Information on the rate and pattern of urban expansion is required by urban planners to devise proper urban planning and management policy directions. This study evaluated the dynamics and spatial pattern of Mekelle City’s expansion in the past three decades (1984–2014). Multi-temporal Landsat images and Maximum Likelihood Classifier were used to produce decadal land use/land cover (LULC) maps. Changes in LULC and spatial pattern of urban expansion were analysed by post-classification change detection and spatial metrics, respectively. The results showed that in the periods 1984–1994, 1994–2004, and 2004–2014, the built-up area increased annually by 10%, 9%, and 8%, respectively; with an average annual increment of 19% (100 ha year−1), from 531 ha in 1984 to 3524 ha in 2014. Between 1984 and 2014, about 88% of the gain in built-up area was from conversion of agricultural lands, which decreased by 39%. Extension of existing urban areas was the dominant growth type, which accounted for 54%, 75%, and 81% of the total new development during 1984–1994, 1994–2004, and 2004–2014, respectively. The spatial metrics analyses revealed urban sprawl, with increased heterogeneity and gradual dispersion in the outskirts of the city. The per capita land consumption rate (ha per person) increased from 0.009 in 1984 to 0.014 in 2014, indicating low density urban growth. Based on the prediction result, the current (2014) built-up area will double by 2035, and this is likely to have multiple socioeconomic and environmental consequences unless sustainable urban planning and development policies are devised.