The Best Free Things to Do in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Bringing together a rich mix of Chinese, Indian, Malay, British and indigenous cultures, Kuala Lumpur has a variety of architectural delights and great food |  © Walkerssk / Pixabay
Bringing together a rich mix of Chinese, Indian, Malay, British and indigenous cultures, Kuala Lumpur has a variety of architectural delights and great food | © Walkerssk / Pixabay
Photo of Alex Robinson
13 July 2021

Is Kuala Lumpur expensive for tourists? Well, this modern metropolis can be costly, but a trip to the Malaysian capital doesn’t have to break the bank. In fact, you needn’t spend a ringgit to enjoy some of the best things to see and do in this vibrant city. Whether you like wandering museums and parks or prefer to immerse yourself in spiritual temples, there are stacks of free attractions here.

Take a stroll in Perdana Botanical Gardens

Botanical Garden, Park
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Perdana Botanical Garden, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
© RAVINDRAN AL JOHN SMITH ravijohnsmith / Alamy Stock Photo

Draped over a hill west of Central Market in the city centre, the Perdana Botanical gardens are an oasis of shady green amid the high-rise concrete-and-glass modernity of KL. There are waterfalls, lily ponds, formal box gardens and woodlands. Perdana preserves some rare Malaysian plants, including must-photograph sausage (and cannonball) trees, orchids and lesser-known species of the national flower, hibiscus. If you’ve got time, butterfly and bird parks are five minutes from the gardens, in Tun Abdul Razak Heritage Park.

Nose around Batu Caves Temple

Shrine
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Statue of Hindu God Muragan at Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
© Prasit Rodphan / Alamy Stock Photo
These caves riddle a forested hill in northern KL and are famous for their 40m (131ft) statue of the Hindu god Kartikeya. Known locally as Murugan, the divine entity is beloved by the Tamil people from South India, who make up a large proportion of the Hindu community in KL. Venerated as a conqueror of demons, Kartikeya stands, golden, at the cave entrance, brandishing a staff – an impressive apparition. Top tip: Batu is a pilgrimage site, hosting one of the largest Hindu festivals outside India, the Thaipusam.

Go hiking in KL Forest Eco Park

Forest, Park
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An easy day-hike in the city centre? It’s yours at KL Forest Eco Park, a patch of preserved tropical rainforest just south of the landmark twin Petronas Towers. It is a revered space, with a history that dates to the dawn of the 20th century. Come for meditative walks through the trees, shocks of bamboo and clambering creepers. And even if you don’t have a head for heights you’ll feel safe wandering along the well-netted Canopy Walk, which floats a couple of hundred feet in the air.

Visit the free Royal Malaysian Police Museum

Museum
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This little jewel in the Jalan Perdana district (home to the Islamic Arts Museum and Planetarium) delivers a fascinating cross-section of the modern history of Malaysia through the story of its law enforcers. The Royal Malaysia Police began life in 1807 under British rule and was consolidated in World War II during the anarchy precipitated by Japanese occupation. The best exhibits include displays of flamboyantly coloured uniforms while there’s also a fascinating armoury room bristling with knives, grenades and firearms confiscated from the dark underbelly of the city.

Discover local literature with a reading

Art Gallery, Bookstore
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Malaysia has a burgeoning literary scene. Several local writers have been recipients of the Man Asian Literary Prize. Author Tan Twan Eng was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2012 for his second novel, The Garden of Evening Mists. Meanwhile, Hanna Alkaf walked away with the Freeman Award for the Young Adult Literature in 2019 on the strength of her novel, The Weight of Our Sky. Want to be a part of it? Live events – with readings – are held monthly at Seksan Gallery in Bangsar.

Be guided around Merdeka Square

Building, Park
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Sultan Abdul Samad Building, Merdeka Square, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
© Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo
Welcome to the historic heart of KL. In the first half of the 20th century, the exclusive Royal Selangor Club played cricket here, under the eyes of the British Governor who ruled from the adjacent turreted Sultan Abdul Samad Building. The British flag was lowered in the square and the Malaysian flag hoisted in August 1957 and it is also the site of the annual National Day Parade. If you’d like to take it all in and ask questions, sign up for one of KL City Hall’s daily heritage walking tours and prepare to be regaled with fascinating tales.

Marvel at the Petronas Twin Towers from the KLCC Park

Park
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Petronas Twin Towers from the KLCC Park
© MEzairi Artworks / Alamy Stock Photo
The best view of the Petronas Towers? It’s hard to beat seeing them from KLCC Park – by day over the treeline, or by night shining brilliant white through the neon-lit park fountains. The best views of all are from the Arch Bridge, with the giant structures mirrored in Simfoni lake. Come at dawn when they’re bathed in warm sunlight, or at dusk when the sky glows lilac and the lights of the surrounding skyscrapers twinkle on.

Thean Hou Temple

Buddhist Temple, Shrine
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Thean Hou Buddhist Temple at dusk, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
© Elena Ermakova / Alamy Stock Photo
Widely held to be one of the most striking temples in KL, Thean Hou is a visual treat: festooned with lanterns, swirling with dragons and firebirds, it rises over forested Robson hill in six, gabled tiers. It is dedicated to Fujianese shaman-goddess Mazu who, miraculously, rescued her family and fellow fishermen while in a trance and who subsequently ascended to heaven. Her golden statue sits in the prayer hall, alongside an effigy of Guanyin – the Chinese representation of the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokiteśvara.

Visit the National Art Gallery

Museum, Art Gallery
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As it sounds, the official gallery of Malaysia holds the national collection, in a glass-gabled building south of Titiwangsa Park. Of the three floors – reached via a spiral staircase in the main atrium – the ground is devoted to temporary exhibitions. The upper floors showcase batiks, textiles and paintings, including pieces by 1970s surrealist Zulkifli Dahlan (who died tragically young), conceptual artist Wong Hoi Cheong (who has pieces in the Guggenheim) and street artist Mahathir Masri. It’s a captivating place for a morning.

Chocolate Museum

Museum
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This intriguing place is devoted to anything you can imagine connected with chocolate, bar none. Galleries and interactive displays trace its origins as a bitter hallucinogenic drink made from the cacao bean and taken ceremonially by Aztecs and Maya, to its adoption by Europeans as a sweet alternative to coffee and its growth in global popularity. There’s chocolate art too, including an impressive rendition of the Petronas Towers and, of course, a shop bursting with brands.

This is an updated version of an article by Sarah Anne Lee.

These recommendations were updated on July 13, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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