Penang Tourism Information
Penang is a vibrant island where cultural heritage and modern structures are well balanced. Penang is a state in northwest of Malaysia, which comprises the mainland Seberang Perai area and Penang Island. On the island, the state capital of Georgetown is home to the landmarks such as colonial Fort Cornwallis or the ornate Chinese clan house Khoo Kongsi, all testaments to centuries of foreign influence. Visiting Penang is a pleasure to come to discover a city, which feels more like a town, with calm evening walks, softer temperatures than the capital and delicious cuisine!
To discover the best of Penang, stay in Georgetown and take public transport to some of the outskirt areas which are also popular, like the Penang Hill, where you can see the city from above and take countryside walks in the middle of dense forest and see beautiful mansions by the hillside.
The tropical climate of Penang boasts consistently hot weather throughout the year, seeing temperatures reaching 32°C, month on month. Whilst there can really be occasional heavy rain showers at any time of the year on Penang, rainy weather is at its most likely during April and May, and again during the months of August, September and October.
In particular, the south-westerly monsoon tends to arrive in Penang in both April and September, bringing with it the worst of the windy weather and rain. However, even the most torrential of rainfalls does tend to be short-lived on Penang and sunshine is never far behind. So remember to take always plenty of sun protection and stay hydrated.
When arriving by plane, the international airport of Penang is situated on the other side of the city of Penang. It takes 40 minutes by car or an hour by public transport to reach George Town, which is the city centre. The cheapest option is taking the bus. Service number 401/401E are the most direct into the old part of the city where most hotels are located. But also you can take bus 102 which leaves you at the main bus station. Busses run every 30 minutes and cost only 3 Rm. But note that timetables are not always reliable.
In Penang itself, the city centre is not big and one can walk comfortably to the main highlights. Some of the other spots are accessible by public transport. Busses are comfortable, provide air conditioning and have digital information on the stops. In the city they cost around 2 or 3 Rm depending on the distance travelled. But generally paying 2 Rm, as a rule, is fine as drivers don't count the money. (you deposit into a box, and collect your ticket from the driver).
It's also possible to pay by e-card, just tap in-out each time you take the bus. Also it's advised to download the APP Grab, which is a cheap way of taking local taxis, should the busses prove to be a little unreliable due to traffic or frequencies. Below you will find a quick reference map on the bus routes on the island. You can check for timetables and the latest information here: Rapid Penang.
Visiting Penang will surprise you by the amount of quaint places to discover. Mostly the starting point will be Georgetown; a pedestrian-friendly city, with a well-planned series of roads and paths connecting one end of Penang’s capital to the other.
There is a lot of dedication to preserving this island state’s colonial heritage and evidence of this can be found just about everywhere. Another advantage of Georgetown is that the city is perfectly convenient to walk to most of the places of interest! No hills and plenty of well maintained paths.
Below you find some of the highlights of Penang Island:
- Fort Cornwallis: It is the largest standing fort in Malaysia, Fort Cornwallis was once an impressive star-shaped bastion intended as a defensive structure against pirates, Kedah forces and even the French during the Napoleonic Wars. Built in 1786, it is set close to the Esplanade and Penang Clock Tower and was named after Marquis Charles Cornwallis: although it was intended for the Royal artillery troops and the military, it served an administrative function rather than an actively defensive one.
Today only a set of ten foot-high outer walls remain, with an enclosed park within. The 1812 Overture plays over the speaker system while a Malaysian man dressed in full British regalia stands at the gate: inside the fort is a variety of informative exhibits. The entrance fee is 20Rm.
- Khoo Kongsi Clan House: It is one of Georgetown’s most interesting attractions, Khoo Kongsi is the most famous clan house in Penang, built some 650 years ago. The building is where Chinese families of the same surname gather to worship their ancestors. They were initially developed as a way for 19th-century immigrants to band together according to their respective districts.
Khoo Kongsi is an impressive architectural feat, said to be the most impressive clan house in Southeast Asia. At the height of the Khoo family’s prominence, craftsmen from China were commissioned to build this architectural masterpiece, which is also known as Dragon Mountain Hall. Standing on a square of granite with stone carvings that adorn the entrance hall, inside there are pavilions, murals portraying birthdays, weddings and 36 divine guardian-statues.
✔️Tip: The house is located behind the Lebuh Armenian street, which is also good for souvenir shopping, local eating and snacks.
You will also find the famous mural, Kids on bicycle by Ernest Zacharevic.
- Kek Lok Si Buddhist temple: Standing on a hilltop at Air Itam, it is Malaysia’s largest Buddhist temple, comprising a series of monasteries, prayer halls, temples and beautifully-landscaped gardens. A national icon, built in 1890, the ten-acre site is divided into three zones: the lower level of the complex comprises the hill entrance, souvenir, food and drinks stalls and the turtle liberation pond. The middle section houses temples, gardens, a pagoda and the four heavenly kings pavilion, while the hilltop is home to a 36.5 metre-high bronze statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin as well as more gardens and temples. To get to the temple take bus 203/204 from Georgetown centre for 2Rm. You will need to walk around 10 minutes to then access the entrance of the temple at the lower level. Access to the main temple is free, but need to pay 2Rm to see the Pagoda and another 3Rm to take the Cable car to the top to see the Bronze Statue (6Rm return).
- Penang Hill: is a hill resort comprising a group of peaks on the Penang Island. Penang Hill is also known by the Malay name Bukit Bendera, which actually refers to Flagstaff Hill, the most developed peak. Penang Hill highest point is at Western Hill which is 833 metres above sea level. The hill stands out prominently from the lowlands as a hilly and forested area. It was used as a retreat during the British colonial period, and is now a popular tourist destination in Penang. The top of the hill is accessible via the Penang Hill Railway from its base station at Jalan Bukit Bendera, Air Itam. To access the hill, first take bus 204 to the last stop, which is the base station for the cable car. The cable car costs 30Rm return. Take note that weekends and public holidays it can get very busy and waits of 45 minutes are to be expected, both going up and coming down.
Once up the top, you can enjoy the views and join several activities, both for families or kids to explore the wildlife and fauna in the area. If you prefer to get away from the crowds, then there are many walking trails which are ideal to enjoy more views and walk in the deep forests that take you around the hills, where you will see some of the local private houses. Please check the map below which you can download to see more information on the trails or for more detailed information and prices check the website for Penang Hill.
- Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion: One of Penang’s most prominent attractions is this blue coloured house. It is a stately 1880s manor that stands out because of its decidedly expressive indigo-blue facade. Designed in traditional Hakka-Teochew style, it was rescued from ruin in the 1990s and converted into a boutique heritage hotel. A conservation project that went on to win numerous architectural awards. It has even been featured in international films such as the 1993 Oscar-winning French film Indochine and the critically-acclaimed 2009 motion picture.
Under its roof you will find 38 rooms that feature art nouveau stained glass, Straits Chinese floor tiles, 220 timber-frame windows, seven staircases and five granite-paved courtyards. You can choose to visit the mansion on a one-hour guided tour or you can even spend a night at the boutique bed and breakfast. Prices to access the museum are 17Rm. (tours are in Chinese/English). Note that the Mansion can be closed to the public on days that there are private functions or weddings.
- Kapitan Keling Mosque: Built in 1801 by Penang’s first Indian Muslim settlers (East India Company troops), the Mosque is a Penang landmark, set at the junction of Lebuh Buckingham and Lebuh Pitt. The largest mosque in Georgetown. The whitewashed mosque is topped with large golden-yellow Mughal-style domes, crescents and stars and features a single, typical Indian-Islamic minaret from which the sound of the azan (call to prayer) can be heard. If you want to visit, will need the permission of mosque officials. Take note, that only properly-attired visitors are allowed entrance.
- Little India: Largely populated by the Indian community in Penang, the area's streets like Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, Lebuh Pantai, Lebuh Chulia and Lebuh China, give the better impression of being in the little India community. When the sun is up, this place is normally made colourful with bright sarees and aromatic scents of curry spices from the stalls there. By night fall, this area is illuminated with twinkling lights along the streets, (specially in November for the Diwali festival) and the sounds of Bollywood tracks.
- Wat Chayamangkalaram and the Dharmikarama Burmese Temple: The two temples offer some interesting sights and views; Wat Chayamangkalaram is a Siamese temple (Thai) which was officially given its site by Queen Victoria in 1845. In this iconic Buddhist temple is a 55-meter beautifully gold-plated reclining Buddha statue. The other temple was the first Burmese temple of Malaysia, was built in the year 1805 on land donated by a Buddhist devotee known as Nyonya Betong. The compound of the temple is huge and the structure of the temple is magnificent. Inside the compound you will find many gardens, which are very well kept. There are beautiful statues of Buddha all around the temple. There are separate temples inside the compound showing different statues of Buddha.
The temples runs on donation and the monks expect you to give one if you want, as you leave. However, the entrance is free. To get to the temples you can take bus 101/103 and walk 5 minutes from the nearest stop.
If you haven't visited yet the beautiful island of Langkawi, staying in Penang would be an ideal gateway to set off and discover this beautiful island, located 3 hours by speed boat.
The trip can be made in a day, but it's not recommended, as the price of the boat is approximately €70 return and you would only spend 3 hours on the island. The best idea is to take the first boat from Penang leaving at 8am, stay at least one night and return the next day at 3pm.
You can book the itinerary by yourself or by going to any tour agency, in Penang. which would put together a package, including pick ups, tours and transfers at Langkawi.
Departing ferries leave from Swettenham Pier Cruise Terminal, right next to the Fort in Georgetown. Also there are other points of departure in Malaysia by ferry to Langkawi.
For more information visit Langkawi Ferry.
Nightlife in Penang is best at the weekends, with plenty of nightclubs, pubs, bars, and karaoke, venues to suit everyone's taste. Georgetown, however, is the party hub with many party options awaiting you.
Penang has lots of lovely shops and markets to explore, located around all the island, from small local specialised shops to the more commercial shopping malls, there is something for everyone in Penang, and plenty to keep you shopping! You can find local shops selling everything from local Malaysian handicrafts and "batik" (wax-dyed fabric) to inexpensive electrical goods, pewter ornaments and antiques. Most shops on Penang remain open until as late as 22:00.
Although the shopping scene doesn't really compare to that within Kuala Lumpur, most will find that Penang is home to more than enough shops, particularly around Georgetown. In particular, the Jalan Penang is Georgetown's number one shopping street and a good place to come for a choice of souvenirs. Other places for shopping can found at the Lebuhrhaya Cintra, the Lebuhrhaya Kimberley and the Lebuhrhaya Pantai.
For markets, take a look around Little India for clothes and spices.
Penang is a great destination for any traveller, regardless of your budget. Top end hotels and modest hostels are located all over the city, ranging in prices and quality. However hospitality in Malaysia is always guaranteed, and reasonable places can be found if you look further and do some research.
Staying around the older part of the city, closer to Little India, as a reference point, will ensure that you don't need to take much transport and have more direct routes to the airport or places of interest away from the city.
Cheap hotels rooms with private bathroom can be found in this area for €30. Hostels and Airbnb are also popular, if more on a budget.
Note: with the climate remaining hot year round, humidity is also fairly high and so you will appreciate an air-conditioned hotel room during the warm nights of your stay.
Despite the small size of Penang, travellers will be surprised of the amount of things to keep one busy. Either culture, history, food and nightlife or nature are all great reasons to come to Penang and discover a very interesting and intriguing city which will leave you wanting to come back again!
A minimum of 4 nights would be ideal to see the main highlights of the city in a relaxed mode. However if taking a trip to Langkawi, you will need a week, in order to combine the two destinations.
Penang Photo Slide 📷