Medellin is known as the city of the eternal spring for her Spring-like weather. She’s a party town, a city of 2.5 million inhabitants, of different barrios. She’s infamous for the drug wars here in the 1980s and 1990s and will, perhaps forever, be known as the home of the drug baron of Pablo Escobar. Medellin is so much more than this though and has shaken off the negative vibes associated with those times. Medellin is a city of warm and friendly people, even more so than anywhere else in Colombia. There are beautiful mountains, an impressive public transit system and a superb climate.
We arrived in Medellin from our week in Cartagena, opting for a flight at roughly the same price as a bus, but of course much quicker
Medellin isn’t a city of magnificent museums, with an endless list of fantastic things to do. This isn’t the Instagram heaven that Cartagena is. Nor does she have the UNESCO Gastronomic food of Popayan. Medellin is a gritty, real city. She is busy, she is crowded. But she has a beauty of her own. She has the friendliest and happiest of people. She has a delightful temperature especially after the humidity of Cartagena and the Caribbean coast. She’s a city to live in, to spend time in, to escape from, but also to return to. Yeah, we liked Medellin.
We didn’t run around and see everything. We took our time in Medellin and explored the real life here, but of course, we also made time to see the most recommended places to visit in Medellin too.
Most Recommended Things to do in Medellin
- Take a Real City Walking Tour
- Use the Medellin Metro
- Visit Parque Arvi
- Visit Comuna 13
- Drink in one of Medellin’s oldest bars
- Visit your local neighbourhood bottle shop
- Eat these things in Medellin
- Visit Guatape from Medellin
- Learn Spanish in Medellin
- Drink Colombian Coffee in Medellin
- Visit Plaza Botero in Medellin
- Understand what happened in Plaza San Antonio
- Play Tejo in Medellin
- Go to a Football Match in Medellin
- Visit the Best Museums in Medellin
Take a Real City Walking Tour in Medellin
If you do nothing else in Medellin, you should take this tour. After 5 continuous years of travel and many, many walking tours, this Medellin Walking Tour holds the joint top spot for best walking tours in the world (it shares it with a superb walking tour in Edinburgh, Scotland).
Book the Real City Walking Tour here: You can join it in Poblado or near Laureles
We find that taking a walking tour when you first arrive in a city and country is absolutely the best way to get your bearings. This will position Medellin superbly for you and give you the confidence to see the rest of the city and her surroundings. The Real City tour will provide a history of Colombia, it will cover the tumultuous past of both Colombia and Medellin. If you’re very lucky you will also hear the personal story of your tour guide. And this alone will give you a respect for Medellin and Colombia that will carry you throughout your visit to the country.
Other Recommended Tours to Take in Medellin
Use the Medellin Metro
The Medellin Metro and the subset of it called the Medellin Metro Cable was built to provide public transport to the poorer communities who live in the highest of Medellin’s barrios. Your Medellin metro ticket lets you ride buses, the metro system and a series of gondolas too! You’ll get some of the most superb views of Medellin from the Gondolas and all for the bargain price of a metro ticket. You can find out more about using the Medellin metro as a tourist in our specific post on it.
The metro system is something that Medellin residents are extremely proud of. It’s clean, you don’t find any graffiti on it and it is safe to travel on and the vicinity of metro stations are also safe. (Clearly, you’re in a large city, so be sure you have your wits about you, especially after dark).
You can book a private tour of Medellin’s Metro and explore with a local here!
Visit Comuna 13
To understand Medellin at least a little you need to understand how far she’s come. Comuna 13 is a symbol of how much Medellin has changed since the darker days of the late 1980s and 1990s. This was once one of the most dangerous areas of Medellin. The steepest area of the barrio once cut off, is connected via escalators and street art has made this barrio famous and helped it to regrow. The views of the city are stunning.
Guided tours help you understand the history of the barrio and how street art has helped to heal divisions and change for the better. It’s also possible to travel there independently (like we did) via Metro Line B to San Javier, a short bus ride or walk and then the escalators.
Go one of the oldest bars in Medellin
You’ll find Salon Malaga right beside the San Antonio metro station. It is one of Medellin’s oldest bars. Tiles and old photos adorn the walls. Cold beers and cocktails await you. Go and soak up a little history and people watch in this bar where you’ll mainly find locals and few gringos.
Find your local neighbourhood beer shop in Medellin
We stayed in the Laureles district for our time in Medellin, where the bars and restaurants lining Calle 44 compete with each other for the most deafening, albeit good, Latino music. While we saw a few other tourists in our time here, those bars just weren’t our scene.
Our favourite place to head to for a beer was our corner shop. Although that might seem strange to you, most local shops in Medellin neighbourhoods have a few plastic chairs and tables outside their doors. And a big fridge of beer inside. A beer here is a lot cheaper than in a bar and the music is usually of a lower volume. We wiled away several hours on an evening chatting with the locals with varying degrees of success. Our Spanish improving with our beer consumption of course.
Learn Spanish in Medellin
Medellin is a great climate in which to learn to speak Spanish. There are a variety of Spanish schools here, where you can pick up drop-in lessons or sign up to formal lessons. Here is a selection of recommended schools for both.
Visit Plaza Botero
Fernando Botero is Colombia’s favourite and most famous artist. He is renowned for “Boterism”, which depicts people and figures in exaggerated volumes – it’s more commonly known as his “fat figures”. Botero was born in Medellin and there is no better place to see his work than in Plaza Botero Medellin, where its all out in the open and free.
Visit Plaza de San Antonio
This slightly sketchy plaza (don’t visit after dark) close to San Antonio metro station is worth a visit in day light hours. You’ll want to head to the Botero statues on the far side of the plaza. There are two Botero statues of a bird here. It was in 1995 that 22 pounds / nearly 10 kilos of explosives were placed inside one of the statues prior to a concert taking place in the plaza. Detonated during the concert the bomb killed 30 people and injured more than 200. More Information on the terrorist attack of 1995 here.
In memory of those who died, Botero asked that the statue be left in situ, creating a new bird to sit beside the old one as a symbol of Medellin’s past and future.
Go to a Football Match in Medellin
Really. Just do it. I promise you that you will have never experienced anything like it. Medellin has two football (soccer) teams. Atletico Nacional and Deportivo Independiente Medellin (known as DIM). They both play at Estadio Atansio Girardot and they are rivals.
No matter who plays football at the Estadio in Medellin, a soccer game here is an experience you will never forget.
If you are in Medellin during the football season head to the ground to buy a ticket a few days before the game – or ask your hostal about it. Or, if you’re in town for a popular game head to StubHub like we did. We arrived in Medellin a few days before the DIM v Junior (from Baranquilla) final and so bought our tickets from StubHub and had them delivered to our hotel.
You can check for fixtures and times here.
Play Tejo in Medellin
Tejo is a game beloved of Colombians. This is the Colombia drinking game of choice. It mixes beer, or liquor and gunpowder with a little hand to eye coordination. Tejo halls are open from around 630pm and are great fun in a group.
You can read more about how to play Tejo and where to find Tejo halls in Medellin in our complete guide to Tejo in Colombia.
Visit the Best Museums in Medellin
The Museo de Antioquia
You’ll find this museum in Plaza Botero and its here that there’s a large collection of Fernando Botero’s most famous paintings, alongside other international artists and a variety of cultural exhibits.
- Entrance Fee: from 18,000 COP
- Buy Tickets for the Museo de Antioquia Medellin – skip the lines
- Opening Hours for Museo de Antioquia: 1000 – 1730
- Address and More Details of the Museum of Antioquia
This hands-on and interactive science museum is to be found inside the Botanical Gardens. You’ll find all types of science explained in a fun way and there’s also a terrarium and aquarium here. The most poisonous frogs in the world, which happen to come from Colombia are also to be found here.
- Entrance Fee: from 27,000 COP
- Buy tickets for Parque Explora and skip lines
- Opening Hours: 1030 – 1800
- Address and More Details of Parque Explora
Museo de Arte Moderno
Known also as El MAMM, this museum of modern art of Medellin is located in an old warehouse alongside a newer building. You’ll get fabulous views from the upper floor terraces.
- Entrance Fee El MAMM: 12,000 COP (free last Friday of each month – 6pm – 10pm)
- Buy Tickes for Museo de Arte Moderno at the door
- Opening Hours for El MAMM: 0900 – 1800 (1000-1800 Sat, 1000-1700 Sun)
- Address and More Details of the Museum of Modern Art Medellin
Museo de Agua
Providing exhibits that focus on water, conservation and their importance, this museum also discusses Medellin’s water and all of Colombia’s different ecological zones from the Amazon to the coast.
- Entrance Fee Museo de Agua Medellin: 6,000 COP
- Buy Tickets for Museo de Agua Medellin: At the door
- Opening Hours for Museo de Agua: 0830-1600 (1030-1700 Sat and Sun)
- Address and More Details of the Museum of Water Medellin
Casa de La Memoria
Documenting the story of her people and the cruelties they have inflicted on each other, this museum covers civil wars, gangs, drugs and rebirth. Displays are interactive and emotive, and although you’ll get more out of this if you speak Spanish there is still plenty to involve everyone.
- Entrance Fee: FREE
- Buy Tickets for Casa de La Memoria at the door
- Opening Hours for Casa de La Memoria: 0900 – 1800 (closed Monday), 1000 – 1600 Sat/Sun/Hols
- Address and More Details of the House of Memories Medellin
Visit Parque Arvi when in Medellin
Parque Arvi is written about as the place to escape from the concrete jungle of Medellin. It’s the area’s largest nature reserve and can be reached by taking the Medellin Metro to Santo Domingo, and then exiting the metro and taking the Metro Cable car to Parque Arvi.
Parque Arvi covers more than 17,000 square meters, the gondola ride alone is worth the trip, just to see both the views over the city and over the park as you travel towards it.
Entrance to Parque Arvi is free, although you obviously have to pay to get here. Once you are here there are a range of hiking trails, however, you must go on a guided tour (from 5,000 COP, all in Spanish) to access them, which was a disappointment to us.
If you just want to walk then you’ll need to talk along the roads here. It is pleasant, there’s a lot of tree cover, but walking along the side of a road wasn’t quite what I was expecting, even if it is both cooler and much quieter up here. Be sure to try and visit during the week when there are less people.
Take the Metro to Acevedo Station, then without leaving the metro system get on the K Line Metrocable (using your same ticket). Go to Santo Domingo station. Then change to the L Line Metrocable. This metrocable will cost you 2,150 pesos. There’s no return ticket price, you just need to queue up and buy a ticket at the office when you want to return. There are clear sign posts as to when you need to leave to catch the last metrocable back to Medellin.
If you prefer to take a guided tour, then we recommend this one which will also take your to Comuna 13 – check availability and book now!
Visit Guatape from Medellin
Visiting Guatape is the must-do day trip from Medellin unless you’re planning on visiting Guatape for longer. Guatape is about two hours from Medellin and you’ll need to get to Medellin’s Terminal del Norte to get a bus here. If you prefer an organized tour, then we suggest you check out this fabulous tour now. Guatape is one of the local pueblos where Paisa’s (residents of the departments of Antioquia, Caldas, Risaralda and Quindío) escape to for the weekend. So try and avoid weekend trips here!
You can read our full guide on how to visit Guatape and what to do here!
When most people think of a trip to Guatape they’re actually thinking of the granite monolith just outside Guatape called El Peñon de Guatape, or El Piedra de Peñol. 700 concrete steps in the side of this enormous lump of rock will take you and your weary legs to the top for stunning views.
The second most popular thing to see within Guatape is the colourful nature of the houses within the town or pueblo. They’re known as zocalos – the designs on the walls of the houses – and it’s great to take a wander around the town to check out the interesting ones.
As Guatape is located on the edge of a lake most tours here include a trip on the lake, you can also organize these yourself if you travel independently There are plenty of ticket touts around Guatape to sell you a tour. If you want to prebook and include a trip on the lake, then this tour includes it – book now
To get to Guatape from Medellin head to Terminal del Norte (a short walk from the Estacion Caribe metro station) and take any bus for Guatape – they’re all signposted. Buses from Medellin to Guatape cost 15,000 COP. The bus takes around 2 hours. If you plan on visiting El Peñon, then be sure to ask for it, the drivers will let you off and are used to tourists alighting here. When you have finished at El Peñon you can either take a tuk-tuk from the bottom of the rock or catch a bus from the same place you got off towards Guatape. A tuk-tuk will cost around 10,000 COP depending on your negotiating skills.
If you’d like to see Guatape after the day tourists have gone home and experience a bit more peace and quiet, check out rooms at the Bokso for a great peaceful stay. This place is recognised for 5 star serivce, with amazing views, fabulous beds, terraces and superb food – book now and don’t be disappointed!
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What to Eat in Medellin
While you’ll be able to experience a vast variety of international foods in Medellin – the Mercado del Rio is a good place for that – we’d recommend diving into local cuisine. There are some great specialities of the area that you really should try
Eat Arepas in Medellin
Arepas are perhaps one of the best Colombian street foods on offer. They’re a thick corn tortilla, toasted and stuffed or topped with, usually cheese, or eggs, or butter or all of the above. This is comfort food from the street. They’re cheap, filling and tasty.
Eat Empanadas in Medellin at Empanadas Envigadeñas
Another great fast food option in Medellin is the empanada. They’re like a pasty that’s been deep fried. And once in a while can’t hurt eh? Filled with vegetables, chicken or meat, you’ll find them as street food and in fast food restaurants. There’s a great small place near Plaza Botero where they’re fresh, not greasy and very tasty – check out Empanadas Envigadeñas – and be sure to try all the sauces that come with them. Just line yourself up at the counter and work your way through the sauces in order of spiciness.
Eat buñuelos from Medellin
You’ll learn quite quickly that a great deal of Colombian food is fried. That doesn’t mean that it is bad, although it can get a little too much. We recommend making a list of foods and working through them. While in Medellin eating buñuelo is a must.
The buñuelo is a fried bread ball with cheese mixed into the dough. You’ll definitely want a fresh one so that the outside if crunchy and the inside is gooey and melted. For some of the best buñuelos in Medellin head to the small store near Empanada Envigadeñas in Plaza Botero.
Eat Bandeija Paisa, Medellin’s regional dish
You will need to prepare for this. Perhaps don’t eat for a week before or something like that. Bandeija Paisa is the national dish of Colombia and comes from this area around Medellin. It was originally designed for workers in the fields needing enough energy to work all day. Most Bandeija Paisas will be more than enough for two people, and sharing is common. Just ask for it “para compartir” – to share
On your plate, you’ll find rice, plantain, minced meat, chorizo sausage, blood sausage (black pudding), chicharron, arepa, avocado (oo look vegetable!), beans and a fried egg.
It really is a meal and a half, don’t plan anything strenuous after it.
The Cheapest Way to Eat in Medellin Colombia – Menu del Dia
The cheapest meal you’ll get in Medellin is the Menu del Dia. This holds true for any pueblo or city in Colombia. Find a menu del Dia and you’ll get a soup, a main course, a small dessert and a drink of juice for the cheapest price around. Be sure to take a look around in the place you choose to eat, as some of the menu del dias are huge. If that’s the case and you’re not too hungry, then ask for the menu del dia to share (“ para compartir”). You’ll often get it at the same price and two eat for the price of one.
Drink Colombian Coffee in Medellin
Colombian coffee is among some of the best in the world. While the national chain, Juan Valdez is often described as the Starbucks of Colombia that’s not exactly true. Juan Valdez is a national institution, it was set up by Colombia’s National Federation of Coffee Growers. The Juan Valdez cafes and brand were set up as part of a campaign for fair trade coffee – you’ll automatically be supporting the coffee growers of Colombia by patronizing the stores and buying the coffee.
The federation was set up in 1927 and represents 500,000 coffee farmers who grow their coffee on small farms, not plantations.
You’ll find swish stores, sandwiches, pastries, a huge variety of coffee, both hot and iced and an amazing array of souvenirs to take home. There is also free Wifi that works!
Where to Stay in Medellin
Where to Stay in Poblado, Medellin
The most popular place to stay in Medellin in Poblado. You’ll find the majority of tourist accommodation here. Here are the top 3 recommendations for places to stay in Poblado.
- Maloka Hostal, Poblado: A favourite amongst backpackers, with great rooms, a fab social vibe and a super location > check availability and book now
- The Garden of Blues Hostal, Poblado: Great high rating for location, staff and rooms. Spacious rooms, great garden > Book your room or dorm now!
- Los Patios Boutique Hostal, Poblado: Amazing views of the city from the roof top bar, good social vibe, great rooms > Check availability and book now!
Where to stay in Laureles, Medellin
We opted to stay in the Laureles neighbourhood – our first location was the noisiest Airbnb we’ve ever stayed in – and then we moved to the fabulous and well recommended Hotel Cabo de La Vela. Out of the noise, but close enough to party if and when you want to – private bathroom, air conditioning and a fabulous breakfast with great views of the city. Check out prices now
As always we recommend using a VPN when you’re on a public WiFi network – especially if you’re using your credit card or bank details. For more information on what VPN’s can do for you check out this website.
We also shortlisted these two places to stay in Laureles
- The Hotel Suite Comfort: Huge beds, comfortable and quiet (ask for a room that doesnt face the street), great breakfast and good wifi. > check out availbilty and pricing now
- The Hotel Laureles Plaza: Clean, modern, quiet. Just a few minutes from the metro station, good breakfast, great staff > Book your room now for a great sleep in Medellin
Where to go AFTER Medellin?
Where Next after Medellin? We headed to Jardin, a gloriously sleepy pueblo, find out what there is to do in Jardin. Many travellers head straight to the UNESCO World Heritage coffee area of Salento. We put together this awesome list of the best things to do in Salento!
Final Thoughts on What to do in Medellin
We didn’t expect to like Medellin, but came away having enjoyed our stay in the city. Medellin is a real place, not just for tourists. The weather and climate is comfortable, the people friendly and its well worth taking a few days to understand her history and what her future holds for her.