Not sure what to do in Medellín, Colombia? I understand–it’s a big city, and knowing where to start can be tough, especially if you’ve got limited time to spend there.
But never fear, because today is your lucky day. I’ve compiled my ultimate list of things to do and see in Medellín based on my own personal experiences, just for you. I’ve covered everything from accommodation to restaurants to nightlife to day trips, so I hope this can be a useful planning resource for anyone thinking of traveling to the city of eternal spring.
Did I forget something? Do you still have questions? Drop me a line in the comments below.
Where to Stay
Casa Kiwi (Carrera 36 #7-10, El Poblado) – Casa Kiwi is my top pick for a number of reasons: They’ve got a layout that practically forces you to be social, so meeting people is a breeze; they’ve got draught beer, which is near impossible to find outside of breweries; they’ve got a rooftop pool with a great view for those hot Medellín days; they have a movie theater for lazy/hungover days; and the location in the heart of Zona Rosa couldn’t be better.
Happy Buddha Boutique Hostel (Carrera 35 #7-108, El Poblado) – Also located in a prime part of Zona Rosa is Happy Buddha. The open-air bar is a major draw, as well as the parties (if you’re looking for that kind of thing) The beautifully decorated, clean rooms obviously don’t hurt. Happy Buddha also provides a pretty kickass breakfast and coffee all day long.
Black Sheep Hostel (Transversal 5A #45-133, El Poblado) – Another great option in El Poblado is Black Sheep Hostel. The beds are super comfy, access to the metro, a major supermarket, and a pharmacy is just a five-minute walk, and it’s located in a quiet neighborhood so you’ll be sure to get your Zzz’s.
Yellow House (Carrera 81A #47A-48, La Floresta) – If you want a quieter stay in a less touristic part of town, Yellow House is a great option. Though they’re short on dorm beds, they have a number of private rooms for affordable prices, lovely common areas to relax in, and a couple of golden retrievers hanging around for cuddles and walks in the park. They also serve a fabulous breakfast and the location provides easy access to the Floresta metro station as well as restaurants, cafes, and supermarkets.
If hotels are more your style, check out TripAdvisor to compare prices and read reviews. For long-term stays, I always encourage people to look into shared apartments with locals by searching CompartoApto.com.
What to Do
Free walking tour – The free walking tour of downtown put on by Real City Tours is by far the best walking tour I’ve ever been on. Be prepared to be on your feet for a solid four hours (it’s worth it, trust me!) and be prepared to learn a TON about Medellin’s checkered yet moving past. You’ll see some of the most popular and important sites of the city and learn about Paisa culture from an insider. They operate solely on tips, so how much you pay is entirely up to you. You must sign up online a day or two in advance to reserve your spot. If you have limited time in Medellín, this tour is a must!
Pablo Escobar tour – If you’re interested in learning more specific details about Pablo Escobar and his role in Medellín’s tumultuous history, I recommend the Pablo Escobar tour as well. You’ll tour the city by van, stopping at abandoned properties once owned by the infamous cartel leader as well as other points of interest (but I won’t give it all away). A variety of tour operators run a similar tour, and you’ll likely be able to reserve a spot on one through your hostel reception or tour desk.
Parque Explora (Carrera 53 #52, Zona Norte) – Do you love fun? I THOUGHT SO. Parque Explora is an interactive science museum loosely based on San Francisco’s Exploratorium. Housed in a funky red building next to the Universidad metro station, this place will provide you with hours of entertainment. A whole afternoon, even. The four interactive exhibition rooms include mind games, live physics, digital media, and a fourth that changes throughout the year. There’s also an aquarium and vivarium, a children’s exhibition hall, a dinosaur exhibit, on-site cafe and restaurant, and MORE! For geeky types like myself this place is heaven. It’s also a great way to learn some new Spanish as all signs are written in English as well. I highly recommend a day at Parque Explora. Entrance is a little steep at 22,000 pesos ($11) but so worth it!
Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellín (Carrera 44, Carrera 48 #19A-100, Ciudad del Río) – I love a good modern art museum. Housed in a warehouse building in the up-and-coming Ciudad del Río neighborhood, el MAMM is a great way to spend a couple of hours in Medellín. Exhibitions change frequently and events are often held here, so keep an eye on their website for details.
Parque Lineal Ciudad del Rio (Calle 19, Ciudad del Río) – Located just a few blocks behind the modern art museum is a long strip of grass that’s always overflowing with young, hip Paisas. It’s a fantastic place for a picnic, people watching, or practicing that one weird hobby you’d be too embarrassed to do anywhere else. Bring a blanket and a bottle of wine and watch the hipsters and hippies alike do what they do best. You won’t find a more eccentric park in the city.
Parque Lleras (Carrera 40, El Poblado) – In the heart of La Zona Rosa in El Poblado is my favorite park of all, Parque Lleras. During the day, local artisans peddle their goods here as people stroll through on their way to somewhere more important. Once night falls, however, Parque Lleras becomes the meeting point for friends, local and foreign, as they begin their evening festivities over a bottle of the local spirit, Aguardiente. Parque Lleras is the perfect place to people watch and chat amongst yourselves before a night of dancing at a local club.
Mercados Campesinos (Parque La Presidente, El Poblado) – Open every Sunday from 8 am to 2 pm, the farmer’s market at Parque La Presidenta in El Poblado is the perfect way to spend a morning. Pick up some fresh, locally sourced produce or refuel with ready-to-eat snacks and beverages like coffee or fresh tropical juices.
Watch an Atlético Nacional match (Atanasia Girardot Sports Complex) – For a real slice of Paisa culture, watch the local fútbol team take on their opponent as the crowd sings, cheers, waves flags and generally makes as much noise as possible for 90 minutes. The energy at these matches is contagious and well worth the ticket price.
Comuna 13 – This neighborhood is one that is not usually visited by tourists. The once high-risk community has been one of the city’s biggest revitalization projects. An urban escalator was installed to provide easier access to the city for its residents, buildings have been painted bright colors to give the neighborhood a cheerful feel, and local street artists were invited in to transform the drab streets into unique pieces of art. Police now patrol the pathways regularly and even as a camera-wielding tourist, I never felt uneasy. For a deeper understanding of everyday life in the less privileged areas of Medellín, make your way to Comuna 13.
Where to Eat
Humo Barbeque and Bar (Carrera 35 # 8A-45, El Poblado) – This American-owned barbeque restaurant serves up some delicious meats, burgers, and sandwiches and offers one of the more unique cocktail menus in the city.
Verdeo (Carrera 35 #8A-3, El Poblado) – You won’t find more delicious vegetarian options than those created at Verdeo. I’ve taken every guest who’s ever visited me to this kitschy little restaurant and no one has ever left disappointed. The portobello blue cheese burger is my ultimate fave, and I literally dream about the rosemary roasted potatoes that come as a side dish.
La Bicyclette (Carrera 35 #8A-95, El Poblad0) – Located on Via Provenza in La Zona Rosa, this French-American restaurant is a fabulous place for burgers, sandwiches, and excellent wines.
Mundo Verde (Carrera 37 #8A-40, El Poblado) – For light and healthy fare such as salads, wraps, and smoothies, Mundo Verde is your best friend. The atmosphere is lively and they offer Sunday brunch (with mimosas!) from 10-noon. Even if you miss brunch (because who brunches before 3 pm?) you’ll find refreshing sangria to sip with your meal to get your Sunday Funday on a roll.
Café Zorba (Calle 8 #42-33, El Poblado) – Hands down the most delicious (vegetarian) pizza in the city. Take my word for it. Grab a table early because Café Zorba is popular every night of the week.
Mondongo’s (Calle 10 #38-38, El Poblado) – For all of the Colombian classics (like my favorite, bandeja Paisa) Mondongo’s is the place to go. The portions are absolutely heaping, so make sure to share with friends. If you’re an adventurous eater, be sure to try the eponymous soup, mondongo.
Food trucks of Ciudad del Río (Parque Lineal Ciudad del Río) – I love a good food truck, and Ciudad del Río has them in spades. Delicious food at affordable prices and a laid-back atmosphere to boot? You just can’t beat it. Enjoy a night feasting on everything from Philly cheese steaks to Venezuelan arepas to Argentinian choripan, then roll yourself home. Trucks hang around throughout the week but show up at this particular spot in the greatest numbers on the weekends.
Pizzeria Olivia (Calle 30S #43A-47, Envigado) – Great appetizers, pizza and sangria. ‘Nuff said.
La Paletteria (Mall Del Este, Calle 3 #3-45, Loma El Tesoro) – So, you visited Cartagena, cooled down daily with an ice cream bar from La Palettería and never thought you’d see such a delicious frozen treat again? WRONG! La Palettería also has a shop in Medellín, but hardly anybody knows it. It’s not exactly centrally located so it might be a trek to get there, but it’s a trek well worth the effort in my opinion.
Where to Caffeinate
Café Velvet (Carrera 37 #8A-46, El Poblado) – This relatively-new-on-the-scene coffee shop quickly became my favorite. They offer all types of artisanal coffees made from beans from around the world as well as a lunch menu and plenty of sweet treats like Belgian chocolate creations and macarons. Café Velvet is popular among the digitally nomadic and even has mini desks for those who come solo with laptop in hand to get some work done. The only downside is they’re painfully short on electrical outlets, so come fully charged if you plan to work.
Pergamino (Carrera 37 #8-37, El Poblado) – Across the street from Velvet is another equally popular spot, Pergamino. With dimmer lighting than its competitor but more places to plug in, I often split my time between the two. They don’t have much in the way of food (just muffins and other pastries) but the coffee is just as good. If I’m just going for a coffee, their outdoor seating area can’tbe beat.
Como Pez en el Agua (Carrera 35 #8A-67, El Poblado) – Before I discovered Velvet, Como Pez en el Agua was my go-to coffee shop. Their gourmet confections are what originally drew me in and their breakfast items like eggs benedict kept me coming back. Every seat is equipped with its own power outlet and the decor is beautiful. The music is typically upbeat electronic, but they tend to pump up the volume, so it can be distracting when trying to work. They serve Juan Valdéz coffee and also offer beer, wine, and juices.
Cariñito – (Carrera 44 #20-55, Ciudad del Río) – This café, located kitty-corner to the modern art museum, won a place in my heart by being one of the few places in the city to offer brunch. In fact, Cariñito’s whole menu is delicious–they make great sandwiches, a wide variety of pastries, and artisanal ice cream, among other things. The decor is modern and trendy and the upstairs loft is outfitted with comfy couches and house plants creating a homey atmosphere you might never want to leave.
Casa Museo Otra Parte (Carrera 43A #27A Sur-11, Envigado) – Just across the southern city limit of Medellín, you’ll find Casa Museo Otra Parte, a museum, library and café all rolled into one. The café opens at 3 pm, but the open-air seating and garden areas (with WiFi) are available to use at any time. The coffee is pretty average but the carrot cake is to die for. It gets crowded in the early evening, so secure a table early. If you stay long enough, you can easily transition into nighttime drinks.
Where to Booze
El Social (Carrera 35 #8A-8, El Poblado) – Mingle with locals at this popular bar in the heart of La Zona Rosa. They offer snack foods like empanadas, buñuelos and the like, and bring other salty snacks to your table while you enjoy your drinks. This is one of the few bars where the price of Aguardiente doesn’t totally skyrocket and the price of beer is standard as well. El Social is guaranteed to be lively just about any night of the week.
Envy Rooftop Bar (The Charlee Hotel, Calle 9A, El Poblado) – Go for the sunset view, stay for the club-like atmosphere after dark. Most nights, Envy has live music or DJs, and early in the week there is no cover to enter. The beers are notably more expensive here, but it’s worth staying for one or two just to enjoy the incredible views of Medellín.
Bogotá Beer Company (Carrera 34 #8, El Poblado) – The “biggest little brewery of Colombia,” Bogotá Beer Company, creates some excellent craft beers. They have happy hour specials between 4-6 pm and delicious (albeit a little pricey) food items like burgers and wings. Try one of their classic ales or lagers or see what seasonal brews they’ve got on offer; something is bound to please every beer lover’s palate.
Parque Lleras (Carrera 40, El Poblado) – Yup, this park gets two mentions. Buy a bottle of your drink of choice at the local mini market and park your tush on the steps of Parque Lleras as you watch the world go by. Things usually pick up around 11pm or midnight before people head to dance clubs around 1 or 2 am. This was by far my preferred way to start a night out (and sometimes end it). The vibe is amazing, the people-watching is great, and you won’t have to shout over bad salsa music to hear each other talk. Vendors can be a little pushy from time to time but it’s a great place to have a relaxed drink and make some new friends.
Where to Dance
Dulce Jesus Mío (Carrera 38 #19 255, Las Palmas) – For a truly over-the-top Colombian clubbing experience, head to Dulce Jesus Mío (My Sweet Jesus). This outrageously kitschy discoteca will make your jaw drop before you even walk in the door. Inside and out, DJM is plastered with flashing lights and oddities of every kind–antique dolls, wooden shoes, balloons, streamers, cartoon characters, you name it. Employees all don borderline creepy costumes and live dance performances take place throughout the night between salsa hits. Be forewarned, though–a night out at DJM will be a splurge. The cover fee is 10,000 COP (~$5) and if you reserve a table, purchase of a bottle is required. Prices are inflated enormously for alcohol here, so the more people you can split the cost with, the better.
Bendito Seas (Calle 10A #38, El Poblado) – For an experience similar to Dulce Jesus Mío but for a fraction of the price, try Bendito Seas. It’s not quite as outrageous but it’s more centrally located and still a very Colombian experience.
Carito (Carrera 38 #8-8, El Poblado) – For a more balanced mix of Latin music and electronic dance music, Carito may be for you. The cover is a bit steep at 20,000 COP (~$10) with inflated prices for drinks as well, but it’s always crowded and there’s no shortage of lasers, smoke, foghorns and confetti rain.
Calle 9+1 (Carrera 40 #10-25, El Poblado) – My favorite place to dance in Medellín, forever and always, is Calle 9+1 (but just call it Calle Nueve). On weekends, the cover will cost you 10,000 COP ($5), but that includes a beer. The music is faithfully electro every night of the week, often featuring local DJs. Things typically start to pick up after 1 am and go hard until 4 or 5. It’s crowded, it’s sweaty, it’s amazing.
Parque Arví – Parque Arví is an ecological nature reserve and archeological site located at the north end of Medellín. It’s reachable by cable car and is a great place to spend a day wandering the hiking trails and admiring the lakes and greenery. At the park entrance, there is a market where visitors can buy food and souvenirs and escape the heat of the sun. A visit to Parque Arví could be done in an afternoon, but to see everything it has to offer, I recommend allotting a full day for your trip.
Santa Fe de Antioquia – Located roughly 45 minutes from Medellín is the historical mining city of Santa Fe de Antioquia, the former capital of the Antioquia region (now Medellín). The cobblestone streets and horse-drawn carriages will transport you back to Spanish colonial times; visit the local museums for a fascinating lesson in Colombian history.
Guatapé – This colorful little “pueblo de zócalos” could be visited in a day as it’s less than two hours from Medellín, but it deserves so much more than that. People visit to wander the streets admiring the characteristic wainscots that give Guatapé its charm and to visit La Piedra for the incredible view of the reservoir from above, but there are plenty of other activities to enjoy given enough time. Water sports, riding bicycles and hiking to waterfalls come to mind. Read about my love affair with Guatapé if you need more convincing.
Jardín – Situated roughly three hours southwest of Medellín is another charming town, Jardín. This pueblo is surrounded by lush green mountains, making it a haven for nature lovers. Ride horses to waterfalls or drink beers with Colombian cowboys in the main square.
Editor’s Note: For more great Medellín resources and comprehensive guides for destinations the world over, check out Nomadic Notes.
Have you been to Medellín? What are your favorite things to do there? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments.