This post was last updated on May 25th, 2020 at 09:19 am
The Indonesian city of Medan is one of the largest cities in Sumatra and has a rich Dutch history. Nowadays, however, it is a hectic city where most travelers do not linger for too long. If you decide to spend some time here, there’s still enough to see and do.
Medan does not enjoy much beauty or world-famous sights, but a lot of travelers still visit the city. Most travel straight to Bukit Lawang or Lake Toba, but if you are in the area, then it is worth taking a walk around the sights.
Best Things to See in Medan
Like many major cities in Asia, it is a massive and busy city. However, the city has a number of sights that are worth seeing! Below you will find an overview of the best sights that Medan has to offer.
Istana Maimun (Maimun Palace)
The most famous landmark of Medan is Istana Maimun or Maimun Palace. This pompous structure dates from 1888 and was built by the sultan of Delhi. An eclectic piece of architecture, because different architectural styles are represented here. The building has Indian, Malaysian and Italian influences. Part of the palace is still in use by the royal family, but the main hall is also open to tourists. Here10000 you can view an exhibition of traditional Malaysian costumes.
Museum Of North Sumatra
A visit to the museum of North Sumatra is definitely worth it if you want to learn more about the history and culture of the province. The museum presents an overview of North Sumatran history in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Islamic eras and the Dutch colonial period.
So do you want to learn more about North Sumatra’s history and culture? Then the Museum of North Sumatra is a must-see.
TIP – Entry to the museum costs 10,000 IDR (around US$0.67).
Masjid Raya al Mashun
Masjid Raya al Mashun literally means Great Mosque and that’s definitely true. The mosque has an octagonal shape and was designed by a Dutch architect, with elements from Moroccan, Indian, and Spanish architectural styles. As a tourist and non-Muslim you can take a look inside, and there are always people who want to give you a tour. Pay special attention to the beautiful mosaics and blue details. Make sure you wear appropriate clothing: that means a headscarf for women, and cover your arms and legs.
Maha Vihara Maitreya
You can clearly see that Medan is a mix of cultures in the street scene where religious buildings alternate. This includes the Maha Vihara Maitreya, a huge Buddhist temple in the north of the city. It is one of the largest of its kind and is located in the middle of a residential complex, but inside it is surprisingly calm and serene.
Tjong A Fie Mansion
This mansion was built by a famous Chinese merchant (Tjong A Fie). This Tjong A Fie was the richest resident of Medan and has had his mansion completely decorated in the Victorian and Chinese style.
In the house, you can now get guided tours to get an impression of what life looked like in the 1900s.
TIP – Entry to the Tjong A Fie Mansion costs 35,000 IDR (around US$2.35).
Medan is the gateway to North Sumatra and the base for visiting Bukit Lawang. This friendly backpacker village on the edge of the jungle is the place in Sumatra to spot orangutans in real life, and should not be missed. You can make beautiful treks through the jungle and spend the night in a cozy bungalow at the river. Minivans leave several times a day from Medan and can drop you off at the Bukit Lawang bus station within a few hours.
Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni
In the center of Medan, you can see some interesting temples. The most famous is the Graha Maria Annai Velangkanni (or Our Lady of Good Health Church), which surprisingly serves the Catholic faith. You wouldn’t say that from the outside, because at first glance it seems to be a Hindu temple. However, if you look more closely, you will notice the details. For example, figures of Jesus and other Catholic effigies are depicted everywhere.
Indonesian cuisine holds few secrets after having dinner on Merdeka Walk. In this street, you will find a lot of stalls where you can eat street food. Early in the morning, the first carts gather where you can order nasi goreng, noodles, spring rolls, and satay, but at dusk, it starts to get really busy. A cozy combination of tourists and locals, and numerous stalls where you can eat super fresh and super tasty food. Prices are cheap, so grabbing a bite to eat on Merdeka Walk is also great for your wallet. Try different dishes and share them with your travel companions.
Besides Bukit Lawang, Lake Toba is also a popular stop in the north of Sumatra. This beautiful crater lake is a popular place to linger a little longer because the atmosphere is good and there is plenty to see. Opt to stay on Tuk Tuk Island and book a traditional Batak hut on the edge of the lake. During the day you can rent a scooter, go trekking, or look for waterfalls in the area, but you can also take cooking lessons, get a massage or just enjoy the sun on a bed by the water’s edge.
How to Get to Medan
Located in North Sumatra, Medan is the starting point for many travelers on the island. Medan airport is easily accessible from various national and international destinations. You can fly to Medan from Jakarta, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur. From the airport, you can then travel to the city by taxi. Take into account an hour and a half driving, depending on traffic.
Once in Medan, you can easily travel around by taxi or becak, the Indonesian bicycle taxi.
Where to Stay in Medan
If you decide to stay in bustling Medan, there are plenty of options available. Medan offers accommodations in all price ranges. However, the choice is whether you want to visit the city or if you are passing through.
If you want to see the city, we advise you to find accommodation in the city center. Most sights are within walking distance of each other.
For people in transit, we recommend a hotel next to the airport. These were built in large quantities along the road to the airport. These hotels also offer a transport service.
TIP – Looking for places to stay in Medan? Check out Booking.com!
Best Time to Visit Medan
The best time to visit Medan is during the dry season which runs from May through September. The highest average temperature in Medan is 34°C (93.2°F) in June and the lowest is 31°C (87.8°F) in January. Because it is a hilly island, it is always cooler inland.
A good rainstorm can hit you all year round, but the real rain comes between December and March. To keep it as dry as possible during your trip, choose the period from June to August.
Keep in mind that in September there can often be huge wildfires in Sumatra. It may be that there is a lot of smog in the weeks following these fires.
Medan Weather by Month