Everything you Need to Know about Medan

The city of Medan is the capital of North Sumatra and the fourth largest city in Indonesia (after Jakarta, Surabaya and Bandung). With a population of two million, it is the largest city outside of Java. Tourists can expect a diversity of cultures in this city, as almost every ethnicity in the country is represented in this place: Acehnese, Batak, Chinese, Indians, Javanese, Malay and Minang, however, there is no ethnic group that is considered a majority.

For travellers, Medan is famous as the entry point to North Sumatra. Aside from serving as the gateway to the region, the city also functions as a commercial and economic hub; this Indonesian city attracts not only shoppers, but also business professionals and entrepreneurs. Medan is a modern metropolis and like other Asian cities, it can be very busy and suffer from heavy traffic.

Before Medan became a sprawling city, it was a trading and seafaring town under Islamic Malay leadership during its early days. It was in the 19th century when the city's commercial potential was uncovered. Because of plantation agriculture, Medan transformed from a small town to the prosperous city that it is today.

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Medan Attractions

The influence of the Dutch and all other cultures that have made their mark in the city are clearly imprinted on the metropolis, as exemplified by the attractions and architectural landmarks found in Medan.

One example is the Maimoon Palace, which was built in 1888 by the Sultan of Deli. This grand attraction is a 30-room structure built with Malay, Mogul and Italian influences. Out of the 30 rooms, only the main room is accessible to the public. This is where tourists can find the opulent inaugural throne. Meanwhile, the back wing of the palace is occupied by the members of the family of the current Sultan.

Another famous attraction in Medan is the Tjong A Fie Mansion. The landmark is named after the Chinese-Indonesian merchant who used to live there. Like the Maimoon Palace, the most remarkable thing about the mansion is its architecture, which is a fusion of Victorian and Chinese styles.

Other attractions worth seeing include the Sri Mariamman Temple, the Mesjid Raya Mosque and the Bukit Barisan Military Museum.

Medan Restaurants & Dining

Foodies will love Medan as the many ethnic groups that reside in the city contribute to the unique dining scene. Medan is known for food tourism, mainly because there is no shortage of delicious dishes here.

Probably the most famous restaurant in Medan is Tip Top Restaurant, which is located across the street from the Tjong A Fie Mansion. Those with a taste for nostalgia will love the establishment, as every bite of each meal transports the diner into an earlier time. Originally named Jangkie (after the owner's name), it has been around since the time of the Dutch occupation; in fact, Dutch officials often went here for a cup of coffee. The only thing that has changed in this colonial restaurant is the prices.
At night, another must-visit dining spot emerges in Medan: Kesawan Square. Jalan Ahmad Yani is closed to traffic and transformed into a food court of sorts with plenty of vendors selling different kinds of cuisine. Indonesian and Western cuisine are available, but most of the stalls specialize in Chinese food.

Medan Nightlife

The city comes alive when the sun goes down, as there are many activities that keep the people up and about until the early hours.

Nightlife would not be complete without drinking, and this Indonesian city has many options for those looking for a drink or two. Wine lovers will not be disappointed with establishments such as Cava Lounge and The Vintage Wine Shop (found at the Grand Angkasa Hotel Lobby); the former also has a wide selection of cocktails and is most remarkable for its design and ambiance, while the latter has over 200 wine options.

Travellers who prefer beer can go to MC & P (also called The Medan Club), where booze is relatively inexpensive. Those who want to get local information can drop by here, since this is a favourite of expats. Other places preferred by expats are Corner Cafe Raya and The Tavern.

Sports fans who are looking for a nightcap should head on over to Shoot Pool Lounge & Sports Bar. The establishment, which features live bands and DJs, has a large screen that plays sports channels.

Medan Shopping

With the sheer number of malls and shops in the city, shopping is a breeze. Tourists who love to shop will truly be delighted by the extensive selection Medan has to offer.

The Sun Plaza, located on the corner of Jalan Ainul Arifin and Diponegoro, is the newest shopping centre in Medan. It has a food court which features Pan-Asian and Western cuisine. It also has a large supermarket named Hypermart. The Sun Plaza is notably more upscale, as it carries more luxury brands than other malls. Other modern malls in Medan include Medan Fair Plaza and Grand Palladium Mall. Meanwhile, Medan Mall and Thamrin Plaza are two older shopping centres which should also be visited.

Masindo Jewellery is also a suggested stop. Located on Gwangju Street, this jewellery shop is the best place to buy all types of gold and accessories with gemstones. Those who love the arts should visit Tondi Gallery, which showcases artworks by local and national artists. Shoppers who are interested in crafts such as antique weaving, Dutch pottery and carvings should drop by any of the craft shops along Jalan Ahmad Yani.

Medan Activities

The city has numerous karaoke lounges. Recommended spots include K2 Karaoke Keluarga, Jet Plane KTV, Equator KTV and Pub, Tropicana KTV and Sky Club.

When it comes to massages, Medan is not as renowned as Bali or Thailand but what most people do not know is that massages are a big part of local culture. Tourists should take advantage of the fact that the services of a masseuse or masseur are cheaper in Medan. There are also places that come with complete spa facilities, but only charge a fraction of the price asked in other parts of the world. Suggested spots include the Quan Spa and Eucalyptus Spa.

Medan Information

There are many transportation options available when getting to Medan and this is primarily because the city is the main international departure and arrival stop in Sumatra. Medan can be reached by air and boat, but it is also possible to travel by bus, car or train. In Polonia Airport (about two kilometres away from the city centre), there are international flights from Medan to Penang, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore every day. There are also domestic flights that connect the North Sumatran capital to Banda Aceh, Batam, Gunung Sitoli, Jakarta, Padang, Pekanbaru and Pontianak. High-speed ferries also travel from the port of Belawan (26km from Medan) to Penang.

Meanwhile, taxis and becaks (cycle rickshaws) are the normal means of transportation when getting around Medan.

The wet season in Medan is from September to December, while the dry season lasts from January to August. Medan can be visited all year round.

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