10 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 who stay longer 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.

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

To get to George Town, Penang 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:

Things to do in Penang

Let’s get stuck into the best things to do in George Town, Penang!

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. 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

A colourful temple for the Hindu community of George Town. Personally, this is my favourite of all the temples. It’s brightly coloured and decorated with gods and goddesses from Indian folklore.

Address: Queen St, Georgetown.

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.

5. 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!

6. 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.

7. 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.

7.5. 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!

8. 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 – 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!

9. 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

10. Have a quirky 3D coffee

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 novelty coffee at one of the many Penang cafes.

At vintage-themed Coffee On The Table you can sip 3D drinks made to look like cute animals. They’re no more expensive than the average coffee in George Town. My only complaint was that I asked for a cat and got a rabbit. Why won’t they take requests?

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

Thanks for reading

Kuala Lumpur posts:

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Ipoh posts:

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Malaysia quick links

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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.

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