Penang is located on the north-west peninsula of Malaysia, and amongst this island lies the UNESCO city of George Town. George Town is a vibrant yet laid-back city with a contagious, multicultural atmosphere and a notorious reputation for having the best street food in Asia.
Here’s everything you need to know about George Town, Penang, Malaysia.
What sort of budget do you need in George Town?
If you want cheap, you have it. If you want to splurge, you have that too. We averaged $60 USD a day for 2 people, for everything.
- Food: Meals can be as cheap as $1.50, however, cafe meals range from 12 MYR – 35 MYR ($3 – $8 USD). Of course, there are fine dining restaurants but we only venture there on occasion.
- Accommodation – 75 MYR ($17 USD) will get you a basic private room, shared bathroom. 150 MYR ($30 USD) upwards will get you a private room/bathroom. View Hotels in George Town.
- Activities – 15 MYR – 30 MYR ($3 USD – $6 USD).
- Transport – Peanuts! Especially if you use Uber. We went in a taxi for 10 minutes and it was less than $1 USD. Bike rentals are also cheap.
Where to Stay in Georgetown
Stay in Little India. We stayed in Little India and found this area to be absolutely perfect (potentially because it was located next to the best tandoori restaurant in the world – Kapitan) but food aside, it was walkable to everything in George Town including the ferry terminal. Airbnb has some great budget options for this area and is what we used. (17 USD/night private room).
The budget hotels, hostels, guest houses and apartments have shared bathrooms due to the old style of buildings. Unless you double the cost, be prepared to use shared bathrooms. For us, it wasn’t an issue at all as the location was more important AND it meant more money to spend on foooood!
How Long to Stay
We spent 5 days in George Town. Don’t be put off by its small size, this town has a lot to offer. The city itself is very walkable and there are SO many places to eat, museums to visit & streets to explore. We recommend a minimum of 4 days to really get a feel for George Town. If you plan to venture outside of George Town, allow at least 2 more days, making a total of 6-7.
What to do in George Town
1/ Climb Penang Hill
Every city has a hill, a mountain or a tower and it’s only right that you venture up one of these to get a full scale of a city. Penang Hill is a cluster of hills located 821m above sea level and can be reached via funicular or one sweaty, sweaty walk. We chose the 1.5-hour walk to counteract some of the food we’d been eating all week and boy was it tough.
After reading many different posts about which way to go (road or jungle), we decided on the jeep road located at the entrance of the Botanical Gardens because we had limited time. If you have 2.5-3 hours, you can take the jungle hike instead, with the entrance being found at the “Moon Gate”.
Our walk/crawl up took us up a 30% (which felt like at least an 80% incline) for 2 hours to the peak of the hill. The sun was beaming, the sweat was dripping, cars passed us, motorbikes flew by and monkeys, so many monkeys joined us on our walk.
Once you reach the top of the hill, you have your rewarding, panoramic views of Penang as well as a rather peaceful atmosphere. Some parts are terribly touristy and rather tacky with zero consistency, but the views are unbeatable. To reach the bottom, take the funicular down (just do it…15 MYR one way or 30 MYR for return, $3/$6 USD) or walk. We chose to take the funicular which was the best decision ever. The burning in the legs was something else.
Note: The entrance to walk up Penang Hill is different to the entrance to take the funicular up so make sure you tell the taxi driver if you plan to walk or take the funicular.
2/ Discover Penang’s Street Art
The Street Art of George Town begun in 2012 by a young Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic. During the George Town festival, he painted artworks along the old run down buildings and immediately gained a following. He began painting and creating more art with three-dimensional objects, to bring the old worn down streets of George Town back to life, whilst reflecting on Penang’s history.
Grab a free map from any the bike rental stores, and go exploring by foot, bike or 4-wheeler. For something slightly different, we hired a 4-wheeler that went much slower than we could have walked but it was shaded and entertaining, to say the least. One hour cost 15 MYR ($3 USD) and they can be rented from Freedom Leisure Cycle Company or Chin Seng Leong Bicycle Shop.
3/ Listen to Live Music on Love Lane
Love Lane was one of our favourite places to unwind after a day of walking. There is a range of funky bars and restaurants with live music, happy hour drinks, great people watching and outdoor seating. Micke’s Place was our favourite with an entire interior covered in hand-written graffiti. Most places open at 12:00 pm and close by 2/3am. Don’t expect to have too much of a conversation, it does get quite noisy with all the live music.
4/ Drink the Cheapest Beer in Penang
Antarabangsa Enterprise started as just a small bottle shop but nowadays is one of the most popular hangout spots in George Town as it sells the cheapest beer in town, mixed vodka drinks, wine and ciders. People from all around the world gather every day of the week on plastic chairs and tables and enjoy a cold refreshing beverage on the street. 4 beers for 10 MYR ($2.50 USD). Bargain if there ever was one.
5/ Visit a Unique Museum
There were so many museums in George Town and unlike other cities, these were small and more intimate. They ranged from historical museums to cultural to tasty or just plain fun.
- Upside Down Museum – Ever wondered what it was like to live life upside down? This museum takes you 30-40 minutes to pass through many different rooms with a variety of fun photos to take. The staff will guide you and take your pictures for you. Cost 27 MYR ($6 USD)
- Chocolate & Coffee Museum – Samples galore! They have a HUGE range of chocolates to sample for free and a quick tour of the chocolate and coffee making process. Nice escape from the city heat or rainy days! Cost: Free.
- 3D Trick Art Museum – A fun place to take perspective photos, especially with children. This museum has a similar concept to the ‘upside down museum’ and staff will assist you with photos. Cost 25 MYR ($5 USD)
- Penang Wonderfood Museum – Cost: 25 MYR ($5 USD) Take a look at the city’s unique food culture with large displays of the local Malaysian dishes. More photo ops!
- Pinang Peranakan Mansion (below) – The Pinang Peranakan Mansion is a museum that gives you a glimpse back in time as to how the rich Straits Chinese settlers once lived. The mansion has now been fully restored and has additional antiques of the past period. Recommend to take a guided tour for an added cost. Cost: 20 MYR ($4 USD)
For a full list of museums, see here.
6/ Indulge Your Taste Buds
The food in Penang ranges from street food carts to fine dining and everything in between. This city is filled to the brim with choices of food! Food critics call this city “foodie heaven” and we can totally see why! We covered a lot of local food in our recent post “16 Foods you MUST try in Penang” but if you have the time, the cafe culture is also booming.
Here are some favourites:
- Black Kettle – Great coffee and croissants. Fast wifi and open workspace.
- Mugshot Cafe – In-house made Greek Yoghurt. Hallelujah. The nicest Greek yoghurt we’ve had since our time in Crete!
- Y Not Cafe & Restaurant – Healthy fresh food. The wellness bowl was heaven. A fun bar at night time.
- Daily Dose – Sandwiches, good breakfast and tasty coffee.
- Soul Cafe – Good pasta options.
- China House – Cakes, cakes and more cakes + live music.
- Yins Sourdough Bakery – Fresh bread and sandwiches.
7/ Take a Trip to Batu Ferringhi Beach
If the heat is getting too much, jump in an Uber and head for the beach town of Batu Ferringhi located 17km from George Town. A long sandy beach with blue waters, plenty of restaurants, beachside bars, water sports and if you have the time, wait until after sunset to visit the night markets and the hawker centre at Long Beach.
Where to next?
So you’ve eaten till your heart’s content, now what do you do? Here are a few options for after Penang:
Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s largest city & the countries main hub connected by flight, train or bus. At least once during your travels, you’ll find yourself passing through here. It may be big but in our opinion, the city is worth a visit.
- Stay (Area): Bukit Bintang
- Do: Petronas Towers, Jalan Alor food street, shopping malls, Botanical Gardens, Petaling Street
- Read: Travel Guide for Kuala Lumpur
The Cameron Highlands is the highest region in mainland Malaysia with green tea fields surrounding the lush landscapes.
- Stay (Area): Tanah Rata
- Do: Hikes, Visit the Tea Plantations & Strawberry Farms, Eat, Markets.
- Getting there: Accessible via the east and the west coast of Malaysia via bus or minivan.
- Read: Top 10 Things To Do in the Cameron Highlands.
A cluster of 99 islands offering beautiful sandy beaches with clear waters, farmlands, fishing villages, a laid-back atmosphere and ultra-cheap duty-free shopping! $7 USD for a bottle of vodka!
- Stay (Area): Pantai Cenang
- Do: Ride the cable car, enjoy the sunset at Sugar bar, snorkel, rent a scooter, relax on the beach.
- Getting there: 2.5-hour ferry from George Town. 70 MYR ($16 USD). Departure 8:30am/2:00pm (Penang – Langkawi) and Return 10:30am/3:00pm (Langkawi to Penang). You can also take a short flight. Book your transport here.
- Read: Langkawi Travel Guide
The Perhentian Islands are 2 small picturesque islands located off the east coast of Malaysia. Slightly out of the way but definitely worth it.
- Stay (Area): Perhentian Kecil (small island) for backpackers at Perhentian Besar (big island) for families and less action.
- Do: Visit one of the many beaches, scuba dive, snorkel, relax & hike.
- Getting there:
Option 1: Take an overnight bus (5-6 hours) from Butterworth (Penang) to Kuala Besut for 80 MYR ($18 USD) + a 30-minute speed boat.
Option 2: A direct flight to Kota Bharu from Penang on Firefly Airlines + a taxi (1 hour) to Kuala Besut- the jetty + a 30-minute speed boat.
- The speed boat is 30 minutes & 70 MYR ($16 USD) return. Departure 8:00am/12:00pm and 4:00pm and returning 8:00am/12:00pm and 4:00pm. Note: It is the SAME cost with all the companies so don’t worry about bargaining but don’t pay more.
- Everyone has to pay a compulsory “Marine” fee of 30 MYR ($ 7 USD) or 5 MYR for locals at the jetty.
- Read: The Ultimate Backpacking Guide to the Perhentian Islands
We ate, we walked, we ate some more and walked some more. In fact, we walked over 20,000 steps a day according to our Fitbit! A lot of people have different opinions on George Town, but for us, we loved it!
Married Days Survived: 775