Last updated: February 2020
Penang Travel Blog – Things to do, see & eat in Penang in 3 days
Penang is one of those few places that makes you want to be whimsical in the best way possible. A widely popular tourist destination in Malaysia, it was probably one of my most favourite destinations during the years I spent living in Malaysia and it still remains close to my heart.
The state of Penang occupies a part of mainland Malaysia while another half of it is an island in the historic Malacca Strait. With cultural, social and religious influences from different communities, Penang has come to be known as the ultimate melting pot of diversity in Malaysia. It is a beautiful amalgamation of culture, food, art, and relaxation, so a Penang travel blog was long due on our part, given that we have visited multiple times on various occasions.
To help you plan a trip, we have curated this 3-day Penang itinerary, putting together some of the most fun things to do in Penang island. This itinerary is entirely based on our personal experiences and is designed to give you a taste of the best of Penang in 3 days.
But before we take a deep dive into the itinerary, let’s first give you an idea of how to get to Penang.
How to travel to Penang
Simply put, there are 4 ways to reach Penang.
- By Car – If you ask us, our favourite way to travel to Penang is by car. During our most recent trip, we decided to go on a road trip to Penang and it was one of our most favourite experiences in Malaysia! We drove from Kuala Lumpur and the entire one-way journey of 350 Km took us about 5 hours to complete. The roads are beautiful with gorgeous scenery for company and the convenience of having a car to ourselves throughout our 3 day Penang trip was unparalleled. If you are planning to travel to Penang and love road trips, we highly recommend you read more about how we travelled from Kuala Lumpur to Penang by car and plan an epic road trip in Malaysia!
- By Air – Penang has an international airport and is well connected with major cities in Asia, both within and outside Malaysia. While cities like Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Phuket run direct flights to Penang, it is also very convenient to hop in any one of these cities, especially Kuala Lumpur, and fly to Penang from your base location. The flight from KL to Penang takes about an hour and is the fastest means of transport between the two destinations.
- By Train – There’s a direct train from Kuala Lumpur Sentral station to Butterworth station in Penang (mainland) that takes about 4-5 hours of travel time. Once you reach Butterworth, you can either catch a ferry to cross the Malacca Strait or you can also hop on a bus to cross the Penang bridge leading to the island. The ferry takes about 15-20 minutes while the bus takes about 30 minutes to reach Penang island.
- By Bus – This is one of the most popular means of travelling between Kuala Lumpur and Penang because of its convenience. There are numerous direct buses that run between KL and Penang island and the journey takes about 4-5 hours. If you are starting your journey from elsewhere, check out all bus routes and book tickets here
What to do in Penang in 3 Days
Penang is one of those places where you can probably spend several weeks and still not feel that you’ve seen enough. With so much do, see and explore, it may seem that a few days are not enough. But from our experience, we can tell you that 3 days are optimum to explore the island especially if you’re on limited vacation time. And that is exactly the reason we curated this itinerary to help you plan what to do in Penang in 3 days. As you will see, we have broken down this 3-day Penang itinerary day-wise, with each day taking you through some of the best places you should visit and a few suggestions for finding the best local food in Penang. So, what are you waiting for? Let’s dive in!
3-Day Penang Itinerary – Day 1
1. Street Art Tour in Georgetown, Penang
What better way to kick-start your 3 days in Penang than by going on a street art hunt in this heritage town? In recent years, Penang’s Georgetown has become widely known for the street art pieces adorning its many lanes and bylanes. The experience is almost like that of a treasure hunt! Only here, you are looking for cool wall murals either depicting a story from Penang’s daily life or something from its past. But mind you, many of these are not just random graffitis painted on walls. They were commissioned by the Penang Municipal Corporation to a Lithuanian artist named Ernest Zacharevic in 2012 and we have to admit, it has definitely given this old town an interesting facelift.
In addition to these, we found many iron wall caricatures too, depicting funny stories or sharing a piece of local history. Here are some of our most favourite street art pieces from Georgetown that you must check out yourself.
The highest concentration of street art in Penang is in Georgetown, especially around Armenian Street, Chulia Street and Muntri Street. The best way to explore this area is by foot or by cycling so you can be sure of covering all the narrow alleys filled with hidden treasures. The local tourism department has also published a very handy map if you want to plan your route in advance. Check it out here.
Insider tip: Apart from the usual street arts popularly visited by most tourists in Penang, head to the Hin Bus Depot at Jalan Gurudwara to find quirky, almost hidden wall graffiti in a secluded space. You are most likely to find this place deserted on weekdays and it looks abandoned from outside but has a wealth of great artwork scattered all over the compound.
If you enjoy hunting for hidden street art, here’s another street art trail in Ipoh, Malaysia, that is worth travelling for!
2. Lunch at Auntie Gaik Lean’s – Best Nyonya restaurant in Penang
The street art trail is going to take up at least half a day especially if you are walking or cycling, by the end of which you are bound to end up famished. Perfect time to dig into some local lunch at one of the best restaurants to try Nyonya food for the first time – Auntie Gaik Lean’s restaurant!
But before you head to this place, here’s a little bit of background on what exactly is Nyonya food. Nyonya is a cuisine that originated from the Peranakan community of Malaysia, that came into being from the intermarriage between Chinese immigrants and local Malays many years back. As a result, the new style of food from this community took Malay and Chinese flavours and fused them into what came to be known as Nyonya food.
Now coming back to our lunch spot for the day, Auntie Gaik Lean’s restaurant is owned and run by a vivacious 60-year young lady by the same name. She insists on cooking and overseeing every plate of food that goes out of her kitchen and her knowledge of food and life in general, is incredible! We had a chance to talk to her personally and she firmly recommended we try these 2 signature dishes – Nyonya-style fried rice with fried chicken and a 5-Herb fried rice. We have to admit the flavours were delicious and unlike anything we had ever tasted! In addition to these dishes, you should also try some of their other specialties – Nyonya Curry Chicken and Braised Chicken.
3. Visit the Pinang Peranakan Mansion
After a hearty Nyonya lunch, it is only fitting to revisit the community’s cultural and social history, and the Pinang Peranakan Mansion is the go-to place for that! Originally built as the residence of an erstwhile Chinese business tycoon, this mansion has now been turned into a museum of sorts to preserve and showcase Penang’s Peranakan heritage and allow visitors to get a glimpse into their lives.
The Peranakan mansion is a glorious showcase of the opulent lifestyle of the community and especially the family of the Chinese tycoon back in the day. The first thing you will probably notice is how intricate and ornate everything in the mansion is. Right from the moment you step in, you will be absorbed in a world of exquisite furniture, rare artifacts and vintage architecture. It is not uncommon to find gold plated cutlery or rich wooden furniture if you just look around. A tour through the various sections of the sprawling mansion takes you through the family’s living, dining, work and rest areas, in addition to displaying equipment, clothes and even the precious jewelry used by members of the family.
There are free guided tours available in English which start at 11:30 am and 3:30 pm every day. But even if you miss the tours, you can take your own time to look around. Just make sure you don’t get lost because the mansion’s winding stairways and glamourous corridors can be quite mind-boggling for a visitor. Entry fees for adults in 40 MYR per person and the ticket gives you access to the entire mansion for as long as you like.
4. Soak in Penang’s hawker culture at Chulia Street Night market
End your first day in Penang at a vibrant night market that transforms Chulia Street every evening into a celebration of sorts. As the sun sets, Chulia street comes alive with the waft of aromatic spices in the air and a long line of small shops and carts selling some of the best local food. Locals, as well as travelers, flock here every evening to eat freshly cooked food and have a good time.
You will find the roadside lined with plastic tables and stools to create a makeshift sitting arrangement for diners while the constant chatter of shop owners cooking and serving food at the pace of light goes on alongside. Some of the best dishes that you can try here are – Chicken/Beef/Pork Satay, Dumplings, Char Kway Teo, a variety of noodles and desserts. A stroll through Chulia street in the evening is exciting, as you buy small portions of food on the way and nibble your way through one of the most thriving markets in Penang. Visit the Chulia street night market not just for the food but also to experience Penang’s unique nightlife.
If you are looking to grab a few drinks before or after dinner, Chulia street and the adjacent Love Lane also has many small bars, some of which you’ll see seem really small. But the glowing neon lights and the occasional jazz or hip-hop tunes filling the air make these pubs fairly easy to spot.
Penang 3-Day Itinerary – Day 2
1. Visit the Thai and Burmese Buddhist Temples
Apart from delicious food, another thing in plenty in Penang is gorgeous Buddhist temples, most of which are either of Chinese, Thai or Burmese origin. On your second day in Penang, explore two of the most beautiful and prominent non-Chinese temples representing Buddhism – Wat Chaiyamangalaram (Thai) and Dhammikarama Temple (Burmese).
The Wat Chaiyamangalaram, with its intricate Thai designs and use of bright colours, transports you straight to Thailand. It is the largest Thai Buddhist temple in Malaysia and will give you a glimpse of Buddhist practices and rituals in the Thai culture. But the main attraction of this temple is the 180 feet long, gold-plated reclining Buddha statue housed inside the main shrine. Not only is this one of the longest reclining Buddhas in the world, it also has spiritual significance for the devotees. Buddha’s reclining posture is meant to signify a sense of complete peace and detachment from the world. Apart from this statue, if you look around the shrine, you will come across several smaller Buddha statues in various postures and the story of Buddha’s life visually depicted by artists on the temple’s walls.
Right across the road, opposite the Thai temple, is the Dhammikarama Burmese Buddhist temple. Being the only Burmese temple in Malaysia and the oldest Buddhist temple in Penang, this is one attraction you shouldn’t miss! The towering signature Burmese pagoda welcomes you as you step into the temple complex. Once inside, the gold-plated massive standing Buddha statue is a vision in itself. Look around and you will see how intricately the temple is designed with miniature Buddha statues adorning the walls. But more than the architecture and design, what strikes the most is the sense of peace and serenity that prevails here. Spend a moment of quiet here before heading out.
2. Indulge in a local Chinese lunch at TekSen Restaurant
What’s a trip to Penang if you didn’t indulge in local Chinese food? The Chinese immigrants that settled in Penang many decades ago brought in their own cuisine that heavily contributed to Penang’s diversity and unique cultural landscape. If you love Chinese food as much as we do or would like to try some in Penang, we highly recommend you head over to the TekSen Restaurant for a memorable lunch.
Unlike most hyped restaurants that end up being a tourist trap, TekSen lives up to its massive reputation and consistently serves good food. Run as a family business since the 1960s, the place feels homely but definitely not shabby. The menu is pretty extensive but if you are looking to get warmed up to the local food, we suggest you try their widely famous Double Roasted Pork with Chili Padi and Tofu with Minced Pork. The first dish was incredibly delicious with steamed rice – sticky, sweet, slightly spicy pork chunks, perfectly roasted in their secret housemade sauce. The second dish was equally delicious and such a beautiful way to transform the simple tofu! If you can’t tell, our taste buds were doing a happy dance after this meal.
3. Visit the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
Also known as the Blue Mansion, this stunning heritage building is both a museum and a boutique hotel in the present day. But what’s fascinating is its history. Built by a powerful Chinese businessman and politician by the name of Cheong Fatt Tze, this 38-room mansion was originally designed and built to be the official residence of the family. It is a stunning example of Chinese architecture and design, the courtyards, staircases and windows being some of the key highlights in this vintage building.
The best way to soak into the mansion’s history is undoubtedly by including a night or two here in your 3-day Penang trip itinerary. Alternatively, the mansion authorities also run tours of the property for visitors thrice daily. Check out the tour fees and timings here before paying a visit and enjoy an hour of a stroll through Penang’s Chinese heritage.
4. Explore the vibrant Gurney Drive Night Market
Another night market in this itinerary but believe me when I say that this is one of the most fun things to do in Penang at night! Gurney Drive is technically a waterfront lining the North-Eastern part of the island. This long stretch of road is lined with glitzy shopping malls, famous hotels and lots of posh eateries. But as day turns into night, a part of Gurney drive transforms itself into a bustling hawker market that ONLY sells local food! Imagine almost a 1 Km stretch of the road turning into a massive food court! It may be noisy, messy, crowded but it is all kinds of wonderful and a haven for street food lovers.
There are hundreds of stalls selling everything ranging from Lok Lok (Malaysian-style hotpot), Fried noodles and rice, Chendol (shaved ice dessert), to grilled/fried fish and meat, dumplings and fresh coconuts. The variety of food available here is mind-boggling! But if there is one dish you should not leave without trying is the Char Kway Teo – a signature dish made out of stir-fried flat noodles, fresh sprouts, seafood/meat and scrambled eggs, all tossed in a wonderful savoury sauce. The dish is available all over Penang but we somehow liked the one we had at Gurney Drive the best! End the evening and your meal here with a dessert or maybe a refreshing tender coconut.
Penang Itinerary 3 Days – Day 3
1. Visit the legendary Ghee Hiang Store
By now you must have realized how closely food is tied to experiencing Penang. So kickstart your third and final day in Penang with a visit to a 160-year-old local bakery called Ghee Hiang. Not only tourists but even Malaysians from Penang and elsewhere swear by their legendary Tau Sar Pneah – a delicious baked pastry ball filled with a sweet-savory mung bean paste. This will probably be unlike anything you may have had before! While you are at the store, you can also watch the pastries being packaged at the in-house manufacturing setup. These pastries are sold in packs of 4/8/12 pieces so you can even take them back home as gifts or to snack on during your trip.
2. Explore Penang’s Chinese heritage at Khoo Kongsi
‘Kongsi’ typically refers to a clan house in the Chinese community where all members of the clan or families with the same surname come to worship. So in a way, it is also a Chinese temple. The Khoo Kongsi in Georgetown is one of the largest and oldest clan houses in Penang. This intricately designed, ornate temple in hues of red and gold is probably the grandest clan temple in Malaysia. The Chinese temple is built inside a large complex that also houses a traditional theatre, an association building and old row houses belonging to the clan members.
3. Enjoy local delicacies for lunch at Chulia street
This may seem like a repetition since I have already spoken about the Chulia street night market earlier. But during the day, Chulia street dons a new avatar, quite different from what it is at night. By midday, a different set of shops start opening up, shops that you probably didn’t notice existed during your nighttime food haul. These small Chinese restaurants only open around 11 am to cater to the crowd flocking the area for lunch. If you walk down Chulia street at this time, you will realize that most of these shops primarily sell 1 or 2 dishes – Roast Chicken with rice or Roast Pork (Char Siew) with rice. And, believe me, they sell like hotcakes! The shops are teeming with customers for as long as they are open or for as long as they have food to serve. Chicken/Pork rice is one of the most popular dishes in Penang and you have to try it to know how good it is. Every restaurant serves a slightly different version of the dish using their secret ingredients and sauces, but in essence, a plate of chicken rice is probably the most comforting thing you’ll have in those 3 days in Penang. If you want to know more about the local food, this DIY Penang food tour is a good place to get all the details on what and where to eat in Penang.
4. Get a glimpse of local Chinese Buddhist culture at Kek Lok Si
The largest Buddhist temple of Malaysia, Kek Lok Si is not only an architectural marvel but also a cultural, social and religious icon of Penang. Located on top of a hill, surrounded by lush green cover, this Buddhist temple occupies a massive area divided into different sections. As you climb up the winding road leading to the temple, you are welcomed by a gigantic statue of the Goddess of Mercy, Kuan Yin. Keep at least 2 hours in hand if you want to explore this temple completely because once you are inside, one thing just leads to another and it’s hard to not get overwhelmed by the beauty of Kek Lok Si!
The temple has several ornate prayer halls, thousands of Buddha statues and landscaped gardens and ponds. But one of the key highlights here is the seven-storeyed Pagoda which not only looks stunning but is also of great significance to devotees.
5. Take a ride up Penang Hill
Very close to the Kek Lok Si Temple, within 3 km of its vicinity, lies the beautiful Penang Hill. Despite being one of the most popular tourist attractions in Penang, it still retains its charm and is worth a visit. The most fun way to get to the top of Penang Hill is via the funicular train that runs from the base of the hill to the top through forests and tunnels on its way up. The uphill climb is a fascinating and unique experience. In fact, the 258-metre tunnel the train passes through happens to be the steepest tunnel in the world!
Once you get to the top, you will immediately notice a change of weather and scene – crisp, cool breeze sweeping the winding roads, while you are surrounded by thick rainforest cover. Just after you get off the train and start walking towards where the crowd goes, you’ll see a sky deck protruding out from the hill, constructed as an observation point. Make sure you spend some time here because this is the best spot to get a bird’s eye view of all of Penang island as well as the Strait of Malacca that separates it from mainland Malaysia. The view gets even better if you can stay back after sunset. The entire island lights up in front of you and it looks nothing short of magical!
Apart from the view, there are a couple of more things to do when you visit Penang hill. There are a few great restaurants that let you enjoy the beautiful weather and the panoramic view with food and drinks to go along. It’s easy to spend a couple of hours just chilling with a few drinks and cherishing the view.
Where to stay in Penang on a 3-day trip?
Based on the Penang trip itinerary outlined above, the best area to stay would be in and around George Town, which is where most of the local attractions are. Staying around here would help you reach a lot of places easily, either by taking a quick cab ride or sometimes even by walking. From our personal experience, here are some of the best hotels to stay in George Town, Penang.
- The Edison George Town
Ever thought you could actually stay at a 112-year old Chinese mansion in Penang? The Edison George Town is one such restored heritage mansion that now serves as a boutique property for visitors. Located in the heart of George Town, this hotel embodies what Penang truly stands for – culture, heritage, and history. With its past steeped in history, The Edison makes for a gorgeous hotel that promises a unique accommodation experience in Penang. Its inspiring architecture, luxurious amenities, and warm hospitality make it our favourite place to stay in Penang. If this sounds like your kind of accommodation, you can book a room here.
Read more: Complete review of this heritage boutique property in Penang
- Yeng Keng Hotel, George Town
A cozy, 19-room heritage property located in the bustling Chulia Street, Yeng Keng Hotel exudes a wonderful vintage charm. Its bright colours and unique design will immediately catch your attention while its staff is sure to make you want to stay back longer in Penang. This is the perfect hotel to put up at if you want to stay amidst all the action in George Town yet don’t want to miss out on a heritage boutique stay experience.