Visiting Penang and want to experience the highlights of this special island? Having lived here for a while and explored much of the island, I’ve developed a list of must-try experiences that will give you a great feel and taste for the buzzing beehive that is Penang. You can totally bang this out out in three days, or take a leisurely pace and spread it out over four or five days. And to help you guys out, I’ve designed the following itinerary so that each day, you’re activities are concentrated in one section of the island so you won’t have to drive all over the place, which will help you maximize your time doing fun stuff. This list and itinerary is nearly two years in the making, and I hope you’ll find it helpful!
Let’s start with the summary and then dig into the details and photos, shall we? Here we go…
Day 1: Explore Georgetown
- Trishaw tour of Georgetown
- Stroll through the Old Protestant Cemetary
- Souvenir shopping/coffee sipping on Love Lane
- Lunch in Little India
- Street art treasure hunt in Georgetown
- Shop for spices and bangles in Little India, or
- Afternoon tea at the E&O
- Evening Harbor cruise
- Dinner at Red Garden hawker center, or
- Experience true hawker food at the stalls on Chulia Street, or
- Have a special, upscale Nyonya dinner at Kebaya in 7 Terraces
- Drinks and live music at China House or Ruins of Victoria
Day 2: Tropical Adventures
- Hike to Monkey Beach through Penang National Park in Teluk Bahang, or
- If you have kids, let them run wild at Escape
- Tour the Tropical Fruit Farm, Teluk Bahang
- Visit Entopia Butterfly Farm, Teluk Bahang
- Have lunch at Tree Monkey Thai restaurant, outside Batu Ferringhi
- Tour the Tropical Spice Garden, outside Batu Ferringhi, or
- Take a Thai cooking class at Tropical Spice Garden, or
- Rent kayaks, paddle out to Pulau Tikkus Island
- Sunset drinks on the beach at Bora Bora, Batu Ferringhi
- Dinner at hawker stalls, or
- Dine among orchids and waterfalls at Ferringhi Garden
- Hit the Batu Ferringhi Night market
Day 3: Classic Penang Experience
- Wet market for breakfast and shopping
- Monkey around at the Botanical Garden
- Visit the Hindu Waterfall Temple
- Visit Kek Lok Si Chinese Buddhist temple, Air Itam
- Lunch at Air Itam hawker stalls
- Visit Wat Chayamangkalaram Thai temple
- Visit Dhammikarama Burmese Temple
- Dinner at Beach Blanket Babylon, or
- Have a big Chinese seafood dinner at Ocean Green, or
- Stroll down adorable Nagore Square for steamboat or Chinese vegetarian
- Grab super-creamy ice cream made with liquid nitrogen at The Safe Room
- Have drinks on a stylish rooftop bar and enjoy the city lights of Penang
So now, the details and photos!
Day 1: Explore Georgetown
Get an early start and beat the heat to explore the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage Site of Georgetown. Take an hour-long trishaw tour (cost is usually around 50 ringgit) to experience its diverse neighborhoods, the ancient houses of powerful Chinese clans, ornate temples, and quaint shops while hearing about its rich history. You can always find trishaws lined up on Penang Road right across from the famous Red Garden hawker center. Be sure to talk with the drivers first to make sure you hire one who speaks decent English.
After your tour ends, if you want to have a peaceful “Garden of Good and Evil” experience, walk around the corner to the old Penang Protestant Cemetery (on Jalan Sultan Amhad Shaw at Penang Road) which is one of the least visited but most interesting places in Georgetown. Walk beneath the giant trees that gracefully sprinkle their fragrant plumeria flowers on the centuries-old gravestone of the founder of Penang, Sir Francis Light, as well as naval captains, spice traders, and 21 year-old “spinsters” (so scandalous for a woman so “old” to be unmarried! Well, I guess it was in 1828.) It’s a slice of peace amid a bustling city.
Afterward, walk on over to Love Lane to find some beautiful hand-crafted souvenirs or sip some coffee in an adorable open-air café.
Then walk over to colorful Little India and head-bop your way past speakers pumping out Bollywood music, float by fluttering jewel-toned silk saris and breathe in the fragrant exotic spices sold in giant bins.
Stop in for a delicious lunch at one of Little India’s many restaurants, which all feature truly unique fare. For an authentic locals-lunch, try Veloo Villas (Lebuh Penang at Lebuh Dickens), a yummy “banana leaf” restaurant where they place a banana leaf on the table, and ladle rice, curries, veggies and chutneys onto it. If you’re dying for a little AC relief and you want an insanely good vegetarian lunch, hit up Woodlands just up the road (Lebuh Penang at Church Street) and be sure to order the visually impress tosai, which is kind of like a giant Indian crepe filled with spiced potatoes, masala or whatever else you want. YUM! Or try a local favorite that’s unique to Penang: nasi kandar, which is rice served with a variety of curries and side dishes, which you can find at Kapitan Restaurant (Chulia Street at Lebuh King).
In the afternoon, take a self-guided treasure hunt for Georgetown’s impressive street art. I created a great little treasure hunt for you guys, which you can find here.
Then either head back to Little India to shop for spices, bangles and cow urine, or if your feet need a rest, cruise on over to the stylish, historic E&O Hotel for afternoon tea (from 2pm-5pm, at 10 Lebuh Farquhar).
In the evening, perhaps take a beautiful harbor cruise with Lady Martina’s Water Limousine to see Georgetown from the sea. Then for dinner, decide if you want the beginner version of hawker food – for the uninitiated and slightly intimidated, go to Red Garden on Jalan Penang. For an advanced hawker stall/eating in the street experience, go to Chulia Street at Lorong Cheapside and try something at each stall. If you want to experience truly tasty and upscale Nyonya cuisine (which is a unique blend of Chinese and Malay influences), make a reservation at Kebaya in the 7 Terraces Hotel – mmm, it’s deeeeelicious!. Then if you’re up for a drink and music, head over to China House or Ruins of Victoria, which feature live bands on the weekends.
Day 2 – Tropical Adventures
One of my favorite hikes on the island is the heavily rooted, verdant path to Monkey Beach in Teluk Bahang at Taman Negara/Penang National Park. Depending on your fitness level and how many times you stop to take photos, it can take anywhere from 45-90 minutes, and along the way, you may get to see giant man-sized monitor lizards on the trail or swimming in the ocean, beautiful trees, fish farms, and yes, monkeys! Be sure to bring lots of water and wear mosquito repellant.
Once you reach Monkey Beach, you can lazily swing on the beach in a hammock, swim in the warm ocean, sip on fresh pineapple juice and just relax. You can walk back, or take a boat back to Teluk Bahang (usually around 20 ringgit per person).
Or, if you have kids who have energy to burn and no patience for hiking, take them to Escape to climb up rope ladders, swing from giant bananas, and build their balance on rope courses. (Entrance fee – kids: 55 ringgit; adults: 83 ringgit)
While in Teluk Bahang, if you like tropical fruit, it’s worth the trip up into the hills to the Tropical Fruit Farm (just drive past the dam and you’ll see it on your left). Be sure to take the tour to walk in their 25-acre orchards and pick fresh dragonfruit off of weird cactus-like plants, taste delicate rambutan, stinky durian, delicious mangosteen (the best fruit on earth), papaya, longans and many exotic fruits you probably never knew existed.
Then on your way back toward Batu Ferringhi, if you like butterflies, stop by Entopia, where you’ll walk through a huge terrarium with thousands of butterflies magically flittering around your head. (Entrance fee: – adult: 44 ringgit; child: 26 ringgit). This well-designed place is actually pretty cool for both adults and kids and you can easily spend 1-2 hours there happily having butterflies land on your head and checking out interesting bugs, lizards and giant spiders.
There’s also an indoor area that’s air conditioned (hurray for AC!) with lots of fascinating exhibits about butterflies and bugs, hands-on demonstrations (like digging for giant worms), a butterfly nursery where you can watch larvae hatch, and some weird rooms designed for kids, like this one about honeybees.
For lunch, I highly recommend stopping in at Tree Monkey, which is a really beautiful, very tropical feeling Thai restaurant set high up in the trees that overlooks the ocean.
If you’re lucky, you may get to spot the local troupe of Langur monkeys in the trees around you (but don’t worry, they won’t steal your food – they only eat leaves).
The adjacent Tropical Spice Garden offers self-guided tours to check out a huge assortment of spices growing there, from vanilla beans and nutmeg trees to cinnamon bark and ginger, which is a fascinating experience for plant people and cooks. They also offer really good Thai cooking classes.
But if you’re more in the mood for active adventure, a fun way to spend the afternoon is by renting kayaks (price: around 20 ringgit) in nearby Tanjung Bungah at the Penang Water Sports Centre and pretending you’re a pirate. Paddle out to your own private island, Pulau Tikkus, where you can bury treasure, swim among the boulders or just take in the impressive scenery.
For sunset, there’s nothing more tropical than sipping on a fruity adult beverage with your feet in the sand while watching the sun sink into the sea, which you can do at Bora Bora at Batu Ferringhi. (It’s also really entertaining to watch the parasailors eat sand when then come in for hot landings. Heh heh heh…)
There are lots of dinner options around there, including two hawker centers, but if you’d like to be surrounded by a stunning array of orchids, pitcher plants, ferns and waterfalls, head to Ferringhi Gardens. The food isn’t amazing, but the setting is tropical paradise (photos below).
Then finish the night by perusing the night market booths that line the street. It’s the place to go if you’re in search of sundresses, hippie pants, Rolexxx watches, Prado sunglasses and Goochi handbags (which the stall owners will assure you are “genuine original designer!”)
Day 3 – Classic Penang Experience
Nothing is more “Penang” than the wet market. You can learn all about them here.
Morning wet markets, which are found in every major neighborhood throughout the island and usually open from about 7am-10am(ish), sell “wet” grocery items, including a vast variety of super fresh tropical fruits, veggies, buckets of wiggling fish, chicken and various unidentifiable animal bits. It’s such a hive activity and color that your eyes and camera will get a workout. Once you’ve done a hot lap, grab a bite at the food stalls beside the wet market. Each stall has their own specialty dish, from Char Kway Teow – Penang’s charcoal-fired, rice-noodle comfort food – to roti cenai (an absolute must-try fried dough dish with delicious dipping sauces), wonton soup, curry mee, bi hoon (yummy rice stick noodles), and the standard Malaysian breakfast: nasi lemak – a banana-leaf encapsulated dish made of coconut rice, fried chicken or curry, a hardboiled egg, peanuts, chili paste and anchovies. Be sure to try the tea tarik (pronounced “tay tareek”), a thick, sweet, fragrantly spiced, dramatically “pulled” tea.
Next up, head over to the Penang Botanical Garden and check out the huge troupe of macaque monkeys near the entrance.
If you’re a plant person, walk around the Botanical Gardens to see some interesting species, or if you want a workout, use any of the paths to climb up Penang Hill (which will leave even the fittest person sweating, panting and sore).
One of the coolest things about Penang is that multiple religions peacefully coexist side-by-side, and no trip to Penang is complete without visiting a bunch of ornate and completely unique temples. So gather up some divine inspiration to climb up the many, many steps to the beautiful Hindu Waterfall Temple (just outside the Botanical Garden) and enjoy the peace of the place. Then drive up to Air Itam to see the impressive Kek Lok Si Chinese Buddhist Temple with its spectacular views of Penang and the massive statue of Guanyin overlooking it all.
While you’re in Air Itam, hit its hawker stalls for lunch (which you will pass through on your way up to Kek Lok Si), which has the best laksa (a sour soup) on the island.
Keep your zen going by visiting massive reclining Buddha at the Wat Chayamangkalaram Thai Temple (17 Lorong Burma), and then walk across the street and visit the peaceful Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist Temple with its gorgeous wooden lattice work.
And for your last evening, there are so many food options! If an ocean setting is your priority, Beach Blanket Babylon is a pretty place right on the water with nice drinks (but the food isn’t anything memorable).
Nearby, Ocean Green is a really good Chinese seafood restaurant – bring your appetite! Or cruise down the charming lane at Nagore Square for Zen Xin Chinese Vegetarian (their kung pao eggplant is to die for), or try one of the many steamboat places. And cap your night with a unique, steaming liquid nitrogen-made ice cream and melt-in-your-mouth liquid nitrogen popcorn at The Safe Room (42 Lebuh Campbell).
Or enjoy the sparkling city lights of Penang with a drink at the stylish rooftop Gravity Bar atop the G Hotel on Kelawai.
Enjoy your time in Penang, my friends!