21 Unmissable Things To Do in Penang, Malaysia

Things to do George Town

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I’m sure hundreds of people have written about the various things to do in Penang but here’s my two cents anyway!

I spent three weeks in George Town, Penang earlier this year and didn’t even begin to get bored. It’s a peaceful place with none of the hectic rush that comes with Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur or Hanoi

Tourists will love the culture on display across George Town, while expats and Penang digital nomads will enjoy the cafe culture and the abundant nature around the island.

George Town is cultural and charming yet you can get all of your modern-day amenities should you need them. The blend of Chinese temples and colonial buildings remind me slightly of Hoi An, only with some world-class street art thrown into the mix.

Make sure to check out my tried & tested Malaysia itinerary!

Yellow doorways things to do Penang
Charming George Town

How to get to Penang

Penang is an island just off the northwest coast of Malaysia with a vibrant capital city, George Town.

By air: one option is to arrive by air into Penang International airport. I use Skyscanner to find the best-value flights, using the ‘search by month’ tool to find the cheapest dates. You can also use the ‘to anywhere’ feature if you’re flexible on where you’re going.

By land: Penang island connects to Butterworth on the mainland and you can arrive via water or road.

To get to George Town from the mainland, catch either a bus or train into Butterworth and then board the 5-minute ferry for just 1.2 MYR.

Alternatively, catch a bus over the bridge to Penang’s Sungai Nibong bus terminal which is a 30-minute drive to George Town. Local taxis and Grabs will take you the distance cheaply.

Travelling in Asia? Check out:

How long to spend in Penang

3 days is an ideal amount of time to tick off all the best places to visit in Penang, get a feel for the island and not feel rushed.

You can spend an entire day visiting all the George Town Penang attractions, another day visiting other parts of the island, and the last day seeing the things you might have missed or returning to your favourite spots.

How to get around Penang

  • Walking is the easiest way to get around George Town, the capital of Penang, but to go elsewhere on the island, choose one of the next options…
  • Taxi: GRAB is the Uber of Malaysia and by far the cheapest and most efficient way to get around. It’s free to download and you can pay by card.  
  • Public buses are available for as little as RM2 for a 10-minute ride (ensure you have the exact cash to pay the driver). The routes and bus stops cover almost all the Penang places of interest but schedules can be irregular and there are few buses at night. 
  • Bike rental is an ideal option to visit the Penang attractions across the island. You can rent a bike from your accommodation or local shops around town with signs in the window and bicycles parked outside.
  • Alternatively, you could take a trishaw between places which is a fun thing to do in Penang in itself.

Where to stay in Penang

Backpackers hostel: Rope Walk Guest House in George Town is a hostel with an excellent location in the heart of the old town, free WIFI, beautifully decorated, communal areas to socialise with others, and spacious bunks each with their own plugs and private lockers. Check availability from $8 per night.

Budget hotel: Kim Haus Loft is located on top of a cafe, bar and part-museum. The hotel provides free laundry, free Wi-Fi, is located in George Town near Chulia Street, and has indoor and outdoor communal seating areas. Check availability from $15 per night.

Luxury hotel – Cheong Fatt Tze The Blue Mansion is not only one of the things to do in Penang, it’s also a grand place to stay. Located in George Town just yards from the beach, this mansion room is spacious, quiet and luxurious. It boasts a swimming pool, free breakfast, room service, bar and even a library. Check availability from $100 per night.

Private apartment: Straits Garden Suites in George Town is a luxury private apartment with a swimming pool, gym, garden area, great views and fully equipped apartments including free Wi-Fi and laundry facilities. Check availability from $38 per night.

Browse all Penang accommodation on Booking.com and Hostelworld.

Things to do in Penang

From cultural, foodie, alternative and active things to do, here are 21 ways to stay busy during your trip!

1. Explore the street art

George Town street art Penang

There’s one name you need to know when it comes to George Town street art: Ernest Zacharevic. I wrote about him already in my Ipoh street art guide, although those works were completed after his originals in George Town.

Read next: Where to find the street art in Penang

Zacharevic is a Lithuanian street artist and now a Malaysian national treasure thanks to his amazing urban murals. He first completed them for the George Town Festival in 2012 and they became wildly popular – so much so that today you have to queue up to get photos!

Today there are plenty of his interactive paintings around George Town, as well as some fantastic additions from other street artists.

2. Check out the Sunday Market at Hin Bus Depot

Sunday Market Hin Bus Depot Georgetown Penang things to do

If your visit to Penang times around a weekend (hint: it should), don’t miss the Sunday Market at Hin Bus Depot. This space is a hipster’s paradise – an art gallery in one room, an artisan coffee shop beside it, and some quirky street art in the yard.

On Sundays, a vibey crafts market pops up selling jewellery, trinkets, clothes and food. The prices are reasonable so don’t eat before you come. There’s usually music playing and sometimes talks or performances going on. Grab a coffee and sit out on the grass for a brilliant vibe.

3. Sample the street food

Street food Georgetown Penang

A great way to experience the Malaysian culture in George Town is through the delicious Penang street food. Many local restaurants have been serving the food of their ancestors for centuries.

Countless companies offer food tours, though I’d say exploring it yourself is one of the best things to do in George Town. Most local Malay meals cost less than $2 so you do wonder where your money’s going when you see food tours priced at $60.

Once you’re full of salty, delicious street food, treat your insides to some of the healthy food in George Town.

For food tours, I recommend:

4. Eat at a hawker market

One of the best things to do in Penang is eat the local dishes but it has to be at one of the famous hawker markets where you see a mixture of culture, customs and cuisine. Hawker markets are similar to food courts, full of street food, vendors and communal tables.

Some of the best places to go in Penang for hawker markets include:

  • CF Food Court, the biggest hawker market, once visited by the late Anthony Bourdain.
  • New Lane Hawker Center is an outdoor hawker market that closes the street at night for the food trucks to roll in.
  • Cecil Street Food Court and Sri Weld Food Court for the local dishes; some claim to be the best in town.
  • Lastly, one of the most popular markets is Chulia Street with indoor and outdoor vendors and tables busy day and night.

5. Nightlife on Love Lane/Chulia Street

Once you’ve had your fill of food on Chulia Street, head to Love Lane for backpacker-style nightlife. Love Lane is just off the side of Chulia Street and links to Farquhar Street. 

By day, you can enjoy cafes and street art but at night the street comes alive with live music, drink deals and lots of socialising. It’s said to be named after a British officer whose surname was Love.

6. Take the temple trail

Kaptain Keling Mosque George Town Penang
Kapitan Keling Mosque

There are few places in the world you can see a mosque, a church, a Taoist temple and a Hindu temple all side by side. Kuala Lumpur is a good place to see these various houses of worship but they’re relatively spread out across the city.

In the small city centre of George Town, they’re virtually next door to each other – you can see them all in 30 minutes (though of course I’d recommend spending longer).

Related activity: Penang racial harmony walking tour with guide

Kapitan Keling Mosque

A gorgeous whitewashed building with gilded domes and gorgeous grounds. It was built in the 19th century by Indian traders and is now part of the UNESCO Heritage Site of George Town.

Address: 14, Jalan Buckingham, George Town.

Sri Mahamariamman Temple George Town Penang things to do
Sri Mahamariamman Temple

Sri Mahamariamman Temple

This colourful temple for the Hindu community of George Town was my favourite of all the temples. It’s brightly coloured and decorated with gods and goddesses from Indian folklore.

Address: Queen St, George Town.

Goddess of Mercy Temple

Built for the Chinese community, here you’ll be able to watch giant vats of incense burn as people come to worship.

Address: 30, Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling.

St. George’s Anglican Church

The oldest Anglican church in Southeast Asia built in 1818 wasn’t the most captivating Penang attraction for me; I preferred the colourful temples which felt more culturally distinct from the churches of Europe I’m used to.

Still, swing by to appreciate the diversity of religion here in Malaysia.

Address: 1, Lebuh Farquhar, George Town.

7. Eat cake at Chinahouse

Cheesecake at China House George Town

Culture’s great but so is cake! If you only eat one dessert in George Town, let it be at China House, a local institution on Beach Street. The cake table is a sight to behold – I don’t think I’ve seen a bigger collection anywhere.

The cafe itself is worth a visit and claims to be the longest in the city. It goes back what seems like miles and is filled with quirky bric-a-brac. It’s not particularly cheap (basically UK cake and coffee prices) but this salted caramel cheesecake was one of the most moreish and indulgent things ever. Worth it!

8. Hike in Penang National Park

national park

At just 25 square kilometres, this is one of the smallest national parks in the world but still a popular Penang attraction. A protected forest reserve, it’s home to flora, fauna, lakes and groves to explore.

There are three main trails to hike in the park which will bring you to stunning beaches, a lighthouse or a turtle sanctuary which are all free and easily accomplished in an afternoon. 

Getting there: drive in 40 minutes or catch line 101 bus from Komtar to Teluk Bahan in just over an hour. Tickets cost RM 10-16.

9. Visitfl Penang mansions 

The first mansion to visit is the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, also known as the Blue Mansion, which was built in the 1800’ by merchant, Cheong Fatt Tze, who used the distinctive, Chinese architectural-style building as his private residence.

Today, the mansion is a boutique hotel with several awards under its belt including UNESCO’s ‘Most Excellent’ Heritage Conservation Award. It was also a filming location for the 2018 film Crazy Rich Asians. Entry is RM16.

The second mansion to see is Penang Peranakan Mansion which is now a museum housing over 1000 objects where you can learn about Penang heritage. The mansion is a portrayal of a typical home of the Peranakans who were a Chinese community so you will feel as though you have stepped back in time. Entry is RM20.

10. Tropical Spice Garden 

Wander through this award-winning, 5-acre garden known as ‘Asia’s Hidden Eden’ to see and learn about over 500 types of herbs, plants, teas, oils and spices, as well as join a cooking class or watch a Malaysian cooking demo. This is one of the best educational places to visit in Penang and entry is just RM15. 

You also have the option of camping overnight at the Tropical Spice Garden amongst the bio-diverse sanctuary of the garden where you can enjoy nature by stargazing, strolling the rainforest or listening to the trickling streams. 

Address: Lot 595 Mukim, 2, Jalan Teluk Bahang, 11050 Teluk Bahang, Pulau Pinang.

11. Take a trip to the Floating Mosque

Floating mosque

Located at Batu Ferringhi beach is Tanjung Bungah Mosque, built on stilts on the ocean and known as the ‘floating mosque’ because when the tide’s high, it appears to be floating. It’s a lovely place to visit in the evening with gorgeous sunset views over the sea. 

Address: Jalan Batu Ferringhi, Tanjung Bungah, 11200 Tanjung Bungah.

12. Relax on Batu Ferringhi Beach 

Located in the north of the island is a famous sandy beach popular on any Penang sightseeing trip: Batu Ferringhi beach. As well as the usual beach activities and water sports, there are bars and restaurants where you can catch a gorgeous sunset. 

Stay in the evening for shopping at Batu Ferringhi Night Market. Expect trinkets galore and the exciting atmosphere of any Asian night market!

13. Go doorway hunting

Gorgeous doorways George Town Penang things to do

Doorway lovers will be in their element in George Town. There are some crackers along Jalan Nagor and Jalan Muntri.

14. Explore Little India

Anywhere there’s curry, I’ll be happy! One of the best things to do in Penang is wander centrally-located Little India. Sri Mahamariamman marks the start of the area. Behind it, you’ll find colourful streets full of vibrant markets playing Indian music and serving jalebi and other goodies.

14.5. Eat from a banana leaf while there

Shushi Banana Leaf Restaurant George Town Penang

There are endless authentic Indian restaurants in George Town. I ate a fantastic veggie feast at Shusi Banana Leaf Restaurant for only 6 MYR (just over £1) including a drink. I can’t believe how cheap it was!

15. Visit the Clan Jetty’s floating houses & temple

Clan Jetty Georgetown Penang

The Clan Jetties are a unique community of homes built on stilts. They’re over a century old and named after different Chinese clans – although sadly one has been lost to a fire. People traditionally used them to moor boats and load/unload goods.

Many guides and blogs refer to the Clan Jetties as one of the best things to do in Penang but I’m not sure I agree. The main section pinned on Google is one of those spots overrun with tourism. People’s homes are now gift shops, packed with overpriced souvenirs. Luckily, there are a couple of quieter spots to experience the culture…

Tan Jetty

Tan Jetty George Town Penang

Just a few minutes’ walk from the busy boardwalk section is Tan Jetty, a much quieter and more peaceful section to wander. There are a couple of renowned food stalls at the base of it.

Hean Boo Thean Temple

Hean Boo Thean Temple Georgetown Penang

Walk further still and get slightly lost in some residential streets as you arrive at this floating Chinese temple. It’s brightly painted, free to enter and usually free from other tourists. Much better than the selfie stick section!

16. Visit Kek Lok Si Temple

Kek Lok Si Temple Georgetown Penang

The biggest Buddhist temple in Malaysia is absolutely gorgeous and boasts stunning views over George Town from the tallest pagoda. Kek Lok Si Temple is a 25-minute taxi ride from town or slightly longer on the bus. Follow my guide for a full guide to visiting.

Related activity: Kek Lok Si & Penang Hill tour

18. Catch the funicular up Penang Hill

Just 20 minutes from the Old Town and within walking distance from Kek Lok Si Temple is another of the top things to see in Penang. Getting to the top of the hill is the best part as you can either hike or ride the funicular, one of the oldest funiculars in South East Asia. 

Once within the grounds, you can visit the Habitat (a jungle reserve), a temple and mosque, take walking trails, visit a bird sanctuary and zip line over the forest. 

18. Climb Komtar Tower

Climbing to ‘the Top’ of popular skyscraper, Komtar Tower, should be top of any Penang to-do list. 

This multicomplex reaching level 68 is full of Penang attractions and collectively known as The Top. You can enjoy fine dining or drinks, observe scenic views over the island including a stunning sunset, zip-line the exterior of the tower and walk over the glass walkway. 

19. Fort Cornwallis

For a historic thing to do in Penang, visit Fort Cornwallis, the oldest and largest fort in Malaysia built by the British in the late 1700s. Located on the north-eastern tip of the peninsula, the star-shaped building was constructed by Captain Francis Light to protect the island from pirates.

Within the fort, you’ll find a drawbridge, a prison, cannons, a statue of Francis Light and a lighthouse. You can stroll the fort until 10pm when the walls and flagstaff light up. Entry is RM20.

Address: Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah, George Town.

20. Get cultured at the many museums

For such a small island, there are over 25 museums. Some of the top choices include 3D Trick Art, War Museum, Penang House of Music and:

  • Ghost Museum with rooms representing horror films and superstitious beliefs from different countries. You can dress up, take pictures and learn about myths and folklore around the world. Entry is RM15.
  • Upside Down Museum for a unique, interactive experience in an upside down world. There are various rooms you can explore and take creative photos in such as kitchens, bedrooms, shops and cafes. The staff will help you take trick photos to make you look magic. This is definitely one of the funnest things to do in Penang. Entry is RM29.
  • Wonderfood, one of the best Penang tourist attractions for foodie lovers, is an interactive museum showcasing giant-sized replicas of over 100 Malaysian street foods. Entry is RM25.

21. Enjoy the cafe scene

3D rabbit coffee at Coffee on the Table Georgetown Penang

Once you’re done with the culture, the final thing to do in Penang is kick back with a coffee at one of the many Penang cafes. Some of my favourites are Mugshot Cafe, Bean Sprout Cafe and Secawan Hutton.

Digital nomads travelling in Malaysia can check out the many co-working cafes in Penang.

Thanks for reading

Kuala Lumpur posts:

Melaka posts:

Ipoh posts:

Southeast Asia travel planning:

See you next time for more adventures,

Rose

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Malaysia quick links

Flights – I use Skyscanner to find the best-value flights, using the ‘search by month’ tool to find the cheapest dates. You can also use the ‘to anywhere’ feature if you’re flexible on where you’re going.

Stay connected with E-sim data plans that don’t require delivery or collection; just scan the QR code.

In my opinion, Lonely Planet offer the best guidebooks. Get the latest Copy of Lonely Planet Malaysia.

For Malaysia buses and trains, I use 12GoAsia. The search feature allows you to compare prices and durations.

I use Booking.com for accommodation. They have the best range of hotels and self-catering apartments, plus you can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.

To save money on accommodation, I use Trusted Housesitters, a website that connects homeowners going away and travellers who can sit their homes & pets.

For activities, I use GetYourGuide and Viator as they both have a huge range of affordable tours.

Need travel insurance? I use World Nomads. They cover 150 countries and have 24-hour emergency assistance.

Check out my resources page for more travel discounts and tips!

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