Facts about Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Addis enjoys all-year-round summery weather. Expect 80 degrees during the day every day and sunny skies with a couple of clouds.
The city is at 7,546 feet of elevation, which gave me a headache for days. You may have an easier time adjusting to it.
Addis Ababa is one of the safer African cities. Expect few safety issues in the more affluent areas during the day and those better neighborhoods stay safe even after sunset.
For some reason, the city feels like an eternal construction site with half the buildings unfinished.
The city is very walkable, though the sidewalks are bumpy and you will attract a lot of attention as a foreigner. That means you will have to walk fast, never stop and never look when approached or signaled. This will develop into a bit of paranoia eventually and you’ll have a hard time enjoying Addis.
Be prepared for people running scams on you 24/7. While Ethiopian people are generally very friendly, there is a large amount of scammers and aggressive beggars around. The Mercato area and the taxis are the worst offenders, but there are plenty of random scams that are not easily prepped for. The sums involved aren’t huge, but it all adds up.
Pollution from cars is intense and while the sky is still blue (not grey like in Beijing) the exhaust particles near the roads make the air toxic.
In general, transportation isn’t easy with no marked public transport and too many taxi drivers trying to make an extra $10 off your confusion. If you can hire a full day driver, it is a good idea to do so and save yourself a lot of hassle.
Now that you are prepared, here are my top things to do!
Addis Ababa Top 13 Things to Do
Easily my top thing to do in Addis Ababa – the food is unlike any other cuisine, it’s cheap and super delicious!
This is a close second for me!
Kaldi’s is a local chain that has a number of outlets across the city. It looks suspiciously like Starbucks, but the coffee is so much better and so much cheaper.
To.Mo.Ca Coffee is the archetype of Ethiopian coffee. This is a must-do on your list!
I also ventured to Mokarar Coffee (known locally as Harar Coffee Shop) but found it closed on a Sunday. The neighborhood is not the safest, so if you have a car, make a stop here, but otherwise skip it.
The Sheraton Hotel is in a palace-like compound, very close to the city center. When you are there, it’s hard to believe the chaos of Addis Ababa is even anywhere close. The hotel is open to visitors and it’s a great place to sunbathe or have a drink.
The pools are magnificent and are a great contrast to the rest of the city.
This is the center of modern Addis Ababa, with hotels, coffee shops and strip malls. It’s safe to wander around in the day and at night and a decent way to spend time in Addis. It’s also pretty artificial – think of it as a vacation from your vacation.
Medhane Alem Cathedral
This pretty cathedral is right next to Edna Mall and Bole Road. It’s an easy stroll that’ll take about 30 minutes. It’s usually quiet and off the main roads (so no pollution).
While technically this is the city center, there isn’t much to see here. There’s a bus station and a light rail station that is still under construction. It’s a landmark in case you get lost – everyone knows the way back to Meskel Square.
The Red Terror Museum details the events in 1977 and 1978 under the military ruler Mengistu Haile Mariam. It’s right at Meskel Square and worth a quick stop.
If you have not been to India but want to experience Bombay for a day, this is the place to do it. It’s chaotic, dangerous and intense, but it is something that burns memories into your brain – you won’t go home bored – guaranteed!
National Museum of Ethiopia
This small museum can be visited for just 50 cents (US). It has a number of exhibits from the first hominids and all about Ethiopian culture. It’s not in the best shape though and you can explore most of it in 20 minutes or less.