Many people wish long layovers never happen when travelling but sometimes it’s inevitable, or deliberate for some. I recently got a cheap deal with Ethiopian airlines for my Cape Town – Nairobi flight with a 9-hour layover in Addis Ababa which I’m glad it had to be that way.
Addis Ababa is the capital and commercial hub of Ethiopia but my description of the city is a getaway to an amazing unknown world which you just want to dive in right away.
Ethiopian Airlines offers a free transit visa, a hotel on Full board basis with airport transfers to and from the airport for layovers over 8 hours. When checking in in Cape Town, I was handed a voucher for Panorama Hotel.
I arrived at Bole International Airport at 6:15 in the morning and after the normal routine of passport control, customs, I jetted out to catch my van to the hotel. There was a small hiccup with the van but I called the hotel and the issue was resolved within an hour.
While waiting, I had a little chat with one of the drivers and he recommended places I should visit during my layover. I wrote them down and when I got to the hotel I asked for the same information and the list kept swelling.
On a rather down note, not many things happen on Sunday, government buildings don’t open and many tour companies don’t operate group tours. My hotel suggested a taxi man, something very common in Ethiopia.
This means you get an ordinary taxi guy who takes you around to all the tourist attractions and you pay him per hour. The guy charges a flat rate of USD. 20 per hour which I found very pricey. Lucky for me my hotel was located outside the Metro station so I decided to explore the city by train, and on foot.
Places to Visit
Unfortunately, in Ethiopia, many unique tourist attractions besides museums and cathedrals are outside Addis Ababa. If you’re a fan of museums then you can sit down with your legs crossed because Addis Ababa is your type of place. Also as a bonus, most tourist attractions are pretty close to each other.
Below are the places I visited during my 9-hours layover:
Holy Trinity Cathedral
Time allowed: 30 minutes
Operating Hours: 7.00 AM – 6.00 PM
Entrance Fees: 100 Birr (USD.4)
Location: Aratkilo Area off Queen Elizabeth II road
My first stop was at Holy Trinity which is said to be the highest-ranking place of worship in Ethiopia with high ranking Ethiopians buried in the church backyard. The interior design and the exterior architecture characterized by a large copper dome is something worth seeing for ancient architecture lovers.
The church was closed but my guide called some old priest who opened the door for us. When entering the church, you should remove your shoes as it is considered a holy place. The remains of Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife Empress Menen Asfaw are carefully stored in this church.
Tickets can be purchased at the main gate and if you like you could get some self-appointed guides who sit at the church gate and charge around Ethiopian Birr 20 – 30.
Red Terror Martyrs Memorial Museum
Time allowed: 30 minutes
Entrance Fees: Donation
Location: Bole Road
This is a rather sad place to visit but still worth a few minutes. It was established in 2010 to honor the victims of The Red Terror which occurred under the leadership of Mengistu Haile Mariam, leader of the Derg Militia group.
There are English speaking guides who take you through the horror displays of human skulls and bones, photos of the victims, coffins, blood stained clothes for all the people who opposed the Derg. In his rule, Mengistu ignored a national famine which killed around one million people in Ethiopia.
In this museum, the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974 is also revealed. The scene is quite disturbing so if you feel you cannot hold on it’s advisable to skip this museum.
National Museum of Ethiopia
Time Allowed: 1 Hour
Operating Hours: 9 AM to 5:30 PM
Entrance Fees: Birr 10
Location: King George IV Street
When I was waiting for my hotel van at the airport, a random local driver told me if I was in Addis Ababa for vacation I should definitely visit the National Museum and meet ‘Lucy’. Lucy is a skeleton estimated to be 3.3 million years old which was discovered between the year 2000 and 2004.
This museum exhibits beautiful artefacts about the human origin and has four floors which depending on your interest you can spend 15 minutes in each. There are English speaking guides available free of charge except they should be tipped afterward. I liked the Archaeological floor most.
African Union Conference Centre
Time Allowed: 10 minutes
Location: Roosvelt Street (Old airport area)
There’s nothing much to do here for a tourist besides the iconic structure which you could pose for a few instagrammable photos.
Being a Sunday, this iconic building was closed so we were allowed to admire and take photos outside the building.
Coffee Shops in Addis Ababa
Addis Ababa has all types of coffee shops from the old-school coffee shops to modern European-style joints. With only 8 hours at hand, it’s important to choose wisely before you get carried away by the good coffee and all you do is drink coffee and people watching.
With no much time to spare, I visited Tomoca Coffee shop located in Wawel Street. The aroma that hits you at the door will make every coffee lover smile. There’s no place to seat in the café so you could choose to take away or stand somewhere and start a good conversation with the locals.
Other coffee shops to choose from are Kaldis, Mokarar, Alem Buna etc.
Abyssinia Cultural Center
Time Allowed: 2.5 Hours
Charges: Pay for food & drinks
Two of the hotel staff offered to accompany me for dinner and dance in the Abyssinia Cultural Centre later on in the evening, 3 hours before my flight. At first, I was a little bit hesitant in fear of overindulging and perhaps miss my flight but later decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did.
Yod Abyssinia is one of the famous Ethiopian restaurants which serves pure Ethiopian traditional food and drinks, and a desert of traditional music and dance.
Very Important Tips About Visiting Ethiopia
- You cannot use your Whatsapp in Ethiopia unless you download a separate security App monitored by the government
- Every national except Kenyans require a Visa to visit Ethiopia. Visas are available on arrival at Bole International Airport
- A Yellow Fever certificate is no longer mandatory when visiting Ethiopia
- Carry enough cash as many shops run on cash only.
- Declare all electronics at customs if carrying more than two cellphones, computers and cameras
Although i spent only a few hours in Addis Ababa, i totally fell in love with the city. I would love to visit Ethiopia again for attractions like Lalibela, Omo River Valley, Semien Mountains and the Blue Nile.
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