Addis Ababa is a diverse and riotous capital city of well over three million people. Home to roughly 80 different nationalities, it has a multitude of distinct religious and linguistic groups.
Nestled at the foot of Mount Entoto, it was founded in the late 1800s by Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II and was later occupied by the Italians during the Second Italo-Abyssinian War. Once the Italians had been ejected, Emperor Haile Selassie immediately set about rebuilding the capital and formed the Organisation of African Unity, replaced by today's African Union, which still has its headquarters in this proud African city.
Addis Ababa is home to the world-renowned early hominid, Lucy, whose skeleton is housed in the Ethiopian National Museum. The city also boasts several interesting mosques and cathedrals, Menelik's old Imperial Palace, which is the official seat of the Ethiopian government, and one of the largest open air markets in Africa.
The city is perfect for tourists to buy souvenirs of their stay in Ethiopia. Top of the shopping list is likely to be a pack of Ethiopian coffee beans, preferably vacuum-sealed to preserve freshness. Decorative metalwork in the form of crosses and painted religious artworks on carved wooden boards are popular too. Filigreed silver and gold jewellery are other great buys. Addis Ababa is the best place in Ethiopia to sample the local cuisine, which is inventive and flavourful.
The destination is an interesting mix of poverty and wealth, urbanisation and nature (the city is surrounded by forests and cultivated land). It is a dynamic capital and not without charm, but has its fair share of unemployment, petty crime, and poverty.
Most travellers merely pass through Addis as it is the main transport hub of the country, but this transit shouldn't be rushed. Rather, it is a good two-day tourist city, offering travellers an authentic taste of urban Africa and enough interesting attractions to make a decent sightseeing itinerary.