Top 20 Things to Do in Medellin You Absolutely Can’t Miss

The exciting and vibrant city of Medellin has undergone an incredible transformation in recent years, shedding its turbulent past to become one of Colombia’s fastest-growing and most captivating destinations.

To say that there are a lot of things to do in Medellin would be quite an understatement, as there is such a diverse mix of historical sites, cultural experiences, and eclectic neighborhoods to pack into your trip.

I’ve selected all of the best places to see in Medellin and some of my favorite experiences to create this guide. If you want a little more detail about how to plan your visit, my itinerary for 3 days in Medellin has all the need-to-know information.

Keep scrolling to uncover where to go and what to do in Medellin.

*Disclosure: This post contains a few affiliate links, which means I may receive a small commission, at no cost to you, if you make a purchase through my link.*

Are you planning a last-minute trip to Medellin?

If your trip is coming up soon and you still haven’t booked anything, we have you covered! Below you can find our top picks when it comes to hotels, tours, getting around, and more.

Best Tours and Experiences in Medellin

Best Places to Stay in Medellin

Can’t speak Spanish very well? As people in Medellin (and in Colombia in general) don’t really speak English, our best tip is to download Spanish on Google Translate so you can use it offline! Trust us, you’re going to need it.

View of Medellin from Pueblito Paisa

Best Things to Do in Medellin

1. Tour the historic center on a free walking tour

Although this round-up of things to do in Medellin is in no particular order, I’m kicking this list off with an activity that I think is a great introduction to the city.

You’ll find a number of free walking tours in operation in the El Centro district of Medellin, which is also known as the historic center. I definitely recommend joining one to get your bearings when you arrive.

If you’re anything like me, you might still feel a little skeptical about your safety in Medellin despite huge improvements over the last number of years. Opting for a guided tour when you first touchdown will help to settle some of your nerves and put you at ease.

Not only that, but you’ll also get a fantastic overview of Medellin’s history and culture while stopping by some of the center’s top sights, such as Plaza Botero, Parque de las Luces, and Los Pies Descalzos.

I recommend going with Beyond Colombia, a great organization that offers free walking tours and also supports local initiatives in Medellin.

2. Visit the Museum of Antioquia

If you’re exploring El Centro, you can’t miss the Museum of Antioquia, Medellin’s best-known art museum.

Fernando Botero, the acclaimed local artist and sculptor, and his extraordinary works are the focal point of the museum, as is the case for the square, which is even named after the Medellin native.

The Museum of Antioquia is set over four floors, and you’ll also find pieces by Pedro Nel Gomez, among other Colombian artists, presented throughout the permanent and temporary exhibitions.

The museum is huge, so I would suggest giving yourself at least 2 hours to explore. Plus, the entrance fee is only 24,000 COP ($6 US), which makes it a great value for money.

3. Walk around Plaza Botero

Plaza Botero feels like a continuation of the Museum de Antioquia, as this lively square is somewhat of an open-air display for Botero’s quirky sculptures. In fact, you’ll find 23 sculptures dotted around Plaza Botero that were donated by Botero himself.

Though many visitors flock here for the art, people have also been coming to Plaza Botero to catch a glimpse at the remarkable Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture, an eye-catching Gothic structure.

After you’ve checked Botero’s work and the Cultural Center off your list, pop over to one of the many local vendors and sample some street food or pick up your souvenirs.

You’ll probably notice that Plaza Botero has a heavy police presence, but pickpocketing can still be an issue in the area, so make sure to keep an eye on all your belongings.

Plaza Botero in Medellin

4. Check out the National Palace Mall

Prior to our visit, I had never even heard of the National Palace Mall, and it turned out to be one of the coolest spots we came across during our time in Medellin.

Simply put, it’s an elegant and incredibly impressive mall that’s totally worth visiting even if you have no intention of doing any shopping!

The mall is comprised of floors of shops positioned along endless arched balconies overlooking the cafes set on the ground floor. 

To be perfectly honest, the stores mostly stock replicas of branded attire and shoes, which are quite a juxtaposition to the regal architecture of the building.

That being said, you won’t regret stopping by for a look, and you might enjoy checking out the art gallery hidden on the third floor.

Centro Comercial Palacio Nacional, Medellin

5. Go street art hunting in Comuna 13

Comuna 13 is indisputably among the best places to go in Medellin, and somewhere you just can’t cut out of your Medellin itinerary.

Anyone familiar with the history of Medellin might recognize the name of this neighborhood as it became riddled with gang violence and drug cartels during the 1980s and 1990s.

Once you set foot in Comuna 13, you’ll have a tough time believing this was once considered the world’s most dangerous neighborhood in the most dangerous city! It’s changed immeasurably over the years and is now home to spectacular street art and busy bars and eateries.

This tour takes you to all of the best spots in the area while giving you an understanding of the terror faced by residents not so long ago. It also includes a trip on Medellin’s cable car, where you’ll catch some staggering vistas.

6. Join the Real Pablo Escobar Tour

Even if you know very little about Medellin, you’re likely familiar with the infamous cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar.

I had heard from fellow travelers that the Real Pablo Escobar Tour was a must when in Medellin. Although I knew a little about him before visiting, I had no idea how much pain and devastation he brought to the city, which is why I think this guided trip is so worthwhile.

The tour takes you to some of the spots relating to Escobar’s life and his reign of terror, including his grave, a former safe house, and an abandoned mansion. The guide also does its best to dispel any myths surrounding the notorious figure.

I was blown away by how educational and insightful this tour was, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in learning about a darker side of Medellin’s history.

7. Explore the Botanical Garden of Medellín

The next addition to this breakdown of the best things to do in Medellin couldn’t be more different from the previous must-do activity.

Our visit to the Botanical Garden of Medellin ended up being one of my favorite experiences of our time in the city. Despite its popularity and how busy it was when we visited, it really felt like a hidden oasis that was a complete contrast to the packed Medellin streets.

Over 2,000 trees, 4,500 flowers, and almost 140 bird species make up the botanical gardens, and that’s all before mentioning the area’s resident iguanas and the magical butterfly house.

Entry to these blooming gardens is free of charge, and getting here is super easy, thanks to its proximity to the Universidad metro station.

8. Ride the cable car to Parque Arvi

I mentioned earlier that Medellin is set amongst mountainous terrains, and the best way to take advantage of the stunning landscapes that it brings with it is to hop on a cable car up to Parque Avrí.

Parque Arvi is a hillside ecotourism park and a fabulous spot for a day trip, as it’s filled with scenic hiking trails and often hosts local markets. We didn’t have time to explore the park in depth, but we ensured we made time to take the gondola ride to the entrance.

View from the cable car going to Parque Arvi, Medellin
View from the cable car going to Parque Arvi

This activity in itself is popular with visitors and is a great way to get a glimpse of the magical scenery from Parque Arvi if you’re on a time crunch. 

We took the A and K metro lines to Santo Domingo station (the K line is a cable car), and then we changed to another cable car (line L) to go up even further to Parque Arvi. 

As if the views from the city gondola weren’t enough, we were also treated to breathtaking vistas of the city’s valley and mountains once we got out at the top.

If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even opt to hike one of the trails in the park, and I assure you it’ll be worth the climb. But if not, there are also plenty of cozy spots to sit down and take in the natural beauty surrounding you.

9. Cafe hop in El Poblado

El Poblado is perhaps the most sought-after neighborhood in Medellin. This area is all about upscale restaurants, chic hotels, and swanky bars, but it’s also where many of the city’s finest coffee shops are found.

Considering how tasty the coffee is and how stylish the cafes are, spending a morning or afternoon here is easily one of the best things to do in Medellin.

We went to quite a few spots during our visit, but there were definitely a few that we took a particular liking to.

Pergamino Cafe was one such place. From the food and the setting to the baristas, this coffee shop ticked all the boxes. Cafe Velvet is another must-try, with its cozy atmosphere and delicious pastries.

10. Shop at Mercado del Río

If you’re feeling a little hungry but have no idea what kind of food you’re in the mood for, you can be pretty much guaranteed to find something at Mercado del Río that tickles your fancy.

The best way of describing Mercado del Río is as a boujee food court, where everything and anything you could possibly crave is on offer, from local Colombian grub to the likes of sushi, pizza, and tacos. 

After you’ve filled up on your pick of different cuisines, pop over to some of the dessert stalls and finish off your meal with something sweet. Keep your eyes peeled for the flan or the waffles, both of which were amazing.

There are over 50 vendors here, so no matter how fussy you are, rest assured that you’ll be spoiled for choice.

11. Take a day trip to Guatapé and climb El Peñol

Medellin could keep you busy for days on end, but some of my favorite experiences during our 2 weeks in Colombia were actually outside of the city. Our day trip to Guatapé was for sure one of the highlights of our trip for me. 

Guatapé is a little resort town just under two hours outside of Medellin, and it’s where the iconic El Peñol lies.

El Peñol is a huge natural rock formation that towers over the surrounding manmade reservoir. A slightly tiring 740 steps will take you to the summit for dazzling views.

This is a true Colombian bucket list activity, and there are plenty of other things to do in Guatapé while you’re here. These include wandering through the colorful town center or taking a boat tour past the remnants of a former vacation home that belonged to Pablo Escobar. 

Getting to Guatapé by bus is quite straightforward. Head to the Terminal Norte bus station and down to booth number 14 to make your own way there, or join a guided tour that takes care of the planning for you.

Aerial view of El Penon de Guatape

12. Take a coffee plantation tour

I’d be lying if I said that the prospect of indulging in fresh Colombian coffee on the daily wasn’t a big part of why I was drawn to this country. 

We decided to go all in and jump on a coffee plantation tour, which turned out to be super interesting and a lot of fun, too. 

We spent a morning learning the ins and outs of Colombia’s renowned coffee culture, from witnessing the various processes the beans go through to how to prepare each brew correctly. Our guide really brought the experience to life, allowing us to don traditional hats and ponchos!

After a busy few hours out on the coffee farm, the tour wrapped up with a coffee tasting and a hearty lunch.

Coffee plantation at Finca Buenos Aires, Salento

13. Explore Pueblito Paisa

Pueblito Paisa is among the most visited and quirkiest tourist attractions in Medellin.

In short, Pueblito Paisa is a replica of a typical local village, filled with colorful buildings, a quaint church, and even a little cobblestone square.

The cute town is just one of the reasons this spot attracts so many tourists, though, as it’s also a superb viewpoint over Medellin.

If you can, time your visit during sunset, as you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of the city in daylight and after the sun goes down and the bright lights come to life.

The easiest option is to catch an Uber or taxi to the top of the hill, but if you’re feeling fit and energetic, you can also hike up from the nearest metro station. It takes around 20-30 minutes to reach the top.

Main square in Pueblito Paisa, Medellin

14. Explore El Castillo Museum and Gardens

Walking through the El Castillo Museum and the surrounding grounds had me feeling like I was living in a real-life fairytale. This splendid European-inspired castle is just a few years short of its 100th birthday and was transformed into a museum during the 1970s. 

The permanent exhibition houses a ton of antiques and treasures, mostly consisting of paintings, sculptures, and porcelain, but it’s the gardens that steal the show. Every corner of the grounds is kept in immaculate condition, and you could easily spend an hour admiring the architecture.

Entry to the gardens costs 20,000 COP ($5 US), while 24,000 ($6 US) will give you access to both the museum and the grounds.

15. See the Casa de la Memoria Museum

As upbeat and full of life as Medellin is today, it’s important to understand the hardship that locals lived through for years and how the city bounced back.

One of the most gut-wrenching but informative things to do in Medellin is to stop by the Casa de la Memoria Museum

This exhibit uses videos, photos, and artifacts to depict what the city was like during and after Escobar’s reign and pays tributes to the countless victims who lost their lives to drug-related violence.

It’s certainly a heavy and sobering experience, but one that I don’t think you should miss out on if you have time on your hands.

There’s no entry fee to the museum, and you’ll be given a free audio guide on arrival.

16. Explore the Laureles neighborhood

El Poblado is the go-to district for most tourists, and for good reason, but its more eclectic and hip counterpart, Laureles, has recently been dubbed the world’s coolest neighborhood.

Laureles has a much more local feel to it and is generally frequented more by the likes of digital nomads than vacationers. It’s not quite as affluent as El Poblado, but this trendy part of town has a growing collection of cafes, restaurants, and bars.

If you’re in the area, consider checking out Rituales for a quick brew or the locally-loved Mondongo’s for classic Colombian fare. Make sure you arrive hungry, as you’ll want to sample a little bit of everything here.

Segundo Parque de Laureles, Medellin
Segundo Parque de Laureles

17. Visit the Medellín Modern Art Museum

Moving back over to El Pablado, this time, we’re heading to the Medellín Modern Art Museum.

This place was truly a feast for the eyes, and each and every piece inside was so unique and thought-provoking. I wouldn’t typically be an art connoisseur by any means, but I loved checking out the 3D paintings, quirky sculptures, and funky installations.

Most of the works are accompanied by English descriptions, which makes understanding the background or message behind each piece much easier, as many of them relate to Colombian history and culture.

Tickets go for 16,500 COP ($4 US) each, though they’re often available for a discounted price if you purchase them online.

18. Join a street food tour

Discover some dreamy Colombian bites through this guided street food tour, during which you’ll munch on five different street foods over the course of three flavor-filled hours.

This particular outing takes place along the streets of El Poblado, where your local guide will take you to some of the area’s best-loved street vendors to try a myriad of local favorites. Also included is a visit to a picture-perfect rooftop to snap some stellar Insta-worthy photos.

Before the tour wraps up, your guide will fill you in on some other spots in the neighborhood to add to your list, from the most happening bars to the hidden gems offering the finest bandeja paisa and ajiaco.

If you’re based in El Pablado for the duration of your stay, this tour is also a fantastic way to get a feel for the neighborhood, as it typically doubles as a walking tour.

Ajiaco Soup in Bogota
Ajiaco is one of the most amazing Colombian dishes you have to try

19. Visit Parque Explora

Parque Explora is a huge science museum and is rightfully amongst the best things to do in Medellin for kids or on a rainy day.

It’s hard to know where to start when it comes to Parque Explora, as there are dozens of exhibitions based on everything from dinosaurs to the solar system. Many of the displays are interactive or feature hands-on experiments, making for a fun-filled visit for all ages.

Even if you’re not keen on spending a couple of hours going between the exhibits, you should stop in and check out the massive freshwater aquarium inside, which happens to be the largest in South America.

The park is also right by the Botanical Gardens, so many people combine these two spots when they’re here.

A ticket will set you back 48,000 COP ($12 US), and reduced fees are often in place for families. There’s also a planetarium onsite, which requires an additional fee of 31,000 COP ($8 US) per person.

Parque Explora, Medellin

20. Go paragliding in the Colombian Andes

Any adventure-seekers reading this will be glad to know that Medellin also has something to offer visitors seeking out an adrenaline-fueled excursion.

Paragliding over the Andes is something you’ll never forget. Between the thrill of soaring above the mountains and the remarkable scenery, there’s nothing quite like it.

Your flight will set off just 45 minutes from Medellin, and this tour includes round-trip transportation, so there’s no need to worry about getting to and from the starting point. 

Once you arrive, you’ll be introduced to your instructor and given a rundown of the safety requirements. Shortly after, you’ll take to the skies for a spine-tingling tandem flight over spots like the Garcia Barrage and El Quitasol Hill. 

Needless to say, it can get pretty chilly when you’re gliding above the Andes, so it’s a good idea to layer up before you get started.

Where to Stay in Medellin

Medellin has many different neighborhoods but when it comes to the best places to stay, I’d recommend either El Poblado or Laureles.

El Poblado is the most popular neighborhood for tourists and with good reason. It’s a trendy, upscale area that boasts a ton of restaurants, cafes, and nightlife options. Many Airbnb rentals and hotels can be found here, though you’ll find it to be one of the more expensive areas in Medellin.

Laureles is the cooler and quirkier cousin of El Poblado. It’s a bit more local, but still has plenty of restaurants and bars to keep you entertained. Accommodation here tends to be slightly cheaper than El Poblado, making it a great option for those traveling on a budget.

Check out my top hotel recommendations below, with options for every budget and travel style.

  • Luxury | Elcielo Hotel & Restaurant – A swanky boutique hotel in the heart of El Pobaldo, Elcielo Hotel & Restaurant is brimming with top-class amenities, including a chic pool area, a spa, and a fantastic restaurant.
  • Mid-range | Sites Hotel – With stylish rooms, a rooftop sun deck, and a convenient location, Sites Hotel in El Poblado is the ideal place to rest and recharge. They also offer apartments if you prefer to do your own cooking.
  • Budget | Hotel Bh El Poblado – You don’t have to break the bank to find a sophisticated hotel that’s close to everywhere you need to be. Hotel bh El Poblado features sleek rooms, a well-equipped fitness center, and an onsite restaurant.
Rooftop pool at Sites Hotel, Medellin
The rooftop pool at Sites Hotel

Planning a trip to Colombia?

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