Beautiful beaches and fabulous food are two things that attract travellers to Penang. Penang is an island that is an attractive blend of old and new. From mansions and museums to temples and bazaars, there are plenty of things to do in Penang when you’ve had enough of lazing on a sandy Penang beach or around a resort pool.
An island that geographically belongs to Malaysia with a colonial past and a strong history as a trading port, Penang’s culture is a fusion of Chinese, Malay and Indian influences.
Wander around the UNESCO World Heritage George Town, the capital of Penang and learn about the island’s Baba-Nyonya culture. Wondering what to do in Penang? Here are 25 things to add to your Penang itinerary.
Penang points of interest
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.
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.
It’s a fun way to soak up the atmosphere and get into the swing of the city. And you can get to most Georgetown attractions without tiring yourself out.
3- Penang Hill attractions
Feeling energetic? Penang Hill is a popular spot on the Penang tourist map. You can climb the hill. There’s a path that passes through the Botanical Gardens leading to the top.
The hill is only 821m above sea level but 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.
Most of these are now guesthouses or restaurants.
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. The landscaped pathways wind pass serene gardens and trees.
The population of local monkeys will keep you entertained. Beware. They will not think twice about pinching your camera or any loose belongings.
Penang Botanical Gardens (George Town, Penang, +60 4227 0428)
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.
Fort Cornwallis (Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah, George Town, Pulau Pinang)
6- Put the Pinang Peranakan Museum on your Penang itinerary
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.
Pinang Peranakan Museum (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.
Even better still, book a room in the mansion or have a meal at Indigo Café. Some say this is the best place to stay in Penang for cultural immersion.
8- Discover Khoo Kongsi Mansion
Khoo Kongsi is a historic landmark and another Penang must see. The ancestral home of the Khoo clan, the ornate mansion is a chance to see how Penang’s prosperous traders lived.
The house was a central meeting point for the entire extended family.
Penang grew to become a wealthy state after 15th-century Chinese immigrants migrated there to make their fortunes.
Many were traders and some lived in mansions like Khoo Kongsi.
Khoo Kongsi (18 Cannon Square, George Town, Pulau Pinang, tel: +60 4261 4609).
9- 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 (Lorong Burma, Pulau Pinang, tel: +60 4226 9575)
10- 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 (they’re de-venomed but not defanged).
Most Malaysian children have hard about the folklore on how the vipers took shelter in the temple. 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 (Sungai Kluang, Bayan Lepas, Southwest Penang)
11- Visit Kek Lok Si Temple
Kek Lok Si Temple 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.
Kek Lok Si Temple (Ayer Itam, Pulau Pinang)
12- Explore Nattukotai Chettiar Temple
Being a multicultural island, Penang has many Hindu temples. 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. This temple of Lord Thandayutha is a calm oasis of worship.
Most impressive are the hundreds of wall paintings, which you can see at any time of the year. However, for an eye-popping cultural experience, visit during the Thaipusam festival in January.
Nattukotai Chettiar Temple (Lorong Air Terjun, Pulau Pinang)
13- See the sculptures in the Sri Mahamariamman Temple
The stunning sculptures of Gods and Goddesses are quite a feature in the Sri Mahamariamman Temple.
This Hindu temple is the oldest in Penang.
14- Stretch your mind at the Upside Down Museum
Penang has many cool museums that are fun to visit. There are plenty of quirky museums perfect for a rainy day.
If you only have time for one or two then tick The Upside Down Museum off your Penang museum list.
This museum is an interactive museum with fun experiences and plenty of quirky photo opportunities as well as delightful displays the kids will love.
Upside Down Museum (Kimberley Street, Pulau Pinang)
15- Whet your appetite in the Wonderful Food Museum
Foodies take note, while Penang’s gourmet delights are one of the main reasons the island attracts visitors from around the region, you’ll love discovering 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 (49 Lebuh Pantai, Georgetown, Pulau Pinang)
16- The Camera Museum and Asia Camera Museum
If you’re keen on photography, you’ll want to visit these museums. Check out the 2,000+ types of cameras on display. The interactive exhibits will walk you through the history and future of photography.
The Camera Museum (49 Lebuh Muntri, George Town, Pulau Pinang +60 4261 3649) and Asia Camera Museum (71 Lebuh Armenian, George Town, Pulau Pinang)
17- Look 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 (Bukit Batu Maung, Baya Lepas, Pulau Pinang)
Other Penang attractions
18- See rare species at the Butterfly Farm
The Butterfly Farm in Penang has more than 4,000 butterflies and over 120 species. It’s home to the Rajah Brooke and the endangered Yellow Birdwing butterfly.
The Butterfly Farm (Jalan Teluk Bahang, Teluk Bahang, Pulau Pinang, +60 4885 1253)
19- 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 modelled after the St. George’s Cathedral in Madras, which was designed in the Georgian-Palladian style originating in 67BC.
St George Church (1 Farquhar Street, Georgetown, Pulau Pinang)
20- Marvel at the Kapitan Keling Mosque
Kapitan Keling Mospeu’s Indo-Moorish structure puts it right up there as one of the most beautiful mosques in the country. The mosque was built by Indian Muslim settlers who served in the East India company regiment.
Kapital Keling Mosque (Cnr of Lebuh Buckingham and Lebuh Pitt, Pulau Pinang).
21- 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.
22- 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
23- Hunt for the best Penang Laksa
Penang is a haven for hawker food and there are plenty of food courts and local coffee shops where you can try all kinds of delicious temptations.
You certainly don’t need to eat at a top Penang restaurant to enjoy this dish.
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.
There’s a popular hawker stall in Pasar Ayer Itam that has been serving this dish since 1955.
24- Discover Penang Avatar Secret Garden
Fans of the movie Avatar will want to put this new attraction on their Penang itinerary.
The garden is an Avatar-inspired creation that is delighting visitors of all ages.
Penang Avatar Secret Garden (336 Jalan Tokong Thai Pak Koong, Tanjung Tokong, Tanjung Bungah, Pulau Pinang)
25- 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.
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.