Medan is capital of North Sumatra and serves as this Indonesian island’s busiest transportation hub. As the third-largest city in the country, Medan is a bastion of civilization in a region otherwise known for its rustic charms.

Despite its capital status, this isn’t a major tourist destination. Anyone visiting this part of Sumatra will invariably be shuttled through Medan, and most choose to continue on to the rest of the region’s sites. But for travel-weary visitors who have spent the last few days in remote stretches of Indonesia, a layover in this metropolitan hub can be the perfect diversion.

While enjoying the hospitality and big-city amenities, tourists can pay a visit to the colonial quarter around Kesawan Square and get a glimpse of what Sumatra looked liked under the Dutch. Most of the buildings are in disrepair today though there are a few well-maintained gems. Tjong A Fai mansion is outstanding among these.

Other noteworthy attractions in Medan include the Grand Mosque, a place of worship built in the early 20th century. The style is vaguely North African, adding an exotic hint to the architecture. Maimoom Palace is slightly older than the mosque and was commissioned by a former sultan.

Getting There & Away

Getting in and out of Medan is easy because of Polonia International Airport, a facility with links to Jakarta, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and a few other prominent cities in Southeast Asia. Ferry traffic is routed through Belawan, a nearby city. A limited railway connects to a few Sumatran cities along the coast.

Within city limits, public transportation is not reliable. Buses operated on a fixed fare system but schedules are erratic. Taxis are much more convenient, and bargaining is often required. Perhaps the most convenient means of getting around Medan is with a hire car and driver.

Things to Do

Medan Attractions

  • Colonial core: The city’s colonial district is in varying states of decay, though there are still a few stoic specimens left onsite.
  • Grand Mosque: The medan grand mosque sports a black dome and 100 years of history.
  • Maimoon Palace: Built in 1888 by a local sultan, this aging building hints at sumatra’s former glory.
  • Military Museum: Displays weapons and memorabilia from wwii and onward.
  • North Sumatra Museum: This facility houses an eclectic collection of island artifacts.
  • Tjong A Fie mansion: This grandiose structure, which blends victorian and chinese architecture, was built by a chinese merchant whose wealthy family also built some impressive buildings in penang.