Last Updated on June 19, 2023
If visiting Malaysia is on your travel list, you should make a stop in Penang, a state on the west coast of the Malaysian peninsula. Penang’s capital, George Town, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The streets are decorated with interesting art and lined with delicious restaurants, and many refer to the island as a food paradise.
If you still aren’t convinced, here are 10 reasons George Town is a great place to visit:
1. Local Restaurants and Street Stalls
In George Town, you can eat delicious meals at very affordable prices. The mixture of Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian food makes up the city’s unique cuisine.
Try Penang laksa (a noodle dish served with vegetables), the local variant of Assam laksa, a Malay-Chinese dish that is very popular in Malaysia.
2. Armenian Street
You can get lost in the street graffiti that brings George Town to life. Armenian Street was named for the Armenian merchants who once frequented the area. Here you will find several museums and temples to visit, as well as urban art such as a mural of children on bicycles.
At the visitor center and most hostels, you can get a map with the locations of the most famous murals, but you should continue exploring and let the walls surprise you in unexpected places.
Along the way, you will learn the history of the streets through dozens of iron sculptures. Continue through the picturesque and noisy neighborhood of Little India; depending on the season, there are traditional Indian dance festivals in the area.
The numerous places of worship in the city enables you to learn about various religions, with their associated cultures and styles, in a single day.
Perhaps the most famous is the Kek Lok Si Buddhist temple, located on a hill overlooking the city. Another beautiful temple is the floating Chinese temple in Chew Jetty; it’s especially stunning at night when it is illuminated.
One in front of the other, you will find the Thai and Burmese temples. The orientation of the temples allows you to compare and admire them.
Do not forget to visit the Hindu temples and discover new ones, such as the Sikh temple. The worshipers are very friendly and may invite you to eat and talk.
4. Get Out of the City and Enjoy Nature
A trip to the beach is relaxing and will help you get to know the natural heritage of the area surrounding George Town.
One option is to rent a motorcycle. If you do, visit the areas farthest from the center, such as Kek Lok Si, Teluk Duyung, or Monkey Beach, a long white-sand beach that is located in Penang National Park.
Another great place to visit is Muka Head; it gets its name from local macaques that inhabit the area; the monkeys love to eat crabs or food scraps that they steal from visitors.
5. Penang National Park
The national park is 12.5 miles to the northwest of George Town, and you can get there with the 101 bus. Admission to the park is free, but you must register yourself in the office at the entrance.
Once inside, there are a couple of routes to follow. Everyone’s favorite route is to Kerachut Beach; the road to the island has good directions, and some sections have ropes, steps, or platforms to make it more accessible and navigable.
6. Basement Businesses
Take a look at the peculiar businesses that are hidden in the basements of buildings. Each has a theme. The shutters are cut into the shape of a door to prevent the sun from entering. The best place to find them is in the Chinatown neighborhood.
7. Fort Cornwallis
This peculiar star-shaped fort was commissioned by Captain Light of the British East India Company in the late 18th century and is named after Charles Cornwallis, who helped end the American Revolution. The original fort was built with wood, but in 1810 the fort was upgraded with stone.
Inside you can see the chapel, prison cells, warehouses, and lighthouse. History lovers will enjoy a visit as Fort Cornwallis was never attacked and remains in its original state.
8. Colonial Houses
George Town’s colonial architecture reflects the British and European presence that coexists with other cultures such as Chinese, Malay, and Hindu on the island. There is nothing like going for a walk through its streets and discovering the historic colonial buildings, such as the Queen Victoria Diamond Clocktower, Penang City Hall, and the Supreme Court.
9. Pinang Peranakan Mansion
This green mansion was built in 1893. It is a museum dedicated to the cultural heritage of the Peranakan of Penang, also known as Babas and Nyonyas, a community with mixed Malay, Indonesian, and Chinese ancestry between Penang, Malacca, and Singapore.
Pinang Peranakan Mansion, abandoned for decades, was recently restored. A typical house from 100 years ago, there are interesting art and furniture collections and traditional architectural features (with some European influences) in its interior.
Next door is a temple dedicated to the Chinese magnate Chung Keng Quee who turned the mansion into his residence and office.
10. Penang Museum
A visit to the Penang Museum will help you understand George Town’s history through texts, murals, clothes, and other relics.
In the exhibits you can see each culture’s contribution to the city, and there are even replicas of traditional houses and rooms. An hour is more than enough to go through. The museum is a good option during the sweltering midday heat. It is an enjoyable place to learn with friendly guides.
11. Blue Mansion
Around 1900 a Chinese merchant named Cheong Fatt Tze built this home and business center for him and his descendants in an eclectic architectural style.
In 1990 his descendants sold the house to a group of city curators who restored it with Penang and international artisans’ help; it was converted into a hotel and also functions as a museum. This is one of the iconic buildings that made George Town a World Heritage Site.
12. Tan Jetty
The Clan Jetties are ancient floating houses of Chinese fishermen found on the docks at the end of Lebuh Chulia. Each of the ports represents a Chinese clan; they were formed when immigrants with few resources could not build in the city, which was already colonized by Europeans.
Today it is a touristy area, but it is part of the city’s historical heritage and maintain a traditional way of life. The Tan Jetty, belonging to the Tan Clan from Fujian province in China, was built in the 19th century. It is now best known for a Thai restaurant.
13. Kapitan Keling Mosque
The Kapitan Keling Mosque was built by the troops of the East India Company. The mosque brought together the first Muslim settlers in George Town. It is located between Lebuh Buckingham and Lebuh Pitt and is the largest mosque in the city. However, the real attraction is its beautiful architecture.
14. The Houses of the Clans
Khoo Kongsi, Chinese immigrants who arrived in the 19th and early-20th century, founded the clan houses for socializing, community work, employment assistance, and religious purposes. The community contributed to the building and beautification. The Khoo Kongsi is the most impressive of them all and is one of George Town’s must-see tourist attractions.
This mix of influences and cultures left a diverse architectural legacy in the old part of Penang’s capital, making it a great example of how cultures merge. This cultural and architectural diversity is an important reason to visit George Town.