A popular tourist destination, there are so many things to do in Penang, Malaysia that you’ll never run out of places to visit.
Although it’s a small island, 295 square kilometres in size, Penang has something for everyone; whether you’re travelling as a family, couple or solo. There’s everything from free attractions and fun museums for rainy days, through to food tours and rainforest hikes.
Here’s our guide to everything Penang has to offer, so you can plan your dream Penang itinerary!
Things to do and see in Georgetown, Penang
Let’s start in Penang’s capital city, Georgetown.
1. George Town street art
George Town is well known for its extensive collection of street art, and rightly so. Gorgeous artwork can be found all across the city and you can pick up maps to do your own walking tours or book yourself on a guided tour.
The most famous, and my personal favourites, were by Ernest Zacharevic, who was commissioned to create a series of artworks across the town for the 2012 George Town Festival. Be sure to head into the city and see how many you can find.
Why not take the Ladies What Travel virtual tour of George Town’s street art before you go and see it for yourself?
2. Penang State Museum
The Penang State Museum and Art Gallery began life as the island’s first English language public school.
Alongside regularly changing temporary exhibitions, it has a permanent display of national and state treasures including a collection of Baba Nyonya porcelain, furniture, jewellery and costumes. There’s also a display of oil paintings by Captain Robert Smith, a military engineer who was stationed in Penang with the East India Company.
3. Fort Cornwallis
Love history? Then it’s well worth a trip to Fort Cornwallis.
Built by the British East India Company back in the 18th century, the idea of pirates comes to mind, but the fort was used more for administrative purposes than military. Even so, there are cannons to see, but for the more romantic, there’s a beautiful little chapel hidden away.
Here you can also see the only lighthouse in Malaysia that looks like a ship’s mast.
4. Kapitan Keling Mosque
Built in 1803 by Indian Muslim traders, this mosque was named after the Captain of the Indian Muslim community. It’s the largest mosque in Georgetown, and its whitewashed walls are topped with large golden-yellow Mughal-style domes, crescents and stars.
5. Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Clock Tower
Penang millionaire Cheah Chen Eok paid for the building of the 60ft tower to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. Random fact – you can see the exact same clock tower in Brighton, UK!
6. Goddess of Mercy Temple
Built in 1800, the Goddess of Mercy Temple is believed to be the oldest Chinese temple in Penang.
Visitors flock here on Chinese New Year for good luck, but the temple is busy all year round as those that visit on the birthday are supposed to be bestowed with good luck and health for the following 12 months.
7. Pinang Peranakan Mansion
The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is a fine example of a Baba-Nonya, or Paranakan Chinese ancestral home – Chinese settlers in Penang that adopted and absorbed the local culture and over time married different races into their families.
This house, now a museum, was built at the end of the 19th century and belonged to the head of the local Chinese community. It provides a great insight into the Baba-Nonya culture, with antiques and collectables as well as lovingly cared for original features including wood carved panels, floor tiles and iron pillars.
Take one of the free tours to get a real insight into life back then within the community, and make sure you take the time to venture over to the family’s ancestral temple as well as the Straits Chinese Jewellery Museum where you could even pick up a beautiful piece of antique jewellery from the shop.
8. St George’s Church
The oldest Anglican Church in Southeast Asia, St George’s celebrated its bicentenary in 2018. A decade earlier it had also been declared one of the 50 National Treasures of Malaysia.
9. Penang 3D Trick Art Museum
Great for rainy days, the 3D Trick Art Museum is designed to get you to take quirky pictures that mess with your mind. Guides help you stand in the right position to get the best pictures.
10. Little India
Little India is the area of Georgetown where early Indian immigrants first settled. It’s the island’s epicentre of Indian music, cuisine and exotic spices and is where you’ll find the …
11. Sri Mahamariamman Temple
The temple’s main entrance is a sight to see, as it features colourful sculptures of gods and goddesses.
12. Cheong Fatt Tze – The Blue Mansion
The Blue Mansion is a beautifully restored building which is now used as a boutique hotel with just 18 individually decorated rooms.
It was built by Cheong Fatt Tze, who arrived in Penang as a penniless 16-year-old who over time became one of the richest and philanthropic characters on the island.
Featured in Crazy Rich Asians, this place is something special to see and non-guests are invited to come and look around on daily guided tours (11am, 2pm and 3.30pm). This is well worth doing as our brilliant tour guide taught us all about the history on the building, how it sadly fell into disrepair when passed down to Cheong Fatt Tze’s children and how it came to be restored to its former beauty.
We arrived half hour early for the tour to enjoy a drink in the beautiful courtyard bar, and there’s also the fine dining Indigo Restaurant if you’re looking for a special meal one evening.
13. The Wonderfood Museum Penang
One of Penang’s more quirky attractions, the Wonderfood Museum is an interactive exhibition filled with giant models of Penang’s best-known foods. A firm favourite with kids.
14. Colonial Penang Museum
Get a glimpse into what life was like for the wealthy merchants and British administrators of Old Penang thanks to the Colonial Penang Museum’s collection of furniture and antiques from the period.
15. Khoo Kongsi
A kongsi is a Chinese clan house where families come together to discuss social and spiritual concerns and commitments.
In Penang these were built by the five largest Chinese clans that came to the island, one of these being the Khoo family. Craftsmen were brought over from China to design and build the highly decorative clan house, which is also known the Dragon Mountain Hall and was completed in 1906. Khoo Kongsi known as the grandest of its kind in Malaysia.
16. Cheah Kongsi
Then there’s Cheah Kongsi. One of the oldest Hokkien clan houses in Penang, it was built in 1810.
A trip to either clan house lets you learn more about the cultural diversity in Penang and the history behind the Chinese that came to settle here. Not only for history lovers, if you enjoy architecture and design these should definitely be on your list to visit.
17. Beryl’s Chocolate Story
Found on Love Lane, Beryl’s Chocolate Story is part shop, part café and part museum run by Malaysian chocolatier, Beryl’s.
Head up to the second floor to check out their mini museum which shows you the story behind the sweet treats you love…
18. Clan Jetties
Built on stilts over the sea, this a traditional waterfront settlement was built by Chinese clansmen when they arrived in Penang. Each clan had its own jetty and many of their decedents still live there today.
Open to the public for a certain amount of time each day, many turn their homes into shops selling food, drink and souvenirs to tourists.
19. Penang State Art Gallery
The Penang State Art Gallery houses a collection of modern and contemporary art which take the form of everything from paintings, sculptures and prints through to photography, video and performances.
20. Ghost Museum
If you’re looking for unusual things to do in Penang, well we’ve got your covered. The Ghost Museum isn’t a haunted house; its actually a museum that tells the stories behind 30 different ghosts, teaching visitors about dark culture and history.
One the kids will love, there’s lots of costumes and props for you to get involved with as you make your way through this interactive museum.
21. Gurney Drive
Named after Sr Henry Gurney, a High Commissioner of Malaya, this seafront promenade is famous for open air hawker centres and giant shopping malls. It’s the place to come to if you want to shop till you drop – or escape the heat by hiding away in airconditioned shopping centres such as Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon Mall.
Free things to do in Penang
22. Free walking tours
Many cities offer free walking tours that introduce you to the main sights and Georgetown is one of these. Free Georgetown walk about tours take place every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, starting at the Tourist Information Centre on Lebuh Pantai.
They begin at 10.30am but as numbers are limited to around 20 it’s first come, first served so I recommend getting there at least an hour early. We arrived at 9.30 on two different days to try and get a spot on the tour and on both occasions they were already fully booked.
If you are lucky enough to get on the free walking tour you’ll spend an hour and a half learning about the city’s two centuries of history, offering an insightful introduction to the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Things to do across Penang Island
23. Penang National Park
If you love nature, Penang National Park is a must visit. But be warned, you need to be fit and healthy to really explore the park as the pathways (when they exist!) can be uneven and steep.
Visitors can come for the day or camp overnight in Malaysia’s smallest national park. Depending on your plans entry costs can differ, but you must ensure you are given a ticket at the entrance, as visitor numbers are restricted and you could be asked to show a ticket during your time in the park.
Penang National Park’s a wonderful place to see some of the wildlife. We only did a short walk from the entrance of the park and saw lots of beautiful butterflies, several monitor lizards and, of course, cheeky monkeys a plenty (keep an eye on your belongings, they can get quite aggressive).
I was disappointed to find out that the park’s canopy bridge had been closed “for maintenance” for several years (the locals said they don’t expect it to reopen, sadly) but there’s still many other things to see and do in Penang National Park.
Those of you fitter than me could enjoy a hike to the top of Bukit Batu Hital for amazing views over the park, and/or climb the stairs to Muka Head Lighthouse. Built by British colonists, it stands 227 meters above sea level and offers beautiful, panoramic views of the beach. Visitors can also hike to the beaches, although there are many locals that offer a boat service if you’re not up for a hot and sweaty walk.
24. Turtle Beach and the Turtle Conservation Centre
There’s also Kerachut Beach, known as Turtle Beach, where you’ll find the Turtle Conservation Centre. There’s not a huge amount to see, but the centre collects the eggs the turtles lay on the beach and transfers them to a secure ‘nursery’ to protect them from local predators until the babies hatch and are safe to be returned to the wild.
There are a few small pools at the centre, so you may get the chance to see some turtles while you’re there, as we did. It was a bit sad to be honest, seeing them in small pools, but at the same time lovely to get to see such beautiful creatures close up knowing that this was a conservation effort.
When we arrived we were lucky enough to see the tracks from a turtle that had come up on the beach the night before to lay her eggs. That was something special!
25. Meromictic Lake
Just up from the Turtle Conservation Center is the meromictic lake. This is a rare type of lake, which has two different layers of water – fresh and saltwalter.
The different temperatures and densities mean the two don’t mix, but as we discovered you’ll only get to see this phenomenon between May and August – we came in January and it had all dried up.
26. Penang Hill
Penang Hill gives the best views across the island – that’s because it’s 830m above sea level. Fitness fanatics can spend a couple of hours hiking up to the summit if they choose, but the majority of visitors use the funicular railway to go up and down the hill.
Very much aimed at tourists, it is a rather tacky spot with a mini bird park, flower garden and owl museum, with lots of hawkers trying to get you to buy cheesy souvenirs or take pictures with their animals (something I do not support!).
There are a few gems up here however – Penang Hill is where you’ll find David Brown, the island’s highest restaurant and a great spot for afternoon tea and the brilliant eco-tourism project called The Habitat.
27. The Habitat
Built on the edges of the rainforest, The Habitat promotes environmental and conservation awareness through nature trails, canopy walkways, tree top walks and ziplines.
Starting at the forest floor, guides take you on a journey along the Habitat’s nature trail, pointing out the plants, trees, insects, birds, reptiles, and mammals that call this rainforest home. Then head upwards and explore the rainforest canopy and enjoy the highest viewing point on the island.
28. Penang Botanical Gardens
Thirty hectares in size, the botanical gardens were set up in 1884 to botanical specimens from Penang’s surrounding hills.
Well worth visiting, it’s particularly known for its beautiful Japanese Garden and it’s Bambusetum.
29. Kek Lok Si Temple
Kek Lok Si is one of the largest Buddhist temples in Southeast Asia and is a truly impressive to look upon. It’s home to a handcrafted Pagoda of Ten Thousand Buddhas and a bronze statue of Kuan Yin – the goddess of compassion, mercy and kindness, which is over 30m high.
If you get a chance visit during Chinese New Year, as the entire complex is decorated in lights and lanterns that come to life as the sun sets. An absolutely amazing sight.
30. Snake Temple
Penang’s Snake Temple was built to celebrate the Buddhist monk Choe Soo Kong who had extraordinary healing powers.
There’s a story that he used to shelter pit vipers, and therefore many snakes live and are cared for here at the temple. If you have ophidiophobia, this is not a place for you!
31. Entopia by Penang Butterfly Farm
If you’re looking for things to do in Penang with kids, then Entopia is a great choice. You can easily spend several hours here, learning all about the bugs, reptiles and butterflies that call this place home.
There are outdoor adventure areas as well as a three-story indoor discovery centre, with regular interactive workshops and events taking place. The ticket price isn’t cheap, but it’s well worth the entry cost to have the chance to take part in fun activities like setting free the butterflies or extracting silk from silk worms.
32. Tropical Fruit Farm
The Penang Tropical Fruit Farm is a 25-acre orchard where visitors can sample a wide variety of fresh fruits and juices. It’s actually got the largest collection of different fruits in South East Asia!
It’s a lovely place to relax and enjoy some amazing views and it’s well worth seeing what local produce you can pick up in their shop.
33. Wat Chayamankalaram
Built on a land given to the local people by Queen Victoria in 1845, this Thai Buddhist temple houses one of the world’s largest relying Budhha statues, at 33m long.
34. Batu Ferringhi beach
Batu Ferringhi beach is one of the most popular tourist beaches on the island thanks to its long stretch of soft, white sand (oh and the fact that this is where you’ll find the majority of resorts). It’s a lovely spot for a drink or a bit of family fun, but don’t expect anything particularly peaceful. Hawkers are all along the beach selling massages, souvenirs, tours and water sports activities such jet-skiing, parasailing and windsurfing.
Can you swim at Batu Ferringhi?
Swimmers beware – all of Penang’s waters aren’t considered the cleanest, but you also have to beware of jellyfish. Stick to sunbathing in my opinion!
35. Take a tour
For some unique insights into Penang I highly recommend taking a tour run by a local. This way you’ll get to learn a lot more about the island’s history and culture.
There’s something to whet everyone’s interest, from city or full island tours through to foodie and hidden gem tours. Why not check out Tripadvisor for a guide to what’s on offer?
36. Penang War Museum
The Penang War Museum is a lesser known and visited museum mainly, I think, down to its location right at the bottom of the island. Built on the remains of an old British fort it’s a bit out in the sticks compared to other attractions on the island, but is highly recommended and talks about Penang during both the British and Japanese occupations.
37. Eat ALL the food!
My absolute favourite thing about Penang was the food. If you enjoy South East Asian, Chinese and or Indian cooking you’ll adore the delicious dishes on offer at the food courts.
We ate in these almost every day we were in Penang, as the food is very cheap and damn tasty. Justin and I ate for less than £10 in total most evenings, and would slowly wonder around the different stalls, picking out dishes that caught our eye.
Favourites included the butter chicken, freshly made roti and murtabak, plus we learnt to arrive early at our local food court in Batu Ferringhi, called Long Beach Cafe in time to grab one of the giant spring rolls a local lady makes and sells every night. She usually makes up a batch of 100 and it’s first come, first served!
Check out our list of the foods you should try when visiting Penang!
Oh, and if like me you have a love of tea and cake, you should definitely take the time to enjoy an afternoon tea in Penang.
There are many beautiful spots across the island that offer afternoon tea, but my favourites were those with colonial heritage; check out my reviews of the Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Suffolk House and David Brown’s Restaurant & Tea Terrace to find out more.
38. The Tropical Spice Garden
The Tropical Spice Garden is a wonderful eco-tourism site to visit during a trip to Penang. Set on the site of a disused rubber plantation, the garden is beautiful place to explore, with over 500 species of tropical flora and fauna.
There are several different garden trails you can follow, taking you past mini waterfalls and streams and you can also take a guided tour around the garden which I strongly recommend. The knowledgeable guides will share so much information on the different plants and spices and their uses. You may also get to see some of the local wildlife that call the garden their home…
39. Cooking classes
Having eaten gorgeous food and explored gardens where the fresh ingredients are found, the best way to finish your foodie exploration of Penang is through a cooking class.
We try to do these wherever we go, as it’s a great way to learn how to make some of the local dishes so you can continue to enjoy them at home.
During our visit we took a cooking class with locally renowned Nonya chef Pearly Kee at the Tropical Spice Gardens, where we learnt how to make the most delicious local chicken curry as well as having lots of laughs attempting to make our very own roti jala.
Pearly also runs her own cooking school, the Penang Homecooking School, in Georgetown.
40. Penang’s night markets
You can find several night markets across the island, but one of the biggest, and the one aimed most at tourists in in Batu Ferringhi. Every evening Batu Ferringhi’s night market comes alive, and it’s a great place to pick up some gifts to take back home as well as some cheap (read: fake) designer threads or DVDs.
Batu Ferringhi is one of the main tourist areas on the island, with the main road home to many big hotels overlooking the beach. The market brings the area to life every evening (it’s dead quiet during the day) and is so big you could spend an entire evening wandering from one end to the other.
You can find almost anything here; local art and crafts, knock-off clothes, hats and bags, homeware, swimming gear and beach outfits, and if you love to barter, you’ll be in shopping heaven.
Insider tip – never buy from the first place you see; lots of stalls offer similar items so be sure to shop around to get the best deal…
40 things to do in Penang
So, there you have it, my ultimate guide to things to do on the island of Penang.
I hope you’ve found this useful, but if you have any particular questions around a trip to Penang, please ask away in the comment section below. I’ll do my best to answer any queries….