Welcome to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, a bustling hub of Southeast Asia! Sometimes overlooked by travelers in favor of its neighbors Singapore or Thailand, there are plenty of things to do in KL.
During your stay in Kuala Lumpur, whether you're moving to KL or just here for a visit, you'll find that this city offers a unique diversity of culture while you indulge in mouth-watering Chinese, Malay, and Indian food, or visit beautiful religious sites for Muslims, Buddhists, and Hindus. You'll enjoy Kuala Lumpur's stunning skyscrapers, reaching for the stars with the second tallest building in the world, Merdeka Tower (aka KL 118 or Merdeka 118), and the star of the show: the stunning Petronas Twin Towers.
While there are many attractions in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, here are some you cannot miss.
KLCC Park & Petronas Twin Towers
Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) Park is definitely worth a visit! This 50-acre park in front of the Petronas Towers is a green urban oasis with pretty walking paths, a jogging track, and fun playgrounds for kids. The pedestrian bridge on the walking path is a perfect spot for an iconic photo in front of the twin towers.
Once you've sweated enough in the tropical city heat, wander into Suria KLCC, the shopping mall at the base of the towers. Malaysia loves its shopping malls, and you'll see why when you appreciate the air conditioning! Here, you can get a bite to eat at one of the countless restaurants, or do some shopping from your choice of 300+ stores.
If you want to learn more about Malaysia's iconic twin towers, this is also your chance to explore with a guided tour. They'll take you up to the sky bridge - the world's highest two-story bridge - on the 41st and 42nd floors. Make sure to book your Petronas Tower tour ticket in advance!
While KLCC Park paths are closed at night, it's still worth a visit to see the towers lit up in the background of a magical fountain show.
Eat at a Mamak
Heads up: This will not be my last food-related suggestion. Exploring culinary delights is key to your enjoyment of Malaysia! After all, it is touted as having some of the best food in South East Asia.
For a truly local experience, you need to visit a mamak, which is a regionally common type of open-air Tamil Muslim eatery. You'll typically find an assortment of fried rice options, including the Malaysian national dish of nasi lemak, or you can try roti canai (doughy fried bread with curry sauce), or classic tandoori with cheese naan, to name a few options.
The best part of mamaks is the ambiance: 100% unpretentious, simple, and relaxed. Stay after your meal and enjoy a local favorite like teh tarik (milk tea), iced kopi (coffee), milo (chocolate-flavored malt drink), or fresh fruit juice. There's no rush when you're at a mamak, so sit back in the plastic lawn chair provided and enjoy a slow pace and yummy food. Mamaks are typically open from breakfast until late.
Want even more delicious food to fill your belly? Eat up on a local food tour.
Go for Rooftop Drinks
Getting drinks at a rooftop bar has to be at the top of your list of things to do in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. This city's beautiful skyscrapers and surrounding hills are best enjoyed from above.
Unlike the mamaks, rooftop bars are a bit pretentious and pricey, and will usually enforce a dress code, but they are absolutely worth it to enjoy a sunset or nighttime view of some of the most impressive towers in the world. Daytime, you'll have full views of the city and marvel at its size. At night, you'll see the true beauty of the twin towers and, in the distance, the lights from Genting Highlands mall and casino, up in the hills.
Check out Vertigo at the Banyan Tree Hotel for what I've decided are the best views, or enjoy fine dining with a view at a Troika Sky Dining restaurant. Alternatively, Wet Deck, located in the W Hotel in the city center, offers visitors a beautiful up-close view of the Petronas Towers.
Spend an Evening in Bukit Bintang
Bukit Bintang is all abuzz at night in Kuala Lumpur. This area, near the city center, is popular with tourists and expats, especially for its bar scene and street food.
The main bar strip is Changkat, with the always-popular Havana Bar on the corner and dozens more to choose from. The surrounding streets are worth a wander to find other popular spots like Feeka Coffee Roasters and Pisco Bar. During the day, you'll find colorful murals covering alleyways in this neighborhood. At night, you'll notice that it's almost always "Happy Hour" in Changkat, with specials on buckets of beer or 2-for-1 cocktails.
Wander further down and you'll find Jalan Alor, a famous food street lined with stalls and open eateries, adorned with iconic Chinese lanterns hanging overhead. This pedestrian way is lined with open-air restaurants and food stalls and packed with people walking and eating at plastic tables.
If it's raining, as it often does in Kuala Lumpur, you could head further down Bukit Bintang to check out Lot 10 mall for a great basement food court (seriously!) or endless Japanese options on the top level. Nearby, the Pavilion shopping mall has more options, as well as two karaoke bars where you can rent a KTV room with snacks and drinks for you and your friends.
Wander Around Chinatown
I'm not sure if I'm supposed to have favorites, but Chinatown is definitely one of them. It's a great area of Kuala Lumpur to wander around for a day, with pretty street art, markets, and hidden restaurant and bars.
If you go in the morning, start at a Kopitiam, a Chinese Malaysian-style coffee shop, such as Lim Kee Cafe. For breakfast, trust me, and try kaya (coconut jam) butter toast, which you'll dip in half-cooked egg with salt, pepper, and soy sauce.
From there, have a wander, making sure to catch the murals behind Concubine Bar, the covered marketplace of Petaling Street, and the urban-hipster hub at REX KL for more food and drink, a unique bookstore, and sometimes art exhibits. You'll inevitably come across Sri Mahamariamman Temple, which is the oldest Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur. Most of the time, you'll be welcome to walk in and look around at this small butt pretty temple, walls lined with Hindu deities.
From here, it's a short walk to Merdeka Square, the heritage Sultan Abdul Samad Building and Jamek Mosque on the Klang river, where there's a pleasant walkway, as well as Masjid Negara Malaysia, the national mosque. I would recommend all of these places over the commonly suggested Central Market.
When you're ready to relax, try finding the entrance to one of Chinatown's speakeasies, like The Attic Bar or PS150, for a great ambiance and nice cocktails or mocktails. If you're hungry, you'll find plenty of street food on Jalan Sultan, and I suggest trying the marmite chicken or char kwey teo!
Visit Batu Caves
Batu Caves is the largest Hindu temple in Malaysia, renowned for its giant Lord Murugan statue and 272-step rainbow staircase leading up to the main cave and temple.
While this is listed as a major Kuala Lumpur attraction in all guide ebooks, there are a few good things to know before you go. First, there are no guides, information, or interpretation at Batu Caves, so I recommend reading a bit about it online before you go. This will help you appreciate it more when you're there. If you want more cultural context, you'll need a book a tour in advance.
Second, while the cave itself is big, it doesn't take long to see. Go early to beat the heat and you'll be done within an hour or two. Finally, there can be a lot of sneaky monkeys here, so watch your things!
Visit the Perdana Botanical Gardens
Kuala Lumpur's Perdana Botanical Park is another great place for a morning or evening walk, not to mention discovering the butterfly park or bird park. It's free to enter the gardens which feature highlights like a sunken garden, hibiscus garden, small lake, and fish ponds, with paved walking paths throughout. Again, you'll find many macaque monkeys here, so watch your belongings and keep anything edible or shiny in your bag.
Adjacent to the botanical gardens is the KL Butterly Park and the KL Bird Park, both worth seeing to get a sense of Malaysia's wildlife right here in the city. The bird park is in a large netted enclosure and will get you up close with swans, parakeets, and hornbills, the national bird of Malaysia.
Eat Banana Leaf in Little India
Told you there would be more food! One of the best things in Kuala Lumpur is the banana leaf platter. Typical of South India, banana leaf refers to a meal of rice, vegetables, and spicy curry served on a banana leaf instead of a plate. It's usually eaten with hands (but cutlery is available for visitors) and has a strong spicy kick that is sure to clear your mind! Hopefully nothing more.
The most authentic place for banana leaf is of course in Little India, more commonly called Brickfields, with many options on Jalan Scott, like Vishal Food. Besides banana leaf, other great options located in Brickfields include Ghandi's restaurant, the Chapati House, or you can go a bit nicer with Sri Lankan food at Yarl.
Check out Thean Hou Temple
You've seen at least one Hindu temple and mosque, so now it's time to check out a Buddhist temple! Thean Hou Temple is located in Robson Heights, about a 15-minute drive from the city center, up a hill to an airy setting. Honoring the Chinese sea goddess Mazu, Thean Hou is one of the largest Buddhist temples in the region. It's beautiful and free to visit (as Buddhist temples usually are)!
You'll enjoy getting out of the bustling city to walk around this serene temple and enjoy more great views of Kuala Lumpur. Afterward, you could head to Bangsar for lunch at a spot on or around the popular Jalan Telawi or around the corner to Bala's Banana Leaf.
Go up the Kuala Lumpur Tower
Better known as KL Tower, this needle-and-saucer-like building is an iconic part of the Kuala Lumpur cityscape. It's nestled in another jungle green space, with a park you can explore for a fee. Families will also have fun at the Upside Down House at the base of the KL Tower.
Visitors can go up to the observation deck for epic city views and an adrenaline rush on the glass floors up at 421 meters. You'll need to purchase a ticket to visit the observation desk.
Another option at the KL Tower is to book a buffet lunch, high tea, or dinner at Atmosphere360 (reservations necessary), the highest revolving restaurant in Southeast Asia, where you'll take in every view of the city while the restaurant slowly spins 360 degrees over more the course of an hour.
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Be Entertained with Live Music or Comedy
Music lovers will be happy to find a beautiful live music community in JaoTim, a vintage feeling high-ceilinged music venue in Chinatown. They host multiple shows a week, including jam sessions with incredible talents on weekends. Visitors can find tickets on their website for about 70-100 Malaysian ringgit. You can also check the live show schedule at the intimate Bobo KL in Bangsar or the former cinema venue upstairs in REX KL in Chinatown.
If you're looking for comedy, then you'll find many English shows at The Joke Factory in Publika - the only comedy club in Malaysia. For cheap tickets, check out amateurs at an open mic night on a weeknight, or pay more to watch an experienced headliner on a weekend.
Go to a Museum
Depending on your interests, take a trip to one of Kuala Lumpur's museums.
A few options to consider are:
- MinNature Malaysia (miniatures museum)
- National Museum - Muzium Negara
- Islamic Arts Museum
- Kuala Lumpur City Gallery
- National Textile Museum
- Muzium Telekom
- Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery
My favorite is the Islamic Arts Museum, which features miniature replicas of gorgeous mosques around the world, traditional clothing, calligraphy art, and more.
Take a Hike
Believe it or not, one of the best things to do in Kuala Lumpur is hiking! In fact, KL literally is a concrete jungle - a city built on the jungle. Luckily, there is still some jungle left, which means easy-to-access hiking if you drive or take a Grab car (rideshare).
Some of my favorite beginner-to-intermediate friendly options accessible by Grab include:
- Bukit Kiara in Mont Kiara
- Sri Bintang Hill Trail in Bandar Sri Damansara
- Bukit Gasing in Bangsar South/PJ
- Taman Tugu Hiking Trails.
If you prefer to take a walk, you can have a nice stroll along the River of Life pathway or in KLCC Park.
Coming in 2023: Visit the World's 2nd Tallest Building
Finally, when it's completed, surely Kuala Lumpur's new tallest tower, Merdeka 118, will be a popular attraction for visitors. The 118-story tower will house a 7-story retail mall, 83 stories of office space, and a 17-story Park Hyatt Hotel. Levels 115 and 116 will feature 360-degree view observation decks open to visitors from late 2023.
Enjoy All That Malaysia Has to Offer
Once you've explored Kuala Lumpur, be sure to visit other Malaysian gems, like Georgetown for food and heritage, Cameron Highlands for rolling green hills, east Sabah in Borneo for wildlife, and an island of your choice for diving, snorkeling, and tropical paradise views.
If you're planning to live in KL like I do, settle in as quickly as possible with my apartment-hunting guide.
Hero photo by shutterstock.com/joyfull. All other photos curtesy of travelynne.com unless otherwise stated.
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