisine, as the Ethiopian Orthodox Church forbids meat for the 40 days before Easter.

Country Ethiopia
Languages spokenAmharic, English
Currency usedBirr
Area (km2)527.063 Km2

Nightlife info

Don’t let the bureaucrats fool you – Africa’s political hub has some of the best nightlife in the world. Dance until the sun comes up with Ethiopian youngsters on Bole Road, catch some live Ethio-jazz in the Piazza or sit around drinking Obama Draft beer in Kazanchis.

Fendika Zewditu St., Kazanchis

Easily the best place for those after a glimpse of traditional Ethiopian culture. Pack yourself into the intimate, one-of-a-kind azmari-bet, where you might have to duck to avoid a dancer’s flailing foot. The show starts around 9pm when an azmari (poet-musician) weaves his way around the club, strumming his one-string masinqo. The star of the show is undoubtedly world-famous dancer Melaku Belay. Bursts at the seams every other Friday when local favourite Ethiocolor play. Arrive early, 10 birr ($0.50).
 +251 (0)911 547 577

Jazzamba Lounge 
@ Taitu Hotel, Mundy St., Piazza

Meaning ‘jazz fortress’ in Amharic, Jazzamba opened in June and has a huge capacity with decor straight out of the 1930s. Visitors with only one night in Addis would be smart to spend it here as a host of local artists perform and the atmosphere is experimental. Local promoters love Jazzamba because it is a melting pot of the city’s best talent, with Addis Acoustic and Ethiocolor both playing regularly. Serves decent western food from 60-90 birr. Cover charge depends on the concert.

Club Alize Ring Road, 
Opposite Bole Airport

Perfect for soaking up laid-back Ethio-jazz grooves. Packed on Thursday nights when citywide sensation Addis Acoustic performs an acoustic set featuring clarinet, accordion, guitar and mandolin accompanied by traditional drumming. It is also worth watching Express Band playing 1960s and 1970s Motown soul. Good choice for Saturday night entertainment as it is open late. Well worth the 25 birr cover charge. +251 (0)911 862 911

Guramayle Namibia Street

Come here on Monday nights to watch saxophonist Olaf Boelsen and the Jazzmaris put on well-chosen Ethio-jazz covers as well as some fresh cuts of their own. DJ Mitmitta supports most weeks. Excellent outdoor garden area and free entry. Owner and manger Yahu is the life of the party.

+251 (0)911 210 757

Woube Berhah 
@ Edna Mall, Namibia Street

Those looking for rastas to party with will get a kick out of the live music at this club, which is popular with reggae fans and local university students. It’s convenient for movie goers as a cinema is upstairs. Drinks are expensive, but on the weekend it’s good fun and there is lots of space to sit down and talk with new friends. A great insight into middle-class Addis and a favourite of Shegger FM radio host Berhanu Digaffe. Cover charge 30 birr.


in just another addition to the growing metropolitan life of the Ethiopian capital, Suba, an exotic bar with a combination of splendid music and popular drinks, has opened its door only recently. With its grabbing interior design and professional staff, it is a place worth visiting.

Liquid Lounge

Located in the heart of the Kazanchis business district, Liquid Lounge is an ideal escape from the ordinary in Addis Ababa. A contemporary and unique restaurant, bar and lounge, it has a bright and inviting space with a beautiful bar and design. Liquid Lounge is open daily for breakfast, lunch, dinner, happy hour and late night drinks.

Culture and history info

Entoto is one of a handful of sites put forward as a possible location for a medieval imperial capital known as Barara. This permanent fortified city was established during the early to mid 15th century, and it served as the main residence of several successive emperors up to the early 16th century reign of Lebna Dingel. The city was depicted standing between Mounts Zikwala and Menegasha on a map drawn by the Italian cartographer Fra Mauro in around 1450, and it was razed and plundered by Ahmed Gragn while the imperial army was trapped on the south of the Awash River in 1529, an event witnessed and documented two years later by the Yemeni writer Arab-Faqih. The suggestion that Barara was located on Mount Entoto is supported by the very recent discovery of a large medieval town overlooking Addis Ababa located between rock-hewn Washa Mikael and the more modern church of Entoto Maryam, founded in the late 19th century by Emperor Menelik. Dubed the Pentagon, the 30 hecatre site incorporates a castle with 12 towers, along with 520 meter of stone walls measuring up to 5 meter high.

The site of Addis Ababa was chosen by Empress Taytu Betul and the city was founded in 1886 by Emperor Menelik II. Menelik, as initially a King of the Shewa province, had found Mount Entoto a useful base for military operations in the south of his realm, and in 1879 he visited the reputed ruins of a medieval town, and an unfinished rock church that showed proof of the ancient Christian empire's presence in the area before the campaigns of Ahmad ibn Ibrihim. His interest in the area grew when his wife Taytu began work on a church on Mount Entoto, and Menelik endowed a second church in the area.

However, the immediate area did not encourage the founding of a town due to the lack of firewood and water, so settlement actually began in the valley south of the mountain in 1886. Initially, Taytu built a house for herself near the "Filwoha" hot mineral springs, where she and members of the Showan Royal Court liked to take mineral baths. Other nobility and their staff and households settled in the vicinity, and Menelik expanded his wife's house to become the Imperial Palace which remains the seat of government in Addis Ababa today. The name changed to Addis Ababa and became Ethiopia's capital when Menelik II became Emperor of Ethiopia. The town grew by leaps and bounds. One of Emperor Menelik's contributions that is still visible today is the planting of numerous eucalyptus trees along the city streets.

Following all the major engagements of their invasion, Italian troops from the colony of Eritrea entered Addis Ababa on 5 May 1936. Along with Dire Dawa, the city had been spared the aerial bombardment (including the use of chemical weapons such as mustard gas) practiced elsewhere and its railway to Djibouti remained intact. Under its Italian spelling Addis Abeba, the city served as the Duke of Aosta's capital for the unified colony of Italian East Africa until 1941, when it was abandoned in favor of Amba Alagi and other redoubts during the Second World War's East African Campaign. The city was liberated by Major Orde Wingate's Sudanese and Ethiopian Gideon Force in time to permit Emperor Haile Selassie's return on 5 May 1941, five years to the day after he had left.

Following reconstruction, Haile Selassie helped form the Organization of African Unity in 1963 and invited the new organization to keep its headquarters in the city. The OAU was dissolved in 2002 and replaced by the African Union (AU), also headquartered in Addis Ababa. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa also has its headquarters in Addis Ababa. Addis Ababa was also the site of the Council of the Oriental Orthodox Churches in 1965.

Ethiopia has often been called the original home of mankind due to various humanoid fossil discoveries like the Australopithecine Lucy. North eastern Africa, and the Afar region in particular was the central focus of these claims until recent DNA evidence suggested origins in south central Ethiopian regions like present-day Addis Ababa. After analyzing the DNA of almost 1,000 people around the world, geneticists and other scientists claimed people spread from what is now Addis Ababa 100,000 years ago. The research indicated that genetic diversity declines steadily the farther one's ancestors traveled from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

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