Situated in the northern part of West Malaysia along the Malacca Strait, Penang is one of the most popular and renowned travel destinations. It was founded by the British in 1786 and was awarded UNESCO World Heritage site due to an impressive collection of more than 1,700 historic buildings. The island was nicknamed the Pearl of the Orient because there are many soft sandy beaches and the food capital of the country.
Best Time to Visit
Penang has been one of the favorite destinations in Malaysia and is visited by locals and international travelers throughout the year. The peak season is between November and February during the long year-end school holidays and festive seasons. The dry season that falls between December and April has attracted foreigners to this lovely island to enjoy a warm climate and sandy beaches. The weather can be hot and humid with temperatures reaching up to 34°C.
The low season is during the monsoon season, which falls between September and November. The rain and occasional thunderstorms usually happen only in the late afternoons and evenings. There are still plenty of attractions that you can slowly wander and explore the island. Penang is filled with many historic museums, impressive temples, and authentic food which have originated from here.
Getting There and Around
Penang island is served by its Penang International Airport (PEN) and you can choose to take a domestic flight, or international route from Hong Kong, Singapore, Bangkok, Taipei (Taiwan), and Bandar Aceh (Indonesia).
There are three domestic airlines flying to Penang: Malaysian Airline, Air Asia, and Malindo Air. If you choose to take a domestic flight from KL International Airport (KUL), the journey takes only an hour. This is the best choice if you are traveling aboard and transit from Kuala Lumpur. Other domestic flights include Langkawi (45 minutes), Johor (1 hour and 10 minutes) and Kota Kinabalu (3 hours)
Upon arrival at the airport, you can take Grabcar or Mycar directly to your accommodation. The airport is about 20 km away from Georgetown. The alternative is to take the Rapid Penang Bus no. 401, 401A, and 401E, which will travel between the airport, Komtar Building, and the Jetty. The buses run every 30 minutes and take about an hour to arrive at your destination. One-way trip will cost RM2.70 and buses operate from 7 am to 10 pm (Note: bus drivers only take the exact fare and do not have any change).
Another option is to get a bus ride from the city center at KL Sentral or Bersepadu Selatan Terminal. The journey usually takes about 5 1/2 hours, but look at the bright side, you can enjoy the scenery of the countryside, small towns, paddy fields and palm trees Purchase your bus ticket online in advance via Easybook or Bus Online Ticket). You can also opt for a train, which departs from KL Sentral and the journey is around 5 hours (Buy your train ticket here or download the app into your phone).
Penang island is very easy to explore and navigate, enough there is no train available like Kuala Lumpur. Most heritage buildings are situated right in Georgetown itself and can visit them on foot. There is the free Penang City Hop On Free Central Area Transit (CAT) to take you around the town which departs every 30 minutes from Bus Terminal Jetty. If you are heading to the beach of Batu Ferringhi, you can take the local bus 101 round trip from the Jetty Bus Terminal and cost only RM3. Alternatively, there are always Grab and MyCar throughout the town.
The Best Activities in Georgetown
Georgetown is a large city located on the island of Penang in the northwestern Malaysia. This city is known for the street art and the beautiful old buildings influenced by the British and Baba-Nyonya culture (mixture of Chinese and Malay). The culture was born when large groups of Chinese immigrated to Penang during the early 15th century.
Day 1: Discover Around Georgetown
1. Get a taste of local delicacies
On the first day in Georgetown, enjoy Penang’s famous Char Koay Teow. It can be found throughout Malaysia, but it was originated from Penang. The traditional Char Koay Teow (or Fried Koay Teow) commonly comes with noodles, prawns, sprouts and egg. Some stores do serve with preserved sliced Chinese sausage or duck meat too.
2. Marvel the street art of Georgetown
Wander along the old street of Lebuh Armenian, completely filled with cool murals. Some paintings are made in such as a way to fit you in as part of the photo, and other artworks portray the life of Penangites, cartoon characters and martial artist Bruce Lee.
3. Visit the old Chinese temples
Explore some of the oldest Chinese clan temples which dated back to the mid 19th century. These temples were built by the Chinese immigrants and currently upkeep by their three or fourth generations of the family. You can see each temple has its own unique architectural designs.
Below: Khoo Kongsi temple, Hock Teik Cheng Sin temple and Goddess of Mercy temple
4. Walk along Campbell Street and Little India
Continue walking along Campbell Street, where you can stroll past the colorful painted wooden shophouses and the 19th-century Kapitan Keling Mosque. This charming mosque was built by Indian Muslim traders with Moghul architectural style and featured beautiful minarets and domes.
Also, make your way to Little India and visit the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple built in the early 1800s. The sculptures of gods and goddesses are featured all over the main entrance and facade of the temple.
Tips: The temple opens daily between 6.30 am to 12 pm and 4.30 pm to 11 pm.
5. Shop around Armenian Street
Take a break and indulge yourself with freshly homemade egg tarts, salted egg pastries or other bakeries at Kedai Biskut and Kek Ming Xiang Tai in Lebuh Chulia. You can also get antiques, clothings and souvenirs in this nice shopping street or chill out at the local cafe.
6. Enjoy the sea breeze at Clan Jetty
Visit the Clan Jetty and enjoy the cool sea breeze. The Chinese clans have been living here for about 150 years with their houses built on wooden poles. Nowadays some stilt houses have been converted to small shops, budget hostel and Airbnb, but in a large part, members of Clan family still lived here and worked as fishermen, hawkers and dock makers.
The most popular jetty is the Chew Jetty, that found it too touristy. Part of the local movie scene, “Ice Kacang Puppy Love” was filmed here and starred by local actor Ah Niu and actress Angelica Lee.
7. Dinner at The Jetty Food Court
Georgetown is known for its great food. And one of the best recommended place to search for all-time favorite Malaysian food is The Jetty Food Court, which is just right across the Chew Jetty. The price is very affordable. And if you are here on Fridays or the weekends, there will be live bands at night.
Day 2: Penang’s history and culture
8. Roam around the city’s historic buildings
Explore Georgetown UNESCO heritage sites built in the 19th century during the British rule. It is an open-air museum with old government buildings, churches, monuments, a fort (Fort Cornwallis) and wide-open esplanade.
Tips: If you want to learn more about the city’s history, you can participate in the free Georgetown Walkabout Tour. The Tourist Information Centre of Penang organized the tour every Tuesday, Thursday and Fridays.
You need to register before 10 am and is on a first come, first served basis. The tour starts at 10.30 am at the Whiteaway Arcade meeting point and takes about an hour and a half.
9. Visit Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
Tour around Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, one of the most beautiful UNESCO buildings of Georgetown. This indigo blue building known as the Blue Mansion was built at the end of the 19th century by the wealthy merchant Cheong Fatt Tze.
Cheong Fatt Tze is not only rich enough to own such a beautiful house, but also has eight wives, a number of concubines, eight sons, and six daughters. This mansion consists of 38 rooms, seven staircases, and five courtyards. The architectural design is mixed with Chinese and Western style.
Tips: A 45-minutes guided tour is available twice a day at 11 am and 2 pm. You can see the entire mansion and learn its history with the price of RM18. You can also experience a lifestyle of Cheong Fatt Tze by staying here, chill out in The Bar or dine-in at Indigo at The Blue Mansion (Click here for more information).
10. Penang State Museum and Art Gallery
Penang Museum and Art Gallery is another attraction worth visiting. The museum houses a collection of Baba Nyonya porcelain, furniture, jewellery, costumes and oil paintings made by Captain Robert Smith.
11. Welcomed by the Baba Nyonya family
The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is the home to the Babas and Nyonyas, built at the end of the 19th century. It belonged to a local history’s famous personality, the Kapitan Cina Chung Keng Kwee who is one of the group of early Chinese immigrants who settled in northern Malaysia. Their Chinese origins with Taoist belief were soon mixed with Malay culture, creating a new unique culture. He and his family had adopted to the local Malay and the British colonial lifestyle. Their rich culture, custom, cuisine, rituals and lifestyle are preserved and practiced until today by the descendents of the family.
Take a guided tour with the host and learn about the family history. You will find over a thousand pieces of antiques and collectible of its era displayed here. This mansion was built with the mixture of Chinese carved wooden panels, English floor tiles and Scottish iron works.
12. Window shopping and dinner at Gurney Drive
Head to Gurney Drive for window shopping at Plaza Gurney and Gurney Paragon mall. You can chill out at one of these many cafes and bars in the mid-scale shopping malls.
Enjoy dinner at an open-air Gurney Driver Hawker Center, just 10 minutes walk from the shopping mall. It has made popular for tourists and every Malaysian’s favourite food can be found here. My choice for dinner are Char Keoy Toew (again!!) and yummy fried lobak (five spice meat rolls).
Tips: The hawker stalls open daily from 5 pm to 11 pm.
Getting There: Take bus 101 from the Jetty Bus Terminal or Komtar Tower. You can take Grab or MyCar here too. It is advisable to use e-hailing services or public transport due to limited parking space and traffic congestion in the evenings.
Day 3: Beyond Georgetown
13. Admire the Kek Lok Si Temple
After breakfast, you will go to the Kek Lok Si Temple, which is 8 km outside of Georgetown. This temple is the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia that began its construction in 1890. It has a 7-story handcrafted “Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas” and a bronze Kuan Yin statue on the fourth floor.
During Chinese New Year period, the temple is lit up with over 200,000 lights and lanterns. You can wander around the Chinese market or stop by the tortoise pond to feed them when heading the way to the temple.
Tips: There is an entrance fee to the pagoda for RM2. If you want to take the cable car to all floors, you need to pay RM16 per person for a return trip.
Getting There: Take bus 201 and 204 from the Jetty Bus Terminal or Komtar Bus Station for 50 minutes. You can take Grab or MyCar here and take only half an hour to get here.
14. Going up the Penang Hill
Enjoy the spectacular view of Penang island from the top of Penang Hill. You can take a return trip cable car to the top in just 5 minutes as it passes through a very steep tunnel. With just 830 m above sea level, you can feel 5-6°C cooler up here.
You can visit the flower garden, a mini bird park, an owl museum, mosque, Hindu temple here, as well as staying overnight at the historic Bellevue Hotel.
Getting Here: Take bus 201 and 204 from the Jetty Bus Terminal or Komtar Bus Station.
Looking for some physical challenge? Go on a hike to the top of Penang Hill. You will walk through the woods, jungle and small golden golden temples that takes about 3 hours.
15. End your Penang trip on the beach
Spend the rest of the day on the sandy beach of Batu Ferringhi, about 11 km away from Georgetown. It is one of the most wonderful beaches of the island. Take a dip in the water to cool off the body after a long walk in the hot weather.
Getting There: Take bus 101 from the Jetty Bus Terminal or Komtar Tower to Batu Ferringhi and use the e-hailing service.