Over the years, we’ve heard so many good things about George Town, a small town in the island of Penang in Malaysia. Since it became UNESCO World Heritage listed, it seems to have become even more popular.
We were a little bit disappointed that when we visited Malaysia in 2006, we didn’t have enough time to go there. So, when we were looking for a quick getaway close to Singapore earlier this year, I didn’t have to think too hard. Penang it was!
We visited in October this year (2022) and we found it quiet. Things are obviously still a little slow in the post-Covid recovery. But we liked it that way as we don’t like crowds.
We had four days on the island of Penang, but we barely left George Town as we loved it so much! This UNESCO World Heritage site is worth exploring and I wish we’d had much longer to do it.
If you are thinking about a visit to Malaysia, put Penang and George Town on your list; you won’t regret it.
Here are the best things to do while there:
1- Wander the streets of George Town
My favourite thing to do in George Town was simply wandering around the streets of the old town. George Town was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 for good reasons. With beautiful colonial architecture and colourful old heritage buildings, it is a photographer’s paradise. I enjoyed clicking away and spent hours discovering the many streets of Georgetown. If, like me, you are a keen photographer, you will love the streets of George Town.
2- Check out the Street Art
Another fascinating thing to do while wandering the streets in George Town is to check out the various forms of street art. Murals and Steel Rod Sculptures are scattered all around town with many of them located around Lebuh Armenian and Lebuh Acheh.
Children on a Bicycle is the most famous street art in George Town, but there are many more that are less crowded. The best part is that, with some imagination, you can become part of the art!
3- Satisfy your taste buds with some delicious street food
A nice way to experience the Malaysian culture in George Town is by trying out some of the delicious Penang Street food. There is no shortage of Hawkers Centres or road-side stalls serving mouth-watering dishes at very cheap prices.
The food in Penang fuses flavours from Indian, Chinese, and Malaysian cooking. Some of the dishes you must-try are fried Roti Canai, Assam laksa soup, Hokkien Mee noodles, Char Koay Teow noodles and the Malaysian national dish, the Nasi Lemak, a rice dish.
4- Take a tour of the Cheong Fatt Tze Blue Mansion
Striking in indigo-blue, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion is one of the Orient’s best-preserved examples of a Chinese courtyard house. The old residence of powerful Nanyang business magnate Cheong Fatt Tze, has been turned into a guest house.
Consisting of 38 rooms, 5 granite-paved courtyards, 7 staircases and 220 windows, this mansion was built by master craftsmen from China during the 1880s. Similar craftsmen did the restoration in the 1990s, when the residence was finally sold after being in disrepair for many years. The house has been used in many movies, including Indochine (1992) and, more recently, Crazy Rich Asian (2018).
There are twice daily tours of the mansion. Tours are about 45 minutes long. Online reservations are recommended, and you can book directly on their website here. The entrance fee is RM25.
5- Visit the Pinang Peranakan Mansion
The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is a museum dedicated to Penang’s Peranakan heritage. The Peranakans (also known as Baba or Nyonya) are a culturally syncretic minority group dating back to the 17th century. They are descendants from early Chinese traders who married local women in Penang but also Singapore and Malacca.
The museum is housed within a stunningly restored green-hued mansion on Church Street, which once served as the residence and office of a 19th-century Chinese tycoon, Chung Keng Quee.
This recreation of a typical home of a rich Peranakan offers a glimpse into their opulent lifestyle and their many customs and traditions. There are over 1000 antique and collectibles of the era on display.
The entrance fee is RM20.00 and they conduct complimentary tours in Chinese and English throughout the day. If you’re lucky, as we were, you might arrive just as one is beginning.
6- Wander around the Clan Jetties
Right along the oceanfront in George Town, you will find various small Chinese settlements called Clan Jetties. The clan jetties are unique, tiny villages built on stilts over the water, with walkways interconnected by wooden planks. They are over a century old and named after different Chinese clans. Historically, only people with that surname were allowed to stay there.
There are only 6 jetties left in Penang today. The Chew Jetty is the most popular and the most touristy. A lot of it has been turned into souvenir shops, sweet shops, or snack shops. If you visit some of the other less touristy jetties, like the Tan Jetty, please be mindful that people live there and respect their privacy.
While you are exploring the jetties, be sure to keep going all the way to the Hean Boo Thean Kuan Yin Temple, a floating temple to the south of the jetties. It’s free to enter and you get a great view of the jetties and the Penang Straight.
7- Head to the Sunday Market at the Hin Bus Depot
If you happen to be in Georgetown on a weekend, don’t miss the Sunday Market at the Hin Bus Depot. This old bus depot has been converted into a hipster’s paradise with an art gallery, an artisan coffee shop, and some quirky street art in the yard.
On a Sunday, it’s home to a craft market, with stalls selling anything from jewellery, trinkets, clothes, and many types of food. You’ll find live music and performances as well. Grab a coffee or a cocktail and sit out on the grass for a great vibe.
8- Visit one of the many fun George Town Museums
Penang has many fun and interesting museums, showcasing the island’s history and culture.
The best ones to visit for history buffs are the Colonial Penang Museum or the Penang State Museum and Art Gallery
For some fun times with the kids (or even without kids!) spend some time at the following museums:
- Wonderfood Museum
- Penang 3D Trick Art Museum
- Upside Down Museum
- Ghost Museum
- Dark Mansion
9- Visit some of George Town’s Places of Worship
The diversity of Penang means that Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism and Taoism are all well-represented in the community. This means there are many places of worship scattered around the town. There are many mosques, temples, and churches in Penang. The ones worth a visit are:
Kuan Yin Temple (Goddess of Mercy Temple)
Sri Mahamariamman Temple
Kapitan Keling Mosque
10- Get a bird eye view of Penang from the top of Komtar
The top of the KOMTAR tower is the place to go for the best views in town. As soon as we stepped out of the elevator on the 65th floor, we could see awesome views of pretty much the entire Island, including the fishing village and the bridge connecting the mainland to the island.
The first stop at level 65 is the indoor observation deck where you can enjoy a mini glass skywalk (if you are brave enough). The second stop is on the 68th floor where there is the rainbow skywalk, an open-air walk which is just as scary!
11- Take a trip to Penang Hill
For another fabulous view of the island, head to Penang Hill. Our only advice is to book ahead for a Fastlane ticket.
The Penang Hill funicular is the longest and steepest in Asia. It takes you to the top of this former colonial hill station, where you’ll be able to take in some incredible views of the island. We’ve been told that around 4pm is the best time to head up.
George Town was so quiet when we visited that we didn’t think we’d have a problem to enter anywhere; and we didn’t, except one place, Penang Hill. We hadn’t booked ahead and were told that there was a three-hour queue to go up and a two-hour queue to return. We didn’t bother. The weather was less than amazing anyway, and we couldn’t waste all that time when we had so little time left on the island.
12- Visit Kek Lok Si temple
Kek Lok Si Temple is the biggest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and one of the main attractions on Penang Island. This beautiful temple boasts stunning views over George Town. The temple consists of prayer halls, a tall pagoda and bell towers and a 36.5-meter-high bronze statue of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy at the highest point of the temple. Admission is free, except for a small charge of RM2 each for entry into the pagoda and a charge of RM3 for the sky lift to the statue of Kuan Yin.
Kek Lok Si Temple is a 25-minute Grab ride from Georgetown or slightly longer on the bus.
13- Explore Little India
The most colourful part of George Town must be Little India! Once we entered, we felt transported back to India. The smell of spices, the blaring music, the colours, and all the people. It’s so busy!
Little India has many shops selling colourful saris and cheap jewellery and many restaurants where you can try delicious dishes from all over India.
14- Take a Trishaw ride
Trishaws are like rickshaws, and you’ll find trishaw drivers offering you rides all around George Town’s old town. Don’t forget to negotiate the price. It’s a good way to get around the town if you aren’t a fan of walking in the heat. It’s touristy of course, but it’s fun!
15- Treat yourself to a three-course meal of delicious Nyoma Cuisine inside an old heritage building
Eating street food is great but sometimes want to splurge a little. If that’s the case, head to the Kebaya Dining Room. The Kebaya Dining room is located inside the Seven Terrace Hotel which is a grand row of seven restored C19th Anglo Chinese terraces.
The menu at the Kebaya Dining room is classic Indo and Straits Chinese Nyonya dishes. The food was delicious and being in the dining room felt like stepping back in time to another world of bygone years. Dining at the Kebaya Dining Room was an experience, one to be savoured as much for the quality of the meal as the ambience of the surroundings.
You can make a reservation online here.
Where to stay in George Town?
The Cheong Fatt Tze Blue Mansion
As mentioned earlier, the Blue Mansion is also a guesthouse. So, if you can, book yourself a room there and access all the areas only accessible by guests. The Blue Mansion offers boutique accommodation, tastefully furnished with antique fittings. Featuring a library and free parking, it is located within Georgetown’s UNESCO district. Find the latest prices here.
Eastern & Oriental Hotel
Eastern & Oriental Hotel offer 19th century heritage accommodations in Penang. It features an outdoor swimming pool and guests can enjoy meals at the in-house restaurant or have a drink at the bar. Find the latest prices here.
Located in the capital city of Penang, Seven Terraces is within a 5-minute walk to the significant Goddess of Mercy Temple and the popular Penang Peranakan Mansion.
The property is just a 10-minute walk from Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Penang Museum, and the large Chinese clan house of Khoo Kongsi. Penang International Airport is a convenient 30-minute drive away. Find the latest prices here.
If none of those are suitable, use the search box below to find hotels by searching across all major accommodation websites.