Medellin, Colombia is much more than what you see in the Narcos program, while this city was once a place where no tourist would come, in recent years it has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in South America, this is because there are many things you have to do in Medellin.
This list is aimed at the short-term visitor, to provide them with a complete and varied view of Medellin, but if you plan to stay long term, there are thousands of events and activities that will keep you busy here.
Tour the Plaza Botero
Plaza Botero is perhaps the most emblematic of all the tourist attractions of Medellin in recent years, it is loved and a source of pride, not only for Medellin, but for all Antioquia (the department or regional state).
Fernando Botero is the most famous artist in Medellin, internationally recognized for his plump or fat figures.
Plaza Botero is full of its uncommunal sculptures and the best thing is that it is a free attraction in the city center. The charming Rafael Uribe Palace of Culture is located in the square, along with the famous Medellin metro (another source of pride) and the iconic Coltejer Tower that looms above.
Visit the Museum of Antioquia
Just along Plaza Botero is the Museum of Antioquia, the most important and significant museum in Medellin. Inside you will find a large collection of Botero’s most famous paintings along with several of his sculptures.
The museum also exhibits various international artists, ancient art of the conquest of the Americas and other important cultural attractions.
The museum has a modest entrance fee, but don’t think that this is not very interesting, it is worth doing while you are in the city center.
City Centre Walking Tour
Speaking of the city centre, the free walking tour is one of the best things to do in the city for newcomers. The tour itself is free, but they ask for a donation at the end, whatever you want to pay.
You can consult free tours in Spanish on this page for example or the Turibus for those who do not like to walk very much. The center of Medellin can be a little hard and intimidating by the high vehicular and pedestrian flow, especially for new visitors who usually stay in nicer neighborhoods like Poblado or Laureles.
Tours are an excellent introduction to get your bearings.
The walking tour lasts more than four hours and takes you through some of the highlights (and not so much) of Medellin’s tumultuous history. I wish I had made the tour as soon as I arrived on my first visit to Medellin.
Meet San Antonio Park
Be sure to visit San Antonio Park, a large public square located at the southern end of downtown and directly adjacent to the San Antonio station connecting metro lines A and B.
While the square itself is nice, the real reason to come here is to see the Botero sculpture that was used in one of the attacks in the 1990s.
In 1995, 10 kilos of dynamite were put into the bird statue before a large free concert was held. It was detoned in the middle of the festivities and killed 29 people and wounded more than 200.
The bomb was attributed to the war of drug cartels that were unleashing chaos on local residents, at the time of the city’s most violence.
Botero asked that they leave the statue in San Antonio as a reminder of the violent history that has plagued this city. A new bird sits next to the old bombed-out statue, as a vision of Medellin’s peaceful future.
Spend a few hours at the Botanical Garden.
The Botanical Garden are looking north of El Centro, in an area known as the North Zone.
The space is not massive, but it is about ten blocks in size, a small green retreat in a large and bustling city.
I love walking around the small lake and looking for birds or iguanas, going to the small butterfly house or just walking under the imposing roof of the orchid show.
For those who crave a little zen and tranquility, the Botanical Garden is one of the best options in Medellin. Oh and it’s 100% free!
Learn something in Explora Park
Explora Park is an interactive science museum located right next to the Botanical Garden. I know some people might think a science museum would be boring, but Medellin makes really interesting museums, a lot of adults go there.
As I said, the museum focuses on fun and interactivity, so they have practical activities that demonstrate everything from physics to neuroscience, to communication and perception itself. It’s fun to feel like a kid again and tour the exhibits.
They also have a considerable aquarium and a terrarium with some of the strange creatures that inhabit this tropical country. The collection of poisonous golden frogs is quite good, the most poisonous frogs in the world and those that come from Colombia.
The Medellin Planetarium is located right next to the Explora Park and the Botanical Garden and is an excellent addition to a day dedicated to this area of the Northern Zone.
It is managed by Explora Park, which means that the focus is on interactivity with education. Here you are not only reading about the gravitational attraction between the planets or the Coriolis effect, but seeing how it works in an interactive way.
The highlight of course is the theater located under the large dome. The movies will take you on a journey immersed in space.
There are also special events held here on occasions, such as when they had the Pink Floyd: Dark Side of the Moon show here, which was really great! Keep your eyes open for things like that. Take a look at the Pueblito Paisa
Pueblito Paisa is a simulation of the village like the one in the countryside, but located in the heart of Medellin at the top of Cerro Nutibara.
The village itself is quaint and something interesting. It is a great place to buy souvenirs for friends and family.
But the real attraction for me is to have a 360 view of the city, from the center.
You can see the city center, the sprawling neighborhood of Bethlehem or the many glittering towers of the Village and beyond.
I recommend coming here at about 5pm so you can enjoy the city during the day, catch (hopefully) a beautiful sunset over the mountains and then watch the sparkling lights emerge.
Fun fact: there are a number of concrete slides that go down from the top of the hill. It’s fun!
Eat at Mercado del Río
There is a new gastronomic destination in the city known as Mercado del Río.
It is a huge winery in the sector known as Ciudad del Río that has become a food court of medium gastronomic level, with many options of restaurants with national and international flavors, bars and cafes. And a second level where you can sit comfortably in puffs to have a drink and watch some event on a giant screen.
This business format was a pioneer in the country, but recently they opened another smaller one in the Buenos Aires neighborhood where the city’s tram, called Mercado del Tranvía, passes.
It was modeled in places like the Chelsea Market in Manhattan, a place where customers can come and choose from nearly 50 different restaurant stalls.
Nowhere else can you find a variety of meals under the same roof. In fact, it can actually be difficult to try to decide on one thing. Visit the Museum of Modern Art
The Museum of Modern Art of Medellin (or El MAMM) was part of the great urban renewal, giving rise to the sector known as Ciudad del Río.
It is partially located in an old warehouse that has since been expanded with a modern structure that connects to the oldest back.
MaMM houses an impressive collection of modern art, including the work of noted anti-Onameña artist Débora Arango and a frequent rotation of temporary exhibitions. The terraces on the upper floors of the museum are amazing. The museum also frequently offers other activities such as outdoor movie nights and free events on site.
Ride Metro Cable
The famous Medellin Metro Cable… It was built as an integral part of the subway system in order to provide public transportation to the poorest communities living along the city’s high-end neighborhoods.
It is one of the most innovative and progressive urban projects (many cities in Latin America have used Medellin as a model) and has inadvertently become a major tourist attraction.
For the price of only one metro ticket, you can climb the gondolas that will take you to the top of Medellin.
Arrive in the Santo Domingo neighborhood and enjoy one of the best views.
While this neighborhood was once one of the most dangerous, it has been revived by this infrastructure investment.
You don’t need to worry about walking during the day in the vicinity of the metro station, at present it is quite safe.
Find nature in Arví Park
From Santo Domingo station, you can board another cable car (the ticket if it is different from the normal metro fare) and enter the Arví Park, it is a large nature reserve that is located on the high slopes of Medellin.
Here you’ll find plenty of hiking trails and activities like horseback riding or picnic areas or streams for walking.
It’s an amazing way to link nature to access to the city through public transportation. Another of Medellin’s innovations. If the temperatures are too high in the valley, you can go up here to escape the heat and reconnect with nature.
No medellin list would be completed without eating arepas, of course. Arepa (although it is also common in Venezuela and Panama) goes hand in hand with much of Colombia, especially in the country or coffee maker.
Arepa is a corn tortilla thicker than the Mexican, which is roasted and eaten warm lybeates at almost any time of the day.
It is a typical country breakfast, served with butter and cheese. But it can also be covered with almost anything imaginable.
You can stir some eggs and ham and throw it on, rice, whatever you want.
A number of restaurants, such as J&C, specialize in arepas with the side dishes you want.
I wasn’t a big arepas fan at first, but I’ve come to love them. I eat them almost every day when I’m in Medellin.
The arepas along with a long list of Colombian meals that you can not miss, in this article.
Visit a castle
The El Castillo Museum, is located on top of the hill above the Poblado… yes, there’s a castle in Medellin, strange as it may seem. It was once the home of an extravagant rich businessman, but now it has become a museum or park for visitors to enjoy. The interior of the castle itself is quite interesting: a look at the past (and the socioeconomic state). But the best part here are the beautiful gardens and the panoramic view of the city.
The Castle is a great place to go on a date, or bring a picnic lunch and just hang out watching some exposure.
You can even see the macaws that make their tour of Medellin: they were once liberated by the zoo, but have adapted to life in the city.
Visit the 3 Cordilleras brewery
Like coffee culture, beer cultivation is a relatively well-known phenomenon here as well. Most domestic beers are their typical watery beer like Budweiser, but several independent breweries have been doing their thing, both in Medellin and Bogota.
The best thing about Medellin, in my opinion, is 3 mountain ranges. They have about five craft beers sold in many bars in the city.
But the most fun is to visit the brewery, a winery near the Industriales sector, when they open their doors from Thursday to Saturday.
For about $10 you get five beers, live music (usually rock) and a commemorative glass (or you can return it for a few pesos). Sometimes they perform live shows or video concerts. It’s a big party.
They even give brewing tours if you arrive early.
Get to know the nightlife in Lleras Park
The countries (the name given to those of the coffee region) love to party, that is undeniable. Parque Lleras is located in the center of El Poblado, the most exclusive and elegant neighborhood of the city and is the heart of the nightlife here in Medellin. Thousands of people fill the streets every weekend to sponsor the hundreds of bars in the area.
There are clubs at the top of the clubs and the whole scene is pretty wild. Even if nightlife isn’t your thing, it’s still a place where you should check it out at least once during your visit to Medellin.
Just don’t be that traveler who never leaves El Poblado, there’s so much more in this city. Try to eat a full Paisa Tray
If there is one dish you must eat at least once, it is tray Paisa. It is a huge dish of food, with lots of meat (sorry, vegetarian!) and is the emblematic of the region.
On your plate you will find chorizo, ground meat, black pudding, chicharrón, fried egg, beans, rice, avocado, arepa and banana.
If you order the entire tray, it definitely becomes a challenge to end it all. Probably after that you’re just going to want to go back to your hotel and take a nap.
Look for it where Dario (in Bethlehem), Hatoviejo (there are several locals) or Brasarepa (in Envigado, where he was Anthony Bourdain), for a really good dish.
Don’t forget to read the most complete guide to Colombian food here.
Meet the Park of Barefoot
Parque de los Pies Barezos, is a cool urban space where water fountains abound next to sandy platforms (where you are supposed to walk barefoot, hence the name) and green areas with imposing bamboo.
The space is incredibly popular with families, as children use it as a water park on warm afternoons.
But it’s also a great place to relax, have a coffee or fresh fruit juice and enjoy the day.
Medellin has become famous for public spaces like this one.
Visit the Water Museum
Yes, the Water Museum is a pretty unusual place and it’s not something that immediately looks interesting, but as I mentioned, Medellin does museums very well. The Water Museum, located near the Alpujarra, is no exception.
The museum focuses on the importance of water and conservation and also talks about how Medellin gets its water and where it comes from.
Enjoy the Flower Fair
The Flower Fair happens once a year, every August, but it is such an important and emblematic event in Medellin that you can’t miss it if you’re in town.
The Silleteros (the ones who carry the saddles), create massive arrangements of flowers in all kinds of designs and styles. Artistic flower creations are mounted on a heavy wooden platform or saddle and then loaded behind their backs as they parade with these heavy things on some city streets.
The streets are crowded to come and see this event once a year and it is very exciting to see, it is certainly an emblematic event, of which the Antioqueños are very proud. Although you feel sorry for the little men and women under the crushing weight of these flowers, marching in the warm sun.
Visit the Metropolitan Cathedral
In the heart of the city center is the Metropolitan Cathedral, which is the largest brick church in the world, supposedly. While the exterior of the church is not opulent, it is an imposing church and is located on the edge of another beautiful urban square.
Directly south of the Cathedral, I recommend taking a walk along the famous Junín Street, a pedestrian shopping area that has become so emblematic of Medellin that “juninear” is a local verb that means going to see the display cases of Junín’s warehouses.
Along Junín, be sure to stop at Astor Repostería to find the best pastry shop in town. The chocolate cake is absolutely amazing. You’ll thank me later.
Get lost in El Hueco
El Hueco is a trajinado deal sector, located in the center of the city, just south of Plaza Botero.
Here you will find a series of blocks that have been taken over by a ton of vendors who sell all kinds of products such as clothes, shoes, hats and all kinds of things.
Supposedly the market began when the intrepid sellers left the sidewalk and set up a shop on the street, effectively closing it to traffic. Once one person did, they all followed suit, creating a large shopping area for pedestrians.
As you walk between the stalls, you’ll hear the vendors repeatedly say “to the order” and invite you to take a look at what they’re selling.
Here you can get really cheap prices, even cheaper if you’re willing to haggle. I recommend you don’t stay around at night. In December, where many countries have a habit of buying their “estren” (new clothes from head to toe), these streets become a challenge to walk.
Meet the Retail Square
The Retailer is the largest public market in Medellin. It is mainly a large warehouse where you will find all kinds of food, fruit, vegetables and meat, achieving an interesting mixture of smells.
But the market also expands to other adjacent buildings where you’ll find everything from household items to animals for sale, new and second-rate furniture and electronics. They really have it all here at La Minorista. Prices can be incredibly cheap here, if you know what you’re doing.
For the most part, it’s a place so different from anything you can see in your home and it’s a fun adventure. Just like in the hole, don’t let the night catch up with you around the sector.
Tour the Golden Mile and Santafé Shopping Center
Medellin is a city of contrasts. Nothing could be more different from La Minorista, than the sector known as the Golden Mile and the Santafé Shopping Center. The Golden Mile is Medellin’s most exclusive strip of local stalls and buildings, where you can find bars, cafes and restaurants, with great dining and drinking options. In this sector you will find such famous places as the Hard Rock Café, Starbucks, Papa John’s, Krispy Kreme and other local businesses.
I’m not a big fan of malls, generally speaking, but medellinenses really love them, so you’d be missing a significant part of Medellin by not going.
Santafé is a huge community with hundreds of shops and is among the most impressive shopping centers I have ever seen.
Incredibly, the central courtyard actually has a retractable roof for those sunny or rainy days in the City of Eternal Spring.
Visit a nearby village
I suppose this is not something to do in Medellin, as I tell you to leave, but any visit to Medellin should include a day trip or a weekend to one of the many beautiful villages around it. It is something that many people from the city also participate in on weekends.
Two of my favorite towns are Santa Fe de Antioquia and Guatapé.
Santa Fe de Antioquia is located to the west, through one of the longest tunnels in South America and features beautiful colonial architecture and cobblestone streets. However, it is much hotter than Medellin, so keep that in mind.
Guatapé is located in the opposite direction, up in the slightly cooler mountains, east of Medellin.
Here you will find the imposing rock monolith known as La Piedra del Peñol, which you can climb the approximately 800 stairs to the top. There is also a huge lagoon and there is a lot to do there.
Both are fun, but Santa Fe is hotter so it is typical to hang out by the pool and Guatapé is of more varied activities and beautiful views.
So there they are, my ultimate guide to things to do in Medellin, Colombia. I hope it will help you during your stay in Medellin, which is an absolutely amazing city in which I love to live.