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 Pablo Escobar. However, Medellin is so much more than this 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. Here are the best things to do in Medellin
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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, spend time in, escape from, and return to. Yeah, we liked Medellin.
We didn’t run around and see everything. We took our time in Medellin and explored real life here, but of course, we also made time to see the most recommended places to visit in Medellin too.
The Top 13 Things to Do in Medellin Colombia
Here are the top things to do in Medellin, this glorious city of Eternal Spring.
If you do nothing else in Medellin, you should take this tour. This is definitely one of the best things to do Medellin. 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).
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 its surroundings. This free walking tour of Medellin also provides 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 respect for Medellin and Colombia that will carry you throughout your visit to the country. It is our highest-rated item of things to do in Medellin.
Other Recommended Tours to Take in Medellin
If you prefer other ways to get around, like the fabulous Medellin Metro, the cable cars, or even a bus, then here are other ways to tour Medellin
- Take a Free Food Tour of Medellin: Taste the food specialties of Medellin on this free food walking tour of the city. You’ll learn the history of dishes and get to taste them too. Meets at 10 am every day at San Antonio metro station: Reserve your place on this free Medellin Walking Tour now!
- Take a FREE Tour of Miraflores and the Buenos Aires neighborhoods: This free walking tour is an excellent overview of these two neighborhoods – you’ll also get to explore the metro cable system of Medellin too. Meets at 2 pm at the San Antonio metro station> book your free place now!
- Take a Medellin Bus Tour – this bus tour begins in Parque El Poblado and takes you around Medellin’s most important sites, with a 45-minute stop at each. It’s a guided tour, so you’ll get the history and an understanding of Medellin – it gets superb reviews. Book your place on this bus tour of Medellin now!
- Take an alternative tour of Medellin. Find out about the dark history of Colombia, and the social investment that the city of Medellin has made. This FREE Alternative Tour is tip-based, but you must book your place here.
2. 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. It is easy to use the Medellin metro to navigate all the top things to do in Medellin.
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 area around metro stations is also safe. (Clearly, you’re in a large city, so be sure you have your wits about you, especially after dark).
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. For me visiting Comuna 13 is one of the must-do things in Medellin. You can visit Comuna 13 with a local guide and learn all about what happened here, why, and how it is now.
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. Book a great FREE guided tour to Communa 13 now!
4. Go to 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 a few gringos. If you’re looking for where to go in Medellin that has a little local flavor while being very safe, this is it.
5. Find your local neighborhood 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. This isn’t one of the top Medellin attractions, but you should definitely put it on your Medellin to-do list and just enjoy the vibe!
When you’re tired of the city why not take a day trip? Here’s our guide to 10 of the best day trips from Medellin.
Our favorite place to head to for a beer was our corner shop. Although that might seem strange to you, most local shops in Medellin neighborhoods 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 is improving with our beer consumption of course.
6. 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 for formal lessons. Here is a selection of recommended schools for both.
Fernando Botero is Colombia’s favorite 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 it’s all out in the open and free.
To learn more about Botero, this 6-hour tour of Medellin focuses on following his footsteps around the city. Visit San Antonio Park and Plaza Botero to be wowed by his spectacular sculptures. Explore the artist’s fascinating life at the Museum of Antioquia. > Book your place on this informed and informative tour here.
8. Visit Plaza de San Antonio in Medellin
This slightly sketchy plaza (don’t visit after dark) close to the San Antonio metro station is worth a visit in daylight 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 is 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.
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. We ABSOLUTELY loved it. It was wild, loud, and amazing. Get tickets to the Medellin football here!
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 also book tickets – and go along with a group from your hotel or hostel with a local guide – check out this option for visiting the Football in Medellin
You can check for fixtures and times here.
10. Play Tejo in Medellin
Tejo is a game beloved by Colombians. This is the Colombia drinking game of choice. It mixes beer, liquor, and gunpowder with a little hand-to-eye coordination. Tejo halls are open from around 6:30pm 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.
11. Visit the Best Museums in Medellin
Here’s our pick of the museums to visit in Medellin.
The Museo de Antioquia, Medellin
You’ll find this museum in Plaza Botero and it’s 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: 10:00 – 17:30
Parque Explora in Medellin
This hands-on and interactive science museum is to be found inside the Medellin 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: 10:30 – 18:00
Museo de Arte Moderno of Medellin
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 – 6 pm – 10 pm)
- Buy Tickets for Museo de Arte Moderno at the door
- Opening Hours for El MAMM: 09:00 – 18:00 (10:00-18:00 Sat, 10:00-17:00 Sun)
Museo de Agua in Medellin
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: 08:30-16:00 (10:30-17:00 Sat and Sun)
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. While the entrance to House of Memories in Medellin is free, it’s well worth trying to get more of an understanding by going along with a local guide. This tour of both Comuna 13 and the Casa de Memoria is a fabulous visit and well-guided.
- Entrance Fee: FREE
- Buy Tickets for Casa de La Memoria at the door
- Opening Hours for Casa de La Memoria: 09:00 – 18:00 (closed Monday), 10:00 – 16:00 Sat/Sun/Hols
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. En route here, you’ll get some of the best views in Medellin. Joining this small group tour is the perfect way to explore
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 is 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. You can read our guide to Parque Arvi here
If you just want to walk then you’ll need to walk 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 fewer people.
Take the Metro to Acevedo Station, then without leaving the metro system get on the K-Line Metrocable (using the 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 signposts as to when you need to leave to catch the last metro cable back to 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 there. 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 (residents of the departments of Antioquia, Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindío) escape 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 del 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 colorful 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 recognized for 5-star service, with amazing views, fabulous beds, terraces, and superb food – book now and don’t be disappointed!
Map of the Best Things to Do in Medellin
You can see the full map of Medellin’s best things to do here.
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 specialties of the area that you really should try.
The easiest way to try the best food in Medellin is to join the FREE FOOD WALKING TOUR – where over the course of 3 hours you’ll get to try a huge variety of food and drinks that are local to Medellin. It is FREE, but you’ll need to reserve your place here. Tours start at 10:00 every day and finish at a restaurant, just in time for lunch at 1 pm.
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, eggs, 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 is 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 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 brands 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, Colombia
The two key areas of the city of Medellin that are best to stay in for first-timers, are El Poblado and Laureles. You’ll find a good selection of accommodation in both these areas of Medellin, plus all the infrastructure you’ll need to visit Medellin.
Where to Stay in El Poblado, Medellin
There are a host of places to stay in El Poblado, Medellin – here’s our pick of the luxury places to stay in El Poblado, Medellin, mid-range places to stay in El Poblado, Medellin, and budget accommodation in El Poblado, Medellin.
Hotel York Luxury Suites, Medellin–El Poblado: The Hotel York Luxury Suites in El Poblado include cable TV, a kitchenette, a private bathroom with a shower, air-conditioning, and a coffee machine. This top hotel in Poblado, Medellin also has an outdoor pool, a bar, a shared lounge, and free WiFi. There’s also a restaurant and a fitness center at this fabulously luxurious hotel in El Poblado, Medellin. Read more reviews and check room rates and availability for the Hotel York in Medellin here.
Lettera Hotel, Medellin–El Poblado: The Lettera Hotel in Poblado provides accommodation with air-conditioning, a flat-screen TV, a private bathroom with a shower and hairdryer, an iron, a safety deposit box, a balcony in some rooms, an iron, a mini-bar, and a desk. This mid-range hotel in El Poblado, Medellin also offers continental breakfast, airport transfers, and free WiFi. There’s also a garden and a terrace here. Check room rates and availability for the Lettera Hotel in Medellin here.
574 Hotel, Medellin–El Poblado: The 547 Hotel is in a great location in El Poblado and this budget Medellin hotel has rooms that are spacious with a wardrobe, a flat-screen TV, a private bathroom, air-conditioning, a mini-bar, bed linen and towels, and balcony in some units. The budget Medellin hotel also offers continental breakfast and there’s free WiFi. This affordable hotel also offers laundry services and this is a great budget hotel option in El Poblado. Read more reviews and check room rates here.
Where to Stay in Laureles
There are a host of places to stay in Laureles – here’s our pick of the luxury places to stay in Laureles, mid-range places to stay in Laureles, and budget accommodations in Laureles.
Inntu Hotel, Laureles, Medellin: The Inntu Hotel is centrally located in the Laureles area of Medellin and rooms here have their own private bathrooms with hairdryer, air-conditioning, sound-proofed rooms, a desk, and a flat-screen TV. This great Laureles hotel also offers laundry, dry-cleaning, and ironing services, and an on-site coffee house and restaurants for dining options. The Inntu Hotel in Laureles, Medellin, has spa facilities offering massages, spa treatments, and other wellness packages. There are great scenic views at this top Medellin hotel from both the sun terrace and garden area. The Inntu Hotel is a great luxury hotel in Laureles. See room rates and availability for the Inntu hotel here.
Hotel Laureles Plaza, Laureles, Medellin: The Hotel Laureles Plaza is in a great location in the Laureles district of Medellin–Laureles. The rooms here at Medellin’s Hotel Laureles Plaza have their own flat-screen TV, private bathroom, air-conditioning, a hot tub in some units, and a wardrobe. This mid-range Medellin hotel also serves continental or a la carte breakfast in the morning, and has an airport transfer service, family rooms, a bar, and free WiFi. The Hotel Laureles Plaza is a great hotel option in Laureles. Check out the rates and availability of Hotel Laureles Plaza here.
Hotel Torre Primavera, Laureles, Medellin: The Hotel Torre Primavera is located at Calle 40 in Laureles, Medellin, and is a great budget option in Laureles. The units here at the Hotel Torre Primavera include a TV, a private bathroom with hot water, maid service, and free WiFi access. If you are looking for budget-friendly accommodation, Hotel Torre Primavera is a good option when visiting Medellin. Find out more about Medellin’s Hotel Torre Primavera’s room rates and availability here.
Where to go AFTER Medellin?
Where Next after Medellin? We headed from Medellin to Jardin, a gloriously sleepy pueblo, find out what there is to do in Jardin here . Many travelers 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!
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Final Thoughts on the Top 13 Things 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 are comfortable, the people friendly and it’s well worth taking a few days to understand her history and what her future holds for her.
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