12 Things To Do in Melaka (Melacca) For History & Food Fans

Things to do in Melaka

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Despite the fact it’s a small city, there are plenty of things to do in Melaka. It’s one of my favourite places in Malaysia and I’m always surprised it doesn’t get more visitors. If you love culture, food and architecture, make sure to add Melaka to your Malaysia itinerary.

Not only is it easy to reach from Kuala Lumpur but it’s also not far from Singapore so you could consider stopping off when travelling by bus between the two countries. In this Melaka travel guide, I’ll run through everything you need to know for the perfect trip.

Mosques, colonial churches and Hindu and Chinese temples sit on every corner making Melaka a cultural melting pot. The gorgeous old-style houses are just as elaborate, telling tales of days gone by.

Visually, Melaka reminds me a bit of Hoi An in Vietnam, one of my favourite places on Earth. It’s simply a charming place to wander whether you hit up the must-see Melaka attractions or just relax and enjoy the slow pace of life.

Things to do Melaka Old Town

A quick history of Melaka

Now a UNESCO Heritage Site, Melaka was set up by a fleeing Sumatran prince in the 14th century. Next to arrive were Chinese settlers whose ancestors make up 25% of the population today.

The city then became a stomping ground for European colonialists with the first invasion from Portugal in 1511.

The Dutch kicked out the Portuguese food and set up windmills in Melaka Square which you can still see today. Like a sick game of chess, Holland traded Melaka for Jakarta in Indonesia, giving Melaka to the British who then ruled Malaysia for almost 200 years.

Indian workers, who nowadays make up almost 10% of the Malay population, were recruited to help build the empire. It wasn’t until the 1950s that Malaysia finally gained independence.

How long to spend in Melaka?

Honestly, you could see all of Melaka in a day as the city centre is tiny. However, my best Asia travel tip is to take your time and enjoy the sleepy cities when you find them. Save your big city energy for KL!

If you’ve got two days, you could spend the morning of one taking a trip to Melaka Straits Mosque. There are a couple of museums that could also fill some time, and if you’ve got a third day you could relax and enjoy the cafe scene. It’s really up to you but I feel that 1-3 days would be optimum.

Where to stay in Melaka

There are plenty of places to stay in Melaka for all budgets. I would recommend the following places.

Hostels:

  • Ola Lavanderia Cafe – this sunny yellow cafe and hostel has private and dorm beds with AC. Tea and coffee are included, plus there’s laundry facilities and bicycle rental. Beds start from $10.
  • Yote 28 – this modern and shiny hostel has all your amenities, comfy beanbags, games, Netflix and beds for $10. Flashpacking for sure!

Guesthouses:

  • Hotel Puri Melaka – this gorgeous hotel built in Malay heritage style with carved wooden details and period artwork is a bargain with rooms starting at $40 a night.
  • The Rucksack Caratel – this charming boutique hotel has double or twin rooms with bathtubs from $30 a night, as well as large caravan rooms with up to four beds inside. You’ll also have access to a swimming pool and stylish games area.

How to get to Melaka

Many people arrive by bus from Kuala Lumpur which takes around 2 hours and arrives into Melaka Sentral, a 15-minute taxi ride from town. Taxis wait around the station but your cheapest option is calling a Grab. Book your KL to Melaka journey on 12go.

Melaka is also a 4-5 hour bus journey from Singapore. Aside from having to get off twice for customs, it’s an easy journey. Book on 12go.

Things to do in Melaka

Melaka is a wonderful city to visit whether you’re with friends, family or travelling solo in Malaysia. It’s great for eating and comes alive at weekends when Jonker Street Night Market pops up.

While Melaka is generally a quiet, low-rise city, you’ll be shocked to see (and hear!) tuk-tuks decked in Hello Kitty and Minions accessories and blaring chart music like Nicki Minaj. Honestly, they’re ridiculous and add to the character to this weird and wonderful city.

My recent trip to Melaka was pretty chilled although I still managed to fit in the activities below. Here are my top 10 fun things to do in Melaka…

1. Go house-spotting

Blue building with Chinese letters Melaka

The first thing you’ll want to do when you arrive in Melaka is explore your surroundings. The historical centre of Melaka is a UNESCO site with some of the most decorative and unusual I’ve ever seen.

Wandering between cafes and snapping photos was how I spent most of my time in Melaka.

As briefly mentioned, the Chinese community in Melaka makes up a percentage of the population. The words Straits and Peranakan refer to the ancestors of Chinese people who settled in Malaysia during colonial rule.

Alongside Penang and Singapore’s Koon Seng Road, you’ll find some of the best Straits architecture in Malaysia. These buildings are known for their bright colours and antique windows and shutters, as well as their use of Chinese characters and hanging lanterns.

2. Visit Melaka Straits Mosque

Melaka Straits Mosque

Melaka Straits Mosque (Masjid Selat Melaka) is just a short drive from town is worth a visit while in Melaka.

Also known as the Floating Mosque because it sits on an island above the water, this gold-domed mosque was only completed in 2006, making it several centuries younger than some of Melacca’s religious buildings.

Non-Muslim guests are welcome to go inside the mosque provided they dress conservatively and cover their hair. You also need to leave your shoes at the door.

Getting there: We caught a cheap Grab to man-made Melaka Island which only cost 10 MYR each way. You could also consider riding a bicycle there but possibly not during the sweaty summer months unless you have a hat.

3. Seek out the street art

Kiehls Wall Street art Melaka
Women street art Melaka

Like George Town, Ipoh and Kuala Lumpur, there’s so much vibrant street art dotted around Melaka. I loved finding it and taking photos, especially in the early morning before the crowds came out.

The best bit is Kiehl’s Wall which is a giant rainbow masterpiece and selfie backdrop. You’re bound to find it whether you’re looking for it or not – you can’t really miss it! However, if you’re keen to see all the best bits, follow my street art guide to Melaka.

Street art is a relatively new phenomenon in Malaysia but it’s taken off. Ernest Zacharevic is a Lithuanian artist who became well known when he completed some quirky, 3D murals in George Town, Penang for a local festival in 2012.

As he became famous, he was asked to complete more street art in Ipoh and other cities around the world. Although he hasn’t done any work in Melaka, there’s still some colourful art worth seeking out.

Browse my Malaysia street art archives.

Temples in Melaka

Tiger carving at Cheng Hoon Teng Temple Melaka
Chinese temple things to do Melaka

As a multi-ethnic nation, there are amazing temples wherever you go in Malaysia. In Melaka, they’re particularly well-preserved and part of the reason the city gained UNESCO Heritage status.

The mosques and Hindu/Chinese temples sit naturally but the European churches feel uncomfortably colonial. I boycotted these in favour of the Taoist and Islamic temples which include…

4. Cheng Hoon Teng Temple (the oldest temple in Malaysia)

Cheng Hoon Teng Temple Melaka Malaysia

This temple decked in red lanterns is Taoist, Confucianist and Buddhist, set up by the Chinese population of Melaka.

The ethnic groups in Malaysia have never really blended so today many ancestors of the Chinese settlers still eat Chinese food and worship at Chinese temples, rather than adopting the Malaysian national religion of Islam.

Cheng Hoon Teng Temple is the oldest temple in Malaysia, sitting on Jalan Tukang Emas which is also known as Harmony Street. This is because it’s also home to the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia and one of the oldest mosques.

5. Kampong Kling Mosque 

Kampong Kling Mosque Melaka

I haven’t been inside Kampung Kling Mosque, which is just a few moments from Cheng Hoon Teng, but I always love seeing it from the outside. As one of the tallest points in low-rise Melaka, it stands out like a beacon.

6. Find the Portuguese cafe complex

Juicy Baby cafe Melaka Malaysia
A little bit of Europe in Melaka

It’s not a common thing to do in Melaka but we ended up finding this Instagrammable cafe complex on the way back from Melaka Straits Mosque.

We were hot and thirsty and spotted a cafe named Juicy Baby which served colourful juices with creative (and millennial) names like Passion Unicorn.

The pastel-coloured cafe is packed with giant cuddly unicorns which you bring to your table. It’s not a cultural thing to do in Melaka but it’s quite a fun excursion if you’ve been travelling a while and fancy a break.

The whole complex looks straight out of Europe with symmetrical facades and candy-colour awnings.

7. People-watching + nightlife at Geographer Cafe

Yellow Geographer Cafe Melaka
The prettiest cafe in Melaka

There are cheaper and more authentic places to eat in Melaka but there’s nowhere better to sit and people-watch than Geographer Cafe.

his sunny yellow cafe is a gorgeous place to while away a lazy afternoon. It’s also one of the few places for nightlife in Melaka. It won’t be an all-night rave but you can sink some beers while enjoying a vibey atmosphere.

8. Indulge at Jonker Street Night Market

Jonker Street Night Market

One of the best things to do in Melaka for foodies is take a trip to Jonker Street Night Market, held on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. It can’t rival the hawker food in Penang but it’ll still blow you away.

Lola and I tucked into mua chee which are gooey rice balls rolled in peanut, as well as about five other sweet and savoury dishes.

Other (not at all healthy) things to eat include deep-fried ice cream which are battered on the outside, coconut ice cream served in whole coconut shells, quails eggs, and snackable popiah rolls.

I like that Melaka is popular with Malaysian holidaymakers as well as Westerners because it feels more local than the markets in Thailand which are specifically aimed at foreign tourists. Even the locals come out to eat and sing karaoke making it a great place to be at the weekend with a real party atmosphere.

9. Gawp at the Hello Kitty tuk-tuks in Windmill Square

Windmill Square Melaka
Pink tub-tuk Melaka

Melaka’s Windmill Square has to be one of the strangest places ever with its Dutch windmills and Catholic churches. To me, it just feels wrong but I know a lot of domestic tourists love the novelty.

It’s here in the central square that you’ll find the outlandish Hello Kitty tuk-tuks adorned in glitter and cuddly toys. Seeing masculine-looking guys driving them around always make me smile!

10. Dig into the street food

Food in Melaka Malaysia
Chee cheong fun, a Chinese dish in Melaka

The more time I spend in Malaysia, the more I love the food.

I doubt many people around the world have Malaysian cuisine on their radar, maybe because there aren’t many Malaysian restaurants overseas. After eating the food in KL’s Chinatown and Little India (Brickfields), I’d describe Malay food as the best of Chinese and Indian with some extra delicious dishes thrown in.

A few things to eat in Mekaka include:

  • Biriyani on a banana leaf in Little India
  • Dim sum in the endless Chinese restaurants
  • The national dishes of nasi lemak (in just about any local restaurant)
  • Laksa, a rich noodle soup that can either be made with coconut milk (curry laksa) or tamarind (assam laksa)
  • Popiah, fresh egg rolls filled with veggies, peanuts and tofu
  • Cendol, a sweet shaved ice dish you can try for dessert.

Read next: The best food in Melaka

Most of the food in Melaka is very affordable: you can get a hearty meal for 10-15 MYR including a drink in many authentic local restaurants. I ate so much in Melaka and never had a bad meal.

11. Drink coffee at a cute cafe

VW van Mods Cafe Melaka things to do
Vintage decor at Mods Cafe

For such a well-preserved UNESCO city, I was surprised by how many modern coffee shops there are in Melaka. It can almost rival the number of cafes in George Town, Penang‘s coffee hub!

The flat whites and cappuccinos are as good as any I’ve had at home, and the quirky cafes are the ultimate escape from the sticky afternoon heat. The shabby-chic decor reminded me of the Insta-friendly cafes in KL. We all need a cool cafe from time to time, right?

As well as your standard Western coffee, you can also try local Malay coffee. If you’re trying to be healthy, you might want to give this one a miss because it contains bucket loads of sugar as well as butter. It’s very sweet and moreish, served in tiny cups at local coffee shops.

If you need your caffeine fix but don’t fancy paying inflated prices at the fashionable cafes, Malaysian coffee is less than a quarter of the price of a flat white.

Read next: My Melaka cafe guide

Kaya kaya cafe Melaka
Latte art at Kaya Kaya Cafe

12. Cycle to A Famosa Portuguese ruins

For a fun activity, hire a bike and cycle up to Porta de Santiago, the oldest European ruins in Southeast Asia. This fortress dates back to 1511 and, while it’s understandable dilapidated today, it’s one of the most famous things to do in Melaka (the name ‘A Formosa’ actually translates to ‘famous’ in Portuguese).

A Famosa Portuguese ruins

The best part of a visit to Porta de Santiago is the views over Melaka, right the way out to the coast. Visiting for sunset is the best time of day. If you’d rather not cycle there, you can hire a local taxi driver to take you.

That’s a wrap! For more inspo, read my other Melaka posts:

Thanks for reading these things to do Melaka!

Penang blogs:

Ipoh blogs:

Kuala Lumpur posts:

Southeast Asia travel planning:

See you next time for more adventures,

Rose

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Things to do melaka

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