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Alor Setar displays some of Malaysia’s best architecture, plenty of museums and is a little-known stopover between Penang and Langkawi. Culture Trip shows budget-conscious photography-loving travellers how to get the most out of 24 hours in Alor Setar.
Alor Setar combines attractive architecture, traditional shophouse cafés and street food. Here’s our guide to the city’s best attractions, culture and where to go for sunset cocktails with just 24 hours in the city (without spending a fortune).
Self-guided walking tour of Alor Setar’s stunning architecture
We recommend booking a night at Sentosa Regency Hotel for its central location and budget-friendly prices. Start the morning by walking to Rumah Merdeka (Independence House), the childhood home of Malaysia’s first prime minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman. The family home is now a free museum. Walk five minutes along Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman to Dataran Alor Setar for the city’s real highlights. Zahir Mosque with its intricate carvings and decorations sits on the left next to The Big Clock Tower. The elegant Royal Hall lies opposite. Head to the Sultan Museum at the top of the square to learn about the Sultan’s lifestyle (and, of course, cool down in their air-conditioning). Pro tip: Combine a trip to Dataran Alor Setar with visiting the nearby and almost hidden Sri Thandayuthapani (Hindu) Temple.
Chinatown, a history lesson and local artisans
Start the early afternoon with the first coffee break in your 24 hours in Alor Setar at Love A Lot Coffee Shop. The cosy café is just a few minutes on foot from the Zahir Mosque next to the Kedah River. Order iced coffee and get a slice of their Hong Kong-style waffles. Spend half an hour or so in the narrow streets of Chinatown. Capture the essence of the charismatic shophouses on either side with their different designs and colours. Loop around the river to the lighthouse and park. When the intense afternoon heat gets too much, return to Dataran Alor Setar and visit the Kedah Royal Museum (inside the Royal Hall). The ten-gallery museum covers Kedah’s history from antiquity to the present day. Next check out the Kedah Art Gallery inside the Roman-styled former colonial high court on the square’s southern side.
Coffee in a vintage shophouse and Alor Setar Tower
Return to Chinatown and head to Caffe Diem. The colonial shophouse provides flavoursome coffee and the chance to see inside one of these stunning buildings. Take a taxi or walk the one kilometre (0.62 miles) to Alor Setar Tower. The telecommunications tower rises to 165.5 metres (543 feet) dominating the city centre. An observation deck provides views of the city for just RM6 ($1.50 USD). Pro tip: If you want to take photographs of the tower, you’ll need to walk further down the street to get the best angles.
Head back to the hotel to freshen up. Take a taxi (your hotel can arrange one) to Sunset at Sky Garden (about ten minutes away) for sunset cocktails. Grab a seat on their spacious outdoor terrace. Lean back and order a drink or two while watching the sunset. Despite this bar in Alor Setar being more on the expensive side, we do recommend having a sunset drink on our 24 hours in Alor Setar itinerary. Pro tip: Aim to arrive at Sky Garden around 6.30pm. The sun sets between 7.00pm and 7.45pm depending on the time of the year.
Alor Setar Street Food
Get a taxi back to the centre to sample some of the city’s tastiest street food. If you have just 24 hours in Alor Setar, we recommend Chinatown Food Court. Vendors cook Malaysian and Kedah favourites including fried rice, noodles and satay (barbecued meat on bamboo sticks). Walk around the food court and let your nose decide what to order. If you like kuay teow noodles, get something from Madam Gan’s stall. After dinner, return to Dataran Alor Setar to see the architectural masterpieces bathed in light.
If you have longer than 24 hours in Alor Setar, we recommend visiting Kedah Paddy Museum and Gunung Keriang (Elephant Mountain). The three-floored museum covers the history of rice in the state. Elephant Mountain has caves, trails and viewing platforms. Both are close to each other and visiting usually takes an entire afternoon. As an alternative, northern Malaysia’s oldest fort, Kuala Kedah Fort, is less than 30 minutes away. Pro tip: Ask the taxi driver to stop by the paddy fields on the outskirts of the city for a quick photograph. Look at the map, and you might be able to visit one or two Chinese temples along the way, too.