Traveling to Medellin and don’t know where to start? Don’t worry, here we are going to tell you 20 things to see and do in Medellín, the city of eternal spring. From the most touristic and emblematic places to less known corners, excursions in the surroundings and restaurants where you can try local specialties.
A little history of Medellin
In the 1970s, Medellín is suffering the biggest economic and social crisis in its history. Young people are losing their jobs, there are no opportunities to raise families and crime rates are skyrocketing. It is the perfect breeding ground for the rapid establishment of a drug trafficking network: in 1976 the Medellin Cartel is created, with its kingpin Pablo Escobar at its head.
During the 17 years, it was in operation, it turned Medellin into the most dangerous city in the world, with a homicide rate of up to 381 per 100,000 inhabitants in 1991. The city lived an open war not only against the police but also between the cartels themselves.
In 1993, Pablo Escobar was killed, but this was not the end of drug trafficking; other small groups continued to operate, albeit on a smaller scale. What did happen was a change in the mentality of society, fed up with so much violence. Little by little and with the help of all the organizations, Medellin has been able to overcome its terrible past, being in this 21st century one of the best cities to live in the world and one of the most innovative.
20 things to see and do in Medellín
It is almost inevitable that the first image that comes to mind after hearing the word “Medellin” is that of Pablo Escobar. We cannot forget the years in which narcoterrorism operated at ease in these streets; it was undoubtedly one of the darkest episodes in Medellin’s recent history. But we must clear our minds and think that the capital of Antioquia is much more than that.
Moreover, in recent years a great effort is being made to recover the “livability” of the city, with a sustainable development plan that has been applauded and awarded internationally. Today Medellin is a place with lots of cultural spaces, cool neighborhoods, and a good number of attractions. Here are the top 20 things to see and do in Medellín in two or three days.
- Botero Square
You can start your visit to Medellín at Plaza Botero, in the heart of the historic center. There you will find the Parque de las Esculturas, an open-air art gallery, where 23 sculptures of considerable size and with that recognizable style of large volumes of the local artist Fernando Botero are exhibited.
Visiting this park will be one of the best things to do in Medellin with children: they will be amazed by the sculptures and it is a very pleasant place.
- Rafael Uribe Uribe Palace of Culture
In the same square, there are a couple of places you can’t miss. The first is the Palace of Culture Rafael Uribe Uribe. It is one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, plus you can enter for free! The best thing to do is to go up to the open terrace on the top floor from where you will have great views.
- Museum of Antioch
The other is the Museum of Antioquia, the most important museum in Medellin. It is located in the old Municipal Palace of Medellin and has a collection of more than 5,000 pieces, including indigenous objects and paintings by authors such as Botero and other international authors. The price is $18,000 (about 5€).
- House of Memory
Although we believe that there is a more interesting museum: the House of Memory, where you can approach the years of the drug war, with the idea of learning from the mistakes of the past to build a future of peace.
Here the emphasis is on the victims and the story is told as it was, far from the Hollywood (or rather, Netflix) spotlight. Admission is free (closed on Mondays).
- Berrío Park, is one of the best places to visit in Medellín
One of the most important meeting points for the people of Medellín is Berrío Park, considered the soul of Medellín. It was the place chosen by the Spanish settlers for the construction of the first Christian church in 1649: the Basilica Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria, another of the places to see in Medellín without fail. Although the one we see today dates back to 1776.
Curiosity: right next to this sacred center there is a street with peddlers of… racy pelis! Come on, the sacred meets the profane.
For those curious about history, at the base of the Berrío Park metro station, there is a large mural telling the story of Antioquia’s industrial development.
- Carabobo Avenue
We continue to downtown Medellín to walk along with one of its most famous pedestrian avenues, the so-called Carabobo (Carrera 52). Don’t forget to visit the Palacio Nacional Shopping Mall.
No, we are going shopping… This building used to house the old court of justice, and even if it doesn’t particularly catch your eye from the outside, inside you will find a very cool decoration, with lots of arches and a glass dome. By the way, this building was known to be the favorite place for suicides to end their lives… They did it by jumping into the void from the 9th floor…
- Junín Street
Another of the commercial axes to see in Medellin is Carrera 49, known as Calle de Villanueva or Carrera Junin. It was an area where the wealthy used to build their big houses and palaces.
Don’t miss the chance to stop at the historic Hacienda restaurant and try the traditional Colombian specialties, better if you do it on the balcony overlooking the street. Do you dare with a bandeja paisa?
And speaking of eating, here are 7 restaurants where to eat in Medellin.
- San Antonio Park
Then, go to San Antonio Park, not so much for the park itself, but for the monument of the Wounded Bird. In 1995 a 10-kilogram bomb exploded right at the foot of this sculpture, taking the lives of 23 people, in one of the last attacks of the drug war. It was decided to rebuild the monument and accompany it with a new identical sculpture by Botero, the Bird of Peace, so as not to forget such a bloody past.
- Parque de las Luces, one of the best things to see in Medellin.
An interesting place to visit in Medellín is the Parque de las Luces, a forest of 300 towers up to 24 meters high that are illuminated every night.
Visit it also during the day and go up to the terrace of the EPM Library, with beautiful views of the square and the mountains surrounding the city.
- Monument to the Race
One of the icons of Medellin and the emblem of the people of Antioquia is the Monumento a la Raza, which stands out among the concrete and glass buildings of the administrative center of the neighborhood of La Alpujarra. It is a 38-meter curved sculpture representing the liberation of the conquered peoples.
- Pueblito Paisa
The Pueblito Paisa is another essential place to see in Medellin, especially if you are not going to make a route through the towns of Antioquia. The reason? It’s a reproduction of a traditional Paisa village. Don’t expect a model, though: it’s life-size (although not very large).
The best thing to do, apart from walking the streets, is to enjoy the views of the city. It is undoubtedly one of the best things to see and do in Medellín.
- Santo Domingo neighborhood
Although if we talk about views, the best thing to do is to get on the metro cable and reach the Santo Domingo neighborhood, one of the highest areas of Medellin.
- Botanical Garden
There is no better place than the Botanical Garden to seek (and find) disconnection and relaxation… And in a city as big as Medellin, this haven of peace is the closest thing there is to paradise. Admission is free.
- Explora Park
Nearby is the Explora Park. If like us, you prefer not to have anything to do with the enclosed animals, you can skip visiting the vivarium and aquarium, but you can enjoy the cultural offerings it has… exhibitions, laboratories, it also has a planetarium, and a 3D theater.
It is highly recommended for families with children and it is also a good plan in Medellin if it rains.
- Flower Fair, is one of the best experiences to live in Medellín.
Visiting Medellin in August? You will be lucky enough to participate in the Flower Fair, the most important celebration of the city, in which the streets are dressed in flowers of all colors and various events take place.
If you’re not around by then, take in the mural of the silletero on the wall of the San Antonio subway station. If you want to learn more about this tradition, you can take a trip to Santa Elena, the cradle of the silletero culture.
- Comuna 13
Comuna 13 was once one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in one of the most dangerous cities in the world. Fortunately, today it has been given a facelift and this commune can be visited thanks to tours that take you to see its most artistic side. Because here the guns have been exchanged for spray cans, in a program of social inclusion for the most disadvantaged.
So if you like street art, do not miss it, what’s more: you can sign up for a free tour with a meeting point at the Metro station San Javier. It is one of the unmissable stops on a trip to the city of eternal spring and for us is in the top 3 things to see and do in Medellin. Do you agree?
- El Poblado, is one of the neighborhoods to visit in Medellin without fail.
Stay in El Poblado, the hipster neighborhood of Medellin, full of bars, backpacker hostels, and charming restaurants and cafes. We found a small apartment on Airbnb and we really liked the atmosphere of the area. There are many offers for partying and a great variety of restaurants and trendy places. You can also sign up for a free tour to get to know it better.
- Golden Mile
El Poblado is also home to the “Golden Mile”, a street that runs from El Poblado Park to the La Aguacatala interchange and represents the most elegant and chic area of the city, something like New York’s 5th Avenue. A fun way to tour this neighborhood and spend a different kind of night is to ride the Chiva Rumbera.
And if Bogotá has Usaquén, Medellín has Envigado. It is about 10 km south of downtown Medellin and is neither more nor less than the municipality with the best quality of life in Colombia. If you have time, it can be a good plan to stroll through what some call the Monaco of Colombia.
- Pablo Escobar Tour, yes or no?
If you are an attentive reader, you may have noticed something missing from almost every post about what to do in Medellin: the famous Pablo Escobar tour. We decided not to do it, personally, it seems to us that the tour takes advantage of the morbidity and the enormous fame that this Colombian figure has conquered through the Netflix series, to profit.
We must remember that Pablo was, above all, a murderer. We see similarities with the romantic image of the Italian mafia that is projected from Hollywood. But we feel obliged to at least inform you that this tour exists, and it is up to you to decide.
Tours from Medellin
For those who have a little more time, there are a couple of excursions from Medellín that are definitely worthwhile:
– Santa Fe
One of the most popular is Santa Fe de Antioquia, the former capital of the department, which represents one of the best examples of colonial architecture in Colombia. More information and tour booking.
The town of Jardín is also worth a visit, if you have time or are renting a car to tour Colombia, try to stop by. This tour combines a visit to Jardín and hiking along the La Herrera trail.
Although the best-known getaway that almost everyone does from Medellín is Guatapé, famous above all for its Piedra del Peñón, a huge “rock” that you can “climb”, overcoming its 740 steps. The views from the top are among the most beautiful in Colombia. More information and tour reservation.