Beautiful beaches and fabulous food are only two of the things that attract travellers to Penang. Penang island is an attractive blend of old and new, a mosaic of British Colonial mansions, Asian temples, museums and bazaars. With a list of culture, food, history and nature-based things to do in Penang, this is a destination to tick off your bucket list when planning a trip to Malaysia.
My father was born in Penang, my grandparents lived in Penang and when I lived in Kuala Lumpur as a child, we spent many school holidays in Penang. Although much has changed since I visited as a schoolgirl, Penang still holds fond memories of summer holidays by the sea for me.
Penang island is part of the state of Penang and has a colonial past and a history as a trading port. Penang’s culture is a fusion of Chinese, Malay and Indian influences. Its capital, George Town, is a UNESCO World Heritage city and one of the few places in Malaysia known for Baba and Nyonya (or Strait’s Chinese) culture. Planning a trip to Penang? Here’s what to do in Penang.
- 1 Penang Travel Guide
- 1.1 35 Incredible Things To Do In Penang
- 1.2 Penang Mansions
- 1.3 Penang temples
- 1.4 Museums in Penang
- 1.5 Other Penang attractions
- 1.5.1 19- See rare species at the Butterfly Farm
- 1.5.2 20- Admire the beauty of St George Church
- 1.5.3 21- Marvel at the Kapitan Keling Mosque
- 1.5.4 22- Explore the Heritage Trail in Little India
- 1.5.5 23- Photograph Penang Street Art
- 1.5.6 24- Hunt for the best Penang Laksa
- 1.5.7 25- Discover Penang Avatar Secret Garden
- 1.5.8 26- Stroll along Gurney Drive
- 1.5.9 27- Go Swimming on Batu Ferringhi Beach
- 1.5.10 28- Discover Nature in Penang National Park
- 1.5.11 29- Photograph UNESCO World Heritage Buildings
- 1.5.12 30- Taste Tropical Fruit
- 1.5.13 31- Attend a Service At The Penang Cathedral
- 1.5.14 32- Enjoy Penang At Night
- 1.5.15 33- Have Fun At The Top Penang
- 1.5.16 34- Watch The Sunset At The Floating Mosque
- 1.5.17 35- Go Shopping At The Batu Ferringhi Night Market
- 1.6 Where is Penang?
- 1.7 When is the best time to visit Penang?
Penang Travel Guide
35 Incredible Things To Do In Penang
1- Explore the streets of George Town
If you love colonial architecture, you’re sure to fall in love with the old part of George Town. Founded by Sir Francis Light in 1786, Penang was a trading post for the British East India Company. Georgetown attractions include the docks and buildings in the historic centre, which are visually pleasing.
There are lots of things to do in Georgetown Penang if you want to get organised. But sometimes, wandering through the heart of the old city with no particular agenda is one of the first things to do in Penang you should aim for.
It’s certainly an awe-inspiring walk through the past and a reminder of Penang’s noble history as a Southeast Asian trading post.
Once you’ve oriented yourself, it’s worth joining a guided walking tour for an in-depth peek into Penang’s past.
Looking for a tour? Here are some you might enjoy:
2- Take a tour of Penang on a trishaw
Penang’s weather can get rather steamy so allow someone else to do the hard work by carting you around the sights is a great idea.
Continue your Penang sightseeing on a trishaw, which is a cross between a tricycle and a rickshaw.
A Penang Heritage Trishaw Tour is a fun way to soak up the atmosphere, get into the swing of the city and you can get to most Georgetown attractions without tiring yourself out.
3- Explore Penang Hill attractions
Feeling energetic? Penang Hill is a popular spot on the Penang tourist map.
You can climb the hill as there’s a path that passes through the Botanical Gardens leading to the top.
The hill is only 821m above sea level but as Penang’s weather can be pretty steamy, most people take the cable car to the top where the views are definitely worth the trip.
Penang Hill was where the British lived in roomy colonial mansions but most of these are now guesthouses or restaurants. Book your tour here.
4- Wander around Penang Botanical Gardens
Another of the Penang Hill attractions is located at the bottom of the hill.
The Penang Botanical Gardens is a lovely spot for a wander along landscaped pathways that wind past lush garden beds and trees.
The population of local monkeys will keep you entertained but beware of cheeky monkeys as they will not think twice about pinching your camera or any loose belongings.
Penang Botanical Gardens is at George Town, Penang.
5- Step back into history at Fort Cornwallis
Another good historic Penang place to visit, Fort Cornwallis may be past its glory, but a quick stop at the fort is a reminder of the British rule over this region.
These days, all that remains of the legacy of the British is a fort wall, garden, a chapel, prison and barracks.
You’ll get a pretty good idea of how the British conquered and controlled the region.
Captain Sir Francis Light of the British East India Company arrived in Penang in 1786 and built the fort to defend the island, naming it after the Governor-General in Bengal.
Fort Cornwallis is at Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah, George Town, Pulau Pinang. You can visit the fort and other heritage sites by booking this heritage tour.
6- Visit The Pinang Peranakan Museum
The former home of a wealthy merchant, this 19th-century mansion is another fascinating spot for your Penang itinerary. It now houses the Pinang Peranakan Museum and is a showcase of the Peranakan culture.
The interior is decked out with furniture and all the trimmings that will give you an insight into the unique Baba and Nonya culture.
The museum has over 1000 antique and collectible items on display.
The Babas and Nyonyas (or Straits Chinese) are the descendants of Chinese immigrants, many of whom married local Malay women.
Pinang Peranakan Museum is at 29 Church Street, George Town, Pulau Pinang.
7- Explore Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
Better known around the world as the Blue Mansion, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion has a fascinating history and architecture.
The 1880s mansion combines Su Chow architecture with English furnishings and has lovely Art Nouveau stained glass windows.
Constructed with feng shui, the Chinese art of geomancy, in mind, the former home of wealthy individual Cheong Fatt Tze is now a boutique hotel.
So, for a true immersion into history, book a room in the mansion or have a meal at Indigo Café.
8- Discover Khoo Kongsi Mansion
The ancestral home of the Khoo clan, the ornate mansion is a chance to see how Penang’s prosperous traders lived.
Penang grew to become a wealthy state after 15th-century Chinese immigrants migrated there to make their fortunes.
The house was a central meeting point for the entire extended family, many were traders and some lived in mansions like Khoo Kongsi.
Khoo Kongsi is at 18 Cannon Square, George Town, Pulau Pinang. Visit this and other temples on a Georgetown Heritage Tour.
9- Visit Yap Temple
The clan temple of the Lum Yeong Tong Yap Kongsi is a mysterious temple honouring the Chinese god of prosperity.
Once the base of the Tua Pek Kong secret society, which was a society for the Straits Chinese, the temple’s decorative dragon roof is eye-catching, as is its stone walls and pillars.
Yap Temple is at the corner of Armenian Street and Cannon Street.
10- Explore Dharmikarama Burmese Temple
One of the largest and more impressive Buddhist temples in Penang, the Dharmikarama Burmese Temple pays homage to the Burmese population of Penang.
The temple’s colourful frescoes are eye-catching and it is possibly the best working Burmese temple outside Myanmar.
It’s opposite the Wat Chayamangkalaram Thai temple.
Both temples together are two interesting places in Penang to visit, especially as it’s convenient to compare the temples from two different cultures.
Dharmikarama Burmese Temple is at Lorong Burma, Penang.
11- Take a viper selfie at Snake Temple
Once known as the Temple of the Azure Cloud, Penang’s Snake Temple has a mystical aura.
The main attraction is the vipers, which have been de-venomed but not defanged.
Stories about how the vipers found their way to the temple are used to scare Malaysian children.
The temple was built in in the 19th century as a memorial to a Buddhist monk who was said to have had a bond with vipers in the forest.
Penang Snake Temple is at Sungai Kluang, Bayan Lepas, Southwest Penang.
12- Visit Kek Lok Si Temple
Kek Lok Si Temple (or Temple of Supreme Bliss) is one of the best spots for your temple selfies, with a lovely panorama of golden pagodas and rows of Buddha statues.
It’s one of the most serene Penang points of interest and worth spending a bit of time exploring.
The Buddhist temple was built in 1890 and has prayer halls, monasteries and landscaped gardens.
The Liberation Pond is a central feature and home to turtles, which are symbols of strength, longevity and freeing a turtle is a symbolic act of spiritual liberation.
Kek Lok Si Temple is at Ayer Itam, Pulau Pinang. This tour combines a visit to Kek Lok Si and Penang Hill.
13- Explore Nattukotai Chettiar Temple
Being a multicultural island, Penang has many Hindu temples but the most significant and impressive is the Nattukotai Chettiar temple.
The temple was built by the Chettiars who migrated to Penang from Tamil Nadu, a state of southern India.
A place to worship Lord Thandayutha, the temple is a calming escape with hundreds of wall paintings.
For an eye-popping cultural experience, visit during the Thaipusam festival in January.
Nattukotai Chettiar Temple is at Lorong Air Terjun, Pulau Pinang.
14- See the sculptures in the Sri Mahamariamman Temple
The oldest Hindu temple in Penang is in Little India among shops selling incense, saris and banana leaf curry houses.
The temple was constructed in 1833 temple to worship Hindu god, Lord Subramaniam, and started as a simple shrine for early Indian immigrants to Penang.
The glitzy south Indian Dravidian style architecture has an impressive entrance (gopuram) and a four-tiered tower decked out with colourful sculptures of soldiers, Hindu gods and goddesses.
A stunning statue of Lord Subramaniam is quite a feature at the Sri Mahamariamman Temple.
Sri Mahamariamman Temple is at Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, Lebuh Pitt.
Museums in Penang
15- Stretch your mind at the Upside Down Museum
Penang has many cool museums that are fun to visit and there’s a choice of quirky museums perfect for a rainy day.
If you only have time for one or two, tick The Upside Down Museum off your Penang museum list.
This museum is an interactive museum with fun experiences, photo opportunities and delightful displays the kids will love.
Upside Down Museum is at Kimberley Street, Penang.
16- Whet your appetite in the Wonderful Food Museum
The tasty food in Penang is one of the main reasons the island attracts visitors so it makes sense to learn more about Penang’s food history and stories behind Penang’s tasty dishes.
With displays of Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine, the Wonderfood Penang Museum is the place to learn everything you need to know about Penang food.
Wonderful Food Museum is at 49 Lebuh Pantai, Georgetown, Pulau Pinang.
17- The Camera Museum and Asia Camera Museum
If you’re keen on photography, you’ll want to visit these two museums to ogle at 2,000+ types of cameras on display.
The interactive exhibits will walk you through the history and future of photography.
The Camera Museum is at 49 Lebuh Muntri, George Town, and Asia Camera Museum is at 71 Lebuh Armenian, George Town.
18- Hunt for ghosts in the Penang War Museum
Housed in an abandoned WWII fort, the Penang War Museum tells the story of the island’s war history.
The fort fell to the Japanese in 1041, thus starting a gruesome period in Malaya’s history.
Set on a hill known as Bukit Hantu (or ghost hill), the fort is where many were beheaded.
Penang War Museum is at Bukit Batu Maung, Baya Lepas, Penang.
Other Penang attractions
19- See rare species at the Butterfly Farm
The Butterfly Farm in Penang has more than 4,000 butterflies and over 120 species of butterflies, insects and reptiles, including the Rajah Brooke and the endangered Yellow Birdwing butterfly.
The organisation has a research centre that provides educational talks and runs breeding programs.
The Butterfly Farm is at Jalan Teluk Bahang, Teluk Bahang, Penang.
20- Admire the beauty of St George Church
The oldest Anglican Church in South East Asia was built in 1818, bombed by the Japanese in 1041 and restored in 1946.
The original church was built by the East India Company and modelled after the St. George’s Cathedral in Madras in the Georgian-Palladian style originating in 67BC.
The St George’s Heritage Centre next to the church has a cafe and an art collection.
St George Church is at 1 Farquhar Street, Georgetown, Penang.
21- Marvel at the Kapitan Keling Mosque
The Indo-Moorish architecture of Kapitan Keling Mosque makes it one of the most beautiful and unique mosques in the country.
The mosque was built by Indian Muslim settlers who served in the East India company regiment during the 1700s.
It has dreamy domes and turrets, a madrassah where religious instruction is conducted and a minaret where the muezzin delivers his call to prayers.
Kapital Keling Mosque is at the corner of Lebuh Buckingham and Lebuh Pitt, Penang.
22- Explore the Heritage Trail in Little India
A walk through Little India’s heritage trail reveals vibrant and colourful shops and stalls.
The aromatic scents of spices waft through the air as foot-tapping Bollywood music blasts from the shophouses.
It’s enough to make anyone want to get up and dance through this section of Georgetown.
Little India covers an area around Queen Street, Chulia Street and Market Street in George Town.
23- Photograph Penang Street Art
There’s no need to hire a tour guide to see Penang’s street art.
The walls of Georgetown have been painted with impressive murals that you’re likely to stumble upon while walking around.
Many of the murals are the works of Lithuanian street artist Ernest Zacharevic and other international artists.
You can admire these fantastic works on Muntri Street, Weld Quay, Lebuh Leith, Armenian Street, Ah Quee Street. This tour may help.
24- Hunt for the best Penang Laksa
Penang is a haven for hawker food and there are many food courts and local coffee shops that dish up all kinds of delicious temptations.
Penang’s iconic dish is the Penang Laksa, which has a broth made of fish and tamarind served with chewy, translucent noodles.
This type of laksa is sweet, sour and spicy, with flavours of fresh pineapple, cucumber, red onion, torch ginger and shrimp molasses.
You certainly don’t need to eat at a top Penang restaurant to enjoy this dish as it’s served everywhere.
There’s a popular hawker stall in Pasar Ayer Itam that has been serving this dish since 1955.
Looking for a Penang food tour? Check these out:
25- Discover Penang Avatar Secret Garden
Fans of the movie Avatar will want to put this attraction on their Penang itinerary.
The garden is an Avatar-inspired creation that is delighting visitors of all ages and especially enchanting at night when the trees are lit up like a fairyland.
Penang Avatar Secret Garden is at 336 Jalan Tokong Thai Pak Koong, Tanjung Tokong, Tanjung Bungah, Pulau Pinang.
26- Stroll along Gurney Drive
If you have time for shopping in your Penang itinerary, take a stroll along Gurney Drive (also known as Persiaran Gurney among the locals).
The walk by the sea passes by shops, malls and along the way you can stop to sample local fare in one of the alfresco eateries.
Besides shopping, eating on Gurney Drive, you can even pop into a temple or two.
Wat Chaiya Mangkalaram and the Dharmikarama are on Gurney Drive, along with modern shopping malls Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon.
27- Go Swimming on Batu Ferringhi Beach
Penang’s main family beach area, Batu Ferringhi, is well set up for water sports.
The strip with beachfront hotels, seafood restaurants, local shops and night markets is a popular spot for local holidaymakers.
28- Discover Nature in Penang National Park
One of the smallest national parks in Malaysia and only 40 km from George Town, Penang National Park has some lovely beaches and forest treks.
Trek to Monkey Beach (Teluk Duyung) or Pantai Kerachut for pristine sand and clear water.
Along the way, while walking in the tropical forest, you might spot monkeys, lizards, butterflies and pythons.
The Canopy Walkway is a 250 m timber bridge suspended among the treetops (currently closed).
29- Photograph UNESCO World Heritage Buildings
The buildings of George Town and Melaka were listed on the UNESCO World Heritage list as Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca.
George Town’s buildings were influenced by the British during the 18th century and a mishmash of different architectural styles.
Highlights are City Hall, the Penang State Museum and Art Gallery, Fort Cornwallis along with Chinese and Indian temples.
Looking for a tour? Here are some you might enjoy:
30- Taste Tropical Fruit
There’s a tropical fruit farm near the Butterfly Farm, which has orchards with over 250 types of tropical fruit.
Taste durian, jackfruit, star fruit, jambu, rambutan, mangosteen and West Indian cherries.
31- Attend a Service At The Penang Cathedral
Built in 1786 when Captain Francis Light arrived in Penang, the Cathedral of the Assumption is Penang’s oldest church.
It was the first Roman Catholic church built by the British in Malaysia and houses a pipe-organ.
When the Japanese occupied Penang in 1941, the church was closed and when it re-opened in 1955, the Vatican conferred the status of cathedral upon the church.
The Cathedral of the Assumption is at Lebuh Farquhar, George Town.
32- Enjoy Penang At Night
As Penang’s weather can be rather steamy during the day, it makes sense to tour the city at night.
Not only are the attractions lit up like a fairyland, but you’ll be able to stay out of the blazing sun.
A night tour covering street art and other Instagram-worthy spots, historic George Town and views of the skyline will give you a good taste of Penang.
Finish the evening with a delicious meal at a local restaurant and a trishaw ride.
33- Have Fun At The Top Penang
The Top Penang is an indoor theme park with 18 attractions, restaurants, bars and shops high up in the sky.
Look down at Penang beneath your feet from the Rainbow Skywalk on the 68th floor of Komtar Tower and enjoy a cocktail at the Coco Cabana Bar & Bistro.
Watch a show in the 7D Discovery Motion Theatre or get an adrenalin rush on the Gravityz obstacle ropes course.
Komtar is at 1, Jalan Penang, George Town Penang.
34- Watch The Sunset At The Floating Mosque
35- Go Shopping At The Batu Ferringhi Night Market
Haggling with local vendors at a night market is a way of life in Penang and visiting a night market is one of the fun things to do there.
It’s a great way to shop for souvenirs to take home and taste local food.
Make sure you bargain hard as the first price is usually way too high.
Where is Penang?
Penang is an island on the northwest coast of Malaysia.
It’s a six-hour drive from the nation’s capital, Kuala Lumpur.
When is the best time to visit Penang?
The best time to visit Penang for active sightseeing is between November and January when Penang celebrates the festive season.
A less crowded time to visit Penang is between February and April while May to October is the wet season.