Ahhhh Georgetown Penang, one of my favorite cities in Malaysia. When planning what to do in Georgetown Penang, it can get overwhelming. With a city filled with so much cultural heritage, history, art, amazing food and architecture, it is little wonder that Georgetown Penang is a UNESCO World Heritage City.
Located on the island of Penang in the north-east corner of the island, Georgetown was originally known as Tanjung. In 1786, British Captain Francis Light established the British settlement on Penang Island and the city was named Georgetown after King George III of England. Over the course of Georgetown’s rich history, people from different ethnical and religious backgrounds have come together to shape the multi-ethnic society Georgetown is today.
From old residential and commercial buildings, temples, churches, and mosques, there is so much to do and see in Georgetown Penang. There are numerous tourist maps showcasing so many points of interest, that sometimes it can be difficult to decipher which places you’ll have time to see and places you’ll have to give a miss to.
After having spent some time in Georgetown, and through speaking with locals, here is a list of things to do in Penang if you only have a few days.
Table of Contents
- Local Attractions
- Food & Drinks
- Getting Around
- Planning Your Stay in Georgetown Penang
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Tour Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion (aka the Blue Mansion)
If Indigo Blue is your favorite colour, then you will love touring the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion. The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, also known as the “Blue Mansion” or in French “La Maison Bleu,” was built in 1888 by capitalist Cheong Fatt Tze.
Cheong Fatt Tze came from humble beginnings. He was born in China in 1849 into a family of teachers and farmers. At a young age of 16 years old, he sailed to Batavia (which is today known as Jakarta). Eventually Cheong Fatt Tze began trading in natural resources, which is where he started to generate much of his wealth. He would also go on to work with the Dutch government in Indonesia, and eventually the British, when he moved to Georgetown.
When Cheong Fatt Tze arrived to Georgetown, he set up his business headquarters at 14 Leith Street, which was known back then as Lotus Flower Lane. Today it is home to the Blue Mansion, which today has been beautifully restored into a boutique hotel.
If you are not a staying guest, you will need to join one of the guided tours of the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion. The guided tours are held daily at 11am, 2pm and 3:30pm and costs Rm17 per adult (A$5.50 / U$4.10) and RM8.50 per child (A$2.70 / U$2.10). The mansion is located at 14 Leith Street in Georgetown.
Visit the Pinang Peranakan Museum
The Pinang Peranakan Museum depicts a typical home of a rich Baba- Nyonya family (also known as Peranakans). A visit to this museum is a great way to learn more about the cultural heritage of Georgetown, because it sheds light on the customs and traditions of the Babas and Nyonyas.
The terms ‘Peranakans,’ and ‘Baba and Nyonya’ refers to the community of Chinese immigrants who settled into British Malaya (today known as Malaysia and Singapore) and the Dutch East Indies (today known as Indonesia). Over time, the Peranakans in British adopted local Malay and British colonial customs, which influenced the rich cultural heritage of Georgetown Penang.
From floor tiles made by the English, artworks and furniture from China, iron-works from the Scottish, the Pinang Peranakan Museum highlights the fusion of cultures, customs and traditions of the Peranakans.
The museum itself was the previous residence of Kapitan China Chung Keng Kwee in the end of the 19th century. Today it has been restored into the Pinang Peranakan Museum.
The museum is located on 29 Church Street in Georgetown Penang and costs RM20 per adult (A$6.40 / U$4.90) and RM10 per child (A$3.20 / U$2.40) to visit.
Free tours are offered throughout the day at the museum, depending on the number of visitors to the museum. I recommend joining a tour to learn more about the Peranakan history and culture, which will make you better understand the heritage history of Georgetown.
Go hunting for Street Art
In late 2009, the State Government of Penang held an international competition inviting artists and designers from around the world to submit their ideas on how to brand Georgetown Penang as an official UNESCO World Heritage Site. “Scultureatwork” was selected, which resulted in 52 iron rod sculptures being designed and placed throughout the city. Basically each sculpture tells you the story of the street you find them one.
Then in 2012, the Government commissioned artist Ernest Zacharevic from Lithuania to paint murals around the city. This resulted in the famous street arts – ‘Boy on Motorcycle,’ ‘Kids on Bicycle,’ and ‘Reaching up.’
This marked the beginning of a whole array of street art now seen throughout the city of Georgetown. And what better way to explore this town then by hunting for all kinds of fun street art.
Visit the Clan Jetties
Six jetties remain that make up the Clan Jetties found along Pengkalan Weld, where you’ll see stilt house built along the jetties over the water. Our guide explained that the homes were originally built to the seas in order to avoid paying tax.
Each jetty is named after a specific Chinese clan, who settled in houses built along the jetties. The Chew Jetty is the most popular one to visit, but it is worth taking the time to see the other jetties as well.
Explore Little India
Little India is colourful and vibrant, filled with multi-coloured shop houses selling fabrics, sarees, jewellery, flowers, and my favorite… food. The area of Little India is made up of 3 main streets, which includes Lebuh Chulia, Lebuh Queen and Jalan Pasar.
And if you are looking for some good Indian food, you’ve come to the right place. There are a number of places serving dishes including Briyani rice, Nasi Kandar, Tandoori, Roti Canai, you name it. You will also find numerous stalls selling Indian sweets.
Stroll down the Street of Harmony
The Street of Harmony is also known as Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling and is about 1 kilometere long. It is called the Street of Harmoney because it is home several Religious buildings and temples, which are worth visiting. There are about 11 in total, but ones that are worth visit include:
- The St George Church is the oldest Anglican Church in South East Asia, built in 1818.
- The Masjid Kapitan Keling, a Muslim Mosque established in 1808
- Seri Maha Mariamman Temple is a Hindu Temple from 1833
- Khoo Kongsi is the largest Chinese Clan Temple
Visit Padang Kota Lama
Padang Kota Lama was previously the playing field for the British and was also used a parade ground. The park is located right near the waters edge, and is surrounded by beautiful architecture including Georgetown’s Town Hall and City Hall buildings. Here you will also find Fort Cornwallis, built in 1786, it is today the largest standing fort in Malaysia.
Food & Drinks
Do a Food Tour
Penang is well known for its food, and there simply is so many delicious treats that you must try. The best way to try the delicious food in Penang is by visiting the many street vendors. Your biggest dilemma will be… which are the best stalls? So save yourself the hassle and join a food tour of Penang.
Enjoy Sunset Drinks at the Three Sixty Rooftop Bar
The view over Georgetown from here is beautiful and it’s a great way to get a sense of Penang. I will admit, the drinks here are not the cheapest, but if you go at happy hour (which is around sunset hour), then it’s 2 for 1. It’s worth visiting, even if it’s just to see the view.
Eat food at a Pasar Malam (aka a Night Market)
The best place to find good street food is at a night market in Georgetown Penang. Most nights you’ll be able to find a night market somewhere. Here are a few to check out:
- On Mondays, check out the Macallum Street Night Market
- On Tuesdays, check out the Tanjung Bungah Night Market
- On Wednesdays, check out the Farlim Night Market
- Everyday, except Wednesdays, check out the night market at Lorong Baru (New Lane)
- Everyday, check out the night market at Lebuh Kimberley
Ride a Rickshaw
A fun way to explore the streets of Georgetown Penang, and a good way to hunt for street is by riding a rickshaw. Some rickshaw drivers will even give you some commentary while riding along the streets.
Negotiate a price with the driver before hoping on, but it’s approximately RM40 (A$13 / U$10) per hour for up to 2 people on a rickshaw.
Planning Your Stay in Georgetown Penang
Forget modern style hotels. If you are going to be visiting Georgetown Penang, then I encourage you to experience its history and culture by staying at a heritage style boutique hotel.
If you are looking for accommodation, I recommend staying at 23 LoveLane, a lovely boutique hotel located at Love Lane in Georgetown.
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