Things to do in Medan: Planning Your Visit

Most people only spend 1 night in Medan before flying out the next day – find out the stopover essentials: accommodation, transport & things to do in Medan.

In a whirlwind 30 hours, we here at DIY Travel HQ had a burger at the Texas Chicken chain, watched James Bond’s “Spectre” at the cinema, ate a kebab, enjoyed food-court style Malaysian Laksa and went to a shopping mall & supermarket.

Medan is a nice ease back into civilisation from the rest of Sumatra & a short Air Asia flight away can take you to the ever-more modern, bustling cities of Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok & more.

After 2 months of hardcore DIY travel, nothing against Medan but we were ready to get out of Indonesia!

We were pretty lazy here but we can never visit a city without doing at least a bit of sightseeing.

* Don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before any trip to Indonesia. We’ve been using World Nomads for over 10 years – it’s the best-value provider we’ve found & we’ve also never had any issues on the few occasions we’ve had to make a claim.

Downtown Medan

The “Times Square” of Medan with electronic screens on the street!

Things to do in Medan

  • Grand Mosque

The Moroccan-style Grand Mosque was commissioned by the sultan in 1906.

It features black domes, intricate carvings, soaring ceilings, Italian marble & stained glass from China.

We only took photos from the outside but visitors may visit the mosque – dress appropriately, including covering hair for women.

A donation may be requested.

Grand Mosque Medan

The beautiful Grand Mosque

  • Water Tower

Believe it or not, this Water Tower is one of things to do in Medan & a major landmark of the city.

It’s located inside the National Water Company complex but you can view it from the street.

It was constructed in 1908, with built-in sirens.

Of course, it’s still just a water tower, don’t go out of your way for it.

Water Tower Medan

It’s just a water tower

Other things to do in Medan:

  • Marian Shrine of Annai Velangkanni
  • Maha Vihara Maitreya Cemara Asri
  • Malmoon Palace
  • Museum of North Sumatra
  • Bukit Barisan Military Museum

Things to do in Medan, colonial attractions:

  • Tjong A Fie Mansion
  • Tip Top Restaurant
  • Lapangan Merdeka

From Medan, the major tourist destinations nearby are the Bukit Lawang Orang-Utan Rehabilitation Centre & Lake Toba.

We were running out of time, so rather than rushing through these places, we decided to spend our final days diving in Pulau Weh.

We also squeezed in a self-guided Banda Aceh tsunami tour, which we highly recommend.

Shopping centre overpass Medan

A shopping centre & overpass in modern Medan

Accommodation in Medan

The budget hotel area is around the Grand Mosque.

Every morning in downtown Medan, Indonesia mosques compete with each other over loudspeakers to draw their worshipers.

Thankfully, this was only two months of our lives.

If you haven’t been to a Muslim country and had the pleasure of the morning Call to Prayer, then you may rate it as one of the things to do in Medan.

This is what you can expect:

This video was filmed from our accommodation at Zakia Hotel – it wasn’t the absolute cheapest but it was the best value.

Zakia Hotel room Medan

Zaria Hotel room w/ private bathroom

How to Get to & from Medan

From Banda Aceh, we caught an evening semi-deluxe bus to Medan for 130,000 IDR. It took 12 hours.

There are more economical choices during the day.

But the best part of Medan is getting out of there!

We flew to Bangkok for a great price, check the Air Asia website regularly for awesome deals.

Departure gate at Medan International Airport

Grab a cheap flight & say goodbye to dandan!


*** The Final Word: There aren’t many things to do in Medan, it can easily be skipped ***

Did you spend more than 1 night in Medan?! Was it worth it?

5 Shovels-2

Super easy DIY travel around city centres

Visited in November 2015