The second city of Colombia, Medellín has transformed itself perhaps more than any other city in the world. Though its violent, tumultuous past is well-known, today the city is modern, innovative, and just generally lovely.
Nicknamed the “City of Eternal Spring” for its nearly perfect weather, you’ll find plenty of parks and plazas where you can enjoy the sunshine with a fresh juice from a street food vendor and a couple of empanadas.
Make sure you learn all about the city’s past in order to appreciate how far it’s come – there are plenty of museums and tours that’ll educate you, along with authentic markets and neighborhoods to explore. The city is also home to great restaurants, cafes, bars, and even clubs that’ll have you salsa dancing the night away… or trying to anyway.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Medellín:
1. Museo de Antioquia
A former city hall turned museum, this place houses a great collection of works by Fernando Botero.
He’s one of Colombia’s most famous artists, and he had a penchant for painting all things chubby.
Born in Medellín, the artist patronized his hometown museum by donating many of the works himself.
Guides recommend starting on the top floor with his earlier pieces and making your way down to see his evolution as an artist.
The museum also houses works by international artists and offers an audio guide if you want to learn even more.
There’s a small cafe and courtyard here where you can take a break.
2. Free Walking Tour
The free walking tour in Medellín by Real City Tours is one of the most popular walking tours in the world.
Learn all about the city’s difficult past from an insightful and experienced guide.
This is a good way to get out of Poblado and see more of the city, taste some local foods, and hear how the local people really feel about Pablo Escobar.
You’ll see places like Parque Berrio, the Forest of Lights, and Parque San Antonio.
Do this tour at the beginning of your stay in Medellín so you’ll have lots of historical background on the city – plus your guide will give you great food and nightlife tips! Be sure to sign up ahead of time so you get a spot, and know that it’s not totally free – you’re supposed to tip at the end of the 4-hour tour.
There’s also a Pablo Escobar tour in Medellin.
3. Take the Metrocable Up to Parque Arvi
The metro and metrocable system of Medellín has received lots of praise for bringing a city of many different neighborhoods together.
You can get all over the city with your metro ticket, and if you want to venture up for great views and fresh air, pay a little more to take the metrocable from Santo Domingo to Parque Arvi.
The 15-minute ride provides great views of the city and neighborhoods below.
At the top, there are places to stop for some snacks made from local Colombian products (like grilled mushrooms) while you enjoy the views.
Check out the tents and street vendors selling trinkets and then head out onto the walking trails of the park.
Related tour: Medellin Innovation: 4-Hour Metro Tour
4. Santo Domingo and Biblioteca España
If you take a ride up the metrocable, you’ll get a glimpse of a few of the poorer barrios on your way up and down.
It’s an authentic look into life in these colorful neighborhoods which were once in the center of a warzone.
During the day it’s fine to stop in Santo Domingo to have a look around – maybe grab a beer and some fried chicken and arepas from one of the small local restaurants.
Many people also get off here to check out the Biblioteca España, a massive, modern library built from black slate that’s become like a local community center.
5. The Botanical Gardens
A natural oasis in the center of Medellín, they city’s botanical gardens contain more than 1,000 species of wildlife and 4,500 flowers.
There’s a butterfly garden, a cactus garden, and a huge collection of orchids.
Entry is free and you can go explore the area to find critters or just lie on the grass in the sun with a book.
There’s even a 65-foot-high wooden mesh structure called the Orquideorama which collects rainwater and protects the orchids and butterflies below.
Have a picnic, check for live events, and be sure to visit if you’re here during the city’s Festival of the Flowers, it’ll be even more impressive.
6. Parque Explora
Everybody loves Parque Explora, even adults and those folks without kids.
It’s an interactive science museum combined with South America’s largest freshwater aquarium.
There are over 300 interactive exhibits housed in the building’s four red cubes, plus a planetarium, 3D auditorium, and a television studio.
Located in Zona Norte near the botanical gardens and shopping malls, it’s easy to spend a whole day here playing and learning about science and technology, but it’s also a convenient stop on your way to other attractions.
Parque Explora is totally interesting and fun, and you’ll enjoy it even more if you do have kids with you.
7. Check Out Poblado
Chances are you might be staying in this upscale neighborhood anyway because it’s where most of the gringos, expats, and backpackers in Medellín choose to rest their heads.
It’s a beautiful area of shady streets with a solid café culture and a range of different types of international food options.
Coffee shops and free wifi abound, plus there are bars, spas, gyms, and all the other comforts from home here.
Whether you want to do a serious coffee tasting (try Cafe Toucan) or hit the clubs for the night (check out Calle 9), you’ll find it in Poblado.
8. Casa de la Memoria
This museum is both upsetting, enlightening, and informative, and it’s the place to go if you want more insight on Colombia’s dramatic and violent history.
From drug cartels and gangs to a terrible civil war, Casa de la Memoria aims to amplify the voices of victims and preserve their history so that we might learn more about it and avoid these pitfalls in the future.
Entry is free, and the whole place is well-curated – the interactive exhibits, emotional photography, and artwork are all sure to inform and move you.
9. Visit Guatapé
It’s the must-do day trip from Medellín, but it’s even better if you’ve got a night or two to spare there.
Guatapé is a picturesque, colorful lake town about two hours outside the city.
Take photos of the vibrantly painted exteriors of homes here, and visit the Plaza de Zocalos for the most colorful town square in Colombia.
Along the lake and throughout town you’ll find cheap street foods like empanadas and churros, and of course, the restaurants will supply you with plenty of freshly cooked lake trout and fish soup.
The most popular activity in town, however, is climbing the 740 steps up El Peñol, a giant rock, for an amazing view of the islands and water beneath.
Recommended tour: Guatape: Full-Day Tour from Medellin
10. Parque Lleras
Poblado is one of the biggest hotspots for nightlife in Medellín, and for locals and tourists alike, Parque Lleras is often the place where you start out the night.
It’s just a little park filled with trees where you’ll find vendors selling art by day and crowds of folks drinking by night.
The park is surrounded by bars, restaurants, and clubs, plus it’s close to many of the hostels in the area, so there’s always young people around.
Grab a bottle of the anise-flavored Colombian spirit, Aguardiente, or just a few Aguila beers and head to this lively park to hang out before heading out.
11. Go Salsa Dancing
Whether you’re an old pro or just want to learn a few steps, this city is the place to do it.
While Cali might be the salsa capital of Colombia, Medellín can get you started with salsa lessons or local bars and clubs filled with salsa music and dancing.
DanceFree in Poblado is a super popular place for private or group classes, and on the weekends they have a bar with dancing too.
For live salsa music and dancing (with locals and tourists alike showing off), check out the Son Havana or El Eslabon Prendido.
Available workshop: Medellin Salsa Like a Local Evening Workshop
12. Plaza Botero
A great place for people watching and art appreciation, check out the lively Plaza Botero for some larger than life sculptures by the square’s namesake, Fernando Botero.
There are 23 voluptuous bronze statues scattered about the plaza, all donated by the artist himself.
It’s a great place to meander around or sit with a fresh juice or empanada from one of the street vendors before or after visiting the Museo de Antioquia.
The area has transformed an otherwise run-down part of town, and you’ll find street performers, trinket salesmen, and food stalls all around.
13. El Castillo Museo y Jardines
Wait, there’s a castle in Medellín? Yep, for a small entry fee you can check out this French-inspired, 20th-century castle and its gardens, fountains, and pathways.
Take a little tour to see the inside as well, with its four-poster beds, porcelain collection, and giant dining room table.
It was built in 1930 and it opened as a museum in 1971, but in between those years it served as a home for the wealthy and a place for entertaining high society visitors from Europe.
14. Go Paragliding
This area of Colombia is renowned for paragliding, or parapente in Spanish, and it’s easy to arrange trips from Medellín, even on short notice.
The experience of leaping off a mountain into thermal currents with incredible deep green views beneath you is exhilarating (and maybe a little nerve-wracking), but professional guides will put you at ease.
They provide transportation out to the launching point, strap you to your guide, and teach you how to take off.
Some companies allow you to pay a little extra if you want GoPro footage of your adventure – check out Dragon Fly and Paragliding Medellín.
Book online: Paragliding the Andes from Medellín
15. Plaza Minorista Market
Get an authentic look at Medellín food culture by visiting one of the city’s markets.
Plaza Minorista is a huge farmer’s market filled with local vendors selling everything from fresh produce and fish to just-butchered meats and ready-made corn arepas.
It’s a great place to bring your camera to capture all the bright colors and characters here.
Take a tour to do some fruit tasting or just buy some of what looks good for yourself – prices are cheap! There are plenty of little restaurants in Minorista where you can grab a set meal or a full breakfast, plus things like fish stew, coconut rice, and freshly squeezed fruit juice.
16. See a Fútbol Match
Football (soccer) in South America is close to religion, drawing excited and loyal fans to the stadiums to watch their teams play.
Medellín is no exception, and if you want to attend a sporting event doubles as a cultural experience, go see one of the city’s teams play.
Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellín are the two local clubs, and you can usually get tickets between $12 and $25 USD. Buy them a couple days in advance and get advice on where to sit, depending on if you want things to be rowdy or (relatively) calm.
Even if you’re not a soccer fan, go for the energy of the stadium – the rambunctious fans, the singing, the shouting, banners, and even firecrackers going off during games are a one of a kind experience.
17. Parque Berrío
A plaza with fewer people trying to sell you things and ask for money and more folks just trying to meet up and hang out, Parque Berrío feels very local.
Tons of people gather here in the afternoon to sit and listen to street musicians play after buying beers and snacks from local vendors.
Old men gather to play games like dominos, and the locals here are pretty friendly.
Once the site of the old public market and home to public executions, the park was transformed in the early 90s when the area made way for the nearby metro station.
You can visit the old Iglesia la Candelaria on one side and a few blocks away is the much more touristy Plaza Botero.
18. Eat Colombian Food, Especially Bandeja Paisa
If you don’t know much about Colombian food, Medellín is the perfect place to get acquainted.
From the many exotic fruits to mondongo (tripe soup) to cheese-filled arepas, you’ll have no shortage of options.
The one thing you must try here is the local specialty, bandeja paisa, a gut-busting combination of meats like sausage and pork cracklings alongside beans, plantains, rice, a fried egg, and a few avocado slices they’ve thrown in for good measure.
Hatoviejo, Hacienda Junin, and Mondongo’s are all great places to try local cuisine.
19. Comuna 13 and Las Escaleras
Once part of the city you’d never even consider visiting, the government and local artists have joined forces to make Comuna 13 a better place to live.
The addition of colorful artwork, escalators, and increased safety measures have opened the neighborhood up to tourism and brought the community closer together.
Comuna 13 used to be so dangerous that only its residents would think of climbing the steep slopes to enter, but the addition of escalators as a form of social and democratic infrastructure have made it more approachable.
Visit to see the many murals, people, police officers, colorful hillside homes, and transformation that has taken place here.
Recommended tour: Medellín: Comuna 13 Neighborhood Tour
20. Go Biking or Ride ATVs Outside the City
The lush surroundings, hills, and mountains around Medellín make it a great playground for adventure-seekers.
To explore them, head out with a tour company who’ll set you up with a mountain bike or ATV, transport you about an hour outside of town, and let you speed around challenging trails.
It’s a great chance to go off-road and visit some sites that not a lot of tourists make it out to see.
Guanabana Tours will combine biking and ATV riding with parasailing, river rafting, and even trips to Guatapé.
Medellín Adventure Trails will take you around the rugged terrain on bikes or ATVs (or both) and include a stop for lunch at a trout farm.
Available tour: Medellin Off-Road Adventure Tour by Quad Bike
21. Museo de Arte Moderno Medellín
A very cool work of modern architecture itself, this small but edgy museum is home to modern artwork by Colombian and other Latin American artists.
While somewhat compact, the MAMM features several permanent and temporary exhibits, including paintings, videos, sculptures, and 3D creations both inside and out.
Modern art isn’t for everyone, so the museum does a good job providing explanations of each of the pieces.
The theater here shows movies occasionally, and the gift shop sells super unique souvenirs created by artists.
There’s a great terrace with views of the city, and a restaurant downstairs where you can have a drink.
22. Mercado del Río
A popular spot for eating and socializing, check out Mercado del Río for a choice of over 40 restaurants.
It’s a lively food court with a cool ambiance and many trendy options located near the MAMM. This place is packed at lunchtime and dinnertime with young professionals from nearby office buildings, so getting a seat might be a challenge.
A cool spot to come with friends, you’ll have your pick of everything from sushi, hamburgers, and paella to mexican, vegan, and mediterranean dishes.
You can also grab beers, cocktails, or a glass of wine and hang out over a few shared plates.
23. Go Shopping
Medellín is a great place to do some shopping, whether you’re after dirt-cheap knock offs or luxury stores.
El Hueco is where you’d go for a little bit of chaos, haggling, and lots of shops and street vendors selling fake brand-name goods and other odds and ends you might need.
For a more modern mall experience with a broad range of stores, check out the huge Centro Commercial Santa Fe or Oviedo.
For a unique, high-end experience just a few blocks away, check out Río Sur, a group of repurposed buildings which now contain upmarket boutique shops, salons, and lots of nightclubs, restaurants, and bars.
24. Cañón Del Río Claro Reserva Natural
This little piece of paradise is about three hours outside Medellín, and it’s a great place to spend a few nights relaxing in nature and exploring.
You can go hiking, ziplining, rafting, birdwatching, or cavern trekking around the Río Claro Valley and reserve.
As far as accommodation, there’s an eco-friendly lodge, plus cabins and camping available – be sure to bring cash! It’s a rustic place, but it’s surrounded by pure natural beauty, like the river which cuts through a marble canyon and jungle-like forests.
You’ll spot plenty of exotic wildlife here too, with monkeys, scorpions, massive butterflies, and tons of birds from parrots to toucans to hummingbirds, all at your doorstep.
25. Palacio de la Cultura Rafael Uribe Uribe
You won’t be able to avoid seeing this unique and imposing building, because of course you’ll be visiting the Plaza Botero.
Chances are you’ve never seen anything like its intricate and dizzying black and white facade though.
The architect who built it received so much public criticism for his work that he walked off the job (totally insulted), and the city finished his work in a completely different style (you’ll see, it’s very obvious). If it’s open, head inside to see the lovely courtyard with its fountain and gardens.
While the interior has fallen into disrepair a bit, there is some artwork to view and you can climb to the top for views of the city and plaza below.