Malacca is home to a colorful rich history and culture, along with wonderfully preserved heritage and colonial buildings.
As I walk down the streets of this city, I feel like I am time travelling through its rich history of Malay Sultans, the Peranakan and colonization by the Portuguese, Dutch and British. The influences from its history are very much still alive through Malacca’s architecture, culture and arts.
In 2008, UNESCO named Malacca City a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which has helped to keep this city well preserved and bustling with tourism. Having been to Malacca several times, I am continually impressed by the overall cleanliness and general organization when visiting its various historical sites. It’s a breath of fresh air after visiting many chaotic tourist sites around the world.
To get here, it is just a 2-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur and a 3-hour drive from Singapore by car.
It is possible to do Malacca as a day trip, however it will be jam packed, as there is quite a bit to see. All my trips to Malacca have been day trips, but I have had to go there 3 times to see all the things I wanted to see. If you do have time, I would suggest a night or two in one of the gorgeous boutique hotels such as 1825 Gallery Hotel or experience a Malaccan homestay.
So without further ado, below is my suggested list of things to do in Malacca.
Visit the Dutch Square (Red Square)
Upon entering the historical part of Malacca City, you will see the Dutch Square, which houses the Christ Church, Stadthuys, Queen Victoria Fountain and the Tan Beng Swee Clock Tower. This is a good landmark area if you do happen to get lost along your travels around Malacca.
This is probably the more famous landmark area in Malacca and is bustling with tourists. If you can get there early, you’ll most likely be able to have the area *almost* to yourself and grab some great snapshots of this landmark without all the tourists.
Although the area is called the Dutch Square due to the Christ Church and Stadthuys, which are remnants of the Dutch colonization, you will see elements of the British colonization (the fountain) and Peranakan (the clock tower).
The best view of Dutch Square is up on the balcony near the Stadthuys, where you can grab some good snaps of the Christ Church. The city has also installed an “I Love Melaka” sign, which has become a popular photo point.
Fun fact about the Christ Church and Stadthuys – these buildings were originally painted in white, but in the early 1900’s was painted red.
Ride a Rickshaw (Trishaw)
At the Dutch Square, you’ll see a lineup of vibrantly decorated rickshaws (or trishaws as they call it in Malacca). This location is the starting point if you want to hire a rickshaw.
Years ago (and I mean like in the 1990’s years ago) when I visited Malacca, the rickshaws was decorated quite differently. The decoration around the rickshaws was much more traditional. Today, the rickshaws are flamboyantly decorated with cartoon characters – from Disney to Doremon to Hello Kitty. The choice is yours. And sometimes they will turn on some music as well.
The rickshaws will take you on a tour around Malacca, showing you the major sites. You can tell them what sites you want to visit. For about an hour, you are looking at about RM40.
Visit the Sultanate Palace Museum
Of all the historical sites, I have to say that I really enjoyed going through the Sultanate Palace Museum. The building itself is a reconstruction of the palace of the Malacca Sultanate, and it gives you a great idea of what the history of Malacca was like.
Throughout the museum, you can read and see interesting information pertaining to Malaccan history – from the different traders who arrived at the port to the history of the Sultanate. And it is quite inexpensive to visit, approximately RM5.
Eat Peranakan Food, also know as the Nyonya Cuisine
Nyonya food is a beautiful marriage of Malay and Chinese cuisine. There are many places around Malacca city to get Nyonya food, but I would recommend Nancy’s Kitchen and Nyonya Makko Restaurant.
At Nancy’s Kitchen, you will usually find a line up of hungry patrons outside waiting to get a seat in the restaurant. Dishes to order here includes the Ayam Pong Teh and Pai Tee. You can also do a cooking class at Nancy’s Kitchen, which would be an excellent experience to learn all about the Nyonya cuisine. I haven’t done this personally, but I would love to.
Nyonya Makko Restaurant is another great place to indulge in the Nyonya cuisine. I would recommend ordered the whole fried fish with sambal and the nyonya fried chicken.
Ride up the Taming Sari Tower
Seeing Malacca from up above was quite an interesting site, and gives you a great insight into the workings of Malacca as a port city. You get a fantastic birds eye view of this historical city.
You’ll ride up to about 80 meters, and at the top, it rotates giving you a 360-degree view of Malacca. All up it takes about 7 minutes and costs around RM20.
Walk along Jonker Walk
Jonker Walk is one of the more famous streets in Malacca and houses many lovely shops, cafes and restaurants. Here you’ll find a great number of antique shops, in amongst wonderful handicraft, souvenir and clothing shops.
Historically, Jonker Walk was home to many of the rich Peranakans, also known as the Babas and Nyonyas. They would live here and establish their businesses along this road, which soon became known as rich street. This added so much character to Jonker Walk, which you can still see in the architecture of its buildings.
Along Jonker Walk, you will also get to see some of the oldest houses in Malacca…some dating back as far as the 17th century.
As you travel around Malacca city, you will see images of cendol everywhere and most cafes/restaurant will sell this refreshing dessert. And after a hot day, cendol is the perfect refreshment.
Basically, cendol consists of finely shaved iced with fresh coconut milk, starched green jelly and gula Melaka (palm sugar). There are many other ingredients that you can also add to it including red bean, creamed corn, mango and durian.
If you along Jonker Walk, I recommend trying the cendol at Jonker88. You’ll find this café located a few hundred meters down Jonker Walk. I prefer going the Baba Cendol, which is the basic cendol with the addition of red bean. This will cost around RM4-7.
There are a lot of great shops around Malacca, especially along Jonker Walk. I really like the clothing stores here – they sell a great variety of t-shirts and summer dresses.
You can also grab some great souvenirs and handicrafts, which you may not be able to get in other places around Malaysia. And if you are an antique collector, you’ll find some fantastic antique stores in Malacca.
Climb into the Flor de la Mar museum
I really enjoyed visiting the Flor de la Mar museum. Basically the Flor de la Mar was a 16th century Portugese ship and a replica of this ship is found in Malacca.
You can climb into this ship and learn about the maritime history of Malacca, which the important history of trade along the Straits of Malacca. I also found it fascinating to climb inside this ship and imagine what it would have been like sailing way back in the day.
Cruise along the Malacca River
While on the Malacca River cruise, you’ll get a chance to learn more about its interesting history and see Malacca city from a different perspective. All along the river, you’ll see historical buildings, churches, villages and mangroves.
It takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour to do the river cruise and is quite relaxing. I also enjoyed seeing many of the street art that was nicely painted on many of the buildings along the river.
Putu is a lovely steamed dumpling-like dessert that you can find in a few spots around Malacca. It basically consists of rice flour filled with gula Melaka (palm sugar) and steamed. Traditionally this desert is steamed in a bamboo tube and is green in colour.
But I prefer the Putu Piring variety, which is white and shaped like a disc. It’s steamed on a metal steamer and traditionally filled with gula Melaka, but you can also select other ingredients such as coconut sugar or chocolate.
It’s sweet and tasty, but 2 pieces or so it more than enough. Most packets of Putu will come in about 5 or 6, so best to share this dessert with someone.