Sitting at a refreshing altitude of over 7,700 feet above sea level, Addis Ababa is a lush and cool place to visit. Though Ethiopia is very much a developing country, there is a stability in this city that is often lacking in other urban centers on this continent.
While things may not run as smoothly as back home, this city of a three and a half million people is not the basket case than many people think it is.
Addis Ababa Travel Guide
Cultural Attractions in Addis Ababa
Begin your time in Addis Ababa by paying your respects to the victims of one of the brutal regimes of the 20th century at the Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum. The communist Derg took power following a coup in 1974.
They ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist, with anyone who opposing their regime being systematically executed over the 15 years that they held power. This institution in Addis Ababa tells the story of The Derg’s ultraviolent approach to governance, with exhibits displaying skulls and bones, bloodied clothing, and photographs of their political victims.
Museum guides often include relatives of those who met their end at the hands of this government, giving this experience a weight that will make you appreciate the relatively stable, democratic governments we have at home.
After learning about the darker periods of Ethiopia’s history, get a background in this nation’s cultural heritage by paying a visit to the Ethnological Museum. Also known as the National Museum of Ethiopia, it can be found within the palace of Haile Selassie, Ethiopia’s last emperor.
Assassinated by the Derg in 1974, his legacy is a more positive one, as his former home has been transformed into one of Africa’s finest museums. It delves deep into the traditions of Ethiopia’s various cultures, with rite of passage rituals, tribal medicine, handicrafts, burial traditions, and many other aspects of daily life in this ancient nation being covered in detail.
After Armenia, Ethiopia is the world’s oldest Christian nation. While there are churches in the countryside that are more impressive than what you will find in Addis Ababa, make time nonetheless to check out the Holy Trinity Cathedral.
Built to celebrate the liberation of Ethiopia from Mussolini, the remains of some of this country’s most important figures have been laid to rest within its walls. This includes Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, prime minister Meles Zenawi, resistors of the Italian occupation, and other important figures.
Apart from the tombs, this place is also known for decorative stained glass windows; when you arrive however, do remember to take your shoes off as per local tradition.
Other Attractions in Addis Ababa
Those wanting to dive deeper into Ethiopia’s history will want to pay their respects at the Mausoleum of Menelik II. As the name suggests, it is a place of rest for this Ethiopian Emperor, but it also contains the sarcophagi of other emperors and Imperial family members as well. You will feel the history of this place as soon as you step through the trap door allowing access to the room where their coffins are situated.
There’s also a painting within the mausoleum that is rumored to have been painted by Michelangelo. According to guides, the directors of the mausoleum were offered 20 million pounds for it but refused the offer.
With a complete lack of security surrounding the work, whether it is an original or not is up for debate, but it certainly looks great in this historic hall regardless.
Market lovers should not leave the city without checking out Addis Mercato. With over 7,000 stalls employing over 13,000 people, it is the largest open-air market in Africa. While it is a very crowded place, the cultural authenticity of this place will make up for any discomfort that you might feel during your time here.
Goods of all kinds are sold here and you will often see the locals taking away their purchases on their head. Don’t attempt to follow their lead: instead, pay rapt attention as you explore, as this sprawling market is a prime habitat for pickpockets.
Before leaving Addis Ababa, hire a taxi and tell them to take you to Entoto Hill. In addition to the palaces and museums that you will find up here, the prime attraction are the large stands of eucalyptus trees that make this place the best green space in Addis Ababa.
There are also amazing views of the city below, so photographers should make the trip up here at some point during their visit.