History and culture ooze from the very core of Malacca. Serene Malay villages, unchanged in centuries, sit next to colonial relics from the Portuguese, Dutch and British. Throw in some religious harmony fostered by generations of tolerance, a blend of cultures (and food) throughout their Imperial days and well-preserved architecture as well. Culture Trip lists the top things to do in Malacca, including time-travel river cruises, an almost forgotten Portuguese village and layers of colonial history.
Unesco-listed Malacca holds superlative titles, blends three colonial eras and was the birthplace of the Malay ‘Golden Age’. Culture Trip explains our favourite things to do in Malacca for historical heritage, bargain hunting and where to learn about its fascinating past.
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When the day’s temperature cools, the bars and restaurants along the lengthy Melaka riverside heat up, making a lively place for an evening stroll. If you like shopping, head to the Jonker Street Night Market, which takes place every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, selling tourist merchandise among daily produce, and will give you a great hit of Malay culture. Otherwise, zig zag across the numerous bridges to investigate the intriguing street art, historical buildings and food vendors. At 40kms (25mi) long, there’s plenty to see.
If you’ve not sampled these Malaysian treats, make straight for the Daily Fix Cafe – it’s an absolute must-visit. Hidden away from the main drag, it sprawls across two storeys, overlooking a courtyard, a veritable insider’s secret. While you’re waiting for a table, watch plates of pancakes being ferried to contented customers. The bright-green pandan is the speciality – described as the vanilla of Asia, it has a grassy, citrussy flavour which, coupled with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, is a fluffy mound of heaven on a plate.
In the heart of Chinatown, this is the go-to for antiques collectors, bargain-hunters and vintage-fashion enthusiasts – filled with shops and a handful of bars, this multicultural neighbourhood always has a buzzy vibe. The Friday and Saturday night market is a must to immerse yourself in the community as you can try local street food and haggle along with the locals, while enjoying a drink and live performances on Jonker Walk.
The fastest way to see the best of Malacca is by joining the free Old Malacca Heritage Tour. Guides take travellers around the city’s heritage sites (Dutch Square, St Paul’s and Chinatown) offering historical commentary. Follow the trail and learn about the Malay golden age under the Malacca Sultanate through three eras of colonial rule to the present day. Guides offer suggestions on the best restaurants too. Tours last two-and-a-half hours starting outside Tourism Malaysia.
Visiting the remains of the 500-year-old A’Famosa (or ‘The Famous’ in Portuguese) is among our favourite things to do in Malacca for history buffs. Alfonso Albuquerque commissioned the fortress when the first Portuguese fleets arrived in 1511. Back then, the fortress sprawled across the hill encapsulating houses, four-storied watchtowers and five churches. Only the crumbling Porta de Santiago gate remains of one of the oldest European structures in Asia.
Malaysia’s diverse cultural currents come together on Jalan Tokong, aka Temple Street. Here you can gravitate between the oldest Hindu Temple in Malaysia, Sri Poyatha Moorthi; the Kampung Kling Mosque, recognisable by its bright-green tipped minaret; and, a few metres further on, the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, marked by a string of bright flags. People flock here at times of prayer, proving that harmony, peace, and prosperity can co-exist.
The Malacca River penetrates the city and is lined by riverside bars and restaurants. But this photogenic area has a much broader role in the heart of old Malacca. From the 15th-century Malacca Sultanate through 500 years of colonial rule, the river acted as the main highway. Malacca River Cruise’s 45-minute journey traverses this centuries-old trade route of over 9km (5.6mi). Anticipate cruising past restored houses, religious buildings and see a slice of rural Malaysia that once dominated the city. Join either the daylight, sunset or after-dark cruise starting at either Muara Jetty (near Maritime Museum) or Taman Rempah Jetty (near Hang Jebat Bridge).
The 43rd-floor observation deck at the top of Shore Sky Tower provides panoramic views reaching 50km (31mi) in all directions. Malacca’s highest point acts as a haven for both photographers and thrill-seekers. On a cloudless day, the Straits of Malacca and colossal cargo ships bobbing in the water are visible. Adrenaline junkies can test their nerve walking along the glass-bottom ledge with seemingly nothing below their feet for 43 storeys! Culture Trip recommends Sky Tower as one of the top things to do in Malacca on a sunny day for families, couples and solo travellers. Tickets cost 25 Malaysia Ringgit (£4.30).
Malacca is the food capital of Malaysia. Hungry tourists can taste everything from street food to the city’s famed cendol (shaved ice and green jelly) and regional delicacies. Malay, Indian and Chinese restaurants fill the streets amid a smattering of low-cost food courts. Add in the centuries of colonial influence and the Peranakan (Baba-Nyonya) fusion of Malay and Chinese styles of cooking, and you have a thriving food culture in Malacca rivalling Penang. We recommend Chung Wah’s for chicken rice balls and Amy Heritage to taste Nyonya cuisine.
Sara Darling contributed additional reporting to this article.
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