Top 10 Things to Do in George Town, Penang

The third-longest Buddha statue in the world
The third-longest Buddha statue in the world | © gracethang2 / Shutterstock
Photo of Michelle Leong
2 October 2018

If there’s one area in Malaysia you have to visit, it’s George Town. The capital of Kuala Lumpur may have its twin towers and Kota Kinabalu may have its imposing mountain, but George Town has the art, heritage and excellent food.

Given its long history as an international trading port and a British colonial headquarters, it’s little wonder George Town has centuries of heritage, food and culture to share. The arts community has also grown significantly since 2008, furthering the area’s reputation as a gritty, authentic and creative centre. Wondering how best to explore this evolving city? Culture Trip has the 10 best things to do in George Town right here.

Go on a temple tour

Thanks to George Town’s sizeable Buddhist and Hindu communities, the city boasts a temple in every other block. The more prominent ones include the Goddess of Mercy Temple, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple and the Wat Chaiyamangkalaram (which has the third longest Buddha statue in the world). If you’re willing to venture a little from the city centre, you’ll also find the Snake Temple where, yes, there are live pit vipers slithering in the garden and curled up beneath the altar (don’t worry, they won’t hurt you).

The third-longest Buddha statue in the world | © gracethang2 / Shutterstock

Check out the hipster scene

Every self-respecting city has a conscious arts and culture scene, and George Town, by that metric, is most definitely the most self-respecting city in Malaysia. At the heart of its flourishing street art and boutique cafés is a thriving community of artists, poets and bohemians, who all gravitate towards the Hin Bus Depot and the popular China House bar/cafe. For the handicraft enthusiast, the local Sunday market at the Hin Bus Depot is a must-visit.

Hipster interior of China House | © China House

Attend a festival event

Between August and February, the city plays host to several nationally renowned festivals, including the spectacular month-long George Town Festival. Between food festivals, literary events and hot-air balloon take-offs, there’s a little something for everyone. Have you missed the August-February window? Check out this page for other events throughout the year.

We Cannot Talk About It | © Ehsan Neghabat / George Town Festival

Visit the Clan Jetty

Situated near the Penang ferry terminal, the Clan Jetties in George Town are water villages dominated by seven historic Chinese clans. In the early 1900s, the clans played out a bitter rivalry over the monopoly of cargo and access to the waterways. These water villages ‘float’ above the water on stilts and are typically made of wood and aluminium. Communal houses normally include a long walkway and a small temple.

Walkway in Chew Clan Jetty, Penang | © Glass frog / Shutterstock

Stroll along Jalan Kapitan Keling

Only in George Town will you find a church next to a temple next to a mosque. And not just any church, temple or mosque either – St. George’s Church is the oldest purpose-built Anglican church in Southeast Asia, with Masjid Kapitan Keling proudly standing next to it as the former state mosque built in 1801. Even older than both of these religious centres, however, is the Goddess of Mercy Temple – first built in 1728. This shy and rather short Taoist temple is integral to the lives of local devotees who celebrate annual feast days for the Goddess of Mercy.

St. George’s Church | © littlewormy / Shutterstock

Enjoy local cuisine on Chulia Street

When you’re in George Town, it’s very possible to eat well for under RM10 (US $2.50) per meal – and the best way to do that is by frequenting the street vendors on Chulia Street. This area comes alive after 6pm, where you’ll find food stalls on either side of the road sharing their business with trendy bars and cafes. Culture Trip recommends the wantan noodles (yellow noodles doused in soy sauce and topped with barbecued pork) and the cendol (sweet cold dessert with filling).

The crowd of people dining at the street food stalls on Lebuh Chulia in historic part of Chinatown in, Georgetown, Malaysia. | © Elena Ermakova / Shutterstock

Explore the street art trail

If there’s one thing that has catapulted George Town into the international hall of arts and culture, it’s the street art. Featuring wall murals by renowned artists such as Ernest Zacharevic, Bibichun, Jesus Moreno, Alex Face, Nafir and Kenji Chai, as well as lesser-known talents who may not have been authorised by the Penang Public Arts Review Panel (PARP), the street art in George Town is not to be missed. Check out this brochure for a recommended trail.

Girl in Blue | © Mohd Fazlin Mohd Effendy Ooi / Flickr

Visit the Pinang Peranakan Mansion

Did you know that the Peranakans used to lock a pair of live chickens in a basket on their wedding night? When they removed the basket lid in the morning, it was said that the first bird to leap out would presage the gender of their first-born child. If you didn’t know this, it’s time you took a trip to the Pinang Peranakan Mansion. Entrance costs RM 20 (US $5), which includes a guided tour and inside information about how the Peranakans used to live.

Pinang Peranakan Mansion, also known as the 'Green Mansion', in Penang, Malaysia | © Fotos593 / Shutterstock

Strike a pose at the Made In Penang Interactive Museum

Feel like having tea with former chief minister Lim Guan Eng? The Made In Penang Interactive Museum brings you floor-to-ceiling artwork that blurs the line between fantasy and reality, ‘tricking’ you into thinking that dinosaurs do exist and pictures can come alive. Family and couple-friendly.

Go dancing at the Muchacha, Qe2

Nightlife in George Town may begin in the bars of Chulia Street and Love Lane, but it ends at the Muchacha, Qe2. This beach bar is located at the Weld Quay, floating just above the water to command a staggering view of the black, blinking sea. Live music happens every Friday and Saturday, so put on your dancing shoes!

Customers dancing to the live band at Muchacha, Qe2 | © Muchacha Qe2

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