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Coffee & History in Addis Ababa

Market in Addis Ababa Credit_ Rudolf Ern

Addis Ababa is the perfect landing spot for astute travelers seeking adventure lies at the heart and soul of Africa’s oldest independent country. Ethiopia’s capital and largest city, Addis Ababa — often hailed as the political capital of Africa — boasts a history as vibrant as its present-day charm.

From its origins as a mineral spring and retreat for Ethiopia’s royal family, Addis Ababa has evolved into the significant administrative hub it is today — not only for Ethiopia and East Africa but for the entire African continent. Nestled at the foothills of the Entoto Mountains, Addis Ababa officially became a capital in 1892 under the auspices of Emperor Menelik II. As the emperor’s palace was built, the capital underwent substantial development, transforming into the country’s most prominent economic and cultural hub. Shortly after that, many foreigners, artisans, and merchants migrated to the city, contributing to the vibrant essence and metropolitan feel that Addis Ababa is known for today. 

Getting There & Transportation

With near-daily direct flights between Chicago and Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines, passengers can conveniently land at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport (ADD), just five miles southeast of the city’s center. Addis Ababa is a walkable city, but ride services and public transportation methods like buses and a rail system are available.

As the Addis Ababa metropolis is celebrated for its dynamic blend of old and new, its cityscape beckons with friendly locals and many taverns, shops, live music, and nightlife waiting to be discovered. The city’s streets are adorned with bustling markets and museums that speak to the rich heritage of the country’s history and culture, and those seeking culinary delights will find joy in the diversity of eateries featuring traditional Ethiopian and international cuisine. Beyond the delectable fare, the region is renowned for another delicacy — the legend is that Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee, adding a significant cultural touch worth indulging in during your visit.

Neighborhoods & Sightseeing

Addis Ababa is filled with many neighborhoods worth exploring. The Bole neighborhood is considered the most luxurious, whereas the Meyazia 27 Square — also called Arat Kilo — is home to several museums and shops. City attractions include the National Museum of Ethiopia, the Addis Fine Art Museum, and Medhane Alem Cathedral (Ethiopia’s largest cathedral and the second-largest in Africa). To observe the natural beauty of Ethiopia’s landscapes, explore Unity Park or the Simien Mountains National Park. If you are feeling adventurous, visit the Ras Dashen Mountain for landscapes so grand that its top is considered the “roof of Africa.”

Tastes of Addis Ababa

When it comes to flavor, Ethiopian cuisine is tantalizing. Often centered around the spongy flatbread of injera as well as various stews packed with spice, Ethiopian meals are enjoyed communally. Other dishes include kitfo — a spicy raw beef — and doro wat, a chicken dish similar to Mexican mole. As per the coffee culture here, there is much to experience. Arabica coffee is native to Ethiopia, and you can savor some of the freshest and tastiest coffee available, consisting of citrus and bergamot-like notes. Since coffee is interwoven into the culture of Ethiopia, there are many options for cafes and traditional coffee stalls. Like the communal nature of meals, the coffee culture in Addis Ababa is intended to be enjoyed with family and friends. One such example of coffee communality is the traditional ceremony of Jebena Buna, which symbolizes hospitality and bonding. 

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