Colombia’s gritty capital has many layers, meaning there are plenty of things to do in Bogotá whether you’re interested in culture, history, street art or food – even if you’re visiting the city on a budget.
The many faces of Bogotá are reflected in the city’s architecture: the smoky working-class suburbs in the south sit in stark contrast to the glitzy bars and art galleries at the foot of the Eastern Hills, while colourful La Candelaria is the heritage-rich antithesis to the glittering skyscrapers in Bogotá’s financial district.
It makes Bogotá an intriguing place for visitors, and it was there that I got my first taste of Latin America.
There’s so much to see and do in Bogotá. Because it’s the capital (and one of the largest cities in Latin America), Bogotá can be more expensive than other areas of Colombia, but there’s still plenty to do for free (or cheap).
If you’re not sure how many days to spend in Bogotá, I was there for seven days and had plenty of time to explore. For quick trips, three days in Bogotá should be enough to see all the main tourist attractions.
I’ve included all the top things to see in Bogotá, the best places to visit from the city and, if you scroll allll the way to the bottom of this mammoth Bogotá travel guide, you’ll find tips on staying safe in Bogotá plus the lowdown on the best areas to stay and things to know before you go.
Best things to do in Bogotá
After my week there, I’ve put together this mammoth guide to what to do in Bogotá for visitors. If you feel more comfortable seeing the city through organised tours, I’ve also included recommendations for the best Bogotá tours, but you can do most of this stuff independently!
1. Go to the top of Monserrate
Cerro de Monserrate rises majestically from Bogotá’s downtown area and dominates the city’s landscape at a height of over 3,000 metres. Going to the top for a view over the sprawling urban jungle below is one of the best things to do in Bogotá.
Depending on the time of day, you can either ride the funicular railway to the top or take the ‘teleférico’ (cable car), which is what I did. Apparently, the cable car offers better views.
The cable car operates from Monday to Sunday and costs up to 20,000 COP (£5) for a return journey – but it’s cheaper on Sundays.
The funicular railway runs from Tuesday to Sunday and costs the same, and is open on holidays, unlike the cable car.
Of course, you can also tackle the one-hour hike to the top if you’re feeling energetic (I wasn’t).
There are two places to eat at the top of Monserrate: San Isdro House is open from Monday to Saturday from 12:00 to 24:00. The Santa Clara House is open Tuesday to Saturday from 12:00 to 17:00 and on Sunday from 09:00 to 17:00.
You can visit Monserrate on a tour if you feel nervous about going it alone.
2. Eat at La Puerta Falsa
(Calle 11 No 6-50)
This restaurant has been trading since 1816 and is one of the most famous, authentic places to eat in Bogotá. The name of the restaurant translates to ‘the false door’ and it’s so-named because the church across the street once had fake exterior doors built to throw off any potential attacks on the city.
The place is tiny and so is the menu, but it’s full of history and traditional charm.
Order tamales if you’re hungry or chocolate completo (hot chocolate with cheese, buttered bread and a biscuit) if you just fancy a snack or breakfast.
I got the tamales and my Argentinian travel companion tricked me into believing I’d just ordered a package of chicken heads (that’s not what it is). I only partly fell for it…
One of the most typical dishes to order in Bogotá is Ajiaco, a white soup made of potatoes, chicken and herbs, and served with rice, corn and avocado.
3. Take a walking tour of Bogotá
If you’re short on time or just want an easy way to see all of Bogotá’s tourist attractions and points of interest, sign up for a walking tour, or create your own route and go it alone.
The main touristy spots are pretty safe during the day – just watch your valuables. I’d definitely recommend doing a walking tour if you only have one day in Bogotá for sightseeing.
Some of the best things to see in Bogotá are the government and ministry buildings and the Simón Bolívar Park.
If the weather is good (it wasn’t while I was there, hence the gloomy pics), you can spend a good few hours chilling in the park as there’s a lake, walking trails and plenty of picnic spots.
Journalist’s Square (Plaza de los Periodistas), between Carrera 3 and Carrera 4, is another famous area. It’s where all the writers used to hang out in Bogotá and there’s a big statue of the father of Latin American independence, Simón Bolívar.
You might prefer to book a cycling tour of Bogota to see the city on two wheels.
4. Explore La Candelaria
La Candelaria was my favourite area in Bogotá thanks to its cobbled streets, multicoloured Spanish colonial-era buildings and street art.
I felt perfectly safe walking around, and you don’t have to spend any money to enjoy a few hours wandering its bohemian streets.
This is the most historic area of Bogotá and therefore a must see. We got drenched in a torrential downpour as we roamed the streets, and it’s one of my favourite memories from the trip.
Be sure to peek into Santuario Nuestra Señora del Carmen, a beautiful Catholic church decorated in red, white and blue.
I always enjoy having a tour guide to impart some insider local knowledge as I explore. If you do too, you could book a tour of Bogotá’s historical areas.
5. Try Colombian refreshments
Stop at one of the many bars or cafes in La Candelaria for a good cup of Colombian coffee and if you’re feeling adventurous, try ‘chicha’, a typical Central and South American drink made from (usually) maize.
Back in the day, chicha was made by chewing corn then spitting it into water and letting the mixture ferment for a few weeks. Gross.
If you want to fuel up like a local, purchase a freshly squeezed fruit juice from a street vendor. I saw them everywhere. If there’s one thing Colombians definitely don’t lack, it’s Vitamin C.
6. Mingle with locals at Mercado de Paloquemao
This huge market is a bit of a trek from the main attractions in Bogotá, but strolling around the stalls is a great way to pretend you’re a local and see what normal life in Bogotá looks like. I didn’t see any other tourists when I was there, so it felt very ‘real’.
Be sure to practice your Spanish and buy some cheap fruit to snack on throughout the day while you’re at the market. A fab way to save money and have an authentic experience in Bogota.
As well as fruit and veg, the market has sections for seafood, meat, flowers and household items. I walked around for a few hours and felt like it was pretty easy to blend in. I got zero hassle.
The surrounding area didn’t feel very safe as it’s slightly off the beaten path, so make sure you know how to get back to an area you recognise once you’ve seen the market.
There are a few other markets around Bogotá, if you don’t fancy this one. There’s a traditional market in the colonial neighbourhood of Usaquén every Sunday, or you can catch a daily market called San Victorinio close to La Candelaria.
7. Take a graffiti tour of Bogotá
Bogotá is a colourful city, and in some parts you’d be hard pressed to find a wall that isn’t covered in graffiti. By taking a graffiti tour, you can make sure you see all the best, most famous pieces by local artists like DEXS, Toxicomano, and Lesivo – and hear the stories attached to them.
Oddly, Justin Beiber has a part to play in the story of street art in Bogotá. When he visited the city in 2013, he daubed a cannabis leaf on a wall in an area where graffiti was banned. This outraged locals, because a 16 year old artist had been shot by police just two years before.
Local artists took to the streets and covered the area in art, and police had no option but to legalise street art. If they didn’t, it would have looked like they were favouring the privileged. In a way, Bieber did Colombian street artists a favour.
Today, La Candelaria is like an open-air gallery, with wall-to-wall murals everywhere you look. Street art is one of Bogotá’s top attractions!
In some parts of Bogotá, people actually commission professional artists to paint their house, to prevent people from spraying them with mindless graffiti instead.
8. Sample Colombian cuisine on a food tour
If you’re a foodie, a good way to learn about Colombian delicacies in Bogotá is to take a food tour. You’ll get the chance to taste and learn about Colombian favourites like arapas, sudado de pollo (chicken stew) and puchero Santafereño.
Want to delve even deeper into Bogotá’s culinary scene? Join a chocolate tasting tour at Republica Del Cacao, a famous and popular South American chocolate retailer.
9. Visit Bogotá’s museums
Even if you aren’t an art fan, Museo de Botero will make you laugh. Colombia’s most famous artist is renowned for painting his subjects with large, fat features and the museum is a fun place to kill an hour.
One of the best museums in Bogotá is Museo del Oro, the Gold Museum in La Candelaria, which houses over 55,000 pieces of gold artefacts, making it the largest collection of gold artifacts in the world. There’s also the National Museum of Colombia, which is located in a former prison building.
10. See the president’s house
Tourists can visit the Casa de Nariño on free tours, but you’ll need to apply about a month in advance via their website. The 45-minute guided tour (in English or Spanish) is free!
Best day trips from Bogotá
If you feel a little overwhelmed by Bogotá, don’t be afraid to venture outside of the city and explore the surrounding area.
I was working as well as sightseeing during my week in Bogotá so unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to get outside the city, but here’s my pick of the best tours from Bogotá.
1. Overdose in caffeine on a coffee tour
Coffee is obviously a massive thing in Bogotá, and addicts can do a coffee crawl around the city. As responsible travellers, we should always make the effort to patron local businesses and avoid chain shops!
Want to get outside of the city? Learn all about Colombia’s famous coffee on a day trip from Bogotá to a coffee plantation. It takes you from your hotel to the town of Fusagasugá, which is home to the Hacienda Coloma Coffee Plantation.
2. Have an underground adventure at the Salt Cathedral
This carved-out abandoned salt mine is one of the most unique places to visit from Bogotá. More than 656 feet (200 meters) below the earth’s surface, it’s an otherworldly place with dark tunnels just waiting to be explored.
You can book a tour from your hotel in Bogotá with a guide before you arrive in the city.
3. Visit a Colombian village
Villa de Leyva is one of the most beautiful villages in Colombia. It takes around three hours to get there from Bogotá and you can book a day trip to learn about its colonial past.
4. Explore Chicaque
Chicaque is a cloud forest area located 45 minutes outside Bogotá. The park has a variety of ecological trails and is home to lots of wildlife. Book a day tour from the city to discover the natural landscape.
5. Go to Laguna de Guatavita
This vividly green, circular crater lake about 50km northeast of Bogota is a sacred lake and ritual center of the Muisca people. You can learn about El Dorado here.
6. Pump up your adrenaline
Looking for adventurous things to do in Bogota? Go canyoning in the wild, take a guided eco-walk and experience one of the highest zip lines in Colombia on this full-day extreme eco tour. Alternatively, try rafting outside of the city.
If you’re looking for a really special experience, you can book a skydive over the city. It’s one of the most fun things to do in Bogotá.
7. See a waterfall in Colombia
Less than an hour away from Bogotá is Choachi, a waterfall which you can hike to on various tours, some of which also include a visit to a craft brewery or an organic farm.
What to do in Bogotá at night
Bogotá has fantastic nightlife and I’m so pleased I got to experience it! No matter how long you plan to spend in the city, make sure a night out is on your Bogotá itinerary.
1. Go to the most famous restaurant in Bogotá
Andrés Carne de Res isn’t just a place to grab dinner, it’s one of the most fun things to do in Bogotá. The huge, crazily decorated restaurant seats 2,000 people and there’s a party every night. The atmosphere is brilliant, and I definitely recommend you go.
We were offered shots by a man in costume when we entered, watched dance shows with spectacular costumes and danced the night away ourselves – all after a delicious meal.
Make sure you go to the original restaurant in Chía! It’s about an hour outside of Bogota but worth the trip, and you can book a tour there if you’re worried about Uber-ing at night.
2. Dance salsa
I’m not sure I’d have been brave enough to venture into the city’s clubs alone, but this salsa tour of Bogota with locals looks like a blast!
3. Find the best nightlife areas in Bogotá
For nights out in the city, Zona T and Zona G are the city’s high-end restaurant spots and the latter is popular with gay travellers.
I had some great nights out in Zona T. It’s full of bars and restaurants and attracts locals and tourists alike. A lot of cool things to do in Bogotá happen at night!
If you’d prefer to experience the city’s nightlife from a local perspective, you could do a Private Bogotá Nightlife Tour which includes a night-time trip to Monserrate, visits to the best party spots and free drinks.
Is Bogotá safe?
In any city with over 10 million people, crime is obviously going to be an issue. I was nervous about visiting Colombia as a female traveller but Bogotá is getting safer, although it’s best to avoid the south and southwest of the city if you’re worried.
I had a nasty half hour when I decided to explore alone and then Ubers kept cancelling on me in an area that I didn’t feel safe in (outside Mercado de Paloquemao), but that was about it.
Staying safe in Bogotá is really just about staying aware and exercising the same caution you would in any city.
Basic Spanish skills will definitely help! I was pleased to find that of all the Spanish-speaking places I’ve been, Bogotá’s locals speak with the most neutral accent. I’m far from fluent, but I found people easy to understand there.
I’m very into wandering aimlessly in a new destination to get to know my surroundings, but a few of us had to turn back during an afternoon amble because the further south we walked, the dodgier the neighbourhoods became. Unfortunately, Bogotá is one of those destinations where it’s probably best to stick to the beaten path.
I found an antitheft backpack super useful for keeping my stuff safe in Bogotá. In a particularly gritty area, a man was circling me, clearly trying to figure out a way into my bag, but he had to give up!
Travel insurance for Colombia
It’s wise to get travel insurance for your trip to Colombia. Travellers all over the globe recommend World Nomads. You can search for a quote using the box below.
Where to stay in Bogotá
If you’re in Colombia for the nightlife, Chapinero is one of the best places to stay in Bogotá. If you’re more into daytime exploring and want to soak up the culture in Bogotá, you’ll want to book accommodation in Candelaria – Centro Historic. Usaquén is a fashionable area with a small village feel, or Zona Rosa is one of the safest, heavily policed areas in Bogotá, and is full of boutique shops.
Cheap accommodation in Bogotá
Midrange accommodation in Bogotá
Casa Gaitán Cortés Hotel has great reviews and offers free breakfast. La Colina Hotel looks a bit more traditional and is located in a green area. Set in Bogota’s historic center in a neoclassical house, The Orchids is perfect for a short stay in the city.
Luxury hotels in Bogotá
How to get to Bogotá
You can fly to Bogotá’s El Dorado Airport from various destinations around the world. Check for cheap flights on Skyscanner.
When you arrive at the airport, it’s easiest to book a transfer to get to your accommodation in Bogotá.
Getting around Bogotá
We used Uber to get around because it was cheap. We found that they make you sit in the front with the driver in Colombia, because they don’t want it to be obvious to regular taxi drivers that you’re in an Uber – presumably in case the regular taxi drivers become aggressive.
I would never usually sit in the front of a taxi with a man I didn’t know, but I made an exception in Bogotá.
Use my Travel Resources to book your Bogotá trip
I hope my huge Bogotá travel guide helps you plan your trip to this amazing city! I was definitely nervous about visiting Bogotá because of its reputation as a dangerous place, but I only had a few hairy moments and those were when I ventured out of the touristy areas alone, against all sensible advice (don’t tell my mum).
If you’re planning a trip to Bogotá, have a great time and please leave me a comment if you have any questions or feedback.
All photographs were taken on my Olympus Pen E-PL7.