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How to get to Penang: your ultimate 2024 guide

How to get to Penang: your ultimate 2024 guide

The island of Penang lies a couple of kilometres off the northwest coast of Peninsular Malaysia and, dating back to its days as a key trading port, has always been well-served by domestic and international transport options. Nowadays, whether you’re flying in for a visit, passing through as part of an overlanding adventure, or just popping over from the mainland for a day in Penang, there’s plenty of different ways to get to Penang Island.

Trishaw in Penang

How to get around Penang

Penang an easy island to get around, helped by the fact that most of the sights are concentrated in the northern and eastern parts of the island. This post details how to get around Penang as well as the easiest way.

Flying in

Penang’s international airport is located 15km south of George Town in the suburb of Bayan Lepas. It has undergone several upgrades in its lifetime and is due another one soon, so keep an eye out for these improvements; the airport building itself is fine and functional but perhaps not as high-spec as you might expect.

Penang flight

The number of carriers serving the airport is increasing all the time, with flights to Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Taipei, Thailand, Singapore, plus several Malaysian cities including Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu, and Johor Bahru.

To get to the airport, it takes almost an hour on the 102 bus (which continues to Batu Ferringhi and Penang National Park). It’s easier (especially if you have a flight to catch) to take a Grab taxi which will take about 30 minutes each way, depending on traffic. In fact, Grab taxis are arguably the easiest way to get around Penang Island.

Riding the rails

Penang Island doesn’t have its own railway station as such, but it’s only a short hop across to the mainland town of Butterworth which is connected to the national network.

There are six daily trains to Kuala Lumpur which take just over four hours. It’s best to book ahead using a site like Baolau where you can see the timetables and seat availability (tickets cost RM60).

Heading north, the line runs to the Thai border at Padang Besar which takes just under two hours and costs RM12.

The days of travelling direct to Singapore or Bangkok from Butterworth are over unfortunately. The international sleeper used to be one of the great overland journeys but you’ll now need to change trains at either Gemas or Padang Besar and make an onward connection.

To reach Butterworth station from George Town you could take a taxi via the bridge but it’s much cheaper and quicker to take the hourly ferry which takes about fifteen minutes and drops you within walking distance of the station.

Road

There are now two bridges linking Penang Island and the mainland; Penang Bridge was opened to traffic in 1985 and, for almost 30 years, was the only connection until a second bridge (Sultan Abdul Halim Muadzam Shah Bridge, or less imaginatively called Penang Second Bridge), was opened in 2014.

Penang bridge at night

Penang Bridge serves the northern side of the island and is closer to George Town and Batu Ferringhi. The second bridge is better for access to the south of the island and the airport.

Regardless of which bridge you take, once on the mainland, you’ll have easy access to the E1 North-South Expressway which runs the length of the country, giving easy onward driving to your next destination.

Bus

Penang Island’s main bus station is at Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal, near to Penang Bridge. A Grab taxi to George Town takes about 20 minutes. There are also bus stations/pickup-points at the Komtar Centre and Prangin Mall.

If you’re on the mainland, there’s a main bus station on the mainland in Butterworth called Penang Sentral, but factor in the journey time and cost to George Town if that’s where you’re eventually heading.

Malaysia has an excellent, extensive, reliable and affordable bus network with connections from Penang to almost every major town and city in the country (and even to Singapore).

As a guide and example, fares include:

  • Kuala Lumpur: RM40, five hours
  • Malacca: RM50, seven hours
  • Cameron Highlands: RM40, four hours
  • Singapore: RM70, nine hours

We’d suggest using EasyBook where you can see the routes, times and availability. Book ahead if possible, especially during holidays and religious festivals.

Boat

120km to the north of Penang, you’ll find the beautiful tropical island of Langkawi. If you’re visiting this magical place and want to get to Penang, the good news is that a ferry makes the three hour journey twice a day, with tickets starting from RM60. Check out the Langkawi Ferry website for the latest information, fares, and schedule.

As mentioned in the railway section, you technically reach Penang Island via a boat/ferry if you arrive by train. Do take this option if possible, whilst no longer the historic car-ferry wooden boat from the last century, the speedy ferry is still a fun way to arrive, although keep in mind the ferry only runs every hour.

The final (and perhaps most expensive) option to get to Penang is on one of the many cruise ships which dock at the Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal, right in the heart of historic George Town. Most of the major cruise operators dock here, Royal Caribbean being one of them.