The island of Penang lies just off the northwest coast of Malaysia, and its booming capital is Georgetown - once colonized by the British and now the multicultural melting pot of history, modern attractions, old-world monuments and buildings, stunning street art, and tasty food. With its significant history, the trendy waterside city really is unique to the rest of Malaysia, which can be seen in its stately colonial buildings that mix with ancient temples and old Chinese clan houses. Georgetown's center is also a listed UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its rich colonial history and historic Asian ties - and even today, various immigrant populations still call the city their home, with many Indians, Chinese, Thais, and also Malaysian people from other regions of the country having settled here.
Often used as a stopover spot for visa runners and backpackers, Georgetown is a bustling hive overflowing with international cultures, and with such cultures comes diverse fusion cuisines and some of the best street food in Southeast Asia with flavors from all corners of the globe. So, from sumptuous street foods and exploration of the city's beautiful historic sites to losing oneself in its modern marvels, these are some of the highlights of Georgetown that travelers should add to their itineraries - and be advised, it'll likely take more than a couple of days to enjoy them all.
10 Colonial Buildings
Georgetown's history is both volatile and fascinating and resonates today with its colonial streets and heritage sites. The Portuguese first tried and failed to colonize Penang before the British came in to take over and finish the job, who first named it "Prince of Wales Island" with Georgetown as its capital. Whilst its former name has since changed, the island's long colonial British history is still echoed in the modern-day through its old-world style British architecture and its English and European-esque religious and public buildings - all of which beautifully contrast with Georgetown's Malay and Chinese buildings and monuments.
Due to the presence of such diverse international influences, it really feels like hopping from England to China, and from China to Malaysia as one strolls through each of Georgetown's intriguing streets. Travelers interested in seeing some of the best and most fascinating examples of the town's colonial history can look out for the Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower, the High Court, the City Hall, the Wisma Building, the Georgetown Dispensary, Anglican St George’s Church, Suffolk House, and the Penang State Museum to name just a few.
9 Mouth-Watering Local And International Street Foods
Most of Georgetown's streets are lined with food vendors offering locally produced street food, and eating one's way through the city is undoubtedly one of the best ways to explore it. Penang Road Market is amongst the more popular street food hubs, while other favorite foodie spots include the night stalls on Chulia Street and the diverse food courts peppered all over town.
With so many cultures all rife in one place, it's no surprise that so many delectable delicacies are available to sample. Much of the food also involves fusion flavors, incorporating tempting cuisine of China, Malaysia, Thailand, India, and even Turkish and Moroccan tastes. When hunting for Georgetown's top street foods, visitors should not miss out on a mouthful of Assam laksa soup, dim sum, fried roti canai dough, and of course, nasi lemak, which is Malaysia’s signature national dish.
And if desserts and sweets are on the cards, then sugar lovers will adore waltzing through the sweet streets of Little India with its heaps of sugary treats. Travelers in need of a bit more luxury can also savor all the same flavors in many of the city's fine dining restaurants, of which there are far too many to choose from.
8 Street Art
Georgetown is home to an abundance of beautiful street art - most of which was planned and backed by the local council. In 2012, the city hired legendary Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, who was tasked to spruce up the original Chinese shophouses seen all over the town and has since added a delightful array of art installations and murals in and around the streets.
Whilst exploring Georgetown, one of the best ways to get to know the place is by scoping out the art displays and murals dotted all over the city - of which there are many, and each and every one is unique to the next. One of the most popular is "The Little Girl In Blue" - a lovely 20-foot figure in blue pajamas located on Muntri Street, which is also considered to be one of Zacharevic’s most famous pieces. There are plenty of other noteworthy displays to look out for and get photos with as well, including in areas such as Armenian Street where Zacharevic's famed "Boy On Motorcycle" mural lives, and also on Leith Street, Jalan Penang, and Ah Quee Street.
7 Khoo Kongsi
First built over six hundred years ago, Khoo Kongsi is without any doubt one of Southeast Asia's most historic and finest clan houses. Also known as "Dragon Mountain Hall," the detailed and ornamented building marks the domineering presence of the Chinese in Penang and is one of the region's most famous "kongsi," where many important members of Chinese clans came to respect their ancestry. The intricate building is a real feast for the eyes, with ornate decorations covering almost every inch of its fine features, which include stunning stone carvings in the entrance hall, highly detailed murals, dozens of guardian statues, and a host of beautiful ceramic sculptures.
6 Clan Jetties
One of the most unique spots in Georgetown is found right at the end of Chulia Street, where a part of the Penang Heritage Trail rests - the Clan Jetties - dating back to the late 19th century. The jetty goes right out into the water and hosts a number of quaint and colorful shacks and buildings that resemble small houses.
At the time, each was used as a landing stage controlled by established and important Chinese clans - for which the jetty acquired its name. Even today, many Chinese clans still own the landing stages, with the most popular amongst tourists being the Chew Jetty for its photography-worthy houses on stilts, Chinese temple, and extensive walkway.
5 Kek Lok Si Temple
As the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia, Kek Lok Si - established in the late 19th century - makes a statement as it sits on top of Air Itam hill. The premises is split into three sections; the lower, the middle, and the hilltop section, all perfected by an enormous Goddess of Mercy statue in amongst the intricate temple structures and divine gardens.
Also, the bottom section hosts the turtle liberation pond alongside a few gift and food stalls, and as one heads further up to the middle level, a beautiful pagoda and the imposing pavilion of the Four Heavenly Kings awaits, in addition to a variety of religious and cultural structures and a variety of primped gardens
4 Fort Cornwallis
This impressive fort constructed in the shape of a star was built in the late 18th century and was intended to serve as a defense against enemy Kedah forces, pirates, and even the French during the era of Napoleon.
Fort Cornwallis, which is Malaysia's largest intact fort still standing today, was named after British Army general Earl Cornwallis who was the Governor-General of Bengal at the time of its construction. Visitors who visit today can stroll through a period of history, marveling at old canons and the 10 feet-tall walls that encompass the gardens where a significant statue of British explorer Captain Francis Light - the man who founded Penang - stands tall and proud.
3 The Blue Mansion
The Blue Mansion - whose official name is Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion - is quite literally impossible to miss, not just due to its eye-catching blue color, but also for its incredible architecture and features. Located on Leith Street, it's the perfect point to add to one's tour of Georgetown's street art scene from which it isn't far.
The building is a stunning heritage house that has been featured in many movie productions, and it's easy to see why upon arrival; its lavish stained glass windows, granite courtyards, Chinese-style tiled flooring, seven elaborate staircases, and 38 gorgeous rooms all exude feng shui beauty and charm that would complete any photographer's Instagram reel.
2 Hin Bus Depot
Don't let the name fool - the Hin Bus Depot isn't so much of a public transport hub as much as it is a busy cultural creative center. There are amazing art exhibitions and events taking place all the time, and there's even a gallery for lovers of the arts to appreciate too. Interestingly, the once run-down and neglected depot is another one of Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic's works, which he helped to establish and revitalize with a group of fellow artists in 2014.
1 The KOMTAR Tower
Penang's sky-high entertainment tower is one of the most iconic attractions in Georgetown. It's home to one of the largest and the best indoor theme parks in the country - The Top Penang - offering over 18 themed attractions perfect for all ages. From the 7D Motion Theater to the Penang Boutique Aquarium, there's so much marvel for visitors all in one place. One particular highlight is the tower's Jurassic Research Center, which brings over 200 dinosaurs back to life with the help of the latest animatronics technology. Guests can quite literally come face to face with robotic dinosaurs in this immersive interactive activity center that's always a thrill for the kids.
Guests also highly rate the tower's Tech Dome - an interactive science and technology museum with over 120 exhibits spread across 40,000 square-foot space. There are fascinating displays of all kinds, including robotics, information technology, optics, electromagnetism, forces and motion, and so many more, as well as a fantastic exploration zone for children - who especially enjoy the astronomy observatory here.
One of the most incredible experiences at The Top for thrill-seekers, however, is actually being at the top; the bravest of adrenaline junkies can participate in the Rainbow Skywalk experience, in which they can relish an exclusive birds-eye view of Penang's highest point, gazing across the city from the circular glass walkway suspended right at the building's peak. Those who aren't as brave can also enjoy glorious views from the observatory deck, whilst hungry visitors can sample fine cuisine in front of the same uninterrupted skyline panoramas in the tower's rooftop restaurants.