Medan, the capital of North Sumatra, is on the northern part of Sumatra.


Medan skyline

Medan is the fourth-largest city in Indonesia after Jakarta, Surabaya and Bandung. With a population of about 2 million people it is the largest city outside of Java. There is no single ethnic group forming a majority; the largest ethnic groups are the Chinese, Javanese, Toba-Batak, Minangkabau, Mandailing Batak, Karo Batak, Southern Indians, and Northern Indians, and there are many more ethnic minorities.

Each ethnic group contributes to thousands of tasty, mouth-watering dishes found in every corner of Medan. They offer to locals and tourists alike dozens of food streets and hawker centres to suit their appetite at any time of the day. From the sweet Javanese cuisine, to delicious Batak grilled pork, to hot Padang dishes, from savoury Chinese noodles, to spicy Indian curry, this varied cuisine is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is obvious why the locals are so into food. The city itself is quite well known for "food-tourism", especially amongst other Indonesians.

It's interesting to contrast the old, Dutch style green areas, with parks, lawns, and huge old Dutch houses (now turned into government offices or commercial business) and the hundreds and hundreds of newer, shoddy shophouses sprawled together by the hundreds in the commercial areas along with a few modern style malls.

Look out for the motor becaks! A sort of motorized rickshaw, they are a common sight throughout Medan, spewing black smoke everywhere.

Overall, Medan isn't really a tourist destination, but it's a convenient stepping stone to other places like the 'weekend getaway' Berastagi, the island of Penang, Malaysia and of course the ever popular beautiful crater lake, Lake Toba.

Get in

Medan's Kualanamu International Airport and Belawan sea port are both visa-free and visa-on-arrival points.

For more visa information, see the Indonesia page.

By plane

Medan's international airport is known as Kualanamu International Airport (IATA: KNO) and is located about 45 minutes from the city. It opened on 2013 and handles both domestic and regional international flights.

After arrival, ATMs are quite easy to find in the interior of the airport. An information desk is also available.

The old Medan's international airport Polonia International Airport (IATA: MES) is no longer handling commercial flights. It is now given back to the military as the original owner.

Public Transport

Train services is provided by Railink, a joint venture between Angkasa Pura II and Indonesian Railway. The South Korean-made trains have a carrying capacity of 172 passengers per trip. It is the first integrated Airport rail link in Indonesia, city check-in and electronic tickets are also available for passengers' convenience.

The airport train runs up to 21 trips (including one facultative trip) a day in each direction with the first trip from Medan Main Train Station besides the Merdeka Square on Balai Kota street at 4:00 and the last trip from the airport at 22:00. It is the fastest way to get from the airport to central Medan, taking 31-41 minutes. Ticket can be purchased either from the ticket vending machine or from the ticket counters or by online only from D-30 to D-1. One way ticket costs up to Rp 100,000 (various). Since April 1, 2015 a promotional ticket can be purchased for Rp 55,000 with limited seats through online, travel agents and external channels only (not from vending machines and ticket counters), no schedule change allowed and no refundable. Most updated schedule, pricing and booking can be checked in here or from Mobile Application Railink. Payment can be done by Klik Pay BCA, Click Pay Mandiri, Visa or Master Debit/Credit Cards.

Buses operated by state-owned bus company DAMRI also connects the airport to two destinations in Medan, Jl. Gatot Subroto next to Plaza Medan Fair and Amplas bus terminal. The bus needs about 60 to 90 minutes to reach the airport, but the bus ticket costs cheaper than that of the airport train.

Service Destination Fare
Kualanamu Airport Bus
Damri Amplas Bus Terminal MedanRp10,000
Damri Plaza Medan Fair MedanRp15,000
ALS Binjai Super Mall BinjaiRp30,000


Taxis are about Rp130,000-150,000 for the ride to the city centre, but will leave immediately, arrive quicker and be more comfortable than the bus: do note that there is a Rp10,000 surcharge to all fares for airport pickup, so be prepared to pay the metered rate plus this amount.


There are direct international flights to/from Penang (for only around US$70 return), Kuala Lumpur and Johor Bahru in Malaysia, Singapore, and Bangkok. There are a few international flights which serve Medan: Silkair, Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia, Firefly and Valuair. The first two are regular airlines, while the rest are budgest airlines.

Silkair and Valuair fly the popular Singapore-Medan route. Kuala Lumpur-Medan route is served by both Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia and Firefly. AirAsia also connect Medan to other cities in Malaysia, including the popular Medan-Penang route.


For destinations within Indonesia, there are some regional airlines and LCC that serve Medan to other cities.

By bus

The central station for all larger buses in Medan is Amplas Station Central (not located in the center of the city though). This is where a lot of the smaller minivans go as well, and where travellers need to go to make connecting buses to further cities. Many of the large air-conditioned buses perform overnight routes.

Larger, non air-conditioned buses and large luxury buses (often Mercedes) that are air-conditioned (some have toilets on board, though they are squatting toilets that are difficult to use when the buses are moving, given driving habits and road conditions throughout Sumatra).

As an example of prices from August 2005, expect to pay around Rp 50,000-80,000 for an 8-10 hr overnight luxury bus (without toilet saves about Rp 10,000+) trip, as in to Duri, Bukit Lawang, or Lake Toba (Danau Toba). Such buses provide a small snack and sometimes have televisions on board. While seats are very comfortable by Sumatran standards, all rides are swervy/bumpy and drivers often play stereos quite loud during the entire trip (unless a movie is available). Also, many buses have smoking sections in the back, and sometimes, smoking occurs in the front of the non-smoking section by the driver if the driver is so inclined. Earplugs are good accessories. Furthermore, while the large luxury buses have ample stowage above seats, keep valuables safe while you sleep.

By boat

Medan is not located by the sea but nearby Belawan is a major port with domestic and international boat and ferry services. Belawan is listed as a visa-free and visa-on-arrival entry point (see the Get in section of the Indonesia page).

To/from other parts of Indonesia: Domestic routes are served by Pelni, it links Belawan with various ports in Sumatra and other Indonesian islands.

By train

Medan is connected by rail to other conurbations on the eastern coast of Sumatra, such as Tanjungbalai, Rantauprapat, Siantar and Binjai. Executive, business and economy class trains are available, but if your budget allows, take the better class trains, which are faster and more comfortable. Tickets cost between Rp 20,000 (economy) to Rp 70,000 (executive).

Get around

Medan city is swamped by becaks and taxis (the preferable choice to get around). There is also a form of public transport known as the angkot (small minivan).

By becak

Also known as trishaws or pedicabs. You have to be a good negotiator if you want to ride on becaks, with price ranging between Rp 5,000-20,000 depending on the destination (near or far). Too far, and the driver may refuse to take you.

Very few becak drivers speak more than a few words of English, but a map and lots of pointing will get you to the right place, even if it takes twice as long as you thought.

By taxi

Try to pick taxi from a reliable place such in front of malls, shopping centres or airport. Many taxi drivers will resist the use of a meter and want to bargain. Taxis with meters may put them on, but then say there is a minimum charge, Rp 20,000-25,000 - the metered fare will usually be far lower.

Try to avoid the use of taxis other than Bluebird or Express and always use the meter as they are the two most reliable taxi companies in Medan, this is a general rule that applies throughout the regions of Indonesia where either of these two taxi companies are available.

If you must engage in bargaining a non-metered journey then a taxi cost anywhere in central Medan should be Rp 20,000 or less. However drivers may ask for Rp 25,000. Higher fares are only justifiable for longer distances, such as to Pinang Baris bus station, about 10 km, which should cost no more than Rp 50,000.

By bus

Public transport is not reliable, though they have fixed price from one destination to other destinations.

Small minivans (called sudako or angkot by locals) have painted numbers (1 to 267 in Medan) that signify their routes, which even locals don't have memorized. If you speak Indonesian, just ask where people are standing by the roadsides which "bus" number corresponds to your location and what the price is in advance. When a van with the appropriate number approaches, flag them down as they don't make scheduled stops (just drive along a given route and drop off passengers when told or pick up new passengers when flagged). If you are a westerner, be sure to confirm the price before getting in. This type of transportation should only be braved by those with a point-to-point knowledge of Medan and a working knowledge of Indonesian so they know where to tell the driver to stop, unless you have a local friend who can take you around. Standard fee is now Rp3,000/trip.

One easy route is Minibus #3 from the great mosque (at the side of yuki mall) to the Medan Mall, which is Rp2,000.


Being a part of Indonesia, all locals will be able to speak Indonesian. However, the ethnic Chinese can often be heard speaking a localised variant of Hokkien known as Medan Hokkien, which is almost identical to Penang Hokkien spoken across the Strait of Malacca.

Medan has a very high level of education and many younger people speak English very well. Those over 50 or 60 also tend to speak English and some even Dutch. If you find yourself stuck just tell the person you need someone who speaks English to help and there will be someone there in a matter of minutes. Speaking English well is a highly regarded skill by the locals so anyone who does so is well known and can be found quickly.

The locals will really appreciate your efforts to learn Indonesian, and please not be offended if they will laugh loudly with you too. It is not a mocking expression.


One of Medan's numerous mosques, with tiled minaret and domes visible.
A tiny random portion of the many impressive rooms of taxidermy at the Rahmat International Wildlife Museum and Gallery.
Entrance to the Chinese Daoist temple of Vihara Gunung Timur.
View toward the main hall with incense burner at left. Chinese Daoist temple of Vihara Gunung Timur.
Street view of Perhimpunan Shri Mariamman, a Tamil Indian Hindu temple.
Vihara Borobudur Buddhist temple.
Tjong A Fie Mansion, the command center of the local Chinese community at the turn of the 20th century.

Many tourists choose to use Medan as a quick thru-point to travel elsewhere in Sumatra, but the city offers a glimpse of a large Indonesian city still unfrequented by western tourists, and shouldn't be quickly dismissed. However, Medan is more chaotic and has a bit more litter than Jakarta or Denpasar and open sewers abound. Furthermore, not as many people speak English in Medan as in other large Indonesian cities, but even a short list of useful expressions goes a long way, and Sumatrans are still unjaded by westerners.

Medan hosts a great lot of very nice Art Déco buildings from the Dutch colonial era, like the Old City Hall, the Post office, the Great Mosque and many business buildings in and around Jl. Ahmad Yani. Some of them are in horrible shape, but most of them maintain their old splendour.

Other attractions include:


Theme parks


Although Sumatra does not have the same international reputation as Bali or Thailand for massage, it still forms a significant part of local culture. In rural areas, there will usually be a masseuse available for low cost, if you ask around, while Medan itself offers true 'spa' facilities, which are highly recommended for anyone seeking a spa experience away from the hustle and bustle of the city at a fraction of the cost elsewhere in the world.

Mostly hotels also have their own spa. You can contact your receptionist for further info.

Family karaoke


Though Medan doesn't have many super malls like Jakarta or Surabaya, it does have plenty of medium-sized malls. Many new malls have been built recently, with more under construction.






Durian is one of the most famous fruits of both Medan and North Sumatra. Get the best price and taste when the season comes, which on July and December. North Sumatra has a lot of durian fields like; Sibolangit, Brastagi, Langkat, Sidikalang, Siborong-borong, Tarutung, Sibolga, Nias, Padang Sidempuan, Lima Puluh and Perbaungan. Get Medan durian at Jalan Sumatera, Jalan Semarang, Jalan Adam Malik, Ucok Durian, and more. Price start from Rp 5000-50,000 each depending on size and season.


There are several clubs, pubs and karaoke joints to visit at night in Medan.

Clubs, pubs and karaoke

  • Taipan- Silver service chinese restaurant, with excellent interior decor
  • Snook Pool Bar
  • Office
  • Classical - exclusive KTV Karaoke room







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