Addis AbabaCapital of one the world's fastest-growing economies, Addis Ababa (also spelled Addis Abeba) is a city in motion, catching up to Ethiopia's zooming commercial development in stride. At times gauche and somewhat rough around the edges, it is nonetheless worth more than a single night in transit, if only for the country's finest dining, shopping and of-the-moment urban developments.
The CityThe modern Addis Ababa descended from its original founding spot atop the close-by Entoto Hill. Back in the day, the city used to shift seasonally between its elevated and low-lying locations until the late 19th century. Addis Ababa has long taken root in the heart of Ethiopia, and grown to become not just the country's official capital, but the entire continent's diplomatic epicentre. An abundance of important international organisations based here, including United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the African Union. The sprawling city's two neighbourhoods to keep on your radar are the Mercato and the Piazza. The Mercato is home to an enormous market selling everything under the sun, while the Piazza is the backpackers' favourite. Bole, the area in immediate vicinity of the airport, is an upper-class neighbourhood where the country's most affluent reside, along with a significant expat population. Outside of Addis, the natural wonderland of Menagesha forest, Debre Libanos monastery, archaeological site of Tiya and scenic crater lakes of Bishoftu make for excellent day trips.
Do & See
Although most visitors to Ethiopia enter the country through Addis, few choose to linger for more than just a night or two before heading further inland to explore some if the country's ancient relics, and very unjustly so. There is an urban vibrancy of a distinct kind within the busy Mercato and Piazza neighbourhoods, scented with the aromas of excellent coffee served at nearly every corner. A handful of worthy museums are waiting for you should you decide to stay longer.
At the heart of Ethiopian dining sprawls the injera — a large savoury pancake with a porous surface made from teff, a grain native to Ethiopia and Eritrea. Teff flour is often replaced in the West for rice flour, often at the cost of authentic flavour and consistency. The injera is then topped with a variety of "wot", which are essentially different varieties of curries and stews with an amazing depth of flavour. Go for the vegetarian options on Wednesdays and Fridays, which are fasting days. Many locals abstain from consuming animal foods on these days, so you are likely to get reheated meat from the day before.
Some of the world's most revered coffee beans, along with remnants of an Italian presence in the country, make for a spectacular coffee culture, one upheld by locals who have firmly embraced coffee-drinking as an essential part of daily living. Coffee shops are aplenty, with many popular haunts in and around the busy Piazza area. Most cafes also sell beans by the bag. Do try and attend a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony, wherein the beans are first roasted, then ground, followed by the invigorating drink being brewed in a jebena (a special clay pot) and poured into ornate cups.
Bars & Nightlife
Nightlife in the Ethiopian capital can be either very low-key or borderline raucous, depending on where you go. The country has a jazz tradition going back to the 60s, which was, sadly, temporarily suspended during the years of communist regime. Along with other kinds of live music, the jazz scene is now back up and ready to be thoroughly enjoyed at venues across town. Don't miss "tej" — a murky honey wine served in bulb-shaped glass containers at designated "tej houses" (tej bet), and not only.
There are plenty of locally-made crafts to shop for, which range from Ethiopian fabrics turned clothing and linens, to artisan jewellery and footwear (there are a few designers to keep on your radar), to various local edibles and spices. The place to be for all of these and more is the bustling Mercato, a sprawling market with entire sections dedicated to individual types of product. It's best you go with a guide if there is the option: vendors often keep their goods inside stalls, making it not immediately apparent what it is that is being sold. A smaller, more manageable market offering a comparable experience is the Sholla, while the Shiro Meda is one dedicated to clothing and textiles only.