Penang’s UNESCO-listed George Town combines stunning architecture, street art and food.
Restored colonial buildings line the older parts of the city overlooking the Straits of Melaka. Mosques, churches and temples sit side by side elsewhere.
Street art adds character to the already colorful neighborhoods.
Botanical Gardens sprawls at the base of towering Penang Hill, a favorite with hikers.
Grand Chinese mansions stand next to food courts, shopping centers and weekend markets.
Crazy Tourist identifies the 25 best things to do in George Town for history, art and culture.
1. Explore George Town’s colonial heritage
George Town was Malaya’s (old name for Malaysia) thriving colonial port.
The British became wealthy from mining tin, rubber plantations and growing coffee in nearby Perak state. Ships exported these commodities from Penang.
George Town’s legacy of this bygone era lies the number of preserved buildings.
Penang’s capital showcases some of the best examples of British architecture in Malaysia and Southeast Asia.
Check out Fort Cornwallis, stately government buildings and Anglican churches.
Grab a map and stroll through old Penang and find architectural masterpieces around almost every corner.
2. Fort Cornwallis: Malaysia’s biggest fort
The star-shaped bastion crumbles near the Straits of Melaka in northeast George Town.
Fort Cornwallis opened in 1786 to protect Penang against increasing threats of piracy.
With an area of almost 39 square meters, it’s Malaysia’s largest fort.
Parts of the original outer walls remain which today encloses a small park. Travelers typically spend 15 minutes inside the complex.
Fort Cornwallis is near the Penang Clock Tower and Esplanade.
Information boards present the fort’s story. But most are vague and disparate.
Read about the colonial bastion before visiting to get the most out of the visit.
3. Southeast Asia’s oldest Anglican church
St George’s in George Town opened its doors in 1819 making it Southeast Asia’s oldest Anglican church.
The British commissioned a church for the increasing number of residents migrating to Malaya in the 19th-century.
The white-washed structure combines neo-classical, English Palladian and Georgian elements. Walk around the church’s grounds and appreciate its diverse geometric and architecture styles.
St George’s is part of George Town’s UNESCO Heritage and remains functional today.
4. Discover the ‘Penang Story’ at the State Museum
Penang State Museum is set inside a former British colonial era school.
Permanent exhibitions tell Penang’s story using art, photographs and old maps.
Discover what life was like during the British period. Find out about the crucial events that occurred in George Town.
Learn about the notorious Penang Riots of 1867 and see a replica of a Chinese trader’s home.
Temporary exhibitions can include everything from ethnography to jewelry to contemporary art.
A recent $20 million investment aims to transform the museum into a regional landmark.
5. The architectural masterpiece of City Hall
George Town’s colonial legacy manifests in its stunning examples of architecture. Nothing showcases this more than City Hall.
Arched windows and colonnades decorate the neo-Baroque masterpiece near Esplanade. Today, the former British City Hall houses the Municipal Council.
Tourists can’t go inside the functioning government building. Snap the best photographs from the Esplanade.
Stop by this colonial work of art as part of a self-guided walking tour of Penang. Fort Cornwallis is a few minutes away on foot.
6. Photograph Penang’s world-renowned street art
George Town is known for three things: colonial architecture, food and street art.
Murals of all shapes, sizes and styles add color to sections of the city’s otherwise bland walls.
Renowned artists including Zacharevic, Alex Face and Kenji Chai have contributed to some of the images.
Check out the Malayan Tiger, Brother and Sister on a Swing and the Window Cat.
Stealing Baos, an image depicting two young children reaching through a barred window, is among the most photographed.
Grab a map of the street art trail from the tourist information center.
7. Explore George Town’s colonial hill station
Penang Hill is both George Town’s and Penang’s tallest point rising to 833 meters (2,733 feet).
During colonial days, the British established a hill station (essentially a resort) at its summit.
Slightly cooler temperatures provided respite from the stuffy, sticky lowlands. Bungalows appeared. Many still remain.
Take the Bukit Bendera Cable Car if you’re short on time. Or hike along the 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) road from Arched Moon Gate in the Botanical Gardens.
Viewing platforms, English-style cottages and themed areas entertain tourists at the top.
8. Tropical flowers and primates inside Botanical Gardens
Botanical Gardens covers more than 71 acres at the foot of Penang Hill.
A path loops around the garden’s 12 sections past countless species of tropical flowers and spices.
Since opening in 1884 on the site of an old quarry, Botanical Gardens has expanded to contain tens of thousands of plants. Check out Lily Garden, Tropical Rainforest and Fern House. Or wander among cacti and herb gardens to a cascading waterfall.
Troupes of long-tailed macaques live inside Botanical Gardens. Families sit on electricity wires near the entrance curiously watching people walk by.
Combine a trip to Botanical Gardens with Penang Hill.
9. Temple tour of George Town
George Town has a reputation for Buddhist and Hindu temples.
Dozens fill the city with a temple of one kind or another temple located on almost every block.
Travelers usually visit a few during their self-guided walking tours.
Crazy Tourist recommends Wat Chaiyamangkalaram, Sri Mahamariamman Temple and Snake Temple.
You’ll find smaller ones while exploring George Town’s neighborhoods.
Be respectful and don’t disturb worshipers. Try to limit the number of photographs inside.
10. A celebration of Buddhism at Kek Lok Si
Kek Lok Si is an enormous castle-like temple approximately 7 kilometers (4.3 miles) from central George Town.
Dating to the 19th-century, this temple is a celebration of different sects of Buddhism. Relics from both Theravada and Mahayana branches decorate the halls inside the vast complex.
The three-tiered central tower incorporates Chinese, Burmese and Thai designs.
Spend an hour or two following the passages through the different halls. Notice the slight variation in each statue, presentation and decorations.
Photograph the 30.2-meter (99-feet) Goddess of Mercy outside.
11. Four religions, one street
Malaysia is a multicultural melting pot.
George Town flaunts the best of Penang’s religious harmony.
Mosques, churches and temples stand side-by-side on Kapitan Keling Street – the same way they have for the best part of two centuries.
Taoist Goddess of Mercy is the oldest dating to 1728. Masjid Kapitan Keling, St George’s Church and Sri Mahamariamman Temple opened in the early 19th-century.
Saunter down the street and appreciate the religious harmony oozing from the brickwork.
Tourists can visit all four buildings. Cover your arms and legs before going into the mosque. Avoid visiting during prayer times.
12. Peer into George Town’s soul at the Penang Road Market
Penang Road closes on the last weekend of the month for George Town’s famous market.
Vendors set up a tunnel of stalls hawking goods from grocery to household products to cheap clothes.
Tourists shop for souvenirs, handicraft and street food.
Embrace the chaos and energy inside George Town’s most popular weekend market.
Grab roasted chestnuts, tropical fruits and bubble tea.
Nothing provides a window into Penang’s soul than the buzzing atmosphere inside this once-a-month weekend market.
13. Shop for bargains at George Town’s weekend market
The weekend market in Straits Quay Marine Mall with everything from homemade butter and handicraft to jewelry.
Shopaholics and tourists alike head down on weekends to search for bargains and soak up the atmosphere.
Travelers can find that perfect souvenir and take a piece of George Town back home. Or meet the local artisans selling their craft.
Keep your eyes open for rare antiques and relics from Penang’s previous generations.
The market opens between 10:30am and 10:30pm from Friday to Sunday.
14. Taste George Town’s world-famous food
George Town, along with Kuala Lumpur and Melaka, is a food capital of Malaysia.
Hundreds of restaurants cater to all dietary needs and budgets.
Try noodle soup in family-owned Chinese diners and dine buffet-style in 24/7 Indian ‘Mamak’ restaurants.
Penang is a hotspot for street food.
George Town’s Chulia Street transforms after 6:00pm. Wafting aromas rise from the dozens of hawkers cooking street food.
Follow your nose around the labyrinth of stalls.
Grab a few sticks of satay (chicken or mutton kebabs skewered on a bamboo stick). Try the famous wantan noodles (yellow noodles and barbequed pork).
15. Eat in a hawker center
If you don’t fancy eating in a restaurant, check out George Town’s hawker centers.
Stalls with a huge selection of food choices surround an enormous seating area.
Walk around the perimeter and find various dishes including noodles, rice and fish balls. Others serve barbequed meat and roasted duck.
Order from the stall, take a seat and the food arrives in minutes.
Apart from an almost guaranteed delicious eat, meals usually costs just a few dollars.
Check out Red Garden Food Paradise, CF Food Court and Sungai Pinang Food Court.
16. Discover Penang’s Peranakan heritage at Green Mansion
The mint green mini-mansion in George Town once belonged to a wealthy Chinese businessman.
Covering two-stories, the building exhibits elaborate carving on its doors and balcony. Aside from architectural aesthetics, the mansion doubles up as an intriguing museum.
Discover Malaysia’s and Penang’s Peranakan culture and traditions inside. The term Peranakan refers to a subgroup of Chinese Malaysians whose ancestors migrated to Malaysia hundreds of years ago.
Learn about their quirky traditions and superstitions. Find out about family life, traditional food and daily activities.
An English-speaking guided tour is included with the entrance ticket. Most tourists spend an hour inside the Pinang Peranakan Mansion.
17. Photograph the most photographed building in George Town
Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, often called Blue Mansion, is Penang’s most famous building.
The 38-roomed mansion has more than 200 windows and an attractive indigo-blue façade. Various elements blend East and West in the late 19th-century building. Take note of the stained glass windows.
Blue Mansion is a few minutes west of old Penang on Leith Street.
After falling into disrepair, Blue Mansion received well-needed restorations in the late 1990s.
Join a guided tour of the mansion and learn about Cheong Fatt Tze’s inspiring rags-to-riches story.
18. Tastes of the subcontinent in Little India
George Town’s Little India spreads across Chulia, Market and Queen Streets.
A sizeable Indian community lives within this neighborhood offering a taste of the subcontinent.
Navigate through the alleys and embrace the serendipity in traditional music, clothes and food.
Nasi Kandars (pay for what you eat buffet-style restaurants) open all day and all night. Grab a plate and fill it with biryani, tandoori chicken and spicy prawns.
Or order a pancake-like roti for breakfast or an afternoon snack.
George Town’s Little India presents a different side to the capital – different food, culture and atmospheres.
19. Explore the mysterious overwater Chinese villages
Clan Jetty consists of six (formerly seven until one burned down) overwater Chinese villages.
Traditional stilted villages hover near the Penang Ferry Terminal.
When George Town developed, almost every acre of available space became involved in construction.
This left little space for the Chinese settlers.
Seven Chinese clans built overwater villages where they managed their lucrative industry: Loading and unloading precious cargo at Penang Port.
Bitter rivalries and disputes developed between the rival businesses and communities.
Chew Jetty is the most tourist-friendly of the six floating villages. Follow the boardwalk and explore the wooden and aluminum houses.
20. George Town’s thriving shopping scene
Penang has two passions: Food and shopping.
George Town caters to all shoppers from bargain hunters to souvenir shoppers. Some travelers stock up on clothes and accessories. Others get the latest iPhone.
Check out Penang Plaza, Straits Quay Marina Mall and Gurney Plaza Shopping Mall for clothes and fashion.
Other shops sell antiques, electronics and handicraft.
Some of George Town’s streets close after nightfall giving way to night markets. Shopping festivals take place in the city every August too.
21. George Town’s Jewish Cemetery
George Town has a secret in the heart of the city center. Few residents, let alone outsiders, know of Penang’s enigmatic Jewish Cemetery.
Penang once had a Jewish settlement in the 19th and early 20th-centuries.
Nobody remains of this once thriving community.
The Jewish Cemetery on Zainal Abidin Street is their only legacy.
Knock on the gates and the caretaker will allow you inside. Read the Hebrew inscriptions on the triangular and dome- shaped graves.
The oldest dates to 1835, the newest to 2011.
The man buried in 2011 is believed to be the last of George Town’s once blossoming Jewish community.
22. Ride the ferry across the Straits of Melaka
The Straits of Melaka separates Penang Island from Peninsular Malaysia.
Ferries pass between George Town and Butterworth on the mainland every 30 minutes during the day.
Riding the ferry on the top deck offers spectacular views of Penang Island, the Straits of Melaka and Penang Bridge to the south.
Return tickets shouldn’t cost more than a dollar. Stand on the side and enjoy the scenery passing by.
Travelers taking the bus or train to other parts of Malaysia will need to get to the station in Butterworth.
23. Sunset cocktails at Beach Blanket Babylon
George Town’s favorite bar overlooks the Straits of Melaka.
The upscale bar/restaurant exudes the flair of a Mediterranean lounge.
Order a cold beer or cocktail and sit in the elegant outdoor terrace. Modern furniture and wooden decorations create a classy atmosphere.
Tables fill in the early evening with both office workers and tourists.
Beach Blanket Babylon is among the highest rated bars in Penang.
Walk along the coast for approximately 20 minutes from Fort Cornwallis.
24. Fun photo-ops in the Upside Down Museum
Upside Down Museum promises Instagram-worthy photos and family-friendly fun.
On first glance, the rooms look like any other house with one exception: Everything is upside down.
Tables, chairs and beds are the wrong way up attached to the ceiling.
Museum staff help visitors get into position before taking their photographs. Flip it the right way up and it gives the illusion that you’re posing on the ceiling.
The museum in central George Town promises fun and entertainment.
Try to arrive early to beat the afternoon crowds.
25. Spend the day in Malaysia’s smallest national park
Penang National Park is approximately 21 kilometers (13 miles) west of George Town.
Despite the title as Malaysia’s smallest national park, it packs an ecological punch.
More than 400 plants species thrive inside the thick jungle. Over 150 types of birds flutter about in the canopy above.
Visitors can hike along marked trails to viewing platforms and empty beaches. Or get a guide who can point out the different animals living around.
Watch out for the mischievous long-tailed macaques hanging in the lower branches. They’ll snatch your camera or bag if they have half a chance.
Travelers craving a taste of Malaysia’s biodiversity can get a dose on a short trip to Penang National Park.
Drive 45 minutes to the entrance. Or take Rapid Penang Bus (number 101) and get off in Teluk Bahang before walking to the Park HQ.