Looking for what to do in Penang?
Luckily there are so many fun things to do in Penang (maybe too many tbh?)!
I travel full time and have visited, and lived in, so many places in South East Asia. Penang remains one of my favorites. So to help you totally rock your visit, I've created this epic list of what I think are the 33 best Penang activities.
Do you think you can hit all 33? 😉
Ok, ok - if you skip a few that's ok, but you definitely DON'T want to miss #6 (my personal favorite thing to do!).
Oh, and stay until the end of the post for two special bonuses:
- Bonus 1 - 3 tips for what NOT to do
- Bonus 2 - A Google Map of everywhere in this post (save it with one click!)
Also, one important tip:
You really don't want to get stuck in the wrong hotel in Penang. To help you avoid a hotel horror story, I wrote a guide on Where to Stay in Penang. Maybe bookmark it now and come back to it after reading this list?
(2020 Update: FYI - Booking.com is currently running a promo where you can get 15% off selected stays this year by using this link).
33 Insanely Cool Things to Do in Penang
1. Explore Street Art in George Town
If there is one thing that Penang's George Town is famous for it is the street art plastered all over buildings and walls across the town. The above photo of children on a bicycle is likely the most famous street art in George Town, but there are dozens of works to be found all over the city (use this useful street art map)!
Pro tip: I suggest wandering the area around Lebuh Armenian and Lebuh Acheh streets. It's a great free thing to do in George Town!
Disclosures: some links in this post may be affiliate links for which this site receives a commission.
2. Relax at Monkey Beach
Monkey Beach is a secluded beach buried inside Penang National Park - it's the sort of stunning beach you'd find in Thailand, but without the crowds.
You can't drive here, so you'll need to either take a boat from the entrance to the national park (cost is around RM 50 per boat) or brave the 1.5-2 hour hike through the jungle to reach the beach.
Once there, kick back and enjoy a drink while relaxing at one of Monkey Beach's shack bars. There are even very basic huts that you can rent and stay over night!
3. Visit a Speakeasy Inside a Refrigerator!
Perhaps the best cocktail bar in Penang in its own right, Out of Nowhere gains extra points for the unique way you access it. You'll need to head to the Hold Up! cafe and then go through the orange refrigerator (yes, really!) in order to get inside the secret speakeasy.
There you'll find delicious hand-crafted cocktails in a stylish setting. It's a great thing to do in Penang at night!
4. Hike Penang National Park
It may be the smallest national park in Malaysia, but don't count it out of your list of the best things to do in Penang. Located on the north-west tip of the island, Penang National Park offers several great hiking trails through the jungle, most of which will spit you out on one of the park's many secluded beaches! Be sure to pack extra water for your hike, and consider camping overnight in some of the huts available on the beaches.
5. Take a Street Food Tour
One of the best things about Penang is that it sits at a cultural intersection, with at least three major ethnic groups (Malay, Chinese, and Indian).
Nowhere is this more on display than in the famous food scene of Penang! From street food to fine dining, Penang is a culinary tapestry just waiting to be explored.
Since there are so many options, many tourists to Penang choose to take a guided food tour with a street food expert. This is a case where a guided tour makes a lot of sense to me - they help you to sample only the best food stations and can also help avoid any nasty tummy surprises later.
Two quality street food tours to book now:
- Georgetown Food Hop With Heritage on a Plate Tour - a tour led by a super knowledgeable local expert and is the highest-rated food tour option in Penang.
- Best of Penang Local Food Tour - also very popular, and best for those who really enjoy finding hidden spots only locals know.
6. Brave the Top at Komtar (My Personal Favorite Thing to do in Penang)
This is probably my personal pick for the absolute best thing to do in Penang!
The Top at the Komtar is an entertainment complex at the pinnacle of a skyscraper loaded with great views and lots of fun (if a tad cheesy) things to do. You can walk out over the glass "Rainbow Walkway" or sit and have a drink on the excellent rooftop (a great place to watch the sunset in Penang).
If you're the daring type, you can even walk around the the outside of the tower on a ropes course!
For quick entrance, buy your tickets online in advance.
7. Tour the Cheong Fatt Tze Blue Mansion
This charming mansion once belonged to a 19th century Chinese industrialist so famous he was nicknamed by The New York Times "The Rockefeller of the East."
A major renovation in the 1990s won the Cheong Fatt Tze Blue Mansion UNESCO status, and its gorgeous interior of this heritage hotel has served as the set for multiple movies - including the mahjong scene in the blockbuster Crazy Rich Asians.
You can visit as part of daily tours or, for a real treat, book an overnight stay in the hotel. It does book up fast though, which is why I always suggest booking a room in the mansion as soon as you have dates. Pro tip: you can reseve on Booking now and you'll get access to their flexible cancellation policies.
8. Climb to the Arulmigu Balathandayuthapani Waterfall Temple
You'll have to climb 513 stairs to check this one off your list of things to do in Penang, but you'll be rewarded with some time to explore a fascinating Hindu temple honoring the deity Murugan.
And you'll also be treated to spectacular views of the Georgetown skyline in the distance.
9. Ascend Penang Hill
The next item on our list of what to do in Penang also involves a bit of an ascent (sensing a trend here?), but at least this time you have the option to be whisked to the top of Penang Hill in a funicular!
This funicular track is the longest and steepest in Asia, and will take you to the top of this former colonial hill station, where you'll be able to take in some incredible views of the island.
10. Explore the Tropical Spice Garden
Who knew that plants could be so interesting?
At the Tropical Spice Garden, a popular eco-friendly Penang attraction, you can stroll through a garden showcasing 500+ species of herbs and spices.
Guided tours are available, or you can take it at your own pace with an audio tour. And for a special treat, book one of their special night tours to see the garden in a different light.
11. Marvel at a "Floating Mosque"
The Tanjung Bungah Mosque occupies a unique position suspended out over the ocean, leading it to earn the nickname "the Floating Mosque." Only about a decade old, the structure is impressive and well worth a spot on your list of what to do in Penang owing to its unique backdrop of views of the city and the ocean.
12. Escape to Another World at the "Secret Garden"
You'll feel like you've left the island and stepped onto the set of the movie Avatar at this thing to do at night. Located in the Tanjung Tokong beach area, this newly-constructed Penang attraction is small but a worth a visit in the evenings to witness the unique spectacle.
13. Explore Penang's Little India
One of the most wonderful things about traveling to Penang is the incredible mixture of cultures on this charming island. And nowhere do you get a better taste of that than in Little India. Wander the streets and just take in the sites, the smells, and the sounds. Browse local vendors, try some street food, and just generally get lost in the bustling ambiance of Little India.
14. Visit the Clan Jetties
George Town's clan jetties are definitely one of the most unique attractions in Penang!
What's a clan jetty?
Well I'm glad you asked: clan jetties are basically stilted villages perched out over the water. There are several of them very near each other on George Town's east coast, and they are an important part of Penang's heritage. Chew Jetty is the most famous and most tourist friendly attraction, with lots of vendors and shops. Next door you'll find Tan Jetty (pictured above), which is probably the most photogenic of the bunch.
15. Wander Colonial Georgetown
Another great free thing to do in Penang is to simply wander George Town's colonial old town. The entire area was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 and simply strolling the streets, admiring the architecture, and taking in the attractions is a can't-miss bucket list item for any vistor to George Town.
16. Chill Out at Batu Ferrenghi Beach
The Batu Ferringhi beach is probably the most popular beach in Penang, and it is certainly the most accessible.
The beachfront itself offers really nice sand and decent, if not perfectly clear, water. You can partake in various water-sports activities here: jetski rentals, banana boat rides, and parasailing vendors are easy to find throughout the beach. There are also a small handful of beach bars - Bora Bora being the most popular.
17. Eat at a Hawker Market
There are way too many hawker street food markets and stalls in Penang to list them all, but you definitely have to putting eating hawker food on your list of things to do in Penang. Here is a good rundown of some of the best hawker stalls in Penang.
Oh, and be sure to try Char Koay Teow - the pad thai-like noodle dish that is famous in Penang!
18. Take a Trishaw Ride
This is definitely one of the coolest activities in Penang.
A trishaw is basically a type of traditional rickshaw where a bicyclists push you in a chariot.
Although no longer really a traditional way of getting around Penang, you can find trishaw drivers offering you rides around George Town's old town and even in the Batu Ferringhi area. Sure, it's a little corny but it's a fun and unique experience to have in Penang!
19. Visit the Kek Lok Si Temple
One of the largest Chinese Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia, Kek Lok Si is definitely one of the top Penang attractions on the island. It's a small walk up followed by a quick lift ride (cost 3 RM), but for a real treat trek all the way to the pagoda at the top for some incredible views. Here's a report with some more details on how to visit.
20. Wander Fort Cornwallis
Built by the British East India Company in the late 1700s, For Cornwallis is the largest remaining fort in Malaysia. Still, you have to keep your expectations in check: if you're used to forts from Europe or Latin America, you may be a little underwhelmed.
Nonetheless, it's easy to access location in George Town makes it worthy of consideration on your list of things to do in Penang.
21. Go Crazy at the Upside Down Museum
Your friends will wonder how you got those crazy shots of you standing on the ceiling!
Sure, it's a bit of touristy attraction, but there's no denying the appeal of the Upside Down Museum in Georgetown.
This quirky mini-museum is filled with exhibits where everything is - you guessed it - upside down! The museum staff are happy to help you take photos (that's kinda the whole point, right?).
22. Try a Rollney
This unique dessert creation is definitely one of the tastiest things to do in Penang - and both locals and visitors alike go crazy for Rollney. The creators at Rollney take Kurtos Kalocs (which is essentially Hungarian chimney cake) and put their own twist on it by turning the cake into an ice cream cone. Trust me when I say your taste buds will be watering!
23. Fly Away to the Entopia Butterfly Garden
One of the most popular things to do in Penang with kids is to pay a visit to the Entopia butterfly farm, where you'll find the Natureland - an indoor living garden filled not just with butterflies but with all kinds of invertebrates. You can also visit the Cocoon, a two floor learning center perfect for the younger folk.
24. Try Some Durian
You're either going to love it or you're going to hate it. But there is only one way to find out! If you've never heard of it, durian is a local fruit that is uber-popular in Southeast Asia. But here's the thing: it reeks. Really badly. So badly that most hotels and public places ban durians!
Still, many locals find the sweet fruit completely irresistible - and maybe you will to! You can find street vendors selling pieces of durian all over the island, and it's definitely something you should try while in Penang.
Just be sure to ask for a plastic glove to eat it so you don't get the smell on your hands!
25. Visit the Masjid Kapitan Keling Mosque
A stunning mosque located in the heart of George Town, Masjid Kapitan Keling Mosque was built by Indian Muslim traders over 200 years ago. It was an important part of George Town's successful bid for UNESCO World Heritage status. The mosque is a place to visit in Penang that you should definitely at least walk by to admire from the outside. While visitors inside are permitted, you'll need to make sure you are properly attired.
26. Hangout at the Junk Cafe
Depending on how you look at it, the Junk Cafe either feels like a bar and restaurant inside an old antique shop, or what it must be like to attend a party at a hoarder's house. The eclectic interior of the cafe makes it a great place to visit in Penang in its own right, but the food and drinks are also on point!
27. Party Like a Backpacker on Georgetown's Love Lane
Sure, Malaysia generally isn't exactly known as a party destination. Alcohol is much too expensive and restricted for that.
But, still, the nightlife area around the intersection of Love Lane and Chulia Street could give just about any other backpacker district in Southeast Asia a run for its money!
Look out for happy hour specials to keep the cost of drinking as reasonable as possible.
28. Try the Best Falafel Ever
Ok, maybe I'm being a bit over-the-top here. But I'm a vegetarian and I've tried a lot of falafels in my life. And none of them hold a candle to the fresh, made-in-front-of-you offerings at the small street vendor you'll find parked in front the Reggae Club on Chulia Street.
I was so smitten by the dish that I went back multiple times and yet was always too distracted to even take a photo!
29. Confuse Your Camera at the 3D Trick Art Museum
Penang really loves its gimmicky museums (you can find a museum for everything from durian to chocolate to glowing in the dark in Penang), but this one gets some of the best reviews as a fun thing to do in Penang.
You'll find various exhibits playing with perspective and perfect for shooting some fun photographs to post on social media and show all your friends back home what a good time you are having in Malaysia 🙂
30. Grab a Drink at Pokok
There are lots of cool bars along Chulia Street, but my favorite bar in George Town is Pokok. It's got a large open air outdoor seating space and a funky second-floor interior space.
Best yet, most nights you'll be treated to live music. Definitely a great place to chill in the evenings in Penang.
31. Go Shopping at Batu Ferringhi Night Market
Let me be honest: night markets aren't really one of my favorite activities and I didn't truly love this one in Penang either.
But the Batu Ferringhi Night Market definitely is widely considered one of the top places to visit in Penang, so I'm including it here nonetheless. Starting around sunset every evening, you'll find vendors lining the road selling nearly every type of trinket or clothing imaginable.
32. Visit the Goddess of Mercy Temple
I tried to limit the amount of temples on this list of the best things to do in Penang, as otherwise it might just become a list of temples in Penang!
But, still, the Goddess of Mercy Temple has a unique style and is definitely worth a quick visit.
33. Take a Malaysian Cooking Class
Instead of spending your money on souvenirs and trinkets you'll never use after your Malaysia vacation, why not take back a skill instead?
Spend an evening learning how to make traditional Malay food is definitely a unique experience in Penang!
Wow that's a lot of awesome things to do in Penang right? To help you hit as many of them as possible, I've organized them with this nifty little Google Map.
Click the star button next to the title to save this on your maps for later:
Tips for What NOT to Do in Penang
Penang is a pretty awesome travel destination, so to be honest there really isn't a lot in Penang that isn't worth at least checking out.
But, still, I've got 3 quick tips for what not to do in Penang that can help you avoid some travel mistakes:
1. Don't Stay On the Southern or Western Parts of Penang Island
You'll find some cheap hotels there and, while there is nothing wrong with these parts of the island, unless you are staying for a longer period of time or have a compelling reason, I think it's best to stay on the northern part of the island around Georgetown.
Check out my article on Where to Stay in Penang for a breakdown of the different regions of the island.
2. Don't Travel to Penang Without Insurance
While Penang is a pretty safe place overall, accidents sadly do happen in Penang as everywhere else.
So be sure to protect yourself with travel insurance so you're whole trip isn't ruined by a tragic accident.
This is a great site for comparing prices for different travel insurance policies.
You can also check out World Nomads for comprehensive insurance that I've personally used many times.
3. Don't Be a Disrespectful Tourist (Especially in Old Town Georgetown)
One of the great things about Penang is that there are so many photogenic places, especially in Georgetown's Old Town.
But this has led to bad behavior from many tourists, whose obsessions with getting the right shot lead them to put themselves or others in danger, or to disrespect the culture of where they are.
For example, when you are in the Clan Jetties, remember that people live there! Be as courteous and considerate of that as you would if you were in your own neighborhood back home!
Plan Your Visit to Penang, Malaysia
Ok, now that we've covered all the fun things to do in Penang, let's get you settled for your trip:
Where to Stay in Penang
Click the hotels below to lock up one of my top "can't-miss" picks right now:
- Top Boutique Hotel in Penang - Cheong Fatt Tze Blue Mansion
- Top Business Hotel in Penang - Vouk Hotel Suites
- Top Beach Resort in Penang - Rasa Sayang
- Top Budget Hotel in Penang - Areca Hotel
Or click to get $40 free on Airbnb for new accounts and find an apartment on Penang (there's a lot of great options - but note you need a new account for that credit to count).
FAQs about Travel to Penang
What is the Best Thing to Do in Penang?
In my opinion, the best thing to do in Penang is to go to the Top at Komtar (#6 on our list of what to do in Penang).
Sure, it's touristy. But the views of Penang island are awesome!
What's the Best Time of Year to Visit Penang?
November to January is frequently thought of as the best time to visit Penang. The weather is good and the island gets festive for the New Year (and Chinese New Year) celebrations.
May to October is generally the wet season in Penang, so fewer people visit during this period (but of course that means that prices are lower!).
What is Penang Famous For?
Penang Island is famous for the UNESCO World Heritage site at Georgetown, for its hawker food, and for its pristine beaches among other things.
What Can You Do in One Day in Penang?
Even if you have just one day, you can still check off many of the items on our list of what to do in Penang. I suggest visiting the Top of Komtar, wandering the streets of Georgetown and checking out the street art, visiting the clan jetties, touring the Cheong Fatt Tze Blue Mansion, eating at a hawker food market, and visiting at least one of Penang's beaches - all of which can be accomplished in a single, albeit long, day.
That's it for this guide on what to do in Penang, Malaysia.
Check out these other articles to help plan your trip to Southeast Asia:
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