There is a good chance you are not coming all the way to Ethiopia just to visit Addis Ababa. Your trip will probably be based around Ethiopia’s natural and cultural attractions like the churches of Lalibela or the Bale Mountains National Park. Addis Ababa with its lively hustle and bustle, however, is well worth spending some time in.
The city is full of a rich and interesting history and culture. It won’t take you long to get a feel for it, in fact, around 2 days in Addis Ababa is the perfect amount of time to take in all the great things that Addis Ababa has to offer. Follow our Addis Ababa itinerary to make the most of your time there.
Best Time to Visit Addis Ababa
To have the best experience in Addis Ababa, you’ll want to be there at the right time of year. In a place like Addis, the weather will have a huge impact on your trip. No one wants to run around a city they don’t know in the rain. When it rains in Addis, it rains hard, the streets become a flow of water, and the hustle and bustle can become chaos. The rainy season in Ethiopia runs from Mid-June through to Mid-September.
The proper dry season starts in November and ends at the beginning of April. This is by far the best time to visit Addis. The streets are dry and clean(ish) and you won’t have to run from place to place to avoid the rain. If you are worried about being too hot, don’t be. Addis Ababa sits at an altitude of 2,355 meters above sea level, being so high it has cool mornings and evenings with beautiful warm sunny days in between.
Addis Ababa doesn’t get overloaded with tourists like other major cities around the globe as it is still a little off the beaten track so you don’t have to worry about it being over-crowded no matter the time of year.
How to Get Around Addis Ababa
There are quite a lot of ways to get around Addis and how you choose to go depends on what you’re planning to do with your day. Here are some tips for making your way around the city.
- Bus: It’s probably a good idea to avoid public buses. They are cheap, slow, unreliable, and rife with pickpockets. If you want to use public transport, look to the minibuses instead.
- Minibus: There is a large network of blue and white minibuses in Addis which are the main public transport in the city. The minibuses are quick, cheap, efficient, and an easy way to get around. They run from early in the morning until around 8 or 9 pm. You can hop on at pretty much every major crossroads but to be sure you get on the right one you’ll need to listen for the destinations shouted by the conductors.
- Tram: There are two tram lines that run through Addis, north to south and east to west. The trams cross the city center stopping at around 39 stations. The tram can be a useful way to avoid congestion, but be careful as pickpockets do operate in the carriages.
- Taxi: Taxis run in Addis from around 6am to 11pm and a short journey will cost you 60 – 80 birr (~$2 – 2.70 USD) and longer ones around 100-140 (~$3.50 – 4.70 USD). If you are planning on doing some sightseeing, it’s worth hiring a taxi for a full or half-day, but be sure to negotiate the price before you begin. A good price for a full day is around 600 birr (~$20 USD) and a half-day 300 – 350 birr (~$11 USD). Taxis are easily found or your hotel can organize one for you. Using taxi’s is by far the most convenient way to get around.
Where to Stay in Addis Ababa
There are a lot of options for accommodation in Addis Ababa and you’ll easily find something that suits your style and budget. The amenities along with guaranteed access to hot water and western plumbing do tend to get better with a higher price.
Airbnb has begun gaining traction in Addis Ababa and you can find a room for two for less than $30 USD a night. Staying in an Airbnb a great way to learn about local customs from your hosts and get a look into their daily lives. Don’t forget to use our link to get up to $55 off your next booking.
If you are looking for luxury, the Sheraton Addis is a good place to start. It has suites and beautiful double rooms, a pool, plus a number of restaurants and bars onsite. Their outdoor bar offers great cocktails, live music, and is a fun place to hang out even if you aren’t staying there.
The Jupiter International Hotel is more of a mid-level establishment with nice rooms, great WiFi, and very attentive staff who love to help with anything they can. The Jupiter is located in Kazanchis in the center of Addis and is a good base to explore from.
There are a lot of cheap options in Addis but cheap as well as good is not so easy to find. Arequ Guest House is found in Bole, close to the airport and is a great place to stay on a budget. The place has been designed as a traditional Ethiopian home. The rooms are spacious, comfortable, clean, and you’ll get treated to a traditional breakfast every morning. It’s run by a local family who are very kind and eager to help. You can also use the kitchen space to make your own meals and the family will make lunch and dinner for you upon request.
For more accommodation options in Addis Ababa check out Booking.com. They continuously offer the best rates and their custom service is on point.
The Perfect 2-Day Addis Ababa Itinerary
However, before we get to our Addis Ababa itinerary and the best places to visit in Addis Ababa, we just wanted to remind you to purchase travel insurance. You never know what will happen and, trust us, you do not want to get stuck with thousands of dollars in medical bills. As a wise man once said, “If you can’t afford travel insurance, you can’t afford to travel.” So don’t leave home without it.
We personally use and recommend SafetyWing. For only around $10 a week, it’s really a no-brainer. You can get a quick, non-binding quote below:
Day 1 in Addis Ababa
First of all, find a taxi and book it for the day, this will simply take the pressure off of getting from A to B and will let you enjoy your day a bit more.
To begin with, head to the National Museum of Ethiopia, regarded as one of the most important in sub-Saharan Africa. The most famous exhibit is the paleontological showcase, found in the basement. There you can see two casts of Lucy, the partial skeleton of a specimen of Australopithecus afarensis, one sitting flat and the other standing like she might have 3.3 million years ago. It’s amazing to see how small our ancestors were and imagine them as hunters and gatherers. In the museum you will also find exhibits of the remains of extinct creatures such as a huge sabretooth and a gigantic savannah pig, and portholes into Ethiopia’s cultural history and artwork. You should grab a guide when you begin as their knowledge really brings the place to life, and be sure to tip them afterward.
From the National Museum it’s a short ride to the Ethnological Museum which is found within Haile Selassie’s old palace and is encompassed by stunning fountains and gardens. The Ethnological Museum is one of the finest museums in Africa and shows Ethiopia’s social and cultural history across two floors. Even if you are not a museum buff, this museum is well worth a visit as it provides a great glimpse into the life cycle of the different cultural groups in Ethiopia.
Now it’s time for a traditional lunch, and probably the best one in town. If you think you have tried good injera, a sourdough-risen flatbread and the national dish of Ethiopia, you haven’t yet. A quick hop from the museum is Itegue Taitu Hotel where they serve up a sumptuous feast of local Ethiopian food in their newly renovated stately dining room.
By now you are probably museum-ed out but it’s worth going to the St George Cathedral & Museum, even if it’s just to wander around the outside and take in the beautiful architecture. On the inside you’ll see stunning colors and flashes of art amongst the architecture, paintings, and mosaics as well as starry sky blue ceilings. The museum holds ancient crosses, crowns, religious scrolls, and the coronation garb of Zewditu and Haile Selassi. Once you’re done, it’s time for one of the best coffees in Ethiopia. A short walk away is Tomoca, the capital’s best coffee shop where you can smell the beans being roasted as you get closer.
In the evening head over to Yod Abyssinia for dinner. There they are known for excellent local cuisine and great tej (honey wine) but that is not all that’s on offer. At around 7:30pm the stage comes to life as local musicians, dancers, and singers perform traditional acts. They really put on a show here and it’s loads of fun.
Day 2 in Addis Ababa
After a night of trying some of the best local food, it’s time to try and recreate some of it. Book the My Guzo’s Culinary Tour and spend the morning learning how to make injera, flatbread, and all the stews you might find in a main course.
Afterwards you might be in need of a break from traditional food, so head over to lunch at La Mandoline. La Mandoline serves delicious traditional french cuisine and is one of the city’s best restaurants.
After lunch it’s time to learn about one of the hardest times of Ethiopia’s history, the Derg. In the ‘Red Terror’ Martyrs Memorial Museum you’ll find a deeply moving exhibit of what life was like during the Derg dictatorship where over half a million Ethiopians were killed. There are English speaking guides available however you may prefer to visit the museum in silence.
After the museum head for a drink at Topia Tej Bet, one of the best tej bars in town where you can sit in their little garden and take in the sights while sampling different varieties of honey wine.
Finish your day by going to Avanti Restaurant & Wine Bar which serves up some of the best Italian food in the city and has a great wine list.
Addis Ababa is one of the fastest growing cities in Africa and as you can see it is well worth spending a day or two there before heading out to explore the rest of Ethiopia.