Colombia’s second city of Medellin is an often-misunderstood gem located in the heart of the coffee country in Colombia. Clinging to the side of the mountains that surround the river valley at the heart of the city, Medellin is undeniably beautiful and bustling with excitement.
For travelers adding Medellin to their Colombia itinerary, there are plenty of things to do in Medellin. Modern infrastructure and public transport make enjoying all this city has to offer a breeze, and with countless cool accommodation options, Medellin is a traveler’s dream.
In this ultimate guide to the best things to do in Medellin, we’re sharing all the favorite activities and attractions in one of the best cities in Colombia, plus the off-the-beaten-path things to do you’d never hear about otherwise. Let’s dive in so you can get started planning your trip to Medellin.
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Things to Do in Medellin
Medellin is, in many ways, trying so hard to shake the memory of its dark history. Despite the city drastically transforming many times over since the days of cartel control, some tourists’ favorite things to do in Medellin still include Pablo Escobar tours that amount to “poverty tourism” in disadvantaged areas of the city.
Come on, people – do better. There are so many more things to do in Medellin that are exciting, inspiring, and promote a more realistic, forward-looking perspective of the city.
From waterfall hikes just outside of the city, to supporting local coffee farmers on coffee tours, and tasting the tropical fruits in the market or taking in a soccer (fútbol!) game, you’ll never be bored in Medellin. Check out our favorite things to do in Medellin for inspiration – bonus points if you count all the food-centric activities on this list.
1. Taste Your Way Through Medellin on a Food Tour
Is there any better way to get to know a city than through its food? I love to schedule a food tour early in my trip when visiting a city for the first time. A food tour is often the best way to learn about popular local dishes, and also helps you decipher menus and order your favorites while eating out the rest of your trip.
2. Ride the Metro
Medellin’s above-ground metro is a game changer for getting around this city. Since Medellin is wedged in a river valley, it’s quite long and narrow, which creates a lot of traffic issues – the metro will save you time and money, and is a genuinely enjoyable experience.
Take the metro to explore neighborhoods like Laureles and Envigado, and get away from the more well-worn tourist path in El Centro and El Poblado.
3. Enjoy Cable Car Views
Medellin’s cable car system is integrated into its public transportation, and has been huge in cutting down on traffic and providing easy access to parts of the city that were previously difficult to reach. For travelers visiting Medellin, it’s also a fantastic way to get some of the most beautiful views over the city.
Medellin has several cable car lines that are popular with visitors, including the K to Santo Domingo, or the L to Parque Arvi. To get to the cable car, you’ll take the above-ground metro and make a transfer to the cable car line of your choosing – it’s really easy and straightforward.
4. Marvel at the Treasures of the Museo de Antioquia
Located in the Plaza Botero at the heart of El Centro, the Museo de Antioquia is a must! While you’ll enjoy marveling at the sculptures in Plaza Botero, the museum houses an incredible collection of the artist’s works, including his famous paintings of Pablo Escobar.
You can book skip-the-line tickets to the Museo de Antioquia ahead of time online to plan for your visit.
5. Party in Parque Lleras
Located at the heart of Medellin’s El Poblado neighborhood, Parque Lleras is more of a shady plaza and meeting place than an actual park. Surrounded by some of El Poblado’s favorite restaurants, cafes, and bars, this is the place to be on any given evening.
6. Take a Coffee Tour
Medellin is located at the heart of Colombia’s coffee triangle, so learning about (and tasting!) delicious Colombian coffee is practically mandatory when visiting the city. The best coffee tours include visits to coffee plantations where you’ll learn about how coffee is produced, and taste tests of fresh coffee and snacks.
7. Enjoy a Free Walking Tour of Medellin
Did you know that plenty of cities offer free walking tours for visitors? The Medellin Free Walking Tour of the Centro is comprehensive, well-organized, and a great introduction to this city.
You’ll see Plaza Botero, the Cathedral, and much more, plus get to meet other travelers and a local guide.
8. Take a Graffiti Tour with A Local Artist
While Pablo Escobar tours tend to focus on the dark past of Medellin, taking a graffiti tour with a local artist is a great way to learn about and support projects that help move underserved communities forward.
You’ll see incredible art transforming communities, and learn about social projects that are helping youth in the area through the power of art.
9. Paraglide Over Medellin
If you’re an adrenaline junkie, you’ll love paragliding over Medellin. You’ll see an incredible view of the Andes, including waterfalls and sometimes even eagles as you soar through the air with experienced guides. Paragliding is a bucket list experience, and Medellin is a great place for it!
10. Visit Plaza Botero
At the heart of Medellin’s bustling Centro neighborhood, Plaza Botero is a must-visit destination for travelers. Fernando Botero, Colombia’s most famous sculptor and artist, has his works on full display here: oversized, voluptuous statues that comment on all parts of Colombian history and culture.
Along the side of the plaza, you’ll see the unmissable checkerboard facade of the Palacio de la Cultura (Cultural Center). Here you’ll find an endless schedule of concerts, movie screenings, and other cultural events, plus a library and cafe – all free for use!
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11. Enjoy Coffee at Pergamino
Pergamino is Medellin’s favorite coffee shop for a good reason – it’s incredible. Pergamino is famous for taking local Colombian coffee seriously and doing it well. They have their own farms and a small network of special local producers, and they roast their own beans in-house every other day.
Baristas are well-trained and will take the time to answer your questions and share about the art of coffee. Visit Pergamino early enough in your time in Medellin, and you’ll be back again and again.
12. Hike Arenales
If you’re looking to escape the city and enjoy some of the pristine areas around Medellin, hiking to the waterfall at Arenales is ideal. The hike isn’t challenging, and it’s overrun with visitors… and there is excellent swimming under the waterfall!
To get to Arenales, take the Arenales bus from the Envigado metro station and get off at the last stop. Follow the trail to the left and hike along the river for about an hour until you reach the waterfall and swimming hole.
13. Enjoy Rooftop Drinks in El Poblado
A particularly popular way to enjoy the vistas of Medellin is by settling in for sunset with drinks on a rooftop bar. You’ll have your fair share of options here.
The bar on top of the award-winning (but slightly overrated) Los Patios Hostel is a lively bar with a stunning view over the city. This bar is more laidback around sunset and becomes a huge party later at night.
The rooftop bar at The Marquee hotel has stunning, nearly 360-degree views and is a little less rowdy than Los Rooftops, though still very lively!
This rooftop bar is another very popular option – Envy is a little more expensive than others you’ll find in El Poblado, but has a lovely pool and stunning views, and is a little more classy than some of the other rowdier bars in the area.
14. Stroll Through the Jardin Botánico
Medellin has a lovely botanical garden with a great variety of plants and flowers, plus an incredible butterfly enclosure well worth a visit. A visit is a great way to spend a relaxing afternoon, especially if you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Admission to the gardens is free, and the butterfly enclosure charges admission of just around $1 USD. Just north of El Centro, the Botanical Garden is easily accessible by metro.
15. Learn About Medellin’s Dark History at Casa de la Memoria
Casa de la Memoria is a somber museum that documents Colombia’s stormy past few decades. If you’re interested in learning more about how the violence of recent decades impacted the country, this is the place to do it.
Be aware that exhibits are mostly in Spanish, so if you don’t have some fluency in Spanish, some of the exhibits may be lost on you.
16. Eat Bandeja Paisa
One of Colombia’s most famous dishes is named after its roots in Medellin, so this must be the place to try it. “Bandeja” means platter, and when you order this dish, expect a platter of food.
Typically, the plate comes with rice, beans, ground beef, two types of sausage, avocado, a plantain, an arepa, a fried egg, and the star of the show, the giant fried pork rind called a chicharrón.
You can find bandeja paisa everywhere in Medellin, but here are a few of the favorite spots that are well-known in the city for having some of the best bandeja paisa.
There are a few Hatoviejo locations in the city, but the Hatoviejo in El Centro is the best. The bandeja paisa is enormous – you could fill up on the chicharrón alone!
Mondongos in El Poblado is centrally located in a rather high-tourist area but has delicious and authentic food. They are known for their bandeja paisa and mondongo dish, tripe soup. The bandeja paisa is so large you won’t need the soup (though I’ll admit, it is delicious).
17. Visit La Placita de Florez
When I lived in Medellin, I lived directly across the street from the La Placita de Florez market near El Centro, and I was in here every day grabbing one thing or another. This is a typical, traditional market worth a visit if you’re looking to get off the beaten path in Medellin.
At La Placita de Florez, you’ll find fresh fruits and vegetables, meat, fish, home goods, flowers… pretty much everything. You’ll also find food stalls with prepared meals in and around the market – this is a great place to eat on a budget and try some of Colombia’s most beloved dishes.
18. Shop at the Centro Artesanal
In El Centro, Medellin’s Centro Artesanal is a great place to shop for jewelry, souvenirs, Colombian fútbol jerseys, sweaters, and just about anything you want to bring back from your trip to Colombia.
Come prepared to haggle, and make sure you grab some fresh guarapo – sugar cane juice with lime – on the way out.
19. Cheer at a Fútbol Game
Medellin is home to two soccer (football) teams – Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellín – and you can bet they’re big rivals. Both teams play at the Estadio Atanasio Girardot, located near the metro in the Laureles neighborhood.
If you’ve never been to a Latin American fútbol game yourself, they are WILD. There is nothing like it. Prepare for constant chants, singing, drums, and overall spectacle. It will be an experience to remember. Games are generally on Wednesday, or on the weekend days.
20. Hike Through Parque Arvi
Parque Arvi is a sprawling park on top of one of the hillsides just outside Medellin. The park has several different hiking and walking trails to choose from and vendors at the entrance selling food, drinks, and treats. It’s a great place to spend a few hours outside the city!
Easily accessible from the rest of the city, getting to Parque Arvi is half the fun. You’ll take the cable car (line L from the Santo Domingo station) to the cable car’s last stop. Tickets are slightly more to get to the park than for a standard cable car ride, but they are still extremely cheap.
21. Take a Day Trip to Guatapé
One of the most popular day trips from Medellin, Guatapé is a charming, colorful town near a stunning man-made lake. There is a lot to see and do here, including visiting the colorful town of Guatapé, and hiking the massive Piedra de Peñol rock overlooking the lake.
The easiest way to visit is with a group day trip from Medellin – tickets are inexpensive and all-inclusive, for around $30 per person. The best tours of Guatapé include visiting the town, hiking the rock for the stunning view, and a boat tour on the lake.
Private tours aren’t much more expensive, and can be tailored to your interests.
You can also catch a bus from Medellin’s northern bus terminal for just a few dollars or take a taxi. The trip is about 1.5 hours by car or about 2 hours by bus.
Looking to turn a trip to Guatapé into a fun overnight? Stay near town in a “glamping” spot near the lake. The view is beautiful, and it’s a great way to enjoy this scenic area for more than just a day trip.
22. Hike Pan de Azucar (At Night)
Looking for a moderately challenging hike near Medellin (with a spectacular city view)? Consider hiking Pan de Azucar. This hillside overlooking Medellin has well-marked trails, is easily accessible by cable car and metro, and is easy enough to complete with family. The hike takes about 2.5 hours in total to complete.
Aburrá Travels offers guided sunset and evening hikes, giving you the most spectacular view of Medellin with the city’s glittering lights below. Don’t try to hike at night alone for safety reasons!
Whether you choose to complete the hike during the day or in the evening, Pan de Azucar is a great half-day excursion and hike near the city.