Must see attractions in Ethiopia

  • Top ChoiceSights in Lalibela

    Bet Giyorgis

    When you think of Lalibela, you're thinking of Bet Giyorgis. Resting off on its own, St George’s Church is Lalibela’s masterpiece. Representing the apogee of the rock-hewn tradition, it's the most visually perfect church of all, a 15m-high three-tiered plinth in the shape of a Greek cross – a perfectly proportioned shape that required no internal pillars. Due to its exceptional preservation, it also lacks the obtrusive roofing seen over the other churches.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Rock-hewn Churches of Tigray

    Abuna Yemata Guh

    There's nowhere on earth quite like Abuna Yemata Guh. Although less impressive architecturally than most, the church is spectacularly sited within a cliff face, halfway up a sheer rock pinnacle 4km west of Megab. The first 45 minutes of the climb is mildly challenging, with a couple of tricky sheer sections requiring toehold action; guides carry ropes (Birr150) for the final push. The last two minutes require nerves of steel to make the final scramble and precarious ledge walk over a 200m drop.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Northern Ethiopia

    Simien Mountains National Park

    No matter how you look at it, the Unesco World Heritage–listed Simien Mountains National Park is one of Africa’s most beautiful ranges. This massive plateau, riven with gullies and pinnacles, offers tough but immensely rewarding trekking along the ridge that falls sheer to the plains far below. It’s not just the scenery (and altitude) that will leave you speechless, but also the excitement of sitting among a group of gelada monkeys or watching magnificent walia ibex joust on rock ledges.

  • Sights in Gonder

    Royal Enclosure

    The Gonder of yesteryear was a city of extreme brutality and immense wealth. Today the wealth and brutality are gone, but the memories linger in this amazing World Heritage site. The entire 70,000-sq-metre compound containing numerous castles and palaces has been restored with the aid of Unesco. Knowledgable, well-trained guides cost Birr200 and are well worth it.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Aksum

    Northern Stelae Field

    Despite the dizzying grandeur of the numerous rock needles reaching for the stars, it’s what’s under your feet here that’s most important. Amazingly, about 90% of the field hasn’t yet been dug, so no matter where you walk, there’s a good chance there’s an undiscovered tomb with untold treasures beneath. This is part of Aksum’s appeal: the thought that fascinating finds and secrets lurk in the depths. That said, these are some of the ancient world's most striking monuments.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Addis Ababa

    Ethnological Museum

    Set within Haile Selassie’s former palace, and surrounded by the beautiful gardens and fountains of the university’s main campus, is the enthralling Ethnological Museum. Even if you’re not a museum fan, this one is worth a bit of your time – it’s easily one of the finest museums in Africa, showing the full sweep of Ethiopia's cultural and social history across two floors.

  • Sights in Northern Ethiopia

    Blue Nile Falls (Tis Abay)

    The Blue Nile looks like a sluggish beast as it meanders out of Lake Tana, but not far out of Bahir Dar you’ll see the Nile in a very different mood. The river pours over the side of a sheer 42m-high chasm and explodes into a melange of mists and rainbows (best at 10am) before continuing on its tumultuous path to Khartoum, where it finally gets to kiss the White Nile.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Northern Ethiopia

    Debre Damo

    Debre Damo is one of Ethiopia's most important monasteries and is thought to date back to Aksumite times and the 6th-century reign of King Gebre Meskel. The monastery’s formidable cliffs make for one of Ethiopia's most memorable experiences (for men, at least – women aren't allowed up). To reach the monastery, you'll need to scale a sheer 15m cliff; there’s a thick leather rope to help you climb and the monks will tie a second line around your torso and help pull you up.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Addis Ababa

    National Museum

    The collection on show at the National Museum is ranked among the most important in sub-Saharan Africa, but sadly many of its exhibits are poorly labelled, lit and displayed. Far and away the highlight is the palaeontological exhibition in the basement, the home of world-famous Lucy. Her 1974 discovery in the Afar region of northwestern Ethiopia changed our understanding of human origins forever. This section is well labelled in English, so if your time is limited spend most of it here.

  • Sights in Addis Ababa

    Holy Trinity Cathedral

    This massive and ornate cathedral is the second-most important place of worship in Ethiopia (ranking behind the Old Church of St Mary of Zion in Aksum). It’s also the celebrated final resting place of Emperor Haile Selassie and his wife Empress Menen Asfaw. Their massive Aksumite-style granite tombs sit inside and are a sight indeed. The solemnity of the interior design contrasts sharply with highly the charged emotions of many pilgrims. It's a fascinating place.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Gonder

    Debre Berhan Selassie

    Welcome to one of Ethiopia's most beautiful churches. Appealing as it is on the outside with its stone walls, arched doors and two-tiered thatch roof, it's the inner sanctuary of Debre Berhan Selassie, with its glorious frescos, that really shines. But it was very nearly destroyed like most of Gonder’s other churches. When the marauding Sudanese dervishes showed up outside the church gates in the 1880s, a giant swarm of bees surged out of the compound, chasing the invaders away.

  • Sights in Lalibela

    Bet Merkorios

    Reached via a series of trenches and tunnels (one is long, narrow and pitch-black) that starts from Bet Gabriel-Rufael, this church may have started as something altogether different. The discovery of ankle shackles among other objects has led scholars to believe it may have served as the town’s prison, or house of justice.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Addis Ababa

    'Red Terror' Martyrs Memorial Museum

    ‘As if I bore them all in one night, they slew them in a single night.’ These were the words spoken by the mother of four teenage children all killed on the same day by the Derg, as she officially opened the small but powerful ‘Red Terror’ Martyrs Memorial Museum in 2010. Over a couple of rooms the museum reveals the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie and the horrors of life under Mengistu’s Derg regime.

  • Sights in Harar

    Old Town

    Harar’s old walled town (known as Jugal) is a fascinating place that begs exploration. The thick, 5m-high walls running 3.5km around town were erected in the 16th century in defensive response to the migrations northward of the Oromo, and little development occurred outside them until the early 20th century. There are six gates: five 16th-century originals and the car-friendly Harar Gate, also known as Duke’s Gate after Ras Makonnen, the first duke of Harar, who added it in 1889.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Lalibela

    Bet Medhane Alem

    Resembling a massive Greek temple more than a traditional Ethiopian church, Bet Medhane Alem is impressive for its size and majesty. Said to be the largest rock-hewn church in the world, it measures 33.5m by 23.5m and is more than 11.5m high. Some scholars have suggested it may have been a copy in rock of the original St Mary of Zion church in Aksum.

  • Sights in Southwest Omo Valley

    Omo National Park

    Omo National Park has long been one of the most remote parks in Ethiopia and travelling here can be incredibly tough – but never less than fascinating. Because there is virtually no tourist infrastructure within the park, you will need to be totally self-sufficient with your own food, camping gear and a reliable, fully-equipped 4WD vehicle. But getting to the park has just got a whole lot easier – with two new bridges over the Omo River, the park can now be reached from the rest of southern Ethiopia, making it more accessible than ever before.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Lalibela

    Bet Amanuel

    Free-standing and monolithic, Bet Amanuel is Lalibela’s most finely carved church. Some have suggested it was the royal family’s private chapel. It perfectly replicates the style of Aksumite buildings, with its projecting and recessed walls mimicking alternating layers of wood and stone seen at places such as Yemrehanna Kristos and Debre Damo. The most striking feature of the interior is the double Aksumite frieze atop the nave.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Lalibela

    Yemrehanna Kristos

    Despite Yemrehanna Kristos being one of Ethiopia’s best-preserved late-Aksumite buildings, few people reward themselves with a visit. And a reward it is. The church is different because it’s built rather than excavated. Seeing the stepped exterior facade, created from alternating wood and stone layers, you’ll understand why so many of Lalibela’s rock-hewn churches look like they do. And knowing that Yemrehanna Kristos may predate Lalibela’s churches by up to 80 years, you have before you a virtual blueprint of greatness.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Lalibela

    Bet Maryam

    Connected to Bet Medhane Alem by a tunnel is a large courtyard containing three churches. The first, Bet Maryam, is small, yet designed and decorated to an exceptionally high standard. It’s also the only church with porches extending off it. Dedicated to the Virgin (who’s particularly venerated in Ethiopia), this is the most popular church among pilgrims. Some believe it may have been the first built in Lalibela.

  • Sights in Western Ethiopia

    Gambela National Park

    Gambela National Park is Ethiopia's greatest wildlife show-in-waiting, and being difficult to get to doesn't change that. It has vast herds of migrating antelope species and what are thought to be sizeable populations of predators, so if current predictions are borne out in ongoing surveys, this park – along with Boma National Park across the border in South Sudan – could have wildlife numbers to rival the famous reserves of Kenya and Tanzania. It's also rather beautiful, with savannah, flood plains and riverine forests.