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35 Best Places to visit in Eritrea

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Welcome to Eritrea
Eritrea remains one of the most inspiring destinations in Africa, particularly for travellers that want something a little different.

Eritrea wows visitors with its scenery, from the quintessentially Abyssinian landscapes – escarpments, plateaus and soaring peaks – to the deserted and desertified beaches of the Red Sea coast. Culturally, Eritrea is a melting pot. It might be a tiny country by Africa’s standards, but it hosts a kaleidoscopic range of ethnic groups. It also features a superb array of archaeological sites that tell volumes of history. The cherry on top is Asmara, Eritrea’s delightful capital and a whimsical art deco city.
TOP CHOICE
MEMORIAL IN ASMARA

Table of Contents

Tank Graveyard

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 …
TOP CHOICE HISTORIC BUILDING IN ASMARA

Opera House

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…
TOP CHOICE ARCHITECTURE IN ASMARA

Bowling Alley

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.
ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE IN ADI KEIH

Qohaito

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…
PALACE IN MASSAWA

Imperial Palace

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…
MARKET IN KEREN

Camel Market

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…
HISTORIC BUILDING IN MASSAWA

House of Mammub Mohammed Nahari

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…
HISTORIC BUILDING IN ASMARA

Fiat Tagliero Building

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
ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE IN ERITREA

Adulis Archaeological Site

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…
DESERT IN ERITREA

Dankalia

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…
CHRISTIAN SITE near the town of Nefasit

Debre Bizen

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.
History
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.

ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE IN Senafe

Metera

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.
MARKET IN ASMARA

Medebar Market

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:
VILLAGE IN ASMARA

Emba Derho

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.

ISLAND IN MASSAWA

Green Island

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.
HISTORIC BUILDING IN MASSAWA

Hotel Savoiya

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.
ISLAND IN ERITREA

Dahlak Islands

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.
MOSQUE IN MASSAWA

Sheikh Hanafi Mosque

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.
CHRISTIAN SITE IN KEREN

Mariam Dearit Shrine

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.
MARKET IN KEREN

Monday Market

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.
CEMETERY IN KEREN

Italian Cemetery

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.
HISTORIC BUILDING IN ASMARA

Villa Roma

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.
HISTORIC BUILDING IN MASSAWA

Banco d’Italia

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.
SQUARE IN MASSAWA

Campo

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…
MEMORIAL IN MASSAWA

War Memorial

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.
MARKET IN ASMARA

Central Market

VILLAGE IN KEREN

Halib Mentel

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.
CATHEDRAL IN ASMARA

Enda Mariam Orthodox Cathedral

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.
HISTORIC BUILDING IN MASSAWA

Turkish House

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.
CEMETERY IN ASMARA

Asmara Orthodox Cemetery

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.
MUSEUM IN ASMARA

National Museum

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.
PALACE IN ASMARA

Former Governor’s Palace

The best place to start exploring the city is at the Former Governor’s Palace, which stands majestically at the western end of Harnet Ave. Built in 1897 by the first Italian governor, it was used by Haile Selassie during the Ethiopian occupation. Unfortunately, it is not currently possible to visit or to take photographs because it’s an official building.

MOSQUE IN ASMARA

Great Mosqu

At the head of a large open square near the old market is the Great Mosque. Completed in 1938, this grand complex combines rationalist, classical and Islamic styles. The interior is only open to the faithful, but you’re welcome to have a look in through the door.

HISTORIC BUILDING IN ASMARA

Odeon Cinema

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.
CATHEDRAL IN ASMARA

Catholic Cathedral

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.
CATHEDRAL IN MASSAWA

St Mariam Cathedral

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
CEMETERY IN ASMARA

Italian Cemetery

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.
ISLAMIC TOMB IN MASSAWA

Tomb of Sheikh Durbush

Though the identity of Sheikh Durbush is lost to time, the tomb is thought to date back to the 16th century. It’s sometimes possible to ask at the small mosque next door if the gate to the tomb can be opened.

HISTORIC BUILDING IN ASMARA

Asmara Piscina

The 1940s Asmara Piscina there’s nothing stopping you from badgering the attendant for a peek inside the modernist building that houses it.
CEMETERY IN KEREN

Keren War Cemetery

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.
HISTORIC BUILDING IN ASMARA

Capitol Cinema

This cinema building was constructed in 1932.
HISTORIC BUILDING IN ASMARA

Ministry of Education

Adjacent to the elegant Opera House, the 1930s Italian-era Ministry of Education, with its massive stepped tower.
LANDMARK IN ASMARA

Greek Orthodox Church

This church is a useful landmark for navigating the city.

Nightlife

COFFEE IN KEREN

Africa Pension

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…
BAR IN ASMARA

Crispi Bar

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).
LOUNGE IN ASMARA

Zara

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, …
TEAHOUSE IN MASSAWA

Hamoda

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…
BAR IN ASMARA

Bar Zilli

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, …
CAFE IN ASMARA

Green Village

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…
CAFE IN ASMARA

Pasticceria Moderna

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…
CAFE IN KEREN

Sweet Corner

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…
CAFE IN ASMARA

Bar Royal

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.
BAR IN KEREN

Atlanta Bar

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.
CAFE IN ASMARA

Rozina Cafe

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.
CAFE IN ASMARA

Cafe Fiori

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.
CAFE IN ASMARA

KitKat Bar Fast Food & Pastry

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.
CLUB IN ASMARA

Green Pub

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.
CAFE IN ASMARA

Sweet Asmara Caffe

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.
CAFE IN ASMARA

Damera Cafe

Beyond a traditionally styled interior serving cafe classics, there’s also a nice outdoor seating area on Harnet great for people-watching.
CAFE IN ASMARA

Impero Bar & Pastry

Almost next door to Cinema Impero, this endearing cafe has a more traditional feel. Perfect for a coffee during passeggiata.
CAFE IN ASMARA

Dolce Vita

Stylish modern coffee shop outside the centre, with a fantastic shaded courtyard out back perfect for whiling away a lazy afternoon.
CAFE IN ADI KEIH

Mehrep Cafe

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…
CLUB IN ASMARA

Mocambo

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…

Entertainment

CINEMA IN ASMARA

Cinema Impero

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…
Hotels

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
  • Bar
  • Restaurant (à la carte)
  • Restaurant (buffet)

Crystal Hotel

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

Food and drink

  • Restaurant
  • Bar
  • Restaurant (à la carte)
  • Restaurant (buffet)

    Sunshine Hotel

    Hotel in Asmara

    A reliable middle-of-the-road option, with smallish rooms and a greenery-filled garden at the back. Wi-fi is available, but sluggish at times.

  • Features of Sunshine Hotel
  • Food and drink

    • Restaurant
    • Bar

Albergo Italia

Africa Pension 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.

R
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
Central Hotel

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HOTEL IN KEREN
Costina Hotel

C
GUESTHOUSE IN ASMARA
Concord Pension

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HOTEL IN MASSAWA
Luna Hotel

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GUESTHOUSE IN ASMARA
Pensione Pisa

G
BOUTIQUE HOTEL IN MASSAWA
Grand Hotel Dahlak

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HOTEL IN ADI KEIH
Garden Hotel

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HOTEL IN ASMARA
Khartoum Hotel

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HOTEL IN ADI KEIH
Central Hotel

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RESORT IN MASSAWA
Gurgussum Beach Hotel

A
HOTEL IN ASMARA
Asmara Central Hotel

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PENSION IN ASMARA
Solomon Pension

E
HOTEL IN KEREN
Eritrea Hotel

S
PENSION IN KEREN
Sicilia Pension

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HOTEL IN ASMARA
Top Five Hotel

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