Penang in Malaysia had never been on my wishlist of places to visit. I had planned a break in Bali between our route from Singapore to Australia, but with a last-minute hitch (a potentially erupting volcano) meaning we couldn’t travel to Bali, I decided to re-plan my route to Australia via Malaysia and spend 3-nights in the UNESCO Heritage Site of George Town.
These events turned out to be one of those times when you could say that every cloud has a silver lining, as Penang became one of my favourite south-east Asia destinations on my 3-month world trip, and I discovered a place that made me feel like I wanted to stay forever.
The Malaysian culture, food, colourful history and heritage architecture were great to uncover. And, of course, the incredible street murals that are classed as some of the best street art in Asia made Penang a winner for me.
So if you are looking for things to do in George Town on a 3-night break, then you have found the right travel blog to read! If you like the sound of Penang, then you will find my post on the best places and experiences to discover in Malaysia an interesting read.
Do you need to arrange travel insurance, car hire or accommodation? Please check out my resources page to help you plan your trip.
George Town Penang Itinerary Route Map
Frequently Asked Questions
Where is Penang?
Penang is an island in southeast Malaysia linked to the mainland by a toll highway. It has its own international airport.
George Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is located in the north of the island.
Penang is the second smallest state in Malaysia but has the highest population density. It is the only Malaysian state where Chinese residents are the majority.
Best Months to Visit Penang
The best time to visit Penang is said to be between November and the end of January. Rainfall is minimal, and temperatures should be cooler than the rest of the year. That said, I travelled at the end of January, and it was dry but very hot!
Between February and April, the weather is hot and humid both day and night. You will, however, have a good run of dry days and blue skies, so a great time to visit if you can manage the heat.
May through to November sees monsoon rainfall however it only lasts for a few hours, and the remainder of the day will be dry. This time of year also sees fewer visitors and so makes sightseeing more enjoyable.
What to Wear in Penang
As it is hot and humid all year round, pack lightweight clothes. Cotton harem pants are on sale around town and are good to wear in hot temperatures.
Best Ways to Get Around Penang
The most authentic way to get around George Town is by rickshaw. For just a few coins, you will be whisked away to your destination in this traditional method of transport.
Navigating George Town is also easy on foot. Everything is compact, making it easy to immerse yourself in the local area by wandering along its streets.
To reach places in Penang further afield, then a taxi (Grab) is a cheap way of getting around. Make sure you agree on the price of your trip before setting off. We got our driver to write the figure on our notepad so he couldn’t dispute the price at the end of the journey.
Places to Stay in Penang
The Blue Mansion, also known as Cheong Fatt Tzu Mansion, caught my eye because of the captivating blue hues detailed on its website and the history behind this heritage mansion in the centre of George Town.
Another fabulous heritage hotel is Seven Terraces, which transports you back to the 19th century.
Other places to stay in George Town can be found here.
I also booked the Shangri-La Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa, on Batu Ferringhi beach, for a few days of relaxation before we continued to Darwin in Australia.
Best Places to Eat Street Food in Penang
Red Garden Night Food Market – located next door to the Blue Mansion on Leith Street, is a huge night market with hawkers serving traditional and international foods.
Chulia Street and Kimberly Street have nightly hawker food markets.
The area around Love Lane has numerous coffee shops, restaurants, bars and coffee shops to keep you entertained.
Is Penang Safe?
Sadly nowhere in the world is 100% safe, but I felt safe in Penang. Like all locations, be vigilant, keep your valuables in the hotel safe and don’t wander down dark alleys on your own!
Is a Visa Required for Penang?
Check I-Visa for the requirements of the country from which you are travelling.
Day One – First Afternoon in George Town
The Start of Our Penang Adventure
Arriving at the Blue Mansion after our 90-minute flight from Singapore, we were given a warm welcome and taken to our twin room. Bedecked with original antiquities and the all-important ceiling fan, we slumped onto our beds, hot and tired from the journey.
A back door from our room led to a small swimming pool and garden, which we subsequently realised were a godsend to cool off after a day of sightseeing in Penang.
For a good reason, the boutique heritage hotel Blue Mansion is extremely famous in Penang. It is steeped in history (which can be learnt during a tour) and is an exquisite escape from the frenetic pace of George Town.
Its indigo facade and internal turquoise courtyards whisk you back to another time, and as you sip your cocktail and lounge by one of the indoor ponds, it is hard to believe you are in the middle of a city.
First Evening in George Town
Ride a Trishaw through George Town
After a relaxing afternoon, we headed out into the balmy evening heat and hailed ourselves a trishaw to explore this Unesco world heritage site. Trishaws are everywhere in George Town and are an easy and cheap way of getting around town.
A frail-looking gentleman turned up, looking too old to peddle my adult son and me around. We checked he was ok with it, and through the few teeth he had left, he grinned and told us it wasn’t a problem.
We realised our hair-raising trishaw journey wasn’t the safest form of transport as he peddled us straight into oncoming cars, but it all added to the experience. Our elderly friend treated us to some of his favourite Malaysian songs as he peddled along, and it became quite a fun journey.
We headed to China House for our first meal in Penang, and it was one of the most delicious curries I have ever tasted. The mojito slush cocktails were pretty good as well!
George Town Street Art Trail
After our meal, we decided to wander back to our hotel and see if we could find any of the famous art murals along the way.
Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic painted a series of murals in George Town in 2012. He was instructed to revive and re-generate George Town with art murals, and the result was incredible.
Travellers flocked to the town to see his art bringing their money with them, and he became one of the world’s best-known street artists. You will see his artwork all across Penang’s city centre, in Muntri Street, Weld Quay, Lebuh Leith and Armenian Street, to mention a few places.
Out of the original nine pieces, usually depicting children, only one has faded, but many more have been added over the years. We loved finding our way around the streets and felt safe being out late at night searching for paintings.
Angie’s Top Tip – Look for the paintings at night rather than during the day; however, always be vigilant. Nobody was around when we took our photos, but during the day, the queues to take photos were lengthy.
Day Two – Morning in George Town
Visit the Clan Houses in George Town
Once we had finished breakfast, we decided to visit the clan houses for which George Town is famous. A clan house (Kongsi) is a meeting place, and there are five in George Town. Built for individuals from the same dialect group, family name or same area in China.
Khoo Kongsi is the grandest Chinese clan temple in the country. The temple’s elaborate and highly ornamented architecture was a mark of the dominant presence of the Chinese in Penang. We were in awe at the decoration of both the inside and out, although finding it was no mean feat.
We put the details into google maps and walked in circles for a while. The locals didn’t seem to know it either, and at one point, we ended up at a cemetery. It turns out that the locals know it by a different name Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi. We finally found its entrance quite by chance, inconspicuously hidden between two shops on Cannon Street.
Cannon Street got its English name as this was the place where the British fired a cannonball that went straight through one of the walls during colonial times in Penang.
Head to: 18 Cannon Square, George Town / Opening Hours: Daily from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. There is a small entrance fee.
Cheah Kongsi is another impressive clan house. Set in the block next to Khoo Kongsi, it resembles the grand temples and palaces usually seen in China. The ornate building is the only clan house in Penang that fuses Malay, Chinese and European design.
Cheah Kongsi also serves as a museum to exhibit the temple’s 183-year history. Original furniture and artefacts are on display in the temple’s smaller rooms. We were fascinated by the opium and games room, where members would spend hours smoking and playing mahjong.
Head to: 8, Lebuh Armenian, George Town / Opening Hours: Daily from 9:00 am – 5:00 pm. There is a small entrance fee.
Another Clan House – Yap Kongsi – is near Khoo Kongsi at Armenian Street and Cannon Street’s junction. It was built in 1924 and is dedicated to the god of prosperity. Although it is much smaller than the other two, it is still extremely elaborate inside.
Day Two – Afternoon in George Town
Visit the Clan Jetties
The Clan Jetties are situated in an area close to the Penang ferry terminal. Seven different clans reside here in stilted houses above the water. Interestingly, none of them pays any tax as they don’t live on the land.
The Lim, Chew, Tan and Yeoh jetties are the oldest, with the Koay, Lee and Mixed Surname appearing later. Some great shops line Chew Jetty, selling Malay food, handicrafts and clothes. It’s here you will find cheap harem pants – the recognising feature of travellers in Asia! No traveller should be without a pair, and I subsequently wore mine around the world until they fell apart!
With temperatures soaring, we headed back to the Blue Mansion with a stop for traditional egg custard tarts at the delectable pastry shop – Ming Xiang Tai.
Day Two – Evening in George Town
Explore Little India
This evening we headed out to explore Market Street, Penang Street and Queen Street, the area known as Little India. This neighbourhood has the best Indian restaurants in Penang and shops selling spices, saris, jewellery and handicrafts.
Sri Mahamariamman Hindu Temple is worth seeing and is the oldest Hindu Temple in Penang, dating back to 1833. It has colourful sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses and floral decorations covering its walls.
Angie’s Top Tip: When asking for directions to the temple on Queen Street, use the name Amman Temple, the more common name by which it is known.
We wandered around George Town’s roads during the evening, looking for more street art and found loads. Because the place is so compact, it is great not to have any particular agenda and just discover George Town’s hidden gems as you go.
We also noticed many interesting characters in George Town along the way.
A hippie that looked like he had arrived in the ’60s and never found his way home. A chef cooking in the dirtiest kitchen I had ever seen but had locals queuing around the block and a butcher happily chopping up chickens on the broken pavement with a cigarette hanging from his mouth. And they are just the few I am mentioning!
You could always choose to do a Penang food tour with a local instead of taking your chances!
Day Three – Morning in George Town
Visit Han Chiang Ancestral Temple
We stumbled across this ancient temple in Chukia Street quite by chance but were immediately drawn to it and headed inside to see what treasures it had to share. Han Jiang Ancestral Temple is the only Teochew-style temple in Georgetown and is dedicated to the Taoist God of the North. It serves as the hub for the Chinese Teochew culture in Penang.
Through the main entrance, you enter a large courtyard and then onto two temple buildings. There is heaps of information about the temple’s heritage, particularly the renovations in 2020. Make sure to add it to your Penang itinerary.
Visit Coffee on the Table
I have a confession to make, I am a coffee addict! Needless to say, when I found out about a coffee shop called Coffee on the Table that shaped animals out of foaming milk, I was there before you could say frothy cappuccino!
I asked for a foam cat – I could have chosen from a selection of animals – and I think you will agree that the result speaks for itself.
The cafe is at 164 Lebuh Pantai and also serves European breakfasts and lunches. Get there early as it is a popular place and the art of producing these foam sculptures takes a while.
Visit Hainan Temple
Only 3 minutes from our hotel, on Muntri Street, is Hainan Temple, also known as Thean Hou Kong Temple (Temple of the Heavenly Queen). It is also a Taoist Temple but more elaborate than Han Chiang Temple.
It is elaborately decorated inside with beautifully painted panels depicting Chinese warriors. The temple is dedicated to the deity Mazu who protected seafarers on their journey across the water from Hainan Island in China to Penang in Malaysia.
Join a Heritage Hotel Tour
Back at the hotel, we joined our afternoon pre-booked Blue Mansion Heritage Tour, free to guests with an entrance fee for non-residents. It gives an exciting insight into the history of the building and its past occupants. The hotel guest areas are private and not part of the tour.
George Town can get even hotter in the afternoon, and so after our tour, we choose to relax by the pool and make the most of the beautiful facilities of the Blue Mansion.
Day Three – Evening in George Town
Dine at Indigo in George Town Penang
Tonight was our last night in George Town, and we chose to indulge in a meal and some “last night” cocktails at the hotel’s fine dining Indigo Restaurant. It is acknowledged as one of the best restaurants in Penang, so a reservation needs to be made.
We discussed how we had enjoyed our 3-nights in Penang and came to the same conclusion that we had fallen in love with it.
Day Four – Morning in George Town
Explore Penang Hill and The Habitat
On our last morning, we took a 20-min taxi ride out of George Town to visit Penang Hill.
The Penang Hill Funicular took us to the top of Penang Hill, and the views of the surrounding area were stunning. However, the area is a bit tacky with fast food outlets and vendors selling souvenirs but don’t be put off.
We were there for The Habitat on Penang Hill. It is a beautiful place to immerse yourself in nature on a self-guided trail around the 130-million-year-old rainforest. Monkeys watched us enter their sanctuary while the vast flora and fauna were hard for us to comprehend. Plants, trees, insects, reptiles and mammals all call this corner of Penang their home, and it’s not hard to see why.
Angie’s Top Tip: Wear long trousers as there are a few insects that might like to feast on your delicate skin. We also saw a snake (although it had been killed on the road), so be vigilant. I love snakes, so I was sad not to see this fellow alive until I found out he was highly venomous!
Swings in the canopy and the 230m Langur Way Canopy Walk allowed us to free our inner child, while the Curtis Crest Tree Top Walk allowed us a hair-raising 360-degree panoramic view from the highest point. The Habitat is a must if visiting Penang – an entirely different experience from the hustle and bustle of George Town.
Sadly our time in George Town had come to an end but had surpassed all our expectations. We were so glad that we got the chance to explore its culture and heritage. The good news was that we were now heading to the luxurious beach resort of Batu Ferringhi. We would stay for 2-nights at the Shangri-La Rasa-Sayang Resort before flying to Australia to continue our round-the-world trip.
George Town is undoubtedly a diverse place which is what we love about it. Forget any smoke screens being put up for tourists. What you see is what you get, and that’s what makes the town so authentic and a bucket-list destination.
Other Great Things to do in Penang
Head to the Penang Botanical Gardens, established by Charles Curtis of Britain in 1884 and one of Asia’s finest gardens. It’s generally known as the Waterfall Gardens because of a little waterfall located within it. Watch the locals doing Tai Chi or Qi Gong exercises and families enjoying time together.
Explore the Kek Lok Si Temple, the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. The highly ornate temple is covered in 10,000 statues of Buddha and is an important pilgrimage centre for Buddhists.
Join a heritage tour of George Town and learn about its role during the colonial years in Malaysia.
Visit Penang’s oldest Chinese Taoist temple, The Goddess of Mercy Temple, on Pitt Street. It is used as a focal point for Chinese festivities and gives the visitor an insight into Chinese culture.
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