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The ultimate itinerary for 5 days in Penang
What to do in Penang for 5 days? Penang is a charming Malaysian city full of history, intricately decorated temples and amazing food. Malaysian, Chinese, Indian and Western influences make Penang the perfect holiday destination.
Georgetown is the colorful, multicultural capital of the Malaysian island of Penang. It is best known for its British colonial buildings, Chinese shop-houses, temples and mosques.
As first time travellers to Penang Island we were excited to be going somewhere off the normal travel routes. From the moment we landed, we knew this visit was going to be the first of many.
My favourite things in Penang
- Georgetown Street Art
- The Habitat at Penang Hill
- Pearly Kee’s Homecooking School
Clan Jetties in Penang
A part of the Penang Heritage Trail, the Clan Jetties are a group of six jetties which were the old Chinese settlements on the island.
Over time, the settlements expanded and each were named and dominated by family clans. Due to constant rivalry over work on the docks, the relationships between the clans were at times strained and often led to bitter fights and disputes.
Walking through the Jetties was an interesting insight into early Penang. Strong communities have grown from very modest beginnings with many of the jetties and houses being refurbished. Along the jetties, restaurants and shops have thrived.
At times I felt I was intruding but the residents were welcoming and when we appeared lost, gave directions to nearby temples and sights.
Penang Street Art
Penang’s Georgetown has become well known for the street-art paintings and iron rod sculptures lighting up its many lanes and alleyways.
Murals either depicted stories from the people of Penang’s daily life or something historical. Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic is considered to have breathed life into this old city with his art. Other artworks also feature in this space such as the work by Louis Gan. Louis is a self-taught artist from Penang. A freelance artist, Louis was born deaf and is also mute.
Tip: Penang Tourism has published a great map with most of the artworks detailed.
Download your copy here.
The highest concentration of street art is in Georgetown, around Armenian Street, Chulia Street and Muntri Street.
The best way to explore this area is by foot or by cycling so explore the narrow alleys to find these hidden treasures.
Tip: Sunset on Penang Hill is magnificent!
Just 6 kilometres from Georgetown city standing 821 metres above sea level, Penang Hill offers the best views over Penang. Enjoy spectacular 180 degree views over Georgetown on a clear day.
Walking trails through dense rainforest, delicate ferns, stunning orchids and thousands of unique plants are just some of the things to so. Stop in for lunch at one of the restaurants and cafes at the summit to experience the magnificent views.
The Funicular Railway
Walking to the top is an option but be aware, in high humidity travelling via the Funicular Railway is the best way to reach the summit. The Penang Funicular Railways is known as the steepest tunnel track in the world.
Top tip: We paid extra to take the Fast Lane bypassing the crowds and to take the first car for an amazing ride downhill!
As an alternative, ride the Funicular up and walk back down again. We’ll be opting for this on our next trip to Penang to get lasting views over the city.
The Habitat is set on the fringes of 130 million rainforest on Penang Hill. It’s an untouched forest reserve which includes a 1.6 km Nature Trail, the Langur Way Canopy Walk and the spectacular Curtis Crest Tree Top Walk.
Look out for some of Penang’s rare animals such as the Dusky Leaf Monkey, Black Giant Squirrel and the Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo amongst the tropical rainforest of Penang Hill.
Langur Way Canopy Walk
The world’s longest two-span stressed ribbon bridge, the Langur Way Canopy Walk is the most remote and highest altitude stressed ribbon bridge in the world.
Curtis Crest Tree Top Walk
Kek Lok Si Temple
Malaysia’s largest Buddhist temple, Kek Lok Si is was founded more than a hundred years ago. It is made up of a series of monasteries, prayer halls, temples and beautifully landscaped gardens.
A striking seven-tiered pagoda called The Pagoda of 1000 Buddhas, combines Thai, Chinese and Burmese religions into one. It houses a stunning collection of Buddha statues made from a variety of precious materials. Statues of The Four Heavenly Kings, guarding the four points of the compass – North, South, West and East – with the statue of The Laughing Buddha in the centre.
The hilltop is home to an enormous statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin as well as more gardens and temples. Carved into the rock face the ‘Temple of Supreme Bliss’, it is a cornerstone of the Malaysian Chinese community.
Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
The home of an influential Chinese industrialist in the early 1890s, the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion represents the best of 18th and 19th-century Chinese architecture.
A team of master craftsmen from China took more than seven years to build the mansion. It follows Feng shui principles and includes five granite courtyards, 38 rooms, seven staircases and 22 stained glass windows.
Recommended: Dine at Indigo, the famed Blue Mansion Restaurant.
Locals call it the Blue Mansion and it remains one of only three traditional Chinese mansions outside of China.
In 1989, it was restored and converted into a 16-room boutique heritage hotel and museum best known for its indigo blue colour.
Fort Cornwallis is one of Penang’s most well-known landmarks with ten-foot-high walls, a 17th century chapel, prison cells and ammunition storage areas.
There are a number of old bronze canons, including a Dutch one which superstitious locals believe has a positive effect on women’s fertility.
The largest fort in Malaysia, Fort Cornwallis was intended as a defensive against pirates, Kedah forces and the French during the Napoleonic Wars. Built in 1786, it is set close to the Penang Clocktower and was named after Marquis Charles Cornwallis.
Penang Cooking School with Pearly Kee
Malaysian cooking expert, Pearly Kee is an award-winning author.
On recommendation from friends, we booked a cooking class at Pearly Kee’s Homecooking School in Penang to learn the art of Nyonya cooking.
The class started with a tour of the markets. Pearly walked us through tables of fresh herbs, spices, vegetables, seafood and meats whist explaining their role in Malaysian Nyonya cooking. It was fascinating to see coconut being freshly prepared – cut, milked and shaved from the 4th generation coconut vendor.
We were also introduced to market snack food. If you haven’t had sugar noodle snacks and traditional peanut pancake from local street-stalls then you haven’t experienced a Penang marketplace. One word – delicious!
The menu of the day was Beef Rendang, Ngor Hiang Lor Bak (5 spice Meat Roll) and Sambal Prawns. OMG – I cannot believe we mastered this – let alone, in one day!
Recommended: Book a day with Pearly Kee for a wonderful adventure in cooking.
Our lessons took place at Pearly’s home in her outdoor kitchen, where we had one-on-one instruction with Pearly teaching us about the flavours of these beautiful Malaysian dishes.
A group of 6 in our class meant that there was lots of laughter, many questions, interesting conversation and great learnings from our master chef.
The day was great fun, relatively easy and ultimately delicious.
Eating out in Penang
Tip: Eat at the busy cafe’s, they are usually a good indicator that the food is good.
Coffee shops and cafes generally serve good coffee and will usually offer a menu for meals as well.
Food hygiene standards are generally good and it’s safe to eat from most food-carts. We ate at a number of cafes and small traditional stalls many of which either didn’t have names or we stumbled upon them on our walks.
Our favourite dining experiences
One of the best Breakfast buffets ever. Fruit, freshly baked pastries, omelettes, eggs any way you like, Chinese or Indian breakfast options. My favourite breakfast choice was a freshly cooked Banana Roti by the resident Indian chef.
We stumbled on Canton-i at Gurney Plaza. Serving traditional Chinese dishes. You must try their exceptional ‘Signature’ Giant Shrimp Wonton Soup.
Chin’s Stylish Chinese Cuisine
A funky modern restaurant located on Church Street Pier, Chin’s serves a selection of traditional Chinese dishes with a modern twist. Serving a banquet of unique courses, beautifully presented and all rich in flavour Chin’s surprised us at every level. Try the Cod Fish Soup, it is one of the best soups I’ve ever tasted and came to our table, flaming.
Heritage style atmosphere. Farquhar’s Bar is a great place for an evening cocktail and delicious tapas before dinner, or instead of dinner as the case may be. Located in the Heritage wing of the E&O Hotel.
Elegant french influenced dining in the Heritage wing at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel. 1985 is a romantic setting and perfect for that special night out with fabulous table service and an outstanding menu.
Desert Tip: Choose the Crepes Suzette flamed at the table.
Our selections were Foie gras and Alaskan crab as entrees, followed by perfectly cooked Venison and mine, a delicious Red Snapper.
David Brown’s Restaurant
If you’re visiting Penang Hill, enjoy a late lunch at David Brown’s restaurant on Strawberry Hill overlooking Georgetown. A traditional Beef Rendang and a Seafood Linguine Prawn Bisque was a perfect finish to our day walking though the Habitat rainforest.
Indigo at the Blue Mansion
Indigo is at the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion commonly referred to as the Blue Mansion. Fusing East with West cuisine, Indigo restaurant was a beautiful setting to enjoy lunch on our last day in Penang. We started with a delicious Smoked Duck and Orange Salad followed by perfectly cooked Snapper and finished with a Lemongrass Creme Brulee. Perfect choices!
Best Time to Visit Penang
The best time to visit Penang is generally between November and the end of January.
Penang experiences hot, tropical weather all year round, but November, December and January tend to be the coolest, most pleasant months with the least rainfall. This is also their busiest season.
May through November is when the annual monsoon rains begin to fall, but in general, Penang will only see a few hours a day of heavy rain and the remainder of the day will be dry.
Where we stayed in Penang
We usually choose to stay somewhere central when on holidays. We love hotels with history which provide a touch of luxury and will usually try some of their restaurants and bars during our visit.
For this trip, we decided to stay at the Eastern & Oriental Hotel in George Town, the capital of Penang. Known simply as ‘The E&O’ to generations of travellers, this hotel has the grand elegance of the British colonial era right down to the pianist playing in the foyer each afternoon.
The Heritage Wing is the heart of the Eastern & Oriental Hotel. Built in 1885, the E&O has played host to some of the world’s most celebrated artists, writers and heads of state.
There are plenty of other accommodation opportunities in Penang. Check out other options:
Getting to Penang
- Air – Penang’s International Airport is well connected with major cities throughout Asia. We flew into Singapore before connecting to Penang. Kuala Lumpur and Phuket also have direct flights. Flights to Penang from Singapore & Kuala Lumpur take about an hour.
- Car – Driving from Kuala Lumpur is an option most don’t think of. It’s easy enough to hire a vehicle and travel the 350 km from Kuala Lumpur to Penang. Malaysian roads are right hand drive with similar road rules to Australia.
- Train – It’s easy to travel to Penang by Train from Kuala Lumpur. A direct train from Kuala Lumpur Sentral station to Butterworth station in Penang (on the mainland) takes about 4-5 hours. From Butterworth, catch a ferry across the Malacca Strait or hop on a bus to cross the Penang bridge leading to the island. The ferry takes about 15 to 20 minutes from the mainland but there is a bus which will take about 30 minutes to reach Penang island.
- Bus – There are a number of direct buses travelling daily between Kuala Lumper and Penang taking approximately 4 – 5 hours. This is one of the most popular means of travel between Kuala Lumpur and Penang.
Are you staying longer?
There were so many things that we didn’t get to see or do on our short visit, so we plan to return.
My recommendation is to stay a minimum of 2 weeks to give you enough time to explore the island. Do some of the fabulous walks around Penang, check out the fabulous street art and explore some of the best Malaysian restaurants and cafes.
If you’re looking to extend your stay here are a few suggestions:
- Visit some of the wacky museums like the Upside Down Museum and the Penang 3D Trick Art Museum
- Check out the Penang Butterfly Park
- Explore the Botanical Gardens
- Visit the Tropical Spice Gardens
- Penang Bird Park is the largest bird park in Malaysia and a ‘must see’ on your visit.
- Visit Turtle Beach, Penang National Park
Take time out to do some relaxing to get the most out of your Penang adventure.
Inspired? Why not pin to Pinterest for later!
We explored Georgetown in Penang, experiencing the history, culture and beauty of the island but would recommend a longer stay to explore more of Penang Island.
Penang is an opportunity for a holiday of culture, food, art and relaxation.
If you’re wondering what to do in Penang in 5 days, this travel guide will help you get the most out of your Penang experience.