Since the 16th century Padang has been a trade centre. During the 16th and 17th centuries pepper was cultivated and traded with India, Portugal, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. In 1663 the city came under the authority of the Dutch. The Dutch built a trading post here in 1680. The city came under British authority twice, the first time from 1781 to 1784 during the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War, and again from 1795 to 1819 during the Napoleonic Wars. Afterwards the city was transferred back to the Netherlands. Up to approximately 1780 the most important trade product was gold, originating from the gold mines in the region. When the mines where exhausted, the emphasis turned to other products such as coffee, salts and textiles.
In 1797 Padang was inundated by a tsunami with an estimated flow depth of 5–10 meters, following an earthquake, estimated to be 8.5–8.7 Mw, which occurred off the coast. The shaking caused considerable damage and the deaths of two people, while the tsunami resulted in several houses being washed away and several deaths at the village of Air Manis. The boats moored in the Arau river ended up on dry land, including a 200 ton sailing ship which was deposited about 1 kilometer upstream. In 1833 another tsunami inundated Padang with an estimated flow depth of 3–4 meters as a result of an earthquake, estimated to be 8.6–8.9 Mw, which occurred off Bengkulu. The shaking caused considerable damage in Padang, and due to the tsunami the boats moored in the Arau river broke their anchors and were scattered.
At the time of independence in the 1940s the city had around 50,000 inhabitants. Coffee was still important, but copra was also a major item produced by farmers in its hinterland. The population growth since then has been partly a result of growth in the area of the city, but largely is a result of the migration to major cities seen in so many developing nations. In 1950 there had also been a development of the Ombilin coal field with Padang as its outlet. This is an indication of the colonization of Indonesia having been economic as well as political.
On September 30, 2009, a 7.6-magnitude earthquake hit about 50 kilometers off the coast of Padang. There were more than 1,100 fatalities, 313 of which occurred within Padang.
Padang is divided in 11 subdistricts (kecamatan): Bungus Teluk Kabung, Koto Tangah, Kuranji, Lubuk Begalung, Lubuk Kilangan, Nanggalo, Padang Barat, Padang Selatan, Padang Timur, Padang Utara, Pauh
The city is served by the newly-opened Minangkabau International Airport in Ketaping, Padang Pariaman. It replaced the old Tabing Airport. Tabing Airport now is used as military base. Padang's Teluk Bayur harbor is the largest and busiest harbor on the west coast of Sumatra.
Andalas University is the oldest university in Indonesia outside of Java. The main campus is located at Limau Manis, about 12 kilometres (7 mi) from the center of Padang. The other universities in Padang are Universitas Negeri Padang in Air Tawar, Bung Hatta University in Ulak Karang, Baiturrahmah University in Air Pacah, Universitas Putra Indonesia YPTK, Ekasakti University, Universitas Muhammadiyah Sumatera Barat and Tamansiswa University.
Padang features a tropical rainforest climate under Koppen’s climate classification. Padang is one of Indonesia’s wettest cities, with frequent rainfall throughout the course of the year. The city averages roughly 4300 mm of rain per year. Padang’s driest month is February, where 250 mm of precipitation on average is observed. The city temperatures are relatively constant throughout the year, with an average of 26 degrees Celsius.
The cuisine of the Minangkabau people is commonly called Padang cuisine. Padang restaurants are common throughout the country and are famous for their spicy food. Padang food is usually cooked once per day, and all customers choose from those dishes, which are left out on display until no food is left. It is served in small portions of various dishes, but constituting, with rice, a complete meal. Customers take - and pay for - only what they want from this array of dishes. The best known Padang dish is rendang, a spicy meat stew. soto Padang (crispy beef in spicy soup) is local residents' breakfast favorite, meanwhile sate (beef satay in curry sauce served with ketupat) is a treat in the evening.
Padang is the home town of the soccer team Semen Padang, with Haji Agus Salim Stadium being the home stadium of the club.
Padang is home to an annual international dragon boat competition.
Padang is a common transit point for surfers traveling to Batu Islands and Mentawai Islands, and for tourists visiting the West Sumatran highlands. Padang beach (known as Taplau or Tapi Lauik) which located from Samudra Street until Puruih, is well-known for its beautiful sunset and hundreds of food stalls. Bungus bay, to the south of Padang, is suitable for swimming and boating.
Adityawarman Museum specializes in the history and culture of the local Minangkabau ethnic group, and the main exhibits are housed within a Rumah Gadang style building.