Welcome to Time Out's guide to Penang. Here are 50 things to do in this Unesco World Heritage Site, covering food and drink, music and nightlife, attractions and activities, and of course, heritage, arts and culture. Curated by our critics and experts, this list will inspire you to experience Penang's historical sites, creative energy and multicultural diversity.
Food and drink
Just beside Balik Pulau’s old market is this humble stall offering assam laksa and Thai laksa which is a fish and coconut-based gravy laksa. The latter is such a crowd pleaser and addictive too. Another popular place for assam laksa is Joo Hooi cafe.
Pasar Air Itam Laksa Jalan Pasar, Air Itam.
Joo Hooi cafe 475 Jalan Penang, George Town.
The flat rice flour noodles stir-fried with dark soya sauce, a dash of chilli paste, garlic, bean sprouts, prawns and kucai leaves is very possibly the most popular hawker food among locals and visitors alike. To sample this, head over to the well-known Sin Hwa coffee shop or Ah Leng Char Koay Teow stall at Kafe Khoon Hiang.
Kafe Khoon Hiang 358 Jalan Dato Keramat, George Town.
Sin Hwa coffee shop 329 Jalan Burma, George Town.
Finely shaved ice packed tight into a ball and dipped half into palm sugar syrup and the other into rose syrup. Suck and drain the sweetness to quench thirst on a scorching afternoon. To experience this brain-freezing ‘odd ball’, look for any ice kacang stall and ask the vendor to make you one or try Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul (next to Joo Hooi cafe).
The Peranakan people were probably the first to invent fusion cuisine with their Nyonya food that marries Malay and Chinese flavours. Their curries are a tad creamier and their ingredients create a more delicate base for stir-fried vegetables or seafood. Although, the most popular one is Mama’s Nyonya Cuisine.
Mama's Nyonya Cuisine 31-D Lorong Abu Siti, George Town. (+604 229 1318).
KebayaSeven Terraces Lorong Stewart, George Town (+604 264 2333); 4 Logan Heritage, Lebuh Pantai, George Town (+604 261 2269).
Stand up to the challenge and join in the queue at the Nasi Kandar Beratur that will form just beside the Masjid Kapitan Keling by around 9.40pm. This nasi kandar place only opens at 10pm and the queue for it can go meters long. However, an easier choice is Hameediyah Nasi Restaurant. It’s the third generation running the 100-year old family run restaurant today.
Nasi Kandar Beratur Restoran Liqayat Ali, 98 Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, George Town.
Hameediyah Restaurant 164A Lebuh Campbell, George Town (+604 261 1095).
Nasi Kandar Line Clear 117 Jalan Penang, George Town. (+604 261 4440); Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, Gelugor.
Shariff Nasi Kandar Istimewa Jalan Sultan Azlan Shah, Gelugor.
Attractions and activities
Penang Hill is easily accessible by the funicular train. Once on the hill, the cooler weather will encourage a lovely walk amid lush, greenery. There are spots for picnics if you care to pack food and drink before boarding the train.
Penang Hill Jalan Stesen Bukit Bendera, Air Itam (+604 828 8880).
Sunset at Batu Ferringhi beach stretch is a sight to behold. Wait for an especially hot, scorching day because this will guarantee an array of fuchsia and vermillion that’ll fade into indigo at night fall. Beach resorts to stay in while enjoying this experience along Ferringhi are Lone Pine that’s a modern boutique style, fun-driven Hard Rock Hotel and the luxurious Rasa Sayang Resort.
Lone Pine Hotel 97 Jalan Batu Ferringhi, Batu Ferringhi (+604 886 8686).
Hard Rock Hotel Penang Batu Ferringhi beach, Batu Ferringhi (+604 881 1711).
Shangri-La Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa Batu Ferringhi beach, Batu Ferringhi (+604 888 8888).
A ferry ride to Butterworth is not only fun but gives you a lovely view of the island’s skyline. Once you get across after the 15-minute ride, you can hop onto a bus from the nearby bus station to head out toward the food-prone Jalan Raja Uda or the more modern area of Jalan Todak.
Pengkalan Sultan Abdul Halim Butterworth.
Pengkalan Raja Tun Uda Pengkalan Weld, George Town.
Cooking classes are a terrific way to get to know the local cuisine and its exotic ingredients. Places that offer this regularly are the Tropical Spice Garden and Nazlina Spice Station. Both make these classes fun and satisfying. Nazlina will begin her class with a tour of a wet market in George Town and in both you’ll end up eating what you cook!
TSG Cooking School Tropical Spice Garden, Lone Crag Villa, 595 Mukim 2, Jalan Teluk Bahang, Batu Ferringhi (+604 881 1797).
Nazlina Spice Station 71 Lorong Stewart, George Town. (+6012 453 8167).
Bangkok Lane is a short street consisting of houses built by the Cheah family in 1920s. Today most of these houses are rented out to boutiques, small hotels and eateries. After a walk through, the coffee shop on the corner offers, as some attest, one of the best hawker fare such as mee mamak and Hokkien mee.
Street of Harmony is where all the different religious worship places can be found on one road, which is Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling. Here, Masjid Kapitan Keling, Kuan Yin Temple, St. George's Church, Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Cathedral of Assumption and Khoo Kongsi are within steps of each other.
Take a tour at the Street of Harmony & Historical Enclave with the Penang Heritage Trust.
Take a stroll through George Town's heritage streets
Experience refurbished heritage buildings by staying in one of the many gorgeous boutique hotels such as the luxurious Seven Terraces, 23 LoveLane or a modern twist to an old mansion such as Eight Rooms within Macalister Mansion. Another option is to sip tea during the daily high tea served at the lovingly refurbished Suffolk House that was once the home of Sir Francis Light.
Seven Terraces Lorong Stewart, George Town. (+604 264 2333).
23 LoveLane 23 Lorong Love, George Town (+604 262 1323).
Eight Rooms Macalister Mansion 228 Jalan Macalister, George Town (+604 228 3888).
Suffolk House 250 Jalan Air Itam, George Town (+604 228 1109).
Ride the trishaw on the streets of George Town
Trishaw rides are an easy way of manoeuvring around tight George Town traffic and a cool way to see the sights or to get from point A to point B within the town centre. You’ll need to agree on a price with the trishaw driver before getting on. The rule of thumb is RM30 per hour.
Music and nightlife
Penang Island Jazz Festival is one of the biggest music festivals in Malaysia and a very popular one in Penang, this annual festival sees international and local musical greats coming together for a three-day jazzy feast at Batu Ferringhi. It’s normally held towards the end of November and early December.
For updates, check penangjazz.com.
Penang World Music Festival is also an annual music festival held at the end of March at the Penang Botanic Gardens where vivacious drum beats or gentle strums of strings will serenade you.
For updates, check www.penangworldmusic.gov.my.
Live music on weekends can easily be found in places such as Jammin’, a chill out place above Via Pre restaurant and there’s a lovely view of the pier from their balcony where you can sit, chat and sip their gourmet Italian beers. The Canteen has a range of bands range from indie music to pop and jazz. Despite their rustic feel, they have a good sound system.
Jammin' Via Pre, Second floor, 5 Pengkalan Weld, George Town (+604 262 0560).
The Canteen at ChinaHouse, 153 & 155 Lebuh Pantai, George Town (+604 263 7299).
Arts and culture
penangpac is located on the sixth floor of Straits Quay mall and has a host of theatrical performances as well as foreign film screenings programmed throughout the whole year.
Waterfall Hilltop Temple is a splendid representation of the Hindu devotees. It’s a 500-step climb but at the end of it you’ll see a 180-degree view of Mount Erskine and Gurney areas. Before reaching this temple, there are three smaller temples at ground level that are worth a visit too. These temples are in the spotlight each Thaipusam with the one on the hill being the main star.
Main art galleries such as Penang State Art Gallery at Dewan Sri Penang have exhibitions all year around plus their permanent exhibition and they organise art forums and workshops too. Tuanku Fauziah Museum and Art Gallery on the campus of Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) has on-going interesting exhibitions. Their permanent exhibit includes Nyonya and aboriginal pieces and Malaysian traditional musical instrument.
Penang State Art Gallery Ground floor, Dewan Sri Pinang, Lebuh Light, George Town (+604 261 3144).
Tuanku Fauziah Museum and Art Gallery Universiti Sains Malaysia, Gelugor (+604 653 3888).
Imagine the past grandeur of 19th-century Peranakan home
The House of Yeap Chor Ee on Lebuh Penang is a museum that's housed within the first residence of Penang’s prominent tycoon, the late Yeap Chor Ee and it exhibits Chinese antiques belonging to the family. Another one is The Penang Sun Yat Sen Centre that showcases contributions made by Dr Sun Yat Sen in shaping the history of China through a series of dioramas including the conference he held in Penang.
Penang Sun Yat Sen Centre 65 Jalan Macalister, George Town (+604 228 5119).
The House of Yeap Chor Ee 4 Jalan Penang, George Town (+6012 482 5191).