When my husband announced we'd be spending up to a month in Ethiopia, I was a bit taken aback. There isn't a lot of information about traveling with kids there and we were going to be living in a family home- not a hotel. The Somali Ambassador's family was generous in allowing us to stay in their Addis Ababa home, in spite of the parents being gone for the duration. They left behind a staff of three, a driver, and a few family members- including two boys close to my son Omar's age. Other than the two boys, they spoke very little English. My husband was traveling nearly every day for meetings related to his work, so we saw little of him. It was a culture shock. It rained every day. The power would go out for hours at a time, but never with predictability. There were mosquitoes that would bite us every night if we didn't slather on repellent. The water was not safe to drink or even use for toothbrushes. The family was fasting so they would eat breakfast at 5 and not eat again until late in the evening. I was glad I'd taken 2 cases of Clif bars with me because I felt like we lived on them at times. Even though the cook was a very good Somali cook, I was missing the familiarity of salads and whole grain bread. When the water isn't safe, you just have to eliminate salad from your diet.
The city itself was very safe. I never felt threatened and no one tried to take my purse. People were cheerful. There were pockets of extreme poverty. Traffic was horrendous. There isn't really any traffic control. Somehow it all works though. As your car stopped, people would come to the car windows begging. It can't be an easy life. It was difficult to walk many places because there weren't sidewalks. Many streets are paved but the shoulder just becomes mud combined with donkey and horse waste, trash, etc. I had never seen anything like it.
I could have spent the entire summer in self pity, but I had a guide book and a downloaded trip advisor guide for Addis that gave some ideas about what to see and do, and the driver was an immense help in entertaining all three boys. As it turned out, we were there just over 2 weeks. Kids in Ethiopia don't have toys. Children of ex-patriots and dignitaries have tutors and the focus is on education. There might be some books and if you're lucky a TV set. Omar learned to play soccer with the neighborhood boys but we also scheduled outings just for a change of scenery. The boys became like brothers...and sometimes fought like them too.
Since we stayed at a home, I have no hotel recommendations, but here is a blogger with a pretty concise list that will help you. There's also some good advice I used to get ready for our adventure. We still ended up using antibiotics for traveler's diarrhea, but maybe you'll get luckier.
Here's what I'd recommend for activities if you find yourself in Addis Ababa with kids:
In spite of having so many wonderful Ethiopian restaurants, Omar really just wanted familiar foods and we could easily find them. There are plenty of burger and pizza places. We tried a few, mainly to keep the kids happy, but at cafes I could get wifi every couple days. You can find these just by looking for pictures on the front window of the cafes. There is also a good coffee chain, Kaldi Coffee, which reminds me of Starbucks. Club Juventus was a good pasta place with a gym where the kids could play basketball or volleyball, but you need to bring your own ball. We only went out for dinner one evening and it was to a cultural show at 2000 Habesha Cultural Restaurant. The food was traditional Ethiopian and the dancers and music gave a wonderful representation of culture from around the country. Sit up close if you want to make videos or take pictures.
There are several museums and we hit all of them. Most don't have independent websites, so if there's a link, it will probably be Facebook or Tripadvisor. You may hear about the Red Terror Martyr's Museum but I don't recommend it for children, and even adults may have nightmares after visiting. There are some extremely graphic photos and torture devices.
I think you need to visit the National museum because it has the skeleton of Lucy. This museum has some really good artifacts, but unfortunately the lighting isn't great and they lack the resources I've seen other places. Still, kids might enjoy seeing the lion's mane hat and the leather chairs. We were there less than an hour.
The Ethnological Museum has children's toys and musical instruments. It's a bit tricky to find as it is on the university grounds. You can see the bed and living quarters of former ruler Haile Selassie. This used to be his palace. Definitely use a guide-these are students who can help you get more out of the exhibits and will answer questions. They work for tips. I can't believe we went in one room where someone was using very old religious books filled with amazing paintings and we were allowed to look at them. They weren't even being encased in some protective plastic. Again we were there less than an hour.
The Lion Zoo is pathetic for the conditions of the animals, but it is a kid destination if for no other reason, the lions here are unique to this part of Africa. Expect lots of vendors coming at you with balloons and toys. The grounds are landscaped like a park, and it's a big weekend destination for the locals. We spent maybe 20 minutes here. It's not a big place.
The boys all enjoyed visiting the malls most of all. We didn't go there for shopping- just for activities. Outside everything looks distinctly Ethiopian in terms of culture. Once you're inside, you really can't tell where you are. You'll see typical western dress and find people visiting from all over. Edna Mall has games and even a bull ride. Laphto Mall has a fitness center that includes swimming and bowling. You can use the lanes whenever they are open, but a coach may be available to help you do it better. You can swim during open hours, but for a small fee you get a private instructor/lifeguard. Nearly every mall will have some kind of movie or game place so don't be shy about checking what's nearby your lodging. Hoping you have a great experience with kids if you end up making Addis a stop on your ride through life.