Penang in a day – An express 24 hour itinerary covering all our favourite things to see and do in Penang in one action-packed day.
Peninsular Malaysia is a region we love and have travelled through dozens of times during and since our Southeast Asia Tour Leading days. On our last visit, en-route to Borneo, we were desperate to squeeze in another trip to Penang. So after a couple of days in Kuala Lumpur, we headed north to cram in a quick visit. With only one full day to explore we were keen to revisit some of our favourite places and try some new ones. So here they are, our ‘must-see’ things to see and do in Penang in a day
Penang Botanic Gardens
Often bypassed by backpackers the 50 hectare Botanical Gardens is nice spot for an early visit and start point for a trek up Penang Hill. With a mixture of local and specialty gardens, there’s lots of interesting flora here. But for two wildlife lovers, it’s the Gardens fauna that makes it worth the visit. In particular the adorable Dusky Leaf Monkeys! Also known as the Spectacled Langur and Spectacled Leaf Monkey due to their appearance, it’s not hard to ‘see’ where they got these names from. Found only in Asia’s Malay Peninsula, the gardens are one of most easily accessible and best places to find these monkeys. Sadly, they have been reclassified to ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Like many monkeys around the world, their numbers are declining, mainly due to habitat loss/fragmentation and the wildlife trade.
Unlike the menacing Long-Tailed Macaques which are far more commonly seen, the relaxed Dusky Leaf Monkeys quietly come into the garden to feed on their natural diet. This consists primarily of leaves, but also includes fruits, flowers and seeds. Although only weighing 5-9kg Spectacled Langurs consume 2kg of this food everyday and so more often than not, you’ll find them eating. Like the Silvered Leaf Monkeys we saw in Borneo’s Bako National Park, the infant monkeys start life a lovely orange colour. Most births occur between January and March, so if your visit coincides, you could be really fortunate in seeing some babies.
The gardens are also home to lots of colourful birds. Some of the more commonly seen pretty species include Striated Herons, Pink-necked Pigeon, Asian Emerald Dove, various Kingfishers, Sunbirds and if you’re lucky, our favourites the Bee-eaters.
Cost – Free
Tip – As always with wildlife, there’s no guarantees. But getting here in the cooler early morning or evening increases your chances of sightings for both the monkeys and the birds. The gardens are open daily from 5am to 8pm.
Getting to the Penang Botanical Gardens
Rapid Penang Bus 10 (2RM for a one way ticket) runs from Weld Quay (Jetty) – Jalan Ria (Komtar) – Gurney Drive – Botanical Gardens
Take a hike up and around Penang Hill
Getting up Penang Hill is a must if you want some epic views over Georgetown and beyond. With a Funicular Railway running up the hill, you don’t have to hike. But for us, hiking up and around the hill is all part the Penang experience. A local hiking hotspot, exploring the hill by foot is a great way to get a nature fix away from tourist masses and enjoy a more of a local style adventure.
Selecting a Trail
For those who are keen on hiking, there’s multiple different routes around the hill. With the Penang Hill Lower Station to Upper Station (Heritage Trail) now apparently closed, many of the more popular trails start from or near the Botanical Gardens, making it easy to combine a visit to both. Check out this great Hiking Trails of Penang Hill site for detailed maps of all the various trails.
On our last visit, we started on the Rifle Range Trail before connecting to the Bukit Cendana Trail. A local hiker tipped us off on some quiet viewpoints around Bukit Cendana, which we were keen to find. Away from the busy Penang Hill peak, these secret viewpoints really were ‘a little off track.’ Hidden away, they were deserted and the perfect spot for a quiet picnic. They were a lot more tranquil than some of the other trails we hiked up in the past.
Whilst exploring these quieter trails we also found a bit of wildlife too. We saw a few Greater Racket-Tailed Drongo and were lucky enough to see four more troops of Dusky Leaf Monkeys. They were far less habituated than the group we saw in the Botanical Garden. These quiet and timid troops preferred to keep their distance, high in the trees.
Tips – Avoid the mundane Penang Hill Jeep Track and try some of the more rewarding hikes. The Jeep Track is NOT the only route to the top, despite what some people say!
We recommend downloading offline maps like Maps.me to help navigate the lesser trafficked trails. Not only will this help you reduce the risk of getting lost, it will enable you to ‘freestyle’ and seamlessly interconnect one trail to another to go up, down or around the hill.
Getting to Penang Hill
Rapid Penang Bus 10 (2RM one way) runs from Weld Quay (Jetty) – Jalan Ria (Komtar) – Gurney Drive – Botanical Gardens, from where you can walk to many of the trailheads.
Penang Hill Funicular Railway
For those who aren’t keen on hiking you can alternatively jump on the Penang Hill Funicular Railway for RM10 (Malaysian citizens – Return) or RM30 (Foreign Tourists – Return). To reach the Funiculars Lower Station, you can take the Rapid Penang bus 204. It runs from Weld Quay (Jetty) via Komtar to Penang Hill. This bus also passes Kek Lok Si Temple, so easy to combine a visit to the two (if time permits).
The Art Trail
Topping most peoples lists of things to see and do in Penang is the Art Trail. Georgetown’s UNESCO listed historic core had undergone something of a renaissance since our last visit. There’s now so much to see other than just the old heritage buildings. You could easily spend a full day exploring all of the artwork.
There’s a range of different styles and subjects to admire. We were particularly keen to see London-trained Lithuanian artist, Ernest Zacharevic’s commissioned street art, which were painted in 2012 (a couple of years after we finished our SE Asia tour leading stints). His clever artwork is really impressive and you certainly don’t need to be an art connoisseur to appreciate it.
There’s plenty of other artists work on show as well as Zacharevic’s. Pieces like Louis Gan’s ‘Brother and Sister on Swing’, Julia Volchkova’s ‘The Indian Boatman’, ‘Burning’ by Cloakwork and a collaborative piece called ‘Old Soy Milk Stall’ being some of our other favourites.
In our opinion the street art has really revitalised the Georgetown area and given it a new identity. It’s definitely a fun way to spend a couple of hours!
Tip – The hot and wet conditions in Penang aren’t ideal for outdoor murals and many of them have already significantly deteriorated. So if you haven’t seen them already, don’t wait too long!
Getting to the Art Trail
The artwork is scattered all around Georgetown and easily accessible by foot. The Tourist Information Centre and most hostels/hotels can provide maps marking all the artwork locations. But better still, save the paper and use the online Map of Georgetown – Penang Street Art to find it.
Enjoy some of the Penang speciality dishes
Penang has some of the best food we have ever had on our travels. Wherever you are in Penang, there’ll be a Hawker stall nearby selling incredibly fresh and tasty dishes. And trying some of these speciality dishes is a ‘must’ for an authentic Penang experience.
Red Garden Food Paradise
Working as tour leaders in this part of the world we’ve been lucky enough to eat a lot of amazing food from Penang. Known as the food capital of Malaysia, there is certainly no shortage of mouth-watering dishes to try in Penang. And almost any food stall around Georgetown will serve you up a treat. But on our whirlwind itinerary there was only one place we were going to eat at – Red Garden Food Paradise.
This one stop Hawker centre has it all and is a great introduction to the regions many dishes. It’s the perfect place to try a few local speciality dishes like Char Kway Teow, Wan Tan Mee, Penang Hokkien Mee or Penang Assam Laksa, then cooling down with a Cendol for dessert. Not only that, but serves beer which is always a bonus for us after a big day of exploring. As well as the Malay specialties on offer, there are plenty of other cuisines available like Chinese, Indian and Japanese too.
If you haven’t eaten yourself to a complete standstill and/or aren’t too exhausted head to the nearby Love Lane for a few more beers and a little night life.
Getting to Red Garden Food Paradise
The Red Garden Food Paradise is located at 20 Lebuh Leith, so easy walking distance from many Georgetown locations.
Our day in Penang was full-on, cheap and cheerful, just the way we like it! As mentioned, we’ve been there many times before, so this visit was just a selection of what interested us most.
For those who have a more relaxed timeframe, we do recommend 2-3 days. There’s loads more to see things to see and do in Penang. Don’t miss: Kek Lok Si Temple, Batu Ferringhi Beach, Rainbow Skywalk, and visit the heritage buildings in Georgetown’s UNESCO-listed historic centre.
When to visit Penang
Penang can be visited year round. Temperature varies very little, but rainfall does. The months from December through March are generally the driest and September and October the wettest. So plan accordingly and come prepared.
Accommodation in Penang
Technically comprised of mainland Seberang Perai and Penang Island, like the vast majority of travellers, we headed to Penang Island and based ourselves in Georgetown. On our last visit we stayed at Cookoobird Home. This boutique guest house is a really good backpacker option. Clean facilities friendly staff and very well-priced. We definitely recommend.
Useful information and packing essentials
- Do your bit in minimising plastic waste by bringing a reusable water bottle. Most accommodation providers in Penang provide water refills. Travelling with a reusable water bottle is a must anywhere in the world.
- Take plenty of good ‘reef-friendly’ sunscreen with you. Regular sunscreens contain ingredients that contribute to coral bleaching. We love Sunbutter Skincare, which comes in a tin and is good for our oceans.
Planning a visit to Malaysia? Check out our Malaysia blogs to help get you started!