What to see and do in Bahir Dar

Bahir Dar lies at 1880 metres asl, 180 km south of Gondar, and is included in the “historic circuit” of northern Ethiopia. It’s also the perfect base to explore Tana Lake, the biggest lake in Ethiopia, also known for its island monasteries, dating back to the 14th century. The city is really nice, well maintained, and features avenues lined with palm trees and public gardens planted with colourful flowers.

Bahir Dar
the Blue Nile waterfalls

When to go

Like most of Northern Ethiopia, you can visit and enjoy Bahir Dar any time of the year, but the best period is during the dry season, roughly between October and March. January and February are perfect because the temperatures are nice and the sky mostly clear.

How to reach Bahir Dar

If you travel with a local tour operator, Bahir Dar is usually the second last stop of the historic circuit. If travelling alone, you can reach the town by bus from Gondar (about 3 hours), Lalibela (via Gashena Town – about 8/9 hours), and Abbis Ababa (about 13 hours).

You can also fly direct to Bahir Dar from Addis Ababa and Lalibela with Ethiopian airlines.

Where to sleep

Bahir Dar is a small town, and there isn’t a better place where to sleep. It offers a good range of accommodations, including some resorts in front of the lakeshore. We slept at Bahir Dar Hotel 2, nice accommodation with a restaurant, bar, a peaceful garden, and only 500 meters from the Bahir Dar jetty. 

Other accommodations in Bahir Dar:


Bahir Dar
Kibran Gabriel Monastery

Local cuisine and restaurants

The Ethiopian cuisine is delicious and mainly consists of vegetable and spicy meat dishes accompanied by a local bread named injera that locals eat with their hands most of the time.  Leaving aside the traditional dishes like Kitfo, Niter Kibbeh, Doro Wat, or Beyainatu, Bahir Dar is the right place to eat fresh fish. We ate at the Lake Shore restaurant twice, where we tasted delicious grilled Tilapia with injera.

Currency exchange and Method of payment

The local currency is the Ethiopian Birr. 1 USD is about 41 Birr. There are a few banks where to exchange your currency and ATMs which accept international cards. The method of payment is cash.

Travel insurance

We would never think of travelling without proper coverage because the medical expenses could be very high. We always recommend travel insurance from World Nomads that we’ve used during our time in Ethiopia and throughout Africa. The northern circuit includes many hiking activities, and it’s always advisable to have travel insurance. Avoid drinking local tap water and make sure food is cooked thoroughly before eating. Malaria is endemic, and it is highly recommended to consult a travel medicine specialist to assess travel-related risks and have information to ensure your health and safety

Bahir Dar

Bahir Dar best attractions

1. Lake Tana boat tour

Lake Tana boat tour is the main attraction in the area. The lake measures almost 100 km from north to south and covers over 3000 square kilometres.  The waters of Tana lake give rise to the Blue Nile, which flows 1450 km across Ethiopia and Sudan to Khartoum, when it joins the White Nile, becoming the Nile river. The boat tour is enjoyable as you can relax and spot many birds, including pelicans, kingfishers, lesser kestrel, hornbill, and various parrots, and meet a giant hippos group.

Bahir Dar

However, the lake’s boat tour highlights are the monasteries, many of which date back to the 16th century and have amazing well-preserved mural paintings. The most visited are Ura Kidane Mihret, Kibran Gebriel, Narga Salassie, Daga Estefanos and Debre Maryam. In some of these, only men are allowed to enter.
The boat tour can be arranged through your accommodations, a local operator, or directly going to the Bahir Dar jetty. You can choose between a half-day tour (as we did) or a full-day tour, where if possible, to reach the monastery on the north shore of Tana Lake. Our half-day tour was perfect as we visited Kibran Gabriel Monastery, a couple of monasteries in the Zege Peninsula, Debre Maryam Monastery, and we spotted many birds and hippos.
Bahir Dar
Ura Kidane Monastery

2. Blue Nile Falls

The Blue Nile Falls is about 30 km from Bahir Dar and, here,  the river cascades down a 40m-high drop, creating stunning, dazzling sprays. The hike to reach the falls starts from Tis Isat and takes about 1 hour and a half to complete it totally. The ticket costs 15 Birr. We visited the falls in January – the peak of the dry season – and it was nothing special, only a pleasant hike through the beautiful and verdant countryside. The best moment to visit them is at the end of the rainy season when the falls are at their strongest.
If you are travelling independently, you can catch a public bus from Bahir Dar to the village of Tis Abay and then walk from there.  The ticket costs 15 Birr each way. 

3. Zege Peninsula

The Zege Peninsula is included in the boat tour and features 7 ancient and beautiful monasteries immersed in a lush forest.  In case you don’t want to book the tour, you can reach the peninsula by catching a public boat from the Bahir Dar Jetty or a taxi/minibus to Zege village (25km).

Bahir Dar

Bahir Dar Bahir Dar

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