Perched on the eastern edge of Eritrea's highland plateau, Asmara enjoys a great climate, clean and architecturally striking streets, and a reputation as one of the safest capital cities in Africa. The city began life as four villages - hence the meaning of its original name, Arbate Esmere - that were founded by shepherds pleased with the local abundance of water. Travellers used the place as a refreshing stopover on their way between the sea and mountains and it eventually became a key trading post. In the late-19th century, the all-colonising Italians decided Asmara was to become the jewel of their east African empire and over the next 50 years proceeded to lavish the town with their own cultural trimmings.

The magnificent Cathedral (1922), built in the Lombardian style, is not far from a bustling market. There are a number of churches and mosques which can be visited. Marble from Carrara quarry was used to build the largest mosque, Khalufa el Rashidin. Gold and silver jewellery is on offer at the nearby market. Palms and colourful bougainvillaea line the main avenues. The National Avenue is the major thoroughfare of the city; an ideal place to meet people and enjoy the numerous cafes and bars. The Avenue is also the address for the Government Administrative Centre, the Asmara Theatre (built 1918), the Catholic Cathedral and the Town Hall. The former residence of the colonial rulers, the Ghibi or palace, is used today as the National Museum. The University and the Mai Jahjah Fountain are also interesting. The architectural touch can be seen all over the city, from the residential area in the south, which still displays numerous Art-Deco villas, to the buildings of what was (and still is) the administrative area in the north. Liberation Ave is the main thoroughfare, running east to west, and a stroll along here (starting at the western end) will take you past the Corinthian columns of the Neoclassical Governor's Palace, the Romanesque portico of the 1920s Opera House, a Catholic cathedral thought to be the finest example of its style (Lombard-Romanesque) outside Italy, and the imposing frontage of the Cinema Impero.

Asmara's excellent National Museum exhibits on the nation's fight for independence, its nine ethnic groups and its main archaeological sites. At the city's main market, you'll find stalls selling household goods, fruit and vegetables, spices, pottery, musical instruments, clothes and shoes, and wooden and metal furniture, to name but a few of the items on offer. If you need a break from spending all your nakfa, you can rest in the peaceful environs of City Park or head out of town towards the airport to the Tank Cemetery, where you can mourn the passing of hundreds of dumped tanks, armoured cars and other scrap military metal.