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Maximizing a Layover in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia -- With Kids

April 24, 2019
7 min read
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After an epic vacation to the Seychelles with my two boys, we returned to London via Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines. Rather than fly home directly, I decided to stay a few days and explore the capital, catching up with friends who work there and exploring with my 3 year old and my 1 year old. I used a mix of private drivers and taxis during my visit and stayed within Addis Ababa itself, as people told me it was not safe to drive outside of the city so I didn't want to test my luck.

Visit the National Museum

The National Museum of Ethiopia is free to enter and has the feeling of a natural history museum with its early hominid skeletons in the basement. The most famous exhibit is "Lucy," a skeleton found in 1974 in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Lucy famously toured the United States from 2007 to 2013 before returning to Ethiopia. Lucy and her neighbor in the basement, "Selam," scared my son so just consider yourself warned if you have little kids.

The museum is a bit run-down by Western standards and did not have air conditioning but was an exciting way to pass the afternoon. I enjoyed learning more about former Emperor Haile Selassie, the defining ruler of modern Ethiopia, and the grounds outside the museum provided a calm oasis from the bustle of the main road just outside the gates.

Shiro Media Market for Local Textiles

Shiro Media is a group of stalls near the Spanish Embassy. There is not a defined sidewalk so I would suggest going either only with older children or with a baby in a carrier. There were beautiful cotton items but a rather intense shopping experience: I had people grab my face (just to touch it).

I bargained a bit for a scarf and ended up getting two for $10. You will need Ethiopian birr currency and note that local Ethiopians later scoffed that I paid too much, so use your bargaining skills.

Drink Some Coffee

You are never far from an amazing cup of coffee in Addis Ababa. My 3-year-old and I soon discovered that our favorite way to spend our days was to drink coffee (me) and eat homemade chocolate cake (him). Coffee ceremonies are performed at many cafes and hotels (the Hilton Addis Ababa lobby is known to have a good one; award nights there range from 42k to 50k Hilton Honors points). We went to a coffee ceremony at Lucy Lounge & Restaurant, which is named after our favorite skeleton and is located just next to the national museum. It had outdoor dining and the best Western kids menu I saw while in town, in case you need something easy for the kids.

On the east side of Addis Ababa, we went to a more modern coffee shop called Galani Coffee. I loved how open and spacious its industrial warehouse style space felt, with a courtyard where my son could run around. It also had delicious ice cream.

Dinner and Dancing Show

We went to Yod Abyssinia for a delicious dinner and to watch traditional dancing. While seemingly touristy and certainly more expensive than many other restaurants in Addis Ababa, it a great show where locals come to watch the dancing and drink tej (honey wine). It is located close to the airport and requires a reservation. We paid approximately $25 per adult for dinner and drinks.

The show starts at 7:30pm, and my exhausted 3 year old fell asleep on the traditional leather benches.

Sabahar Textiles

A Canadian woman founded Sabahar in 2004 in the area near the airport. More than 20 sets of hands touch each product they sell, and you can follow the whole process from silkworms up to seeing completed items in the retail shop. It was a great environment to explore as a family because it is gated and there is a lot to see on the grounds. The items are more expensive than at the markets, but the organization says in turn it pays its workers a livable wage and provides medical care. When I visited, there was a "seconds" pile where everything was 20% off. I bought silk napkins to bring back to London.

Bottom Line

Many points enthusiasts headed to Africa find themselves in the Addis Ababa Bole International Airport (ADD) at some point due to its variety of connections. Whether you are flying on Ethiopian Airlines or another carrier, it's worth considering using your layover in Addis Ababa with your family to explore some of the capital's sights.

The city has a surprising range of points hotels including a brand-new Hyatt Regency in Meskel Square available for 12k World of Hyatt points per night. There's also the previously mentioned Hilton Addis Ababa, as well as the Radisson Blu (from 44k points per night), Best Western Plus Bole (from 20k points) and the Sheraton Addis (Category 7, from 60k Marriott points).

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All photos by Kathleen Porter Kristiansen/The Points Guy