George Town, the vibrant capital of Penang Island in Malaysia, is renowned for its well-preserved colonial architecture, diverse culture, and delectable cuisine. For those pondering things to do in George Town, exploring the UNESCO World Heritage-listed old town with its historic shophouses, and visiting the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, a museum showcasing the local Peranakan culture, are top activities.
The city’s street art scene is another major attraction, with numerous murals and installations transforming the old town’s walls into a public gallery. Nearby, the Kek Lok Si Temple, one of the largest Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia, offers a spiritual retreat and panoramic views of the city.
Beyond its cultural and historical attractions, George Town is also famous for its street food, with hawker stalls serving up a variety of local delicacies such as Char Kway Teow and Assam Laksa. For those seeking the best places to visit in Malaysia, George Town’s blend of heritage, art, and culinary delights makes it a must-visit destination.
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Attractions & Things to Do in George Town, Malaysia
1. Kek Lok Si Temple
Kek Lok Si Temple stands as one of the largest Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia, a spiritual cornerstone in Penang with striking architecture and sacred statues, including a 36.5-meter-tall bronze statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin. The temple combines Chinese, Thai, and Burmese design elements, reflecting the diversity of the Buddhist community.
Travel Tip: Visit during Chinese New Year when the temple is adorned with thousands of beautiful lanterns, though be prepared for larger crowds.
2. Pinang Peranakan Mansion
The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is a museum dedicated to Penang’s Peranakan heritage, also known as Baba-Nyonya. The mansion is a restoration of a typical rich 19th-century Baba home and is filled with antiques and collectibles.
Travel Tip: Hire a guide within the mansion to get insightful stories behind the artifacts and the history of the Peranakan people.
3. George Town Street Art
George Town is world-renowned for its vibrant street art scene, which became a major draw after Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic was commissioned to create a series of murals. These artworks, often interactive, have become a symbol of the city.
Travel Tip: Consider renting a bicycle to explore the art at your own pace, and keep your camera ready for those unique photo opportunities with the interactive murals.
4. Fort Cornwallis
Fort Cornwallis is the largest standing fort in Malaysia and offers a glimpse into the colonial history of Penang. While much of the original structure remains intact, cannons, a chapel, prison cells, and the history of the fort make for an interesting visit.
Travel Tip: There is not a lot of shade available, so it’s best to visit in the early morning or late afternoon to avoid the midday sun.
5. Chew Jetty
Chew Jetty is part of the clan jetties of Penang, which are unique Chinese settlements that have been around since the 19th century. It’s a waterfront society on stilts, housing families that share a common surname.
Travel Tip: Be respectful as you walk around since this is a residential area. Visit during sunset for a particularly picturesque view.
6. Penang Hill
For a break from the city, take the funicular train up to Penang Hill where you’ll find cooler temperatures, colonial mansions, a mosque, a temple, and panoramic views of George Town.
Travel Tip: Visit on a weekday to avoid long queues for the funicular. Early morning or late afternoon trips can offer stunning sunrise or sunset vistas.
7. Penang Interactive Museum
This museum offers a fun and interactive experience for those interested in learning about Penang’s culture and history in an unconventional way. Visitors can engage with 3D artwork and exhibits that showcase the city’s heritage.
Travel Tip: This is a great spot for families and those looking to take playful photos, as the museum encourages visitor participation with the exhibits.
8. Little India and Chinatown
George Town’s Little India and Chinatown are bustling enclaves where you can experience the multicultural tapestry that is Malaysia. You’ll find an array of temples, mosques, and churches, alongside markets selling everything from traditional sarees to Chinese medicine.
Travel Tip: Try to visit during a festival like Deepavali or Chinese New Year to see these neighborhoods at their most vibrant.
9. Gurney Drive
Gurney Drive is a popular seafront promenade known for its hawker centers and eating stalls, offering a variety of local food. It’s a great place to sample Penang’s famous street food, such as char kway teow, Penang laksa, and satay.
Travel Tip: Go with an empty stomach in the evening when all the stalls are open and the area is lively with locals and tourists.
FAQ About Things to Do in George Town, Malaysia
What are the must-see historical sites in George Town?
George Town is renowned for its well-preserved colonial architecture. Don’t miss the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the old town, Fort Cornwallis, the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, and Khoo Kongsi, a striking Chinese clan house.
Can I explore George Town’s street art on foot?
Absolutely! George Town is famous for its vibrant street art scene. You can take a self-guided walking tour to see the murals, especially around Armenian Street and Muntri Street. Maps are available online or at local tourist information centers.
What are the best cultural experiences in George Town?
Experience the diverse culture of George Town by visiting the Blue Mansion, attending a traditional puppet show, or exploring the Little India and Chinatown districts. The city is also known for its variety of temples, mosques, and churches.
Are there any unique museums to visit in George Town?
Yes, George Town has several unique museums worth visiting. The Penang State Museum and Art Gallery offers insights into local history and culture, while the Camera Museum and the Sun Yat-sen Museum provide a more specialized glimpse into photography and the famous Chinese leader’s connection to Penang.
What local foods should I try in George Town?
George Town is a food lover’s paradise. Sample local delicacies such as Char Kway Teow, Assam Laksa, Nasi Kandar, and Cendol. Be sure to visit the hawker stalls at Gurney Drive for a variety of street food options.
Are there any nature-related activities in or around George Town?
Yes, you can visit the Penang Botanic Gardens or the Penang National Park, which offers jungle treks and a canopy walkway. For a more relaxed experience, the Tropical Spice Garden is a lush eco-tourism spot showcasing a variety of spices and herbs.
Can I find any night markets in George Town?
George Town comes alive at night with several night markets, or ‘Pasar Malam.’ The most famous one is on Chulia Street, offering an array of local street food, souvenirs, and live entertainment.
What workshops or classes can I take to learn more about Malaysian culture?
In George Town, you can find workshops for traditional arts such as batik painting, cooking classes for Malaysian cuisine, and cultural dance lessons. These activities provide a hands-on approach to understanding the local heritage.