Holding the title of Africa’s oldest independent country is no small matter. Ethiopia’s history is inscribed in its old churches, castles, and palaces, which span hundreds and even thousands of years.
Together with its stunning natural beauty, beautiful lakes, and diverse national parks, it’s truly a country that has it all. If you like what you’re hearing but still aren’t sure where to stay in Ethiopia, check out our guide and find out everything you need to know.
The Best Places to Stay in Ethiopia
The first thing you should know about the cities in Ethiopia is the fact that the further you move upwards to the north of the country, the cities become progressively older and more historically important.
That’s why we think that the perfect place to start your journey is in Addis Ababa, and then slowly move to the churches, castles, and landmarks of the northern cities until you finally reach the most popular attraction in the country— Simien Mountains National Park.
The 5 most popular areas to stay in Ethiopia include:
- Addis Ababa: The current capital and the largest city in the country, it’s definitely the best choice for every first-time visitor to Ethiopia.
- Bahir Dar: The third-largest city in the country, located close to Lake Tana, it’s a perfect gateway to the historic north of Ethiopia and a suitable option if you’re looking for something cheaper.
- Lalibela: The historic and religious center of Ethiopia and the place where you’ll find the Rock-Hewn Churches, also known as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.”
- Gondar: A former capital of the Ethiopian Empire, it’s a historic stronghold full of castles and palaces, but it’s also very close to the Simien Mountains National Park.
The Best Areas & Hotels in Ethiopia
Ethiopia is one of the most interesting and unique African countries, offering truly unique experiences for every potential visitor.
Luckily for you, some of Ethiopia’s major cities are also vibrant tourist centers with plenty of hotels, apartments, and restaurants — the first thing every visitor needs.
You’ll find that the largest number of accommodation options are to be found in the larger cities, mostly in the capital, Addis Ababa, and in the third largest city in the country, Bahir Dar.
Both of them offer plenty of hotels and motels of every type, size, and price range, but, generally, the best and most luxurious hotels in Ethiopia are located in the capital. Lalibela and Gondar are very popular with tourists and are packed with many accommodation options.
But, if you want to find something luxurious here (especially in the religious Lalibela), there’s nothing higher than four stars. On the other hand, there are numerous budget and mid-range options in the whole country.
1. Addis Ababa
There’s no better place to start your long and interesting journey through magical Ethiopia than in Addis Ababa, one of the most important political and cultural centers of Africa.
The capital of Ethiopia is a big city, with a population of more than five and a half million people, making it the eleventh largest on the continent.
It’s probably the best choice for every first-time visitor to Ethiopia, mainly because of the developed infrastructure, the large number of museums and landmarks, and the wide range of restaurants and accommodation options.
The city was founded in the late 19th century by Menelik II, Negus of Shewa, one of the most important figures in the history of the country.
Under his lead, Ethiopia started to expand its borders, won a decisive war against the Italian colonizers, and started its long but ultimately successful road to modernization.
Addis Ababa, a former resort town and a place for leisure for the nobility, is now the most important political town in Africa, serving as the center of both the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
But what can potential tourists do in this important and interesting city? We have more than a couple of suggestions. If you’re up for some chaotic shopping, visit Addis Mercato, the self-pronounced largest open-air market in Africa.
It’s a great place to buy souvenirs, clothes, or other memorabilia that you can take home. Just be careful and don’t bring any extra belongings with you: the security level is generally great, but the crowds can be a bit frightening.
Addis Ababa is a major Christian stronghold on the continent and boasts some of the most striking cathedrals and monasteries in Africa.
Holy Trinity Cathedral should be the first on your list, but St George’s Cathedral and Debre Libanos Monastery are just as sublime. Finally, for even more culture and history, take a stroll down to Meskel Square and visit the two museums located there.
Addis Ababa Budget Hotels
- Melodie Hotel is a great two-star hotel located in the eastern part of the capital of Ethiopia. The hotel offers plenty of services and is quite suitable for longer stays. It has a restaurant on the premises, room service, ironing services, laundry, and a nice breakfast in the morning.
- Caravan Hotel Addis is a very cheap three-star hotel, again, located to the east of the center of Addis Ababa. Less than a mile from all of the city’s major landmarks, the hotel offers a restaurant and a bar on the premises, a free airport shuttle, and a fabulous breakfast to start the day.
Addis Ababa Mid-Range Hotels
- Hotel Lobelia is a pet-friendly three-star hotel with a fitness center and a sauna on the premises. Particularly suitable for couples who are looking for some romance, the hotel provides evening entertainment, two restaurants, a bar, and a tour desk.
- New Day Hotel is a three-star hotel located near the center of Addis Ababa. It offers free Wi-Fi and free parking, a shared lounge for all the guests, a restaurant, and a bar on the premises where you can relax or have a drink. There’s an Irish or an English breakfast available in the morning.
Addis Ababa Luxury Hotels
- Hyatt Regency Addis Ababa is a gorgeous five-star hotel with an excellent view of the center of the city. Very close to the UN Conference Centre (less than a mile) and usually frequented by business travelers, the hotel offers a swimming pool, a fitness center, and a bar on the premises. The hotel is surrounded by a beautiful garden.
- Sheraton Addis, a Luxury Collection Hotel, Addis Ababa is a luxurious five-star hotel in the capital of Ethiopia and definitely one of the best hotels in the whole country. Part of the Sheraton chain of hotels, it’s especially suitable for foodies since it offers no less than eight restaurants on the premises, as well as splendid breakfast.
2. Bahir Dar
Around 300 miles to the north of Addis Ababa — a flight that lasts a little more than an hour — is Bahir Dar, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ethiopia.
It provides a perfect gateway to the historic north of the country, to Lalibela, Gondar, and the Simien Mountains National Park. The city is blessed with such beauty that Haile Selassie, Ethiopia’s last emperor, seriously considered transferring the capital from Addis Ababa to Bahir Dar.
What’s so striking about the third largest city in the country, populated by roughly 200,000 people? Around the 45th minute of your flight from the capital to Bahir Dar, you’ll immediately recognize its biggest strength.
We are talking, of course, about the magnificent Lake Tana. Lake Tana is the largest lake in the country, covering a space of 52 miles in length and 41 in width.
The lake is also the place where the Blue Nile — the most important tributary to Nile proper — starts its journey. But, aside from its natural sublimity, Lake Tana is also home to around 37 smaller or larger islands, and precisely those islands are what draws in thousands of visitors every year.
One such island, located very close to the shore, is called Kebran Gabriel. Here, you’ll find one of the oldest and most important Christian monasteries in Africa.
Kebran Gabriel Monastery was supposedly built some time in the 14th century, at the same time when the Doge’s Palace in Venice laid its foundations. The monastery is packed with old paintings, has its own museum, and holds a wide range of valuable manuscripts.
Speaking plainly, the city itself is not particularly spectacular, but it definitely benefits from its proximity to the aforementioned landmarks and attractions.
That said, there are some cafes and clubs that can provide an interesting and fun night out, and the restaurants located on the shore of Lake Tana are of premium quality. Finally, the accommodation options are not numerous but are incredibly cheap.
Bahir Dar Budget Hotels
- Manuhie Backpackers Lodge is a perfect accommodation if you’re looking to save some money. An extremely cheap but decent place, it’s mainly intended — as the name says — for backpackers and other nomads. It has a nice garden and plenty of options at the tour desk for some great Bahir Dar adventures.
- Travelers Guest House & Tours is another unbelievably cheap accommodation that’s great for budget travelers and young people. Located in the center of the city, quite close to the lake, it offers free Wi-Fi and free parking, a nice garden, a balcony, and private bathrooms.
Bahir Dar Mid-Range Hotels
- RAHNILE HOTEL is a gorgeous and — once again — extremely cheap three-star hotel. The hotel is surrounded by a nice garden, boasts a shared lounge, and has a very nice bar. Aside from that, it provides a free airport shuttle, facilities for disabled guests, and a concierge service.
- Lakemark Hotel and Tour Service Bahir Dar is another almost unreasonably cheap three-star hotel, but this time, located on the western outskirts of the city. Aside from the free parking and the free Wi-Fi, the hotel also offers an on-site restaurant, nice family rooms, and even a hairdresser in the hotel.
Bahir Dar Luxury Hotels
- Palm Palace Hotel is a beautiful four-star hotel located in the center of Bahir Dar, near Lake Tana. The view from the rooftop of the hotel is pretty amazing, and there’s a restaurant, bar, and fitness center on the premises. One extra thing — some of the rooms have spa baths!.
- Abay Minch Lodge is another beautiful four-star hotel on the eastern outskirts of the city. It’s surprisingly cheap for a hotel of its type, as it boasts a nice garden, a restaurant on the premises, and offers plenty of services, like a free airport shuttle.
There’s a famous Ethiopian legend that speaks about a pious and mighty king, called Lalibela, who ruled the territory which today holds his name.
Around 800 years ago, the legend goes, God commanded Lalibela to create a place of pilgrimage, much like Jerusalem, the center of the Christian Religion. The king obeyed the command and built 11 churches high in the mountains that are known as the Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela.
Ethiopia, in its pre-colonial period, was one of the first places to adopt Christianity, as early as the fourth century AD, roughly around the time of the New Testament’s apostles.
Lalibela is the holiest place in Ethiopia, as important to its native people as Jerusalem is to the whole of the Christian world. Uncountable faithful people and priests have been arriving in Lalibela for nearly a thousand years, mostly around the time of Orthodox Christmas and Easter.
The main reason for these vaunted pilgrimages, however, has to be the Rock-Hewn Churches of Lalibela, something completely unique, unseen, and unheard of in the rest of “Christendom.”
They’re, first of all, an architectural and engineering curiosity: they’re hewn out or in solid rock, giving them a distinctive, rugged look. Most of them were built between the 7th and the 13th century, during the reign of the legendary Gebre Mesqel Lalibela.
They’re connected to each other with the help of a complex set of corridors and staircases carved into the cliffs. Probably the most famous of the 11 churches is the “youngest” of them, called the Church of Saint George.
Carved into a volcanic rock in the shape of a Coptic cross, it’s sometimes called the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” Additionally, Saint George is the patron of the Ethiopian people.
Lalibela is mostly famous for its antique, medieval, and post-medieval cultural heritage. Aside from that, it offers a couple of natural landmarks near the city but plenty of very cheap accommodation options as well.
Lalibela Budget Hotels
- FikirandRay Lodge is a two-star hotel located in the heart of Lalibela, 200 meters from Bet Medhane Alem. The hotel offers free parking, free bikes, a beautiful garden, and a shared lounge. Every room is comfortably furnished, featuring flat-screen TV, private bathrooms, and seating areas.
- Jerusalem Hotel Lalibela is an extremely cheap three-star hotel with a tennis court and a children’s playground. The premises of the hotel are surrounded by a beautiful garden, there’s a restaurant and a bar on the premises, and the rooms have balconies and desks.
Lalibela Mid-Range Hotels
- Panoramic View Hotel is a gorgeous but really cheap three-star hotel with — as the name suggests — a beautiful view of the surrounding countryside. There’s a restaurant and a small bar on the premises, as well as a kid’s club, exchange service, and a free airport shuttle for every guest.
- Bete Serkie Lalibela is a very cheap three-star hotel with very authentic Ethiopian decorations. It’s located quite close to Bet Abba Libanos, around 12 miles from the local airport. It has a restaurant on the premises and comfortable and large family rooms. Bete Serkie also provides a lot of opportunities for activities like hiking and touring landmarks.
Lalibela Luxury Hotels
- Harbe Hotel is one of the most expensive hotels in Lalibela and the closest thing to luxurious accommodation that you’ll find in this city. The hotel is decent, the premises clean and nicely decorated, and the rooms are furnished with all the amenities. There’s also a restaurant on the premises and a nice breakfast is served in the morning.
- Zagwe Hotel is the most expensive hotel in the city, and it’s simply the best you’ll find in the area. The three-star hotel offers an ATM on the premises, a concierge service, an American breakfast in the morning, and rooms equipped with flat-screen TVs, free WI-Fi and free air-conditioning.
The last (but best places) to stay in Ethiopia is truly the jewel of Ethiopia, known as Gonder. Located in the northern parts of the country, it’s the capital of Ethiopia of old. That said, it’s mostly famous for two completely different things.
First, as the former stronghold of the Empire, it’s packed with many castles and old buildings; second, the close proximity to the Simien Mountains makes it a perfect starting point for those visitors who want to visit the Simien Mountains National Park.
Let’s start with what’s close at hand, the city itself. Most of the landmarks you’re most likely to visit are located in the so-called “Royal Enclosure.” The fortress called Fasil Ghebbi dominates this space, with its eclectic combination of Hindi, Arab, and Baroque architectural influences.
Adjacent to it — like in most of the castle complexes throughout Europe — are a beautiful palace, a spacy hall, stables, a library, and three churches. All of them paint a lively picture of the true grandeur and might of the once-powerful Ethiopian Empire.
The downtown of the city, on the other hand, is quite modern — even European. During the late 1930s, Ethiopia was occupied by Italy, led by the fascist Mussolini.
Consequently, the center of Gondar reflects that Italian influence — the good parts, of course — mainly in the piazza and boasts plenty of beautiful buildings, villas, and a cinema.
It’s an interesting fact, too, that Gondar was one of the last stands where the Italian army fought the forces of the Allies during WWII. You can see the majestic Simien Mountains from almost everywhere in Gondar.
It’s probably the most important and most beautiful natural landmark in Ethiopia, boasting the highest point in the country and numerous rare and even endemic animals, like the walia ibex.
It’s so stunning and diverse that it was one of the first places in the world to be named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1978.
Gondar Budget Hotels
- Gondar Backpackers is by far the cheapest accommodation not only in Gondar but also in the wider region around the city. It’s — as the name suggests — particularly suitable for backpackers and adventure types. However, it doesn’t offer much aside from the free parking and free Wi-Fi. You should also know that the bathrooms are shared.
- Haz Travelers Hotel & Tours is another very cheap place, but with a lot more to offer both in terms of comfort and in terms of amenities. Every room has a desk and a private bathroom. Moreover, there’s a bar on the premises and room service.
Gondar Mid-Range Hotels
- Haile Resort-Gondar is a three-star hotel with an ATM on the premises and a fine concierge service. The rooms of the hotel are equipped with all the amenities, offering private bathrooms in every room and excellent views of the city. The restaurant, on the other hand, offers high-quality food and a tasty breakfast.
- Goha Hotel is a great but not very expensive three-star hotel with a conveniently sized outdoor swimming pool where you can relax after a long day of strolling. The hotel offers a panoramic view of the city, a gift shop, a restaurant, and a bar on the premises. The rooms are quite decent and have sitting areas.
Gondar Luxury Hotels
- Roseau Hotel And Spa is a beautiful four-star hotel located in the absolute center of Gondar. It’s a perfect choice for visitors who want to relax and have a knack for the finer things in life, like a comfortable spa and wellness center. The hotel also boasts a fitness center, a restaurant, a bar, and room service.
- Gondar Hills Resort is another luxurious and relaxing hotel in Gondar’s center, with a well-equipped spa and wellness center on the premises. Particularly suitable for couples on a romantic trip, it also boasts a fitness center, a restaurant and bar, as well as very tasty breakfast.
So, Where Should You Stay in Ethiopia?
Our pilgrimage through one of the most interesting and historically rich countries in Africa has come to an end. Now we must leave the interesting churches, the powerful fortress, and the stunning natural landmarks.
But, before we do that and send you on your way, let’s do a quick recap of the four best places to stay in Ethiopia:
|🏆 Best for First Timers
|💲 Least Expensive Area
|🏛️ Great for History Buffs
|🌳 Best for Nature Lovers
So there you have it — the best places to stay in this storied country. While we personally wouldn’t visit due to the instability, we hope that we’ve outlined some of the better(ish) areas to stay if you do choose to visit.