Kuala Lumpur, the bustling capital of Malaysia, is the city of the Petronas Twin Towers and Bukit Bintang’s malls, modernist mosques and traditional temples. Here’s our guide to the KL attractions you really must tick off your list.
Immerse yourself in all the culture, history and shopping you can handle before relaxing in the Malaysian capital’s public gardens, its butterfly park, bird park and zoo, or even the virgin rainforest of KL Forest Eco Park.
Petronas Twin Towers
Sharing dominance over the skyline with the KL Tower, these sisters are proudly the tallest twins in the world. They are also on the list of the world’s top 20 tallest skyscrapers. The main observation decks are on the 86th floor of each tower, 370m (1,200ft) above the city. You can also visit the double-decker Sky Bridge, a tendon between the two towers, to see the full extent of the KLCC Park, a green lung project dedicated to freshening up Kuala Lumpur’s urban atmosphere.
One for the history buffs, Merdeka Square encompasses the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and the large field in front of it, and is the place Malaya declared itself independent from colonial forces in 1957 and the Malaysian flag replaced the British flag, signalling the beginning of an independent Malaysia. It’s now the location for the national day parade, held at the end of August every year. Although the building is formally used for government offices, its neo-Mughal and Moorish revival exterior makes it a beautiful backdrop for pictures at any hour of the day.
Kuala Lumpur City Gallery
This fun one-stop tourist information centre and gallery will tell you everything there is to know about KL, from its formation to its current glory. Don’t miss the model of the city measuring 12m by 15m (40ft by 50ft) that shows its history and is regularly updated to include present and future buildings. The centre also offers free maps, as well as guided bicycle and walking tours, if you’d like some company around town. Also take note of the repurposed heritage site in which the gallery is housed – the structure itself dates back to the 19th century, when neo-renaissance architecture was favoured by the British administration.
Thean Hou Temple
One of the largest Chinese temples in Southeast Asia, the Thean Hou Temple combines aspects of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Mazuism. The goddesses Shui Wei Sheng Niang and Guan Yin are also worshipped here, as well as Tian Hou – another name for Mazu, the Chinese sea goddess. Even if you don’t know much about the temple’s religious significance, its multi-arched gateway and large prayer hall with its ornate statues and ceiling art are bound to impress, and the temple is on a hill with views of the city skyline. It was built in the 1980s by KL’s Hainan association, a community group for people of Chinese Hainanese descent, with work finishing in 1987.
The National Mosque of Malaysia is stunning not only for its origami-like design, reminiscent of open and folded umbrellas, but also for its surroundings, which incorporate reflective pools and fountains. Visiting the mosque and its compound is one of the more relaxing things to do in Kuala Lumpur. The holy ground blends with the surrounding landscape, which is full of plants and wildlife in the greenest part of the city. Completed in 1965 on the former site of a church, the mosque itself has a capacity of 15,000 and a 73m (240ft) minaret.
Pasar Seni, or the Art Market area, is a centre for traditional and modern arts, housed in a well restored, blue art deco building. The Central Market has more than 300 shops selling everything Malaysian, from old-style batik prints and weaves to modern art, fashion and home accessories. If you’re looking for an intricate glass lamp or a rug to remind you of your visit, this is the place to come. You can also indulge in a fish pedicure here, if that takes your fancy, and stop for some street food on Kasturi Walk. The area also hosts weekly cultural events celebrating the diverse population of Malaysia.
Berjaya Times Square
Berjaya Times Square is unique in that it combines a theme park and shopping mall, housed in its own twin tower. The indoor theme park is the largest in Malaysia, with tons of family friendly rides and activities. The mall itself is popular for food and cheap shopping, and includes a light-up interactive floor on one level, as well as its own weekend flea market, Tiny Taipei.
Housing the most exciting collection of animals in the country, Zoo Negara is a must for those with kids in tow. Making this place all the more special is the array of Asian rainforest wildlife unique to this part of the world. The zoo also acts as a hub for foreign relations, housing as it does two giant pandas from China, marking 40 years of goodwill between the two countries. The zoo is also home to Malaysian elephants, three species of bear and a display of Humboldt penguins, as well as an area where kids can pet deer, goats and ponies.
KL Butterfly Park
Adding to the greenery of Kuala Lumpur is the KL Butterfly Park, with gardens that include an insect greenhouse and museum. Like its neighbour the KL Bird Park, this specialist zoo allows its inhabitants to roam free in a habitat of their favourite plants, including ferns and exotic plants. There are also ponds containing koi carp and fresh water turtles. Head to the bug museum at the end of the tour to see more minibeasts.
KL Bird Park
The largest walk-in aviary in Asia at 21 acres (8.5ha), the KL Bird Park is home to 200 species of birds from all over the world. Its free-flight concept allows the birds to fly around as you wander through four indoor zones representing natural habitats – from rainforests to temperate woods. The birds oblige by going about their business as long as the weather isn’t too hot for them, when they prefer to rest. Favourites include the giant hornbill, dancing flamingos and chattering macaws.
Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia
Celebrating the official religion of Malaysia, the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia is the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia. Showcasing artefacts and examples of Muslim patterns in print, jewellery, armour, coins, ceramics and architecture in spacious galleries, this museum is a must-visit to learn about Islamic arts in Asia. Drawing on works from India, China, the ancient Ottoman Empire and Old Malaya, the quiet museum will educate you about one of the world’s largest religions and its effect on Malaysian art and architecture.
Shopping is one of the most popular things to do in KL and this cluster of malls, which includes Berjaya Times Square, will suit a range of budgets, from quirky cheap outlets to luxurious high-end stalls. The name translates to Star Hill and development of the area starred in the 1980s. Today, you can wine and dine and shop till you drop in this retail haven, full of flagship stores and international brands.
At Malaysia’s National Planetarium, get some insight into how the country has participated in the exploration of the stars and planets through its space programmes, as well as learning about phenomena that affect the Earth, such as lunar eclipses and solar winds, with captivating shows in its domed auditorium. Combining futuristic designs with Islamic architecture, even just a visit to the building itself should be on your list of what to do in Kuala Lumpur.
The National Museum is the best place to learn about the whole of Malaysia. From the Neolithic era to World War II, educate yourself on how this part of the world grew from its ancient kingdoms to become the commercial and cultural hub it is today. It was designed in the late 1950s, spurred on by the nationalism that followed independence in 1957, and the building itself is inspired by traditional Malay structures. After your visit, contemplate your new-found knowledge of Malaysia with a stroll around the nearby Perdana Botanical Garden and Perdana Lake.
KL Forest Eco Park
Right in the middle of the concrete jungle is a 22 acre (9.3ha) slice of ancient rainforest. What separates Kuala Lumpur from even the most progressive, green cities in the world is this treasured piece of land, which is known to most locals as Bukit Nanas, meaning “Pineapple Hill”. Although the reserve has shrunk in size from the 43 acres (17.5ha) first designated in 1906 – in part to build the Kuala Lumpur tower that stands next to it – the area still provides a refuge for native species including squirrels, snakes, and a few bird species. Human visitors can take one of several trails, including rope bridges high in the canopy. Be sure to bring bug repellent, as the mosquitoes can be particularly aggressive.
Kuala Lumpur Tower
If you want to get a view of the Eco Park, and the rest of the city, from above, the KL Tower – the world’s seventh tallest – should be up there on your list of places to visit. If you’re feeling brave, step outside onto the Sky Deck, or stay indoors at the revolving restaurant, which is 282m (925ft) high. Or, if you’re feeling really brave, the tower also functions as a base jump centre. It also acts as a communications tower and an Islamic astronomy observatory. Plus, there is an aquarium and the Mini Zoo at the base of the tower, as well as a 95-year-old tree that was saved from the bulldozers during construction.
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