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25 Best Tourist Attractions in Penang, Malaysia

25 Best Tourist Attractions in Penang, Malaysia

Love might be a strong word to describe how you feel about a place, but Penang deserves my affection and is one of my favourite places to visit in Malaysia.

I have been to Penang twice, and in this article, I share the 25 best things to see and do to help you have as good a time as I did in this must-visit Southeast Asian destination.

Penang is easily accessible because it is linked to Malaysia’s mainland by two bridges and has an airport. Its capital, the UNESCO-listed George Town, is bursting with historic and religious buildings, fabulous eateries, cultural hubs, and famous street art. These have taken George Town from obscurity to featuring high on any wisened traveller’s bucket list.

Drive a short way from the centre of town, and you can immerse yourself in the ancient rainforest at The Habitat or relax beside golden sands and calm waters in Batu Ferringhi. And let’s not forget Kek Lok Si Temple or the beautiful Penang Botanical Gardens. Penang is a diverse place to visit, establishing it firmly on the Southeast Asia tourist trail.

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#1 Explore the Street Art Trail in George Town

The street art in Penang is one of my favourite things about George Town. When I first saw it in 2018, I was blown away at how beautiful it was and loved that I could interact with the art thanks to things like motorbikes and chairs being part of some of the murals.

When I returned to Penang, it was great to retrace my steps and see the street art again. Sadly, I noticed a substantial deterioration of several pieces, where the paint had faded and peeled, or pieces of the mural’s brickwork had been taken away by tourists (yes, you read that correctly!).

Nevertheless, seeing Georgetown’s street art is one of the best things to do in Penang, and judging by the crowds waiting in line to take photographs, it remains a magnet to lure visitors to George Town.

To see my comparison images of the murals, please also read: Is Penang Street Art Still Worth Seeing?

wall mural in Penang of an indigenous Malaysian man and woman.

#2 Discover the Metal Rod Art Murals

While this art form is nowhere near as talked about as street art in Penang, metal rod art is worthy of a mention in this list of Penang attractions.

There are over 52 different wire art installations dotted around Georgetown depicting traditional Malaysian trades and scenes from history, all with a whimsical twist. Each comes with information about the piece. One of the most famous wire art pieces features Jimmy Choo, the renowned shoe designer who worked as an apprentice in George Town.

They are really fun to see, and you can learn a lot about Georgetown from them, so when you visit, see how many you can find.

If you love street art, you may also like to read about 13 Great Reasons Why Ipoh is Worth Visiting

Wire art formed into two adults and a boy.

#3 Get creative at Hin Bus Depot

It might seem strange to promote a bus depot; however, this one is unique. Creatives have reutilised this urban building to promote art and culture with sculptures, murals, a small market, and street food stalls. It gives off an East London meets Malaysia hipster vibe that will suit many visitors looking for alternative things to see in Penang.

#4 See the Historic Chinese Clan Houses

One of the most historic attractions in George Town is the five clan house temples (Kongsi). They were built as meeting places for individuals from the same dialect group, family name or area in China.

Two of Penang’s most important clan houses are Khoo Kongsi and Cheah Kongsi, and they should be included in your Penang itinerary. These ornate grand temples resemble those usually seen only in China.

Cheah Kongsi is a clan house museum that charts nearly 200 years of the temple’s history. Visitors can see original furniture and artefacts and learn how meetings and leisure time were conducted in the clan house.

Make sure you don’t miss the opium and games room where the banned substance was freely smoked.

Also read: The Perfect 3-night Penang Itinerary

#5 Stroll along the waterfront at Chew Jetty

Along Penang’s waterfront are the ancient clan jetties. Like the Kongsi meeting houses, different family groups lived on each jetty.

The most famous is Chew Jetty. While locals still live here, you can stroll the boardwalk and visit stalls selling clothes, food, and souvenirs. Hop on a boat tour of the waterfront or stop for something to eat. It is only a small jetty and won’t take up much of your time, but if you want to see how life on the water is in Penang, visit Chew Jetty.

Also read: Chew Jetty: What To See in Penang’s Historic Waterfront Village

colourful fishing boats in the water at the Chew Jetty .

#6 Discover Penang’s Temples

Like most Asian destinations, you don’t need to look far to stumble across a beautiful temple. In Penang, there are many. You are welcome to step inside these temples, but you must observe any rules, such as covering shoulders and legs or removing shoes.

Several of the main temples in Penang are Kek Lok Si, Goddess of Mercy, Thean Hou Kong, Wat Chaiyamangalaran and Dhammikarama Temple.

This is the Hainan Temple (Thean Hou Kong) on Muntri Street in George Town. Its carved facade is quite beautiful.

Penang temple with ornately carved grey stone facade.

#7 Tour the Blue Mansion – Cheong Fatt Tzu

The indigo-blue heritage mansion, once home to China’s first capitalist, is now a beautiful hotel, and I have been fortunate to stay there on both my trips to Penang. Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, to give it the correct name, is also open to the public for tours.

Wander around its interior and hear stories of life in Penang in the 19th century and how the mansion was built using the finest building supplies from China and, more surprisingly, Scotland. It’s an elaborate place you won’t want to miss if you are interested in stepping back in time and seeing what an authentic mansion in Penang looks like.

It also has a lovely cafe on its grounds called Mangga, which is open all day to guests and non-guests. During the day, you can enjoy cakes, coffee, and light lunches; in the evening, delightful dishes and cocktails are served in the outdoor garden. Live music is also available on certain nights.

You can read my Blue Mansion Review for details on staying in this heritage mansion.

reception area with ornate wooden carved room divider and historic pictures hanging from the walls.

#8 Visit the Peranakan Heritage Mansion

Penang is a Unesco town with many protected sights. In addition to the Blue Mansion, another superb example of a heritage house is the Pinang Peranakan Mansion.

Inside the bright green facade of the mansion, you will find an array of decadent furniture, artwork, and glassware, which will give you a glimpse of how the rich of Penang would have lived. It is a stark contrast to the more toned-down interior of the Blue Mansion, so it is interesting to see.

Tickets can be bought at the door for a self-guided tour, and you need around 45 minutes to one hour to see everything.

Read Next: Pinang Peranakan Mansion: A Tour of Penang’s Heritage Museum

#9 Follow the George Town Heritage Trail

Penang would be listed in the top five if there was competition for the most cultures and influences in one place. From when the British arrived in 1786 and took control of this jungle island, it has seen cultural, religious and architectural influences from the indigenous Malay and the British, Chinese and Indian communities that have made Penang their home.

Mosque in the centre of George Town, Penang.

For this reason, Little India, with its mosques, temples, Indian restaurants, and shops, is completely different from Chinatown, with its Chinese clan houses, jetties, and ornately decorated townhouses. Decadent hotels like The Prestige Hotel and Eastern and Oriental Hotel, Cornwallis Fort, and St George’s Church, the oldest Anglican Church in Southeast Asia, are the remaining evidence of colonial rule.

There are around 100 heritage properties to see in George Town, and while the trail can be done independently, if you join a tour, you will learn much more about each site visited.

Please click this booking link for details of the Penang Heritage Trail Tour.

#10 Enjoy the coffee scene in George Town

While Ipoh is famous for its white coffee, in Penang, it comes in flat whites, cortado, espresso, and cappuccinos made by baristas who wouldn’t look out of place in any European city. Some of the coffee we drank in Penang (and we drank a lot!) was some of the best we have tasted. So, if you enjoy taking your time over coffee in quirky cafes, you will love George Town, as it is full of them.

One in particular that I must mention is Norm Roastery at 13, Gat Lebuh Gereja, which looks like a full-on industrial coffee factory from the inside and produces the best flat whites!

Other coffee shops in George Town which deserve a mention are:

  • Ome by Spacebar Coffee | 1 Lorong Toh Aka
  • Coffee Affairs | 21 Lebuh Bishop
  • Lunabar | 12, Jalan Clove Hall
  • Macallum Connoisseurs | 1 Gat Lebuh Macallum
  • Le Petit Four | 310, Lebuh Pantai
  • Bean Sprout Cafe | 35 Pitt Street
Two cups of coffee with a pattern on the top of each one.

#11 Join a George Town street food tour

Penang has a reputation for being the top foodie destination in Malaysia. Of all the places I have visited in Malaysia, whenever I mention Penang, people grin and comment on how good the street food is in George Town.

The island is packed with places to eat traditional Malay, Indian, and Chinese dishes, but sometimes it can be overwhelming to find what you want (I speak from experience).

To make things easy, joining a street food tour with a local is a good idea. The guide can take you to all the best local cafes and hawker stalls to try Penang’s famous food. You can taste dishes you may not have tried before and get a brief run-down on the dish and its origins.

If joining a Penang street food tour sounds like something you would be interested in, please click on this link for more details – Penang Island Street Food Walking Tour.

#12 Enjoy a cake at China House

There’s only one place for cake in George Town: China House. It’s a tourist attraction in its own right due to its seemingly never-ending counter full of every type of cake you can think of, from red velvet and Victoria sponge to coffee, walnut, and carrot cake. The list is extensive, so you won’t want to miss visiting this cake emporium while you are in Penang. China House also serves up lunch and dinner, and there is an outdoor seating area accessible through a moon gate at the back of the property.

If China House has left you with a taste for more of George Town’s pastry offerings, head to Ming Xian Tai for the best egg custard tarts in Penang. Get to the shop before midday, or you will likely miss the chance to taste these delectable pastries as they sell quickly.

Find China House at 153 Beach Street and Ming Xiang Tai at 133 Jalan Burmah.

#13 Head to the top of the Komtar Observatory Tower

Visiting the Komtar Observatory Tower for a 360-degree birds-eye view of George Town and its coastline should be on any Penang to-do list. If you have a head for heights, walk out onto the glass bridge to see the streets below you!

#14 Have fun in one of George Town’s Museums

For a compact town, there are plenty of quirky museums, including the Upside Down Museum. Unsurprisingly, it is filled with everything that is upside down, and you enjoy the optical illusion of walking on the ceiling or down the stairs on your hands; it makes for some fun photographs.

For foodie lovers, the Wonderfood Museum introduces visitors to 100 giant-sized items of local Malay, all sculpted using Japanese food replication techniques. For photographers, the Asia Camera Museum covers the history of cameras and photography in Southeast Asia.

Numerous other museums feature ghosts, 3D interactive installations, Batik paintings, and even a 3D glow-in-the-dark museum, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

#15 Enjoy the nightlife on Love Lane

One of the streets in George Town that is most talked about is Love Lane, and for good reason. During the day, it is a sightseeing hotspot for tourists searching for street art and historic sights.

In the evening, the mood changes. Love Lane/Chulia Street, once the home of prostitutes and brothels, becomes a magnet for visitors (especially backpackers) looking to mingle with other travellers over a beer and some good stories. It’s a buzzy place, so if you want to experience the best of Penang’s nightlife, make sure you come to Love Lane.

Green Love Lane sign in Penang.
Wire art mural showing a hotelkeeper talking to a backpacker in Penang.

On the outskirts of George Town

George Town is not the only place to visit on the island of Penang. The island is bursting with cool things to do that are slightly outside of George Town, which you need to add to your Penang itinerary.

#16 Ride the funicular up Penang Hill

If you have time, ride the funicular up Penang Hill. The journey is thrilling as the train whizzes up the hill faster than expected. From the top, the awe-inspiring views over Penang are your reward. The hill is pretty touristy, but there are places to eat and entertainment hubs, with The Habitat as the main draw.

If you are a hiker, a trail from Penang Hill leads down to the Penang Botanical Gardens. Kek Lok Si Temple is also a stone’s throw away, so you can visit both in one day if you have the time.

funicular railway going up Penang Hill.

#17 Discover the rainforest at The Habitat

The Habitat is undoubtedly the best of all the Penang Hill attractions and one you have to see.

Set in a 130 million-year-old rainforest, The Habitat is a place to find peace and tranquillity in an otherwise manic location. Have fun on the giant swings, take in the views along the canopy walk, and keep an eye out for the wildlife that lives there. You might see monkeys or even a flying squirrel if you are lucky!

Book your entrance ticket to the Habitat on Penang Hill

#18 See the Penang Botanical Gardens and spot the monkeys

The Penang Botanical Gardens are free to enter and a quiet place to escape the hustle and bustle of George Town. Stroll along the pathways and immerse yourself in Malaysia’s indigenous flora and fauna. Watch out for the resident macaque monkey troop, who call this oasis home. I was lucky to see many babies with their mothers and enjoyed watching them interact (from a distance).

#19 Discover exotic flora in the Tropical Spice Garden

If you enjoyed visiting Penang’s Botanic Garden, which just so happens to be one of the best botanical gardens in Asia, then next on your list should be the Tropical Spice Garden. On eight acres of tended grounds, you can stroll around this beautiful setting and see some of the world’s most exotic plants and over 500 herbs and spices.

The Tropical Spice Garden has different sections, such as the Bamboo and Ornamental Gardens and the Spice Terraces. If you are a gardener or are travelling with children, this is one of the best educational places to visit in Penang to learn about these diverse and exotic variants.

Find the Tropical Spice Garden at Lot 595 Mukim, 2, Jalan Teluk Bahang, 11050 Teluk Bahang

#20 Take time to explore Kek Lok Si Temple

South-east Asia’s biggest and most important Buddhist temple is Kek Lok Si, built in 1891.

Take the funicular or the steps from the car park to the first terrace to discover beautiful ornate ceremony rooms, pagodas, statues, ponds and individual temples. Vibrant reds and greens mix with subtle pinks and ochres, making Kek Lok Si Temple a feast for the eyes.

Its crowning glory is the “Pagoda of 10,000 Buddhas”, which incorporates three cultures in one structure – Chinese, Thai, and Burmese.

You can visit the temple independently, but with a guide, you will learn much more about its history and its role for Buddhists in Malaysia and beyond.

Why not book to see Kek Lok Si as part of a Private Penang Tour?

Several colourful temples and pagoda at the Kek Lok Si Temple Complex.

#21 Bask on Batu Ferringhi Beach

Most people visiting Penang stay in George Town and then move on to other destinations in Malaysia. But why not spend a few days at Batu Ferringhi Beach? Plenty of resorts line the coast, catering to all budgets, and the town is full of restaurants. There’s also a night market during the high tourist season where you can pick up souvenirs.

I have stayed at the Shangri-La Rasa Sayang on both of my visits to Penang and have to say it is lovely to mix the chaotic vibe of George Town with the relaxing vibe of Batu Ferringhi.

Read Next: Shangri-La Rasa Sayang Resort Review: Beachfront Luxury in Penang

Beach in Batu Ferringhi.

#22 See the floating Tanjung Bungah Mosque

The ‘floating’ Tanjung Bungah Mosque is close to Tanjung Bungah Beach. At high tide, the sea covers the stilts supporting the mosque, giving the illusion that it is floating. You can enter inside at given times but must abide by dress requirements. Be sure to have your arms, legs, and heads covered.

Like other Malaysian ‘floating’ temples like the pink Putra Mosque in Kuala Lumpur and Masjid Bandaraya in Kota Kinabalu, this one is also beautiful.

You can find Tanjung Bungah Mosque at Jalan Batu Ferringhi, Tanjung Bungah, 11200 Tanjung Bungah.

#23 Hike Penang National Park

One of the hidden gems in Penang, the National Park (Taman Negara Pulau Pinang), is the smallest one in Malaysia. It’s approximately a 90-minute drive by car or on the 101 bus from George Town.

The park has plenty of trails to explore, and if you are feeling adventurous, you can wild-camp on the beach for free. The main hiking trail leads to Monkey Beach (and yes, there are monkeys there). It is a hard trek due to the humid climate, so it is not advisable if your fitness levels aren’t great.

#24 Discover the historic Fort Cornwallis

If you are still looking for something historic to see in Penang, visit Fort Cornwallis. The British built the original wooden fort in 1786 and rebuilt it from bricks in 1793 when news of war breaking out between England and France reached Penang.

In recent years, the fort has become a hit with Instagrammers who want to take photos of themselves, meaning queues can be long, even first thing in the morning. Even so, this is one of Penang’s most important historic colonial relics, so it is worth seeing. There is a small entry fee to go inside, where you will see a prison, cannons, and a drawbridge.

Fort Cornwallis is found at Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah, George Town.

#25 Release your inner child at ESCAPE Penang

Last on this list of things to do in Penang is one for visitors of all ages. Forget Typhoon Lagoon in Florida and head to ESCAPE Penang, winner of two Guinness Book of Records Awards for the world’s longest water slide, named accordingly “The Longest”, measuring 3,645 feet.

Other ESCAPE Penang features include a chair lift, lazy rivers, swimming pools, ziplines – the list is endless. So, if you are looking for a fun way to finish your trip, this is one of the activities in Penang that both kids and adults will love.

Please PIN for Future Travel to Penang

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Blue Mansion Penang Review: Cheong Fatt Tze

Shangri-La Rasa Sayang Resort Review: Beachfront Luxury in Penang

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