Penang is a city rich with history, culture and natural beauty. It’s also known to be one of the best holiday destinations in Malaysia. From its colonial-era architecture to its vibrant nightlife scene, there’s something for everyone here. If you’re visiting Penang on vacation or looking for somewhere new to visit while travelling around Southeast Asia, then this guide will help you discover some of the best things to do in Penang! =)
Getting around Penang
If you’re in Penang, it’s likely that you’ll want to get around by foot. There are plenty of options for walking and cycling. But if your feet are tired from all of that, taxis are also readily available around the island. Not all of them go by the meter so you’d have to ask the driver how much it is to get to your destination and agree on the price before boarding. Alternatively, you can use ride-hailing app, Grab—which is what we use all the time whenever we are in Penang. Save the hassle to bargain with taxi drivers!
Buses are another popular option for getting around Penang—they’re cheap, frequent and reliable. The central bus terminal (Komtar Bus Terminal) is located at the heart of George Town, next to Prangin Mall. Just look out for signboards to find out which bus route will take you to your destination.
Top Things To Do in Penang
1. Visit the Kek Lok Si Temple
Kek Lok Si Temple is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, and also a popular pilgrimage site for Buddhists in the region.
Within the 130-year-old Kek Lok Si Temple, there are several prayer halls, pavilions, pagodas and many statues of Buddha, bodhisattvas and Chinese gods.
The unique feature of this temple lies in its architecture. Carved pillars with intricate details. Ornate woodwork. Vibrant colours. Beautiful sculptures. It’s like a piece of art.
I really love the vibes of this temple. So calm, serene and peaceful. All the flower gardens, fish ponds and water features just make our visit feel so therapeutic.
Take the inclined lift to the top and you’ll see this 30.2-metre (99 ft) tall bronze statue of Guan Yin (Goddess of Mercy), which looks really impressive. It’s also the tallest standing bronze Guan Yin statue in the world.
2. Get a glimpse of Peranakan culture at the Pinang Peranakan Mansion
If you’re looking to get a glimpse of Peranakan culture, the Pinang Peranakan Mansion is where you should be.
This more-than-a-century-old mansion was built by a famous historical personality and tycoon, Kapitan Cina Chung Keng Kwee, who wasn’t a Baba (honorific term for a Peranakan male) himself. He died in 1901 and left the mansion to his descendants.
The mansion was a Chinese courtyard house that looked a lot like a Baba home because of its eclectic design and architecture.
In the 1990s, a Baba, Peter Soon, bought over the property and restored it to its former glory after years of neglect. His extensive collection of antiques, artefacts and collectibles were housed in the mansion, thus turning it into this unique Baba-Nyonya Museum today.
Join a complimentary guided tour to get a deeper understanding on how the Peranakan lifestyle and culture was like in the olden days. There was so much to see and so much to learn about. Truly an eye opening experience.
3. Wander along the Clan Jetties at Pengkalan Weld
The clan jetties and their floating villages are some of the most popular places of interest in Penang. These villages that were built on stilts over water were established in the 19th century when Chinese immigrants came to Malaysia.
Currently, there are six such jetties left in Penang. Five of them are differentiated by surnames – Chew (the oldest & largest of all), Tan, Lee, Yeoh, and Lim. The last one is New Jetty (or Mixed Surname Jetty 杂姓桥) which was built only in the 1960s. And as its name suggests, the village houses people of mixed surnames.
It’s very easy to visit all these clan jetties and their villages as they are all located in one row along Weld Quay (Pengkalan Weld).
Tan Jetty is the longest jetty among its counterparts as it has a wooden pier that stretches from the mainland all the way out to the sea. Taking a walk through the village can be very relaxing as it’s really peaceful and quiet. There are some food stalls (prawn fritters, loh bak, ice kachang/chendol) at Tan Jetty that are worth trying too.
Of all the waterfront settlements, Chew Jetty is the most busy and lively because it is more commercialised and touristy. Expect to see eateries and souvenir shops while there. Some of the residents also operate businesses from the outside of their homes, selling homemade snacks and/or handicraft items.
4. Poke your head inside of Khoo Kongsi
Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi (or Khoo Kongsi for short) is one of the most well-known and richest Chinese clan associations in Malaysia. Their ancestral origins can be traced back some 650 years ago.
The entire Khoo Kongsi complex is like a clan village comprising the clan house Leong San Tong, an administrative building with a meeting hall and offices, an opera stage, and 62 units of terrace houses and shophouses.
The most important architectural expression of Leong San Tong lies in the timberwork on the roof truss. The truss structure is of ting tang style, a kind of roof truss which is uplifted by four principal columns and left exposed. Refined wood carvings that varied in style and technique, fill up the timberwork of Leong San Tong. Truly making it a masterpiece.
High quality stone materials that were imported from Amoy, Fujian Province were used to construct Leong San Tong. You can see a lot of delicate decorative carvings on the walls, columns and door frames. Murals and drawings that graced the walls, depict moral values, ethics and ideals. Very interesting!
5. Venture to the Wonderfood Museum
Wonderfood Museum is a one-of-a-kind museum that showcases Malaysia’s local cuisine. For those who are unfamiliar with Malaysian food culture, this is definitely a must-see attraction where you can discover over 100 popular street foods and local dishes.
Even if you are somewhat familiar with Malaysian food, you will still be amazed by the life-sized food replicas and even the giant ones.
In addition to being fun to visit for yourself, Wonderfood Museum also makes for great Instagram fodder!
6. Experience the nightlife of Georgetown and beyond with street food
The best way to experience the bustling nightlife of Georgetown is to visit the various night markets for street food and local eats.
One of the must-visit night markets is Kimberley Street Night Market, which is famous for its ‘Four Heavenly Kings’ (四大天王) i.e. Kway Chap, Koay Teow Soup, Char Koay Teow and Si Koh Soup. Besides these four popular dishes, you can also expect other local eats like lok lok, Penang laksa, Hokkien prawn noodles, loh bak, fried carrot cake and more. There are also several dessert shops here that specialise in traditional Chinese sweet soups or ‘tong shui’.
7. Relax and unwind at Batu Ferringhi Beach
Batu Ferringhi is the most popular beach destination in Penang among both locals and visitors. It is situated along the northern coast of Penang Island, about 11km northwest of the city centre. It’s the perfect place for water sports such as jet skiing, parasailing & snorkeling, and beach activities like horseback riding, beach volleyball & quad biking.
For those who prefer something more laid-back, simply chill on the beach with a bucket of beers and enjoy the sun and sea breeze.
8. Be awed by the street art murals of Georgetown
Penang street art is one of the main tourist attractions of the island. These art works that grace the walls of George Town do not just offer aesthetic pleasure but each of them actually tells a story. About Penang. About Malaysia. Its history, people, culture and food. Check out my Ultimate Penang Street Art Guide for a massive collection of Penang street art.
9. Feast on durians at a durian farm in Balik Pulau
If you love durians, then you can’t miss out visiting a durian farm in Balik Pulau, where different varieties of durians are grown and harvested. One recommended durian farm to check out is Bao Sheng Durian Farm, which also offers ‘staycations’ or farm stays so you can experience life in the countryside. Not only you can get to try different kinds of durians, you can also take a little tour of the durian plantation and find out more about growing durians and harvesting them. The highlight of this durian farm stay is the tasting of durians with a numbing sensation. Must try experience!
10. Take the funicular train up to the peak of Penang Hill
Penang Hill, which is also known as Bukit Bendara, was the first colonial hill station to be developed in Peninsular Malaysia in 1787. It comprises a number of hills with the highest point standing at 833m above sea level.
The ride up Penang Hill offers amazing views across Penang and its surrounding islands. Penang Hill doesn’t just offer a panoramic view of the city from the top but also a cool climate that’s about 5°C cooler than the lowlands. I guess that’s the main reason why locals and tourists alike would flock to here – to escape the heat!
We hope that this comprehensive travel guide to Penang has given you a taste of what makes the island so special. With its beautiful beaches, colonial buildings and museums, as well as some hidden gems like the durian farm, it’s no wonder why visitors come from all over Asia year after year for their trip to Penang!