Addis Ababa has always seemed like a gateway to another world. For the rural masses of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa is a city whose streets are paved in gold, while for a foreign visitor, it is at the verge of an ancient and mystical world. Yet despite this merging of worlds, many foreign visitors try to transit Addis Ababa as quickly as possible enroute to more scenic parts of the country.
Streets in Addis do have names, but are not widely known or mapped, so use landmarks to navigate the city. Don’t hesitate to ask Ethiopians on the street for directions and watch where they point. Yellow and green taxis usually hang around touristy areas like hotels and shopping malls. They are more expensive than the more common blue taxis, but they are reliable, and if you’re willing to pay for peace of mind, then use these taxis. Hiring a car for a day-trip will be quite expensive at around 600 birr. That said, walking in Addis Ababa is a pleasant and sensible way of getting around in short bursts, as Addis is safer than most cities in Africa. Gang violence and serious crime is unusual. However, you may encounter some pick-pockets and scammers inside Bole Airport, and in the many marketplaces.
The Addis Mercato is the largest outdoor market in the world, and you can get anything from tourist goods to fabric to metal goods there. Haggling and bargaining are standard procedure, and foreigners should expect to be charged higher prices. To ensure a positive experience, don’t be afraid to negotiate aggressively and don’t let yourself be bullied by the many brokers who frequent the market, and will try to steer you towards certain stores in exchange for a pay off from the merchant. You will be able to negotiate lower prices if you can avoid brokers, and especially if you have a local friend or guide to buy things on your behalf.
Entoto Hill is one of main areas of the city that is of interest to tourists. It is the highest point of Addis Ababa and the panoramic views are splendid on a clear day. There are many churches and monasteries on the hill (mountain) and while they are not as impressive that most tourists will find at Lake Tana, they are still worth a good few hours worth of exploration while you ascend the hill.
The Red Terror Museum was a stark reminder of the atrocities that have plagued Ethiopia throughout its history. For its small size, the museum is very hard-hitting and should be on the itinerary of all travellers to Addis Ababa. Many similar museums across Asia are more well-known than this one in Addis, but it was a fascinating insight into the history of the country and turmoil suffered by innocent people due to civil war.
Food is generally cheap in Addis Ababa. Make sure you try the national dish Injera at least once, since there is no other food like it. It is a yeast-risen flat bread with a unique, slightly spongy texture. In making injera, teff flour is mixed with water and allowed to ferment for several days, as with sourdough starter. As a result of this process, injera has a mildly sour taste. It’s what the locals eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Most ordinary Ethiopian restaurants have it, and a serving for 2 people with free refills can be as cheap as 15 birr.