Falling into the background among more famous Southeast Asian cities like Singapore, Bangkok or Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur, in many ways, unveils one of the biggest urban surprises on the continent. Brushed with gleaming skyscrapers, glitzy (but surprisingly budget-friendly) luxury hotels, and some of the best food on the planet, it’s not hard to see why the pumped-up capital of Malaysia is quickly becoming a favourite on the traveller trail.
As one of the main transportation hubs in the region, there’s a good chance when criss-crossing Southeast Asia that you’ll end up, at some point, with at least one day in Kuala Lumpur.
Of course, as with any city of its size, the more time in KL, the better. But should you find yourself on a time-crunch or need to kill some time on a layover, start falling in love with KL on this complete itinerary for 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur…
Table of Contents
- Got only one day in Kuala Lumpur? Maximize your time with this 1-day itinerary…
- Beat your morning blues at the Petronas Twin Towers
- Relive the history of KL at Merdeka Square
- Shop & chow down at Central Market Kuala Lumpur
- Explore the heart of KL’s Chinatown at Petaling Street
- Get a taste of Bollywood in KL’s Little India (Brickfields)
- Enjoy the sunset at SkyBar
- Shop & dine in Bukit Bintang
- Where to stay in Kuala Lumpur
- Want to see more in your first 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur? Apply these 1-day itinerary tweaks…
Got only one day in Kuala Lumpur? Maximize your time with this 1-day itinerary…
Whether you’ve got 10 days in Malaysia or three weeks, there’s hardly a better starting point for your journey than the brilliant capital, Kuala Lumpur (or just KL as its most endearing fans would say).
There’s a multitude of cool things to do in Kuala Lumpur, and a nice chunk of ’em can be harvested with even just one day in KL. Let your Kuala Lumpur itinerary unfold by starting off with these ideas…
Beat your morning blues at the Petronas Twin Towers
While you won’t need to beat yourself out of bed at the crack of dawn to catch KL’s biggest attraction—both literally and figuratively—get a head start on the morning by plowing over to the Petronas Twin Towers.
This towering landmark, the undisputed symbol of Kuala Lumpur, was until 2004 the tallest building in world. Even if it’s been overtaken 15 times since, the Petronas Towers are still one of the finest modern architectural treasures in the world and one of the absolute must-sees in Malaysia.
Unless you purchase your Petronas Towers tickets beforehand (which I’d highly recommend), you’ll need to start lining up at the ticketing counter before 8:30am to grab one of the limited tickets, available on a first come, first-serve basis.
Once you’ve secured your entrance tickets, scoot up 170 metres to the 86th-floor observation deck where spellbinding views of KL await. Your Petronas Towers tickets also include entrance to the Skybridge, a covered glass platform linking the twin towers on the 41st and 42nd floors and offering its own spectacular views of the city.
Relive the history of KL at Merdeka Square
After you’ve fully soaked in the views from the Petronas Towers, head over to nearby KLCC Station (8 minutes by foot) for the short train ride to Masjid Jamek Station. From here, it’s a short 5- to 7-minute walk to Merdeka Square at the historical heart of KL.
Once a mere cricket ground in colonial times, Merdeka Square is, today, one of the most important sites in Kuala Lumpur, surrounded by historical buildings. Most stunning on the square is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, a prime example of 19th-century Moorish architecture that currently houses the Ministry of Culture, Heritage and Arts. (Snapping a few Instagram-worthy shots is always recommended here!)
There’s a handful of other attractions around Merdeka Square including the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery and the National Textile Museum. With only one day in Kuala Lumpur, you’ll probably want to give them a miss unless you’re a huge history-buff or a closet batik connoisseur.
Shop & chow down at Central Market Kuala Lumpur
Once you’re done absorbing the sights and sounds of Merdeka Square, cross over the Klang River via Leboh Pasar Besar and head south along the eastern bank to one of KL’s cultural landmarks, Central Market.
Built in 1928 with roots digging back to 1888, Central Market has transformed from a quiet wet market into a handicrafts nirvana. Browsing through the torrent of stalls at Central Market is like staring down Malaysia in miniature, with everything from Malay batik to Indian saris to Chinese sculptures in your sights.
Besides selling a wide array of handicraft and souvenirs, Central Market is one of the best places to eat in KL on a budget. From asam laksa and dumplings to fresh fruit juices, all kinds of mouth-watering Malay food & drinks await in the upper food court at prices that would probably barely get you a bus ride back home.
Just don’t fill up too much: There’s plenty more in store for your belly as you continue your KL itinerary!
Explore the heart of KL’s Chinatown at Petaling Street
From Central Market, it’s a quick walk down Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock to Jalan Petaling (Petaling Street), the central nervous system of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. The area is one of the most exciting in KL, constantly abuzz with action day and night, and an absolute must-visit during your first 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur.
Walking along Petaling Street, you’ll feel as if you’ve magically stepped from Malaysia’s capital into the streets of Hong Kong, Shanghai or Beijing. The atmosphere is lively along the street where kiosks pop out from the buildings under awnings and umbrellas as shopkeepers beckon you to buy their latest wares.
Chinatown is the perfect place to sharpen your bargaining skills. You’ll find everything from clothing and fashion accessories to handicrafts and souvenirs here all at bargain-basement prices that’ll astound you—even before haggling them down.
But, of course, Petaling Street isn’t just about shopping. In a city that’s as batty for food as KL, you’d have to expect that Chinatown offers some of Kuala Lumpur’s best cuisine. If you’ve still got room after your Central Market adventures, here are a couple of the best restaurants in KL’s Chinatown:
- Restoran Kim Lian Kee: A KL classic that dubs itself as the originator of hokkien mee, a delicious combo of stir-fried noodles and a thick dark-soy-based sauce.
- Restoran Koon Kee Wan Tan Mee: A restaurant with over 50 years of history backing it serving up KL’s best wan tan mee, a Cantonese favourite consisting of noodles in a sweet black sauce topped with ingredients like sweet BBQ pork, chicken, and dumplings.
- Old China Cafe: A small restaurant with an old-world feel delivering Peranakan (Straits-born Chinese) food including their spicy & juicy beef rendang.
Before you leave Chinatown, don’t miss a chance to see Sri Mahamariamman Temple, an ornate 19th-century Hindu temple that seems wholly out-of-place among the Taoist & Buddhist temples scattered elsewhere in Chinatown.
Get a taste of Bollywood in KL’s Little India (Brickfields)
After immersing yourself fully in the delights of Chinatown, head back towards the Klang River to Pasar Seni Station where you’ll ride over to KL Sentral to continue to explore KL’s diversity in Little India.
Officially known as Brickfields, Little India is one of the Malaysian capital’s more colourful corners, plastered with curry houses and shops blasting Hindi music onto the street while selling everything from saris to Bollywood DVDs to spices.
Since your appetite probably hasn’t yet reeled from your Chinatown culinary adventures, skip on the area’s famous banana leaf rice & curry dishes (this time!) and opt instead for a delicious & refreshing mango lassi to help you cool down in KL’s mid-day heat.
Enjoy the sunset at SkyBar
With the bulk of a day spent haggling, walking and sightseeing, I’d say you’ve earned a little downtime. In a city sprinkled with epic views like KL, there’s no better way to do it than to chill out at a rooftop bar.
There are plenty of rooftop bars in Kuala Lumpur, but one of most acclaimed is SkyBar, located on the 33rd floor of the Traders Hotel in KLCC. Besides enjoying one of the city’s most innovative cocktails and rubbing elbows with KL’s well-to-do, an evening relaxing at SkyBar places the best views of Kuala Lumpur front-and-centre including a majestic view of the Petronas Towers.
Another option for unfettered KL city views is the Heli Lounge Bar. Situated on the 34th floor of Menara BH Building on a helipad, this popular spot features wonderful 360-degree vistas of the Petronas Towers and KL Menara Tower with zero hindrance.
Both the SkyBar at the Traders Hotel and the Heli Lounge Bar are within a 20- to 30-minute walk from KLCC Station (5 stops and 10 minutes by train).
Shop & dine in Bukit Bintang
All that hard work of snagging world-class panoramas has surely resurged your appetite, no? If so, fire up your legs for the short walk south to Bukit Bintang, one of the coolest areas in KL, bursting with local & international restaurants, classy bars, and trendy boutiques & shopping malls.
Brace yourself for a deluge of flavours in Bukit Bintang from the spicy goodness of Indian to the fragrant & exotic tastes of Malay & Thai food. Both restaurants & hawker stalls fill the streets here, delivering on some of the most scrumptious food in KL. Stuff yourself at one of these best places to eat in Bukit Bintang:
- Jalan Alor: Quite possibly one of the best food streets in Asia, Jalan Alor offers some of the best street food in KL ranging from grilled satay skewers cooked to perfection on charcoal grill to stir-fried noodle dishes tossed around in woks.
- Lot 10 Hutong Food Court: A hawker centre with a layout inspired by the hutong of Beijing, this culinary nirvana features handpicked favourites from popular food vendors from around KL and even as far as Penang. Top dishes include hokkien mee and wonton dumpling soup.
- Bijan Bar & Restaurant: An award-winning restaurant focusing on Malay cuisine. Among the restaurant’s specialties is their beef rendang, a beef curry slow-cooked to spicy perfection.
If you’ve got a little more energy to spare after eating to your heart’s content, spend the rest of the evening browsing Bukit Bintang’s fashion boutiques and malls or letting loose by partaking in its legendary nightlife.
Where to stay in Kuala Lumpur
When you’ve only got one day in KL, pegging where to stay in Kuala Lumpur isn’t such a difficult task. As much as the Malaysia capital can seem a massive sprawl, much of the best action for tourists revolves around the city centre, particularly around Chinatown, KLCC and Bukit Bintang. Get your search started with these top KL hotels:
- The Kuala Lumpur Journal Hotel: A modern hotel with retro twists thrown into the delightful chaos of Bukit Bintang. The rooms are sleek with superb city views, but this hotel’s at its best peering out onto KL from the rooftop infinity pool.
- Expedia | Hotels.com | Booking.com | Agoda
- Traders Hotel: Home to the famous SkyBar, this 4-star hotel delivers on modern rooms with incredible floor-to-ceiling views. Chill out at the spa’s steam room or hot tub to unwind after a long day of sightseeing.
- Expedia | Hotels.com | Booking.com | Agoda
- Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur: One of the best luxury hotels in KL, this 5-star gem spikes up the serotonin with its palatial rooms and spellbinding vistas.
- Expedia | Hotels.com | Booking.com | Agoda
Getting to Kuala Lumpur
By air: Most travellers coming from abroad will enter KL—and Malaysia—via Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL). This airport is hub for several airlines including AirAsia and Malaysia Airlines, and, as such, makes KL a popular layover destination.
By bus: Malaysia offers an excellent budget-friendly network of buses to get you around the country. Some of the most popular routes include Melaka (2.5 hours), Penang (6 hours), and Singapore (5-6 hours).
Want to see more in your first 24 hours in Kuala Lumpur? Apply these 1-day itinerary tweaks…
- Want to embrace nature? Fit in some time at KL Bird Park, a relaxing oasis amid the chaos of the city, not far from KL Sentral.
- Love seeing KL from above? Pop over the KL Menara Tower for some of the best skyline views in the city.
- Obsessed with history? Snag a few hours at the National Museum of Malaysia, interactively covering the country’s history from the prehistoric age to the modern era.
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