Colombia’s capital – Bogotá – is bursting with amazing things to do from intriguing museums, gastronomic restaurants, breathtaking hikes, and unusual tours. So, we look at 15 top things to do in Bogotá.

I was reticent about visiting Bogotá; afraid it would just be another sprawling city. In the end, I dragged myself there solely because I thought it would be remiss to visit this beautiful country and not see its main hub. And I’m so glad I did.

Bogotá has a very different vibe from Medellín. The climate is cooler; the architecture is more varied; the cuisine more gastronomic; and the views more panoramic. It reminded me more of my previous home of London.  There was just something decidedly more European about it, which is maybe why I enjoyed it so much.

Don’t get me wrong. I still wouldn’t want to live there. (We previously compared Medellín vs Bogotá as places to live). But with almost give-them-away cheap domestic flights from Medellín to Bogotá departing regularly every day from Medellín’s José María Córdova airport (MDE). It’s definitely worth a long weekend getaway.

Note the above photo is a view of Bogotá from the iconic Monserrate mountain.

So, what are you waiting for? Pack a carry-on and take the hour jaunt over. While there, here’s 15 top things to do in Bogotá:

Walking Tours in Bogotá

Beyond Colombia’s Free Walking Tour Bogotá offers the perfect introduction to the historical centre - La Candelaria

Beyond Colombia’s Free Walking Tour Bogotá offers the perfect introduction to the historical centre – La Candelaria

1. Top Things to Do in Bogotá: Get Your Bearings with a Free Walking Tour

The best way to introduce yourself to Bogotá’s historical center – La Candelaria – is through a two-and-a-half hour walking tour.

Along with getting you orientated, your guide will regale you with a bit of history and point out the must-see highlights to explore on your own, including Simon Bolivar Square, ‘Funnel’ Alley and Chorro de Quevedo Square. And it’s the perfect thing to do when you first arrive.

Simon Bolívar Square marks the heart of Bogotá

Simon Bolívar Square marks the heart of Bogotá

Several companies offer tours. I went with Beyond Colombia whose daily tours depart at 10 am (English and Spanish) and 2 pm (English only) in front of the Museo de Oro (Gold Museum). Reserve a place online. The tour is based on donations; they suggest that you give 20,000 to 30,000 pesos depending on your experience.

Website: www.beyondcolombia.com

Street artist DJLU paints thought-provoking, socio-political pictographs in every nook-n-cranny of Bogotá

Street artist DJLU paints thought-provoking, socio-political pictographs in every nook-n-cranny of Bogotá

2. Top Things to Do in Bogotá: Learn About Colombia’s Political Issues on a Graffiti Tour

To get a deeper understanding of Colombia’s turbulent past and its current social-political issues, then sign up for the Bogotá Graffiti Tour.

This two-and-a-half hour walking tour is led by a local street artist who will tell you how in 2011, the police killing of a 16-year-old as he spray-painted an underpass sparked protests and the eventual decriminalization of graffiti.

Tour guide Jay explains some of the graffiti art in Bogotá’s historical center

Tour guide Jay explains some of the graffiti art in Bogotá’s historical center

The incident ignited artists to create an outdoor gallery of colorful murals. They tell the current story of Colombia; indigenous strife, farmers’ strikes, illegal mining, murders of homeless people, and of mercury laden waters.

But go soon to witness these extraordinary pieces. The city recently introduced a whitewashing of all walls on historical buildings and many are expected to disappear by 2020.

Website: http://Bogotagraffiti.com/

Bogotá’s Museums

The Muisca Raft, on display at the Museo de Oro Bogotá, depicts the legendary story of the El Dorado

The Muisca Raft, on display at the Museo de Oro Bogotá, depicts the legendary story of the El Dorado

3. Top Things to Do in Bogotá: Be Dazzled at the Gold Museum (Museo de Oro)

Even if you despise museums, a quick wonder through the world’s largest collection of pre-Colombian gold is mandatory on a visit to Bogotá.

With a staggering 55,000 objects in the collection, I didn’t know where to start so decided to join one of the free tours (available in English and Spanish). Our guide pointed out the most important objects in the collection and provided a riveting account of the religious significance of the pieces.

The Poporo Quimbaya is the object that started the Museo do Oro Bogotá collection in 1939

The Poporo Quimbaya is the object that started the Museo do Oro Bogotá collection in 1939

Had I wondered through the collection on my own, I would have certainly sauntered past the object which started the collection – the Poporo Quimbaya.

This relatively unassuming bulbous vase with four tennis ball sized spheres at the top, was used as a religious ceremonial device. It was purchased in 1939 by the Republic Bank, after a private collector decided to sell it. The 1,800-year-old object was almost melted down until someone decided to establish the current museum.

Website: http://www.banrepcultural.org/Bogotá/museo-del-oro

Address: Carera 6 No. 15-88, Parque Santander

Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 9am to 6pm; Sundays and Holidays 10am to 4pm; Closed Mondays.

Cost: 4,000 pesos

4. Top Things to Do in Bogotá: Immerse Yourself in the International Emerald Museum (Museo Internacional De La Esmeralda)

As about 85 percent of the world’s emeralds come from Colombia, mostly from mines near Bogotá. So, a visit to the International Emerald Museum should definitely be on your list.

Located on the 23rd floor of the Avianca Building, this small museum displays some of the finest emeralds in the world. During the tour you learn about the history of emeralds in Colombia and about the mining process.

Website: http://www.museodelaesmeralda.com.co/

Address: Calle 16 # 6-66 Edificio Avianca – Piso 23

Essential Information: You will need to show some form of ID to get inside.

‘Mona Lisa’ by Fernando Botero is one of 123 paintings and drawings that you can view at the Botero Museum Bogotá

‘Mona Lisa’ by Fernando Botero is one of 123 paintings and drawings that you can view at the Botero Museum Bogotá

5. Top Things to Do in Bogotá: Wander Through the Botero Museum

Arguably, the Museo de Antioquia in Medellín has a better display of Botero works.  However, for anyone who loves Fernando Botero’s voluptuous figures, a visit to the museum in Bogotá is a must as well.

Personally, I thought it was worth going just to stare at the chubby cheeks of his take on the  Mona Lisa.  And its free, so why not.

Over the two floors you’ll encounter over 123 of his voluptuous drawings of people in everyday life, still lives of fruit and a room of medium-sized bronze sculptures.

Antonio Caro’s ‘Colombia’ written in the unmistaken font of Coca-Cola is an iconic painting to view at MAMU in Bogotá

Antonio Caro’s ‘Colombia’ written in the unmistaken font of Coca-Cola is an iconic painting to view at MAMU in Bogotá

The Botero Museum is located inside a larger museum complex owned by the Banco de la República.

While there, definitely visit the Museo de Arte Miguel Urrutia (MAMU) where you can see some iconic pieces by Colombian artist Antonio Caro (not to be confused with the British sculptor Anthony Caro), including his screen print which uses the calligraphy of the ubiquitous Coca-Cola logo to write Colombia in white on a red background.

Website: http://www.banrepcultural.org/Bogotá/museo-botero

Address: Calle 11 # 4-41, La Candelaria, Historical Center, Bogotá.

Hours: Monday to Saturday 9am to 7pm; Sundays and Holidays 10am to 5pm.

Cost: Free.

The Santa Clara Museum is one of the oldest churches in Bogotá

The Santa Clara Museum is one of the oldest churches in Bogotá

6. Top Things to Do in Bogotá: Take a Moment to Reflect at the Santa Clara Museum

Nestled on a corner plot across the street from the Presidential Palace you’ll find the Santa Clara Museum.  The entrance is concealed behind a riveted wooden door.

The 17th century interior is bedecked in gilt with religious portraits three stories high. A towering alter piece at the front of the church showcases a dozen religious sculptures.  Even if you aren’t Catholic, the ornate interior is a sight to behold.

Don’t miss walking down the shoulder-wide, vaulted corridor that runs parallel to the nave.  Here in the darkness you can kneel where priests before you have knelt and heard the whispers of thousands of confessions.  I wonder what secrets the cold walls still hold.

Numerous interactive video screens (in English and Spanish) dotted around will tell you secrets about the other various parts of the church.

The interior of Santa Clara is bedecked in gilt

The interior of Santa Clara is bedecked in gilt

Bogotá is rich in breathtaking churches to visit, but if you only have time to see one, go here as it is both one of the most richly decorated and is also its oldest (along with Iglesia de San Francisco).

The Presidential Palace in Bogotá

The Presidential Palace in Bogotá

After you exit, be sure to take time to circumnavigate the Presidential Palace. The pedestrian only cobbled streets offer an intimate peak at government life.

Website: http://www.museocolonial.gov.co/Paginas/default.aspx

Address: Carrera 8 # 8-91, La Candelaria, Historical Center, Bogotá.

Hours: Tuesday to Friday 9am to 5pm; Saturdays and Sundays 10am to 4pm.  

Cost: 3,000 pesos.

Nature in Bogotá

A funicular railway whisks you up a near vertical ascent to Monserrate in Bogotá

A funicular railway whisks you up a near vertical ascent to Monserrate in Bogotá

7. Top Things to Do in Bogotá: Ride the Funicular Railway Up Monserrate

From wherever you are in Bogotá, you will see the iconic Monserrate mountain jutting up into the clouds. At the top, the Señor Caído de Monserrate sanctuary keeps watch over the city.

Señor Caído de Monserrate sanctuary

Señor Caído de Monserrate sanctuary

There are several ways to reach the peak, which is 3,152 meters above sea level.  The most popular is via the cable car, which dates back to 1955.  There is also the funicular railway which makes a near vertical ascent up the side of the mountain before disappearing into a tunnel and crawling its way to the top.

For the adventurous, there is a pedestrian trail. (Note: Robberies are common place along the path. In fact, a girl at my hostel was mugged at knife point after coming down off the trail.  So, if you want to hike up, consider leaving the valuables at ‘home’.)

I can’t personally comment on the panoramic views, as I chickened out riding up the 89-year-old funicular. However, I’ve heard they are breathtaking.

View from the funicular railway

View from the funicular railway

I also heard that several of the peak’s restaurants offer gastronomic feasts; romantic French cuisine at the Casa San Isidro and hearty Colombian delicacies, such as the ‘ajiaco’ soup and Medellín’s famed ‘bandeja paisa’, at Casa Santa Clara.

Website: www.cerromonserrate.com

Address: Carrera 2 Este # 21-48 Paseo Bolívar

The 50-foot illuminated cross inside the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira, Colombia, seems to float

The 50-foot illuminated cross inside the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquira, Colombia, seems to float

8. Top Things to Do in Bogotá: Go Underground at the World’s Second Largest Salt Cathedral

Just over an hour outside of Bogotá is the pueblo of Zipaquirá.  Here you can traverse 590 feet (180 meters) underground to explore a working salt mine that’s been transformed into a cathedral.

The indigenous Muisca people first discovered the salt deposits more than six centuries ago. And later in the 16th century Spanish conquistadors searching for El Dorado again stumbled across the mountain.

The first cathedral in the salt mines began in the 1930s when miners carved out a makeshift chapel in the mine tunnel to pray for their safety each day before work.  This cathedral collapsed in 1991 and the one you tour today was constructed in 1995.

The dome and naves of the present working salt mine have been transformed into a cathedral.  Throughout the complex there are carvings of crosses in the salt, including the world’s tallest underground cross at about 52 feet x 39 feet (16 meters x 12 meters).

If you aren’t religious, you will still find wondering through the salt mine interesting.  During the tour you will learn the history of salt mining and the process of extracting the salt from the rock.

Website: https://www.catedraldesal.gov.co/

9. Top Things to Do in Bogotá: Hike to a Waterfall

Bogotá may be a sprawling city with a metro population of over 10 million people, but it doesn’t mean a city break here will be all concrete jungle exploration.

On the Eastern Hills of the city, in the Chapinero district, there is a 5,400 square mile (14,000 square-kilometer) forest reserve.  Gran Colombia offers a half-day morning ecological hike through one of the more popular trails, traversing through crystalline water pools and lush forest to La Cascada Las Delicias, a waterfall at the end of the trail.

The hike includes a visit to Bosque Calderon, a working-class barrio, and a local traditional breakfast.

Website: http://grancolombiatours.com/tour/las-delicias/

Something Different in Bogotá

10. Top Things to Do in Bogotá: Shop at the Usaquen Sunday Flea Market

On Sundays and national holidays, venture to the picture postcard village of Usaquen in the Northeast part of the city.

Here amongst the narrow-cobbled streets you’ll find artisans selling their crafts: leather goods, jewelry, paintings and drawings. Gourmet food stands, street musicians and puppet shows provide a jovial atmosphere and a relaxed way to spend a Sunday morning.

Website: http://www.pulgasusaquen.com/

Teatro Colón is Colombia’s national theatre built in 1895

Teatro Colón is Colombia’s national theatre built in 1895

11. Top Things to Do in Bogotá: Watch a performance at Teatro Colon

Teatro Colón is Colombia’s national theater.  Built in 1895, this neoclassical building exudes opulence on the inside. Frescoes decorate the dome ceiling and the horseshoe shaped auditorium is illuminated in gold that dances off the red velvet seats.

Whilst the interior is worth a look on its own, I’d recommend booking tickets for a performance to enjoy the full ambience.  Shows and events range from ballet to opera to musical performances to theatrical stagings.  Get your tickets a few weeks in advance, as they often sell out quickly.

Website: http://www.teatrocolon.gov.co/

Address: Calle 10 # 5-32, Bogotá

Gastronomy in Bogotá

Aijaco is the traditional dish of Bogotá

Aijaco is the traditional dish of Bogotá

12. Top Things to Do in Bogotá: Eat Aijaco

Trying the local delicacies is just as much a part of the travel experience as seeing the sights. And one of the must try dishes in Bogotá is Aijaco.

Aijaco is just a bowl of gourmet chicken soup served with shredded chicken, a knob of corn on the cob, three different varieties of local potatoes (Sabanera, Paramuna, Criolla), rice and a mango sized avocado.

The special ingredient that makes Aijaco is ‘guascas’, a leafy green vegetable that grows around Bogotá. As to be expected with Colombian cuisine, it was a little on the bland side for my tastebuds, but the addition of some capers added a kick that helped negate that a little bit.

Many restaurants in the historical centerserve it. I ate mine a La Puerta de la Cathedral (The Cathedral Door) on Calle 11 # 6-26, just off of Simon Bolivar square.

The Chocolate Completo is another traditional dish of Bogotá, best tasted at Bogotá’s oldest restaurant La Puerta Falsa

The Chocolate Completo is another traditional dish of Bogotá, best tasted at Bogotá’s oldest restaurant La Puerta Falsa

13. Top Things to Do in Bogotá: Drink Chocolato Completo at the Oldest Restaurant in Town

Bogotá is notorious for being rainy and cold, so stopping in at the metropolises’ oldest existing restaurant and warming up with some hot chocolate and cheese is another culinary essential stop.

The place to go? La Puerta Falsa.

The restaurant has been open since 1816 and it shows.  A couple dozen seats are crammed in over two floors in a building that is barely 18 feet wide.  The wooden beams in the ceiling and hunter green baluster railings add to the coziness.

They offer a short menu, but the two recommended options are the tamales, which famed foodie Anthony Bordain called ‘a thing of beauty’, and the Chocolato Completo.

The hot chocolate is served with a chunk of white cheese, that you break up and let melt in the liquid before drinking.  It is also accompanied with a porous slightly cheesy, slightly sweet bread called Almojábanas.

The perfect snack to warm you up after a morning walking tour.

Address: La Puerta Falsa, Calle 11, # 6-50, Bogotá. Near Simon Bolivar Square.

Chicha is a fermented corn drink that one must try while in Bogotá

Chicha is a fermented corn drink that one must try while in Bogotá

14. Top Things to Do in Bogotá: Knock Back Some Bootleg Chicha

Chicha is a fermented corn drink that originated from the indigenous Muisca tribes and is made from corn, water, and panela.

Chicha was officially banned in November 1948, as authorities blamed it for the violence of 9 April.  However, one of the local Barvarian breweries had long been waging an anti-Chicha campaign with adverts blazingly stating: ‘Chicha makes you dumb.  Don’t drink fermented drinks.’ And ‘Prisons are full of people who drink chicha’.

Since then it has existed solely in a few ‘calendestina’ chicharias located in the seedy back streets of La Calanderia.

However, last year the drink went a bit more mainstream with the opening of the Chicha Museum. Located diagonally across from the church of El Chorro de Quevedo, it’s right next to La Bendita chichería. The 40-minute tour (sadly only in Spanish) talks about the history, preparation and characteristics of chichi and includes a tasting.

Address: The Mueso de la Chica, Calle 12B con Carrera 1

For the best gourmet food in Bogotá, head to Prudencia

For the best gourmet food in Bogotá, head to Prudencia

15. Top Things to Do in Bogotá: Indulge in a Gourmet Meal at Prudencia

I know, everyone says you MUST go to Andres Carne De Res if you are in Bogotá.  Frankly, it didn’t look like my kind of place, so I’m going to counter popular trends and say if you only eat at one gastronomic restaurant in Bogotá, eat at Prudencia. Honestly, it is a foodies heaven. Among one of the top restaurant experiences I’ve had in my life.

Upon entering the wooden door of Prudencia, you are whisked from the grimy streets of the historical centre into a rustic French styled bistro that feels as if it’s in the open air as the tables are spread out under a vaulted conservatory roof of iron and glass.

The unpretentious casual seating of wooden tables and clear plastic chairs don’t prepare you for the phenomenal food. Prudencia focuses on quality, not quantity, so their four course menu is never set; instead it will be conjured up from the freshest local ingredients that they can source on the day.

For my lunch, I choose pork belly for the main, which was smoked with saffron and served with carmelized pecans, wood-roasted squash, creamy goat’s cheese, wild arugula, and spiced with a hint of cumin and cinnamon. Dessert was a seventy-percent chocolate torte with an orange, rosemary and hazelnut crunch the thinnest of pastries topped with a crystalized sprig of rosemary.

My four courses with a glass of white wine and a carafe of coffee at the end was pretty indulgent by Colombian standards at 106,000 pesos, but when compared to the many Michelin starred restaurants that I’ve eaten at in London, it was an absolute steal.

Website: www.prudencia.net

Address: Carrera 2 # 11-34, La Candelaria, Bogotá

The Bottom Line: Top 15 Things to Do in Bogotá

Bogotá is a huge city with so many things to do. TripAdvisor currently lists an overwhelming 342 things to do in Bogotá. So, I tried to narrow down the list and choose my top 15 things to do in Bogotá, which includes a mix of waking tours, museums, nature, gastronomy and a few different things.

But everyone’s opinions are different. Please let us know in the comments about any other top things to do in Bogotá that I missed…

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