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24 BEST things to do in Penang

24 BEST things to do in Penang

Penang might look like a small island from afar, but that doesn’t mean it’s short on things to do and places to see. In fact, it’s difficult to think of another place on earth which squeezes in this much variety. From dense tropical rainforest covering much of the island, to the glorious tropical views over the Straits of Malacca from Penang National Park, or the famous UNESCO city of George Town with its mix of cultures, people, architecture and religions, a visit to Penang offers more to the visitor than many other entire countries manage.

If that sounds intimidating, don’t worry. If you’re wondering what’s the best approach to visiting the island, we’ve created a list of the top things to do in Penang, helping you discover and understand this unique place.

butterfly at Entopia

Indoor activities in Penang

Wondering what to do on a rainy day in Penang or where to go to escape the heat? Here we have compiled the best indoor activities in Penang for you.

Is Penang worth visiting?

READ: 10 reasons to visit Penang

Most definitely. Although we appreciate that we’re perhaps a little biased 😉.

Penang really does pack and punch when it comes to diversity. There’s something here for everyone, whether its a 5* beach resort, the world-renowned food, the eclectic mix of religions, the fusion of cultures, or hiking in the rainforest.

If you found Kuala Lumper’s big city vibes too full on, you’ll appreciate the more relaxed vibes of Penang and the ease of getting around this compact island. However, this isn’t to say that downtown George Town isn’t buzzing, there a plenty of bars and nightlife to keep any night owls sated.

There is so much to do in Penang, that you can’t do it all in the one trip. Indeed, Penang is a destination that people find themselves returning to time and time again. So just pick a select few Penang activities for your first visit with the knowledge that you will return again someday.

When is the best time to visit Penang?

There is really no bad time to visit Penang. It’s going to be hot and sticky whenever you visit, with temperatures hovering around 30°C; this is the tropics after all! It’s a good idea to get out early or late in the day to avoid the mid-day heat, especially if you are planning on walking.

However, there is a rainy season in Penang, which is technically from September through to November. This isn’t to say that there is no rain during the other months of the year. Penang is in the tropics and so rain can be expected all year round. But historically, Penang experiences higher rainfall during the months of September, October, and November. Although, it’s considered quite a mild monsoon compared to other regions in the tropics and the start and end of the monsoon season can be rather blurred. Plus rainfall during this time is very unpredictable, and when it does rain, it’s does so in short, sharp bursts. Indeed, you may learn to love the rain’s cooling affect after a sweaty and sticky morning stroll. So it’s not really worthwhile avoiding Penang during the rainy season.

What you really do need to be aware of are the holidays. Being such a multicultural island means that there are a lot of holidays celebrated (Christmas, Chinese New Year, Ramadam, Deepavali, and lots in between). Click here to see if your planned visiting dates to Penang correspond with a public holiday. During these time you can expect George Town to busier and higher accommodation prices.

Short on time in Penang?

Whilst you could easily spend a week in Penang, and many travellers have been known to while away a couple of months or more, some visitors only have a day to explore the “Pearl of the Orient”.

So if you are short on time, and wondering what to do in Penang, check out our one day itinerary for Penang.

How to get around Penang

Penang is 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. The rest of the island, in the south and west, are beautiful and remote, but less visited.

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.

Grab taxis are the easiest way to get around, especially if you’re only visiting for a short time and want to spend your time sightseeing rather than travelling. Grab is often the most cost-effective way to move around, without the worry of haggling over fares and language problems. Check out our guide to using Grab in Penang.

There is a useful and convenient 101 bus service on the island which links the Jetty Bus Terminal with the town of Teluk Bahang (close to Penang National Park and Escape), via central George Town and Batu Ferringhi.

The buses run from 5:30am until midnight and cost between RM1.40 and RM4; make sure you have cash on you, ideally the correct change.

Map of things to do in Penang

Below, we suggest the best things to do in Penang for your visit. To help you gauge where things are located, here’s a map:

As you can see, the majority of Penang activities are concentrated around the north of the island, specifically George Town on the northeast coast and along the northern coastline. Very few Penang activities are in the southern half of the island, and so we recommend you base yourself in the north of the island for your visit. You may want to check out our top recommended hotels in Penang.

It’s worth checking out our top tips for visiting Penang before your visit so your are prepared to make the most of your time on the island.

aerial view of Penang Island

Top 10 tips for visiting Penang

We know that you will want to make the most out of your visit to Penang and it’s worthwhile noting the advice of travellers to Penang before you. We’ve travelled to Penang multiple times (our first visit was back in 2007) and now we live here. So here we share our top 10 tips for visiting Penang.

1. George Town

Let’s start with the easiest and cheapest Penang activity of them all; walking around George Town.

You’d be hard pressed to find any other city in the world which manages to pack so much into such a small area. The 3km2 of UNESCO protected land is home to many different cultures, languages, cuisines and architectural styles.

Different streets and areas were traditionally home to Chinese, Malay and Indian groups and whilst those boundaries are more fluid than they once were, you’ll still recognise distinct areas such as Chinatown and Little India.

Boy on a motorbike street art in George Town, Penang

The best part is wandering around at your own pace, stopping when a building or restaurant takes your fancy, but do try to include:

  • Street art; starting in 2012 international and local artists have started creating colourful murals on various walls around the city. Sometimes with an important message and at other times irreverent, the street art has become a George Town institution, with new examples popping up all the time. The most famous, ‘Boy on Motorbike’ by Ernest Zacharevic can be found on Armenian Street, but prepare to join a queue of fellow photographers. Take a look by all means, but there are plenty of other cool examples you’ll have to yourself.
  • Fort Cornwallis; the original fort in George Town built by the British, Fort Cornwallis’ place is the city is changing over the years, moving away from a tourist site and towards a meeting place for locals with cafes and exhibitions taking place. The colonial history is still tangible and worth a visit, try to visit early or late though as there isn’t much shade
  • UNESCO listed architecture; Love Lane, Armenian Street and the streets around show off the architecture which makes George Town famous, make sure to keep looking up as you walk, there is always something beautiful to see.

2. Penang Hill

Funicular service open every day 6.30am to 11.00pm (ticket counter opens 6:15am)
Click here for more information

One of the best ways to appreciate the beauty of Penang is to ride the funicular from Air Itam to the top of Penang Hill. It takes about fifteen minutes to reach the top where you’ll find a surprising amount of activities, sights and exhibitions waiting for you.

First and foremost, take some time to absorb the view of Penang Island, George Town and the mainland, linked to the island by two mega-bridges. If you’re in the mood for some exercise, try one of the three excellent walking trails which loop around the summit, giving you the chance to burn off breakfast and see the flora and fauna.

Penang Funicular

Over the past few years, the number of permanent exhibitions has increased on Penang Hill and there’s now enough to keep you occupied for a whole day including a fascinating and detailed gallery/museum at Penang Hill Gallery @Edgecliffe, children’s playgrounds and several interesting religious buildings including Penang Hill Mosque and Sri Aruloli Thirumurugan Hindu Temple. Also keep an eye out for colonial-era buildings like the Convalescent Bungalow, Police Station and Bellevue Hotel.

3. The Habitat

Open every day | Monday to Friday (9am to 7pm) | Saturday and Sunday (9am to 8pm)
Click here for more information

With so much of Penang Island covered in lush, tropical rainforest, no visit to the island is complete without at least one rainforest experience. The best place to immerse yourself is at the Habitat Penang Hill, a small but beautiful rainforest reserve where visitors can study flora and fauna, hike on a short 1.6km nature trails, enjoy a treetop and canopy walk, disappear off into a immersive VR world, or, for the more adventurous, try the zipline to witness the rainforest and Penang Hill from a whole new perspective.

The owners are extremely passionate about rainforests, the natural world, and the island of Penang, and their enthusiasm shines through at the park. With a strong emphasis on education as well as enjoyment, the park captures the beauty of Malaysia’s rainforests and gives you the chance to learn what makes them so special. If you want to round off your visit with some souvenirs or food, head to the Kommune; an eco-friendly initiative supporting local communities, with all items sourced from local farms and markets.

4. Escape

Click here to prebook tickets

Brace yourselves for an incredible adventure at Escape adventure park, although keep in mind it’s so much fun, it might spoil any future playground visits; this is no ordinary place. It’s probably the ultimate thing to do with kids in Penang.

Broadly split into two separate areas (Waterplay and AdventurePlay), ESCAPE Penang is almost guaranteed to be a huge hit with the whole family, but particularly the kids.

Usually having one Guinness World Record would be enough to make somewhere a must-visit destination, but ESCAPE raises the bar by having two world records; the world’s longest inner-tube / mat water slide (an easy to remember 1,111 metres long), and the world’s longest zip coaster (slightly longer at 1,135 metres). How often can you say you’ve ridden on two rides which hold a world-record in a single day?

Throughout the park you’ll find much else besides, including water slides, a chairlift (to take you back after riding the record holder), climbing frames, diving platforms. With over thirty activities, you’ll never be bored at ESCAPE and it’s best to set aside two days if you have the time and money.

Some of the activities have a height-restriction (usually of 120cm and above), you can check the website to see which activities it applies to, but rest-assured there’s enough to do for kids of all heights.

We’d really recommend the brilliant BASE CAMP overnight option, a chance to camp under the stars. It’s a magical experience with tents, toilets, parking and two day park entry included.

Located on the north-western tip of the island near Entopia, take a 101 or 102 bus from George Town (just over an hour), or jump in a Grab for a quicker (45 minutes) and easier journey.

Tickets can be booked via the website and are slightly cheaper if booked in advance. You can also upload a selfie as part of the buying process to speed up entry at the ticket gates.

Kids under three, and adults over sixty are free, otherwise the advance prices are RM142 for adults and RM95 for children. If you’d like to try the BASE CAMP option, the advance prices are RM192 for adults and RM128 for kids.

5. The Top at the Komtar

Rainbow Skywalk & Observatory Deck is open every day (10:00am to 10:00pm, although closes at 7pm on Tuesdays)

The tallest building in Penang, Komtar divides opinion after its controversial construction displaced residents and destroyed many heritage buildings in the 1970’s. Whatever your viewpoint, Komtar is instantly recognisable and has become a symbol of the changing face of Penang. For the visitor, the majority of the building (housing offices) is of little interest until you reach the top of the tower and find the fittingly named ‘The Top’.

An entertainment centre and indoor theme park, The Top has plenty to offer the visitor including a Skywalk, Dinosaur research centre, karting, children’s soft play, museum, aquarium, and much more besides.

Even if you don’t fancy anything too energetic, there’s always the Top View restaurant on the 68th Floor with views across Penang and beyond. It’s all great fun and good value, with the constant panoramic view giving this theme park a unique perspective.

6. Clan Jetties of Penang

Handily located a short walk from central George Town, the Clan Jetties offer a unique opportunity to see how the traditional Chinese communities live and work in Penang.

The wooden buildings built on stilts jut out into the water, still busy with activity as the local community goes about their day. Visit early in the morning when it’s at its quietest; whilst many inhabitants now have jobs in the city, you’ll see witness this fascinating traditional community come to life.

Later, leave time to stroll around, take photographs, do some shopping, visit temples, or enjoy a scrumptious meal at one of the many small, family-run restaurants.

7. Entopia

Click here to pre-book ticket
Open 9am to 6pm every day except Wednesday when Entopia is closed

It’s almost forty years since the Penang Butterfly Farm opened, and it’s still an enjoyable and informative place to visit, especially if you have an interest in these beautiful creatures.

There’s no shortage of activities to keep you all occupied, as you’d expect it’s heavily focused on butterflies but you’ll also get the chance to see other insects including silkworms and spiders.

butterfly at Entopia

Entopia is split neatly between two distinct areas, an indoor educational centre where you can learn all about the lifecycle and habitat of butterflies, and an outdoor garden area where you’ll get to experience the butterflies in their natural habitat. The indoor section is one of the best indoor activities in Penang and perfect for a rainy day or to escape the heat.

There are numerous walking trails with helpful, friendly staff on hand to answer your questions and provide extra information about the butterflies. The outdoor gardens are wheelchair and pushchair friendly, which is a welcome feature, not always commonplace in Malaysia.

Try to set aside half a day for your visit, with the park open from 9:00am to 6:00pm (closed on Wednesday). It’s quite an expensive activity (RM260/£45 for a family of two adults and two children), so make your own judgement if that’s good value based on your love of butterflies and other insects.

Admission prices are:

  • International adult/senior/child: RM75/55/55
  • Malaysians adult/senior/child: RM59/39/39

Entopia is located in the north-western tip of the island, quite close to ESCAPE (see below). The ever-useful 101 and 102 buses from George Town will drop you at Escape which is only a five minute walk from Entopia. The journey from central George Town should take just over one hour, depending on traffic. Alternatively, we’d recommend takin

8. Check out the street food

The term ‘street food’ doesn’t really do justice to the culinary magic cooked up on Penang’s streets. Long known as foodie heaven and the food capital of Malaysia, Penang is the place to try dishes such as Hokkien Mee, Curry Mee, Laksa, Nasi Lemak, and hundreds of others.

Penang street food

One of the best concentration of stalls is near Weld Quay but you’ll never be far from a small stand serving dishes, usually run by generations of the same family. Make sure you pick one which is busy and popular with locals and you’ll not go far wrong. Enjoy!

9. Penang National Park

In the northwest corner of the island, Penang National Park makes for an ideal day trip to experience the rainforest and spend a few hours relaxing on a tropical beach. Most visitors arrive from George Town (45 minutes) or Batu Ferringhi (20 minutes), which are easily accessible via a Grab taxi. If you’d prefer the bus, number 101 leaves from the Jetty in George Town (1 hour) and passes through Batu Ferringhi (35 minutes) before terminating at the National Park entrance.

kayaking at Penang National Park

At the park entrance, after an optional refuelling stop at the small restaurants, you have the choice of hiking to Monkey Beach, or taking a shared boat around the bay to the beach (RM70/100 for one-way/return). You can also mix and match by hiking one way and taking the boat the other but note that you’ll pay a National Park fee if you choose to hike. The park is open daily from 8am to 5pm.

Once you reach the beach, you have the option of sunbathing, kayaking, or taking a recommended hike up to the lighthouse at Muka Head which takes about one hour and reveals stunning views of Penang Island and the Straits of Malacca. If you’re in the mood for a more relaxing visit, there’s food and drinks (including beer) available at Tiger Monkey Bar and Leisure where the friendly owners are only too happy to serve you and let you relax. It’s from here that you hire the kayaks.

10. Batu Ferringhi Beach and night market

Penang isn’t particularly known as a beach holiday destination, but the closest it comes is at Batu Ferringhi with its long stretch of sandy beach, large resorts, restaurants, and entertainment options. There’s plenty of water sports on offer and the beach is perfect for a stroll, although not always conducive for swimming with some jellyfish lurking.

Batu Ferringhi Beach

In the evening, wander out from your hotel to find the night market, a collection of stalls selling locally-produced crafts and clothing, plus numerous food stalls offering all the delightful food Penang is famous for. It’s a hectic and fun way to spend an evening, even if you’re just here to wander and look around.

The location of Batu Ferringhi is its chief selling point, with the Straits of Malacca stretching off into the distance, often clear blue sky, and pristine rainforest creeping up behind you, it’s a glorious place to relax for a few days.

11. Cheong Fatt Tze, The Blue Mansion

Click here for more information
Two tours daily at 11am and 2pm, or book a self-guided audio tour

Painted in distinct indigo-blue, Cheong Fatt Tze (more commonly known as ‘The Blue Mansion’) is an impressive Chinese historical mansion in George Town.

Built at the end of the 19th century by the merchant Cheong Fatt Tze, who was once regarded as the richest person in Malaya, this mansion is now a boutique hotel (and one of the best hotels in Penang) and also offers tours for visitors to marvel at the architecture and understand more about Chinese history on the island.

Cheong Fatt Tze, The Blue Mansion

There are two tours daily at 11am and 2pm, lasting 45 minutes. Numbers are capped at 35 and the tours are very popular, so pre-booking is advised.

Alternatively, you can also book online for a self-guided audio tour. You are able to enter the mansion between 11am and 6pm, although there is a maximum of 12 per day, so again, pre-booking is advised. This is the much more relaxed way to enjoy a tour of the Blue Mansion, but unfortunately there is no guide to ask questions to. Ensure you download the tour app onto your smartphone before your visit (a link is provided when you book your ticket) and that you have earphones to connect and listen.

12. Tropical Spice Garden

If you’ve been enjoying the food in Penang, take some time to visit the Tropical Spice Garden to learn and sample some of the spices (and herbs) which are used to give your dish that incredible flavour.

Located a few hundred metres to the west of Batu Ferringhi, it’s well-placed for a visit if you’re staying at a resort, or heading towards Escape or Penang National Park.

With the opportunity to explore the gardens, take part in a cooking class, visit a museum, or an educational class for adults and kids, it makes for a great visit.

Open daily from 9:00am to 4:30pm (until 6:00pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday), the Spice Garden can be reached by Grab taxi or 101/102 Rapid Bus.

Tickets for adult/senior/child cost RM28/20/15 and can be booked via the website. A free audio tour is included in the price.

13. Fort Cornwallis

Open every day (9.00am to 7.00pm)

Much of Penang’s history is influenced by the arrival of the British in the 18th century and it was at Fort Cornwallis that Francis Light first landed. A star-shaped fort was built here and still stands today, a relic from a bygone era, but still an important attraction on the island.

The site looks much the same as it did back in the 1780’s, with cannon still expectantly pointing out to sea, thick walls to explore, a chapel, storerooms, and statue of Francis Light.

The information signs don’t give much away so it’s more a place to stroll around and soak in the remaining colonial atmosphere. The historical aspects aren’t quite as well maintained as they once were but nowadays you’re also likely to find an temporary exhibition or cultural performance taking place in the grounds.

14. Floating Mosque

Open every day (5am to 10pm)

Just in case anyone thought that this was an architectural phenomenon, the floating mosque in Penang, known officially as Tanjong Bungah Floating Mosque, isn’t actually floating. Originally built on land 1967, and then extended out over the sea in 2003, this mosque is built on pilings (sturdy stilts) drilled into the sea bed so that when the tide rolls it, there is the illusion that this mosque is floating over the water, although even at high tide, you will still see the pilings.

Penang Floating Mosque is especially beautiful at sunset with the call to prayer from the minaret drifts over the island and out to sea, and the fishing boats bobbing to the side provide a timeless feel on an island which is modernising at lightening pace.

Please note that non-Muslims are not allowed on the grounds of the mosque around prayer times.

15. Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi

Click here for more information
Open daily from 9am to 5pm, including public holidays

Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, or Khoo Kongsi for short, is arguably one of the grandest Chinese clan community centres in Malaysia. The temple, which is the focal point, is beautifully ornate and stunning to walk around.

Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi

You will also find here a small museum providing information on the history of clan buildings and culture, as well as Chinese history on Penang, plus a souvenir and ice-cream stall.

No need to pre-book. Just turn up and pay the entrance feel at the ticket booth on arrival.

16. Kek Lok Si Temple

The largest Budhist temple in Malaysia, and an important pilgrimage site for devotees across Southeast Asia, Kek Lok Si Temple in Ait Itam has been drawing visitors since its construction around the turn of the 20th century.

Brace yourself when you first arrive, the initial glimpse of the temple is something you’ll long remember. Aside from walking around and taking in the overall splendour, you’ll see the famous Ten Thousand Buddhas Pagoda, the almost forty metre tall statue of Kuan Yin, as well as the peaceful prayer areas.

Open each day between 8:30am and 5:30pm, entry to Kek Lok Si Temple is free although donations are welcomed. Due to its significance as a pilgramage site, it will often be busy, particularly around Chinese New Year, when the festivities are at their fullest.

Located in Air Itam, quite close to Penang Hill Funicular, the easiest access is to use a Grab taxi, although the 201 bus from central George Town can drop you one kilometre from the entrance if you fancy a walk.

17. Gurney Plaza

Click here for more information
Open daily from 10am to 10pm

Gurney Plaza, Penang

The beauty of Penang is its juxtaposition between old and new, and what better way to experience modern Penang than at it’s premier shopping mall, Gurney Plaza.

Spread over nine floors, Gurney Plaza offers both high end and Western high street shops (such as Marks & Spencer) as well as restaurants and a 12-screen cinema (there are always Western films in English showing).

18. Upside Down Museum

Click here for more information
Open daily from 9:30am to 6:30pm

Create crazy photographs and defy gravity in a world where everything is the wrong way up. Then share your photos with family and friends back home to really confuse them.

Located in George Town, Penang’s Upside Down Museum is great fun for a hour to escape an afternoon downpour or the heat. Although if you’ve been to others around the world (they are particularly popular in Southeast Asian cities) then it may lack a little novelty.

19. Tech Dome Penang

Click here for more information
Open daily from 9:30am to 6:30pm

Tech Dome Penang is Penang’s Science Museum, showcasing 120 interactive science and technology exhibits all under the one roof. This is a superb Penang indoor activity for any science-buffs!

Understand gravity with the G-Drop, code your bot around a maze, try an escape the laser beams, float balls with air, and take on the climbing wall. This science museum is brilliant fun and will get you thinking.

20. Ghost Museum Penang

Click here for more information
Open 10am to 7pm every day

A weird and whacky museum in the heart of Georgetown with ghostly and scary exhibits that make you feel like you’ve stepped into at an 80’s Halloween-themed party. You will hear the stories from 30 different ghosts, teaching visitors about dark culture and history, and have the opportunity to take some trick-eye photos. It’s all rather garish and tacky, but will get you laughing.

21. Afternoon tea at The E&O

Click here for more information
Serving 3pm 5pm every day

The Eastern & Oriental Hotel, commonly known as the E&O Hotel, is an iconic and historic landmark situated in the heart of George Town. Established in 1885 by the Sarkies Brothers, who also founded the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, the E&O Hotel exudes an old-world charm that transports guests to a bygone era.

afternoon tea at The E&O Penang

It’s one of Penang’s most luxurious hotels, but you don’t need to pay the hefty price tag to enjoy its grandeur. Afternoon tea at The E&O is one of the top things to do in Penang, and as it’s indoors, this is a perfect indoor activity for a rainy day or beating the heat.

The three-tiered English afternoon tea that is served every afternoon between 3 and 5pm is the quintessential E&O experience. Please not that there is a dress code after 3pm;  smart-casual attire is required (Polo T-shirts are acceptable but guests are discouraged from wearing shorts, singlets, flip flops and gentlemen’s sandals).

Pre-book your afternoon-tea online to guarantee a table.

22. Penang War Museum

Click here for more information
Open 9am to 6pm every day

Penang War Museum offers a fascinating insight into the Japanese occupation of Penang during WW2. It’s also one of the few Penang indoor activities that’s not located in George Town. Instead it’s located to the southeast of the island on Batu Maung Hill.

Penang War Museum

Initially a military fortress designed by the British in the 1930s, it was lost to the invading Japanese in 1942 and then used as a site to detain prisoners of war. A fascinating place to visit.

23. Get a massage

Lots of different options around Penang. Best to check Google Maps for a spa close to you.

One of my (Jenny) personal favourite things to do on a free rainy afternoon in Penang is to get a massage. An hour or two of pure, relaxing bliss to zone out and reset.

Penang spa day

Massages in Southeast Asia are always so much cheaper (and better) that ones back home in the UK, so I never feel guilty with the mini splurge.

The easiest way to find a spa near to where you are based in Penang is to check Google maps. For downtown George Town, Bliss Wellness or Spakita Reflexology are both good options. And along the main stretch of Batu Ferringhi (where you’ll find Penang beach resorts) there are lots of options. For something a little more upmarket, try De Villa Spa or Tower Spa Penang.

24. Dark Mansion – 3D Glow in the Dark Museum 

Click here for more information
Open 10am to 6:30pm every day

The first and only 3D glow in the dark museum in Malaysia, Dark Mansion is one of the most fun things to to in Penang when it rains. Allow 1-2 hours for your visit and watch as paintings transform from 2D paintings to weird and whacky 3D optical illusions!

Make sure you have your camera handy to capture the fun illusions. Staff are on hand to help you find the best angle for those photos.