Malaysia, as we’ve waxed lyrical before about, became one of our favourite countries in South East Asia. The amount of diversity within the culture, landscape, architecture and activities on offers across the two halves of the country are unrivalled. From the bustling capital of Kuala Lumpur to the rolling hillsides of the tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands, Penang offers something completely different! Offering crumbling colonial architecture reflecting this cultural mixing pot adorned by interactive and quirky street art, heritage buildings, exquisitely detailed temples of many denominations, unique cuisine, short hikes and even a beach! There’s no wonder that Penang was an area of Malaysia that we fell even more in love with! Here we’ve put together our ultimate Penang Itinerary as well as a guide for what to do in Penang in 3 days for those with time constraints!
Discover the immersive street art and quirky wire sculptures, a Penang Itinerary must do!
Since the completion of a series of public art works including interactive murals and humorous wire sculptures back in 2012, George Town has been transformed into an internationally important art scene to add to its long list of cultural highlights.
The murals spread around the city, some hidden unassuming down a maze of alleyways whilst others stand triumphantly covering entire end walls of the towns historic architecture. Each one is designed to reflect the culture around it, a humble street food stall, a local man lent against his motorbike, children joyfully playing in the streets. All scenes that make up the fibre and culture of this town immortalised in artistic expression literally onto its walls, elevating the day-to-day into the extraordinary through the medium in which it is presented. The paintings transform the humdrum and celebrate the everyday people of Penang as well as adding a beautiful aesthetic to the already enchanting colonial architecture of George Town.
The wire sculptures that also adorn the walls of George Town offer something different. A comical and informative voice from the past blending historical facts with whimsical characters mostly from Penang’s colonial past. They tell the tales of Penang, of its history, the stories of its people and their complex connections in a fun and lighthearted manner.
Searching out all the murals and sculptures is an adventure in itself that will take you to all corners of George Town and it really is a must do on any Penang Itinerary. It can take a full day of exploring to see them all so bear that in mind when planning what to do in Penang in 3 days!
To see their locations check out this map here: Tourism Penang Street Art Map
To see more of the street art on offer check out our photo essay post here: The amazing, creative and interactive street art of Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia.
Explore the crumbling Chinese shop fronts and historic George Town architecture including the Blue Mansion on your Penang Itinerary
George Town, named after George III, is steeped in history, the town has been used as a port for centuries under the control of the British and Chinese with heavy influences from India too. This mixing pot of cultures has come to symbolise that Penang is all about, a place of unique heritage where the historic architecture reflects the different eras the town has been through. The colourful and crumbling colonial buildings are not only a step into the past but offer an incredibly beautiful aesthetic that harks back to a lost era. When planning out your Penang Itinerary you’ll want to make time to fully explore the maze of incredible architecture in George Town.
The 5 foot way ins, ornate floor tilings, hand painted signs, typical Chinese shop fronts and fragmented pastel coloured walls covered in creeping vines and moss, revealing bricks below are an enchanting sight to explore. Most of the old shops are still operating as just that, family owned for generations they serve as both a home and a business and mean even with increasing tourism George Town retains its air of authenticity. Streets to explore in particular are: Chulia Street, Campbell Street, Love Lane, King Street, Carnarvon Street, and Pitt Street.
Walking around George Town itself can feel like being inside one giant fully functioning museum! However many of the larger more important buildings have themselves been transformed into museums and heritage centres. This includes many of the mansions owned by the rich colonial leaders, this means properties that might have fallen out of use in the modern era can be preserved as well as offering a more detailed look into the history of Penang. The Pinang Peranakan Museum offers a look into the history of the lives of the people of Penang and the Blue Mansion can be visited overnight too! When planning what to do in Penang in 3 days be sure to put time aside to explore the streets of George Town in detail.
Penang Itinerary: Embrace the multiculturalism of Malaysia with the varied local temples on “Harmony Street”
Given the varied and vast historical and cultural influences on George Town and Penang as a whole its little wonder how unique the culture is here. Wandering around the town the over-riding experience we had watching these different cultural elements interact was hope, if anywhere could be used as an example for the world then it’s here in Penang. Jalan Kapitan Keling or Harmony Street is an example of just how well different cultures and religions can live side by side. Seeing this side to the island is a perfect addition to any Penang Itinerary and a short addition when planning what to do in Penang in 3 days.
There are not many other places in the world where a Taoist Temple, Muslim Mosque and Christian Church exists on the same street with many Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh temples also close by! The rich tapestry of the layered history of Penang is reflected in the many different religions practiced shoulder to shoulder here. Pouring out of the many places of worship the people of Penang merge as one with no judgement or borders draw. Maybe that’s in part due to the historic position each religion can claim here, St. George’s church is the oldest purpose-built church in South East Asia, the Masjid Kapitan Keling dates back to 1801 and the Taoist Goddess of Mercy Temple has stood here since 1728!
Penang Temples: See one of the world’s largest reclining buddhas & a temple filled with snakes!
As mentioned above, Penang is teeming with temples and places of worship for numerous religions and no Penang Itinerary is complete without exploring some of the best. However given the large Chinese influence on the town Buddhist and Taoist temples are far more common. Exploring many of them offers the opportunity to visit some of the most ornate, historic and decorative temples we’ve ever seen… and believe us, we’ve seen a lot after spending 9 months in South East Asia! Here are some of the best temples to consider when planning what to do in Penang in 3 days.
Some of the stand out examples of temples you just have to pay a visit on your Penang Itinerary are:
This Thai Buddhist temple is home to one of the worlds largest reclining buddhas at over 100ft long. The temple is one of the oldest Thai Wats in the country and is the centre of Thai culture in Penang and is especially alive during Songkran festivities. The temples founding dates back to 1845 and is close to the aptly named “Bangkok Lane!”
Khoo Kongsi Clan House
One of the major sights in the city this grand ornate Chinese Clan house is one of the grandest in the entire country and a must do on your Penang Itinerary. Each an every surface is clad with sculptural carvings, intricate decorations and impossibly detailed paintings. The clan temple retains an old world charm with its authenticity still remaining despite its popularity. Built in 1906 when the Khoo Clan was at the height of its wealth and power the complex once had its own self-governance, education, financial and welfare organisations
The Snake Temple
This Chinese Taoist temple, known colloquially as “The Snake Temple” or officially the Temple of the Azure Cloud is a quite surreal place to visit in Penang. Dating back to 1805 it’s not only a beautiful and historic temple to visit but what makes it unique are the vipers that call it home! Apparently tamed by the swirling smoke from the burning incense (these days they are in-fact rendered non venomous for safety) they hang from trees in the gardens!
Sri Mahamariamman Temple
Built in 1833 this temple is the oldest Hindu place of worship in Penang after being established for the Tamil Indian traders. Typical of the South Indian Dravidian style it was built-in it features an incredibly elaborate and impressive tower or “Gopuram” that rises above the grand entrance. With floral details, Hindu gods, incredibly carved soldiers and several depictions of animals the detailed and colourful temple is a must see.
Kek Lok Si Temple
Situated outside of George Town over in Air Itam the Kek Lok Si Temple is the largest Buddhist Temple in Malaysia and one of the absolute highlights of a visit to Penang. Built from 1890–1930 the temple is not only a key site for the Buddhists of Malaysia but an important pilgrimage site for other Buddhists from around South East Asia. The incredible seven storey pagoda, which includes 10,000 sculptures of Buddha, combines Chinese, Thai and Burmese architectural styles reflecting the community around it. The temple sits in a picturesque location at the bottom of the Air Itam mountain and covers an area of 30 acres, you really can’t visit without adding it to you Penang Itinerary. It’s also quite close to Penang Hill so a trip out to both is an ideal combination especially if you’re trying to figure out what to do in Penang in 3 days and have limited time.
Hike up to Penang Hill for incredible views and its own micro-climate
You might be forgiven for thinking Penang was all about Temples, architecture and art hunting, exploring the humid streets can be exhausting so any escape is welcome! Penang Hill, known as Bukit Bendera offers a totally different experience of this island with its own micro climate that offers a break from the heat of the town. With an elevation of 833 m (2,733 ft) the peak can be reached by a historic funicular or via a short hike through lush jungles. The peak gained popularity with the British during colonial rule due to the lower temperatures and became a resort after the 1924 opening of Malaysia’s only funicular.
The peak is home to several temples and cafes as well as nature reserves and vast panoramic views out over the island and across to George Town and is a great addition to your Penang Itinerary to add something a little different from the town centre. If you’ve got limited time and your planning what to do in Penang in 3 days then consider half a day on the Penang Hill and a visit to the nearby Kek Lok Si Temple in the other half.
A return trip on the funicular is 30 MYR (£5.62 / $7.26) for adults, 5 MYR (£0.94 / $1.21) for Children and 15 MYR (£2.81 / $3.63) for students. Opening hours are 6:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. every day, with ticket counters closing at 10:30 p.m.
Penang Itinerary: Take a break and relax and the Batu Ferringhi beach
Another unexpected feature of Penang is the nearby Batu Ferringhi Beach. After exploring all George Town has to offer and hiking through the jungles of Penang Hill it’s time for a change of scene and a break! Located to the North West of George Town centre its an ideal addition to a Penang Itinerary to schedule in some relaxation time. These days the beach is home to many top resorts as well as many opportunities for water sports such as jet skiing, wind surfing, parasailing and snorkelling making it a fun destination too.
The pristine white sandy beaches are a complete change of pace from the busy streets of George Town and offer everything from quiet serenity to bustling nightclubs and a wealth of high quality restaurants. With the oppressing heat and humidity of the streets of Penang it really is a great place to relax and cool down! If you’ve not got long here and you’re trying to plan out what to do in Penang in 3 days then we suggest leaving the beach for a longer visit as there are many other places around South East Asia where you can laze on the beach, but Penang is all about exploring the cultural heritage of George Town!
From the Airport: Take Bus 102. Departs every 60 to 80 minutes from 6:00 a.m. to 11:15 p.m. Cost: 4.00 MYR (£0.75 / $0.97)
From George Town: Take Bus 102 along Chulia Street. Departs every 15-20 mins from 5:30 a.m. to 11:20 p.m. Cost: 2.70 MYR (£0.50 / $0.65)
See local life on the floating houses of the Clan Jetty
Whilst most in George Town call the typical Chinese shops home, there is a community based around the Penang Ferry Terminal. The Jetty Clan goes back generations and was a result of seven Chinese Clans warring over access to the water ways in the early 1900s. These “floating” houses stand on stilts above the water with long walkways connecting the maze of houses, shops and temples.
Exploring this warren like community is a great way to get to know local life in Penang and just people watch, it’s also fun to see people navigating motorbikes along the wooden walkways! If you’ve spent any time in Asia you’ll know there’s literally nowhere these skilled but also sometimes haphazard riders can’t take a bike!! What great about visiting the Clan Jetty is that you can do it in a short amount of time so it’s a nice addition when thinking about what to do in Penang in 3 days.
More information for your Penang Itinerary
What to eat in Penang: Indulge in the unique food of this region
One of the things that really stands out in Penang is the cuisine, as you can imagine, with so much input from so many different cultures the food in Penang is varied and unique. There are some dishes that are typically Penang whilst there are also different communities such as Little India and China Town as well as other Thai and Burmese areas that offer a local take on dishes from their respective cultural backgrounds making it a real food lovers heaven. Also in recent years hipster style cafes and coffee shops such as The China House have sprung up offering modern twists on classics as well as more western food if you’re craving something from home!
Try local food on the Chulia Street street food stalls
If you’re looking for something cheap and authentic then the stall on Chulia Street are the place to head. Here after 6pm the stalls line both sides of the street, the best thing about this market is that its set up for locals so you are sure to get good prices and some truly local cuisine!
Indulge in some of the best vegetarian food in the world in Little India!
Ok, hear us out!! We’re veggies so we’re a little bias on this one, but in Penang’s little India we’ve had some of the best food we’ve ever tried. Here there are many vegetarian only establishments with a wealth of options to pick from. Our favourite has to be a Tandoori Paneer Kebab with Red Onions on a fresh Garlic Naan from Thali NR Sweets, who are also of course famous for their Indian sweets!
Grab some Cendol from the many stalls
How to describe cendol, it’s a cold sweet desert that looks in all honesty not entirely appetising and in truth I’m still undecided on whether or not I actually like it. But it’s just one of those things you have to try and you’ll see the stalls everywhere! A bowl of iced coconut milk with Palm Sugar Syrup and green worm like rice flour jelly noodles and kidney beans on top (Which is the ingredient I think that has me unsure!)
Cool down with an ice ball
With the hot and humid temperatures in Penang it’s not wonder these balls of flavoured shaved ice are so popular! It’s simple, tasty and effective! You’ll be in need of a few whilst exploring George Town!
Essential foods to try in Penang
Char Koay Teow: Meaning “stir-fried rice cake strips” is fried flat noodles with garlic, eggs, onion, chives and served with a variety of different meats and commonly prawns and seafood in Penang alongside lots of Soy Sauce and served on a banana leaf. Again, it’s quite easy to get vegetarian versions here as the dish is so common.
Asam laksa: An iconic dish in Penang this sweet and sour broth is available EVERYWHERE and is hard to avoid! With fishy undertones the noodle based dish includes chillies, ginger, mackerel, tamarind, onion, mint, cucumber and even pineapple for a wild ride of flavours that’s strangely addictive! There are also lots of places in Penang that do vegetarian versions too.
Wantan Noodles: The Penang version of this classic Asian dish usually comes with barbecued pork on top of a drier version of the yellow noodle dish than is common in places like China with the soup and dumplings being served commonly in a separate dish. It is also commonly garnished with oyster sauce and spring onions. Vegetarian versions use wheat gluten instead of pork.
Where to stay in Penang
Staying in George Town is a must in Penang if you want to take advantage of all there is to do here. The town is made up of the core zone and the outer area but its a small and very walkable town so either will work but the core area is easier for those who don’t want to walk so far! George Town is also a UNESCO heritage area so there are no large chain hotels in the centre but there is a wealth of great guest houses, boutique hotels and good quality hostels. If you are planning what to do in Penang in 3 days and have limited time be sure to stay in the core zone to make the most of your time.
Some also choose to stay out by the beach if that is more of a priority.
Transport around the island is easy and cheap with buses going from George Town all over the rest of the island and of course to major sights such as Penang Hill and Kek Lok Si Temple.
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Penang Itinerary: How to get to George Town
Penang is well-connected to the rest of Malaysia and Asia as a whole despite being an island.
Penang does have its own airport and it is well served by domestic flights and to other Asian destinations. If you’re planning what to do in Penang in 3 days or a short visit then flying is the best option as it takes only an hour from KL.
The most popular routes are from Kuala Lumpur, Kota Kinabalu (Borneo), Kuching (Borneo), Hong kong, Hanoi, Bangkok, Taipei and Singapore. Other destinations from here include Jakarta, Johor Bahru, Langkawi and even Doha. Check their website for more details.
Trains run from Kuala Lumpur to Butterworth which takes around 4 hours. Tickets cost between 59 MYR – 79 MYR (£11 – £14.80 / $4.30 – $19.12 )depending on the class of travel.
From here you will need to take the short ferry over from Butterworth to Georgetown, this costs 1.20 MYR (£0.22 / $0.29) Check out the KTMB website for their schedule.
The bus is a great budget option for this route and is how we arrived in Penang. It takes around 4 hours from the KTM Old Railway Station Kuala Lumpur and costs around 40 MYR (£7.50 / $9.70)
This will take you to the main bus station just outside of George Town, from here you can take Bus 401 for 2.50 MYR (£0.47 / $0.61) or get a taxi or Grab which is similar to Uber.
Tip for booking transport:
We recommend using 12.go.Asia to book all your transport around Malaysia and Asia as it offers great prices and the ability to book far ahead online and whilst not in the country. This saves queuing up in train stations and bus depots, using unfamiliar systems and miscommunication through language barriers!
What to do in Penang in 3 days: Our guide to the perfect Penang Itinerary for a short visit:
Arrive in Penang early and check into your George Town accommodation
Get a map of all the street art on your phone or print one-off and explore the streets finding all the different pieces! This way you’ll get to know the layout of the town too and see some wonderful buildings along the way! Keep cool whilst exploring with an ice ball or three! Make this a priority when planning what to do in Penang in 3 days.
End the day exploring the Clan Jetty and grab some local food on Chulia Street on the way back.
Time to head out of the town and up to Penang Hill via a short bus ride. Take the historic funicular up and down to save time.
Whilst in this region of Penang you can also visit the Kek Lok Si Temple in the afternoon
If you’re more of a beach person you can use this middle day to head out to Batu Ferringhi Beach however we think Penang Hill and the temple should be more of a priority when planning what to do in Penang in 3 days or any short visit as South East Asia has many other beaches to visit!
Today use your knowledge from exploring on the previous days to visit the many temples, cultural buildings and museums around town. Make a point not to miss the Khoo Kongsi Clan House, Harmony street and the many Chinese Shop houses when planning what to do in Penang in 3 days.
Be sure to try some Asam Laksa finished off with some cooling Chendol for Lunch and head to Little India for dinner.
Pick up your bags and sadly depart Penang!
What to do in Penang in 3 days: Organise a tour for Penang
If you’re pushed for time in Penang then you might want to consider a tour when planning what to do in Penang in 3 days. This way you can maximise what you see and do as well as getting a brilliant local insight and knowledge.
Have you visited Penang? What are your recommendations for the perfect Penang Itinerary, have we missed anywhere?
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