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
While exploring Balik Pulau, foodies should slip this into their itinerary: Visit the old market to sample the wildly popular assam laksa. If you'd rather stick within the vicinity of George Town, another great place to savour the tnagy noodle dish is Joo Hooi Cafe.
Pasar Air Itam Laksa Jalan Pasar, Air Itam.
Joo Hooi Cafe 475 Jalan Penang, George Town.
Easily the most popular hawker dish among locals and travelers alike, char kuey teow consists of flat rice flour noodles, dark soya sauce, chilli paste, garlic, bean sprouts, prawns, Chinese chives and sometimes chicken or duck eggs. There are more char kuey teow stalls than one can count on both hands (and feet), but you can't go wrong with Kedai Kopi Sin Hwa and Ah Leng Char Kuay Teow stall at Kafe Khoon Hiang.
Kafe Khoon Hiang 358 Jalan Dato Keramat, George Town.
Kedai Kopi Sin Hwa 329 Jalan Burma, George Town.
Every city's inhabitants will wax nostalic about a childhood treat; for Penangites, the said treat would be the shaved ice ball. Basically an edible snow ball, each sphere is handmade by tightly packing shaved ice into a ball and drenching the lot in palm sugar syrup and rose syrup. Eating your ice ball is a messy process, but table manners are overlooked when you're eating at a streetside stall. Most ice kacang stalls also serve this sweet treat, but our go-to is Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul (next to Joo Hooi Cafe).
Penang Road Famous Teochew Chendul 27 & 29, Lebuh Keng Kwee
The birth of Peranakan Chinese or Straits-born Chinese also saw the birth of a new food culture: Nyonya cuisine marries Malay and Chinese flavours. Some traditional dishes include jiu hu char, loh bak, Inchi Kabin, Chicken Kapitan and a plethora of bite-sized sweets called kueh. Here are two restaurants to get your fill:
Mama's Nyonya Cuisine 31-D Lorong Abu Siti, George Town (+604 229 1318).
Kebaya Dining Room Lorong Stewart, George Town (+604 264 2333).
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 164 Lebuh Campbell, George Town (+604 261 1095).
Nasi Kandar Line Clear 177 Jalan Penang, George Town. (+604 261 4440).
Shariff Nasi Kandar Istimewa 159 Jalan Permai, Taman Brown, Gelugor (+6017 458 6786).
Attractions and activities
While there are myriad methods to get to the peak of Penang Hill, the easiest and most scenic way is to hop aboard the train. It takes just five minutes to reach the top in a comfortable air conditioned coach. Pack some food and drink to enjoy a picnic at the peak.
Penang Hill Jalan Stesen Bukit Bendera, Air Itam (+604 828 8880).
Sunsets on the stretch of beach at Batu Ferringhi are a sight to behold. Here's a tip: Scorching hot days produce especially spectacular sunsets in vibrant shades of fuchsia and vermillion. Book a room at a beach resort in the area to enjoy sundown from your hotel bar or a private beach. The Hard Rock Hotel caters nicely to families with kids while the luxurious Rasa Sayang Resort is recommended for honeymooners. Meanwhile, the spacious Lone Pine Hotel is suited for travellers who crave a bit of privacy.
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).
The short ferry ride to and from Butterworth is a fun way to cross the Selatan Strait while enjoying the fresh sea breeze. If travelling by vehicle, you can even drive up a ramp and park on the ferry itself. Buses and taxis are at the ready at both Butterworth and Pengkalan Weld terminals to transport you to your final destination.
Pengkalan Sultan Abdul Halim Off Lebuhraya Lingkaran Luar Butterworth, Butterworth.
Pengkalan Raja Tun Uda Pengkalan Weld, George Town.
Cooking classes are a terrific way to get to know a country or city's regional cuisine. 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!
Tropical Spice Garden Cooking School Tropical Spice Garden, Lone Crag Villa, 595 Mukim 2, Jalan Teluk Bahang, Batu Ferringhi (+604 881 1797).
Nazlina Spice Station 2 Lebuh Campbell, George Town. (+6012 453 8167).
Kids and adults alike love this theme park surrounded by nature. ESCAPE provides a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of George Town and encourages breaking a sweat while having fun. Some highlights and attractions include the Tubby Racer, the Flying Lemur and Atan's Leap.
ESCAPE 828 Jalan Teluk Bahang, Penang.
This short street lined with houses built by the Cheah family in the 1920s looks remarkably distinct from most streets in Penang. The unique architecture sees a marriage between British colonial and Asian aesthetics. Cap your stroll with lunch at Bankok Lane Mee Goreng; needless to say, the order of the day is the mee goreng or spicy, saucy stir-fried noodles.
Bangkok Lane Mee Goreng Seng Lee Cafe, intersection of Lorong Bangkok and Jalan Burma, George Town.
The Street of Harmony is where several places of worship - Masjid Kapitan Keling, Kuan Yin Temple, St. George's Church, Sri Mahamariamman Temple, Cathedral of Assumption and Khoo Kongsi - line a single road (Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling). Only in Malaysia!
Join Penang Heritage Trust's tour of the Street of Harmony & Historical Enclave.
Poke around George Town's heritage streets
Experience the best of old and new by residing in a refurbished heritage building. Travelers are spoilt for choice with the number of boutique hotels in Penang. We recommend the luxurious Seven Terraces, family-friendly 23 LoveLane and contemporary Macalister Mansion.
Seven Terraces Lorong Stewart, George Town. (+604 264 2333).
23 LoveLane 23 Lorong Love, George Town (+604 262 1323).
Macalister Mansion 228 Jalan Macalister, George Town (+604 228 3888).
Enjoy a trishaw tour of George Town
A trishaw ride is a relaxing means to get from point A to point B in Penang or to see various sights within an hour or more. Negogiate with the trishaw driver and agree upon a price before disembarking; the rule of thumb is RM30 per hour.
If you'd like to try your hand at driving a trishaw yourself, visit Metro Bike to rent one.
Metro Bike 8A Pengkalan Weld, George Town (019 409 4663/metrobike.com.my).
Music and nightlife
Book a ticket to Penang's largest jazz festival
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.
Enjoy vivacious drum beats at the Penang World Music Festival
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).