Best Things to Do in Penang, Malaysia

As you scope out all the best things to do in Penang, it quickly begins to feel like rolling the best of Malaysia all into one place.

From the crumbling colonial charms of George Town to pristine wind-swept coastlines to some of the top night markets in Southeast Asia, the top tourist attractions in Penang are among the country’s best and belong on every first-time Malaysia itinerary.

Not sure where to go in Penang? Get the low-down with this guide to the top Penang attractions and what to do in Penang…

What to do in Penang

Even if you’ve already logged some serious miles exploring Southeast Asia, the best places to visit in Penang will come as a pleasant surprise.

What’s so appealing about travelling to Penang is that it rolls many of the best travel experiences in Malaysia into one tight package.

At times, there seems to be no end in 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.

The blending of three distinctive cultures (Chinese, Malay, Indian) set upon a British colonial backdrop, 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 Penang might not quite have the best beaches in Malaysia, Penang’s beautiful tropical scenery is eye-popping and relaxing enough to impart a sense of calm before returning to the bustle of Georgetown.

Savour your taste buds with local cuisine on Gurney Drive

Anyone who’s visited will tell you that eating is one of the best things to do in Penang.

The food in Penang is delicious enough to bring travellers 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, one of the best food cities in Southeast Asia.

For some of the best street food in Penang, head down to George Town’s Gurney Drive. The Gurney Drive hawker centre is definitively one of the world’s best food streets.

Gurney Drive Hawker Centre

The best part about eating at Gurney Drive is that you can eat to your heart’s content without creating a hole in your pocket; street food in Penang is actually quite affordable!

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 here, based on the lives of real people living in George Town, will no doubt amaze you with its detail and realism.

Be sure to charge your camera to snap some wonderful photos!

Throng Little India for bargains

One of the best reasons to visit Malaysia, more so than other country in Southeast Asia, is to see its cultural diversity in action. And while you may not be planning to visit India anytime soon, you can 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 it in Little India, one of the best places to go in Penang.

After you’ve filled your belly and shopping bags, be sure to drop into Little India’s beautiful Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Penang’s oldest Hindu temple.

Tour George Town on a trishaw

In addition to a diversity in 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.

Trishaw in George Town

Albeit you can comfortably commute with buses or rickshaws, an unmissable experience in Penang is to hire a trishaw to explore George Town.

The 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 good use while checking out some of the best things to see in Penang.

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 are not quite inexpensive, they offer a 2-for-1 happy hour deal that’s timed with the sunset. Not only is this budget-friendly, it’s the best time to visit for the views!

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

Whether blue is your favourite colour or not, you’ll find a new affinity for it after seeing the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (Blue Mansion) in George Town. It’s one of the coolest places to see in Penang and worthy of a look.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

This beautiful mansion was built in 1888 as a private residence and office for Cheong Fat Tze, a local Chinese merchant.

From its distinctive Hakka and Teochew architecture style to its eye-catching colour, everything stands out. It’s no wonder the mansion 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, this 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. It’s become not just a famous spot of worship but one of the top places to see in Penang.

Visit Kapitan Keling Mosque, 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 best 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 one that’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 be big on visiting museums, if you decide to visit one here make it the Pinang Peranakan Mansion.

One of the most famous museums and top places to see 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 sort through traditional dresses, shoes and embroidery pieces to give you a better of understanding of their entirely unique 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 get suck in the fresh air and get big views of George Town.

View @ Penang Hill

The most common way to get to the top of Penang Hill is via the Penang Hill Railway, a 2-kilometre funicular railway dating back to the 1920s. Along the way, 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.

Starting off at the Moon Gate of the Botanical Gardens, this one-hour climb 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 centre and its urban electricity, George Town gives travellers the best trade-off between getting close to many of the top points of interest in Penang and 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. 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. Only 15-minutes by foot from the UNESCO area.

Penang transportation

Getting there

By air: Penang International Airport (PEN) sits near the southeastern tip of the island, 16 kilometres 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

Still not sure how to fill up your Penang itinerary? Get started with these ideas…

  • 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 Penang 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 artistic side of Penang? The Penang Street Art Trail is one of George Town’s most famous sites, and an absolute must-see while visiting Penang.
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