Malacca in Peninsular Malaysia is also spelled Melaka and is one of the most interesting parts of the country. Malacca has a varied history, having been colonized by the Portuguese, Dutch, and British, and as such you will find influences from all of these former colonial powers in the food, architecture, and even the language.
The city also has a large Chinese community known as Peranakan or Straits Chinese which has led to the Nonya culture which is a mix of Malay and Chinese influences that has even spawned a completely unique cuisine in the form of delicious Nonya dishes. As well as food, you can expect a huge number of cultural attractions in Malacca, and considering its size it has a wide variety of engaging museums which will be a treat for any history buffs wanting to know more about the area.
This is also a strategically important part of the country that sits on a graceful river, and one of the highlights of a trip here is a scenic river cruise that allows you to take in all the delights of Malacca while enjoying the breeze over the water. Much of the city has remained unchanged for centuries and you can still find crumbling forts as well as buildings that are covered with traditional cherry-red façades that were introduced during the colonial period.
All in all, Malacca offers a serene yet fascinating glimpse into the history of Malaysia and is a top spot for anyone looking to explore a different side of the country away from big cities like Kuala Lumpur.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Malacca:
1. Visit Cheng Hoon Teng Chinese Temple
Cheng Hoon Teng Chinese Temple has the claim to fame of being the oldest Chinese temple of its kind in Malaysia and dates from the 17th century.
The temple is an important place of worship for the Buddhist Chinese community in Malacca and a visit here is a great way to learn more about their culture and history.
Make sure to check out the inscription that dates from 1685 and which is dedicated to Kapitan Li Wei King as well as the statue of Guanyin who is the Goddess of Compassion.
2. Enjoy the views at the Taming Sari Revolving Tower
It is hard not to notice Taming Sari Revolving Tower when you are in Malacca as it soars to a height of 110 meters and can seat 66 passengers at one time.
The ride in the tower takes around 7 minutes to complete as you will ascend and then get to spend 5 minutes at the top taking in the views over the city before descending again.
From the tower you can take in panoramic vistas across the city which stretch all the way to the coast.
3. Admire the Sultanate Palace
The Sultanate Palace is actually a model of the original wooden palace that belonged to Sultan Mansur Shah who would have been the ruler of Malacca from 1456 to 1477. The home has now been transformed into a cultural museum which is flanked by pretty gardens and what makes the building even more impressive is that it was made without using any nails to hold it together.
Instead the structure stands as a result of some clever engineering and a series of wooden grooves and slots and the reconstruction was done after taking detailed notes of how the original palace would have looked according to the Malay Annals.
4. Walk around Stadthuys
Stadthuys is one of the most famous landmarks in Malacca and you will recognize it immediately thanks to the crimson façade.
The building dates from 1650 which makes it the oldest of its kind that was built during the Dutch colonial period and is modeled on the Stadhuis or town hall in Hoorn in the Netherlands.
This used to be the local town hall and residence of the governor but nowadays it houses the History & Ethnography Museum.
5. Go shopping at Jonker Walk Night Market
Located on Jalan Hang Jebat is the Jonker Walk Night Market which takes place from Friday to Sunday once the sun starts to go down.
This is one of the best places to come to shop in Malacca and you will find a huge range of goods on sale including souvenirs, a selection of antiques, and local handicrafts.
You can also buy other items like electronics and clothing but one of the best parts of the market is the food.
Just some of the street food snacks that you can expect to find here include pancakes and waffles, rice balls filled with chicken, and cendol which is a kind of dessert which is made with jelly and coconut milk.
6. Take a trishaw ride
Much like other cities such as Penang, one of the best ways to get around Malacca is to take a scenic trishaw ride.
The trishaws are often elaborately decorated in line with the personal tastes of the driver and this offers you a more leisurely chance to enjoy the city and explore some areas that are off the main tourist arteries.
Many trishaw drivers are also happy to give you a guided tour of Malacca and will fill you in on the history of the area.
7. Learn some history at the Cheng Ho Cultural Museum
The Cheng Ho Cultural Museum is dedicated to a famous seaman named Admiral Cheng Ho who lived during the Ming Dynasty.
To that end, you can visit the museum and check out a huge number of dioramas as well as maritime memorabilia and miscellaneous objects that Cheng Ho collected on his travels.
If you like maritime history then this is a fascinating spot not to leave off the itinerary.
8. Hike up Bukit China
Bukit China, which means China Hill in Malay, is so-named because it is houses the largest Chinese cemetery outside of Mainland China.
Some of the graves in the cemetery date from the 17th century during the time of the Ming Dynasty and the earliest inscription on a gravestone dates from 1622. Many people from Malacca come to the hill thanks to its pretty trails that lead to the summit and from the top you will be afforded panoramic views all over the city.
9. Explore Villa Sentosa
If you venture a little outside Malacca proper you will come to Kampung Morten which is something of a living museum.
Here you will find a lovely little village house which dates from the 1920s and you will be given a guided tour where you can check out all the memorabilia and antiques such as ancient ceramics from the Ming Dynasty as well as old family photographs of the residents of the house and pieces like a copy of the Quran which is centuries old.
10. Visit St. Paul’s Church
One of Malacca’s most famous churches is Saint Paul’s Church which dates from 1521 when it was built by the Portuguese colonialists.
It was used as a fortress in 1567 and then became a church after the Dutch siege of Malacca.
It used to be called Our Lady of Annunciation and it also has a Dutch cemetery attached where you can see some of the tombstones of those who would have made the journey from the Netherlands to Malacca in the days of old.
To get to the church you will need to walk up a small hill which is worth the effort for the pretty views over the city.
11. Take a Malacca River Cruise
The Malacca River is one of the highlights of the city and the best way to experience it is to take to the water on a scenic river cruise.
Back in the days of old the river would have been one of the most important trade routes in the area and nowadays you can cruise past important spots such as Kampung Morten and enjoy all the sights of the city.
There are also nighttime river cruises which offer you the chance to take in the city illuminations and the journey usually takes around 45 minutes to an hour.
12. Explore the Malacca Butterfly and Reptile Sanctuary
Malacca has some beautiful flora and fauna and one of the best places to see this is at the Malacca Butterfly & Reptile Sanctuary that sits a little way outside the city in Ayer Keroh.
Here you will find an impressive 11 hectares of jungle which are full of a diverse range of species such as reptiles, butterflies, and a plethora of insects, and nature lovers can spend the afternoon wandering around and taking in all the beauty of this part of Malaysia.
13. Visit the Baba & Nonya Heritage Museum
The Baba & Nonya Heritage Museum is the place to come if you want to learn more about the Peranakan culture in Malacca.
Also known as Straits Chinese, the Peranakans came from China and settled in Malaysia where they mixed their traditional culture with Malay traditions to create a unique new way of living in Malaysia.
You can see this firsthand at the museum which is located in a typical Baba & Nonya townhouse which is adorned with gorgeous period decorations and gives you a glimpse of how people would have lived in the days of old in Malacca.
You can take a guided tour of the residence and the guides will fill you in on all the history of the building.
14. Admire the Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple
Malacca enjoys a diverse population and there are strong Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist communities here.
If you want to find out more about the Hindu community in Malacca then head to the Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple which is a colorful temple that has ornate carvings of deities like Ganesh as well as paintings and murals.
The Hindu community in Malacca, known as the Chitty community, moved here some 600 years ago and this is a great place to see some of this amazing history firsthand.
15. Visit the Melaka Zoo
If you fancy a short trip out of town then consider visiting the Melaka Zoo which is located in Ayer Keroh.
The zoo has the claim to fame of being the second largest zoo in Malaysia although many locals will also tell you that they consider it to be the best.
The zoo is located in an area of forestland and the enclosures have been designed to mimic the natural environment of the animals.
You can see a range of both indigenous and international species here and there is a scenic lake in the middle of the complex which makes a great place to go for a walk in the afternoon.
There are also special night visits when you can stay in the zoo up to 11 pm to check out the nocturnal animals that live here.
16. Admire Christ Church
Christ Church is one of the most famous buildings in Malacca and was built from 1741 to 1753. It stands on what would have been a Portuguese church built during the colonial period and the red bricks used in its construction had to be shipped over from Zeeland in the Netherlands.
Some of the signature features to look out for in the church include the Dutch tombstones that line the floors as well as altar which is covered in ornamental silver and a Dutch coat of arms.
The church also has the claim to fame of being the oldest Protestant church in all of Malaysia.
17. Visit Taman Mini Malaysia and Mini ASEAN
If you want to get a quick snap-shot of Malaysia but don’t have time to travel around the whole country then consider a trip to Ayer Keroh where you will find a min-version.
This outside museum has models of traditional houses from all of the 13 different states in Malaysia as well as some from around the ASEAN region.
There are also cultural shows that take place here at 11 am and 2 pm every day where you can see traditional dancing and costumes firsthand.
18. Sample some Nonya food
Malacca is famous for its Nonya food and with that in mind make sure that you don’t miss the chance to try some where you are in the city.
In essence this is a kind of fusion food which mixes Malay and Chinese flavors to create something unique and one of the most famous dishes served here is Fish Head Curry which is fairly self-explanatory.
Often meals in Malacca are finished off with a big dish of cendol which is made of shaved ice, syrup, and jelly noodles.
19. Admire A Famosa Fort
A Famosa Fort is one of the main attractions in Malacca and is said to be one of the oldest kinds remaining examples of Portuguese architecture in Southeast Asia.
The fort is now crumbling gracefully but you will still find the main gate of the fort called Porto de Santiago.
A Famosa Fort dates from the 16th century when it was erected to guard against an attack on Malacca and now the parts that still stand are mostly Dutch reconstructions along a coat of arms and some inscriptions in Dutch.
20. Visit the Prison Museum
If you want to see one of the quirkier prisons in Malacca then head for the Prison Museum which will take you through the history of the penal system here.
The museum is actually housed in a former prison and you can learn all about how prisoners would have been housed here in the 18th century and there are also galleries dedicated to other jails in Malaysia such as Pulau Jerjak.
This museum may not be suitable for younger visitors due to the graphic nature of some of the displays but this is a fascinating place to come for anyone looking for a rainy day activity in the city.
21. Enjoy the nightlife in Melaka Raya
Malacca has a small but vibrant nightlife scene compared to many other cities in Malaysia.
If you want to find it however then the best place to come is Melaka Raya which is the main artery of the city where all the bars and eateries are located.
Here you can choose from a range of different options from pubs, to bars, to a few clubs, and some karaoke venues.
22. Walk around the Portuguese Settlement
The Portuguese Settlement, as the name suggests is the part of Malacca with the highest concentration of Portuguese descendents from the colonial period which started in 1511. If you go for a walk here you will find traditional houses which are made of wood and look out over a pretty square named Medan Portugis.
There is even a hotel here called Hotel Lisboa and some of the residents here still speak Cristao which is a kind of Portuguese patois.
If you get hungry during your walk then you will also find a number of restaurants here serving up typical Portuguese dishes.
23. See some history at Flora de la Mar Maritime Museum
The Flora de la Mar Maritime Museum houses a model of the Flora de la Mar which was a Portuguese ship which sank off the shore of Malacca in the days of old.
As well as the recreated ship you will actually find three different museums here that tell the story of maritime history in Malaysia and you can climb aboard the Flor de la Mar as well as enjoy dioramas and other nautical antiques.
24. Visit A Famosa Resort
A Famosa Resort is one of the most famous theme parks in Malaysia and offers great fun for all the family.
You can stay at the resort as well as visit the range of theme parks here which include Safari Wonderland, A Famosa Water World, and Old West which is modeled on an old fashioned cowboy town.
The fun doesn’t end there however as you will also find rock climbing walls, paddle boat rides, and fishing ponds.
Visitors can also try diverse pursuits like archery, horse and carriage rides and paintball and this makes a great spot especially if you are travelling with a family as there is a huge amount to do here for younger visitors.
25. Have dinner at Jalan Kee Ann
To end the day in Malacca, consider having dinner at Jalan Kee Ann.
As night falls this street comes alive with food stalls and you can dine under the stars and enjoy the foot traffic.
This is one of the best places to come if you want to try typical local fare and you will find a range of cuisines here including Malay, Chinese, and Nonya plates.
Some dishes to look out for in particular include spring rolls called popiah, sugar cane juice, and goat soup called sup kambing.