Need some ideas for your first-time in Malaysia? Don’t miss out on the charming riverside city of Melaka (Malacca)! Gripped by a long and storied past at the crossroads of empires, Melaka draws out influences from three major European powers—Portuguese, Dutch, and British—along with more local ones to create a palette of architecture & food that’s unlike any other in Malaysia—and Southeast Asia.
Can’t decide how to plan your time in this delightful Malaysian city? Get started with this guide to the best things to do in Melaka…
Table of Contents
- What to do in Melaka: The top attractions & best places to visit
- Where to stay: The best hotels for sightseeing in Melaka
What to do in Melaka: The top attractions & best places to visit
Bask in the chaos of Jonker Walk Night Market
If there’s only one thing you need to do in Melaka, it’s to revel in the madness that is the Jonker Walk Night Market. To experience the spectacle for yourself, you’ll need to time your Melaka itinerary for a Friday or Saturday. (Or why not both?)
Jonker Walk Night Market is exactly what you’d expect from an Asian night market: Loud, boisterous, and definitely more than a little claustrophobic. Brave the crowds though, and you’ll be treated to a whole barrage of goodies. Whether you’re on the hunt for cheap clothing accessories, knick-knacks or souvenirs, you’ll find it all at Jonker Walk Night Market.
And let’s not forget the food…
In case you were wondering, Southeast Asia’s reputation as a destination for foodies doesn’t fall on un-tickled tastebuds in Melaka, especially at Jonker Walk Night Market. Wander along the main drag and the side streets to gobble down everything from dim sum & takoyaki (Japanese octopus balls) to local Nyonya specials like chicken rice balls & assam laksa.
Check out Melaka from above at Menara Taming Sari
Even if heights aren’t your thing, don’t miss out on staring down Melaka from above at the Menara Taming Sari. This rotating gyro tower, one of the most popular tourist attractions in Melaka, zips you up over 100 metres for spectacular 360-degree vistas over the city.
Thanks to its central location near the historical centre, you’ll peer down at all the top things to see in Melaka—from the Stadthuys to St. Paul’s Church to A’Famosa—on the seven-minute sky-scraping ride (RM20).
Whisk away into Melaka’s colonial past
Perhaps more so than any other city in Southeast Asia, Melaka wears its varied colonial past on its sleeve. Three major European colonial powers seized control of Melaka since its founding. Each left an indelible mark on the city’s cultural & architectural fabric.
While wandering around, get your eyes peeled for these top colonial tourist sites in Melaka:
- St. Paul Church: The ruins of the oldest Christian church in Southeast Asia, originally built by the Portuguese in 1521.
- A Famosa: An early-16th century Portuguese fortress that once helped the marauding empire establish its foothold in Melaka. Only a small gatehouse, Porta de Santiago, remains of the once might fortress.
- Stadthuys: The most famous Dutch building in Melaka, known for its distinctive red-brick hue. Since 1982, the Stadthuys has housed the Museum of History & Ethnography, a exposition of Melaka’s entire history from it’s pre-colonial days through Portuguese, Dutch and British occupation.
- Christ Church: An 18th-century Dutch Colonial church that was re-consecrated into Melaka’s main Anglican place of worship following the coming of the British. Its unmissable red façade combines with the neighbouring Stadthuys to form the centrepieces of Dutch Square.
Enjoy a drink along the Melaka River Walk
One of the easiest pleasures of any visit to Melaka is to enjoy a leisurely stroll along the Melaka River Walk. The River Walk flashes a boardwalk on either side and is lined with a number of restaurants & bars to plop down for a moment of quiet contemplation along the riverside.
While trotting through, don’t miss out on the colourful street art adorning some of the River Walk’s lovely historical buildings.
Visit a traditional riverside Malay village
As in most of Malaysia’s largest cities, traditional ways of life are slowly disappearing around Melaka as modernism sweeps in. One exception is Kampung Morten, a charming riverside Malay village that still holds true to its simpler roots.
Kampung Morten lies within a 15-minute walk of the historical centre of Melaka, but couldn’t be a bigger contrast from the city around it. Colourful low-rise red-roofed houses punctuate the Melaka while modern high-rises loom above.
When you’re strolling around Kampung Morten, set aside some time to visit Villa Sentosa. This traditional Malay house, built in 1921, offers an intimate look at the village’s traditional architecture and way of life as told by a descendant of the original owner. Entry to the museum is free.
Catch a glorious sunset at the Straits Mosque
Set just a few kilometres outside of the historical city centre, the Straits Mosque is one of city’s most famous—and eye-catching—religious buildings. The mosque’s unique location, dipping into strait on stilts from the edge of a manmade island, left it with its other moniker: the Floating Mosque.
As striking as its Islamo-Malay architecture is at all times of the day, the Straits Mosque puts its best foot forward at twilight. Hire a Grab driver (or undertake the hour-long walk) to arrive just before the sun dips below the Straits of Malacca. It’ll no doubt become one of the most memorable sunsets you’ll ever catch in Asia!
Where to stay: The best hotels for sightseeing in Melaka
Most of the best things to do in Melaka are wedged into its historical centre. Your best bet for sorting out between all of the best places to stay in Melaka is to stick to hotels in around this area. Here are a couple top suggestions:
- Heeren Straits Hotel: A budget-friendly boutique hotel set in a lovely historical Peranakan townhouse. The location, just one block from Jonker Walk, is perfect for foodies.
- The Majestic Melaka Hotel: A lovely mid-range hotel across the river from the atmospheric Kampung Morten. With elegant rooms set in a charming Peranakan mansion and a restaurant focused on Melaka’s unique Kristang (Malacca Portuguese) cuisine, a stay here is absolutely unforgettable.
- Casa del Rio Melaka: One of the top luxury hotels in Melaka. Besides the spacious modern rooms, this top-notch hotel charms with its brilliantly central riverside location, an infinity pool, and three superb dining options.