I absolutely fell in love with Medellin. This amazing city of 2 1/2 million has the big city energy and drive of a London or a New York. The Paisas are passionate full-on people and I adored them and their beautiful city of eternal spring.
Medellin is not so much about major Eiffel Tower-type sites – the best places in Medellin are much more about experiences, exploring neighborhoods, eating fruit, and generally embracing the paisa life!
18 Fantastic Things to do in Medellin
Table of Contents
- 18 Fantastic Things to do in Medellin
- 1. Museo de Antioquia
- 2. Plazoleta de las Esculturas (Plaza Botero)
- 3. House of Memories Museum
- 4. Parque Arvi
- 5. Pueblito Paisa
- 6. Alpujarra Administrative Center
- 7. Square of Lights/Plaza Cisneros
- 8. San Antonio Park
- 9. Botanical Gardens (Jardin Botanico)
- 10. Feria de las Flores
- 11. Go Shopping
- Medellin Tours
- 12. Real City Tours Free Walking Tour Medellin
- 13. Medellin Food Tour
- 14. Medellin Communa 13 tour – Stairway Graffiti
- 15. Pablo Escobar Tours
- 16. Take Some Day Trips
- 17. Drink coffee
- 18. Visit Medellin’s Markets
- Where should I stay in Medellin?
- Being Unsettled in Medellin
- Where to Eat in Medellin
- How To Get to Medellin
- What are the best ways to get around Medellin?
- Tours for Solo Travelers
- Who Paid for What in this Post
1. Museo de Antioquia
I am not much of a museum person – it normally has to be quite quirky to get me in the door. But I really fell for the modern art of Fernando Botero from the moment I saw my first sculpture so I felt I needed to go and I am so glad that I did.
Museo de Antioquia Medellin contains a mix of sculptures and paintings by Botero – although it is heavier on the painting side.
This includes one of his most famous paintings of the death of Pablo Escobar. Museo de Antioquia Medellin also exhibits the work of other local Medellin artists.
Museo de Antioquia is in a lovely building with a great gift shop (see shopping further below) and it also has a nice little restaurant. This Medellin museum is located on Plaza Botero and is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Medellin Colombia.
2. Plazoleta de las Esculturas (Plaza Botero)
Plaza Botero was one of my favorite things to see in Medellin. Fernando Botero donated all of these sculptures to his home city of Medellin – on the condition that no payment was required to see them.
Plaza Botero Medellin was quite derelict prior to the gift and now it is a delightful plaza in the heart of the city and one of the major Medellin Colombia tourist attractions.
There are 23 bronze sculptures in total in the Plaza Botero and they are all very photogenic – and attract many photographers.
The square has many benches for a break, vendors galore selling hats, and rather load fruit vendors. This Medellin attraction has a lovely busy main square atmosphere and feel to it.
There is a very interesting building in Plazoleta de las Esculturas – well it is actually the main building. This Medellin building is a rather interesting mix of styles.
The story behind this unique building is that there were problems with the original architect. He actually quit halfway through the build. The people of Medellin decided that they would be fine to finish it and would do it in their own way – and in a completely different style.
I kind of like it – the building is a bit crazy and all feels rather paisa appropriate.
3. House of Memories Museum
This local Medellin museum is housed in an absolutely stunning building that on its own is worth a visit. However, I must confess I did find the House of Memories Museum a little dull compared to the other things to see in Medellin.
The exhibits at the House of Memories Museum Medellin are limited and are mostly in Spanish – which is of course fair enough. Most of the memories are pre-1980 so there is not much on the drug and guerrilla fighting which gave Colombia its no longer relevant bad reputation.
Of course, if this pre-1980 information is of interest to you then you will love it – it is all about what the top things to do in Medellin are for you.
4. Parque Arvi
Arvi Park is on the outskirts of Medellin. It is a massive park where you can hike, trek etc. It takes a couple of metros and a cable car to get to Parque Arvi but it is the largest park in Medellin.
Free guided walks leave every hour from 10-3 at the tourist information point. Arvi Park is one of the major Medellin Colombia tourist attractions.
5. Pueblito Paisa
This kitschy little mock paisa village is located at the top of Cerro Nutibara – a very tall hill. Walking up the hill is a great workout (ok I took a cab but it looked like a great workout 😊).
The mock village Pueblito Paisa at the top is not that fabulous – especially if you have visited actual Colombian villages which I had by that point.
However, if you don’t have much time in Colombia then it would be worth popping up to Pueblito Medellin to have a look. Not top of my list on what to do in Medellin Colombia but it is a good option if you’re short on time.
There are the usual food and souvenir options but the real reason to come up Pueblito Paisa is the view. When you arrive the little village is on your left – head to your right where there are a lot of stairs and a big building.
Behind the stairs and building is a large quite plain sort of concreted area where you can see some amazing views of Medellin. Walk around the entire area as you will get 180-degree views of the city.
6. Alpujarra Administrative Center
This is not a particularly exciting area as it is the center of the government in Medellin. However, the Alpujarra Administrative Centre does contain some quite cool and very photogenic buildings as well as the Monument to the Race sculpture.
7. Square of Lights/Plaza Cisneros
This square in the middle of Medellin has been fitted out with 300 lights on poles. The lights in Plaza Cisneros are a mix of heights up to 24m.
This art installation was part of the overall city effort to rejuvenate Medellin. It is stunning to visit the Square of Lights Medellin both during the day and in the evening.
8. San Antonio Park
San Antonio is not the loveliest of parks – it is quite heavy on the concrete – but it is an important park in Medellin. When you visit you will see 2 identical Botero sculptures – one is severely damaged and the other one in perfect shape.
A terrible bombing took place in San Antonio Park Medellin in 1995 and killed 23 people. The sculpture known as the Bird of Peace was also damaged in the attack.
The original plan was to remove the damaged sculpture. However, Botero himself insisted that it remain in San Antonio park. He said he would provide a new sculpture but only if the old one stayed as a reminder of that terrible day.
San Antonio park also becomes a bit of a pumping food and beer area on the weekends for a lot of the workers of Medellin. If you are looking to get under the skin of the city this is one of the key things to do in Colombia Medellin.
9. Botanical Gardens (Jardin Botanico)
As Medellin is renowned for its flowers expectations are high for its Botanical Gardens. I visited Jardin Botanico in the middle of Feria de Las Flores (see below) and was blown away.
I only got to explore probably a small percentage of these Medellin gardens as there was so much going on with the festival. The Medellin Botanical Gardens are definitely somewhere worth visiting and spending some time.
10. Feria de las Flores
This one-week flower festival is the biggest thing that happens in Medellin each year. Read all about Feria de las Flores here. If you are visiting in August this is a must do in Medellin.
11. Go Shopping
There is a lot on offer when it comes to shopping Medellin. My absolute favorite area for shopping was streets Carrera 35 and 37 of Via Primavera in the El Poblado neighborhood.
There are lots of local Colombian designers on offer in super cute boutiques and they are heavy on swimwear and resort wear. Wandering these little El Poblado streets is one of the great fun things to do in Medellin.
My number one shopping discovery in Medellin was Entreaguas. This local designer specializes in swim and resort wear. Entreaguas Medellin bikinis and bathers are gorgeous as are her cover-ups – they are made with stunning prints and the straps are often made from a unique macramé style.
The brand is quite rightly positioned as wearable art. This is exactly the type of thing you want to buy when you are traveling – every time I wear my Entregeaus outfits I get asked about them.
In the same area is the lovely Bonhomia which stocks gorgeous homewares and gorgeous fabrics – I bought a backpack. Bonhomia Medellin is located on Carrera 37.
For all your standard shopping needs head to the Santa Fe mall. This Medellin mall has all of your mainstream brands with over 380 stores.
Need some electronics? Then head to the Monterrey electronics mall just near El Poblado station. This mall is over 3 levels and has everything electronic you could ever need. From El Poblado station cross the main road to get to the mall.
The gift shop at the Museo de Antioquia is fantastic for some stylish Medellin souvenirs. Botero prints are on everything and look great. The Museo de Antioquia gift shop also stocks art and crafts from local artists.
When it comes to the top things to do in Medellin Colombia tours are definitely the best way to see this city. So much of Medellin is about exploring rather than big stand-out attractions.
Additionally, there is quite a bit of recent history in Medellin that doesn’t have museums or sculptures so a guided tour is the best way to find out more.
I absolutely loved wandering the streets with a small tour group (apart from the free walking tour of Medellin which is a big group but you still must do it) and experiencing the food and art and stories of Medellin.
This is the best way to find out the secret things to do in Medellin. If you only do one thing when you are in Medellin take a tour. And try to make it combine street art and food.
I did four tours whilst I was there and they were some of the best things to do in Medellin.
12. Real City Tours Free Walking Tour Medellin
The Real City Tours Free Walking tour was the first tour that I did in Medellin. I took this free walking tour on my second day in Medellin and I highly recommend it.
The free walking tour model has become very popular – essentially the tour is “free” and you decide at the end how much to tip your tour guide. A great model.
All the tour guides on Real City Tours are Medellin locals which makes a huge difference in a city as full of recent history as Medellin.
Our tour guide, Julio, did a fantastic job bringing Medellin to life and explaining the complexities of recent history across drug cartels, guerillas, and corrupt government officials.
The tour covers the downtown Medellin area.
⇒ I wrote a dedicated post on Medellin Walking Tours which includes this tour on a great website called Medellin Guru.
13. Medellin Food Tour
When it comes to what to do in Medellin Colombia a food tour is a must do. Colombia is all about street food and it can be quite tricky to figure out how all of this works.
A Medellin food tour is perfect plus you get to explore some of the city’s many neighborhoods. There were only four of us on this food tour in Medellin so it was perfect for questions and adequate sampling time.
This guided tour began with the classic Medellin street food – Bunuelos. These are of course made from corn (like most things in Colombia) and cheese and Bunuelos are at their best fresh.
I doubt these Colombian snacks are low calorie or high in nutrition but they must be sampled while in Medellin.
Next up was one of my personal highlights – Maria’s fruit cart at San Antonio station. Maria is fabulous fun and full of personality. We liked her and her fruit so much that we went back to San Antonio station a couple of times. Maria remembered us and it was like seeing long-lost family.
I highly recommend the ripe mango with lime and salt – it is amazing. Locals prefer their mango unripe but I couldn’t embrace this – see how daring you are.
We then hopped on a cable car and headed up high into the valley and Villa Sierra for some delicious bakery treats and amazing views. We also passed some great street art.
Next up was the quintessential Colombian street food of arepas. There are different versions of this mix of corn and soft white cheese.
Next up was trying Obleas – a multilayered snack of wafers and different sauces. This guided food tour finished at Salon Malaga near San Antonio station where we tried the white spirit of Colombia Aguardiente.
How is it that so many countries have such dreadful white spirits as their national alcohol? One shot was more than enough…..
⇒The Medellin Guru post also covers the street food tour in more detail. And here is another article that I wrote on the food in Colombia.
14. Medellin Communa 13 tour – Stairway Graffiti
Street art has exploded in Medellin and has been a critical part of the city’s rejuvenation. Perhaps the area that has benefited the most from this is Communa 13 Medellin.
This neighborhood was literally the epicenter of the problems of Medellin with the highest murder rate in the world. This was driven by Communa 13’s location which is high up the valley and close to the highway.
Today the residents have turned Communa 13 into an outdoor art gallery and you can now see children happily playing on the streets. Several companies offer tours of the area but I would highly recommend you use Stairway Storytellers.
This tour company was set up by residents of the area to help teach English and the tour guides all grew up in the area – and the money you pay for this Medellin street art tour goes to support this very worthy organization.
And the Stairway Storytellers Medellin tour was brilliant. We even got to meet one of Medellin’s street artists When it comes to Medellin Colombia things to do this tour was in my top 3.
15. Pablo Escobar Tours
There are a number of Pablo Escobar based tours run from Medellin. These Escobar tours are a highly contentious area for locals.
There is a mix of views – all negative – around this new type of tour in Medellin. Those negatively impacted by Pablo Escobar feel it is wrong for locals to make money out of Escobar.
There are many different views on Escobar so no tour can be completely correct and the people of Medellin are desperate to escape their association with the man.
16. Take Some Day Trips
Guatape Medellin is the number one day trip from Medellin for good reason. I wrote a complete post to help you to plan this Medellin day trip:
The other very popular Medellin day trip is Saint Elena which is the base of the Medellin flower industry and best visited in July leading up to Feria de las Flores.
Due to the windy and mountainous roads around Medellin, most other nearby towns require an overnight stay
⇒ Keen to get moving on planning your next trip to South America? Check out my post on Chile Itinerary 2 Weeks in Boutique Hotels!
17. Drink coffee
18. Visit Medellin’s Markets
There are two particularly great Medellin food markets. One is a small farmers market that is in El Poblado on Sundays. The El Poblado Farmer’s Market features local producers and covers fruit, honey, preserves etc etc – a mix of food you can eat on the spot plus things to take home.
Mercado del Rio is a fantastic market in the centre of the city that has at least 50 odd restaurant stalls, a wine bar, more formal restaurants upstairs and everything you could ever want to eat.
This Medellin market covers every cuisine as well as doing its own tasty and upmarket versions of traditional Colombian food like Arepas. The ice cream and popsicle stalls at Mercado del Rio Medellin alone justify a visit.
As you can see when it comes to What to Do in Medellin the list is long. I spent a month in Colombia and was based in Medellin – I would definitely recommend spending the most time on a trip to Colombia in Medellin – ideally 5 days.
There are so many things to do and areas to visit in Medellin that even then you will only get a taste of this energetic and innovative city.
Where should I stay in Medellin?
I would highly recommend staying in the El Poblado area for first-time visitors as it is full of great restaurants and shops and easy to get around. This Medellin neighborhood is also very tourist-friendly and just makes life a bit easier so you can enjoy this amazing city.
⇒ I had a fantastic stay in the Art Hotel Medellin – read my review here.
I also used the gym at the Charlee Hotel and it was lovely! This El Poblado hotel also has a great central location in Medellin and a fantastic rooftop bar and pool!
The rooms at the Charlee Hotel Medellin are gorgeous and they also have a great restaurant on the ground floor. The Charlee is one of the best hotels Medellin has on offer.
I have also read good things about the Diez Hotel Medellin
For a quieter Medellin boutique hotel option in the centre of town check out The Sites Hotel Medellin
And Hotel Loyds Medellin is another good hotel in El Poblado option.
If you’re looking for a lower cost option check out this ultimate guide to backpacking in Colombia
Being Unsettled in Medellin
I was based in Medellin for one month as a participant in a new way to travel – Be Unsettled. This organization is only just over 12 months old.
Essentially the purpose of Be Unsettled is to give travelers the experience of being a local in the city they visit rather than being a tourist.
The way Unsettled achieves this is to get 25+ people together from all over the world and find them apartments near each other and a central workspace. This then becomes the community.
The community is supported by two hosts who support everything from SIM cards to doctor’s names to great nights out. It is up to the individual as to how involved they choose to become in the community.
Most people come to Unsettled on their own – it is a very easy way to meet people.
You can learn much more from the Unsettled website website here but I will tell you that I absolutely loved my month being Unsettled in Medellin. I have visited over 80 countries and I am sure Colombia now holds a special place in my heart because of being part of Unsettled.
Committing a month to this supposedly dangerous city might sound like one of the more adventurous things to do in Medellin but I always felt safe and felt like I gained so much more from this model rather than staying in a hotel and being a tourist.
If you are interested in being Unsettled make sure to tell them that The Boutique Adventurer sent you as you will receive a discount of USD$150.
Where to Eat in Medellin
How To Get to Medellin
Medellin has an international airport – however, there is not a load of international flights in and out! Iberia flies direct from Madrid but generally, flights go via bogota. There are however loads of domestic flights in and out of Medellin.
I flew to Colombia with Iberia – read my Iberia Business Class Review. You can also read my Air France a380 Business Class Review and my American Airlines Premium Economy 777 Review – they both fly to Colombia.
As Colombia is large and hilly flying internally is common and very reasonably priced. I used the national carrier Avianca several times and found them very safe, good service and quality and very reasonably priced.
⇒ If you’re heading to Cartagena check out this great City Guide to Cartagena Colombia.
Medellin airport is about 45 minutes by car from El Poblado – the main tourist area in Medellin. It is a long and windy trip down a mostly single lane road. A tunnel is being built from the airport into Medellin.
A private taxi from the airport into Medellin will cost you about 70,000COP. It is not recommended to use one of the taxi apps to and from the airport as they have been stopped and not allowed to continue.
A shared airport taxi can be taken from the Taxi Colectivo Aeropuerto near San Diego Mall. It will cost you less than 20,000 COP but will not leave until it is full (4 passengers).
There is also an airport bus which goes from a stop on Palmas near San Diego Mall and this costs about 10,000COP.
⇒ Want to know more about Colombia? Here is a great guide to all you need to know as to why Colombia is the next big travel destination!
What are the best ways to get around Medellin?
Medellin is in a valley – which becomes clearly evident as soon as you arrive due to the hills and the views. The centre of the valley is where the main Medellin city centre is located.
The general rule is the further up the hills of the valley you go the worse off is the neighbourhood, driven by its distance from the centre of Medellin.
The people of Medellin could not be more proud of their Metro system. It is very clean and no one eats on it or leaves rubbish. The Medellin metro is jam-packed during rush hour.
The metro basically runs the spine of the city. Initially, I found the Medelling metro payment system a bit confusing.
The best thing to do is go to the ticket office at any metro station and buy a 10 ride plastic card that you can use to tap on and off.
In addition to the metro, the city also has cable cars and trams that provide access to some of the steep hill neighbourhoods. These also make for fantastic tourist experiences as you get some amazing views and into really interesting neighbourhoods – more of this to come.
Funnily enough on the top 10 things to do in Medellin is to use the public transport system.
There are many buses around Medellin. Medellin buses tend to be cheap to use and tend to leave when full. These are often the best way to get yourself up and around the neighbourhoods near the top of the valley.
In terms of taxis in Medellin, there are official taxis and uber, tappsi and EasyTaxi. Uber, Tappsi and EasyTaxi are very cheap and easy to get.
However, the biggest thing is DO NOT SLAM THE DOOR of the taxi. Medellin taxi drivers are very particular about how the door is closed – be as gentle as possible or you will greatly upset them.
Also, when using an Uber or Tappsi or EasyTaxi at least one person should sit in the front of the taxi. The drivers prefer this as it is then not so obvious that they are operating the vehicle as a taxi.
Tours for Solo Travelers
If you are travelling solo and looking for tours of Colombia try these options:
⇒ Other Way Round is a Colombia expert with tours designed to get you out of the usual tourist zones!
Or if you are travelling with others but want a hand planning a trip check out Chimu Adventures
Who Paid for What in this Post
I covered all of the costs associated with my time in Medellin and my trip to Colombia. This post does contain affiliate links. That means if you click through on some of the links in this article and make a purchase I may receive a small commission. It won’t change the price that you pay. I just wanted to make sure you knew.
READ NEXT: MY GUIDE TO A GUATAPE DAY TRIP FROM MEDELLIN
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