Former Penang resident, Sharon Gourlay, shares the best things to do in Penang, Malaysia.
Looking for a place to visit with tropical weather, beaches and jungle, a historic city and the best food in the world?
Come to Penang! It has all of these things and more.
16 Things To Do In Penang Island
Click on the links below to skip straight to your top choices of attractions in Penang.
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Penang is a state of Malaysia located on the western coast of the peninsula. Although it is not just an island, the state of Penang is best known for its beautiful island, just off the coast and this is where you should visit.
Penang is a fabulous place. It’s modern while being tropical and gorgeous. It’s easy to get around with many people speaking English, and it has an interesting cultural mix and heritage.
Best Time To Visit Penang
Penang is located in the tropics and not that far from the equator so it is hot and humid year round. However, it is less hot and humid in their dry season which is November to February. December and January are the busiest times for tourists so visiting in February or November is the absolute best time although March and April are also very pleasant.
However, it is not bad to go at other times. Rainfall is usually over quickly and often occurs at night. In all our time in Penang, there was only one day when it rained so much that it stopped us doing things.
A bigger concern can be the haze – pollution which is caused by fires in Indonesia. Most years this isn’t a big concern in Penang but when it is bad, it can be very bad with it not being a good idea to go outside. It varies each year with when is a bad time and how bad it is but it can occur from anytime from June.
What to do in Penang, Malaysia
If you are looking for a beach holiday, you can have it in Pulau Penang (Penang Island), or if you are looking to learn more about the world, you can have that too. Either way, you can eat great food and have a great vacation at a great price.
We called it home for a year with our kids and it was one of our best years ever. It’s a very nice and easy place to be.
Penang Has Something for Everyone
In this Penang travel blog, I’m going to share with you our best things to do in Penang Island.
I will then help you plan your trip further with some information about how to get to Penang, share the best time to visit is and some of the best places to stay in Penang once you make it here.
So, let’s start! Here’s my list of what to do in Penang Island.
1. Take A Funicular Tram Up Penang Hill
Penang Hill is the best place in Penang to start your adventure as you can see so much of Penang from here! It’s also noticeably cooler than the rest of Penang so great if you want to cool down.
Getting to Penang Hill is half the fun of this attraction in Penang. You can walk (it’s steep!) but I highly recommend the two-kilometer funicular tram ride. The tram rides up the steep hill and is actually quite thrilling on the way down. Make sure you sit at the bottom of the tram for the full effect.
Once at the top, there are a variety of Penang Hill attractions in addition to the view which is great on a clear day. There is a skywalk, mosque, Hindu temple, an owl museum, many animals, a playground, canopy walk, zip line and a variety of nature trails. With all the options of what to do in Penang Hill, it’s easy to spend a few hours here.
I particularly enjoy the Hindu Temple which is very tranquil at this location with the views, cooler air, and chanting.
If you are hungry, there are two food courts. One is full of juice and icy treat options and this is the perfect time to try a Malaysian Ais Kacang (shaved ice dessert with many random things added).
Private Penang City tour with Penang Hill and Kek Lok Si Temple.
Discover the streets of Georgetown a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with temples including Kek Lok Si and a ride the funicular to the 2,733-foot (833-meter) summit of Penang Hill
Hours: 6:30am – 11pm (ticket office shuts 9:45pm)
Cost: RM30 return for adults, RM15 for kids.
There is a discount for Malaysians.
2. Have Some Quiet Reflection At Kek Lok Si Temple
Not far from Penang Hill is another of the top places to visit in Penang Island. Kek Lok Si Temple is the biggest Buddhist Temple in Malaysia and it’s in a beautiful location built against the mountains.
There is a massive temple plus some pagodas and a few other temples. The garden areas are also very nice and are home to fish and tortoise ponds where it’s nice to just sit for a moment and take it all in.
Thanks to its mountainous setting, there are a lot of stairs but you can take an inclination lift between the temples to save some walking.
An easy way to visit this temple and Penang Hill is on a guided tour. Check out this option here.
Hours: 9am – 6pm
Cost: It’s free to enter the temple grounds and RM2 for adults to enter the pagoda. It costs RM6 to use the inclination lift for adults.
3. Learn About Penang’s Past At Fort Cornwallis
Another of the top Penang things to do is to visit Fort Cornwallis by the sea in George Town.
Fort Cornwallis is the largest remaining British fort in Malaysia, and it has many information boards and a museum section. It’s where the British first arrived on what was virtually an uninhabited island at the time in 1786 and established the port of Penang helping to shape what was to become a big centre of trade.
The fort covers a reasonable size area and is a nice, peaceful park as well.
Hours: 9am – 7pm
Cost: RM20 for adults, RM10 for kids with discounts for Malaysians
4. Enjoy George Town’s Historic Centre
George Town’s center is UNESCO World Heritage listed thanks to its unique architecture, culture, and townscape and you need to set aside at least a couple of hours to wander around this Penang famous place to visit.
There are neighborhoods to visit within it as well with Little India, its famous Chinese shop fronts and colonial architecture left by the British. It’s also easy to visit with it being centrally located within the most popular parts of Penang.
Some area to explore include Love Lane, Armenian Street and around Queen Street, Chulia Street and Market Streets for Little India.
There are also some Penang points of interest to visit to learn more the history of this area at Peranakan Mansion and Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion.
For a better idea of what you will find in George Town, check out this photo walk.
Full Day Penang City Tour - Explore different neighborhoods of Penang and visit the Clan Jetty (Small floating Village), Penang's oldest temple, St. George Church and Fort Corwalis.
Penang Self Guided Tour - A Self Guided Audio tour that can be explored at your own pace.
Tours can be cancelled up to 24 hours in advance for a full refund.
5. Go On A Street Art Hunt!
In recent years, George Town has become known for its street art and you definitely need to keep a look out for this as you explore things to do at Penang.
The art depicts images from Penang daily life and from its past and it’s fun to try to spot it as you walk around. They make for great photos especially the bicycle above where you can sit on the bike for your own image of you exploring Penang.
Some top places to go in Penang to find this art are Armenian Street, Chulia Street and Muntri Street.
6. Take Some Silly Photos At Made in Penang Interactive Museum
The 3D Museum craze is well and truly alive in Malaysia and, at this Penang tourist attraction, you can combine taking some interesting 3D photos while learning some of the history and culture of Penang.
Instead of traditional museum exhibits, here you will find isometric art where you pose at certain spots so you become part of the artwork. Some feature Penang’s past, some are just fun.
There are also some miniature scale models of Penang and a movie on Penang’s history and culture.
Hours: 10am – 6:30pm
Cost: RM35 for adults and RM25 for kids.
7. See Some Monkeys At The Penang Botanical Gardens
Another best place to visit in Penang is the Botanical Gardens – perfect if you want to see more of Penang’s nature and love monkeys!
Created by the British in 1884, the gardens are well looked after and have a huge variety of exotic and indigenous plant species.
In a peaceful location, there are 12 areas with many different plant types including a formal garden, tropical rainforest jungle track, and a cactus house.
It’s also possible to take a path from here up Penang Hill. It only takes an hour, but it is steep and you are likely to see many monkeys and macaques.
Be wary about the monkeys in the park and I recommend not taking a picnic here. They can be very cheeky and get up very close if they think there is any chance of food and they are known to bite people.
Hours: 5am – 8pm (try to avoid 12:30-2pm where many enclosures are shut)
8. Cool Down At Youth Park
Visiting Youth Park was one of our favorite activities in Penang when we lived there and I especially recommend this Penang best place to visit if you have kids.
But, even if you don’t, it’s a nice place to take a hike and enjoy nature or you can have a work out on the copious exercise equipment they have here!
They also have many swimming pools and a huge playground as well as many fountains. The location is beautiful against the mountains and it feels cooler here than elsewhere thanks to many trees.
I actually prefer it over the nearby Penang botanical gardens because of all the trees. It’s much more pleasant to walk around.
If you are looking for a place to chill in Penang, this is my top pick!
Hours: 6am – 5:30pm
9. Be Freaked Out At Snake Temple
For a different Penang tourist spot, you can visit Snake Temple. This is close to Penang Airport so it can be a good first Penang attraction place to visit or a final one before you leave.
This temple is a traditional Chinese Buddhist temple which was built in 1850 by a monk, Chor Soo Kong. The legend is that he built it so the snakes nearby had a sanctuary.
The snakes are free to come and go so sometimes you may find a lot (especially around festivals when there are more offerings to entice them) and sometimes there may not be any.
There is also a “snake breeding area” where young snakes are raised.
It’s only a small temple and I wouldn’t call it a Penang must go, but it’s cool for somewhere different to visit.
Hours: 6am – 7pm
10. Fly In The Sky At Batu Ferringhi Beach
The most popular beach area in Penang is at Batu Ferringhi and it’s one of the top Penang tourist places and where the majority of the best hotels are located.
While it is a popular location, it’s nowhere near as crowded as similar areas in places like Thailand and some time here can be quite enjoyable. It’s the area where we lived.
The water is quite calm and there are some nice, clean stretches of beach. It’s easy to get a spot to yourself but note that jellyfish can be a problem – I was stung myself when just wading!
There are affordable water sports on offer though and this is a great place to go parasailing! My husband and kids loved it and it’s easy to do other activities as well.
If you prefer a slower pace of beach action with some food and drink, the Bora Bora by Sunset Bar is our favorite place to sit and soak it all in.
11. Get Back To Nature At Penang National Park
Penang National Park may be the smallest national park in Malaysia but it packs a big punch and is definitely worth having on your Penang to do list.
There is a range of jungle trails here including to some of the nicest beaches on the island.
You can also go on a canopy walkway which is up to 15 meters high and just an easy 20-minute walk from the entrance to the park.
The top things to do in Penang, Malaysia at this park are to go to Monkey Beach or the Penang Turtle Sanctuary. Monkey Beach is a lovely stretch of beach home to macaques.
You can hike to these places or take a boat from the entrance to the park. There is also a campground at Monkey Beach. It’s best to visit on a weekday to avoid crowds.
Hours: 8am – 5pm
Cost: Free! But you need to register on entry to get a permit.
Add ons: The canopy walkway is RM5 for adults and RM3 for kids. You need to negotiate the cost of boat rides with the operators starting at RM50 one way.
12. Eat Everything You Can At A Night Hawker Centre
The absolute best places to visit in Penang at night are a night hawker center. They not only have great energy but are full of cheap and tasty food.
Hawker centers are a collection of food stalls, kind of like a food court but more basic looking and usually outdoors. These are the perfect places to try as much of the excellent food in Malaysia as you can.
They can be very cheap although if it’s really cheap, there usually won’t be much meat or vegetables added and it’s likely not to be as tasty.
Some great hawker centers are:
- Long Beach Kafe in Batu Ferringhi
- Gurney Drive Hawker Centre
- New Lane Hawker Centre in George Town
There is an extra bonus if you visit Long Beach Kafe, and you are looking for what to do in Penang at night, as that this hawker center is also surrounded by a night market perfect for buying some souvenirs.
George Town Food Hop with Heritage on a Plate - Start in Little India and weave your way through the Penang streets to enjoy all the different cuisine.
Private Local Street Food Tour - Visit several different food carts and markets to mingle with the locals while going off the beaten track in Penang.
Both tours have free cancellation up to 24 hours before departure.
Find some more great places to eat here.
Penang is known for having some of the best food in Asia so make sure you enjoy Penang’s food whenever you can.
13. Discover New Beaches
Go beyond just visiting Batu Ferringhi beach and explore some of Penang’s other beaches. Being an island, there are a lot of them! Stop when you catch sight of one and go visit and you may find you have a beautiful beach to yourself.
The beach pictured above is one of the beaches between Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Bungah.
14. The Rainforest At Teluk Bahang Forest Park/Penang Eco Park
If your list of what to see in Penang includes natural attractions, you will enjoy a trip to Penang Eco Park. Located in the Teluk Bahang Forest Park, there are many nature trails with picnic and camping areas, a playground and waterfalls. There is a wide range of flora and fauna here.
There is also a series of small pools where you can swim and one even has a waterslide. This can be quite busy on weekends.
At the entrance to the park is a Forestry Museum. At this interesting place in Penang, you can learn about the importance of forestry sector to the economic development of Malaysia and what they do to preserve the environment.
Hours: 9am – 5pm, but closed 12-2:30pm on Fridays
15. See Butterflies At Entopia
One of the best places to see in Penang is broken into two parts - Natureland and Cocoon.
Natureland is a huge garden space with approximately 15,000 butterflies and over 200 species of plants as well as other invertebrates and reptiles. The gardens are well presented with ponds, caves, and waterfalls.
The Penang Butterfly Farm's Cocoon portion has two floors of exhibitions to and activities to teach you about invertebrates
A Penang fun place for families, but anyone who loves butterflies will enjoy it.
Hours: 9am – 6pm
Cost: RM65 for adults and RM45 for children. Discounts available for Malaysians.
16. Enjoy The Views From The Ferry to Butterworth
While there are bridges between Penang Island and the mainland, the fastest way to get between Butterworth and George Town is the ferry. It also makes for one of the fun things to do in Penang.
The trip itself only takes about 15-20 minutes to over the three kilometers and you get great views of Penang and the mainland. It starts running at about 5:20am and finishes around midnight. Ferries run about every 20-30 minutes but they do slow down after 10pm.
The ferry is mostly open air but undercover and it’s no cruise ship, but it’s an enjoyable way to spend time in Penang and one of the things to see in Penang where you are more likely to be surrounded by locals rather than tourists.
Hours: 5:20am – 12:40am but the exact time depends on which place you are leaving from.
Cost: It’s RM1.20 from Butterworth to Penang and free the other way.
You can also pay extra to take a car, motorbike or bicycle across.
If you are looking for a Penang itinerary, read this guide to exactly what to do with 3 days in Penang.
Best Hotels In Penang
Below, I list three great choices for Penang hotels for three different budgets. These are my choices for recommended hotels in Penang.
Luxury - Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang
Just some of the pool and garden areas at Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang
The 5-star Rasa Sayang is a gorgeous choice of the best resorts in Penang. Located right be Batu Ferringhi beach and a short walk from the Long Beach Kafe hawker centre and night markets, it’s also in a prime location.
This resort is a great, expansive outdoor area with multiple pools (including an adults-only option), restaurants, kids club, gym, golf course and more.
There are many room types from doubles to family options. For the best experience, book a room in the Rasa Wing where you get such extras such as afternoon tea, cocktails and pre-dinner canapés.
Click here for the latest prices and Reviews
Midrange - Bayview Beach Resort
For great value accommodation, the Bayview Beach Resort wins in the Batu Ferringhi area.
Located beachfront, there are four pools and a water playground for kids. You can also enjoy a day spa, tennis, volleyball and basketball courts while putting the kids into kids club at an amazing indoor play land.
If you get hungry, there are multiple restaurants and bars or you can walk up the beach to the main strip.
They also have a great option in George Town if you would prefer to stay there.
Click here for the latest prices.
Budget – Old Penang Guesthouse
For a prime spot in George Town with a low price tag, consider Old Penang Guesthouse. Located on Love Lane, you have everything you need at your fingertips while being a short walk from most attractions in George Town.
There are not a ton of facilities and services at this guesthouse, but there is bike hire and laundry at an extra charge.
There are a range of room options depending on your budget from dorm beds to private rooms with either shared or private bathrooms. All rooms have air conditioning.
Click here for the latest prices.
Click here to read more options for where to stay in Penang.
How To Get To Penang
Penang is home to an international airport which has many flights to domestic airports across Malaysia as well as some international flights, mainly to adjacent countries. Domestic flights can be very cheap and this can be the easiest way to get here from places such as Kuala Lumpur.
Search Flights to Penang on Skyscanner
If you are flying from further afield, it’s usually easy to connect to a flight to Penang when flying into Kuala Lumpur.
There are also great buses from most points in Malaysia that will take you straight to the island. It’s also possible to catch a train to Butterworth and then take the ferry over as described above.
From Langkawi, there are ferries that can take you to Penang although flights can usually be cheaper.
Getting Around Penang
Once you are in Penang, there is a good bus service to get around. It is mostly centred on George Town so if you want to get around primarily by bus, this is a good place to stay.
It’s also easy to get taxis using the Grab app. Taxis are generally very good value and I recommend installing this app on your phone before you arrive. It’s much easier than getting taxis in the street and works much like Uber (Grab actually bought Uber in Malaysia and merged it with their own app).
Driving in Penang is quite straightforward and there can be some great deals. We don’t find it much different to driving in Australia but note that drivers like to switch lanes and turn suddenly without using indicators.
Recommended Penang Tours
We use Get Your Guide when booking tours and day trips. They offer excellent guided tours that can easily be booked at the last minute or cancelled with advanced notice.
Private Penang City Tour - Spend a full day discovering the cultural diversity of Penang, Malaysia including George Town, Kek Lok Si Temple, and Penang Hill.
George Town Food Hop - journey through Penang's history through food as you eat your way through George town.
Self Guided Audio Tour - Explore at your own pace with this self guided audio tour of Penang
Private City Tour - Take a private guided tour of Penang's top tourist attractions and enjoy a meal to taste the food of Malaysia.
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I hope you found this Penang travel guide useful. Ask any questions below!
Sharon is a full-time Australian blogger and mum of three who loves sharing her love of travel with others, especially when it comes to her favourite destination, Malaysia! You can find more information to plan your ultimate adventure in Malaysia at Dive Into Malaysia.