Medellín is a city living a new chapter – take one step in the Colombian city, share one conversation with a paisa (Medellín citizen) and stroll down a singular street within its transformed and contemporary barrios and you’ll appreciate all the “City of the Eternal Spring” has to offer.
Here are the 10 best things to do to experience and appreciate its beauty today.
Take in the vistas on the Metrocable
Medellín is home to Colombia’s only metro rail system and it is by no means boring. In addition to a pristinely-kept two-line rail system – with simple-to-navigate lines that run north to south and east to west – there is a connected tram system, intricate bus lines and gondola system (the Metrocable) that takes locals and visitors alike up into the hillside barrios (neighborhoods). With trips of each metro or Metrocable leg seldom exceeding $3,000 pesos, it is a vista-filled way to explore Medellín and take in the Andes Mountains. For those seeking an even higher view than the Metrocable offers, Fly Colombia offers helicopter journeys in and around the city, too.
Party like a paisa
This city knows how to let its hair down. The nightlife scene doesn’t get bumping until 10 or 11 p.m., with El Poblado, La 70 in Laureles and the periodic warehouse-esque nightclub in Barrio Colombia leading the pack. And you can opt to party with a view: Envy atop the Charlee Hotel in Parque Lleras is an upscale, club-like option. Los Patios in El Poblado is a bit more laid back and appeases the backpacker crowd.
Load up on Medellín’s street food
Stroll down nearly any Medellín thoroughfare and you’ll be greeted with convenience shops big-and-small with display cases of fried goods. Once you’ve become accustomed to the empanada (in Medellín, typically a fried pastry with beef and potatoes), buñuelo (round cheese fritter) and pastel de pollo (chicken pastry), go to the city’s best spots for culinary bliss. Hit up El Machetico de Nico in El Poblado for ultra-crispy empanadas, El Peregrino in Sabaneta for super-cheese infused buñuelos and La Estación del Sabor near La 70 for a pastel de pollo. Pro-tip: Ask for some ají – a typically homemade spicy sauce – to add some kick to any fried morsel.
Cheer on Atlético Nacional (or DIM)
Colombia loves its fútbol and the most beloved team in the entire country is based in Medellín: Atlético Nacional. The team plays at Estadio Girardot and as does its bitter intracity rival, Deportivo Independiente Medellín (DIM). If you’re lucky enough to be in Medellín while Nacional is playing there, throw on some green garb, snag a ticket at the stadium and enjoy watching the team’s very devoted fan base as much as the game itself.
Achieve a new level of gluttony with a bandeja paisa
After a raucous night out (or just when paisas are really, really, really hungry), the bandeja paisa is the go-to dish. The bandeja paisa is the region’s typical dish and often features a grilled piece of meat, beans, white rice, chicharrón (fried pork), fried plantains, a slice of avocado, arepa (maize dough) and fried egg. For the best one in town, hit Las Delicias de La Nena on La 70 in Laureles. If you’re not that hungry, opt for a traditional soup like mondongo, ajiaco or sancocho.
Shop ‘til you drop
While fashion may reach its boiling point in July for the ColombiaModa festival, style is very much center stage in Medellín year-round. For handcrafted clothing and keepsakes, the areas known as Via Primavera (Carrera 35) and Via Provenza (Carrera 37) in El Poblado are renowned for their trendy boutiques. Malls like Santafé and El Tesoro are loaded with Colombian-owned stores, like preppy brand Tennis and beloved bag maker Totto. For souvenirs, check out the free Mercados Artisanos on the weekends in nearly 20 Medellín parks throughout the city.
Get caffeinated at a specialty coffee shop
Fun fact: According to the United Nations, Colombia is the third largest coffee producer in the world. Antioquia – the state that Medellín is situated in – is loaded with coffee farms. So, it only makes sense to drink as much delicious coffee as humanly possible, while in Medellín, right?
In addition to the cart-pushing vendors selling tinto (black coffee) and café con leche (coffee with milk) on the streets, the city has a blossoming specialty coffee scene with spots slinging pour overs, finely tuned espresso shots and sugary delights. Top coffee shops include Pergamino in El Poblado, Rituales and Café Tipica in Laureles and Distrito Cafetero in Barrio Colombia.
Wander Medellín’s one-of-a-kind museums
The “City of the Eternal Spring” is home to some excellent museums. The most powerful and tear-jerking museum experience is the Museo Casa de La Memoria, which digs into personal perspectives and displacement stemming from Colombia’s conflicts and wars.
On the lighter side and equally as unique to the city is Museo el Castillo, a 90-year-old castle built by architect Nel Rodríguez with nine rooms housing antique Colombian goods. For art lovers, the Museo de Antioquia is a must, with a top-floor permanent exhibit of Fernando Botero exhibits and 23 of his statues permanently installed out front in Plaza Botero.
Experience the city’s neighborhoods
Just decades removed from drug-war induced violence that plagued the entire city, many of its neighborhoods have been totally revitalized. An example among many: Comuna 13 (or San Javier) is accessible via the Metrocable and has become the Medellín destination for graffiti art tours and experiences. While in San Javier, make sure to check out the escaleras electricas – outdoor escalators that help locals along their commute, with eateries and select souvenir shops dotting the route, too.
Other barrios leading the transformation charge include Moravia - once the site of Medellín’s central dump and a haven for those displaced by Colombia’s conflict – and the eastern barrio of Manrique, which has put tango concerts, lessons and experience at the core of its comeback.
Take a day trip to the color-splashed Guatapé
The pueblo of Guatapé may feel worlds away from Medellín, but it’s within a two-hour bus ride east. Guatapé is the leading Medellín day trip among locals and tourists alike thanks to its vividly painted historic center, man-made lake with intense blue waters and Piedra del Peñol. Climb the 600 steps to the top for one of the most serene views in the region.