I had an absolutely lovely time checking out Malaysia’s capital city over 2 weeks. If you’re wandering what to do exactly, here are the coolest things to do in Kuala Lumpur.
So on my very first trip to Malaysia, I decided I would stay mainly in Kuala Lumpur. Everyone I know or blogs I’ve read have only really visited for a few days at the most, and I wanted to give myself time to get really comfortable with the city. So I stayed two weeks! Admittedly, I was working at the same time, so there were quite a few days I simply stayed inside and only ventured out for food.
However, because I did so much research, had time to explore and re-explore popular spots, and had the benefit of making some local friends, I managed to put together quite the list! I’ve included everything I did, but at the bottom, I also included many things I didn’t have a chance to do in case you want to prioritize them on your visit!
quick tips for kuala lumpur
I stayed fairly close to the city center in this Airbnb serviced apartment. I liked the Airbnb options, and this one even has cool views of the Petronas Towers from the pool. If it’s your first time signing up, click here to get credit to your first stay. Otherwise, I think I’d stay around Bukit Bintang or Chinatown if you want to be fairly central.
Get a SIM card at the airport, and it should last you quite a while depending on the plan you get. You can always reserve ahead here and just pick it up. There’s Wifi in the cafes and big buildings/tourist areas, but your best bet to be connected is with a SIM.
HOW TO GET AROUND
There’s public transportation and, of course, walking, but it’s so, so, so cheap and easy to just use Grab, including going to and from the airport. It’s Southeast Asia’s version of Uber/Lyft. KL does also have a hop on/hop off bus if that’s more your speed.
Besides the mosques, there isn’t a specific dress code in KL! Just keep in mind it’s very, very humid and sunny, so wear breathable fabrics.
23 Cool Things to Do in Kuala Lumpur that I Did Do
1. Indulge in KL’s Shopping Centers
I mean for a city that’s humid all year round, I’d be more surprised if massive shopping malls didn’t exist. The main two I visited were Central Market, KLCC, and the Pavilions.
Central Market is in a cool art deco building near Chinatown, and there’s a stretch alongside it with different stalls. KLCC is right in/near the Petronas Towers, and I met someone from FDN there for dinner at the food court. My friend told me to try the crispy chicken, so I got some from 4Fingers, and I will say it was pretty darn good!
As for the Pavilions, I went there to eat at Din Tai Fung. I’ve been dead set on trying xiao long bao for a while now after missing out in Taipei. Yep, I’m definitely addicted, and DTF does them the best by far. They have the perfect meat-soup ration in that dumpling! Most of the places I’ve tried since add way too much meat, so you don’t get to slurp the soup.
Anyway, the mall itself is cool as it has over 500 stores. I walked around a bit to walk off the dumplings and saw the rather curious Tokyo Street portion, but that was about it.
2. See the Petronas Twin Towers
The Petronas Twin Towers are the most iconic buildings in KL, and, really, you can’t visit the city without seeing them even by accident! At 1,230ft (375m), they’re the tallest twin towers in the world. My friend said after the KL Tower was beat as the tallest building, they built the twin towers haha. If I picked a time to go, I’d say go at night when they’re all lit up against the night sky. During the day, they’re just kind of… gray.
There’s also an observatory for the towers, so if you want to go up, you can get tickets here to skip the line.
3. See how many fake designer items you can find on Petaling Street in between sampling the delicious food stands.
Is there a rule that every Chinatown in the world needs at least a few designer knock-off stands or shops? When did this happen? And why?
Anyway, Petaling Street or Jalan Petaling is a famous street in KL’s Chinatown. It’s quite crowded and flooded with every fake designer item you can imagine. However, resist the urge to by a fake Michael Kors bag (which, take it from a former sales associate, we can tell), and instead go for the food!
There are lots of delicious food stands. Jane took me to try ais mata kucing, which is a delicious drink that helps with the heat, and apam balik, a sweet bread with nuts. It reminded me a bit of Korean hotteok. Also, if you’re there before going home, buy all the fruit! I got RM 13 worth of mango slices, dragonfruit, honey melon, and papaya. So goooood.
4. Check out all the old buildings in Chinatown…
While Petaling Street is the most famous part of Chinatown, the area itself is just a cool place to walk around. The colonial-style buildings are very old, and it’s kind of a cool juxtaposition to see what they once were with what they house today. If you just start at Petaling Street and walk around, you’ll quickly see what I mean!
5. …And all the Chinese temples
There are a few scattered in Chinatown, but the ones I saw were Guan Di Temple and Chan She Shu Yuen Clan Association Hall.
6. See Malaysia’s Oldest Functioning Hindu Temple
Originally constructed in 1873, Sri Mahamariamman Temple is considered Malaysia’s oldest functioning temple. I didn’t go in, but it’s cool from the outside! It was my first time seeing something in a South Indian design like this.
If you’re working or need a break from the heat, right next door is a nice café called Lucy in the Sky. They’re anti-plastic straws too and have a nice iced coffee with soy milk. There’s also Merchant Lane Café but it was closed when I wanted to go.
7. Stop by Masjid Jamek Lookout Point
I stumbled across this on my way over to the Textile Museum. You can walk here from Chinatown, and it’s a very cool view of Masjid Jamek and the city.
8. Visit the National Textile Museum
From the Masjid Jamek Lookout, continue walking, and you’ll see the building that holds the National Textile Museum. The building, which is an Indo-Saracenic Revival design, is beautiful. If you want to learn more about Malaysian clothing throughout history, head inside and see the exhibits. It’s free!
Across the street is the KL City Gallery, an there’s a famous I LOVE KL sign if that’s your thing.
9. Wander around the Sultan Abdul Samad building
Also across from the National Textile Museum and diagonal from KL City Gallery, sits the beautiful Sultan Abdul Samad Building. I think it’s the prettiest building in KL by far. See it from the outside and also go into the gardens!
10. Step into a historical moment at Merdeka Square
To compete this little square spot of sightseeing, Merdeka Square is important to Malaysia’s recent history! It was here on August 31, 1957 that Malaysia officially declared independence from the British, who had taken the peninsula back from the Japanese after WWII. There’s a 312ft (95 m) flagpole to commemorate the spot, and if you visit on August 31st, you can see the Independence parade.
Stuff like this I always like to visit, even if there’s not exactly much to see because you realize just how crazy history is and how recent a lot of it is. Like where you’re standing, there was once a crowd of people witnessing one of the most important moments in a country or culture’s history. Because it was so recent, there’s film footage, photos, and voice recordings of people who are either elderly or long gone. But all the meanwhile, this specific place gets preserved to remind visitors of the moment. I don’t know, I’m rambling, but I feel this way about places like MLK’s famous speech in DC.
11. Visit KL’s many mosques
Malaysia is about 60% Muslim, which means there are very pretty mosques all over the city! Even just right around the corner from my apartment, I saw a really pretty blue one, called Surau Amani al Rahman, just hanging out. The most famous one within the city is Masjid Jamek. I already mentioned the lookout for it above, but if you want to visit it during non-prayer times, it is possible.
12. Cool off and enjoy the Islamic Art Museum
Speaking of Islam’s influence on Malaysia, head to the Islamic Art Museum to see more about its cultural influence both in the country and around the world. It’s a pretty underrated museum, so when I went on a weekday it was pretty quiet and peaceful. Check out how it manifested in different parts of the world through the exhibits. My favorite was the gallery that had miniatures built of all the famous mosques around the world. It’s cool to see how their climate, weather, and wealth impacted the kind of mosques built.
13. Wander around the Perdana Botanical Gardens
This area is HUGE, and we really didn’t even see much of it — just a short walk from one entrance through to Lampan Pendar.
15. Learn about Malaysia’s history at the National Museum of Malaysia
Jane and I popped by here after the tower because I really didn’t know much of Malaysian history, and she hadn’t been yet either. It covers everything from the prehistoric ages to recent events spread over four galleries. I didn’t realize Malaysia had sultans, and there’s one for each state. I also learned a bit more about why there was Chinese and Indian influence in Malaysia, and it’s a bit sad at how rampant inequality still is for them.
15. Visit KL’s Forest Eco Park
There’s a fun forest park area near the tower, and it’s full of connecting suspension bridges. We didn’t spend too long here because it was pretty hot when we went, so we were eager to get into the AC, but if you go on a cooler day you can see if you can get to each bridge!
16. Then go up the Menara KL Tower
The most expensive and touristy thing to do on the list, but I think it’s worth it at least once! The tower was once the tallest building in the world, and now it’s seventh. Splurge and get the tickets that go up to the Sky Deck, not just the Observation Deck.
It’s RM 99 if you buy them there, but it’s much cheaper ordering them ahead of time (wish I had thought to do it!). Get them on Klook here.
17. Check out Little India in Brickfields
To see more Indian culture in Malaysia, head over to Brickfields and Little India. I’ll admit this wasn’t my favorite part of the city, but I was also coming back from Cameron Highlands and very tried and hot. I also stayed in an Indian area, so I didn’t really see what there was to eat around Brickfields that I couldn’t get within a five-minute walk from my apartment.
Also… I accidentally deleted my photos from Brickfields, boo!
18. Stop by Thean Hou Temple
Thean Hou Temple is a very pretty temple a little out of the city center. It’s quite young, though it’s one of the biggest in SE Asia. It’s a mix of Confucian, Buddhist, and Taoist and also offers a nice view of the city.
19. Climb up the rainbow stairs at Batu Caves
I’m sure you’ve seen the now famous rainbow stairs at Batu Caves! They’re super new (like 2018 new), and so fun and colorful. The actual temple at Batu Caves is Hindu, and it’s built within the cave. Climb up and check it out – just make sure you cover your shoulders and legs and remove your shoes when necessary. Check tours for the Batu Caves here
Photo Tip – if you want a fun photo on the stairs, make sure you get there early. Like your Grab should be dropping you off when it’s still dark out. There are still going to be people going up and down to pray, plus monkeys everywhere, but it’s much easier to work with. I edited people out or cropped my photos, but this first one I took is actually only color edited.
20. Check out the nearby Putrajaya
So it’s not in KL, but you can still technically get there by public transport! If you can arrange it, try to plan it with coming from or going to the airport because it’s about halfway between. Basically, KL started to become too crowded, so they moved some things down to Putrajaya. My friend told me on the weekends, people from Putrajaya visit KL and people from KL leave the city, so it’s a nice trade haha. Check here to book a day tour
Anyway, if you only have time to see one thing, it’s Masjid Putra, which is a big, beautiful pink mosque! If you’re there after 11 am, book a boat ride! If not, you can get a cool view of the mosque from across the water on the bridge or by the park nearby. Just an FYI, the park and the bridge don’t connect. I found out the hard way and had to walk all the way back.
21. Really make sure to sample ALL of Malaysia’s unique food!
Seriously, so much good, cheap food! From getting a nice big mango juice and slices for only RM 5 to eating the Roti Special at Mansion Tea Stall or sipping the beef noodle soup, there’s a ton of delicious bites to eat for super, super cheap. I’m working on a post to cover all the different places I ate at, so you have a bit more guidance. In the meantime, check out these tours:
22. Hang out on a rooftop somewhere
There are lots of rooftops to hangout on, including some hotels with nice pools. If you don’t have a hotel with a cool rooftop, try a bar or a lounge, like Heli Lounge. Just make sure you check the weather! Nothing quite like paying 30 RM for a strawberry daiquiri only to have it rain for sunset, so you’re not allowed on the roof anyway…
Actually, if you’re really daring, skip the rooftops and just go for the dinner in the sky!
23. Do a day trip or a short trip to the Cameron Highlands
Want some cooler weather? Head 4-5 hours out of KL to the highlands! It’s seriously cool enough to sleep with your windows open and be comfortable. While you can do an actual day trip from KL through a tour, that’s a super short time. Check here for my full guide on spending 2 nights and 1 full day there.
11 Things I Still Want to See or Do in KL
1. Eat around Jalan Alor
Jalan Alor is the famous street food area in Bukit Bintang. I was barely in Bukit Bintang anyway, so I just never stopped by.
2. Visit Berjaya Times Square
This 48-story building is like its own world. Within it, there’s a hotel, apartments, a shopping center, and an amusement park.
3. Walk around the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station
I drove by this a lot but I never stopped to look around. It dates back to 1910 and is designed in the Indo-Saracenic architectural style.
4. Royal Museum
Until 2011, this building was the home to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong (or Supreme King) of Malaysia. They’ve since moved to a new building and this was turned into the Royal Museum and is dedicated to the history of Malaysian royalty.
5. Walk around Kampung Baru
So Kampung Baru is actually the oldest residential neighborhood in KL, and it still retains its traditional village feel and architecture even though it’s quite literally in the middle of the city center.
6. Explore the street art in Bukit Bintang
There are a lot of fun street art murals around Bukit Bintang! I meant to go by but I never did make it over. Next time!
7. See if PJ Old Town really does have the best food in KL
On my last night, I had dinner next to some local men who told me PJ Old Town, out of the city center, had the best food! So, I mean, naturally I’m going to need to visit next time to see if that’s true!
8. Eat at Lot 10’s food court
So Lot Mall was once a fancy mall on par with NYC’s Fifth Avenue. While it’s not quite at the level anymore, it still has quite a lot of Western stores. However, the big draw is its food quart, which was revamped with Old China influences in mind.
9. Eat my way through the Taman Connaught Night Market
This night market only happens on Wednesday nights and is quite hectic with 700 stalls along 1.2miles (2km)! I was supposed to go one of the Wednesdays I was there, but I was tired after a day of sightseeing, and the girl I was going to meet up had extended her stay in Vietnam, soooo… I slept instead.
10. Visit the National Mosque of Malaysia
The National Mosque of Malaysia or Masjid Negara, is a gorgeous mosque set in 13 acres of gardens and can hold up to 15,000 people. I don’t have a good reason for why I didn’t go! But it’s on my to-do for a future visit.
11. Day trip to Malacca
My friend, Jane, told me I should make a day trip out here because it’s truly a unique area. Apparently, when Chinese men came to Malaysia, they began to marry local women, and overtime, a unique blend of Chinese-Malaccan culture emerged. It’s now really only prevalent in Malacca. Book a day tour here
Kind of funny that even two weeks hanging out in a city, and I still have so much I want to see or do! Depending on how things workout in 2020, I might wind up spending a full month back in Malaysia! I’ll probably do a few days in KL and then move on to hang out in Penang and Ipoh, maybe get over to Langkawi and the whole part on the island of Borneo!