Whenever someone asks me what to do in Malaysia, I always tell them to include Penang in their Malaysia itinerary. Check out our Thailand – Malaysia – Singapore itinerary. This city is well worth a visit. If you’re currently planning a trip to Penang and now you’re scouring the web searching for the best things to do in Penang, then you have found yourself in the right place. Because that’s exactly what we are talking about in this article.
Why do people love Penang? One word: food. Penang’s food scene is amazing. Not surprisingly, when people speak about the top places to visit in Penang, they often speak a lot about restaurants and street food centers. And this article is not going to be an exception.
Getting from Kuala Lumpur to Penang. You can either take a bus or fly. I recommend you to take a bus. The journey from KL to Penang is around 5 hours long. Main bus station in Kuala Lumpur is Terminal Bersepadu Selatan, and it’s easily accessible by KL metro. Bus will drop you in Butterworth bus terminal, a short and cheap ferry ride away from George Town (main city of Penang).
Best Things to Do in Penang, Malaysia
Now let’s take a look at the list. Here are 20 best things to do in Penang, Malaysia.
Activities are listed in no particular order.
1. Enjoy the Beautiful Street Art of Penang
Hunting for interesting murals is a highlight of any visit to George Town, Penang, Malaysia. Their municipal council wisely commissioned a Lithuanian muralist and a steel rod sculpture company, who – along with several other artists – have created enticing street art throughout town. The whimsical, modern murals contrast with the historic architecture of the UNESCO World Heritage zone. This central part of town is where you’ll find the highest concentration of street art, which is easy to explore by foot or via the free CAT bus.
Viewing the murals is free, of course, but you can also join a tour for a more in depth explanation of each piece.
Recommended by Michelle, intentionaltravelers.com.
2. Visit Kek Lok Si Temple
Scroll back to top and look at the first photo once again. That’s the view you can get from Kek Lok Si temple.
This beautiful view of Penang is one of the reasons why I have always tried to visit Kek Lok Si temple, when I’m on the island. Another reason to go there is the place itself. It’s huge, peaceful and beautiful, making a visit there clearly one of the best things to do in Penang. Being there you may forget that you are in Malaysia now, not in China. That much different is the place.
It’s also worth mentioning that Penang in general feels more Chinese than most of other cities in Malaysia. Which for me, personally, is the reason I always include it in my Malaysia itinerary.
3. Try Famous Assam Laksa Noodles in Penang
And here comes the first food recommendation in Penang. When going to the Kek Lok Si temple stop at the nearby Air Itam market and try famous Assam Laksa noodles (noodle soup, I would say). If you can’t find the place – most probably you will find it easily, ask anyone for Assam Laksa Air Itam stall. Everyone know the place, and there will surely be other people already eating it. It’s not your most beautiful food stall, and the bowl may look messy, like in my photo above, but, trust me, it’s good.
It’s mouth-wateringly delicious. And costs only MYR 5.
4. Check Out the Rainbow Skywalk at The Top
Penang is one of my favorite cities in the world, and I love the amazing period architecture, grungey graffiti, incredible food and beautiful wooden houses. But funnily enough, one of my absolute favorite things to do in Penang is nothing to do with any of those things!
If you visit the Komtar shopping centre and take the lift to the top, you can visit the Rainbow Skywalk. It’s a transparent viewing platform looking out over the city, with absolutely amazing views. You can look down and see the streets and traffic right under your feet.
The best time to go is at sundown, and wait until it gets dark to see the city light up.
Recommended by Maire, templesandtreehouses.com.
5. Dine at Red Garden Food Paradise
When you’re ready for the dinner, and you want to try something new this time, there aren’t many better places in Penang for you to go than Red Garden Food Paradise. It’s a food court, similar to many others in Malaysia, with tables and chairs in the middle and a lot of different food stalls around them.
It’s a great place for families, friends and big groups because there are a lot of space, and everyone can choose something different for dinner. Locals love the place.
My recommendation: Frog claypot porridge. For more ideas check out this guide to hawker food in Penang.
Location: Google Maps.
6. Try Ais Kacang at Swatow Lane Ice Kacang
Wait, so much food? You’ve been warned. Penang is food destination of Malaysia, after all.
Ais Kacang is a traditional desert in Malaysia. There are lots of variations of it. In the photo above you can see one of them. Mostly the portion is quite big, so you can easily share it with someone. Especially if you aren’t sure whether you’ll like it or not. Some of the most popular ingredients include shaved ice, red beans, sweet corn, ice cream and grass jelly. Often times fruits are being added as well.
Location: Google Maps.
7. Visit Little India
What to do in Penang when you feel like you would love to change your surroundings a bit? Head over to Little India. It’s still Penang, and it’s in the city center (Georget Town), but it’s different.
8. Check Out Penang’s Night Markets
One of the great ways to experience the unique city of Penang is to visit one of the many night markets.
After a heavy day of sightseeing, the allure of these lively spots is having the chance to relax in the cool of the evening and try some of the tasty hawker food that Penang is famous for. You will always be able to find the best hawker dishes such as char koay teow, fried oyster omelettes, different fried rices, chee cheong fun, and lok lok, the skewered deep fried meats and vegetables. And satay!
There are always satay stands filling the air with the wonderful aroma of charred meats. And depending on the night market you visit, you might also have the chance to peruse the usual knick-knack and souvenir stalls for a bargain out of the hot Penang sun. When visiting Penang, a night market should always be on your list of places to visit.
Recommended by Markus, theroamingfork.com.
9. Go on a Free Ferry Ride to Butterworth
If not for anything else, take this short ferry ride to have a look at Penang from another side.
Butterworth is an average-sized town just across the Penang Strait. There aren’t any interesting sights to visit or things to do, but you may want to simply wander around this much quieter Malaysian town. If not – head straight back to Penang with the next ferry. Going back isn’t going to be for free, but it’s cheap nevertheless.
If you came to Penang by bus this is where you most probably got off the bus, and then took a ferry across to Penang.
10. Visit Colonial Penang Museum
To learn more about life of wealthy merchants in Penang two centuries ago.
The museum is situated a little bit outside the city center. So you may want to take Grab taxi (it’s an app; know also as “Asia’s Uber”) to get there.
11. Pay a Visit to Dharmikarama Burmese Temple
It’s a beautiful, well-maintained, temple complex about an hour walk away from the city center. Close to Colonial Penang musem.
12. Visit TeddyVille Museum
Museums aren’t your thing? What about teddy bear museum?
Since the museum is away from the city you’ll need to count in some 30 minutes for getting there. Easiest and fastest way – Grab taxi.
13. Take a Look at Penang From Above
Visit Penang Hill.
Penang Hill is an old British hill station dating back to the 18th century. Getting to the top is possible by funicular train. Another option is to hike to the top of Penang Hill.
14. Hang Out at Batu Ferringhi
Batu Ferringhi is the main beach area in Penang. It is located on the north side of the island and it is a relaxed and fun location.
The beach itself is not the best and there can be jellyfish! However, there are plenty of activities, great food and drinks and it’s a good place to hang out. We tried out para sailing here and loved visiting the Bora Bora bar for drinks and food right on the beach.
In the evening there is a night market and you should eat at the Long Beach Cafe which is a hawker centre full of delicious food.
Many hotels are also located here and it’s a good place to base yourself during your Penang break.
Recommended by Sharon, diveintomalaysia.com.
15. Have Fun at ESCAPE Theme Park
A water park + jungle adventure park = ESCAPE, one of the Malaysia’s top theme parks.
If you exactly when you are planning to visit the park, buy your ticket well in advance and save up to 50% (when booked 61+ days in advance). Check out the prices on their website.
16. Rent a Scooter to Explore the Island
Most of tourists traveling to Penang visit only George Town, the main city of the island. Many don’t even leave the city center. If you want to see more, one of the best ways to do it would be by renting a scooter and going wherever you want.
Planning to go on a journey all around the island leave early, because Penang isn’t as small as it looks.
17. Visit Entopia, Penang Butterfly Farm
To learn more about tropical butterflies, and not only.
18. Spend an Afternoon at Penang National Park
Or a whole day if you wish and have time. The park is small. But, according to the park administration, it’s a home for more than 30 species of mammals and more than 40 species of reptiles, making it a good place to be if you want to connect with nature. The park is accessible by public bus. Bus stop is about 15-minute walk away from the park entrance.
Learn more about Penang National Park here.
19. Visit Penang War Museum
Visit this former British bastion to learn more about the history of Penang.
20. Try Durian (Fruit)
If you haven’t done it yet, try one of Asia’s and world’s most controversial fruits.
Many – mostly locals – love it, the same as many say it’s the worst fruit they have ever tried. They who don’t like it compare eating durian to eating spoiled raw meat mixed with onions. I have tried durian 4 times, and most probably I’m eating it again some day. But I wouldn’t recommend you to get a too big piece of it for the first time. It’s not like anything else and it’s a rather expensive fruit.
Where to Stay in Penang – Our Recommendations
Georget Town is the island’s main and biggest city. It’s not a very big city, but it isn’t small either. And it’s growing. If you want to be close to main tourist attractions and in the area with lots of restaurants and cafes, stay close to the ferry terminal. It’s the best place to stay in Penang if you’re coming only for a few days.
1. Cheap – WeLuv Travel Guesthouse
A very popular budget hotel located in the historical part of the city. Many good local restaurants are only a short walk away from the hotel. Note that most of the rooms don’t have private bathroom.
Double room starts at MYR 80. Check the latest price!
2. Mid-Range – Sunway Hotel Georgetown Penang
An inexpensive and very popular 4-star hotel in the city center. The hotel features a big outdoor pool and gym. There are a lot of great restaurants and shops near the hotel. Rooms come equipped with a TV, air conditioner, hair dryer, fridge, safe and electric kettle.
Double room starts at MYR 210. Check the latest price!
3. Luxury – Eastern & Oriental Hotel
Wanna splurge a bit and spend a time like celebrity? Check out this world-class hotel dating back to 19th century. The hotel is located on the coast and features a great outdoor swimming pool.
Double room starts at MYR 560. Check the latest price!
Heading to Langkawi Next?
Check out the list of the best things to do in Langkawi.
Have you been to Penang? Is there something else you would add? Some more interesting places to visit in Penang? Or cool things to do in Penang?
Author: Kaspars Misins
Kaspars is a long term traveler and a travel blogger from Latvia. He loves going on long walks, reading non fiction books and spending time outdoors. Together with his girlfriend Una they have been traveling – volunteering – working abroad since 2013. On We Are From Latvia they share their experience and things learned along the way.