Must-Visit Attractions in George Town, Penang

Kek Lok Si cuts an imposing figure against the George Town skyline
Kek Lok Si cuts an imposing figure against the George Town skyline | © Robert Wyatt / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Michelle Leong
12 July 2021

George Town, the capital city of the Malaysian state of Penang, sits in the northeast of the island. Packed with head-turning architecture, it is a centre of commerce and creativity. From street art and night markets to temples, floating houses and historical mansions, here’s our pick of places to go while you’re here.

Little India

Market, Malaysian, $$$
Map View
Little India, in George Town
© Arterra Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Welcome to one of the liveliest, loveliest corners of George Town, which serves the city’s Indian-Muslim community and extends a warm welcome to all visitors with sounds of Bollywood movie music and the honk of scooter horns. From breakfast on, you can feast like a maharajah on pasembur (sweet salad), roti jala (“net” pancakes, so-called for their lace-like surface), murtabak (meat-stuffed pancake), biryani (rich rice dish) and all kinds of brightly coloured syrupy desserts. Food here is a cross-cultural event between Tamil Indian and Arabic cuisine – so loosen your belt and get ready to royally fill your face.

Entopia

Botanical Garden
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Entopia Butterfly Farm | © Michelle Leong
Don’t miss the opportunity to flutter by this temple to butterflies while you’re in town. It’s a riot of colour and patterns, home to more than 15,000 free-flying lepidoptera, as well as a couple of hundred species of flora, including the carnivorous pitcher plant. If you’re travelling with young ones, bring them here. They’ll love the nature-learning experience, particularly the Cocoon – this is where they get to learn all about the brief but beautiful lives of butterflies and other small creepy-crawlies.

Pinang Peranakan Mansion

Museum
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Pinang Peranakan Mansion, George Town
© Chris Mouyiaris / robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
Also known as the Green Mansion, this eclectic heritage house-turned-museum is all about the lifestyle and artefacts of wealthy Chinese-born merchant Kapitan Chung Keng Kwee. Peranakan refers to the Chinese residents in the Malacca Straits (including Penang and Singapore) and this place holds an extravagant collection of carved wood panels and doors, English and Italian floor tiles and Scottish ironworks creating an East-meets-West charm. It’s an evocative way to learn how they lived, cooked, dined and dressed in the wealth-generating years of the early 20th century.

Penang Road Market

Market
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Shoppers in Chowrasta street market in Jalan Kuala Kangsar, Penang, Malaysia.
© Gwoeii / Shutterstock

Every Sunday morning, the traffic along Penang Road grinds practically to a halt. The reason? Everyone wants a slice of this fabulous market, with its farm-fresh poultry, its bargain-price clothing and its piles of household items. Whatever you need, the likelihood is that you’ll find it here, milling about with the masses and their shopping bags. Top tip: if you’re peckish, locate the roasted-chestnut stall, which turns out delicious snacks. It is usually to be found at the fork between the market and Penang Road, but if you just ask around someone local will direct you to it.

Kapitan Keling Mosque

Mosque
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Kapitan Keling Mosque
© joachim affeldt / Alamy Stock Photo

The heat will be sweltering but you won’t want to miss this sight – so head out with a hat and bottle of chilled water and you’ll be rewarded with a new understanding of Malaysian muhibah (cultural harmony). At the corner of Lebuh Farquhar and Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, you’ll find St George’s, the oldest Anglican church in Malaysia. It all but rubs shoulders with Kuan Yin temple, the oldest Taoist temple in Penang. And next to it sits the Kapitan Keling mosque, built by Muslim Indian settlers in the 19th century. You can enter each religious site for free, though there is a specific dress code for entering the mosque. Contemplate the harmony of these three beautiful structures, which radiate tranquillity and spirituality.

Clan Jetties

Natural Feature
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Chinese Clan Jetties, Weld Quay, George Town, Penang, Malaysia
© Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo

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-surname) families. The “floating” houses, made of wood and aluminium, rise on stilts above the surface of the sea. The most tourist-friendly of the lot is the Chew Jetty, featuring a long walkway, souvenir shops and a small temple. You’re guaranteed some magnificent Instagram shots – just be aware of local sensibilities, as this is a residential community.

Kek Lok Si

Buddhist Temple
Map View
Kek Lok Si
© Robert Wyatt / Alamy Stock Photo
As you travel away from the coastline towards the interior of Penang island, you’ll find this majestic castle-like temple, the proud possessor of a 99ft (30m) statue of the Goddess of Mercy. With several different halls and walkways linking them together, the place is a delight for lovers of all things spiritual: its architecture blends the best of Chinese, Thai and Burmese principles, reflecting the local amalgamation of various Buddhist sects, including Mahayana Buddhism and Theravada Buddhism.

Hin Bus Depot

Bazaar
Map View
Irene Navarro / © Culture Trip
What was formerly a bus-service terminal compound has been given a new lease of life as a space for creatives to get together. Here you’ll find an art gallery, a sprawling lawn and wall murals that radiate inspiration. Don’t roll up expecting too much during the week, although you can enjoy the lovely Bricklin Cafe Bar by Rasta Brew Co, as well as the vegan-friendly plant-based cafe Wholey Wonder. If you show up on a Sunday between 11am and 5pm, you’ll have the chance to browse the extensive handicrafts market selling everything from hanging terrariums to hand-drawn postcards.

Ferringhi Night Bazaar

Bazaar, Market
Map View
All that glitters may not be gold, but it could be silver-plated – especially at the Batu Ferringhi Night Bazaar – or Pasar Malam as it’s known locally. Open every day from around sundown until midnight and beyond, this parade of bustling stalls is the place to get the hang of haggling, which is a city pastime and will net you some great bargains. There’s plenty of food for sale, the beach is nearby and if you really don’t want to tear yourself away, the whole street is lined with hotels.

Penang Tropical Fruit Farm

Natural Feature
Map View
Fresh durian fruit on a tree
© TY Lim / Shutterstock
Home to more than 250 varieties of tropical fruit dotted around 25 acres (10ha) of fertile land, this is an attraction to really get your teeth into. If you’ve never tried the malodorous but wonderful-tasting durian, you might like to have a go here. Some of the produce sold here is not available anywhere in town – for instance, the yellow guavas and green dragonfruits. You can get a guided farm tour with a fruit buffet included in the price – equal parts delicious and nutritious.
These recommendations were updated on July 12, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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