Be Emerged in Oriental Gatsby in Penang. Embrace history and witness the old and new blend harmoniously by smart design, creativity and colour. The unique heritage, culture, art scene and delicious food are what make Penang my favourite city in Malaysia.
What to do in Penang
1. Explore Georgetown
Georgetown is a charming must visit town in Penang. The area that the Government once thought of demolishing has now blossomed to be the heart and soul of Penang. Georgetown has a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites and is most famous for the iconic mural street arts and heritage buildings.
-Rent a bike to explore this town. It is hot but fun and convenient way to make the most of your stay.
-There is a free hop on and off CAT bus that operates around Georgetown that can take you to all Georgetown main attractions. You can start from Komtar or anywhere that has ‘Free Shuttle’ Sign.
For more on Georgetown I’ve written a separate guide: 9 Street to Explore in Georgetown.
2. Visit Museums
No visit to Penang is complete without a stopover in at least a museum. Most of the museums are located in Georgetown. The Museums in Penang are converted from what once use to be a home or Mansion of influential figures. Check out 7 Museums to Visit in Penang for more information.
Don’t miss the Peranakan Green Mansion I vote it the best in Penang.
3. Visit Kek Lok Si Temple
Kek Lok Si is the biggest temple it South East Asia with a giant Goddess of Mercy figure on the upper level that you can reach using special elevator. Entry to go upstair is around 12RM. You can reach this temple by bus no.204 with a small fee of around RM2.7. Open for visit from 9am to 6pm. This temple is on the way to Penang Hill.
Tips: While you are here stop by the famous Pasar Ayer Itam Asam Laksa on the way to Kek Lok Si. The address to eating place in this article can be found in 25 Places to Eat in Penang.
4. Go to the top of Penang Hill
Penang hill is the highest peak in Penang where you can enjoy beautiful view from the top of the hill. If you want more relaxation you can have tea and sit back to enjoy the sunset at the famous David Brown tea house.
Try to avoid the weekend as it will be loaded with people and there is massive queue to get to and back from the hill top.
5. Relax at Batu Ferringhi
Located by the beach, it is always party time in Batu Ferringhi. It is best to come at night for the street market. A number of fine restaurants and hard rock café are located here.
To reach Batu Ferringhi the only bus you can catch is from the main hub which are Komtar/Jetty and the journey takes around half an hour to 40 minutes for RM 2.7 one way. The market start at 7.00pm and it is a good idea to came here before dark to sightsee, enjoy the sunset and relax at the beach.
6. Stop by Komtar
Komtar is one of the main transport hub in Penang with the jetty being the second. It is a good base as it is at the central and you can catch bus to anywhere from here. There are 2 shopping malls in Komtar which are 1st Avenue and Pelangi Mall.
It is easiest to catch the free CAT Shuttle bus that operates around Georgetown from here.
7. Shop at Gurney
Gurney is a high end suburb in Penang. Close to the ocean, it has selection of luxurious hotels overlooking the sea and high end shopping mall. Gurney is most famous for two shopping malls; Gurney Paragon and Gurney Plaza. The later is very close to ‘Gurney Drive’ which is a big night market and hawker centre that starts during dinner time.
Don’t miss Gurney Drive for the ultimate hawker experience.
8. Go Café Hopping at Burma Street
Burma Street is like the longest street in Geogetown all the way to GlenEagle Hospital. Near the hospital there are a lot of restaurants and Cafés including the popular Ahmo Restaurant. To get here you can easily catch the bus going to Gurney.
Visit Him Haeng, one of the most popular pastry and biscuits store that sells Penang delicacy and souvenirs.
9. Experience local market at Pulau Tikus
Pulau Tikus is very close to Gurney. It is popular for Welling, a pharmacy that sells bargain price vitamins/ medicines and Pasar Pulau Tikus (Market). Pasar pulau tikus is a traditional market. It is worth going to see how the local lives and also to do some shopping. Pasar pulau tikus operates since early in the morning to noon and again at night. In the morning, you can find a lot of stalls selling dirt cheap clothing, nicks and knacks, housewares, bake ware, food, fresh fruit and veges and everything else in between. For cheap shopping and souvenirs I recommend this place. At night, it reopens as night food market that is most famous for their loklok.
Try the loklok (at night) and peranakan nasi lemak at Jin Hoe (morning: before 11am as it sold out fast!). For more detail guide on food at Pulau Tikus check out 25 Places to Eat in Penang.
10. Relax by the water at Straight Quay
Straight Quay is a reasonably new spot in Penang. Though only a handful of shops open it has great potential. You can enjoy a lovely view of the water from here.
Look out for events, workshops and exhibitions that often take place here. Every weekend they have a mini weekend market starting from 10.30AM.
11. Do your grocery shopping at Tesco
Tesco is a giant supermarket in Malaysia a lot like wall mart. There is one located near Straight Quay.
12. Shop at Queensbay Mall
Queensbay mall is a giant mall in Penang that also has the Japanese Aeon Mall. It is reachable by bus. This mall is just like any other mall where you can shop for international brand. It is quite far from town and I personally enjoy Gurney Plaza more.
13. Have a relaxing day trip to Balik Pulau
You can visit balik pulau for a day trip. Maybe not much to see but if you have an extra day or you love cycling I bet you’d appreciate this. If ever I go there it’s because I want to eat the famous (ratingwise best of the best) Penang asam laksa, have a look at how they make cool powder (powder face ointment made up of rice), and eat durian. Yes, all the durian fanatics, they have here a DURIAN FARM – where you can enjoy the best durian in Penang. Other than that it’s just sightsee and enjoy the quiet and small village. It takes around 2-3 hours drive to get here.
14. See up to 150 different species of Butterfly at Penang Butterfly Farm
15. Learn to cook Local Food at Tropical Spice Garden
You can arrange night walks to witness noctural animals and be surrounded by lush vegetation here. Cooking class is also an option for food enthusiast. Incorporate this for your visit to Batu Feringghi as it is on the way.
16. Enjoy Nature at Penang Botanical Garden
Penang Must do Activities
It is great if you get to do the 16 activities above but here is a must-do as well as my personal favourites:
- Go for the Street hawker – Penang street hawker is unlike any other. Gurney Drive is a good place to experience this.
- Go for Mural Wall art Hunting
- Visit museums– History enthuasiast will be in for a treat. For family with kids, the 3D interactive museum will be a hit.
- Enjoy the coffee – Check out 25 Cafes to Try in Penang for more in depth guide.
- Enjoy Nature – Visit the hill, botanical parks or the beach.
Foodies, you are in food heaven. Think Penang, think food. Much of the to-do things in Penang involved trying out Penang food. The top 5 food in Penang are:
- Char Kwei Tiau
- Prawn Noodle Soup / Hokkien Mee
- Penang Asam Laksa
- Peranakan Food
Nasi Kandar and Rojak come very close to making it into the list but for the index of Penang must-try check out: 28 Food to try in Penang
There is also a share for you, my shopaholic friends. Below are the best places for some retail therapy.
Pelangi Mall – Budget and older Shopping mall.
1st Avenue Mall – Newer than the Pelangi Mall. Reasonable price and plenty to window shoped.
Gurney Plaza – Mid class mall that has a lot of things to see and buy.
Gurney Paragon – High end mall where you can find luxurious brand and is new compare to Gurney Plaza. You can find Daiso here, the all items cost RM5.3 shop.
A little bit far from the town there is huge shopping mall called Queensbay Mall that has aeon mall within.
My favourite is to shop quirky things in quirky shops you can find all over Armenian street and scattered all over Georgetown.
Chowrasta Market in Penang Road sells plenty of muslim wear and textile.
It is fun to shop on the street site vendors in Batu Ferringhi. They have a lot of accessories, faux bags and clothing. Just remember to haggle-haggle-haggle and keep your eye peeled for the quality of the goods.
Pasar Pulau Tikus
Shop like a local at Pasar Pulau Tikus for fresh fruit and vege. Score yourself some ultra cute baking and kitchen ware.
There are plenty of accommodation option in penang from capsule stay, Serviced Apartment, Airbnb, Hotel and Backpacker lodge. Penang, especially Georgetown is very tourist friendly. I recommend airbnb / guesthouse for unique accommodation around Penang that often has quirky peranakan décor.
You can check out my actual accomodations and the review here: 12 Any-Budget Accommodation in Penang
When to go
Anytime of the year is fine as it is generally hot and humid all year around with unpredictability of rain.
more important than the weather is the season for durian, the almighty king of fruit. Penang is famous for the Durian and you can eat it all year around but for the Durian fanatics, it start in april, peaks in june-july and end in August.
Penang like other city in Malaysia has very low cost, the standard cost matches their earning which are not very high.
Food: $5 (RM 15) per meal more or less for a decent meal and drinks
Bus: $0.5 – $1 (RM 1.4 – 2.7) per one way journey
Taxi: $5 (RM 12) for about 15-20 minutes journey
Taxi/Car Renting with driver for 4 seater: $8 (RM 25) per hour
Accommodation: $50 for a good hotel with twin/double bed
Entry to main attraction: Start from $2 (RM 5) and no more than $10 (RM30) per person for entry
Short Trip outside Penang:
When you have more than enough days in Penang, you can consider visiting other city/island that is close to Penang, so you can get there direct from Penang and it is cost effective.
Catching an airasia flight it cost us $12 to Langkawi one way and we went to KL afterwards.
Minimum days to spend here: 3D2N
It cost us $30 (RM 90)per person for a minibus return journey to and from Penang to Hatyai, Thailand on a more or less 5 hour journey per way)
Minimum days to spend here: some people do as short as 2D1N, just to shop. I’d recommend at least 3D2N.
Tips while travelling in Penang:
1. Take the bus
Bus Fee ranges from 1.4 – 2.7 RM a journey. To safe cost you can take bus from the airport, stop the closest transport hub to your accommodation (for example, Komtar) and take taxi from there. First thing you can do is learn the route from your accommodation. There should be bustop near you that can take you to all of the main attraction in Penang.
2. Renting car is not necessary
If you don’t mind walking and the chance that you may have to squeeze with other passenger. We managed to explore Penang Hill, Batu Ferringhi, Kek Lok Si temple and all the popular tourist destination ourselves by public bus.
All taxi drivers offers us private tours (after more than 3 comparison) cheapest being RM25 per hour. And they all say it takes 3-5 hours to see all Penang main attractions. Even more expensive than that is hotel arranged tours. Tour packaged from the hotel cost up to somewhere as much as RM 500 per person for the day.
We end up travelling for more than 9 hours for around RM10 per person on transport. I found the bus in Penang to be comfortable.
3. Bus operates until 11 at night.
4. Bargain with taxi driver
When you decide to take a taxi, make a deal with taxi before you decide to use them. for a 15 minutes drive it should cost around about RM 12.
5. Book accomodation around Georgetown and/or komtar
They are the main transport hub. For luxury stay, Batu Ferringhi and/or Gurney are good options.
6. Avoid showroom targeting tourists
Penang coffee and tea from their showroom cost 35 RM for 15 sachets and you can get the exact same item for RM11 outside.
7. Bring your own umbrella / borrow one from the hotel
Penang rains quite a lot. You will be glad you have folded umbrella tucked in somewhere in your bag and safe at least RM 15 while caught in the rain time and time again. You can borrow one from the hotel reception but often they are the long and large umbrella type that you tend to leave behind somewhere.
8. Rent Bike to explore Georgetown
Hunt for all those mural wall art with ease using a bike. We rent a 2 seater bike for RM 25 for 5-8hrs use.
9. Don’t forget to bring your Malaysian IC
For a cheaper local rate and a student card to avoid paying extra when you don’t need to.
To truly explore Penang and get the zest of the city, you need at least a full 4 days 3 nights.
Below is a suggestion Itinerary for a solid 3 days 4 nights
DAY 1 – Georgetown
- Rent bike
- Hunt for Georgetown street art at Armenian Street
- Museum Hopping, 2 are allocated at Muntri Street (Camera Museum, Cheong Fat Tze)
- Visit 3D Museum and Peranakan Mansion
- Visit Penang street and Chowrasta Market, visit champbel street while you’re at it
- Café Hopping; there are strip of them at Lebuh Chulia and Lebuh Pantai
- Visit My Chew Jetty
DAY 2 – Burma St & Gurney
- Spend your morning explore more of Georgetown if you stay there (you should) – Had dimsum at Thoyuen for breakfast.
- Café Hopping in Burma Street – stopping at around Gleneagle hospital
- Visit Him Haeng for souvenirs
- Continue to hop on the bus and Shop at Gurney Paragon and Plaza, Enjoy the seaview while you are at it
- Visit Gurney Drive at Dinner time
- Visit Kek Lok Si Temple – Don’t forget to eat the Laksa
- Continue to Penang Hill/Bukit Bendera – Relax at Dawid Brown Tea House
- Visit Penang National Park
- Visit Butterfly Garden
- Shop 1st Avenue Mall
- Visil Tropical Spice Garden
- Relax at the Beach at Batu Ferringhi
- Visit the Long Night Market at Batu Feringghi
If you like this article, you may enjoy other articles I’ve written on Penang series.