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Eritrea’s capital city is one of those little-known gems that the experienced traveller will cite as among Africa’s more fascinating locales.
Book a flight to Asmara with Qatar Airways to encounter the limitless delights of this lively and alluring city. From buzzing markets to traditional villages and Italian architecture, Asmara has multiple once-in-a-lifetime experiences in store.
Despite its North East African geography, Asmara reveals a distinctly Italian influence – a remnant of colonial rule dating back to the late 19th and early 20th century. Today, the Italian connection can still be seen in the architecture and layout of the city.
The best example of this lingering flavour is the former governor’s Palace, which dominates the western end of Harnet Avenue. But to get a true taste of the city’s history and its people, head for the National Museum, which contains extensive exhibitions on cultural life in Eritrea.
Biet Ghiorghis Zoo and Park offer a welcome break from the heat and dust of the city. If you want a glimpse of traditional Eritrean rural life when you travel to Asmara, visit the highland village of Tselot, approximately 20km from the centre of the city. To discover some of Eritrea’s diverse flora and fauna, head for Martyrs’ National Park, or for a panoramic view of the city, climb the narrow stairs of the Gothic Bell Tower at sunset.
People-watching is a wonderful, and relaxing, way to sample the sights and sounds of Asmara. There are dozens of cafés, particularly along Liberation Avenue, a bustling location where you can simply sit and watch the world go by.
If you want to see Eritreans’ ingenuity close-up, take a stroll through Medebar Market, where you can watch industrious artisans recycle old tin cans from Italy, and turn them into coffee pots. The results make the ultimate quirky memento of your trip to Asmara.
To explore the Islamic influence on Asmara, a visit to the Great Mosque is well worth your time. Filled with rich examples of rationalist, classical and Islamic art, it’s a peaceful oasis in the middle of a frenetic city.
Eritrean food, like North African cuisine in general, makes extensive use of spices, and consists generally of very hot meat or vegetable stews, served with injera, which is a type of sourdough pancake or flatbread. Mid-morning, you will find most locals downing a cup of macchiato, a strong, sweet coffee that is “stained” with a touch of milk froth, but is most definitely not a cappuccino.
If this is your first time travelling to Asmara and you prefer something a little easier on the palate, there are plenty of Italian restaurants throughout the city, as well as other, more generic fast-food outlets.
Asmara is the ideal place to pick up reasonably priced gold and silver jewellery, as well as incense such as frankincense and myrrh. Fine gold threads are often spun into embroidered cotton garments. Traditional goat-skin rugs, clay coffee pots and olivewood carvings are also available at the Central Market, which is one of the city’s hottest attractions.
Wherever you shop, it’s best to get there early, before the crowds, to find some bargains. And be prepared to haggle.
Essential facts about Asmara
Enjoy a hassle-free journey with all the information you need to know before your trip