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Is Penang worth visiting? Here are 10 reasons we say YES!

Is Penang worth visiting? Here are 10 reasons we say YES!

In a part of the world filled with world-class cities, sights and destinations, it takes something special to stand out from the crowd in Southeast Asia and earn a place on your travel itinerary. So where should Penang sit on your list? Is Penang worth visiting and what should you see and do when you’re there?

With colonial architecture, national parks, tropical rainforests, wonderful people, multiple cultures living side by side, and one of the best UNESCO cities on the planet, Penang makes for an ideal destination. Plus, let’s not forget the fantastic array of all the things to do in Penang!

Need some convincing? Well here are ten reasons to persuade you to visit Penang.

⚠️ WARNING: continuing to read this article may lead to booking travel⚠️

Georgetown, Penang

Things to do in Penang

Wondering what to do in Penang? Whether you’re seeking adventure, or need to relax and unwind, here we provide a detailed guide to all the things to do in Penang, so that you can get the most out of your visit. From heritage landmarks to epic viewpoints, we’ve got you covered.

1. Mouth-wateringly good street food

From the beachfront stalls of Batu Ferringhi, to the food carts on the streets of George Town, you’re never too far from world-class street food in Penang. Long known as a foodie destination, whilst there has been an increase in high-end eateries in recent years, Penang still retains a diverse street food tradition, where you can enjoy Chinese, Malay, and Indian dishes cooked in the same style visitors have enjoyed for decades.

Penang street food

2. Excellent connections

Penang’s rise to international prominence began partly due to its strategic location, so it’s no surprise to learn the island is still well connected to the rest of Malaysia and beyond.

The international airport (due for another upgrade soon) is located around 40 minutes from George Town and accessible by either bus or Grab. Flight connections are 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.

Penang bridge at night

Penang is also well connected via road and rail links. The railway station is just across the water on the mainland, with multiple connections to Kuala Lumpur and Padang Besar (at the Thailand border). If you’re driving here (or getting the bus), the excellent E1 North-South Expressway makes the journey smooth and speedy.

3. Beautiful heritage buildings

Since 2008, George Town has been a UNESCO listed historic city, meaning its heritage buildings are both protected and recognised for their global significance. It’s easy to see why as you wander around the centre of George Town, where each street reveals something different about the multi-cultural heritage and history of this city. It’s no exaggeration to say the heritage buildings in Penang are world-class and showcase the trading history and multi-culturalism which made this city one of the most important in Asia.

Cheong Fatt Tze, The Blue Mansion

4. Feels safe

Walking around the island of Penang, you never feel threatened or uncomfortable. Indeed, the only time you might feel tested is when haggling with the wily shopkeepers! That’s not to say all areas are completely safe, especially after dark (e.g. on remote beaches), but you’ll feel as safe in Penang as anywhere in the world. It makes for a relaxing visit, even if you’re taking a late-evening stroll after one more round of street food.

5. Diverse cultures and religions

Remember to keep looking up; stop for a moment and take in the beauty and wonder of a Hindu temple. Cross the road or go around the corner and find yourself staring up at a Buddhist temple, or perhaps a church comes into view. Days are like that when you’re walking around Penang, the diverse history and texture of religions spring to life all around you.

Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang

Sometimes the best way to experience this tapestry is to wander around George Town, but the major sites like the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Sri Mahamariamman Temple and Kek Lok Si Temple are all wondrous places, worthy of a specific visit and an hour of your time.

6. Contrast between rainforest, beach and city

We’ve already mentioned the sights in George Town, but there’s much more to Penang than its heritage buildings. Take a short trip to the north of the island and you’ll find Batu Ferringhi, famous for its golden sands, beach resorts and night markets. Keep going a bit further along the coast to the northwest and you’ll find Penang National Park, with its own stretch of beach and waters for kayaking.

Batu Ferringhi Beach

Move inland from the national park and you’ll soon be enveloped by the tropical rainforest which covers most of the centre of the island. There’s some short hiking trails available (e.g. up to Muka Head Lighthouse) or you can signup for a longer trek with a guide and properly delve into the green centre.

7. Value for money

Whilst not perhaps as affordable as some neighbouring cities like Bangkok and Phnom Penh, Penang still represents excellent value for money for visitors from Singapore, Australia, the UK and the USA. Street food is amazing value (and quality) and you can find a one-of-a-kind boutique hotel for a fraction of what you’ll pay elsewhere.

With budget airline prices consistently low (especially outside of weekends and holidays), it’s always cheap to get here.

8. Accommodation options

Regardless of your preferred accommodation type, you’ll find somewhere to call home in Penang. Serviced apartments are big business on the island and make for excellent value if you don’t need to comforts of reception and room service. In return, you’ll get top-notch facilities like kitchenettes, en-suite bedroom, washing-machines, gyms, rooftop pools and more.

If you prefer something more homely, Penang has a great range of quirky boutique hotels and homestays, usually in the centre of George Town with their own unique ambience, histories and backstories.

Eastern & Oriental Hotel Penang

For simplicity and value, there’s plenty of budget hotels on the edge of the city, with no-frills service and rooms but easy on your budget.

9. Tropical weather

Penang does have a rainy season, so not every day is perfect. But even on a rainy day, you’re never stuck inside for long. And (until the novelty wears off), those epic rainstorms and skies are a sight to behold themselves.

For the rest of the time, you can expect plenty of blue skies and sunshine, with the temperature range sitting between 24 and 34 degrees year round. Penang doesn’t tend to suffer from the blistering heat of some cities, and the striking light of a Penang afternoon will stay with you forever.

10. Fascinating history

The events of the past two hundred and fifty years have shaped Penang, and it’s possible to explore and experience this history during your visit. From the colonial legacy at Fort Cornwallis, the War Museum detailing the tragic events of WWII, the Chinese clan houses, temples, street art and architecture, the deep history of the island is preserved and accessible to visitors.

Final thoughts on visiting Penang

We often say that it’s difficult to imagine anywhere on the planet which squeezes in so much into such a small patch of land. With the delights of colonial George Town, multi-cultural influences, religious diversity, beaches and rainforests, there’s enough on Penang to keep you (re)visiting for years.

With handy flights from most Southeast Asian hubs (and beyond), plus excellent road and rail links within Malaysia, it’s an easy place to reach, with so much waiting for you on arrival.