There are many interesting things to do in Bogota. The capital of Colombia, a city of no less than 7.5 million people, well deserves to be explored and has plenty of things to see and do to keep visitors entertained – though many mistakenly decide to only spend a few hours there, while on a layover to go elsewhere.
It’s a pity, really. Bogota has a lot to offer, a lot more than meets the eye, and despite being such a vast metropolis, the vibe is friendly and the locals are extremely welcoming.
Perched at 2600 meters above sea level in the Andes, Bogota it’s a world apart from the sunny Cartagena, which is on the Caribbean coast (read more about Cartagena in this post). The average temperature here is 14 degrees Celsius, and it pretty much rains every day. Upon arriving, the impression you will get is that of being in northern England, or Ireland. Definitely not the sunny, hot, salsa-dancing, tropical picture that fills up the imagination of most foreigners.
Yet, one can’t help but warming to it.
Bogota is sophisticated, progressive and at times overwhelming. It’s chaotic, but it can also be incredibly peaceful. It’s a city of contrasts: next to the colorful colonial buildings of La Candelaria, you’ll find the skyscrapers of the financial district. The center is packed with beautiful historical sights, good museums and colonial buildings.
This posts highlights the things you shouldn’t miss in Bogota, and includes a few tips on how to make the most of the city.
These are some of the best guided tours of Bogota:
The beautiful cathedral in Plaza Bolivar
17 Things To Do In Bogota That You Shouldn’t Miss
Go to Plaza de Bolivar
Located in the historic heart of Bogota, Plaza de Bolivar is actually as eclectic as it gets in terms of architectural styles. The Capitolio Nacional, where the congress sits, is built in a neoclassical style. The Alcaldia (the City Hall) is built in French style and dates back to the early 20th century. The Catedral Primada, which is on the eastern side of the square, is Bogota’s largest church and was built in neoclassical style. The only example of colonial style architecture in the square is the Capilla del Sagrario, which is right next to the Cathedral. Whichever way you look at it, Plaza de Bolivar is an interesting place and visiting is one of the things to do in Buenos Aires.
Walk around Candelaria
Visiting La Candelaria is what to do in Bogotà to appreciate the colonial feel of the city. It’s a lovely neighborhood of cobbled alleys, museums galore, theaters, cafés and street art. The area has some good hostels and other places to stay, and some fairly good restaurants too. It’s one of the safest neighborhood in Bogota, so you can safely explore by yourself. But if you are curious to learn more about the history of the area and of how it evolved into becoming a place for artists, you may as well join a guided tour.
These are some of the best tours of Bogota that include La Candelaria:
- Bogota full day grand city tour
- La Candelaria, Mount Montserrate and Museo del Oro full day tour
- Monserrate sanctuary tour
- Bogota half day city tour
- Full Bogota experience
Enjoy the view from Monserrate
Among the unmissable places to visit in Bogota there’s Cerro de Monserrate. This peak towers over Bogota with its 3200 meters. It’s been a place of pilgrimage since the 1600s and a church was built at the top in the 1650s. The views of the city from Monserrate are impressive, but the site is also famous for the statue of El Señor Caido – a statue that depicts Jesus Christ right after being taken off the cross. There is also a park, which is nice to explore.
To get to Monserrate, you have three options: you can take the cable car, which is called Teleferico, the funicular, or walk all the way up the more than 1500 steps to the top. Although there are meant to be uniformed guards on the trail, robberies are often reported so take precautions should you decide to walk it – and by all means don’t go alone.
TIP: Bogota gets terribly congested with traffic, and as the day goes along, the pollution increases and the views from Cerro Monserrate become less clear. Make sure to go up quite early in the morning for clear views. Also, keep in mind that the temperature inevitably drops even more compared to the already cold city, so bring up an extra layer.
You can also join a guided tour that goes all the way to Monserrate. These are the best options:
Enjoy a different view from Torre Colpatria
You can get a good 360 degrees view of Bogota from its tallest skyscraper, Torre Colpatria, where you can access the mirador (viewpoint) on the 48th floor.
Visit La Zona Rosa
Zona Rosa, whose official name is Zona T, is the upscale area of Bogota – with all the luxury shops, restaurants and hotels and some of the best bars and nightlife in the city. It’s definitely where to go in Bogota if you want to treat yourself to a good dinner, but keep in mind that prices are going to be higher than in the rest of the city.
In Zona Rosa you’ll also find the famous Andres Carne de Res, a restaurant which originally opened in Chia but that now also has opened here in Bogota. It’s more than just a restaurant – here you can spend the night dancing to salsa and merengue tunes. Spending a night there is one of the best things to do at night.
You can book a visit to Andres Carne de Res (with transfer) online:
Chapinero is one of the nicest areas of the city and if you want to get out of the main tourist trail, visiting is what to do in Bogota. It’s where a large university is located, so the vibe is young and friendly. Here, you’ll find some very good restaurants – though not as expensive as those of Zona Rosa, and good places to stay that are a world away from the backpackers’ places of Candelaria.
Explore Bogota by bike
One of the things that impressed me the most about Bogota is how biking friendly the city is. There’s something like 300 km of biking lanes, that have been built since 1998, and locals regularly use this mode of transportation to go about their daily business. Needless to say, one of the top things to do in the Colombian capital to properly see it is joining a bike tour. Most of them start in La Candelaria and make several stops throughout the day, to visit museums, have a taste of street food, admire street art. Tours vary depending on the events going on in the city.
These are some of the best bike tours of Bogota:
- Bogotà bycicle tours
- Bogota 4 hour bicycle tour of the city
- Half day graffiti and street art bike tour
Join the Ciclovia Sundays
Speaking of bikes, one of the most fun things to do on Sundays is joining the Ciclovia. That’s when more than 100 km of roads are closed to traffic, and the locals get to use them to bike, skate, rollerblade, run and even walk the dogs. You can rent a bike to join in the fun. And if you get hungry you can stop at the many stalls that pop up at the side of the street.
Admire all the street art
If you love street art, you’ll be in for a treat. Make sure to admire the many pieces of art painted on the city walls. Bogota street art is thriving, and has been so for decades – despite the fact that graffiti artists had to work at nights and under cover not to be caught by the police. In 2011, Diego Felipe Becerra was shot by two police officers as he painted his famous Felix de Cat, causing such a reaction from the rest of the artists community and the public that the two officers were eventually arrested. That’s when graffiti art was finally legalized in certain parts of the city, and it became an integral part of Bogota identity.
You can join a guided tour of Bogota street art that will take you to the most impressive pieces – some work on a donation basis, most you have to pay. This is a selection of the best street art tours of Bogota:
Visit the incredible museums
Colombia’s capital has some excellent museums and art galleries, and visiting them is what to do in Bogota on a rainy day. Museo del Oro is thought to be the most important gold museums in the world. Yet, if you have to pick just one museum to visit in town, go to Museo Botero. It’s a great gallery, funded by a donation by Botero (Colombia’s most famous artist) himself. Other than his paintings, you’ll also be able to see works of Picasso, Mirò, Renoir, Dali, Matisse and Monet.
Other interesting museums include the Museo Nacional, which is located in an old prison and gives plenty of insights into the history of Colombia; the Museo de Arte Colonial; and the Museo Historico Policia, which is a rather quirky museum with dummies of drug dealers of the likes of Pablo Escobar.
If you want to make the most of Bogota’s museums, you can join a guided tour. These are two of the best:
Hang out in Simon Bolivar Park
Simon Bolivar is to Bogota what Central Park is to New York: it’s the biggest park in the city, and it gets incredibly busy at weekends. It’s the perfect place to visit at the weekend, for a picnic, to hang out by the lake, rent a bike and take a stroll. During the summer, lots of concerts are held in the park.
Mingle with the locals at the market
Bogota isn’t a touristy city – you can get much of a local feel here wherever you go, really. Yet, if you want to get a good understanding of the local vibe and way of life, a visit to one of the local markets is a must. The market in Plaza Paloquemao has an incredible array of fresh produce, flowers, eggs, seafood and meat. You’ll also get to taste a lot of street food.
If you prefer, you can even join a guided market tour. This is a selection of the best tours available:
Go on a food tour
Food in Colombia is quite an experience: this is a country with an incredible array of fruit that you won’t get to see anywhere else in the world. Most people who travel to Colombia complain that food is either incredibly bland, or too deep fried. In my month in Colombia, I actually tried a few things that were delicious, and I enjoyed the earthy, warm soups that are served any time of day. Bogota is a great dining destination.
Some of Colombia’s must try are:
- Arepas – corn patties that can be plain or filled with cheese;
- Bandeja paisa – which is actually a full meal of rice, beans, avocado, arepa, fried eggs and often also some grilled meat;
- Sancocho de gallina – a chicken soup with potaoes, onions, corn and whatever else is available;
- Ajaco – similar to sancocho de gallina, this soup is typical from the Bogota region and is served with rice and avocado.
While the best restaurants in Bogota are in Zona Rosa, your best bet for excellent food that is also cheap is the street, and if you dig well, you’ll find some delicious stuff. If you have just arrived in Colombia and feel overwhelmed by the incredible offer of food, you may want to opt for a food tour (even better, a street food tour) to taste all the local specialties.
Here is a selection of the best food tours of Bogota:
- Bogota food tour
- Bogota gastronomic wonders tour
- Discover Colombian cuisine with a local
- Traditional cooking class with lunch in Bogota
- Bogota 13 taster food feast and coffee workshop
- La Macarena gourmet tour in Bogota
Learn about coffee
In a country that exports some of the best quality coffee in the world, one of the most interesting things to do is learning about the secrets to a good coffee. While the Eje Cafetero, the coffee region of Colombia is at some 10 hours drive from Bogota, you can still appreciate coffee in the capital. One of the nicest things to do in Colombia’s capital is drinking coffee, and learning more about it. There even are guided coffee crawl tours (yes, seriously!).
These are some of the best coffee tours of Bogota:
Taste some beer
Latin America was never big on good beer – no matter how hard I tried in Costa Rica or even Panama, I never found a beer that I truly enjoyed. Except in Colombia, which has its own great breweries and where you can get draft beer. The most famous brewery is Bogota Beer Company, which has opened several locations across the city where you can walk in to enjoy some good pub food and what is unarguably the best beer in the country. They even do beer tours of the city – it certainly is what to do in Bogota if you like your pint!
These are some of the best beer tours of Bogota:
Enjoy Bogota’s nightlife
For the best nightlife in Bogota, you have to head to Zona Rosa, which attracts a good crowd of both locals and tourists. It’s where the best bars in the city are located, and home to the famous Andres Carne de Res where you can dine like a king before admiring dance shows and even dancing yourself. The gay friendly part of Bogota is Zona G, which also has some great bars.
These are some of the best night tours of Bogota:
Take a day trip to out of the city
Bogota is lovely, but the surroundings are amazing too. Make sure to take a day trip out of the city. The following is a selection of places that can be visited from Bogota.
Zipaquira and the Salt Cathedral
The Salt Catedral, which was born out of an old salt mine, is one of the most fascinating things to see in Colombia. It’s located near Zipaquira, which is 50 km north of Bogota. The Cathedral was open to the public in 1995 and can host up to 8400 people. Visiting is what to do in Bogota if you want to get out of the city for a day. You can get there on a combination of public transportation, or else you can join a guided tour.
These are some of the best guided tours of Zipaquira and the Salt Cathedral:
- From Bogota – Zipaquira and Salt Cathedral
- Zipaquira and Salt Cathedral guided tour from Bogota
- Private tour of Zipaquira Salt Cathedral from Bogota
- Half day guided tour of Zipaquira Salt Cathedral from Bogota
- Zipaquira Salt Cathedral and Lake Guatavita tour from Bogota
La Laguna de Guatavita is located at around 18 km from Guatavita, which in and of itself is quite an interesting place to visit. The lagoon is a sacred lake and the ritual center of the Muisca indigenous peoples. It’s where the myth of El Dorado was born. Visits to Guatavita often include a tour of the Museo del Oro of Bogota, as this includes a lot of pieces coming from the Guatavita region. This is one of the nicest things to do if you want to get out of the city.
You can go to Guatavita by a combination of public transportation, or opt for a guided tour. These are the best tours available:
- Zipaquira Salt Cathedral and Lake Guatavita tour from Bogota
- Private tour of Lake Guatavita from Bogota
- Laguna de Guatavita private half day tour from Bogota
Villa de Leyva
Villa del Leyva is a gorgeous small colonial town at about 3 hours drive from Bogota. It’s a lovely place to explore for a day, though if you have more time I actually recommend to spend at least a weekend there. It’s where people from Bogota actually go for a getaway from the city. If you are pressed for time but you still want to visit, you can go there on a day trip.
These are the best tours of Villa de Leyva departing from Bogota:
- 3 days 2 nights Villa de Leyva tour from Bogota
- Villa de Leyva day tour from Bogota
- Villa de Leyva day trip from Bogota
Things to do in Bogota on a layover
Bogota has a lot to offer, but if you are tight on time you can still try to make the most of the city. The best way to explore the city if you are tight on time is on a guided tour.
There are especially designed tours for people who are visiting Bogota on a layover. This is a selection of the best tours:
- Layover city tour in Bogota
- Bogota layover private sightseeing tour with round trip airport transport
- Tailor made Bogota layover tour
- Bogota 3 hour layover tour
- Bogota 4 hour layover tour
- Bogota 6 hours layover tour
- Bogota 10 hours layover tour
Practical Tips To Organize Your Trip To Bogota
Guided tours of Colombia that go to Bogota
If you would like to visit Colombia and Bogota, but have have little interest in organizing your trip, you should consider joining a guided tour of Colombia. G Adventures runs some excellent ones and all of them depart from its capital. I have selected the most interesting ones:
- Colombia multisport – an 11 day tour that is very active with several hikes and bike trips.
- Colombia multisport and Lost City Trek – similar to the previous one but lasting 17 days. There even is a 4 days trek to the Lost City.
- Colombia express – a 9 day tour hitting all the most famous destinations, including Bogota.
- Colombian culture, Caribbean and Lost City – a 22 days tour that covering the best of the country in a mix of adventure and relaxation.
Where to stay in Bogota
Most people who visit Bogota stay in La Candelaria, where you’ll find the majority of boutique hotels and hostels. A few good ones can also be found in Chapinero and Zona Rosa.
Here’s a selection of the best places to stay in Bogota:
- Fernweh Photography Hostel is walking distance from La Candelaria. It’s the perfect place to stay if you have a passion for photography. Rooms are comfortable, and there is a nice reading room. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- The Candelaria House has gourgeous, large room – each one different from the other – that look more like those of a historical house than of a hotel. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Zohar is a good small hotel in Candelaria with comfortable room that go from the budget ones with shared facilities to the more comfortable ones with all the comforts. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Hotel El Dorado is located in Chapinero. It features comfortable rooms with contemporary style furniture and the staff is incredibly kind. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
- Sofitel Bogota Victoria Regia is a fabulous hotel in Zona Rosa. Rooms are large and modern, there is a gym, a spa, and the onsite restaurant serves delicious food. Click here for the latest rates and here for reviews.
Watch this space as I will be writing a more detailed guide on where to stay in Bogota.
How to get to Bogota
Bogota is very well connected to the rest of the country by an incredible web of bus routes. The main bus station is La Terminal, around 5 km west of the city center in an area called La Salitre. There, you’ll find buses going to and coming from the rest of the country.
For buses from Cartagena to Bogota, click here.
For buses from Medellin to Bogota, click here.
For buses from Barranquilla to Bogota, click here.
Bogota airport is called El Dorado and has flights to various locations in the country and to the rest of the world. From there, you can get to Bogota by public transportation, taxi or private transfer. You can book your Bogota airport transfer here.
Unless you want to move around by bike, you can count on Bogota’s very efficient bus system. The service is cheap and fast, and buses run from 5:00 am to 11:00 pm.
I didn’t have any issue when I visited Bogota, and in the last few years crime rates have decreased thanks to the efforts of the police forces. Check the latest reports on safety here. However I recommend you use your caution when you walk around, especially at night. When in doubt, opt to take a taxi. Make sure to also purchase travel insurance before visiting. You can get one here.
Make sure to read my posts about Colombia:
- “A Concise Guide To Villa De Leyva, Colombia”
- “A Concise Guide To Salento, Colombia.”
- “A Complete Guide To Hiking Valle De Cocora, Colombia.”