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Tourist Attractions In Ethiopia

Ethiopia is a country we had long wanted to visit. When we visited Armenia in the late 1990s a number of people we met were travelling there because they seemed – to us youngsters – to have visited everywhere else. On a trip to the beautiful Armenian rock-hewn Geghard Monastery a couple told us about the underground churches of Lalibela and in that moment Ethiopia was added to the To-Visit list. It would be many years before we could make the journey but we found a local company who were able to offer us a tour.

Lalibela Ethopia Churches

Although it was Lalibela that piqued our interest, we discovered that this wonderful country has so much more to offer than its star attraction. With a rich history, stunning landscapes and amazing wildlife, here is our guide to the tourist attractions in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia Simien Mountains

A Northern Ethiopia Itinerary

Ethiopia is huge. Our itinerary covered some of the best historical sites and spectacular landscapes in the northern part of the country. Although the route involved a lot of driving, we also needed to fly between key locations. This itinerary took 13 days to complete. This post is intended to provide an overview of the tourist attractions. We have some other posts on the blog that provide more detail about some of the places we visited.

Addis Ababa

We started off in Addis, Ethiopia’s sprawling capital city. Emperor Menelik’s third wife Empress Taytu Betul settled in the region in 1886. Eventually the emperor established himself there in 1887 and the city started developing. Addis became the capital in 1889 after It has continued to expand to this day. Its name means ‘new flower’. It is a lively, bustling city and a centre of commerce. The Merkato district is home to the largest open market in Africa. There are plenty of interesting places to visit .

National History Museum

This museum houses a collection of artefacts, set out in chronological order, depicting Ethiopia’s long and fascinating history.

One of the most interesting exhibits is that of ‘Lucy’ – a 3.2 million year old skeleton, who was discovered in the mid-1970s and became enormously famous as the oldest human. Lucy is no longer the oldest since ‘Ardi’ was discovered – she predated Lucy by about 1.2 million years, but she was a local lass as well, suggesting that Ethiopia could well have been the place where humans evolved to stand upright.

Ethnographic Museum

This museum, located at Addis university, exhibits all sorts of cultural artefacts, including tools, clothing and cooking implements.

A coffee ceremony set – something that is hugely important in Ethiopian culture.

Ethiopia Tourist Attractions

The entrance is interesting – it has a staircase to nowhere constructed by the Italians who occupied Ethiopia from 1935/6 until 1941. Each step represents a year of Mussolini’s power. But at the top of the staircase is the Lion of Judah, which represents the Ethiopian monarchy. It was placed there as an insult to the occupation.

Ethiopia tourist attractions

Day trip to Bishoftu

A visit to the resort town of Bishoftu (formerly known as Debrezeit) which is located around 50km southeast of Addis, is a popular day trip. There are five crater lakes to visit. These formed following a number of volcanic eruptions which created the craters that then filled with water over the years.

Ethiopia tourist attractions

It’s a very pleasant area to go walking and there are plenty of places to enjoy a nice meal with some drinks while observing the plethora of birds that can be found in the area. These cormorants were enjoying drying their wings in the sunshine.

Ethiopia tourist attractions

Fly to Bahirdar

Lake Tana

We flew from Addis to the town of Bahirdar. Its main attraction is Lake Tana which is the source of the Blue Nile. It’s a lovely place to visit where you can see a variety of wildlife and, of course, the amazing Blue Nile waterfall.

Lake Tana

A boat trip across the lake took us to the the Zege peninsualar where we visited the Ura Kidanne Mehret convent. This is a living church where services still take place.

Ethiopia Tourist Attractions Ura Kidanne Mehret

The structure is circular and the inside is decorated with beautiful centuries-old murals, many painted by Alaga Engida. We would see these distinctive designs through out this region.

Ura Kidanne Mehret murals
Ethiopia tourist attractions Ura Kidanne Mehret

Ethiopia tourist attractions

We saw lots of wildlife on the boat trip on the way back.

Ethiopia tourist attractions hippo

Ethiopia tourist attractions
Juvenile fish eagle

Lake Tana is the source of the Blue Nile and is located around 30 km from the lake itself is the Blue Nile waterfall. The 42m high falls are known as Tis Abay, meaning ‘great smoke’ in Amharic, which is a far more romantic name than Blue Nile Waterfall. The moniker is highly appropriate- they are spectacular. But it’s worth noting that they are spectacular in the rainy season. There is a hydro-electric power station which regulates much of the water flow these days, so it’s worth checking whether you are likely to see a cascade or a dribble.

Ethiopia tourist attractions Blue Nile Falls

Drive to Gondar

The City of Gondar

Gondar sounds like a city from Lord of the Rings and also looks like a city from Lord of the Rings. It has a grand history. It was the central location of the Ethiopian government and home of the Ethiopian emperors for several centuries and is a UNESCO heritage site.

Established by Emperor Fasilides in the 17th century, the city of Gondar boasts a number of castles and palaces that were residences to successive Ethiopian leaders. The buildings are particularly interesting because they resemble European mediaeval castles.

Tourist Attractions In Ethiopia Blue Nile falls

The history of the emperors is fascinating. There are all sorts of tales of skullduggery – poisonings, murders and mysterious deaths. It is possible to explore the ruins of the castles, palaces and royal baths.

Fasilides was emperor of Ethiopia from 1632 until 1667 and decided to establish Gondar as the capital of Ethiopia. He built the Royal Enclosure which was further developed by his successors. A little way out of town he also constructed a remarkable bath complex, compete with bathing pool, tower and bridge. It is considered a sacred site to this day.

Ethiopia Gondar Fasilides Baths

Simien Mountains

On leaving Gondar we got into a van and had a bumpy ride to the spectacular Simien mountains national park. This is another UNESCO world heritage site. There are plenty of opportunities to go hiking amidst spectacular scenery and have a drink at the highest bar in Africa.

In the Simien mountains you can walk among wild gelada monkeys in fields scented of wild thyme, a magical experience.

Ethiopia gelada monkeys

You can read more about the fascinating history of Gondar and see the beauty of the Simien mountains.

Fly to Lalibela

We caught a flight from Gondar to Lalibela where we spent a couple of days exploring the astonishing rock-hewn churches. They were as spectacular as we had been promised many years before.

Another UNESCO world heritage site the churches date from the 7th to the 13th centuries. They are remarkable because rather than being constructed from the ground up, they have been hewn from within the rock, using basic tools such as chisels and hammers, and were built from the top down. This meant that they couldn’t be seen from a distance.

Fly to Tigray

More history beckoned when we flew to the far north of the country to the region of Tigray. Tigray has had a difficult history in recent times. It was the location of the Ethiopian famine of the 1980s, which prompted the Band Aid and Live Aid appeals. And recently it has been engaged in a civil war between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Ethiopian government. A peace treaty was signed in November 2022 and we very much hope that tourism will be able to be revived in the area once more.


First stop was Axum, which has a history dating back to 400 BCE. It was the capital of the Aksumite empire which ruled the region until the 10th century. It is famous for its towering stelae, obelisks that are around 1700 years old. They were designed as impressive grave markers for royal burial chambers. They are huge – the tallest is 33m. Some of them have fallen and others were taken, notably King Ezana’s obelisk which was transported to Rome after Italy’s occupation of Ethiopia ended. 

Tourist Attractions In Ethiopia  Axum Stelae

Ethiopia tourist attractions Axum

The Aksumite Empire ended in the 10th century and the emperors of Ethiopia moved southwards, eventually settling in Gondar some centuries later, when Fasilides established his government there.

Churches of Our Lady Mary of Zion

Axum is also home to two important churches. The church of Our Lady Mary of Zion was built by Fasilides in 1665. It is rumoured to have housed the Ark of the Covenant.

Tourist Attractions In Ethiopia

Emperor Haile Selassie built a new cathedral of St Mary of Zion next to the old church. It is possible to enter this church and to watch the services.

 Tourist Attractions In Ethiopia  new cathedral of St Mary of Zion Axum

Tombs of the Kings

A few kilometres out of the town of Axum are the Tombs of the Kings which date from the 3rd century.

Tourist Attractions In Ethiopia

King Kaleb’s tomb is located here. Kaleb was king of Axum between 514–542 CE.

Nearby is the Ezana Stone, a stelae, which shows an inscription in three different languages: Ethiopian Ge’ez, South Arabian Sabaean, and Greek. It’s similar to the Rosetta Stone.

Ethiopia Ezana Stone

Beware though, the stone is cursed and anyone who touches it is likely to meet an untimely end. (No, we didn’t dare!)


The final stage of our journey through the Tigray region involved a drive across the countryside to Gheralta where we could view the rock churches of Tigray.

Tourist Attractions In Ethiopia

There are over 100 churches in the regions, largely dating from the 6th to the 14th centuries and they are mainly carved into cliff sides or rocky outcrops.

Tourist Attractions In Ethiopia

Tourist Attractions In Ethiopia  Gheralta rock church

Tourist Attractions In Ethiopia

And that concluded our Ethiopian itinerary. We drove to Mekele, the major city in the region, and caught a flight back to Addis before our return home.

Ethiopian Food

Something that intrigued us before we arrived was Ethiopian food: we had absolutely no idea about what to expect. A quick internet search revealed ‘injera’: Ethiopian traditional bread.

We still had no idea what to expect.

Injera is a flatbread that looks like a cross between a dirty dishcloth and a sponge.

Ethiopian Traditional Bread Injera
Ethiopian Traditional Bread Injera

It really doesn’t look enticing at all. This was about as attractive as it got.

Actually, it tastes really good. It has soft texture and a slightly sour flavour. Injera is made from teff, apparently the world’s latest superfood – a grain that is highly nutritious. Injera is made using a fermenting process rather like sourdough or dosas. A combination of teff flour and water are combined to make a batter which takes a few days to ferment. When the mixture is bubbly and smells sour it is ready. It can be fried on a skillet (on one side only) until the characteristic bubbles appear in the surface.

It is often served laid out flat with stew (wat) or with meat and vegetables placed on top – you can pull off chunks of the injera to scoop up the stew. So it serves as plate, cutlery and delicious food.

Ethiopian food

The local people we met were quite surprised that we were willing to eat injera and that we enjoyed spicy food.

Ethiopian doro wat stew

In the UK the county of Yorkshire is renowned for providing large portions of food. Ethiopian portions are so enormous that we quickly discovered that one meal between the two of us was more than enough to fill us up. We generally only needed to eat brekkie, then we shared all other meals.

Ethiopian Coffee

Ethiopia can claim to be the country where the coffea arabica originates. Coffee has been grown in Ethiopia for centuries and it forms an important part of the culture.

Tourist Attractions In Ethiopia

Coffee ceremony is highly social activity and the ceremony is usually performed by the female members of a household. The process starts with green coffee beans which are roasted in a pan over a flame and then ground using a mortar and pestle. Then the ground coffee is placed into a pot which has a spherical base and long neck and water added. It then boils on the flame so that the coffee can infuse and is then filtered using a sieve. The finished drink is poured from height into small cups. The grounds may be brewed a couple more times.

Tourist Attractions In Ethiopia

It is also possible to drink home-made beer in Ethiopia. Bars aren’t common in rural areas so you need to know someone local because the beer is only available in private homes. These are called tella places. We were lucky to have a guide who invited us to a tella place to enjoy the beer. It’s a beer brewed with teff or sometimes sorghum and the variety we tried was quite light – around 3%. Drinking beer in a home was a nice way to enjoy a tipple with local people.

Some Interesting Facts About Ethiopia For Travellers

Because Ethiopia isn’t located too far from the equator daylight and nighttime are pretty much equal all through the year. The Ethiopian time system is very different to ours and uses a 12 hour clock. Sunrise, at 6am, is 12:00 dawn time. Night starts at 12:00 dusk, which is the equivalent to 6pm international time. While many tour guides will work on international time, it can get a little confusing if you are looking at a local clock, especially if you have a flight to catch.

Additionally, Ethiopia has thirteen months in its year. This means that, at the time of writing in 2023, it is still 2015.

Another interesting element to Ethiopian culture is that many people follow the Ethiopian Orthodox church and hence don’t eat meat on Wednesdays and Fridays. This is great for vegetarian/vegan visitors as there is a good selection of veggie food available. Ravenous meat-eaters don’t need to worry though, hotels and restaurants will still offer meat on those days.

Ethiopia has so much to offer – a fascinating history and culture, remarkable architecture and really beautiful landscapes and wildlife. We received a warm welcome wherever we visited and would love to return to explore the south of the country.

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    • The injera is probably the least attractive food we’ve eaten but it tastes so good! It’s lovely and sour and is perfect for scooping up all the delicious dishes it accompanies.

  1. My first ever experience with Ethiopia was flying into the captial when going to Nairobi. Your post has made me really want to explore Ethiopia in full! Lalibela I have know for a while and the photos are really superb in this post. I would love to get a Rasta if the coffee too as I know it’s famous for it.

    • Thank you so much. Lalibela was the attraction that drew us to visit but we were genuinely blown away by the diversity of things to see in Ethiopia. The history is absolutely fascinating and we loved spending time in the Simien Mountains. Walking with the wild gelada monkeys was just wonderful. And the coffee was absolutely excellent!

  2. I loved this post. Ethiopia has it all an abundance of history which I imagine was over-welming when visiting the Tomb of Kings. I would love this. Being a waterfall chaser I’d definitely visit the Blue Nile Waterfall. I also found some of the custom/way of life interesting, like no meet Wednesdays and Fridays. Thankfully you can still get it at restaurants. I’d be curious to know why the 13 month year?

    • Thank you so much for your kind words. We were astonished at how rich Ethiopia’s history is. We love waterfalls too and the Blue Nile Waterfall was definitely spectacular! The 13 month year is 12 months of 30 days plus a month of 5 or 6 days. The final month is there to match the solar cycle. It is based on an ancient Coptic Calendar and is connected with a difference in calculations determining the date of the birth of Jesus.

  3. What an incredible experience! You don’t often hear about Ethiopia. The castle of Gondor looks really impressive – can you explore the grounds? There’s such a long history here that I’ve never heard of before. The food looks incredible though – I’ve never had Ethiopian food before. Definitely, an interesting place to visit!

    • Thank you! Yes, Ethiopia has so many attractions to offer. You are allowed to explore all the castles at Gondar – they really are fascinating and the stories about them full of intrigue. Ethiopian food was utterly delicious – it might not look the part but it tastes amazing! We’d most definitely recommend a visit.

  4. The route you took here is exactly the one I want to take when I eventually get to Ethiopia. I had been planning something similar and then the recent infighting n the country made it inadvisable to do. Lalibela is definitely the one place of all of them I want to see as the semi-unground buildings fascinate me and I want to learn more about how they were built.
    Fun to hear abbot the fact that Ethiopia also uses a different time structure (and how confusing it can be!) . I never knew the Ethiopian Orthodox church required no meat eating on a Wednesday or Friday. Great article that I will bookmark for future use.

    • Thanks so much. We definitely recommend seeing as many of these places as possible – they were all absolutely remarkable. Yes, the war in Tigray has meant that it would definitely not have been advisable to visit. We are hoping that the recent peace treaty will open the country up for visitors once more.

  5. Great adventure, guys and glad you finally got to do your trip to Ethiopia. I want to go now that I’ve heard about underground churches!

    The Tombs of the Kings sounds right up my street, and I wonder if anyone has touched the cursed stone.

    I’m keen to try Injera, and it’s great that you both loved the food despite not looking as appetizing. Was that your favourite?

    That is also an excellent tip about the time; very handy to know.

    Thanks for showing me a part of the world that I’ve not read much about.

    • Thank you so much! Yes, the Tomb of the Kings was fascinating. We heard legends about people who met their demise after touching the stone but no concrete evidence. Injera is actually really, really tasty. It has a lovely soft texture and a slightly sour flavour and it’s great to use as a plate, cutlery and food all in one! We loved the doro wat stew. We’ll be posting recipes here once we have perfected them!

  6. What an interesting and rich trip! Ethiopia sounds fascinating and full of history and amazing nature and wildlife and it’s great that you had 13 days to explore all of that. The Tigray region looks amazing despite the difficult chapters it had in recent decades and like you I hope that tourism thrives there and generates more income for the region. You are so brave to try all the food offered to you, I am a little fussy and always worry that I may come across as rude if I refused to try something that didn’t look appetising. But being a coffee lover and having tried and enjoyed Ethiopian coffee I would love to attend a coffee ceremony there!

    • Thank you. We were blown away by Ethiopia. It has such an amazing culture and history that goes back millennia. We really hope that tourism can revive in the area, there is so much to see. And we were welcomed wherever we went. The injera is definitely worth a try – we loved it! If you like coffee you will definitely enjoy taking part in the coffee ceremony!

  7. I didn’t know Ethiopia is such a beautiful country with so many attractions and fantastic nature. Fascinating article. I learned a lot from it. I would love to see National History Museum see ‘Lucy’ – a 3.2 million-year-old skeleton. Also, Ethnographic Museum seems a great place to learn about the culture and history of this region. I would love to see Hippo, as I love wildlife, so a boat tour seems perfect. Also, visiting Simien mountains national park looks like a great idea. The City of Gondar is so spectacular that I added it to my bucket list.

    • So glad that we were able to show you this wonderful country. It was amazing to be able to see ‘Lucy’. And we just adored our time in the Simien mountains – walking amongst the gelada monkeys was a real privilege. We definitely recommend the boat trip to see the hippo too!

  8. The history alone here has me more than intrigued. Gondar and Lalibela both look fantastic for some historic sites. Seeing the world’s (second) oldest human would be a must, and you seemed to see a lot of cool wildlife which is amazing. I have had Ethiopian food before as there are a few restaurants here in Vancouver where I live. I really like it, although injera does take some getting used to

    • Thank you. We were astonished at Ethiopia’s history and the architecture at Lalibela in particular was just fantastic. We loved learning tales of the Ethiopian kings at Gondar. Glad that you are able to enjoy Ethiopian food in Vancouver. We really took a liking to it!

  9. I like reading about countries that are not often on a traveller’s bucket list. Thanks for virtually taking me to Ethiopia and sharing a few more insights on the country and what it feels like exploring there. You had me at the first museum with Lucy’s remains and the country pointing to being the cradle of humanity. That in itself is insane and could engage me for day. Then comes the next surprise. Coffee! Yes, please. Gondar, another strike for me. Honestly, there were so many cool points of interest on your itinerary I can imagine it was a very rich and impression heavy trip.

    Carolin | Solo Travel Story

    • Thank you so much. We were blown away by Ethiopia’s rich and fascinating history. You would *love* the coffee! The coffee ceremony is a really important part of Ethiopian culture… and the coffee is delicious! We truly loved Ethiopia and would very much like to return and explore the southern regions of this amazing country.

  10. Lots of interesting places to see on your itinerary. I’m always down for a church – especially when they’re different from the western design I’m so used to. Question about those stairs. So they were built by the occupying Italians? Were they originally supposed to go somewhere or were they basically a monument to Mussolini?

    • Ethiopia really has so much history. The Lalibela churches are fascinating in their design and scale of construction. The stairs were built by the Italians with each step representing a year of Mussolini’s power. It’s ironic – and fitting – that this symbol of Fascism ended up going nowhere!

  11. Wow, this looks like a fascinating place to visit. Off the norm for sure. The museum looks really nice, I suppose it would be similar to what is in Cairo with such tremendous history. Seeing wildlife like that is enough to entice me. Although the food looks interesting, I am not sure my stomach would agree with it in both taste and texture. It looks like you had an mazing trip!

    • Thank you! It was an amazing trip. Ethiopia really is a marvellous place to visit. The museum houses lots of historical artefacts so I guess it is similar in that it exhibits thousands of years of history. The wildlife was amazing, we really enjoyed walking amongst the gelada monkeys. The injera is very different and really doesn’t look appealing but is delicious. We had never tried anything like it and are now trying to recreate it at home!

  12. Ethiopia has been on my list for a few years now. I am very curious to get to know the country because of its culture, which is still so unknown to us Westerners.
    More than just getting to know Lalibela, I really want to get in touch with the people and learn more about their habits and experiences.
    The post is extremely inspiring and the photos captivate the attention and appeal to visit this country that must have as much mystery as wonderful

    • Thank you for your kind words, we are really glad that the post was inspiring. We would highly recommend a visit to Ethiopia. When we visited, to our shame, we didn’t know much about the history or culture, so this trip really was enriching and we learned so much about this fascinating country. In terms of meeting people, we were welcomed wherever we visited. It was particularly nice to be able to visit local homes as well. We would love to return to visit the southern part of the country.

  13. I don’t drink coffee but I might try it in Ethiopia since you say that’s where coffea arabica originates. The coffee ceremony sounds like a cool experience. I love travelling in Africa and I would love to make it to Ethiopia someday. Love the fact about the calendar.

    • It would definitely be worth attending a coffee ceremony and tasting a local brew, even if coffee isn’t really your thing – it’s such an important part of the culture in Ethiopia. You would be made very welcome. Glad to hear that you love travelling in Africa – we adore it too. hope you make it to Ethiopia, we are sure you will find it to be fascinating.

  14. Fantastic post – Ethiopia has never crossed my radar but you have covered so many interesting and unique things to see. I love the stairs that go nowhere! Lalibela is incredible!

    • Thank you! Ethiopia is a bit off the beaten track and has been a no-go area recently because of the civil war but we really hope it will open up again soon. There are so many fascinating places to see. The churches of Lalibela really are remarkable in their scale and construction.

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