Our favorite things to do in Georgetown and Penang
If you are planning a trip to Malaysia, Georgetown and Penang Island are a must-visit! In this article, we will share the best things to do in Penang for a 3-day itinerary. But if you have more time, stay longer and if you only have 2 days, pick your favorites.
Known for its rich history, delicious food, stunning beaches, and lush nature, Penang has something for everyone. This vibrant island located on the northwest coast of the country is a place you can’t miss during your trip to Malaysia.
Georgetown is the capital of Penang and one of our favorite towns in Malaysia. We love the countless colonial houses, colorful temples, street art, and the whole vibe of this town. But the food is honestly some of the best in the world. Grab a bite to eat at one of the many hawker stalls or visit one of the Indian, Malay, Chinese, Thai, or Western restaurants.
TIP: Make Georgetown, with it’s fantastic atmosphere and many amazing hotels and restaurants your base to discover the rest of Penang. Further down in this article, you can find some of our favorite places to stay and eat in Georgetown.
Don’t forget to go beyond Georgetown, however, because Penang has more to offer than its bustling capital.
First, we’ll cover the best things to do in Penang (and Georgetown) but read on for our perfect 3-day itinerary for Penang. At the end of this article, you can find out how to get to Penang, the best time to visit Penang, and our favorite places to eat and sleep in Georgetown. Let’s dive in!
Read more: 7-day itinerary Malaysia
Best things to do in Penang – Georgetown
Discover Armenian Street in Georgetown
Armenian Street is one of the most famous streets in Georgetown, Penang. Located near the city center, it was originally home to a small Armenian community which settled there in the early 19th century.
Even though there are not many Armenians left, the street still preserves much of the architecture and heritage from that time. Colorful buildings line the narrow street, some over 100 years old.
It is now a thriving commercial hub known for its shops, cafes, and galleries but you can also find street art, colorful decorations and so much more. Although touristy, it is still a fun street to wander around and observe everything that is happening around you.
Explore the Clan Jetties
Another must-see highlight in Georgetown, Penang is The Clan Jetties, which are protected by UNESCO. These traditional Chinese settlements are built on stilts over the water and offer a glimpse into the city’s past. You can wander through the narrow streets and see how locals have adapted to living on the water.
Each jetty belongs to a single-family clan. The Chew Jetty is the most famous one and is open to visitors so they can observe how things work on a Clan Jetty. There are souvenir shops, eateries, and cafes on the Chew Jetty.
TIP: If you want to visit Chew Jetty, come very early. During the day, it gets crowded and touristy here. If you’re looking for a more authentic feel and a nice photo stop, go to the Tan Jetty and enjoy the sunset or sunrise.
Visit the Kek Lok Si Temple
Kek Lok Si is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia and one of the most impressive in Southeast Asia. It was built between 1890 and 1905. The temple complex spreads across three levels up the hillside.
What makes Kek Lok Si so special is its architectural style which blends Chinese, Thai, and Burmese influences, with ornate wood carvings, multi-tiered pagodas, and colorful sculptures. It is a beautiful complex, so take your time to walk around and take in all the amazing details.
TIP: It is only a twenty-minute drive from Georgetown (take a Grab). Come early in the morning to avoid the crowds. There is no dress code, however, we advise you to always dress respectfully.
Discover Fort Cornwallis
Another historical landmark in Penang is Fort Cornwallis. Built by the British in the late 18th century, this fort was designed to protect the city from potential attacks. Today, visitors can explore the fort and learn about its history.
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Admire the Blue Mansion (Cheong Fatt Tz)
If you’re interested in architecture, be sure to visit the Blue Mansion. The Blue Mansion is one of the most beautiful mansions in the world and cannot be missed on your Penang itinerary.
This stunning building was built in the late 19th century by Cheong Fatt Tze, a poor trader who became one of the wealthiest men of his time. It is a great example of traditional Chinese architecture. The mansion has been beautifully restored and is now open to the public.
You can choose to do a guided tour (11am and 2pm, book ahead) or a self-paced audio guide you can download for free. We did the audio guide tour which is about 45 minutes. You need to bring your own gear (smartphone + headphones).
TIP: Want to have a unique experience? Stay at the Blue Mansion for one or more nights. You’ll feel as if you are living an oriental dream. We will absolutely stay here the next time we come to Georgetown.
Have fun with the street art in Georgetown
Georgetown’s street art scene has boomed in recent years, transforming once drab alleyways into vibrant open-air galleries. Notable artists from around the world like Ernest Zacharevic have left their mark, creating large murals depicting local life.
Read more: Discover amazing street art all over Malaysia.
Although still absolutely amazing, we noticed during our second visit in December ’23 that some murals are a bit neglected and starting to fade away. On the other hand, new ones consistently pop up everywhere.
You can choose to do a guided tour around the top spots and the historical center of Georgetown.. Or you can discover the street art by yourself. You can find a map with all the murals below.
Discover Little India
In Little India, you can explore the vibrant Indian community and experience their culture through food, clothing, and music. The area is also home to several Hindu temples, including the Sri Mahamariamman Temple.
We loved to just wander around the area, taking in all the colors, smells, and people. But most of all, we came here to enjoy the best Chicken Masala we ever had (and so incredibly cheap)!
Visit the Clan House – Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi
Close to the Armenian street, you will find one of the first clan houses in Penang. A Kongsi is a clan house where Chinese people from the same family can live or gather for events.
There are only five left now and you can visit the clan house of the Khoo family! It’s not touristy at all, so a great place to escape the crowds and learn more about this fascinating history.
The clan house was established by the Khoo clan from Sin Kang village in Hokkien province, China. It is known for its beautiful architecture, featuring carvings, ceramic figurines, and detailed artwork.
Taste the delicious street food
If you’re a foodie, Penang is the place to be. The street food in Penang is legendary, and you can find some of the best hawker stalls and food markets in the world here.
Penang food is a melting pot of cultures, with influences from Malay, Chinese, Indian, and Peranakan cuisines. The dishes are usually spicy, so be prepared for some heat! Some of the must-try dishes include:
- Char Kway Teow: tasty rice noodles with shrimp
- Assam Laksa: spicy noodle soup with fish
- Hokkien Mee: thick yellow noodles
- Nasi Kandar: steamed rice with a curry
- Chee Cheong Fun: steamed rice rolls
Do you want to go all in? Book a street food tour in Georgetown to taste the best food and find the hidden gems with a local.
Take the train up Penang Hill
Take a ride on the funicular train to the top of Penang Hill to enjoy breathtaking views of the island. You can also go for a hike on one of the many trails or visit the Monkey Cup Garden.
The Monkey Cup Garden is a garden specializing in pitcher plants. Most plants come from the jungles of Malaysia and Indonesia as well as from Madagascar and Brazil.
TIP: This is one of the most popular things to do in Penang, so either come very early or late in the afternoon/evening (as we did) to avoid the crowds.
Relax on the beach
You sometimes might forget, but Penang is an island and has some fantastic beaches. You can spend a day relaxing on the sandy shores of Batu Ferringhi, Tanjung Bungah, or Teluk Bahang. Don’t forget to catch the stunning sunset views!
If you want to go swimming you have to ask the locals about the jellyfish, since they are common here, depending on the season and the current.
TIP: Go to the Bora Bora beach bar on Batu Ferringhi Beach and settle down with a drink one hour before sunset.
Penang National Park
Penang National Park is a must-visit for adventure seekers and nature lovers. It is the smallest National Park in Malaysia (and even the world) but has lots of amazing plants and animals.
You can go jungle trekking, kayaking, or snorkeling. There is also a canopy walkway, 1 km from the main entrance. It is 250 m long and offers a good view of the treetops from a 15-meter-high suspended path.
Hike to Turtle Beach (where you can’t swim) and arrange a boat at the park entrance that takes you to Monkey Beach where you can swim.
This is the official website of the park. There is an entrance fee to get into the park. Take a bus or Grab as it is 22km from Georgetown. You can even camp at their campsite.
Suggested itinerary for 2 or 3 Days in Penang
This is what we would suggest if you stay for 3 days in Penang. However, read the section above with the best things to do in Penang and adapt our 3-day Penang itinerary to your liking. If you only have 2 days, we would definitely suggest the first two days of this itinerary.
Day 1 of your 3-day Penang itinerary: Explore Georgetown
On the first day of your Penang 3-day itinerary, explore Georgetown. Go for a delicious breakfast in the morning at one of the hip cafes and head to the Clan jetties afterward. The best time to visit those is in the morning, to avoid the many tourists and the heat.
After lunch, you can visit the Blue Mansion (free audio tour) and the Khoo Kongsi Clan House.
End your day by discovering the famous street art in the center of Georgetown and some shopping on Armenian Street, the most famous (but also touristy) street in Georgetown. Go for dinner at one of the delicious restaurants or grab some street food at the hawker night markets at New Lane or Chullia Street.
TIP: if your accommodation is in the center of Georgetown, we advise you to walk from one place to the other. The beauty of Georgetown lies in strolling around its streets and discovering something behind every corner. However, if it is too far or too hot, you can easily catch a Grab (which will only be $1 or $2).
Day 2 of your 3-day Penang itinerary: Penang Hill, Kek Lok Si temple and Little India
After your breakfast, take a grab to the Kek Lok Si temple, one of the most beautiful temples in Asia. After that, go to Penang Hill (which is close by) and take the cable cart up to the top. You’ll have some amazing views up there. Either have lunch there or go back with the grab to Georgetown and discover yet another fantastic restaurant.
In the afternoon or evening, discover some more of Georgetown. Go to the Little India neighborhood and enjoy the amazing atmosphere here. Hang around to grab a fantastic Indian dinner in the evening. Our favorite is chicken masala.
Day 3 of your 3-day Penang itinerary: Penang National Park and Batu Ferringhi
On the third day, we go hiking in Penang National Park, Malaysia’s smallest national park. Do a jungle walk to Turtle Beach and take a boat to Monkey Beach (or walk up there). It can get really hot during the day, so try to leave early in the morning.
After your hike, it’s time to relax a bit. Go back to Georgetown or hit the beach and end our day with a beautiful sunset at Batu Ferringgi.
best time to visit Penang
The best time to visit Penang is from December to March. During these months, the weather is dry and sunny, making it perfect for outdoor activities such as hiking, sightseeing, and exploring the beaches. The temperature is also a bit cooler during these months.
But, it is generally warm and humid throughout the year, with temperatures ranging from 25°C to 32°C. The rainy season is from April to October, with September and October being the wettest months.
However, if you don’t mind a little rain, visiting Penang during the off-season can have its advantages. The crowds are smaller, and the prices for accommodations and activities are generally lower.
How to get to Penang
The easiest (but most expensive) way to get to Penang is by flying into the Penang International Airport, which is located about 16 kilometers from George Town, the capital city of Penang.
However, many people come overland from the Ipoh, Cameron Highlands, Langkawi, or Kuala Lumpur.
From Kuala Lumpur to Penang
You can take the bus/train from Kuala Lumpur to Penang (book your bus before your journey as it gets full pretty quickly). Most buses will stop in Butterworth where you can take a ferry (every hour). The bus ride takes about 5 hours and they stop in the middle for a toilet break or to eat something. We traveled this way with the VIP bus and had a lot of space while it was still very affordable.
From Ipoh to Penang
If you want to travel from Ipoh to Penang, you can do so by bus to Butterworth and take the ferry or to Penang immediately. Another option is to take the train from Ipoh to Butterworth, which is also a very affordable way of travel.
From the Cameron Highlands to Penang
If you have visited the tea plantations and mountains of the Cameron Highlands, you can again take the bus to Penang. Or you could first travel to Ipoh and then go by bus or train from there.
From Langkawi to Penang
There used to be a ferry from Langkawi but after Covid, the ferry isn’t sailing anymore. Now, you can either fly or take the ferry to the mainland and book a bus or train from Alor Setar to Penang (or Butterworth).
Getting around Penang island
Renting a car
If you prefer to explore Penang at your own pace, you may want to consider renting a car. There are several car rental companies located at the Penang International Airport, and you can also book a car online in advance.
Public transport in Penang
Penang has a reliable and affordable public bus transport system. It is also possible to take a taxi but we highly recommend you use Grab.
Taxis in Penang are metered, but it’s always a good idea to confirm the fare with the driver before starting your journey. If you are using Grab you won’t have any issues as the fare is already set before you leave.
Best places to eat in Georgetown – Penang
One of the best things about the food scene in Penang is that it’s affordable. You can find delicious food at hawker stalls, food markets, and local restaurants for just a few dollars.
If you’re looking for a more upscale dining experience, there are plenty of hip restaurants, serving high-quality dishes. Here are some of our personal favorites.
- Du’an: a small restaurant close to Armenian Street with some delicious food. The service is excellent and the prices are good. You have to try the Ayam Rendang and the fried vegetables. For the kids, they have some very good fried fish fillets.
- The Maker: a beautiful coffee shop with probably the best croissants and cakes in town. It is located next to the Du’an restaurant and is also a great place to get some work done.
- Magan Pagi: our favorite local breakfast place, where you can have both Malaysian and Western breakfast at extremely affordable prices.
- Wheeler’s: here you can go for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You can choose between paninis, pizzas, pasta and salads.
- Holy Guacamole: a Mexican restaurant with tacos, burritos, and quesadillas on the menu.
- Teksen: a family-owned restaurant known for putting a fresh spin on traditional Chinese cuisine. One standout dish is their signature double-roasted pork, which is both crispy and tender.
- Jawi House: a shining example of how Georgetown’s diverse heritage comes together on the plate. Specializing in Nyonya cuisine with a distinct Jawi Peranakan influence, this restaurant stays true to the mixed traditions of its ancestors.
- Fruitmade Ice Cream: they serve delicious ice cream but you have to try their signature ice cream with dragon fruit!
Where to sleep in Penang
For budget travelers, hostels are a great option. They offer affordable accommodation and a chance to meet other travelers. Have a look at Hostelworld for the best hostels in Penang.
If you’re looking for something more upscale, there are plenty of beautiful hotels to choose from.
TIP: We advise you to stay in the centre of Georgetown, if possible, in one of the beautiful old colonial houses.
Here are some of our favorites:
- East Indies Mansion: this is where we stayed the first time, located in the center, and we loved it. It’s an old colonial building with beautiful rooms. We stayed in one of their rooms for 4 people. They have some beautiful places to sit and even a small kitchen.
- Blue Mansion: as mentioned before, you can stay in this marvelous old Chinese colonial house. It’s probably one of the most unique stays in Georgetown! You’ll be treated as a Chinese Mandarin when you stay here.
- Eastern & Oriental Hotel: although one of the bigger hotels, the whole feel is oriental and colonial. It’s a great option if you want to have the Eastern vibe while still having the commodities of a modern hotel.
- Campbell House: exceptional colonial boutique hotel close to Chinatown with very friendly staff and beautiful rooms taking you back to the oriental times from before.
- SAVV hotel: a modern hotel with a rooftop pool. It’s located next to the Clan Jetties.
- Hard Rock Hotel: if you’d rather stay by the beach, this hotel by Batu Ferringhi is a good choice. It has one of the most amazing swimming pools next to the beach.