Of all the places I've visited in Malaysia, I find Penang to be the most beautiful especially its capital city, George Town. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the charming city of George Town is dotted with several ancient buildings and colonial shophouses. And aside from these beautiful architectures that are truly a feast for the eyes, wandering through the buzzing streets of Georgetown is a fun experience in itself, where you'll come across different styles of fantastic street arts, amazing street performers, tantalizing food trucks, cosy concept cafes, and so much more!
Are you heading to Penang soon? Check out my list of 7 fun things to do in Penang.
1. Stay at a Heritage House
When visiting a place steeped in tradition and history such as Penang, staying at a heritage hotel would be a great way to soak up the culture. These heritage houses carry a deep link to the city's colourful past and project an ambience that's totally different from modern hotels. There are plenty of boutique hotels in Penang that are housed in a charming heritage building dating back to the early 1700s. These hotels are truly fascinating and brimming with a lot of character. What's more, they are located within the UNESCO zone, which is where most of the Penang attractions are located. Staying in this area means you can simply explore the various attractions in the city on foot.
I stayed at Cintra Heritage House, an old colonial building that was built in 1840 and once served as a hair salon serving Japanese Officers during the post-period between 1940 and 1960. The hotel has been refurbished with utmost attention to detail, thus, creating a welcoming atmosphere amidst a traditionally designed setting.
I love that it's strategically located in the old city of George Town and everything is within easy walking distance, from the malls, local markets, and even the pier. In fact, I never had to take any local transportation during the entire time that I was there!
2. Explore the UNESCO Heritage Town
If you love beautiful architecture, then Penang should be on your bucket list. Featuring a diverse mix of Asian heritage and British colonial influences, you will surely have so much fun exploring this historic town.
Walking through the narrow streets, I've come across several cute and colourful buildings and various atmospheric temples. Some of my favourites are the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, which is a well-preserved Chinese courtyard mansion, and the Khoo Kongsi, a grand Chinese clan house that was built more than 600 years ago.
Other attractions to check out are the Blue Mansion or the Cheong Fatt Tze house and the Sri Mahamariamman Temple, a colourful Hindu temple decked with ornate floral decorations and several Hindu deities.
Don't forget to ask for a map from your hotel before you head out to explore. The attractions are only a few minutes walk away from each other, but if you don't fancy walking under the heat of the sun, hire a rickshaw to take you around.
3. Track Down the Fascinating Street Arts and Murals
George Town is hailed as one of the most Instagram-worthy places in Asia not only for its beautiful architecture but also because of the fascinating street arts and murals that are scattered all over the city! In 2012, the municipal council of Penang hired a famous Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic to breathe new life to the city streets in an effort to spread awareness of its rich culture and history. The project turned out a success and some of his most famous works include the 3D-like caricatures made from wrought iron.
I had so much fun hunting down and photographing these interesting art pieces. I love the added character that they gave to the already charming city. And instead of using my map to hunt down the street arts, I simply wandered around the streets intentionally and unintentionally finding the various art installations, which makes for a truly fun and exciting experience!
4. Embark on a Culinary Journey
If you're a foodie like me, then Penang is a paradise. Considered as the food capital of Malaysia and has been ranked consistently as one of the best food destinations in the world, a trip to Penang would not be complete without sampling some of the city's mouthwatering street foods. Penang's unique local dishes are famous all over the world, thanks to its exotic combination of Malay, Chinese, and Indian influences. From local staples like Char Koay Teow to the mouthwatering broths like Laksa, and the scrumptious desserts of Cendol, Penang certainly has it all!
Although the street food stalls and food trucks are spread all over the place, the best way to start your culinary journey is at Gurney Drive. There are also plenty of food stalls along Chulia Street especially when nighttime comes. I also love the fact that the food in Penang is super cheap, so you can sample as many foods as your stomach can hold!
5. Witness the Awe-Inspiring Street Performances
I happen to visit Penang on a weekend and was lucky enough to witness the awe-inspiring street performances at Armenian Street. Dubbed as “Armenian Street Got Talent”, this event was organized to promote Penang's traditional culture and art and to provide a platform for local performers and artists to show off their talent.
Every Saturday night, the Armenian street is closed to vehicles to give way to this event and to ensure the safety of the performers. I had so much fun watching the performance of a local music band that uses recycled items for their musical instrument and some dancers performing death-defying acrobatic stunts
Aside from the street performances, you'll also find several stalls selling local handicrafts, art pieces, and other creative goods.
6. Experience the Vibrant Nightlife
The nightlife scene of Penang is just as vibrant as its streets. From the hippest bars to the most vibrant nightclubs, Penang's nightlife is truly exciting and full of fun and adventure.
In George Town, there is a wide range of bars that suit every lifestyle. Some bars have loud music playing in the background and cater to young backpackers and travellers. There are also fancy bars that have a more laidback appeal and a more sophisticated ambience. My favourite is the George Town Wines, a quaint local wine bar serving the finest wine in the city. Located in a small street within the heart of George Town, I love the classy environment and the great ambience of this bar, especially the outdoor setting.
If you don't mind venturing outside of George Town, check out the rooftop cocktail bars, local discos, and beach pubs on the other parts of the city. Family-friendly activities are also available, such as in-house dining restaurants that cater to families and the younger generation.
7. Check out the Art Exhibitions and Museums
Penang is not only a foodie paradise but an art lover's paradise as well. Aside from the fascinating street arts and murals, the city is also dotted with several art galleries and museum that features the work of world-renowned artists and some lesser-known local artists.
I've visited quite a few art galleries and some of my favourites include the exhibition at the E&O hotel, which showcases the works of Ernest Zacharevic, the artist behind the fascinating Penang street arts. The Penang State Art Gallery is also a must-visit. I love the gallery's comprehensive collection of artworks dedicated to modern and contemporary arts.
There are also various museums in George Town and I have visited a couple of them, the Wonderfood Museum and Upside Down Museum. Known as the world's first inter-food fantasy museum, the Wonderfood Museum features fake local food displays that look so real in photos. It's truly a fun place to visit especially if you have your kids in tow. The Upside Down Museum is another family-friendly attraction in Penang that is certainly fun to visit. Everything inside the museum is positioned outside down and I had a great time taking photos of the unique arrangements.
There are just so many things to see and do in Penang, whether you are a foodie, an art lover, or someone who just loves exploring interesting places. I had so much fun on my first visit to Penang. I love the city a lot that I visited it twice in less than a year. So if you have not been to Penang yet, I urge you to visit. You might just not want to leave!