Malaysian travel is focused prominently on Kuala Lumpur and Langkawi which are usually regarded as must-visit spots for most travelers. Shift the focus to the north of Kuala Lumpur and you will arrive to the idyllic state of Penang. Divided into two sections, the Penang Island and Seberang Perai, this Malaysian state is home to fascinating attractions, natural scenic landscapes and leisure areas. Among the two sections, Penang Island appeals the most to visitors.
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Known as Pearl of the Orient, Penang Island has an exceptional amalgamation of Asian culture, British colonial history, nature’s beauty and contemporary lifestyle. Its capital city – George Town – is the second largest city in Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur, yet it keeps a slow-paced way of life. An underrated Malaysian destination from the global point of view, you are in for a surprise when you see Penang’s mix of culture, scenic views, and multi-ethnic cuisine upon visiting this fascinating destination.
What is the best time to visit Penang?
Penang usually has a year-round tropical climate. However, from November until January is the optimum time to visit as the climate becomes cooler and has perfect sunny days for a stroll around the city. Christmas and New Year also mark the onset of vibrant events among the liveliest settings with the crowd surging up to celebrate and take in the warmth of the pleasant climate. This time of the year is the very crowded, so accommodations and services can see a steep rise in prices.
Once the holiday season wears off, Penang gets quieter and gets fewer tourists from February till April. If you want to visit this destination without flocks of tourists, then these months are the ideal season for you. However, the temperature tends to soar as the months pass. It is better to come prepared with light clothing, plenty of water and sunblock for the harsh afternoons. The rate for services and accommodation also drops after the peak season of Christmas and New Year.
The onset of monsoons from May till October discourages visitors. It is not recommended to visit during this season as Penang has some of the wettest showers during this period, leaving visitors with no choices for taking sightseeing tours, which is what this place is most famous for. But this part of the year is when Penang slashes its rates and provides unbelievable discounts on hotel stays and other services. Hence, it is a good time to look for relaxation holiday packages in Penang’s scenic regions. Visitors who are not keen on exploring the island much and are looking for a blissful getaway can stay in luxury hotels and get pampered with good food and wellness.
A few facts about Penang
Penang is a state that has two sectors – Penang Island and Seberang Perai – both connected by the Penang Bridge. Among these sections, Penang Island is comparatively huge and has a diverse topography which makes it appealing to tourists.
George Town in particular is popular for its colonial-era architecture fused to Asian charms. Tagged as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city embraces modernism while keeping alive its cultural heritage. The unique street arts on the paint-peeled walls of George Town are something you won’t witness anywhere else in Malaysia. The city is a pleasure to explore on a walking trip. George Town is the ideal spot for those who are spending only one day in Penang.
One Day in Penang Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Penang.
Explore the street murals
Start your day in the charming George Town. The city is compact enough to be explored on a walking tour or on a bike ride. Head to Lebuh Armenian, Love Lane and Lebuh Muntri heritage streets in the morning where you can explore some fascinating Penang tourist attractions.
A stroll through these streets lets you discover amazing murals and paintings by the Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic. His art and murals captivate tourist attention making these lanes a flourishing photo-stop for visitors. Some of his much-talked street murals are the ‘Little Girl in Blue’, ‘Little Children on a Bicycle’ and ‘Reaching Up’. You can even explore these street arts on a trishaw ride which costs about 40 ringgits for a 30-minute tour of these winding colourful alleys.
Visit the Penang Clan Jetties
George Town feels like a place where time stands still. The bygone years of the city still have a lasting impact on it. The early Chinese settlements in Penang can be witnessed at Penang Clan Jetties, one of the last remnants of Chinese influence on Penang. Located at the end of Lebuh Chulia Street, set close to the Penang ferry terminal, Penang Clan Jetties are one of the popular places to visit in Penang. Saunter around houses built on stilts adorning the waterfront area for insta-worthy photo stops and a leisure walk on the dockside.
Marvel at the heritage treasures of Khoo Kongsi
One of the popular landmarks in Penang, Khoo Kongsi has kept its ancestral vibes well preserved. Located on Jalan Acheh, at Lebuh Pitt, Khoo Kongsi reflects the olden Hokkien clan culture through its structure and designs. Its architecture infuses genuine Chinese accents with ornate stone carvings, ceramic structures, murals and paper lanterns.
Experience the Chinese influence on Penang at Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
Wandering through the Leith Street, you will come across an indigo blue mansion that reflects the traditional Hakka – Teochew style architecture. What is fascinating about this mansion is that it takes you into the era of Chinese traditions, interspersed with Western elements – depicted throughout the mansion’s architecture.
This traditional-style Chinese courtyard house originally had 38 rooms, five granite-paved courtyards, and 220 timber-frame windows. Today it has been transformed into a 18 room heritage boutique hotel, and the structure has undergone a Grade-1 restoration. You can even opt to spend the night here and find yourself amid the best Penang tourist attractions.
Travel back to the British era at Fort Cornwallis
Set next to Penang clock tower, Fort Cornwallis is one of the oldest structures in Penang and the largest fortress in Malaysia. The fort is structurally built in a star shape as a measure to get better defense from enemies. Inside the fort is a bronze statue of Captain Francis Light, a harbour light tower, Penang’s first chapel and several bronze cannons, barrack areas and an enclosed park.
Visit Penang’s tribute to the British – Queen Victoria Memorial
George Town was once a British colonial settlement, and this is still accentuated through the fragments of the British era. Queen Victoria Memorial is one such testimony of Western influence. It was built to remember Queen Victoria’s 60 years of reign. Situated to the left of Fort Cornwallis, the memorial’s 60 feet tall clock tower is one of the iconic landmarks of Penang.
Enjoy the night at Gurney Drive
Wondering what to do in Penang in the evening? Head to Gurney Drive as the day fades into twilight. Step away from the old world charm and experience the modernity of Penang. Referred as the ‘New Esplanade’, Gurney Drive is a fusion of Penang’s best shopping, dining and night venues along the breathtaking stretch of Penang coastline.
Shopping at Gurney Drive
For shopaholics, Gurney Paragon Mall offers a massive beachfront shopping complex brimming with merchandises from luxury brands and famous designer labels. Gurney Plaza is another waterfront shopping mall that caters to a blissful retail therapy experience.
Nightlife at Gurney Drive
Penang has an eclectic nightlife. The wine bars and pubs are ideal places to enjoy your favorite drink and mingle with locals. Nightspots such as Three Sixty Rooftop Bar, 75°C Restaurant & Bar, The Canteen at China House and Martini’s Café offer elegant ambiances for nonchalant moments. If you want to dance away the night, head to Cuvée @ Precinct 10 or Soju Room which are the hot spots to get footloose on live DJ bands and enjoy drinks.
Dining at Gurney Drive
The Penang food scene is an extraordinary experience – right from a simple local dish of icy pandan-flavoured cendol or mouthwatering assam laksa to sophisticated grilled steak or hand-tossed pizza, you get an assorted range of lip-smacking epicurean treats.
Some amazing dining venues to check out are Michelangelo’s Restaurant & Bar, Bagan Bar & Restaurant, and Sesame+Soy Restaurant. Coffee Island offers an alfresco Kopitiam ambiance where you can enjoy a hot piping coffee under the starry skies.
New Gurney Drive Food Court is a first-class night street food arena where you can indulge in delicious delicacies of Asian and international menus at really affordable prices. The hawker stalls in New Gurney Drive Food Court start their business daily by 6 pm and remains open until late night.
Where to stay in Penang?
Penang offers plenty of options that suit all type of travelers. If you’re looking for budget stays, then Armenian Street Heritage Hotel is a great choice. The hotel looks pretty nice, has a great location, very close to George Town, and plenty of features for children, as well as very comfortable rooms. East Indies Mansion in the middle of George Town is another great choice in this category. Its beautiful design follows the philosophy of Chinese merchant houses, and the garden here is indeed beautiful and quite relaxing.
When it comes to luxury stays, Seven Terraces Hotel is an excellent choice. It is close to some very popular sights, has an outdoor pool and every room there has a balcony and is very well equipped. Evergreen Laurel Hotel Penang takes everything one step further because this is a five-star hotel with an excellent Chinese restaurants. Marble bathrooms in every room give you a sense of luxury you would expect from a hotel of this category. Finally, Eastern and Oriental Hotel in George Town is another five-star wonder but in an 19th-century building. You will get newspapers delivered to you daily for free, that’s how exquisite the service here is. So, if you want to live it up, there are plenty of great choices.
For a heritage experience, you can choose the Blue Mansion. Yes, this is a real mansion which was turned into a boutique hotel with its own library. It is an incredible blend of Chinese tradition and modern amenities, with fascinating exterior and wooden floors, so if you can spend your one day in Penang here, don’t hesitate for a second.
If you are spending the night at Gurney Drive, then the opulent G Hotel and Palanquinn Heritage Suites are your ideal options for elegant stays. The first one is an imposing but luxurious five-star skyscraper from whose pool you get a truly incredible view of the city. The second, a boutique hotel, is in a beautiful Colonial house with a garden next to it and some fascinating traditional furniture. Depending on what you like, you really can’t go wrong whichever place you choose.
Extra tips while visiting Penang
– Travelling to Penang is easy. All you need to do is to book your Malaysia fight tickets and get your Malaysia visa online.
– Arrive directly at Penang International Airport located around 20 kilometers from city center. However, taxis from the airport are available at fixed costs, which can be quite expensive. Travelling by local transport is a value for money option. Local buses are your cheapest option as they cover most parts of Penang. However, George Town is ideally explored on a bike, trishaw or by strolling around its streets. You can even rent a car to explore the city as you please.
– Check the Malaysian holiday list before your Penang tour as the state is a multiethnic destination. Locals take their religious ceremonies and traditions very seriously and have grand celebrations and festivities. These periods tend to draw large local crowds and clog up roadways. Hence better to work your travel dates while considering Malaysian holidays.
– Keep cash in your wallet. Though there are ATMs available and restaurants do accept credit cards, the local coffee shops, hawkers, and certain attractions would demand cash for payments.
– Ensure you have all travel documentations in order. A valid passport and Malaysian visa is mandatory for visiting Penang. Also, keep your documents, passports and immigration card securely with you to avoid any pointless difficulties in your Penang trip.
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Priya is an avid travel writer who specializes in adventurous travel writing. My blogs and articles give deep insight into various tourist places and act as a perfect travel guide for someone who is traveling to a place for the first time. My blog is extensively about my travel experience while traveling to several places like Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore, Europe, Dubai, the USA, Canada, etc.