Kuala Lumpur is a big modern Asian metropolis full of skyscrapers and shopping malls, growing over the years into a city that could rival Singapore. Still, beneath the city’s shiny modern exterior you will find a vibrant culture where multiple ethnicities merge to create a unique blend of cultural customs, characterized by the different food offerings, entertainment and religion. Beneath the tall skyscrapers you can still find the Asia of old, where bustling markets and street side food stalls sit amongst busy streets and colourful, friendly people. Contrary to its major development, Malaysia’s capital is also still a cheap place to visit, so you can enjoy the best of the city without emptying your wallet.
Enjoy this travel guide to Kuala Lumpur.
Things to do in Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur has a variety of excellent attractions and things to do, from world class shopping and dining to historic sites and family friendly activities.
Merdeka Square is the historic colonial district of Kuala Lumpur, from where the British ruled the country during their reign. It is also of historic importance for Malaysia as this is where the Malaysian flag was first raised when the country gained its independence, and the flag still flies high above the square. Merdeka Square itself is actually the old cricket ground and the cricket pitch is still there, sitting in front of the historic Royal Selangor Club. There are several stunning colonial era buildings to check out in the area, with the Sultan Abdul Samad Building dominating the view with its British Raj style architecture and tall clock tower. Also worth checking out is the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery and the National Textile Museum.
Chinatown is an absolute must see when you visit Kuala Lumpur. Situated in the old part of town, Chinatown is a busy and vibrant area full of old crumbly historic buildings, with a vast amount of amazing places to eat and shop. The centre of the action is at Petaling Street, where a thriving market comes to life every night selling cheap brand knockoffs and other items. Amongst it all you will find lots of great restaurants and hawker style food.
Just west of Petaling Street you can find the old Central Market, which has been developed into a nice indoor market which is good for buying souvenirs and handicrafts. There is also a good food court upstairs.
Chinatown also has a couple of interesting Chinese temples to check out, including Guan Di Temple, and the 19th century Taoist temple, Sin Sze Si Ya.
Sri Mahamariamman Temple
Although located in Chinatown, Sri Mahamariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Kuala Lumpur. It’s hard to miss with its colourful facade with Hindu style carvings. The temple is well worth checking out for its beautiful and colourful artwork, as well as observing the Hindu offerings.
Located south of Merdeka Square, Masjid Negara is the National Mosque of Malaysia and is so large that it can hold up to 15,000 worshipers. The Mosque is open to tourists outside of the main prayer times and provides robes for you to wear inside. The highlight is the main prayer hall.
KL Bird Park
The Perdana Botanical Garden is well worth checking out to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and enjoy some greenery and solitude amongst the gardens. There are several other attractions to check out here, with the highlight being the KL Bird Park. This is the largest free flight walk in aviary in the world, and is home to over 3000 birds from 200 different species, many of which are quite rare and exotic. You are free to wander around amongst the birds, or you can check out some of the bird shows or educational experiences.
For many, a visit to the Petronas Towers is the highlight of their trip to Kuala Lumpur. The tallest twin towers of the world are certainly the most iconic landmark in the city. It is a good idea to visit the towers both during the day and at night when they are all lit up. You can also pay to go up to the Skybridge which connects the two towers and provides great views of the city. If you like art, also check out the Galeri Petronas on the 3rd floor for some excellent contemporary art exhibits.
Located behind the Petronas Towers is the massive Suria KLCC shopping mall where you will find lots of high end brands and other shops, as well as a great food court. This mall makes for a great spot to escape the heat and enjoy some air conditioning. Outside, KLCC Park is a beautiful public garden with lakes and walkways that provide more great views of the Petronas Towers.
Located on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Batu Caves is one of the most important Hindu places of worship outside of India. This amazing cave temple is accessed by climbing 272 steps into a giant cavern. There are also lots of shrines to check out, as well as a huge golden statue of Lord Murugan at the front of the steps. The temple is also home to lots of cheeky monkeys.
KL Forest Eco Park
If you need to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, another wonderful place to go is KL Forest Eco Park – a lush patch of rainforest located right in the heart of the city. Enjoy a walk along the trails through the park and wander high up into the canopy of the forest on the tree top walk.
Kuala Lumpur is a shopper’s paradise, full of lots of amazing shopping malls and markets. I’ve already mentioned the markets in Chinatown and the massive Suria KLCC Shopping Mall at the Petronas Towers. Other great shopping malls to check out are The Pavillion, for high end brands, Sungei Wang for bargain shopping, Low Yat Plaza for electronics and Berjaya Times Square for a huge mix of shopping, plus an indoor theme park.
Where to stay in Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur has a whole range of accommodation from backpacker hostels and cheap guesthouses to luxury 5 star hotels. If you’re travelling on a budget, you’ll find the cheapest guesthouses in Chinatown and there is an abundance of these around. There are also plenty of excellent mid range choices.
Another popular area to stay in Kuala Lumpur is Bukit Bintang, situated closer to the newer part of the city and good if you want to be close to the shopping malls and Petronas Towers. You can still find budget guesthouses and hotels here, but expect to pay a little bit more than Chinatown. There is a good range of nice hotels in this area.
For those looking for luxury, there are some excellent choices in the modern centre of Kuala Lumpur, such as the popular Trader’s Hotel with its amazing Skybar and swimming pool which overlooks the Petronas Towers.
Where to eat in Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur is an amazing food city, well known for its excellent and unique food that defines the Malay culture. There are lots of amazing restaurants that I could list here, but personally, I find the best food to be on the city’s streets and in its hawker food courts.
Chinatown has a ridiculous amount of eating options, and some of the best will be found in its little hawker stalls, food courts and hole in the wall restaurants. Head down Jalan Sultan, which runs parallel to Petaling Street, where a plethora of amazing food stalls set up at night time. Enjoy Chinese Malay favourites such as wantan mee or a delicious claypot to share with friends. Head to Kim Lian Kee on Petaling Street for Hokkien Mee, which claims to have invented the dish, and try some beef noodles at Restoran Soong Kee.
Located in Bukit Bintang, Jalan Alor is probably the best and most popular food street in Kuala Lumpur. The entire street is made up of hawker style restaurants, and the place really comes to life at night when the tables and chairs spill out onto the street. You can just about sample any kind of Malay dish here, along with lots of other Asian favourites. There is no particular restaurant that stands out for me, and I haven’t tried them all – all I know is that everything I ate here was amazing, and quite affordable.
Getting to and around Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur is a main airport hub in Asia and is serviced by several airlines that connect with other cities in Asia and around the world. Malaysia Airlines (MAS) is the main airline based here, and you can find some great MAS online promotion deals at Traveloka. AirAsia is the main budget airline to service the city. Kuala Lumpur is also connected by train to some other cities in Malaysia, such as Butterworth (for Penang), and also to Singapore and Thailand, up to Bangkok.
Getting around Kuala Lumpur is super easy thanks to its excellent public transport system. The airport – located well out of the city – is conveniently connected by a special airport train that drops you at KL Sentral in just 30 minutes. From KL Sentral, you can hop on the LRT (Light Rail) or MRT (monorail) to get to where you need to go. One of the LRT lines goes through Chinatown and also to KLCC, while the monorail goes to Bukit Bintang. Commuter trains are also well connected to get you out to the suburbs if needed, including to Batu Caves.
Kuala Lumpur’s new bus station at Bandar Tasik Selatan is very efficient, operating like an airport, and is conveniently connected to the city by train, including the airport line. Buses leave here for most destinations on the Malay Peninsula.
Walking is a great way to see the city where possible, and metered taxis are readily available for all other travel.
Kuala Lumpur is a fun and exciting city with lots to do. Time to pack your bags.