Things to do in Penang, Malaysia
Penang Island is an incredibly fun island to spend a good couple of days during your Malaysia travel itinerary. Take 2-4 days exploring this UNESCO World Heritage with the following things to do in Penang.
1. Follow the Trail of Street Art
Georgetown is, without a doubt, the king of street art. Hundreds of murals inhabit the small radius of the old town, now developed into one enormous art trail. Follow the trail via bike or on foot, or ditch the map and see what you happen to stumble across in the many side streets. You can download a street art map HERE.
The most famous work is by Ernest Zacharevic, who was commissioned by the local council to create street art that would give a facelift to older Chinese shops. His murals tell a story of the culture in Penang, usually combined with a physical object to bring the piece to life.
Georgetown has drawn many artists to create art. As a result, you could spend your entire time in Penang hunting for street art.
2. Discover Penang’s wildlife at Penang National Park
Penang is not just Georgetown. The island has some incredible nature to discover! Penang National Park is a pleasant place to go and escape the crowds of the city and is just a short bus ride away. It is the smallest national park in the world but home to hundreds of different species of wildlife and plants.
Choose one of the many hiking trails, relax at beautiful beaches, get up high on the canopy walkway, or search for monkeys and turtles. At the weekends, visiting the park is a popular thing to do in Penang for Malay people.
Tip: Check the opening times as parts of the park can be closed depending on the season.
3. Best Thing To Do in Penang: Kek Lok Si Temple
Kek Lok Si temple is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia! Its name translates as ‘heavenly temple’ and is a sacred place of worship for Buddhists all over the world.
Various different tiers of the temple are covered with numerous pagodas decorated in reds, yellows, oranges, and golds combining Chinese, Thai, and Burmese (Myanmar) architecture. At the top tier is a jaw-dropping 30-meter high bronze Guanyin statue towering over the entire city.
During Chinese New Year the temple is lit up at night by thousands of lanterns and lights- magic!
Getting there: The temple is located in Air Itam, which is about 20 minutes’ drive outside of Penang and located near Penang Hill. Plan an entire morning for this visit.
Tip: After your visit, have lunch at the nearby located Purple Stone Vegetarian Food Centre. (It is delicious!)
4. Take the funicular up to Penang Hill
Georgetown nestles in the shadow of Penang Hill, which is the last part of the tropical rainforest on the island. Take the funicular up to the top for spectacular views across the island and cool down in the lower temperatures. Book your tickets in advance here.
5. The Blue Mansion (Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion)
Cheong Fatt Tze is a 19th-century mansion built in the Chinese style and painted in striking indigo blue. Owned by a former shopkeeper who turned wealthy businessman. It has been nicknamed the ‘Blue Mansion’ due to its outstanding color and is a favorite to do in Penang.
Guided tours running throughout the day give travelers the opportunity to have a look inside. The perfectly preserved mansion houses have open-air interior courtyards surrounded by ornate verandas and materials imported from all over the world. The mansion is also a hotel, for those who want to spend the night living like Cheong Fatt Tze himself.
6. The cakes of ChinaHouse
ChinaHouse is three heritage houses all connected and transformed into a creative art gallery, small library, and cake shop. And this cake shop at the bar of China House is no joke. A massive selection of cakes and treats are waiting for you :)
7. Experience a different way of life at the Clan Jetties
The Clan Jetties is where you find the contrast between local life and the modern development of Georgetown as a city. Wooden stilt houses, rising out of the water, owned and built in a separate area by each clan, known as the ‘Clan Jetties of Penang’. The Chinese settled down close by the water so they could find sea-related work.
Nowadays, all the jetties are looking a little worn. It seems like they are made up of local souvenir shops, but not all six jetties are the same. Visit the Tan Jetty for a less touristy experience.
8. Khoo Kongsi
This ancient Chinese clan house is a must-see whilst in Penang. Kongsi (family house) was a meeting place for the Chinese living in Penang with the same family name “Khoo”. The clan houses were incredibly common, however, now there are only five left.
Although Khoo Kongsi is located in the center of Georgetown, it is barely visited and therefore great to escape mass tourism. The beautiful classic Chinese style of architecture featuring sloping roofs, complex carved columns, golden Chinese symbols, and dragons and mythical creatures from legendary Chinese stories. There is a small museum on-site to learn more about the Kongsi and its history.
9. Eat first-rate street food
Penang is named as one of the best street food destinations in Asia. Due to the rich blend of cultures within Penang, a mix of delicious and weird dishes can be found on the streets and in the markets of Georgetown. Various food markets take place at night throughout the week across the city. Join a street food tour for the best food experience. Book online.
10. The colorful streets of Georgetown
Wherever you wander in Georgetown, the details of the architecture is what stands out. Colorfully painted buildings, detailed ornaments and beautiful tiles in all shapes and designs. The street with the most tiles can be found here and these colorful houses here.
11. Get Creative at Hin Bus Depot
Hin Bus Depot is a creative space that used to be an old bus depot but was converted into a beautiful artistic space, thanks to the 2014 art project Urban Xchange. Now you can find a small market with shops, street art, and tasty food stalls.
Getting to & getting around Penang/Georgetown
As Malaysia’s second-largest city, Georgetown is very well connected to the rest of the country. There is an international airport that serves destinations all over the world, with numerous flights per day to the capital Kuala Lumpur.
Kuala Lumpur to Georgetown
Buses leave from KL airport and city center at various times throughout the day. Alternatively, you can take a train from many locations to Butterworth and from here take the public ferry across the water to the island of Penang.
Langkawi to Georgetown
The super fast ferry between Langkawi and Penang Island run twice a day. A 3 to 4-hour ferry ride is easy to book online and recommended to book in advance.
How to get around Penang & Georgetown
Once in Georgetown, it is very easy to navigate your way around the town on foot. This is the best way to see all the street art. Go by bike if you are on a slightly tighter time scale. Buses run regularly to places like Penang Hill and Penang National Park to get further on the island. Grab (taxi app) is also a popular way of travel on the island.
Best spots to eat in Georgetown
Eat your way through Georgetown’s markets and restaurants during your stay and you’ll still find that you barely touch the surface of this culinary heaven. The new modern styles of cuisine from all over the world mixed with traditional local recipes.
These were our favorite restaurants and cafes:
- Street food markets
- Sushi Kitchen
- Lily’s vegetarian kitchen
- The Loft
- Holy Guacamole
- Purple Stone Vegetarian Food Centre
Hotels to stay in Georgetown
A hotel or guesthouse in Georgetown is best to find within the old town.
Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is a beautiful hotel to stay in and conveniently located within walking distance of the street art trail and other iconic sites.