7 reasons why Medan is more than a gateway city

The charms of Medan might not be obvious but it has lots to offer, including a unique multicultural vibe and an amazing street food scene.

Maria Annai Velangkanni Church
  • Denise Li
  • February 2020

It’s true that many visitors use Medan as a means of accessing surrounding natural attractions like Lake Toba. But here are seven reasons why Sumatra’s largest city is worth visiting in its own right.

1. It has a vibrant food scene

Medanese food
Medan’s unique ethnic tapestry that intertwines Batak, Javanese, Minangkabau and Chinese influences is reflected through its diverse food scene.

Medan's food scene is abundant and varied. The lontong sayur (rice cakes and vegetables in a coconut milk-based soup) is a classic breakfast choice, while food bloggers rave about the bihun bebek (duck soup with rice noodles) served at Bihun Bebek Asie opens in new window and the curry chicken noodles from Rumah Makan Tabona opens in new window.

2. It’s home to many historically-rich landmarks

Great Mosque of Medan
Completed in 1909, the Great Mosque of Medan’s striking architecture combines Middle Eastern, Indian and Spanish elements.

Look past Medan's industrial exterior and you’ll find sights that warrant further exploration. These include architectural wonders like the the sprawling Great Mosque opens in new window and the Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni opens in new window, a Catholic Church that combines Hindu and Islamic design styles. For a sense of Medan's rich past, be sure to visit Dutch colonial relics like the Old Medan City Hall opens in new window and the historic Tjong A Fie Mansion opens in new window that was home to the city’s wealthiest merchant in the late 1800s.

3. There’s no shortage of watering holes in the city

Soho Capital Medan
If you prefer DJ sets to live music, check out Soho Capital in the heart of the city. (Image credit: facebook.com/pg/sohocapitalmedan).

Sure, the bar and club scene might pale in comparison to Jakarta’s but if you’re looking to kick back and relax with a beer in hand, head to The View opens in new window on the 26th floor of Cambridge Hotel opens in new window, which has a live band that performs from 9pm daily.

4. There’s a wealth of accommodation options

Centre Point Medan
Centre Point Medan is one the city’s largest malls. (Image credit: facebook.com/centrepointmedanindonesia).

Medan has its fair share of international hotel chains, but most tend to be spread out across the city away from its main attractions. For an affordable option that's within walking distance to major shopping malls like Centre Point Medan opens in new window and Lippo Plaza opens in new window as well as attractions like the Tjong A Fie Mansion and Great Mosque, consider d’Prima Hotel opens in new window, a hotel set above the train station in the city centre.

5. You can find good coffee everywhere

Monks Coffee Medan
Monks Coffee roasts its own single-origin beans from Indonesia, Ethiopia and Brazil. (Image credit: facebook.com/pg/monksroaster).

If a caffeine fix is what you’re after, you won’t be left wanting in Medan. Enjoy a cup of Sumatran Mandheling coffee at Monks Coffee opens in new window or take home a pack of Sumatran Luwak coffee beans from Macehat Coffee opens in new window.

6. It's great for spotting wildlife

Baby orangutan
Bukit Lawang conducts day trips led by expert guides. It ends with a thrilling raft ride down Bohorok River back to the tour’s starting point.

Spend a full day at Bukit Lawang opens in new window, a small village that’s great for trekking and spotting Sumatran orangutans. You might also catch a glimpse of primates like the long-tailed macaque and white-handed gibbon.

7. It's easy to get around

Becak in Medan
Agree on a price before hopping into a becak, and be sure to tell the driver to use the meter if you’re taking a taxi.

As with most major cities in Indonesia, you’ll need some patience dealing with traffic in Medan, but the good news is the situation is nowhere near as hectic as Jakarta or Bali. Taxis and becak (cycle rickshaws) are plentiful but for hassle-free journeys, booking a car via Grab or Gojek is your best bet.

But yes, its nearby natural attractions are not to be missed

Lake Toba
Situated within Lake Toba, Pulau Samosir is only slightly smaller than Singapore.

Popular tourist attractions near Medan include Mt Sibayak volcano opens in new window and Sipisopiso opens in new window, one of Indonesia's tallest waterfalls. But the most famous is undoubtedly Lake Toba opens in new window, the largest volcanic lake in the world. This is also where you’ll find Pulau Samosir opens in new window, the world’s largest island located within a volcano.