Located in the northwest of Malaysia, the island of Penang was easily one of our favorite places we visited during our stay in this culturally diverse country. The heart of the island lies in Georgetown, a historically rich city with many things to do and see.
Give yourself at least 3 days here to explore the walkable town. Find all the best street art, relax at the cute cafes and take in the smells of the delicious street food!
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Top Things to Do and See in Penang
You’ll probably want to spend the majority of your time on Penang Island in Georgetown. This historically rich Malaysian town is filled with trendy cafes, quirky street art, delicious street food and so much more!
1. Go on a Street Art Scavenger Hunt
Georgetown is known for having some of the most creative and quirky street art in Malaysia. In addition to the street art that is painted on the walls, you can also find cartoon steed-rod sculptures that represent the city of Georgetown.
It wasn’t until the year 2012 that the first set of murals were painted. The city commissioned a Lithuanian-born artist named Ernest “Zach” Zacharevic to paint 6 pieces for an annual festival. These pieces were designed to represent the local people and way of life here in Penang.
Since then, new pieces are continually added and the city has become well known for their colorful works of art. The latest addition is Art Lane, located next to China House, which showcased many works of art along an entire street.
2. The Pop-Up Market at the Hin Bus Depot
I love a good pop-up market!
And really, who doesn’t?
You can always find unique items and it’s a great way to support local artists. Every Sunday, there is a pop-up market at the Hin Bus Depot. You’ll find beautiful works of street art, food trucks, outdoor markets and cafes. The pop-up market is open every Sunday from 11 AM to 5 PM.
Originally an old bus depot, this place was converted into a space where they host exhibitions, pop-up markets, and more. You can even contact them if you are looking for an event space to rent out.
The easiest way to reach the Hin Bus Depot is by taking a GRAB.
3. Penang Hill
The top of Penang Hill has unbeatable panoramic views of the city below. You can reach the top of Penang Hill by either hiking up or taking the funicular. The funicular is the steepest tunnel track in the world, with a distance of 1,996 meters, so I’d imagine the hike up would be quite a workout!
We took the funicular and paid 30 MYR ($7.17 USD) per person for a standard round-trip ticket. You can also purchase one-way tickets if you choose to hike up or down. Additionally, there is the option of a fast pass ticket but the cost is significantly higher at 80 MYR ($19.12 USD) per person for a round-trip ticket. The journey to the top takes about 4.5 minutes with beautiful views all the way to the top.
Once you’ve reached the top there are many things to see and do. Of course, the panoramic view is the most important part but you will also find a museum, the skywalk and a new addition called the Habitat.
This is a multi-level, oval shaped suspension bridge in the middle of the jungle. The additional activities will cost extra and a visit to the Habitat costs about $52 USD per person. There are many hiking trails around Penang Hill besides the one to the Upper Station.
The Funicular ticket counter at Penang Hill is open from 6:15am to 10pm and the last ride is at 11PM. We went around mid day and the line to board the Funicular took was about a 30 minute wait.
To reach the Lower Station at Penang Hill it is easiest to take a GRAB. We combined a trip to the Funicular with a visit to the Kek Lok Si Temple since they are nearby!
4. Kek Lok Si Temple
The Kek Lok Si Temple is one of the largest and most important Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia.
Built in 1891, this large temple complex has many beautiful archways, carvings and sculptures. As soon as you arrive you will see the prominent pagoda extending up towards the sky.
To enter the area by the pagoda you have to pay 2 MYR per person. Otherwise entrance to the Temple is free.
5. The Beaches
Due to Penang being an island, it is easy to find many nearby beaches to spend the day with your toes in the sand. Some of the popular beaches nearby are Batu Ferringhi, Monkey Beach and Pantai Kerachut. You can also visit Penang National Park if you have a few extra days and want to do some hiking in the outdoors. We didn’t go to the beaches in Penang as we had just come from Tioman Island.
6. Eat at the Street Markets
Eating at the street market food stalls in Penang is a must-do when you’re in the city. We were told multiple times that Penang is the food capital of Malaysia and it’s clear that they are very passionate about their Malay food. There are quite a few areas where you can find these food stalls around town so be sure to check them out.
One of the best parts of traveling is immersing yourself in the local culture and trying the cuisine definitely checks the box!
How to Get to Georgetown, Penang
› By Bus & Ferry
Taking the bus is very easy in Malaysia. You can either pre-purchase your bus tickets online at www.easybook.com or you can book when you arrive at the station. If you want to purchase at the station I would recommend checking online to make sure there are still seats available for the bus time that you want to take.
You can take the bus from either the Hentian Duta station in Kuala Lumpur or TBS. The station at Hentian Duta is closer than TBS if you are staying in KLCC. We took the bus from Hentian Duta and used an inexpensive GRAB to get us there.
The stop that you want to arrive in will be Penang Sentral Butterworth. This is where you will get off the bus and take a ferry to Penang Island. The bus should cost anywhere from 30-50 MYR depending on your departure location and time. The journey should take anywhere from 4-4.5 hours to reach the Penang Butterworth station.
Once you arrive at Penang Butterworth station, you will exit the bus and head inside the station. Go upstairs where you will see the signs pointing you in the direction of the ferry.
The ferry costs 1.20 MYR per person and takes about 20 minutes to reach Penang Island. The ferry leaves every 20-30 minutes unless you arrive late at night and then it leaves once every hour. You can also drive a car or a motorbike onto the ferry if you are driving yourself.
› By Flight
Penang International Airport is located conveniently just 20 km from the city center. There are inexpensive flights that you can take domestically and internationally to reach the island. Once you arrive at the airport it is easiest to get a GRAB to take you to Georgetown.
How to Get Around Penang
If you are staying in Georgetown, Penang you will find that it is a very walkable city. There is also the option of GRAB and a free shuttle bus that takes you around to most of the touristy spots in the city.
To go to the Funicular or the Kek Lok Si Temple I recommend taking a GRAB. It should cost you around 10-12 MYR each way.
In Georgetown they also have what is called a CAT (Central Area Transit). Essentially it is a free shuttle bus service that will pick you up and drop you off at all the major streets where the tourist attractions are. We never used this service because we loved walking around but it’s basically a free hop on-hop off bus which is pretty awesome!
Hotels and Restaurants in Georgetown, Penang
› Where to Eat
Penang is full of trendy cafes, local restaurants and delicious street food. In fact, it is one of the best places in Malaysia to eat street food. There are many different areas around town where you will find these food stalls set up, especially at night! The best ones are the Chulia Night Market which is located by Love Lane, Lebuh Kimberly, Cecil Street Market and Gurney Drive.
There are so many trendy and quaint cafes scattered all over Georgetown that you won’t have to look very far to find one. Some of our favorites were The Daily Dose Cafe, The Mugshot Cafe and Black Kettle.
› Where to Stay in Georgetown, Penang
For our time in Georgetown we chose to stay in an AirBnB. Our goal was finding a place with a kitchen so that we could make our own breakfast and dinners if we wanted.
The place we stayed was lovely and was located walking distance to all of the main spots. AirBnb is a great site to use if you are looking for a private room, entire apartment, unique space or just wanting to save some extra money!
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Have you been to Penang? Let me know in the comments what you loved or if it’s still on your bucket list!