Medan is an important Indonesian city. Beyond being the leading city in North Sumatra, this is also the fourth-largest city in the entire Indonesian archipelago. As a major urban center, it operates less as an outright tourist destination and more as a place where travelers can buy supplies and spend a night in a Medan hotel before traveling on to more touristy destinations like Lake Toba, Brastagi or even Malaysia’s Penang Island.
However, there are a few tourist attractions in the city center. The colonial core is atmospheric. It follows Ahmad Yani and Palang Merah streets and features Art Deco Dutch architecture in various stages of restoration. Highlights of historic Medan include the city hall and post office.
The Grand Mosque is impossible to miss. It looks like it belongs in northern Africa, with its black dome, stained glass and Italian marble. Next-door is Maimoon Palace, which dates to the late 19th century and has not yet been restored. There are also a few museums in central Medan that are worth visiting.
Comfortable four- and five-star hotels in Medan are surprisingly affordable, and they offer travelers a chance to splurge on better facilities and service than they’ve experienced in other parts of Sumatra. Spas, live-music venues and hip clubs are all located in central Medan, either attached to or within walking distance of major hotels.