Things To Do in Medellin
The capital of the mountainous province of Antioquia, Medellín is the second-largest city in Colombia and a hotbed of history and culture. Once considered the most dangerous city in the world—the result of an urban war between drug lord Pablo Escobar and competing cartels—today Medellín is a vibrant destination where exciting city living meets the natural beauty of the jungle. With temperatures that hover consistently at around 75 degrees Fahrenheit (24 C), the location has earned the nickname of the “City of Eternal Spring.” Shady parks and plazas attract visitors throughout the year, as does an endless lineup of events including the famous Festival of Flowers. On top of its music, museums, nightlife, food, and sports, Medellín is a progressive destination, having previously been named the Most Innovative City of the World by the Wall Street Journal. It’s public transportation system is one of the most comprehensive on Earth, integrating bus, rail, tram, escalator, and cable car lines. What was once a place to avoid just a decade ago is now one of the prettiest, friendliest, and most advanced cities in all of Latin America.
Areas & Neighborhoods
Split into the east and west by the Medellín River, the urban area of the city is divided into 16 communes, and within those, smaller neighborhoods each with its own unique personality. If visiting Medellín for the first time, these are the places you need to know.
El Poblado — Sitting in the southeast corner of the city, El Poblado is the most visited district in the city, thanks to a large number of hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, shopping malls, and museums.
- El Poblado: Named after the district itself, the wealthy neighborhood of El Poblado is easily the city’s most popular. Centered around Lleras Park, the area is also known as Zona Rosa, the name given to neighborhoods that buzz with the nighttime activity of restaurants, disco clubs, and bars. During the day, locals enjoy hanging out in the main square before heading out for dinner, drinks, and dancing after the sun goes down.
- La Aguacatala: To the southwest of El Poblado, La Aguacatala is a bustling business district and shopping destination. On and around El Poblado Avenue, find the Santa Fe Mall, the South River Mall, and the Oviedo Shopping Center, the oldest mall in the city. Roughly a 20-minute walk southeast of the district sits the Castle Museum, a gothic-style home atop a hill offering tours, exhibits, gardens, and panoramic views over the city.
- Villa Carlota: Near the northwest border of the district, Villa Carlota is an area of urban renewal, boasting culture, recreation, and commerce. In the south end, the sprawling Monterrey Shopping Center houses more than 100 stores specializing in technology products. Cuidad del Rio is a popular green space for picnics, relaxation, and events, while sites around the park host colorful collections of street art. The neighborhood is also home to one of the city’s top attractions, the Medellín Museum of Modern Art. Here, admire more than 1,300 contemporary works, watch arthouse films in the cinema, and attend presentations by artists from across the region.
La Candelaria — To the north of El Poblado, La Candelaria is considered the downtown district of Medellín.
- El Centro: Once known for its rough reputation during the days of Pablo Escobar, today El Centro is a mix of skyscrapers, plazas, and cultural attractions—all still with a familiar sense of grit. Next to the Antioquia Museum and the Palace of Culture, Botero Plaza is an open-air gallery featuring 23 sculptures by hometown artist Fernando Botero. Adjacent to the romanesque Metropolitan Cathedral, Bolivar Park is a peaceful spot filled with trees and a fountain, while Periodista Park is a gathering place for the city’s alternative and artsy crowd. Further south, Berro Park is a busy, historic square with street vendors, sitting next to the 17th-century Basilica of Our Lady of Candelaria. Junín Avenue, a block east of the church, boasts shops and cafes along a lovely pedestrian walkway.
Laureles-Estadio — Located on the west side of the river opposite La Candelaria, Laureles-Estadio is a laidback part of the city—a mix of quiet residential streets and easy-going nightlife.
- Estadio and Suramericana: Home to the Atanasio Girardot Stadium, Estadio draws thousands of visitors to the matches of the Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellin soccer teams. Next door, a massive complex houses a number of other courts, arenas, and fields, as well as an Olympic-sized swimming pool. To the east of the stadium, the neighborhood of Suramericana attracts crowds looking for food both before and after the games.
- Bolivariana: Centered around Pontifical Bolivarian University, Bolivariana is a popular spot for college students and those looking for a fun night out on the town. Carrera 70—known locally as simply La 70—is a street lined with restaurants, dance clubs, and casinos, while Avenue 33 is the place to find little cafes and low-key bars.
Arví Park — Lying northeast of Medellín in the village of Santa Elena, Arví Park offers hiking trails, boat rentals, an outdoor market, and activities such as nature walks, birdwatching, and ziplining. You can reach the top of the mountains by cable car from the Santo Domingo gondola station in the Popular district.
What to See in Medellin
Head to the commune of Belen for unforgettable views over Medellín. On a platform atop 262-foot (80-m) Nutibara Hill, you’re met with stunning vistas of the city and country that stretch in all directions. The site also features Pueblito Paisa, a quaint model of a typical town in the Antioquia province. Here, you can wander the cobblestone plaza, browse the outdoor market stalls, sample bites of traditional food, or dive into Medellín’s history at the little City Museum. Take a taxi to the top of the hill and then walk back down, winding your way through the abstract artwork in the Sculpture Park.
Things to Do, Landmarks & Attractions
Explore the must-see sites of Medellín on a tour with your own private guide. Begin in El Centro with a morning stroll among the iconic statues in Botero Plaza. Relax in the warm sun at Bolivar Park and admire the facade of the Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest brick church in the world. After a lunch of tasty Colombian classics, cap off your excursion with a cable car ride to see Medellín’s large-scale outdoor escalators—an innovative form of transportation that brings thousands of travelers from the outer barrios to the center of the city.
Travel back in time through Medellín’s notorious past with a tour through the former epicenter of the drug cartels. With a knowledgeable guide leading the way, see the once-home of Pablo Escobar, pay a visit to his tomb, and learn about the changes that began happening after his death. Next, head into San Javier, also known as Commune 13, a district that earned an infamously dangerous reputation during the height of the drug wars. Today the area is a prime example of how Medellín has transformed, with cable cars and escalators connecting the steep slopes of the city to office buildings, libraries, and shopping centers.
To further uncover what Commune 13 has to offer, immerse yourself in its vibrant local culture. A guided tour takes you through the district to see its intricate graffiti and compelling street art. Learn about the factors that contributed to the district’s turnaround and meet with a local artist who led the charge in re-envisioning the area. Soak up trivia about the hip hop movement that has gotten kids off the street and encouraged them to pursue music, dance, and other arts within the community.
Once you’ve explored Medellín, travel out of the city through lush jungle to Piedra de Peñol, a monolithic rock formation towering at 722 feet (220 m). The journey begins at the Trojan Horse, a site showcasing handmade crafts from artisans across the country. When you finally reach the rock, you can opt to climb up the 740 steps to the monolith’s summit for 360-degree views of the valley, mountains, and reservoir. Back down on ground, continue your tour into the city of Guatapé. Walk through the streets to admire Crayola-colored houses before making the drive back to Medellin.