Medan City in North Sumatra attracts a lot of tourists as it is the gateway to stunning neighbouring attractions like Lake Toba and Bukit Lawang. Unfortunately, however, many people spend the night in Medan and leave as soon as possible, thinking it’s just another big city in Indonesia. However, they were dead wrong, Medan saw many domestic tourists realize its charm and also realize that it has some of the best food in Indonesia.
People flock here for good food, no matter what taste you like, you won’t be starving in town. Most of Medan’s top attractions focus on food, and you can sign up for a food tour or explore the sights, smells and tastes of the city on your own. Besides restaurants, stalls and food courts, Medan is known for its diversity, which is reflected in the many attractions you can experience here, including a strong Tamil influence, a large Chinese community, and the indigenous Batak also known as Medan is home.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Medan:
1. Visit Tjong A Fie Mansion
Anyone who has been to Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in Penang, Malaysia may find Tjong A Fie Mansion familiar, and Tjong A Fie is actually a relative of Cheong Fatt Tze, hence the similarity between the two buildings.
This mansion is one of Medan’s main attractions and a great place to get a glimpse of how people lived in the city in the 1900s.
You can take a guided tour around the mansion, which takes about an hour, and learn all the history here with one of the attentive guides.
As you walk around, be sure to check out all the ornate decor and the beautiful gardens this mansion is famous for.
2. Have a bowl of soup at Soto Kesawan
Soto Kesawan is one of the reasons people flock to Medan for good food and is one of the most famous restaurants in the city.
It’s not actually a real restaurant but more of a small shop with a few tables, but it serves one of Medan’s most famous dishes, called Soto Medan.
Essentially, it’s a soup thickened with coconut milk, infused with shredded chicken or shrimp, and served with crunchy bean sprouts and hash browns.
The restaurant closes around 4pm, so be sure to arrive early if you want to enjoy this delicious and soothing soup for yourself.
It’s close to Tjong A Fie Mansion, so it’s best to visit both.
3. Admire Mesjid Raya Al Mashun
Mesjid Raya Al Mashun, or more commonly known as Mesjid Raya, is the main mosque in Medan and is known for being one of the most beautiful mosques.
This mosque was built with imported building materials such as Italian marble, and you can visit here and see all the fine details.
Some things to look out for include beautiful stained glass and emerald green tiles, and the mosque is topped with a dark elegant dome.
Non-Muslims are welcome to visit the mosque outside of prayer hours, but be sure to dress appropriately.
4. Lunch at Tip Top Restaurant
Conveniently located across the street from Tjong A Fie Mansion, Tip Top Restaurant is a Medan establishment that first opened in 1934. Little has changed since then, and this is a beautiful example of colonial-style architecture that can be seen everywhere in Medan.
Serving a range of Indonesian and international dishes, the restaurant also has an on-site ice cream parlour and a bakery that bakes delicious cakes.
However, the real reason to come here is to enjoy the background and experience what Medan was like a few years ago.
5. Dress up at Istana Maimun
Istana Maimun is the name of the Royal Palace of Medan, belonging to the Sultanate of Cooked Food.
Today, part of the palace is open to the public and has been turned into a museum.
These include the Throne Room, and there are displays that explain the history of the royal family as well as some collections of ancient clothing and other objects of interest.
One of the biggest draws here is that, for a small fee, you can dress up in period costumes and take pictures in the Throne Room, and you can also stroll through the lush grounds that surround the palace.
6. Dinner at Merdeka Walk
Medan is known for its food, but if you’re not sure what you want to eat, head to Merdeka Walk.
It’s basically a kind of promenade with different restaurants and stalls selling all kinds of food in the city center.
This means it’s perfect if you’re traveling with a large group, as everyone can choose a different food to eat, and it gives you a snapshot of the various food scenes in Medan.
Some of the options here include noodles, soups, rice, curries, fresh juices and delicious desserts.
7. Visit the North Sumatra Museum
The North Sumatra Museum is the best museum in the city and a must visit if you want to learn more about the history and culture of the province.
At the museum, you’ll find galleries that tell stories from different periods of North Sumatra’s history and take you through the Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim eras, as well as the Dutch colonial period.
There are also collections dedicated to ancient weapons, textiles, farming tools and sculptures, and you’ll find some stunning dragon-shaped wooden coffins.
All in all, this is a treasure trove of history and a good introduction to Medan.
8. Feast at Garuda Restaurant
If you want to try some typical Medan style food then you need to go to Garuda Restaurant.
This is actually a chain, so there are a few touches throughout the city, and the main reason to come here is to enjoy Nasi Padang.
Literally “Padang Rice”, the staff will bring you about 20 side dishes, including different curries, fish, vegetables and sauces, and a plate of rice.
You pay for what you eat, so you don’t have to taste every dish, and some of the highlights include a spicy beef curry called rendang, hash browns, and eggplant slathered in chili sauce.
However, whatever you choose, this is one of the best culinary experiences you can have in Medan.
9. Walk around Kampong Green
Kampung Keling is the traditional Tamil part of Medan and you can be forgiven for thinking you are actually in India.
The area is full of shops selling colourful saris and Indian jewellery, and there are also many Indian restaurants serving traditional Indian dishes.
It is also home to the Mariamman Temple built in 1884, which is colorful.
Be sure to check out the ornate carvings that make up the roof of the temple, as there is nothing else like it in Medan.
10. Visit Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni
Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni, also known as Our Lady of Health Church, opened in 2005 as an optical illusion.
It’s a Catholic church dedicated to the Virgin of Health, but it’s modeled after a Hindu temple, where you can admire ornate furniture and elegant, colorful portraits on display.
It is also a powerful symbol of Medan’s diversity.
11. Dinner at Cahaya Baru
Located in Kampung Keling, Cahaya Baru is one of the most famous restaurants in the city.
Dedicated to delicious and cheap Indian food, this simple eatery is the place to go if you want authentic curries and dhal.
If you want to taste it all, you can order the thali on a metal tray, which is divided into compartments with a variety of curry, rice and vegetable dishes.
Unlike many restaurants in Medan, you can also buy a beer here and enjoy a cold drink, or you can choose from a fresh juice or lassi.
12. Visit Medan Post Office
The Medan Post Office is located in the city center and is one of the most recognizable buildings in the area.
The post office was built in 1911 during the Dutch colonial period, designed by a Dutch architect and built in a traditional colonial style.
The post office has a large finish on the top and the iconic semicircular windows and is one of the finest examples of Medan colonial architecture.
13. Visit Vihara Maha Maitreya
One of the largest Buddhist temples in Indonesia, Vihara Maha Maitreya is also a great place to visit if you want to visit all the major religious sites in Medan.
Medan has a large Buddhist community and it is an important place of worship, although tourists are also welcome to visit the building.
Be sure to keep an eye out for the beautiful swimming pool, and there’s a canteen that sells delicious vegetarian food, so try to schedule your visit to coincide with lunchtime.
14. Explore the Rahmat Gallery
Rahmat Gallery is one of Medan’s most peculiar attractions, and it’s a great choice if you want to do something unusual.
The gallery is noteworthy because it’s full of well-preserved animals, so anyone interested in taxidermy should definitely not miss it.
The gallery is also a great way to see a variety of different species native to Indonesia.
15. Enjoy the nightlife at Cafe Raya
Cafe Raya is an institution in Medan known as the best place to stop for a few beers.
Not all cafes in Medan serve alcoholic beverages, so this makes Cafe Raya a favorite among the expat community and anyone looking for a quiet corner away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
Located in the heart of Jalan SM Raja, Cafe Raya also serves a variety of international dishes and some simple Indonesian noodles and fried rice, since many hotels and guesthouses in the city are located on the same road, it is a convenient place to come and relax in the evening, Then go to bed again.
Where to Stay: The Best Hotels in Medan, Indonesia
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