You are looking for a destination in Southeast Asia and do not want to go to Bali or the Philippines like everybody else? My recommendation: Penang in Malaysia. The UNESCO World Heritage City George Town / Penang surprises with great sights and has a lot things to do culturally, historically and culinary!
What do you learn in this article?
BIG5 Things to do in George Town / Penang
You don’t want to miss any attraction? Find your checklists, travel guide & tips for the George Town / Penang city trip here:
BIG5 George Town / Penang – Speed Date
The diversity of sights and cultural influences
The many souvenir & street hawkers are partly intrusive on tourist hunt, especially on the ascent to the Kek Lok Si temple
Go on a multicultural journey of discovery in the old town of George Town
Don’t limit your visit to George Town – there are great places and experiences waiting for you just outside George Town
Don’t tell your mother:
Even the sweetest free-living monkeys can become dangerous if you disturb them or lure them with food
BIG5 George Town / Penang – Rapid Fire Q&A
- George Town or Penang, never heard of them. What am I supposed to do there? – The city is incredibly diverse, great beaches, lots of culture, street art and an exciting colonial history await you.
- It’s a big island, where’s the best place to stay? – Near Chulia Street / Love Lane in the old town or Persiaran Gurney Promenade with upscale hotels
- All right, name me one thing about Penang! – The kitchen! Delicious, affordable food with Chinese, Indian, Malaysian, Thai influences
- How many days should I allow for? – At least two, for insider tips and surrounding islands also easily one week
- What about security? – Penang – like many destinations in Asia – is considered very safe. Nevertheless, common sense must be used.
BIG5 George Town / Penang – Orga
Best travel time
It is pleasantly warm all year round, February, June & July are considered the best months for travelling. The most rain you have to expect in April & from October – December.
Arrival & Departure
Visa: Check here if you need a visa for Malaysia with your passport
- Flight: Bayan Lepas (or Penang) International Airport (IATA: PEN) is served by many airlines
- Bus & Ferry: From / to Kuala Lumpur (several times a day, ~ 5 1/2 hours, 8-10 Euro)
- Bus: From / to Singapore (several times daily, ~ 10 1/2 hours, 27-35 Euro)
The next stop is… Langkawi Island, Kuala Lumpur / both Malaysia or Singapore
Recommended location: I recommend the old town of George Town so that you can explore this area on foot. A bit more upscale is the sea promenade Gurney Drive with big shopping malls and many good food hawkers
- Budget: 6orgeous 6race (66 Carnarvon Lane Georgetown, Penang, 10100 George Town, ~10€ DR), located directly in the centre with small garden and cosy ambience
- Budget: WeLuv Travel Guesthouse (38, Lorong Kampung Malabar, 10100 George Town; ~10€ SR), very cheap guesthouse in great location directly in the old town
- Medium: Carnarvon House (28 Lorong Carnarvon, 10100 George Town; ~30€ DR), practical location in the centre and beautiful garden
- Medium: Rangoon Residence (Rangoon Road, 10040 George Town; 30€ DR), very comfortable beds and food courts nearby
- Noble: G Hotel Kelawai (2, Persiaran Maktab, 10250 George Town; ~110€ DR), luxurious hotel on Gurney Drive with Roof Top Bar near Mall and many restaurants / Hawker
- Noble: Cheong Fatt Tze “Blue Mansion” (14, Leith Street, 10200 George Town; ~110€ DR), imposing mansion in Chinese style with antique furniture, pool and excellent location for a visit to the old town
- Noble: The Edison George Town (15 Lebuh Leith, 10200 George Town; ~150€ DR), quiet oasis in the lively old town, quiet mansion from colonial times with pool and very spacious rooms
Withdraw money: ATMs are available at all major banks downtown
Beer indicator: ~ 10 RM (2.00 Euro) for 0.5 litre local beer in the supermarket ~ 15 RM (3.00 Euro) and upwards for 0.5 litre in the bar
Costs for a taxi: Officially there are taximeters, but they are often not used. The minimum charge from in the city centre is RM 10 (~ 2,00 Euro), with which you should get everywhere. For example, a taxi from Jetty to Chulia Street costs RM10. For more distant destinations, ask your accommodation what they estimate
From about midnight until 07:00 in the morning the drivers charge a surcharge of 40-50%
An overview of the famous Penang Street Food can be found here from the official website of the city.
- Just Food (90, Gurney Dr, Georgetown, 10250 George Town), you love food with a view? Then you are just right here on the 5th floor of Gurney Paragon Mall! There is also a large selection.
- Nasi Kandar Mohamed Raffee (No. 295, Jalan Burma, Pulau Tikus, 10350 George Town) – typical, simple restaurant – try Ayam Goreng (fried chicken)
- Padang Kota Lama Food Court (4, Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah, George Town, 10200 George Town), great Hawker Center directly at the sea with a large selection
- Deens Maju Nasi Kandar (170, Jalan Gurdwara, 10300 George Town, cheap)
- Three Sixty Revolving Restaurant and Rooftop Bar (25-A, Lebuh Farquhar, George Town, 10200 George Town; rather upscale prices), 360° revolving restaurant with gradient view
- Kim House (9 & 11, Lebuh Campbell, George Town), currently very hip, trendy café
BIG5 George Town / Penang – Activities
- Enjoy the view from Bukit Bendera (Penang Hill)
- Marvel at the Kek-Lok-Si Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia
- Pose with the famous street art motifs in George Towns old town
- Enjoy the diverse, multicultural cuisine of Penang
- Visit a typical Asian night market – every day of the week at a different location
BIG5 George Town / Penang – Photo spots
- From Penang Hill you have a great view over George Town and island
- High up: From the Roof Top Bars of the hotels in Gurney or the Komtar skyscraper – great for the sunset
- In the Kek-Lok-Si temple you have countless photo motifs – such as the magnificent pagoda
- You as an interactive part of street art: On the motorcycle or the swing
- The magnificent pagodas of the buddhist temples
BIG5 George Town / Penang – Things to do off the beaten track
- Walk through the stupa garden of Jinggangshan Temple
- Marvel at the sparkling lakes of the former mine Lombong Kampung Guar Petai – you have a good view from the “Froghill”.
- Relax with plants & street art in the Avatar Secret Garden
- Visit the Dhammikarama Burmese Temple – the only Burmese temple of its kind outside Myanmar
- Find peace from the United Hokkien Cemetaries – cemeteries. Especially beautiful is the area surrounded by skyscrapers near the Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi Funeral Parlour
BIG5 George Town / Penang – Culinary Journey
Penang’s cuisine is a real treasure, shaped by the different influences of its inhabitants. It ranges from Malay, Chinese, Indian, Thai and Muslim and combines to a unique taste experience.
- Nasi Kandar – typical Indian/Muslim rice dish with curry
- Ayam Goreng (fried chicken)
- Kari Sotong – Squid curry, of course seafood is very popular here!
- Kurma Kambing – Lamb Korma
- The kitchen with its variety of curries is also a paradise for vegetarians – with rice, vegetables or Naan bread
BIG5 George Town / Penang – Communication
In George Town, besides Chinese, English and Hindi, Bahasa Melayu (Malaysian) is spoken
- Thank you – terima kasih
- Yes – ya
- No – tidak
- hello – hello / hari yang baik
- bye /goodbye – selamat tinggal
BIG5 George Town / Penang – Helpful Websites / Links
- Official website of the Penang Tourism Bureau
- Coupons for discounts on tours, entrance fees, restaurants and much more from Penang Tourism Office
- Official website of the Penang Hill
BIG5 George Town / Penang – Overview Map with all things to do
Things to do in Penang in the morning
Penang sights: Enjoy the view from Penang Hill
I start early in the morning with my favourite activity at new destinations: Getting an overview. And what better place to do that in Penang than on the 830-meter-high Bukit Bendera, the highest mountain on the island.
A taxi from Georgetown to Penang Hill (station) will cost you around RM 25, a good 5.00 Euro. But you can also take the local bus and save money.
You have two alternatives to get to Penang Hill:
You are motivated and have a big bottle of water with you? Then hiking up from the botanical garden is an option. The ascent of 6 kilometres takes about 3 hours depending on your pace, but can be quite strenuous in the muggy-warm temperatures. You start the route on well constructed paths at the Moon Gate.
Sure, it will be a long and exhausting sightseeing day anyway! So maybe the train after all… It starts at the Bukit Bendera Station. You can book your tickets online here on the official website. There and back costs 30 Ringgit (approx. 6,00 Euro), only one way costs half.
On the plateau you’ll find great vantage points for a view over Georgetown and the island – especially from the Penang Hill Skywalk. Take your time to look around or have a snack or refreshment in the restaurant.
There are some very kitschy photo spots and lots of entertainment for tourists like a dinosaur show, an earthquake and typhoon simulation and the Henna and Spa Center.
But what I really find worth seeing is the colourful Hindu temple.
If you want to turn the order of the day around: Penang Hill is also a great place to watch the sunset, and from 7 pm on the train costs half as much!
Penang sights: Marvel at the magnificence of the Kek-Lok-Si temple
Very close to the Penang Hill train station is the huge temple complex Kek Lok Si, which combines these two highlights perfectly.
Kek Lok Si means translated “temple of supreme happiness“.
And indeed, you can’t help but be amazed, be it by the huge prayer halls, the seven-storey pagoda or the approximately 30-metre-high statue of the Goddess of Mercy. But it is not only the big things that impress but also the many small, filigree worked out figures, dams, paintings everywhere in the buildings and gardens.
Eye-catching are the colorful wishing ribbons, which you can buy for 1 Ringgit (~0,20 Euro). They have imprints of various good wishes for yourself or other people, from luck or health to the passed exam. With the beautiful Chinese characters and the nice gesture I also took some as souvenirs for friends and family.
From Kek Lok Si Temple you can easily take a taxi or bus back to the city centre. You want to save some money again? The public bus stop is at the bottom of the hill and is called Pekan Air Hitam.
Things to do in Penang in the afternoon
Things to do in Penang: Exciting Street Art Scavenger Hunt
Now you can embark on an exciting tour of discovery in the old town of George Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008. George Town is best known for its creative “hands-on street art”. Many works of art have elements integrated into them so that you can interact with the images.
The pictures are often not visible at first sight. Mostly you will notice when other tourist groups stop in front of you and take pictures. To make sure you don’t miss a street art highlight, you can download the official map here. With the map it is like a small exciting scavenger hunt to search and marvel at the different works of art.
On the way there is a lot to discover, Penang and especially the old town of George Town are extremely versatile and multicultural.
Especially remarkable is the street Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, where houses of worship of 4 religions (!) peacefully stand in close proximity. So it is obviously possible to do without the unnecessary conflicts, a positive one for the world!
Indian temples are always a highlight for me personally because of their manifold colourful decoration. The Sri Mariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple. The temple is open free of charge from 6.30 to 12.00 and from 16.30 to 21.00
The great Kapitan Keling Mosque can be visited free of charge except for the prayer times. Do not forget to take off your shoes!
After the Kek Lok Si Temple in the morning you still haven’t had enough of Buddhist / Chinese culture? Then go to the oldest Taoist temple in Penang, dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy.
A little bit further is the Anglican St. George’s Church. This church was built at the beginning of the 19th century by the colonial masters of that time.
Things to do in Penang: Search for traces of the colonial period
What a smooth thematic transition. Walk in colonial footsteps at Fort Cornwallis and the Queen Victoria Bell Tower. Fort Cornwallis is the largest of its kind in Malaysia and was built in the 18th century by the British East India Company to protect against pirate raids.
Today the fort is open to visitors daily and offers an exciting exhibition. You can find more information on the official website. A little further on is the Queen Victoria Memorial / Jubilee Clock Tower, which was built in Moorish style in honour of Queen Victoria’s diamond throne anniversary in 1897.
Another interesting colonial building is the palace-like town hall (Town / City Hall) on the lake promenade.
Cultural overdose in Litte India and Chinatown – or in Buddhist temples
In Penang, you often have the feeling of travelling to a new country while walking around a street corner. After the colonial buildings you should make a detour to the Little India and Chinatown districts.
In Chinatown, the magnificently decorated Kongsi, the clan houses, stand out. They still serve as meeting places for the big clans and can be visited. The Khoo Kongsi is particularly worthwhile. In contrast to today’s rather negatively connotated word clan, the large family groups were and are important for the social life in many Asian cultures.
The less wealthy clans have settled on the Jetties – pile dwellings above the water directly on the waterfront. Here you get an impression of the way of life of the poorer classes, but don’t forget to approach everything with the necessary respect (!). The most touristic is the Chew Jetty with a view of the big Hean Boo Thean Kuan Yin Temple – also built on piles.
You can admire the sunset directly from the Jetty – with the skyline in the background – or take a taxi back to the city centre and have a seat in a rooftop bar. For this, you can visit the “Three Sixty Revolving Restaurant” or the “Gravity” Bar of the G Hotel on Gurney Drive.
You’ve been to many Chinatowns and Little India doesn’t sound that interesting either? Alternatively, you can admire the Dhammikarama Burmese Temple – the only Burmese temple of its kind outside Myanmar. Directly opposite is the equally impressive Wat Chaiya Mangalaram Thai Temple. Both temples are close to the sea promenade Gurney Drive with many opportunities to have dinner afterwards.
Things to do in Penang in the evening: Hawkers & Bars
What was that about culinary diversity? After the long day, you certainly deserve a generous meal. Let’s go! The Hawkers food markets offer a great opportunity: You sit at the table in the middle, just like in a restaurant, and drinks are brought to you, but you can choose food from a wide range of surrounding stands with all kinds of influences and flavours.
Concerning the alcohol prices, one notices irrevocably that one is in a Muslim country – depending on the location, they are quite high.
A cheap and authentic alternative is to buy at the “Antarabangsa Enterprise” liquor store on Stewart Lane, near the “Goddess of Mercy Temple Penang”. Cheap drinks attract the guests already shortly after the opening at 6 p.m., the whole bend gradually fills up with more and more plastic tables and chairs typical for Asia. A great atmosphere for travellers and locals, great opportunities to get into conversation or just relax.
You prefer loud and colorful?
The area for tourists and especially backpackers is Chulia Street and Love Lane. What at first sounds more like a red light milieu turns out to be a nightlife and party mile upon closer inspection. Speaking of partying, here we come to something you’ll find hard to find in Georgetown: A distinct nightlife. Sure, you can go out, drink and dance here too, but it’s not exactly the Kao San Road…
You brought a little more time?
Great, there are so much more things to do in Penang!
You found the above mentioned program too much for one day? Admittedly, a really tight program. If you have more time, you can of course split the activities over several days.
- Take a trip to the famous beach Batu Ferringhi and the adjacent night market in the north of the island. Taxis usually charge between 60 and 75 RM for the one-way trip to Batu Ferringhi. The local bus is much cheaper, but the journey takes a little longer
- Be surprised by the curiously kitschy museums: The Upside-Down Museum & Wonderfood Museum in the city centre
- At the Entopia Butterfly Farm you will be amazed by all the big and colourful butterflies.
- Learn all about spices, one of the local main products and essential for the culinary delights of the region, in the Tropical Spice Garden.
- Take a flight or ferry to Langkawi Island, an island paradise not far from the Thai border. Here alone you can easily spend some great days
So, Penang is calling – what are you waiting for? 🇲🇾