Things to do in George Town, Penang
During our fourth visit to the beautiful country that is Malaysia, we finally made a stop off in Penang and we seriously regret not travelling to George Town sooner. Being only a 30-minute flight from the capital Kuala Lumpur, visiting George Town is a must. With so much to see and do in George Town, you’ll want to spend at least 3 days here to really immerse yourself into the mixed culture, or even just to try all of the world-class street food!
The UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site boasts a mix of cultures from around the world, Chinese, Indian, Malay and British influences can be seen around every corner. The well preserved Pre-WW11 architecture is the reason for it’s UNESCO title. With a visit to this hotspot, expect to be blown away by its charm, food and even more notably, for its unique street art that embodies the old town.
1. World Class Street art
These days, one of George Town’s top draws is its unique street art and murals. Not too long ago, 52 metal caricatures were added around the old town, showcasing the areas rich history. Even more eye-catching, are the unique wall murals, with some even having tangible items attached to the hand-painted art. The murals depict scenes of everyday life of the locals in George Town and really showcase the wonderful community. Consequently, we spent a great morning strolling around the bustling streets, although, we still couldn’t fit them all in. But, that’s okay with us, as it’s a great excuse to go back!
Top tip: To find the locations of the street art, download the “Georgetown Street Art” map here.
2. Take in the view from the top of Kek Lok Si
This hilltop Buddhist temple is the biggest of its kind in Malaysia. Set in a peaceful location, we enjoyed an early morning wander around the impressive grounds. You can listen to the bird’s chirp and the sound of peaceful music as you explore the many temples, halls and beautifully decorated statues. One of the main attractions is the seven-story Pagoda boasting great views of Penang island. You can also take a lift to the top of the hill to visit the impressive the Goddess of Mercy, a 30-metre bronze statue.
Price: Free to explore the grounds
RM 2 for the entrance to the pagoda
RM 3 for the lift to the top
3. Devour the Street food
The main thing you’ll notice as you stroll around the streets of George Town is certainly the vast amount of different street food on offer. With gastronomical delights from Malay, Indian, Muslim and Chinese descent, there’s something to suit everyone’s taste buds.
Our favourite places to eat include, New Lane food street and Mamasak food court, both a stone’s throw away from the Travelodge Georgetown Hotel.
The adjacent streets of Lebuh Chulia and Lebuh Kimberly are lined with multiple hawker eateries offering top Penang delights.
Our favourites include:
Wan Tan Mee – A noodle dish served dry or wet with added pork and veggies.
Popiah – A type of fresh spring roll.
Nasi Kandar – A dish of white rice served with a selection of curries/sauces.
Asam Laksa – A sweet, spicy and sour noodle soup.
The multitude of foodie choices will have you leaving Penang a couple of pounds heavier, we sure did!
4. Take in the Architecture
When you’re wandering the UNESCO protected Georgetown, the pre World War II buildings and unique architecture can make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. Although many of the buildings have now lost their colour, this only adds to the character of the town and brings out its distinct charm.
Top tip: To see some colourful restored buildings, check out The Nine Shophouses of Kek Chuan Road
5. Visit China House
Looking for the best cake in Penang? Look no further! China house offers the most delicious and varied sweet treats in their ‘longest cafe’ in Penang. After spending way too long eyeing up the daily 30 mouth-watering cakes, we explored the rest of the 3 heritage buildings that make up ‘China House’.
Cafes, bars, restaurants, shops and art galleries to name just a few can be found in this compound made up of 14 different spaces. The central courtyard is a great place to chill and relax in its peaceful location. We stumbled upon an art exhibition, which is not uncommon here and was even offered free drinks and nibbles. Score!
The ‘Canteen’ is a great place to go in the evening to enjoy live music and well-priced food.
More Information: China House
6. Hang out at Hin Bus Depot
Once an abandoned bus depot, Hin is now a community art space. The exhibit changes frequently to allow different artists to showcase their work.
We visited on a Sunday and we recommend you do too. Each Sunday they have a pop-up market that’s full of local crafters to culinary traders. This little pop-up market has enough trinket and souvenir stalls to make sure you leave George Town with a packed backpack! From handmade jewellery to beautiful clothes, from alluring ornaments to homemade cakes, this market sells just about anything to tickle your fancy.
While you lay back on the complimentary picnic blanket, eating your delicious Sunday lunch, you can enjoy the beat of the live musicians.
7. Blue Mansion Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
Cheong Fatt Tze (named after its founder) is a Chinese courtyard-style mansion, dating back to the late 19th century. It’s one of the most iconic boutique hotels in Malaysia and is the only one to have won the UNESCO Conservation & Heritage award. Famous for its indigo blue colour, stepping into this mansion is a unique experience.
You can choose to either spend a fabulous night in the hotel itself, take a tour around the building or as we did, grab a cocktail in the bar and see parts of the mansion yourself.
Price: Daily tours (Mon-Fri) 11 am, 2 pm and 3:30 pm and (Sat-Sun) 11 am and 2 pm cost RM 18 per adult and RM 9.50 for children aged 12 and under. The tour lasts 45 minutes.
Bar – Happy hour price average RM 25 per cocktail
Hotel – To book and see prices click here.
8. Escape from the heat of George Town in the shopping malls
Gurney Drive houses two of Penang’s best shopping malls, Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon. Both are great places to escape the heat of Penang and splash the cash! Not only are they super modern, but they also house everything from cinemas, luxury shops, restaurants and delicious food courts. Both malls are a stone’s throw away from our favourite hotel in the area G Hotel Kelawai.
You can also explore more of Gurney Drive to find delicious fresh seafood and more hawker eateries.
9. Wander the George Town Clan Jetties
Clan Jetties are a mixture of wooden homes along the water in George Town. Over 100 years ago, Chinese immigrants couldn’t afford housing on the land so instead built their homes here. In fact, each jetty is named after the family who built the village and some descendants still inhabit these floating villages today.
Strolling along the wooden boardwalks really is an interesting experience. Some of the homes along the most touristic ‘Chew Jetty’ have now been turned in to various shops where visitors can buy souvenirs, food and drink.
Top tip: Be respectful! We decided to not take any photos here as these are peoples homes.
Other things to do in George Town
Take in the view from Penang Hill
Although this attraction is located 6km west of George Town, we just had to include the view from Penang Hill. Offering the best panoramic lookout of the island, you can choose to hike to the top, take the funicular or ride the cable car.
Out of Nowhere – Bar
Everybody loves a great bar and everybody loves a great idea. Combine the two and you pretty much get ‘Out of Nowhere’. This speakeasy bar with a hidden entrance (via a refrigerator door) is the perfect place to go on a night out in Georgetown and enjoy some signature cocktails.
Pinang Peranakan Mansion
A green-hued marvellous mansion, this museum is dedicated to showcasing Penang Peranakan heritage and offers a look into the lifestyle and traditions. With 1000 antiques and collectables on display, this mansion is a place for history lovers and one of George Town’s top things to do.
Upside Down Museum
Colourful, artistic and fun as the name suggests is the Upside-down museum. Not so much a museum, but a fun interactive spot to take some cool selfies! Staff are on hand to take some fun photos on you in this peculiar upside down house.
Where to stay in George Town
Budget – House of Journey
A hip hostel located right in the heart of the best food in Georgetown.
Mid Price – Travelodge George Town
An affordable, clean and perfectly located hotel for you to easily explore.
To read our review of Travelodge George Town, you can click here.
Luxury – G Hotel Kelawai
An ultra-stylish 5-star hotel that exceeded all expectations. This hotel is for those wanting a luxurious stay in Georgetown.
To read our review of G Hotel Kelawai, you can click here.
For more places to stay in George Town you can check the latest prices here.
Heading to Malaysia? Check out our top tips.