If you like your towns and cities steeped in history, with atmospheric streets lined with heritage architecture, George Town in Malaysia should be on your travel bucket list. George Town is one of those rare frozen-in-time cities which mingles with today’s modern lifestyle lusts. It caters for the history buff and travel photographer but also the shopaholic and foodie fanatic.
George Town, the capital city of Penang state, is located on Penang Island in the North-West of Malaysia. It might be Malaysia’s second largest city after Kuala Lumpur, but it’s nowhere near as crazy and in your face as the country’s capital. Especially in its quaint old town centre.
We fell in love with George Town five years ago and have been going back ever since. We can’t get enough of its unique multicultural charm and have seen it change over the years. It’s become a popular place to visit, but even with a growing number of tourists, it still maintains it’s laid back vibes that keep us coming back for more.
8 Reasons To Visit George Town In Penang, Malaysia
1 – UNESCO World Heritage Site
Over 500 years, George Town has grown from a small Malaysian village to what it is today. During that time, influences of Asia and Europe have endowed this city with a unique multicultural heritage that can be witnessed around every corner. With all the gorgeous history around town, in 2008, George Town was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status.
Georgetown has over 12,000 old buildings consisting of Chinese shophouses, residential jetties, churches, temples, mosques and grand British colonial government offices and monuments. Most of these buildings are condensed in the Lebuh Acheh historical enclave making it easy to explore on foot.
Book the best & cheapest private transfer from the airport to George Town here only $17
2 – Street Art
Since wearing it’s UNESCO crown, an amazing street art scene has exploded in George Town. It started with a government commissioned exhibition back in 2008 called“Sculpture at Work”. These 52 ironwork showpieces can be seen all over old town and tell the story of George Town’s history and people.
A lot of tourists, including us, make it their mission to see every piece of street art using available street art maps. Have Instagram at the ready!
To make sure you don’t miss any street art consider going on this street art tour with a local, we love going on tours with locals. We also like to pick their brain for their favorite restaurants in George Town, hidden gems in Penang, etc.
3 – Coffee Shops
Like a lot of towns and cities in Asia, the coffee shop scene has exploded in George Town. The coffee shops in George Town not only make excellent coffee, they also serve it in appealing quirky spaces. The artsy vibe that started on the streets has spread inside and encouraged the growth of creative coffee shops, bars, and restaurants. The kind is usually seen in the hipster areas of London, Berlin and New York.
The alternative is visiting a traditional Kedai Kopi shop serving the famous Ipoh White Coffee that we became so addicted to. Whichever you choose, most coffee shops are inside one of the many Chinese shophouses so can enjoy a cup of Joe inside a piece of Malaysian history!
Related Article: Drinking the Infamous Bali Kopi Luwak Coffee
4 – Street Food
Penang is famous throughout Malaysia for its gastronomical delights. Nowhere else competes. There are so many delicious dishes from this area of the country and all can be enjoyed on the streets of George Town. If you’re worried about eating street food, you really shouldn’t be, especially in Malaysia. Food hygiene standards have improved dramatically.
For not much more than $1.50 a plate, delicious highlights include:
- Assam Laksa – A sweet and sour noodle soup cooked with fruit juice.
- Char Kway Teow – A spicy dry noodle dish with prawns, cockles, chicken, and shallots.
- Pasenbur – An Indian salad with potatoes, tofu, fish, and cucumber, covered in a sweet-nutty sauce.
- Popiah – A type of spring roll filled with soybean curd, eggs, vegetable stew and Chinese lettuce.
- Nasi Kandar – A mixture of amazing curry sauces poured over a mountain of rice.
- Cendol – A shaved ice dessert sweetened with palm sugar and coconut milk. Topped with red beans and sweet corn which actually works!
If you’re looking to try a bunch of local food consider going on a food tour in Penang, you won’t leave hungry if you book this food tour!
5 – Little India
George Town’s Little India is a small but buzzing Indian neighbourhood within the historic old town. We’ve visited other Little India communities in many cities around the world but George Town’s is our favourite. The colourful streets are full of rainbow sari shops, spice-scented Indian grocery stores, Hindu temples, tempting Indian eateries and Bollywood music cranked up over loudspeakers.
The best time to go is in the evening when everything is open, hanging multicoloured lights illuminate the streets and stalls set up selling Indian sweets and other treats.
6 – Shopping
There are some nice little boutique shops within the Chinese shophouses selling things like crafts, home furnishings, fashion, and jewellery, but if you want a full-on shopping experience, head to Komtar. Just on the very edge of old town, Komtar shopping mall has 5 levels of high street and designer shops. Brands include H&M, Sony, Cotton On, Nikon, and Digi.
On the top floor is the Komtar food court with a large selection of Malaysian and Western dishes to choose from. Prices are only a few cents higher than food stalls found on the streets but portions are much bigger!
7 – Hotels
George Town attracts every kind of traveller, so it doesn’t matter if you’re looking for 4-star luxury or a bunk in a budget hostel, George Town has it covered. There are plenty of modern hotels to choose from with all the amenities you’d expect, but the best places to stay in George Town are within the restored colonial buildings.
These places have bags of character. Epically high beamed ceilings, creaky wooden floorboards, and atmospheric internal courtyards. Choose the right place and you’ll want to stay forever!
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8 – National Park
If you feel like escaping the mild crowds in George Town, Penang National Park is an awesome place to explore. At just 90 minutes away, by a single public bus from George Town’s old town, the park requires minimal effort to get to. It might be Malaysia’s smallest National Park, but it’s full of signposted walking trails through lush jungle.
The trails, taking an average of 3 hours return to compete, lead to some almost empty sandy beaches. The most popular are Monkey Beach and Turtle Beach but there are others to choose from depending on the distance you want to walk. If you’re feeling lazy, then there are also boats from where the bus drops you off that do trips to all of the beaches. But we recommend walking at least one way through the jungle to see wildlife like monitor lizards and monkeys.
For now, George Town remains laid back with plenty of peaceful streets that are almost traffic free. The more popular streets might be too touristy for some, but for us, the vibe of the place has the right balance of travellers and locals without feeling too overcrowded. George Town should be visited now before it goes too far. With its fast-growing popularity, there’s no doubt it will. We also recommend checking out up-and-coming Ipoh. Ipoh may be in its infancy, but it has the same elements that make George Town so popular.
Hi! We’re Darren and Shelley, a travel-obsessed couple from London, England. We’ve been travelling on and off for the past 11 years. We regularly leave our comfortable British lives behind to live the nomadic lifestyle for a year at a time. There’s nothing we love more than quitting our jobs, packing our bags and flying to the other side of the world without much of a plan. Not having a plan allows us to travel more freely, slowly and without commitments.
We’re now on our new and epic one-way ticket adventure to Asia but it won’t stop there. The only plan we have that’s different to previous trips is to try and make some money along the way so our travels can last as long as we wish them to. We’d love you to join us at FINDING BEYOND to see how it pans out and maybe give us some suggestions on where to go next!
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