Just landed in Addis Ababa, capital of Ethiopia (population: 2.8 million), and keen to stretch your legs?
How about a walking tour of the city centre?
By the way, did you know Addis Ababa, at 2,355m elevation, is the 5th highest capital in the world? (1st place goes to La Paz at 3,640m, 2nd to Quito at 2,850m, 3rd to Thimpu at 2,648m, 4th to Bogotá at 2,625m; then it’s Addis).
Surprised? That’s because Addis Ababa doesn’t feel like a high altitude environment, and you won’t hear anyone making a song and dance about its elevation.
For comparison purposes, Addis Ababa sits at a higher elevation than the Australian mainland’s highest mountain (Mt Kosciuszko at 2,228m) and it’s more altitudinous than Europe’s highest inhabited town (Ushguli, Georgia at 2,100m).
Addis Ababa Walking Tour Point 1: St. George’s Cathedral
My walking tour begins at St. George’s Cathedral on Menelik Square, just beyond the northern end of Churchill Avenue.
Completed in 1911 (built on top of the ruins of an older church that dated to the 15th Century), this relatively modest – and distinctly octagonal – cathedral was commissioned by Emperor Menelik II to celebrate his 1896 victory at the Battle of Adwa (where he successfully fought off the invading Italian armies).
The cathedral contains paintings and mosaics by one of Ethiopia’s most famed artists: Afewerk Tekle. There is also a small museum on site containing clerical items and weaponry.
Addis Ababa Walking Tour Point 2: National Museum of Ethiopia
There’s a bit of a trek – approx. 1km – to the next stop: the National Museum of Ethiopia, on the corner of King George VI Street and Welete Yohanis Street.
There are many interesting exhibits in the museum, but the most interesting of all are the fossilised bones of various hominin species (i.e. the ancestors of early humans, or close relatives of). The most notable specimen is that of Lucy: the Australopithecus afarensis individual discovered in Ethiopia in 1974 (Lucy gained her moniker from The Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, which the research team were playing on repeat when they made the discovery).
The museum also displays the remains of Selam: a three-year-old Australopithecus child who died 3.3 million years ago. Salem is often referred to as Lucy’s baby, even though she died approximately 120,000 years before Lucy was born.
The museum isn’t all fossils and bones; there are also displays on the Solomonic imperial family, along with a collection of artefacts from the Aksumite and Gonderian periods.
Addis Ababa Walking Tour Point 3: Patriarch Residence
As you move south along King George VI Street, you’ll come across the residence of the Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church (the Patriarch is the father of the church; the equivalent of the Pope).
Addis Ababa Walking Tour Point 4: Holy Trinity Cathedral
Continue to walk south along King George VI Street, passing Addis Ababa University on your left.
The next major sight to take in is Holy Trinity Cathedral, which is the second most holy site in Ethiopia (the most holy site is that of the Church of St. Mary of Zion in Aksum, which claims to contain the Ark of the Covenant).
Emperor Haile Selassie is buried at the Holy Trinity Cathedral inside an impressive tomb. Several other members of the imperial family are also buried here, along with several political figures, including Sylvia Pankhurst, a prominent British suffragette and political campaigner.
Addis Ababa Walking Tour Point 5: Presidential Palace
Continue south onto Menelik II Avenue and you’ll soon be passing the Presidential Palace.
Passing the Presidential Palace is all you’ll be able to do. There’s no entry for the public, and you aren’t allowed to take photos of the exterior of the palace either – hence the photo above of one of the city’s iconic blue taxis.
Inside the palace complex is a mausoleum of Emperor Menelik II, along with several churches, offices, and the residence of the current prime minister.
Addis Ababa Walking Tour Point 6: Africa Hall
Directly opposite to the National Palace is Africa Hall, which contains the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).
Addis Ababa also hosts the headquarters of the African Union.
Addis Ababa Walking Tour Point 7: Meskel Square
At the end of Menelik II Avenue you’ll encounter a large dusty informal space known as Meskel Square, which, although not much to look at, was used historically for public gatherings and demonstrations.
Running along the northern boundary of the square is the newly completed Addis Ababa elevated light rail – construction of which was funded by the Export-Import Bank of China.
It’s the first light rail system to be built in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Addis Ababa Walking Tour Point 8: Red Terror Martyr’s Memorial Museum
The Red Terror Martyr’s Memorial Museum, on the southern side of Meskel Square, is the final stop on my walking tour.
Opened in 2010, this museum outlines and memorialises the atrocities committed during the reign of the Derg government (1974 – 1987). The Derg, or Provisional Military Government of Socialist Ethiopia, ruled the nation with an iron fist. Up to half a million civilians (mostly prisoners and opponents to the regime) were executed without trial during their rule.
A visit here is a sobering but vital way to end your exploration of the Ethiopian capital.
Practical information and how to reach Addis Ababa:
Addis Ababa is serviced by Bole International Airport, with flights to cities throughout Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America. More transport info here.
Or visit my crappy capital cities page.