10 Cool Things to Do in Penang On Your Malaysia Adventure

Unraveling any list of things to do in Penang, Malaysia, rolls all of the country’s cultural, culinary, and historic charms into one. On this Malaysian island, often dubbed the “Pearl of the Orient,” colonial architecture stands proudly beside intricate temples. Cool street art, night markets, and street food stalls add vibrancy to the island’s ancient lanes.

George Town, Penang’s capital city, boasts a UNESCO World Heritage city center. Wander among its colonial buildings, echoing tales of traders, settlers, and the island’s multicultural past. Aromatic trails lead you to hawker stalls serving famed dishes like char kway teow or asam laksa, cementing Penang’s reputation as a gastronomic haven.

Beyond its urban charms, Penang shows off plenty of natural beauty, too. Roam around the pristine wind-swept coastlines to find a spot to laze on one of its beautiful beaches. Give your legs a workout with a hike through the lush forests of Penang National Park, rewarding yourself with a quiet stretch of sand at the end of your journey.

Ready to plan the ultimate trip to Malaysia’s most famous island? Get the full low down on what to see & do with this guide to the best places to visit in Penang, Malaysia!

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Must-see places to visit in Penang

Even if you’ve already logged some serious miles exploring Southeast Asia, Penang will come as a pleasant surprise. What’s so appealing about travelling to Penang is that it rolls many of the must-gave travel experiences in Malaysia into one tight package.

At times, there seems to be no end to discovering new must-see places in Penang. Walking the streets of George Town, Penang’s main city, is as fascinating an urban experience as any. In George Town, the blending of three distinctive cultures (Chinese, Malay, and Indian) is set upon a British colonial backdrop. It creates an eclectic mix that’s truly unique for the region.

Pak Thong Ah Kay

And George Town isn’t the only thing to love about Penang. The natural delights of Penang National Park are just a 30-minute drive from the big city. And while the island might not quite have the most beautiful beaches in Malaysia, its beautiful tropical scenery is eye-popping and relaxing enough to impart a sense of calm before returning to the bustle of George Town.

Savour your taste buds with local cuisine on Gurney Drive

Eating is one of Penang’s must-do activities. The food here is delicious enough to bring travelers into a state of nirvana. After all, Penang is the food mecca for tourists in Malaysia.

From scrumptious broths like curry laksa to street staples like batu maung satay, you can get it all in Penang. For many, it’s one of the best food cities in Southeast Asia.

For some of the tastiest street food in Penang, head down to George Town’s Gurney Drive. The Gurney Drive hawker centre is definitively one of the world’s finest food streets and a must-visit on any Malaysia itinerary.

Gurney Drive Hawker Centre

Dig through the food stalls at Gurney Drive to taste everything from satay and rojak to chicken rice and laksa. As street food in Penang is quite affordable, you can eat to your heart’s content here without creating a dent in your travel budget.

Bear in mind that Gurney Drive gets pretty crowded on certain days. Don’t expect to enjoy all the Malaysian culinary delights here without some company!

Soak in the art scene at the Penang Street Art Trail

The Penang Street Art Trail was forged in 2012 by wall mural artist Ernest Zacharevich. Ever since its inception, this site has become one of the most famous tourist attractions of Penang, attracting more and more tourists from around the globe every year.

Street Art in George Town

The art along the Penang Street Art Trail is based on the lives of real people living in George Town. The wall murals will no doubt amaze you with their detail and realism. A few highlights around the district include the Brother and Sister on a Swing, Boy on a Bike, and, of course, the world-famous Children on a Bicycle. Be sure to charge your camera to snap some wonderful photos!

Throng Little India for bargains

One of the most compelling reasons to visit Malaysia, more so than any other country in Southeast Asia, is to see its cultural diversity in action. All of Malaysia’s three major ethnic groups—Chinese, Malay, and Indian—are well represented in Penang. While you’re on the island, be sure to get an authentic taste of Indian culture and cuisine in George Town’s Little India.

Little India Penang

Whether you’re looking for traditional Indian saris or delicious Indian curries, you’ll find them in Little India. Browse the collection of boutique shops along Lebuh Pasar selling everything from Bollywood DVDs to clothing & accessories. Duck into Little India’s cafes, restaurants, and street food stalls to taste Indian delights like tandoori chicken, dosa, and samosas.

After you’ve filled your belly and shopping bags, be sure to drop into Little India’s beautiful Sri Mahamariamman Temple. Built in 1833, it’s Penang’s oldest Hindu temple. Pull out your camera to snap a few photos of its colorful gopuram (tower) before continuing your adventure.

Tour George Town on a trishaw

In addition to its diverse culture and cuisine, Penang will shock you with its variety of public transportation. Buses, cars, rickshaws, mopeds, and trishaws all ply the streets to get you from point A to B. While you can comfortably commute with buses or rickshaws, an unmissable experience in Penang is to hire a trishaw to explore George Town.

Trishaw in George Town

A trishaw trip usually costs about RM30 per hour, but you may be able to haggle down the prices. What a perfect opportunity to put your bargaining skills to use while checking out some of the island’s top tourist attractions!

Get your drink on at the Three Sixty Revolving Restaurant & Rooftop Bar

Want to soak in all the beauty of George Town? Head up to the Three Sixty Revolving Restaurant & Rooftop Bar above the Bayview Hotel Georgetown for incredible & ever-changing views over the city.

Although drinks at the Three Sixty Rooftop Bar aren’t quite inexpensive, the bar offers a 2-for-1 happy hour deal that’s timed with the sunset. Not only is this budget-friendly, it’s the perfect time to visit for enjoying the finest views!

Take a tour of the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (Blue Mansion)

Whether blue is your favorite color or not, you’ll find a new affinity for it at the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (Blue Mansion) in George Town. This beautiful mansion was built in 1888 as a private residence and office for Cheong Fat Tze, a local Chinese merchant. With its azure colors, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is one of the coolest places to see in Penang and is worthy of a quick look on your getaway.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

From its distinctive Hakka and Teochew architectural style to its eye-catching color, everything at the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion stands out. It’s no wonder the historic house often graces the silver screen and attracts so many visitors!

The Blue Mansion has recently been restored into an amazing boutique hotel. For a unique historical experience, the mansion is no doubt one of the best places to stay in Penang!

Worship on the Street of Harmony

The Street of Harmony, commonly known as Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, is around a kilometer long. Its name derives from various temples and religious buildings along it. The street has become one of the most famous spots of worship.

While exploring the Street of Harmont, visit the Kapitan Keling Mosque. With its striking domes, it’s one of the street’s famous buildings and one of the few remnants of Penang’s former Muslim Indian village.

Kapitan Keling Mosque

In addition to the mosque, the Street of Harmony is home to a number of exquisite temples and churches. Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi, Cheng Hoon Teng, and Xiang Lin Si are all worth visiting.

Go on a food hunt at Lebuh Kimberley Night Market

Even after you’ve tackled Gurney Drive, popping into a night market for an evening treat is one of the must-do activities in Penang. Night markets in Penang aren’t hard to find, but most are limited to certain days. One exception is Lebuh Kimberley Night Market, a bustling foodie haven that’s open every day of the week.

Street Food @ Lebuh Kimberley

Spend an evening plying through Lebuh Kimberley Night Market to sample Penang’s tasty Malay and Chinese food. Some famous dishes here include chow kway teow (Penang fried noodles), mua chi (glutinous rice balls with peanuts and sesame), and kueh chap (pork spare part soup).

While you’re chowing down on street food, be sure to wash it down with a drink in a plastic bag. It’s an odd tradition but it’s truly a part of the Penang foodie experience!

Get a taste of Penang’s history by visiting the Pinang Peranakan Mansion

While you may not have traveled to Penang to visit museums, if you decide to visit one here, make it the Pinang Peranakan Mansion. One of the most famous museums in Penang, Pinang Peranakan Mansion, depicts the customs and traditions of the Baba-Nyonya, the descendants of Malaya’s first Chinese settlers.

Pinang Peranakan Mansion

Over the centuries, the Baba-Nyonya (Peranakan) culture developed into a hybrid of Malay and Chinese cultures. At the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, you’ll get a chance to see this unique culture in action. Sort through traditional dresses, shoes, and embroidery pieces to get a better understanding of Peranakan traditions.

Hike to the top of Penang Hill

Overlooking George Town, Penang Hill was the British’s first colonial hill station on the Malay peninsula. Today, it’s one of the most popular places to visit in Penang to enjoy the fresh air and get big views over George Town.

View @ Penang Hill

The most common way to get to the top of Penang Hill is via the Penang Hill Railway. This famous funicular railway dates back to the 1920s. Along the 2-kilometer route, you’ll chug through dense tropical greenery alongside old colonial bungalows.

If you’re feeling adventurous, though—and want to skip the often long queues for the train—I’d recommend hiking up Penang Hill instead. You can start the hike at the Moon Gate of the Botanical Gardens. The one-hour climb up Penang Hill is steep and challenging but worth the journey for the views and the scenery atop.

Where to stay in Penang for sightseeing

It’s hardly much of a toss-up on where to stay in Penang. With its UNESCO World Heritage city center and its urban electricity, George Town gets travelers close to many of the top points of interest in Penang and offers a good choice of accommodations. Here are a few ideas to start your search…

  • WeLuv Travel Guesthouse: A super budget-friendly guesthouse in the heart of George Town. Located close to famous street food areas like Kimberley Street for your tastebuds’ pleasure.
  • Le Dream Boutique Hotel: An impeccably designed 4-star hotel with a strategic central location. The rooftop terrace, equipped with a jacuzzi and bar, ends the evening off perfectly.
  • Eastern & Oriental Hotel: A 19th-century seafront hotel that’s as luxurious as any you’ll find in George Town. It’s only 15 minutes on foot from the UNESCO area.

Transportation

Getting there

By air: Penang International Airport (PEN) sits near the southeastern tip of the island, 16 kilometers from George Town. Several airlines, including AirAsia, service major Asian gateways such as Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Taipei.

By bus: Buses to Penang leave to/from destinations like Kuala Lumpur (RM35; 4.5 hours), Perhentian Islands (RM35; 5-6 hours), Singapore (RM60; 10 hours), Krabi (RM59; 8 hours), and Bangkok (RM125; 18 hours).

Getting away

  • Kuala Lumpur: Hop on a flight or bus to check out the ever-increasing awesomeness of Malaysia’s capital. Get started with this list of things to do in Kuala Lumpur.

Final recommendations

  • Hankering for some fresh air? Escape the bustle of George Town at Penang Hill, Malaysia’s first colonial hill station, and a mini tropical mountain retreat just minutes from the city. Or, for an even more compelling day out in nature, go hiking in Penang National Park.
  • Craving some street food? Head to Gurney Drive or Kimberley Street Night Market for some of the island’s most mouth-watering culinary delights.
  • Looking for the island’s artistic side? The Penang Street Art Trail is one of George Town’s most famous sites and an absolute must-see while visiting.
Treksplorer

Ryan O'Rourke is a seasoned traveler and the founder & editor of Treksplorer, a fiercely independent guide to mid-range luxury travel for busy people. With over 20 years of extensive travel experience, Ryan has journeyed through over 50 countries, uncovering hidden gems and sharing firsthand, unsponsored insights on what to see & do and where to eat, drink & stay. Backed by his travel experience and in-depth research, Ryan’s travel advice and writing has been featured in publications like the Huffington Post and Matador Network. You can connect with Ryan on Twitter/X at @rtorourke.

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