Known as a clean, safe city with an inviting climate and friendly locals, Bahir Dar is a favorite getaway of prominent Ethiopians, including the emperor, who once chose it as the location for his summer palace.

While other destinations in Ethiopia are known for one or two signature sights, Bahir Dar is a place to sample the best of Ethiopian culture. Take advantage of the  universally pleasant lakeside atmosphere to explore by foot or by bicycle with your local guide. While a drive along the shores of Lake Tana may feel like you’ve left Africa and landed somewhere in the Mediterranean, your guide can point out the distinctly Ethiopian cultural moments throughout the city. Here you will find artisans and markets that are less overwhelming than the hustle bustle of Addis Ababa and more refined than the frontier spirit of the southern cities.

The city dates back to the Jesuit expansion of the 16th and 17th centuries. Spanish missionary Pedro Páez is said to have built some of the city’s most prominent buildings. On the grounds of the Giyorgis church compound one of those buildings still stands as a reminder of the diverse religious influences that have shaped Ethiopia over the centuries.

Just outside the city you can visit Blue Nile Falls, a scenic spot below Lake Tana where four streams of the Blue Nile converge to create a stunning display of cascades. In the recent past, the falls varied widely from season to season, but regulation of Lake Tana has helped maintain an even flow so that visitors know what to expect.

While Lake Tana is connected to the Blue Nile, it is ecologically distinct, thanks to the falls. The lake boasts a wide variety of bird and fish species, 70% of which are endemic. Bird watchers will have a rare chance to witness a rare cypriad spaecias flock, and fishermen will see an exotic variety of tilapia, catfish and others.