Asia Malaysia Southeast Asia

The Best Things to Do in Kuala Lumpur: A First Timer’s Guide

Kuala Lumpur is one of Southeast Asia’s most inevitable layover cities. After all, it has some of the cheapest flights in and out of this region. But is it a city worth exploring on its own? While Kuala Lumpur doesn’t quite match the skyscrapers of Singapore or doesn’t have as many historic temples as Bangkok, it still has plenty of attractions to keep you hanging around for more than just a stopover. From exquisite flavours of Malaysian food to cheap shopping escapades, from a unique Muslim quarter to the twin towers, here are some of the best things to do in Kuala Lumpur:

See the Petronas Twin Towers

A visit to the Petronas Twin Towers is definitely one of the best things to do in Kuala Lumpur. Every night, hundreds of people gather to see the towers lit up, and there’s also a cool light show in the gardens below the towers. If you want to experience what it’s like to be at 452m high above ground level (this is the total height of the towers), you can go up one of the towers for RM 85 (or about 20USD). This also gives you access to the SkyBridge which connects the two towers. While it was cool to ride a high speed elevator and see the towers from above, the best view I think is still from below where you can see both towers.

Shop and Eat at Bukit Bintang

Malls, fast food and bright city lights – who doesn’t love the sound of that? Probably a lot of people, but I have to say we did enjoy staying close to Bukit Bintang and going there for food and coffee. It’s very similar to the atmosphere of Orchard Central in Singapore and parts of Manila – lined up with shopping malls! It almost felt like being home.

See the Shop Houses in Chinatown

The colourful shop houses in Chinatown are fun to explore. They add an artistic and historic element to this mostly modern city. The shopping in Chinatown is also good – you can find almost anything there and the prices are low. Looking for a cheap souvenir before going home? This is the best place to go.

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Shop and Eat at Petaling Street Night Market

Fans of street eats and shopping won’t want to miss the night market at Petaling Street. The narrow rows of tiny shops sell everything from knock-off shoes to cellphone accessories. It’s the close to the likes of Tsim Sha Tsui in Hong Kong or Khao San Road in Bangkok. If you’re after a bargain and not concerned about quality, you’re sure to find something here.

Try the Local Food and Drink

Malaysian food is amazing! We lived in Singapore for a few years so we’re very familiar with this kind of cuisine, and we’re always happy when we eat it. Make sure to eat all the typical Malaysian favourites, such as chicken rice, curry and satay, and also try and be a little bit adventurous and order something you’ve never heard of before – chances are it’ll be good! Tea is also really good in Malaysia and you can get it in most small cafes and restaurants (it’s called teh tarik). Pair your tea with a roti and you’re up for a great start to the day!

Visit Merdaka Square

Merdaka Square, the historic centre of Kuala Lumpur, is a wide-open space with great views of the city’s most impressive old buildings. The Sultan Abdul Samad building has to be one of the most stunning colonial structures in Southeast Asia. It really dominates the scene, but there is a lot more to explore, including several museums. The historic river area near Merdaka Square is currently being renovated and it’ll look really nice when it’s done, hopefully it’ll look similar to Singapore’s historic river areas.

Visit the Jamek Mosque

Jamek Mosque, built in 1909, is one of Kuala Lumpur’s nicest old buildings. You can go inside (Jon did this ages ago) but you’ll have to make sure you are properly covered. Jamek Mosque is located near Merdaka Square – this is one of the most interesting parts of Kuala Lumpur and it’s a good idea to explore it by foot.

Visit Batu Caves

A visit to Batu Caves is a must for anyone who is into nature. The caves are incredible by themselves, but the fact that they also function as Hindu temples and shrines makes them even more interesting. You’ll need to walk up a lot of stairs to reach the caves but it’s worth it, and you’ll also be joined by lots of monkeys, which is always fun. A trip to the Batu Caves is one of the best things to do in Kuala Lumpur; don’t miss it!


A Day Trip to Malacca

If you only have a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur before flying out, consider visiting nearby Malacca on a day trip. It’s best to spend a day or two there if you can, but you can see most of the highlights in a day. Those highlights include some unique colonial architecture, including the beautiful Anglican church built in 18th Century. There are lots of other nice buildings throughout the town and the food there is world-renowned (make sure to try some of the local Nyonya cuisine in the restaurants along Jonker Street). You can reach Malacca in less than two hours from the TBS Bus Station in Kuala Lumpur. Bus tickets are about RM 10 (about 2.50 USD).

A Day Trip to Bandar Sunway

Looking for some theme park action as well as massive malls? A trip to Bandar Sunway could be for you. This shopping and entertainment complex is a short distance from the city and is perfect if you have kids (or adults who love water parks).

Image Credit: Sunway_Lagoon2013_1 by User:Katangais, (license)

A Day Trip to Genting Highlands

Genting is another possible day trip from Kuala Lumpur. It takes around an hour and a half to get there and it’s like another world – casinos, hotels and surprising cold weather! The Genting Highlands is one of Malaysia’s older theme park complexes so it is a bit dated. While it doesn’t quite match the casinos in Macau, it still had heaps to offer though with its indoor and outdoor theme parks, night bowling, and karaoke including the Genting Skyway, a 3.4km long cable car that takes you up to Genting. From KL Sentral, bus and cable car tickets are packaged at RM 10 (about 2.50 USD). You can also arrange for packages which include a stay at the hotel or theme park ride passes.

Have you been to Kuala Lumpur? Which places do you recommend to visit?


About the author

Gia Kristel Algie

Currently based in New Zealand, Gia grew up in Manila, lived in Singapore for three years and travelled the world for nearly two years. From watching sunsets to hiking mountains, she loves the outdoors. She enjoys living in big cities but takes pleasure staying in quaint, small towns. An aspiring photographer and budding writer, she is the voice behind Mismatched Passports, a travel blog dedicated to the journey around the world with her husband, Jon.

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