Wide tree-lined streets, fine architecture, glorious weather, and the incongruity of donkey trains trolling along the boulevards make Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, a delightful place to explore. It is a city of surprises characterized by remarkable diversity and contrasts.
Abundant eucalyptus trees and crisp, clear mountain air endow Addis Ababa with the bracing atmosphere of a highland summer resort. Its cosy espresso bars and patisseries are reminiscent of Rome and the Mediterranean, and its bustling outdoor markets are colourful reminders of more traditional ways of life. The people, the bursts of music from cafes or shops, the aromas of spicy cooking, of coffee and incense, form a unique Ethiopian pastiche.
Vibrant Addis Ababa is as cosmopolitan as any of the world's great metropolises, and the architecture is as varied as the city itself. Tall office buildings, elegant villas, functional bungalows, flats, fashionable hotels, conference halls, and theatres gleaming in their marble and anodized aluminium - vie for attention alongside traditional homes of wattle and daub, surrounded by cattle, sheep, goats, and chickens. There is no designated 'city centre' because, until very recently, there was no urban planning. Addis Ababa simply grew in a natural, organic way, and its present appearance reflects this unforced and unstructured evolution.
Set in rising countryside between 2,300 to 2,500 metres (7,500 to 8,200 feet) in altitude on the southern-facing slopes of the 3,000-metre-high (9,840-foot-high) Entoto mountain range immediately to the north, Ethiopia's largest city has grown at astonishing speed since it was founded just over a century ago. Covering 250 square kilometres (97 square miles), the city rambles pleasantly across many wooded hillsides and gullies cut through with fast flowing streams.
Despite its proximity to the equator, its lofty altitude - the third-highest capital in the world - means that it enjoys a mild climate with an average temperature of 16°C (61°F). The hottest, driest months are usually April and May, when the days are pleasantly warm to hot and the nights are cool. During the main rainy season, from June to mid-September, both days and nights are cool by local standards. Between late October and mid-January night-time temperatures can drop to below 4°C (40°F), although day temperatures in the sun exceed 20°C (68°F). Visitors coming from the cold European winter, however, will probably find Addis Ababa's climate ideal.