Part junkyard, part memorial, the ruins of military vehicles from around the country have been dragged to this open field in the years since heavy fighting ended, and make for poignant reflection on the damage done …
The Opera House, completed around 1920, is one of Asmara’s most elegant early–20th-century buildings. It’s free to have a look around during the resident cafe’s opening hours. Or hang around and soak up the atmosphe…
A block south of the Municipality Building, the Bowling Alley is one of the few genuine 1950s alleys left in the world. It was probably built for US servicemen when they were manning military bases in the region.
Historians debate whether or not the ruins of Qohaito were once the inhabited walls of the ancient town of Koloe, a settlement that predated, but grew to commercial importance during, the Aksumite kingdom. Even if i…
Overlooking the harbour just north of the gates of the Dahlak Hotel is the Imperial Palace, the original iteration of which was built by the Turkish Osdemir Pasha in the 16th century. The present building dates from…
From 8am on Monday mornings, a small yard on the Nakfa road just before the edge of town comes alive with buyers and sellers from Keren and the surrounding villages haggling over livestock in a lively market. Though…
The ancient House of Mammub Mohammed Nahari was built with magnificent soaring Ottoman-style windows on every side. Unfortunately they are particularly decrepit and, like the rest of the house, seem ready to crumble…
A futurist departure from the art deco standard that defines most of the notable Italian-era buildings in Asmara, this former petrol station was constructed in the late 1930s to resemble an airplane
Adulis was once the primary port for the Aksumite empire and a few impressive architectural remnants of this heritage remain. Most notable is the foundation of a large 5th-century Byzantine basilica. Archaeological w…
Dankalia is the name of the narrow strip of land about 50km wide that stretches south of Massawa down to Djibouti, about 600km along the coastline. You can’t miss it on the map: it looks like a long peninsula protru…
Debre Bizen is the best-known monastery of the Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church. Located at the top of Debre Bizen the mountain (825 meters) near the town of Nefasit in Eritrea. Its library contains many important Ge’ez manuscripts.
Debre Bizen was founded in the 1350s by Abba Filipos, who was a student of Abba Absadi. By 1400, the Monastery followed the rule of the House of Ewostatewos, and a gadl of Ewostatewos was later composed there. According to Tom Killion, it remained independent of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, while Richard Pankhurst states that it continued to be dependent on the Ethiopian Orthodox Church centered in Axum. In either case, a charter survives of the Emperor Zara Yaqob in which he granted lands to Debre Bizen.
What at first appears to be a stele and two small ruined buildings just off the dirt road is actually the sprawling site of a city that was once an important stop between the Aksumite capital (in modern Ethiopia) and the port city of Adulis on modern Eritrea’s Red Sea coast.
Duck up northeast to soak up the atmosphere of the Medebar Market. No doubt you’ll be awestruck the minute you enter this mind-boggling place. It’s an open-air workshop where absolutely everything is recycled:
This small village on the road to Keren the foothills that surround it make for a nice wandering day trip. An archaeological dig near the village was the origin of a collection of metal beads, earthenware pottery and glassware, some of which is now on exhibit in the National Museum.
Take bus from the square in front of Enda Mariam Orthodox Cathedral.
Green Island is 10 to 20 minutes from Massawa and is the most accessible place for decent snorkelling and tolerable beaches. It’s certainly no Bora Bora, but it can make an excellent retreat if you need some hush and a place to rest your sightseeing-abused feet. Grand Hotel Dahlak.
As you come over the causeway from Taulud Island, a broad sweep of white, arcaded palazzi (palaces) stretches out before you. On the corner you’ll see the Hotel Savoiya with its long gallery. Start your exploration with a cup of coffee here and then jump into the maze of small unpaved streets. Fear not, you’re never lost for long.
A grouping of more than 200 islands off the Red Sea coast, the Dahlak Archipelago is populated by around 2500 people of the Tigre and Afar tribes living mostly as fishers on Dahlak Kebir (the largest island of the chain). Those lucky enough to visit can expect pristine beaches, traditional local culture and a wealth of historic sites (particularly from the Ottoman era) on the other side of the 70km trip from Massawa.
At the centre of the Piazza degli Incendi (meaning ‘Square of the Fire’, after it was the scene of a great fire in 1885) is the Sheikh Hanafi Mosque. At over 500 years old, this mosque is one of the oldest surviving structures in the city. Sheikh Hanafi was a great teacher, who funded his students’ studies in Egypt. The courtyard is decorated with stucco-work and inside hangs a remarkable chandelier from the glass works of Murano near Venice in Italy.
This small Catholic shrine to the Virgin Mary is built into a baobab tree said to be 500 years old or more. The site is extremely popular with locals and visiting Eritreans, and there’s also a small chapel on site for ceremonies or prayers. Follow the dirt track through a neighbourhood at a signed turn-off just before the Nakfa road leaves Keren from the northern side of town.
With a strong focus on produce and household goods, this weekly market set up along the city’s dry riverbed is of more interest to tourists for the sights and sounds than for the shopping opportunities.
Tucked behind the grand mosque on the northern edge of town, this carefully tended cemetery is the final burial place of many soldiers who fought for the Italians in WWII.
Opposite the Africa Pension Hotel, the gleaming Villa Roma is reminiscent of a Roman villa with its marble staircases, louvred shutters, curving balustrades and shady portico.
On the far end of the northern coastal road from the causeway, you’ll see the Banco d’Italia, a ramshackle copy of the 1920s original and a mishmash of styles, including Gothic windows and towers.
A huge square lined on all sides by houses with trellised balconies, finely carved wooden doors, and shutters of Turkish or Egyptian origin. Local families cook and socialise here around dusk, making it a particular…
At the foot of the mainland causeway is the massive monument to the Eritrean Struggle for Independence. Three huge tanks stand on a black marble base where they were stopped in the final assault on the town on 11 February 1991.
This small Bilen ethnic group village is a fantastic place to see their traditional round thatched huts. It’s 11km before Keren on the road from Asmara.
The Enda Mariam Orthodox Cathedral, just east of the centre, was built in 1938 and is a curious blend of Italian and Eritrean architecture. Its central block is flanked by large square towers.
In a square beside the Banco d’Italia is a rare example of a Turkish house with a domed roof, now partially restored and serving food and drinks out of a small cafe on the ground floor.
A calm overgrown tract just outside the city centre; the quiet chapel on a hilltop above the cemetery also offers stunning views of the skyline.
Asmara’s strong point are its buildings, rather than its museums, but it’s also worth popping your head into the National Museum, west of the former Ghidei (Governor’s) Palace. Cameras and cell phones must be left with the front-desk attendant.
Just off Harnet Ave near the EriTel building, the quirky Odeon Cinema and its attractive art deco exterior from the late 1930s is all but closed, so you’ll have to be lucky enough to turn up when someone’s around if you want to see the impressive interior.
Strolling along Harnet Ave you’ll be hard-pressed to miss Asmara’s most iconic monument, the elaborate, brick-walled Catholic cathedral. Consecrated in 1923, it is thought to be one of the finest Lombard Romanesque–style churches outside Italy.
Opposite the end of the causeway from the mainland is the Orthodox St Mariam Cathedral. While the building is lovely and the artwork speaks to the devotion of the local congregation, erratic hours make it difficult to get inside
Final resting place to generations of Italians, this lovely little cemetery is still used by the few immigrant families that remain. It’s uphill off Warsay St from Harbinyatat St, just beyond the hilltop St Michael’s Church.
The 1940s Asmara Piscina there’s nothing stopping you from badgering the attendant for a peek inside the modernist building that houses it.
This mournful memorial and burial ground on the western edge of town holds the many graves of Commonwealth soldiers who fell in the battle to take Keren in WWII.
This cinema building was constructed in 1932.
Adjacent to the elegant Opera House, the 1930s Italian-era Ministry of Education, with its massive stepped tower.
This church is a useful landmark for navigating the city.
COFFEE IN KEREN
The best place in town to sit for a traditional coffee ceremony (nfa50). There’s a cosy covered patio decorated with traditional handicrafts or a large garden out front. On the eastern side of the Jirafuri roundabou…
Built in 1935, this old bar feels as much like a friend’s living room as a place of business. If you’re peckish, there’s also a selection of simple foods (from nfa40 to nfa100).
Ease into low gear by sinking a cocktail at this genteel lounge bar (drinks range from from nfa20 to nfa100). It stays open until midnight, and is a good place to warm up before hitting the clubs. There’s no phone, …
On the Piazza degli Incendi, across from the Sheikh Hanafi Mosque, this little teashop (and the few others that surround it) stays constantly busy with local traffic. Serving tea and a few simple dishes, it’s a grea…
Anchoring a historic Italian-era building from the late 1930s, this earthy hang-out is a good place to revive your spirits with a macchiato or an Asmara gin, if you dare! If you can’t be bothered to look elsewhere, …
Stop in for coffee and cake favourites and a wide selection of freshly squeezed juices in a bright, cool interior. The macchiato may just be the best in town, and the Italian villa motif makes for a nice respite fro…
A humming venue on the main drag with traditional styling and a large outdoor seating area. Keep up your strength with a macchiato and a delectable pastry (nfa14), and pull up a chair on the patio for people-watchin…
Strong coffee and sweet staff make the two pleasant shaded courtyards here a highlight, and the in-house pastries (nfa20) certainly don’t hurt either. Walk up Nakfa St, and you’ll see it just before the Costina Hote…
A delightful cafe with uniformed staff and a retro vibe. If the tempting display of cakes (nfa20) beside the entrance isn’t enough to draw you in, perhaps the strong dark coffee will do the trick.
It’s may be small, but there’s a bit of atmosphere and, more importantly, it’s one of the only places in town that carries Beer Asmara (nfa35). On the southern side of Jirafuri roundabout.
This classy joint just across from the Cinema Impero has a decent selection of sweet and savoury baked options (nfa14) – and a few harder drink options if coffee won’t quite do the trick.
The macchiato kicks like a mule here, and the decor is decidedly retro. Cafe Fiori also features an appetising selection of croissants (nfa15) and the moistest cakes anywhere in Asmara.
Take a break at this retro cafe hidden behind the cathedral, with fresh-made cakes (nfa13) and tasty coffee on a large intersection that’s perfect for people-watching.
This pub-disco is one of the favourite haunts of expats in search of fun and company, particularly on Wednesday for live music and Friday when local DJs spin.
This sleek pastry shop is a treasure-trove for the sweet tooth, with a tempting array of diet-busting little treats in a central location on Harnet Ave.
Beyond a traditionally styled interior serving cafe classics, there’s also a nice outdoor seating area on Harnet great for people-watching.
Almost next door to Cinema Impero, this endearing cafe has a more traditional feel. Perfect for a coffee during passeggiata.
Stylish modern coffee shop outside the centre, with a fantastic shaded courtyard out back perfect for whiling away a lazy afternoon.
This small cafe selling coffee and tea all day long has a kind of miasmic atmosphere, but the staff are outgoing and the caffeine does the job. Turn uphill just before the main highway leaves town, it’s just off the…
This hopping nightclub exhilarates dance junkies every weekend with live music, both traditional and Western. Hours are erratic, but you’ll hear it before you see it when it’s open (usually from around 10pm on Frida…
The eye-catching Cinema Impero from the late 1930s is made up of three massive windows that combine strong vertical and horizontal elements with 45 porthole lamps. This is one of the only historic cinemas in town th…
Hotel Asmara Palace
Located in Asmara, Hotel Asmara Palace has a tennis court and a fitness centre. Offering a restaurant, the property also features a spa & wellness centre, as well as a sauna.
Features of Hotel Asmara Palace
Food and drink
- Restaurant (à la carte)
- Restaurant (buffet)
This professionally run outfit is kept in top nick, featuring a fine selection of cheerful rooms with all the creature comforts (including hard-to-find wi-fi). There’s an on-site bar and restaurant.
Features of Crystal Hotel
A good place to bunk down if you’re after style without breaking the bank. This mellow pension from the early 1900s is set in a converted villa and features generous-sized rooms overlooking a pleasantly manicured garden. It’s in a residential neighbourhood, a jaunt from Harnet Ave. A tad overpriced, but the historic aura that shrouds the place sweetens the deal.
HOTEL IN MASSAWA
Red Sea Hotel
This Italian-designed hotel is well arranged and has 50 tidy rooms with big bathrooms, air-con, satellite TV, balcony and sea views. Facilities include an on-site restaurant, and well-tended gardens in which to curl up with a book.
HOTEL IN MASSAWA
HOTEL IN KEREN
GUESTHOUSE IN ASMARA
HOTEL IN MASSAWA
GUESTHOUSE IN ASMARA
BOUTIQUE HOTEL IN MASSAWA
Grand Hotel Dahlak
HOTEL IN ADI KEIH
HOTEL IN ASMARA
HOTEL IN ADI KEIH
RESORT IN MASSAWA
Gurgussum Beach Hotel
HOTEL IN ASMARA
Asmara Central Hotel
PENSION IN ASMARA
HOTEL IN KEREN
PENSION IN KEREN
HOTEL IN ASMARA
Top Five Hotel