Whether you’re new to Penang or born in the state, there are some places you simply cannot miss. Here’s our pick of the top 11 attractions in George Town, Penang.
Situated on the northeastern part of the island, George Town is the capital city of the state of Penang. In 2008 it was recognized as a Heritage Site by UNESCO and has since flourished into a buzzing center of commerce and creativity. From street art to historical mansions, we bring you the best of what George Town has to offer.
Thanks to the Indian-Muslim community here, you can breakfast with pasembur (sweet salad), roti jala (net bread), murtabak (meat-stuffed pancake), biryani (need we say more?), and a variety of colorful syrupy desserts. Food is a cross-cultural event between Tamil Indian and Arabic cuisine.
Entopia by Penang Butterfly Farm
We can’t recommend the Butterfly Farm enough. With over 15,000 free-flying butterflies and 200 species of exotic flora, including the carnivorous pitcher plant, this is absolute must-not-miss! If you have kids, they’ll love The Cocoon – this is where they get to learn all about the (short but beautiful) lives of butterflies and other small crawlies. A standard adult ticket is RM 60 (USD $15), or RM 45 (USD $ 11.25) if you have a MyKad.
Pinang Peranakan Mansion
Also known as the ‘Green Mansion,’ this mansion-turned-museum exhibits the lifestyle and artifacts of wealthy Chinese-born merchant, Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee. Elaborately carved wood panels and doors, English and Italian floor tiles, and Scottish ironworks are all part of the East-meets-West charm. Explore what it must have been like to cook, dine and dress in this early 20th-century marvel.
Penang Road Market
Every Sunday morning, the traffic along Penang Road will be awful. Why? This market’s why. Fresh poultry, bargain clothing and household items are all available here, and people come with their shopping bags and carts for a good grocery run. We recommend the roasted chestnuts stall, which is usually located at the fork between the market and Penang Road (or just ask around until you find it).
Jalan Kapitan Keling
Church, Buddhist Temple, Hindu Temple, Mosque
If you can brave the sweltering heat with a hat and water bottle, your reward comes in the form of a new understanding of Malaysian muhibah (cultural harmony). This is the street where the oldest Anglican church in Malaysia meets Penang’s oldest Guan Yin Temple meets the former state mosque Masjid Kapitan Keling. You can enter each religious site for free, though there is a specific dress code for entering the mosque.
Part of the Penang Heritage Trail, the clan jetties are six water villages housing seven old Chinese clans, namely the Lim, Chew, Tan, Yeoh, Lee, Koay, and unnamed (mixed surnames) families. The ‘floating’ houses are made of wood and aluminum, and sit on stilts above the sea. The most tourist-friendly of these villages is the Chew Jetty, featuring a long walkway, souvenir shops and a small temple. Given that this is still a residential area, we recommend being thoughtful about how you take your Instagram shots.
Kek Lok Si
If you move away from the coastline towards inner Penang island, you’ll find this majestic castle-like temple featuring a 99-feet-tall (30.2 meter) statue of the Goddess of Mercy. With several different temple halls and walkways to link them together, the hodgepodge architecture (incorporating the best of Chinese, Thai and Burmese designs) reflects the amalgamation of different Buddhist sects, including Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism.
Nobody visits George Town without taking a look at the street art. Following George Town’s incorporation as a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2008, the state has since commissioned various wall murals at the heart of George Town. Here are a few of Penang’s best street art, or if you feel like following the illegal street art route, check out our list here.
Hin Bus Depot
This is the place where the creatives gather. With an art gallery, a sprawling lawn and wall murals, how could anyone not be creatively inspired? Nothing much happens during the week (though there is the lovely Bricklin Cafe and vegan-friendly Wholey Wonder), but if you come on Sundays between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., there is an extensive handicrafts market selling everything from hanging terrariums to hand-drawn postcards.
Ferringhi Night Bazaar
All that glitters may not be gold, but it could be silver-plated – especially at the Batu Ferringhi Night Bazaar. Open every day from 7 p.m. to midnight, this stretch of vendor stalls is the place to commit all forms of bargain hunting, especially if you can hold your own in a haggling showdown. Food is abundant, the beach is nearby, and if you need a place to stay, the whole street is lined with hotels.
Tropical Fruit Farm
With over 370 edible fruit species, it wouldn’t do to miss this place. At 800 feet (244 meters) above sea level and with an ample 25-acre land, this farm is where Penang gets its fruits, especially the durian. Some of the fruits here are not marketed in town, which means this is the only place you’ll find yellow guavas and green dragonfruits. A guided farm tour plus fruit buffet costs RM 75 (USD $18.75).