In transit: 8 things you’ll love in Addis Ababa

It’s a random Tuesday in late November, and I’m on my way home from South Sudan (post coming up), with a long layover in Addis Ababa. Ethiopian Airlines seems to have the best connections to a whole lot of cities in Africa.

Addis Ababa means New Flower in Amharic, the national language.

Transit in Addis

My stop is 9 ¾ hours long, and I am keen to get out of the airport and have a peek at the Ethiopian capital.

As luck has it, 3 fellow South Sudan travellers have layovers here, as well. Rik and Ryan are on their way to Kinshasa, after a stressful wait for a visa which has only come through last-minute, and Mike is off to Bujumbura. When checking in to our Addis-bound flight in Juba, the ground crew gives us vouchers for free hotel rooms and meals. I haven’t booked that. The others are staying overnight, but I am flying out at midnight, and don’t need a hotel room.

But the crew in Juba is adamant. Of course I must say yes. Surely I’m not turning down free meals? And what if I want to take a nap? A round in the gym? A dip in the pool? The Skylight is a nice hotel, they assure me.

How can I say no?

Neither prof nor male, but… details.

Landing in Addis at ca 14.00, we go through immigration. Turns out, no visa is required for this stop. Pretty high level of trust, which is always dear to a Scandinavian heart. I’m afraid I have bad news for all you passport stamp collectors out there, though: you don’t get one. (Just as well, if you ask me. I’m quickly running out of pages, and still have 3 years left before my passport expires.)

Birr, the local currency, is easily available from ATMs in the airport. So are local SIM-cards (2 USD for 24 hours).

Skylight Hotel

Now to check in to the hotel, 5 minutes away by shuttle. The crew in Juba was right. The Skylight is a nice hotel, and also a huge hotel. With 1,024 rooms, it is the largest in Africa. And although I won’t use my allotted room, I’m too curious not to have a look, being careful not to create unnecessary work for the cleaners.

Loving the view from – and to – the bathtub. (There is a curtain, if that’s all too weird for you)

A Day in Addis: 8 things you’ll love

Despite being fairly extreme travellers, none of us have been in Addis before, so we are all on equal footing. We’re also equally off the cuff; none of us have done any research. So what to do with a day in Addis?

 All I know is that Lucy is here, and I want to see her. I must see her! Other than that, I’m game to just wander around and take in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes.

Where do we start? Google, that’s where. Rik finds a free walking tour of Addis, and I’m sure it would have been a good tour to join. In fact, I would probably recommend it, if you’re in town before 2pm. Sadly, we are not. But – cannot let that stop us, can we! Let’s follow their route!

That turns out to be somewhat of a hit-and-miss. Not everywhere has an actual address, and I’m reminded local guides are invaluable. But I think we see and do enough to get a taste of the city.

I’m left with an impression of yet another African capital (Dakar, I’m looking at you), with wide, leafy avenues, curious corners, a good mix of old and contemporary architecture, an interesting vibe, and with fun places to eat, drink and be merry, world famous Ethiopian coffee included.

1. An independent walking tour of Addis Ababa

OK, let’s get exploring. A couple of Uber-like services are available. We use the RIDE app, which mostly works, once we figure out how to download it properly, and ask the driver to drop us at the starting point of the walking tour. That’s Arat Kilo Avenue, near the roundabout with the tall column erected to commemorate Ethiopians who fought and defeated Italian fascist invaders during World War II.

2. Lucy in Addis

Onwards to Lucy, my one sure thing. Fortunately, the National Museum of Ethiopia is easy to find. It is also old school, nothing interactive or digital here. Lucy is kept in a slightly dusty basement. Somehow, that seems right.

We are directed downstairs – and there she is!


Lucy lived in the Awash Valley here in Ethiopia 3.2 million years ago. She is an Australopithecus Afarensis, and the ancestor of all of us humans on this planet.

Lucy was discovered in 1974 by a French/British/American team of geologists and paleoanthropologists. One of the team directors was from Cleveland, so that is where she was brought, and where she spent her first 9 years (in this mega-annum, that is), having all her fragments assembled. Then she was moved back here, where she belongs. And kudos for that. (Hope you are listening, British Museum, Pergamon Museum and other museums, who think it is perfectly fine to steal other countries’ treasures).

Dink’inesh: you are marvellous

But why is she called Lucy? The scientists were Beatles fans, apparently, and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds played on loop in the camp when they celebrated the amazing find. Her name in Amharic, the local language, is Dink’inesh, meaning ‘you are marvellous’.

The replica is not life size. At 105 cm, Lucy was tiny compared to contemporary humans. But not this tiny.

Lucy is not our only ancestral mother down here in the basement. The even older Ardi roamed the Awash Valley a whopping 4.4 million years ago. She was discovered in 1994, and is the most complete skeleton found yet. Both Ardi and Lucy walked upright. Can you imagine travelling back a few million years, and see either of them walking towards you? Time seems irrelevant, doesn’t it?

3. Greek and Armenian churches in Addis

Just across from the museum, is the Ethiopian Orthodox Saint Lidetha Church, one of many pretty and interesting religious buildings in Addis. Further along our route is Saint George Armenian Apostolic Church.

4. The oldest Honey Beer House in Addis

We continue on from the National Museum and Saint Lidetha Church, looking for the oldest honey beer house. Not at all sure we found the right one, but that green sign on the back wall there says it is a historic house, so we reckon chances are good we have.

Honey beer – or honey wine, Tej in the local language – is a typical Ethiopian drink, 7-11% alcohol, a type of mead, similar to what my Viking ancestors chugged down in quantities, so the story goes.

Not gonna lie: Tej, like mead, tastes pretty foul to me. But that doesn’t mean you won’t like it. After all, I prefer alcohol that does not taste alcohol.

Had to buy the whole bottle, though it is highly likely that was due to miscommunication. What we couldn’t finish (i.e. most of it), they poured into a plastic bottle and sent along with us.

5. Piassa: Old Town Addis

Piassa (sometimes spelled piazza) is where you can see and feel the town’s history.

Beginning just around the corner here, you can see dilapidated, but still quite beautiful buildings lining narrow, sloping cobbled streets with shops selling the things we need in our everyday lives.

Walking through this old colourful neighbourhood is enjoyable, enchanting even.

This is a part of Addis I would like to get to know better.

6. Tomoca coffee shop

Can’t be in Addis without trying Ethiopian coffee, can we?

Tomoca is a family-owned coffee roasting company, with a few coffee shops around Addis (and in Nairobi), with Italian-style coffee made with Arabica beans from the highlands of Ethiopia.

There’s a legend behind Addis’ most famous coffee shop. Back in the 9th century, a shepherd named Kaldi noticed one of his goats behaving strangely, downright frisky, after eating some berries. Kaldi was a bit worried and decided to consult the neighbourhood monastery. Well, the monks didn’t worry. Instead, they began enjoying the berries themselves – and from there, the tradition caught on in the community, and soon, the whole world drank coffee.

Love the 1950s vibe.

7. Addis Ababa Restautant

I’ll admit it, I’m a picky eater – and not a huge fan of Ethiopian food. But when in Rome Addis…

We find – or rather, Rik finds – a local restaurant that looks promising. A gorgeous space, as it turns out, but rather empty this Tuesday evening. We order a variety of dishes from the, erm, interesting menu, all served on a huge piece of injera, the soft, fermented, slightly rubbery Ethiopian flatbread. Conclusion: if you like meat, there’s loads for you to enjoy in Ethiopian cuisine.

The ‘chicken sauce with red stew’ isn’t bad. (But hot as!)

8. The Black Rose Bar

It is getting on for evening. I have to be at the airport in a few hours. So let’s check out Addis’ night life.

There is a jazz club that sounds interesting, but alas, it is closed. If you are in town on a Thursday or Friday and you drop by Addis Jazz Village, let me know what you think.

Instead, we find the Black Rose Bar – on the way to the airport, no less. (Or rather, yet again, Rik is doing the finding. But then, he leads tours in some very offbeat locations. Probably used to scoping out cool spots.)

Sadly, photos are not allowed at the Black Rose Bar. You’ll just have to trust me when I tell you it is beautiful. Spacious yet cosy, warm and atmospheric, with mellow music. I feel like I have been transported back to the 1920s. I want a room like this in my house.

Sneaky photo of my Russian Assassin (which by the way does not taste like alcohol)

And that concludes my one day, now night, in Addis Ababa. I foresee more layovers here in the future.

Got 20,000 steps in before midnight (admittedly, a good chunk of it was here at the huge, almost empty airport. Can’t seem to sit still.)


Disclosure: Nothing! Nada! Links to external sites are tips for you to use when you have a layover in Addis (and I’m betting you, readers of Sophie’s World, probably will at some point.)

In transit: 8 things you’ll love in Addis Ababa is a post from Sophie’s World