10 things to do in Penang, Malaysia

posted in: Asia, Beaches, Cities, Culture, Heritage, Malaysia, Nature, Tips | 71

Over the last few posts, I have been gushing about the 2nd largest city in Malaysia – Penang. Penang had me charmed from my first glimpse of it on Malindo Air and by the time I flew out, I was in love with the place. From its cultural experiences to its heritage legacies and its lovely beaches as well as the green rainforests, there is so much to this town that attracts a lot of travelers here. I am pretty sure that you too, would be adding it to your bucket list, especially after you see these top 10 things to do in Penang.

Things to do in Penang
Things to do in Penang

George Town in Penang, is the center of all activities in this state. With its UNESCO Heritage status, there is plenty of colorful history that you will love to see. However, it is the splash of modernity that adds that zing to the whole experience, along with its natural attractions as a Green Island. It is no wonder that with these myriad and diverse things to do, Penang is known as the Pearl of the Orient. Here are my top 10 things to do in Penang, ones that you cannot miss if you visit here.

10 Things to do in Penang

There are a few of these that I have shared earlier as detailed posts and thus, have restricted myself to a synopsis of the experience in this post. I have included the links to these detailed posts within the sections below. However, there are a few like my visit to the temples or my favorite Chew Jetty, that I have not shared earlier. You will find those out here. So, without much ado – let’s move on.

1) Get an adrenaline shot at Komtar Penang

Walking on the Glass Skywalk - one of the things to do in Penang
Walking on the Glass Skywalk – one of the things to do in Penang

The Komtar Penang is not just the tallest building in George Town. There is far more to it for here you can indulge in some shopping and loads of entertainment. Choose from a 7D theater to browsing an Aquarium or trying your luck through the Mirror Maze at The Top – the indoor amusement park here. However, whatever you do, do not miss walking on the glass at the Rainbow Skywalk on the 68th floor of this building. I promise you that despite being a hair-raising experience, it is going to a memorable one as you get that perfect birds-eye view of George Town. Don’t believe me, take a look at my own experience at the Rainbow Skywalk here. And yes, if you want to make it extra special – just book yourself a candlelight dinner on the rooftop with a view.

2) Walk along the Street of Harmony

Penang is one island that has been popular for centuries. It has a colorful history of being a British colony and having multi-ethnic culture. Besides the British, you had the Chinese, Indians and Armenians that made this island home. The best part about it is that all these cultures still co-exist and while maintaining their individuality, have blended into a unique culture of its own. The Harmony that lives here is evident as you walk this unique street in Penang – called the Street of Harmony.

St. George’s Church on the Street of Harmony, Penang

Simply put, this street is called so owing to four religious landmarks that lie on the same 800 m path, next to each other. You can start with St. George’s church at one end of the street and walk to its other end where you have the Kapitan Keling Mosque. Along the stretch, you can visit the Taoist Goddess of Mercy temple and the Indian Shri Mahamariamman temple. Don’t forget to check out the other delights along this Walk on the Street of Harmony.

3) Create your own Street Art Story in Penang

Playing with the Kids -Penang Street Arts
Playing with the Kids -Penang Street Arts

Remember I mentioned how the old UNESCO sites merge with the contemporary in George Town? Well, the Street Art in Penang, is a fine example of what I am talking. The splash of those Slice of Life scenes of Penang on those ancient walls is what allows you to create a unique story of your own. Check out my own Penang Street Art story here, to give you a start. Walking around is the best to capture if all for every lane has a unique Art Piece to share -whether of plain paint or with props or even made of Wrought Iron. And for those of you who love Instagram, you might just have found your paradise.

4) Visit Chew Jetty – one of the Things to do in Penang

Zooming in to the Chew Jetty atop Komtar Penang
Zooming in to the Chew Jetty atop Komtar Penang

If the Street Art tour of Penang was my most favorite activity here, then visiting the Chew Jetty is a close second. A unique dwelling on the stilts, this part of the town is the living heritage of Penang. The settlement is named after the clan of Chinese migrants who initially used this as a dock and later made it their home. Greeting me afront was a street art wall and a Chinese temple and as I walked those planks, the smiling faces of its residents.

Street Art Greeting you to Chew Jetty - One of the things to do in Penang
Street Art Greeting you to Chew Jetty – One of the things to do in Penang
The Chinese temple at the entrance of Chew Jetty
The Chinese temple at the entrance of Chew Jetty

The wooden lane that takes you amidst those homes, is lined with interesting restaurants and shops – from where I bought my Penang souvenirs. Friendly and cute dogs paw you as you bend to pet them and I think that was half the reason I fell in love with this place.

Playing with the dogs at Chew Jetty
Playing with the dogs at Chew Jetty

As you walk further away, you are treated to the sights of the other Jetty settlements. Quaint Chinese boats offer you ample photo opportunities as do the Taoist temple at the far end. This is where you can even sight the longest bridge of Malaysia – the one that connects Penang to the Malaysian Mainland.

Chinese boats at Chew Jetty
Chinese boats at Chew Jetty
The houses on Chew Jetty and the view beyond
The houses on Chew Jetty and the view beyond
The other Jetty settlements as seen from Chew Jetty
The other Jetty settlements as seen from Chew Jetty

The water village of Chew Jetty has an interesting history of early settlements, bitter rivalry and harmonious community living if you care to know. The best way is to befriend the natives here and get them talking. I almost did that till time ran out but if I were to ever get to Penang again, I sure am heading here.

5) Take a temple tour

Shri Mahamariamman temple, Street of Harmony
The main entrance of Shri Mahamariamman temple, Street of Harmony

Even if you are not religious, you are bound to love a temple tour in Penang.  The temples of Penang are largely Indian and Chinese. The variety that these two diverse cultures offer is what makes the entire temple hopping experience so enthralling. Largely owing to its colorful history and varied architecture. I have described a few in my earlier post on the Street of Harmony. And thus, to add to a little more variety – here are two more – the Waterfall temple and the Kek Lok Si temple.

The Waterfall temple in Penang

The Waterfall temple - One of the things to do in Penang
The Waterfall temple – One of the things to do in Penang

The actual name of the temple is Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani temple. Dedicated to the Hindu God – Lord Murugan, this is the largest temple for that God outside India. The original temple was built in the 1800s till the ground was taken away for the Penang Botanic Gardens. The shrine became a huge congregation point for the famous South Indian festival of Thaipusam. It was initially located at the base of a waterfall (as depicted in an ancient painting by a Britisher). However, today, the present day temple is a large Dravidian styled temple atop a hill.

The large Shiva Statue at the base of the Waterfall temple, Penang
The large Shiva Statue at the base of the Waterfall temple, Penang

A huge statue of Shiva greets you at the base of the hillock and this is where you begin your climb on foot. With over 500 steps and scintillating views at every landing, when I finally reached the entrance of the Waterfall temple, it felt as if it were a cleaner version of what I had back home. At the entrance was a grand doorway, that had two huge Dwarpalakas (Door Keepers) greeting you.

Inside the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani temple, Penang
Inside the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani temple, Penang

As you walk in towards the main shrine, I could not help drawing similarities to the Madurai Meenakshi temple and the Rameswaram Ramanathaswamy temple. One classic example is that of the painted ceilings.

View of Penang from the Waterfall temple
View of Penang from the Waterfall temple

There is plenty more to see and that would take another post but for now, I leave you with the stunning view of the George Town Cityscape.

Kek Lok Si temple in Penang

Kek Lok Si temple - one of the things to do in Penang
Kek Lok Si temple – one of the things to do in Penang

The Kek Lok Si is yet another hilltop temple in Penang, except for this one faces the sea and is a Buddhist temple. This temple visit was an incomplete one for when we reached here, it was closed. However, even the bits that we saw from outside, had us in awe. Greeting us at the entrance was the giant statue of Guanyin – the Goddess of Mercy.

Stone Stupas and Statues at Kek Lok Si temple, Penang
Stone Stupas and Statues at Kek Lok Si temple, Penang

The huge statue I believe is the largest in Asia and I am inclined to believe that, for I did feel like an absolute midget trying to capture it. Small stupas and stone statues of the Laughing Buddhas or Sumos in various poses lay scattered around the statue, giving us enough to capture in our memories.

Chinese Pavilion at Kek Lok Si Temple
Chinese Pavilion at Kek Lok Si Temple

A quaint Chinese pavilion with a refreshing fountain stood at the far end, next to a building with colorful doors and windows. They say that beyond those closed doors lies the actual highlight of the temple – a Pagoda that is a fusion of Thai, Chinese and Burmese architecture. Something that I could not see. And something that I wished I had tied a wishing ribbon for on that wishing tree.

Wishing Ribbons at Kek Lok Si Temple
Wishing Ribbons at Kek Lok Si Temple

6) Tour the Chinese Mansions in George Town

Take a peek into the Chinese way of life with a tour of the Pinang Peranakan mansion. It is truly, a fun way to discover the rituals of the Chinese – like how they design their homes, why they keep a basket of live hen and rooster below the newly weds’ bed and what went into the tiny feet ritual that the women followed? What is more is that you can not just hear the stories but see it as it was. The architecture and the interiors of the mansion are another reason to spend some time here.  Why, it is not every day that you can see such ornate things.

Main Courtyard of Pinang Peranakan Mansion, Penang
Main Courtyard of Pinang Peranakan Mansion, Penang

If you want to add some more to that, then also, visit the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion – the Blue Mansion that is now converted to a heritage hotel. While you may not stay there, you can always have some lunch or dinner to experience the Chinese way of life in Penang.

7) Water sports at Batu Ferringhi beach

Water Sports at Batu Ferringhi beach, One of the things to do in Penang
Water Sports at Batu Ferringhi beach, One of the things to do in Penang

With the stunning waters of the Straits of Malacca, there is no escaping the beaches of Penang. The Batu Ferringhi beach is not just pristine and gorgeous but also, offers a lot of beach resorts for you. With that, you can not just experience the sea but also, try out the water sports on the Island – including Parasailing, Water scooters, Banana Boat rides and more. The evenings on Batu Ferringhi get even more exciting as you get to try the night flea markets – complete with their colorful wares.

8) Check out Fort Cornwallis

Water Sports at Batu Ferringhi beach, One of the things to do in Penang
Fort Cornwalis – one of the things to do in Penang

Built by the British as a sea fort, this one now stands a little away from the shoreline. Today as you stand at near its famous cannon – Seri Rambai, you get to see the extended coastline of Penang, mostly got owing to Land reclamation.  Completing the view is the only lighthouse that Malaysia has shaped in the form of a ship mast.

The Ship Shaped Lighthouse in Penang
The Ship Shaped Lighthouse in Penang
Sri Rambai Cannon at Fort Cornwallis in Penang
Sri Rambai Cannon at Fort Cornwallis in Penang
View from Fort Cornwallis in Penang
View from Fort Cornwallis in Penang

With the 18th century fort, you find the old cells and a chapel that is no longer used. Several other cannons and an old gunpowder magazine room add to the story of the fort that never got conquered. While there isn’t much to see here, you could try the fine dining experience at the restaurant within its premises.

The old Chapel at Fort Cornwallis in Penang
The old Chapel at Fort Cornwallis in Penang

9) Go hiking in The Habitat Penang

The Habitat Penang Hill
The Habitat Penang Hill

The diversity of Penang does not limit itself to the heritage and culture of the place. Even the landscapes are equally different for on one hand you have the beaches and the other – rainforests. Take a ride on the funicular to experience the cool atmosphere of the Penang Hill. Visit The Habitat there to get a glimpse of the exotic endemic flora and fauna of Penang. A very refreshing experience that is coupled with a lovely view of Penang from the highest structure for public viewing – The Treetop Skywalk. And that is not all, for you have that date with the butterflies as you take a chance on the Giant Swing at The Habitat. Want to know more – check out my experience through this post.

10) Visit the unique Museums of Penang

Penang offers you a choice of contemporary museums which are far more than just passive adventures. Try out the Penang 3D Trick Art Museum for those crazy moments of fun and laughter with your friends. Not to mention the dozens of crazy pictures that you can click as a memory. Or if you like cute and cuddly, try the Teddyville Museum. The name says its all for this is all about mush and feeling loved.

Museums - One of the things to do in Penang
Museums – One of the things to do in Penang

If you are a foodie, then the Wonderfood Museum is an option and then for the culture lovers, there is the Batik Museum. I could not manage any of these but could only live them virtually through the article above. However, what I missed is something that you should not – Which is why – this does appear in my 10 things to do in Penang.

Bonus – Things to do in Penang

Well, there is plenty more that I can think of but here is one bonus tip on Things to do in Penang. Street Food and Shopping! I cannot remember the number of times my guide Gillian tried to entice us into the shopping bit. To be honest, if I had the time, I might have just gone crazy with the Batik and Pottery things here. And then, of course, there is always clothes and jewelry but well, some other time. For you guys, don’t forget to hit the malls or the Flea Markets across the city.

Malaysia Travel Guide to Food - Cold Pressed Fresh Juice
Cold Pressed Fresh Juice in Penang

As for Street Food, I could smell the delightful options as I walked the Streets of GeorgeTown. The only thing I could sample were the unique ice creams and cold pressed Fruit juices. And considering that I am not even a foodie, I so wish I could have tried some of the other stuff too. So, I am pretty sure if you love food, there is no missing this bit.

Well, that is the end of my list of Things to do in Penang. Tell me which of these go on top of your list if you plan a visit to Penang. And for those of you who have already been to Penang, which of these have you done? Come on, comment in and let me know!

10 Things to do in Penang

Getting Here:

  • On Visa requirements and other travel tips to Penang, I recommend reading my Malaysia Travel Guide.
  • You can get to Penang directly with flights like Malindo Air from different parts of the world or internal flights from any city in Malaysia.
  • You can even drive in here from the Malaysian Mainland.

Travel Tips:

  • Penang is generally, humid through the year and has a mild winter. It is best during the months of November to February.
  • The best way to tour George Town is by foot or Trishaw. Uber cabs are also, available here
  • Malaysian Ringgits is the currency that is widely accepted here
  • Cotton clothes are best suited for Penang
  • For other general tips for Malaysia, you can check the Malaysia Travel Guide Malaysia Travel Guide.

My visit to Penang was organized by Penang Tourism Board and Malindo Air.

 

 

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71 Responses

  1. Abigail Sinsona

    I’ve been to Penang once before but sadly I couldn’t try any of these. I only stayed for a night, but I hope I get the chance to explore more of the city. This list definitely made me want to go back!

    • Ami

      I do hope you go back to visiting Penang again.Am sure you will love it. Thanks for stopping by Abigail

  2. Nicole Anderson | Camping for Women

    I visited Penang a couple of years ago, as part of a greater Asian journey, and after reading your article I realize I need to go back as it was only a one day stop. The “Chinese Mansion ” looks really interesting and I would love to see it.
    Your article has opened my eyes as to how diverse Penang really is, and how many options there are in terms of things to see, and experiences that can be had. Lovely post.

  3. Lisa

    I’ve always wanted to visit Penang, and now I know what to do when I go! I love that street art and have seen it so many times. The temples are so interesting too, are they Buddhist? Love your photos, and hope to visit soon.

    • Ami

      Kek Lok Si is Buddhist but the Goddess of Mercy temple in George Town is Taoist. There is a lovely mix here and I hope you visit, Lisa.

  4. James

    You really did visit everywhere in Penang! I struggled with the heat when I was there and missed a couple of things. I didn’t know about the Chinese Mansions, I would have put these to the top of my list. I do agree with you on the Chew Jetty, this was very interesting and those ice lollies and ice creams they sold on them were very helpful for the heat!

  5. sdswank93

    I only got to visit Kuala Lampur when I was in Malaysia, and this post has me wishing I’d made it to Penang! I love visiting gardens when I’m visiting a new city so I’d love to have seen that. Guess I’ll have to go back someday to see the rest of the things I missed!

    • Ami

      It is truly one of the best I have seen – the street art in Penang. Very realistic and slice of life. Hope you visit. Thanks for stopping by

  6. RICKY TAN

    You missed the snake temple which is older then the top 10 things to do in Penang.
    You did not do your home works prior to your visit to Penang.

    • Ami

      There are tons of amazing things in Penang and while I admit I cannot cover it all in one trip, it is also, not possible to add everything to one post. Among the many things I did see in Penang, these are my top ten and I sure would love to recommend them to my readers. I am sure you too, have your own top ten. Thanks for stopping by Ricky.

  7. amindfultravellerblog

    I love the multiculturalism of these cities. It’s awesome how you can find 4 different places of worship in the same street. Acceptance and respect for other religions is demonstrated here. Love the street art you have displayed too. 😉

  8. Unta

    Unfortunately I visited Malaysia just for short time, had time only for KL. I love the street art in Penang.

    • Ami

      Aww..that is sad. But fingers crossed for the next time. I am glad you at least visited it virtually here.

  9. DomOnTheGo

    I recently visited Malaysia but didn’t spend anytime in Penang. Looks like it’s a cute town that offers a lot to do. I hope to go back and see more of the country – perhaps Penang will be on the list.

    • Ami

      You must, it is a unique place that you are bound to enjoy irrespective of the kind of traveler you are.

    • Ami

      Thank you Jyotirmoy. I have to say this but your support is much appreciated, with every post of mine. Thank you once again.

  10. Oana A. Nicolescu

    I visited just Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia and to be honest I didn’t like it at all but reading this post I realised there are other places I could love, such as Penang. I would love to visit Chew Jetty, go hiking in the Habitat Penang, take a temple tour and of course get lost on the streets.

    • Ami

      Penang is very different from the big cities – it still has the small city charm and yes, as you can see, lots more to do. Hope you get to visit there soon.

  11. Ryan Biddulph

    The place is so much fun Ami. Loved it. We lived there for a month in 2013. Brilliant scenery and those temples are so gorgeous and funky and different than any I have seen around the globe. Penang has an authentic flair to it.

    We’d often spend hot, humid afternoons at Queen’s Bay Mall to laze the day away in some sweet shopping spots. But we also hopped a bus to George Town to enjoy what Penang had to offer.

    National Park was a blast too.

    Thanks for sharing the rocking post.

    Ryan

    • Ami

      I envy you for having spent a month here. I definitely would like to do that too. The place needs to be further explored 🙂 Thanks for the lovely comment Ryan.

  12. symphonyoflove

    Haven’t been to Penang yet but it is definitely one destination I will look forward to visiting. Although I’m not a true blue foodie, trying out local food is what I love to do when I visit a new place.

    • Ami

      Dont worry about being a foodie or a non-foodie, There is just enough to keep you occupied either ways. Thanks for stopping by

  13. Shaily

    Penang looks incredibly beautiful with all those artistic temples and fascinating street art. Komtar Penang is something I would love to visit to get a panoramic view of the city. Chew Jetty also seems to be a great idea to spend a lovely evening. I would definitely love to indulge in a lot of shopping. Thanks for sharing this beautiful post. Added Penang to my bucket list. 🙂

    • Ami

      I am glad you liked Chew Jetty – that remains my favorite after the Street Art. You will definitely love Penang and I hope you can head there soon.

  14. soumna

    I didn’t know that there were so many places to visit in Penang. I am in Malaysia next month but unfortunately wouldn’t be able to spend time in Penang. It is interesting to know that there are 4 religious landmarks in such a short distance. I would love to try the Skywalk when I am there.

    • Ami

      Pity that you cannot head to Penang. But I do hope you can sometime later. It is a place that is so worth visiting.

  15. Mei

    I have never been to Penang (nor anywhere else in Malaysia in fact), but would definitely like to see the Guanyin statue in Kek Lok Si, and also visit the Chew Jetty. When you say that a Chinese clan settled there, do you know by chance if it was a clan from the Teo Chew people? I’m just guessing by the neighborhood’s name, and I’m asking because my family is also Teo Chew people. 🙂 I’ve heard that many people in Malaysia speak a dialect that is very close to Teo Chew (or one that Teo Chew people could understand, but not vice versa). So I’m kinda excited to hear it and see if I can understand it! hehe…

    • Ami

      I do know that the Chew Jetty is called so owing the Clan but I am afraid, I did not really dwell deep into the name. I hope you can visit and find out . I would also, love to know the same. 🙂

  16. Lord

    I have a friend who lives in Penang and she always says the food is worth checking out. So near, yet I haven’t been to this place! Those things you listed are definitely worth checking out!

  17. Yukti

    Wow there is so much things to see and do in Penang. It is so confusing what to do first. Views of lovey George Town from top of the building or Chinese Temples, colorful Chinese mansions of Penang are amazing. Chew Jetty is stunning with houses surrounded by water. I would surely try those cold pressed fruit juice. Beautiful shots of Penang.

    • Ami

      None are missable and I frankly am at a loss as to what to suggest first 🙂 But you got to start somewhere, so go with the birds eye view.

  18. 100cobbledroads

    When I started reading your post, I had no idea what would unfold. Penang is so delightful with generous doses of old-world charm, just the way I like my travels. I have picked my fave place in the city…it is George Town, just love it!

  19. stylishtravlr

    Penang seems so great! I was in Malaysia a month ago but I didn’t have enough time to explore more than just KL. I really love the street arts over there and those beautiful temples ! I hope I get to go back there one day and explore more!

  20. Divyakshi

    What a comprehensive post this is! you did so much girl!! All the pictures are so fantastic! Love the vibrance of the Chinese mansions, the thrill of Komtar Penan and the parasailing, the quirkiness of the street art and the architecture of the temples!! 🙂

  21. asoulwindow

    So you found furry friends in Penang also. My favorite pick from all the places you have listed is the Chinese mansion of George Town. What better way to get a sneek peek into Chinese lifestyle.

  22. Marvi

    I’ve been eyeing a visit to Malaysia for a while now and have been considering to visit KL.. After reading your post, it got me thinking that Penang sounds like a great option should I decide to book that flight! High on my list of places to visit will definitely be Fort Cornwallis, the Kek Lok Si Temple and the Waterfall Temple (that view you had was lovely!) It would be fun to check out the Street Art too! 🙂

  23. Sandy N Vyjay

    Penang is indeed a complete mosaic of different experiences. There seems to be everything here from nature to culture to adventure. My favourites in no particular order would be exploring its street art, being awed by the architecture of its temples, and indulging myself in water sports.

  24. Thu Nguyen

    After seeing those beautiful pictures and reading the fun stories in Malaysia, I really can’t wait to visit Malaysia no more. There are so many interesting places that impress me very much. Thanks for your sharing.

  25. SindhuMurthy

    The cityscape looks so beautiful in your pictures. The red roofs lined along parallel roads which seems to disappear into teh blue bay- the picture looks so perfect and that view is reason enough to get me visiting penang. That aside, I really love the look of the Chew town with the houses built on Stilts. Lovely writing Ami, as always 🙂

  26. Katchutravels (@Katchutravels)

    Very nice images Ami. Loved the evening shot from fort corwallis. Yellow halogen light with the receding day light was so nice to look at. Also the street art seems very photogenic with kids on walls next to slides and the other street art that you talk about. Such towns find a way to have a Mariamman temple and a Chinatown 🙂 somehow. Seen it in KL and Singapore so observing the connect.

    • Ami

      Thank you. That is so motivating to hear. The Mariamman temple is thanks to the people from Tamil Nadu who have made these cities their home. Their influence is evident even in their food. Chinatown for the same reasons. 🙂

    • Ami

      Ohh yes, you can never have enough of the street art here. It is so creative. Thanks for stopping by Bhushavali.

  27. Neha Verma

    You have presented a very balanced list here Ami. With the street arts, temples, high rise buildings and even some adventure sports covered in the list, I am sure even if we are traveling with people who have different tastes, there is something for everyone here. I was particularly impressed by the street arts of Malaysia that you captured,not going to miss them when there

    • Ami

      You can’t miss the Street art even if you want to. It is everywhere 🙂 But yes, you are right about Penang being versatile and that is what makes it so lovely. Cheers Neha.

Would love to know what you think