Kuala Lumpur is so much more than just a layover city! Thousands of flights land and go via KL every day, but travellers tend to ignore the opportunity to add a couple of days to their itinerary and explore this metropolitan city. To some, it might not have the same allure of nearby cities such as Bangkok or Singapore, but Kuala Lumpur is a unique city where the skyline is punctuated by both skyscrapers and minarets.
Its history brings together a mix of Malay, Chinese, British and Indian cultures that sit side by side, creating a colourful and vibrant atmosphere mixed with old colonial architecture. This blend makes Kuala Lumpur a truly unique and exciting city to visit. Never been? Here are my favourite things to do, places to stay and, of course, eat in the capital…
Read more: Layover Survival Guide: What to Do in Singapore Changi International Airport
Where to stay:
My favourite place to stay has to be Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur. The Hyatt brand is synonymous with luxury, but the real reason that I love this hotel is the view! Located in the heart of the Golden Triangle, the hotel offers its guests one of the best bedside views of the Petronas Twin Towers in the city. The hotel has over four hundred rooms, so make sure to book a ‘Tower View Room’ if you’re looking to create your own Insta-worthy shot!
There are plenty of other hotel options in this area, many with similarly impressive views to the Hyatt – so if you’re keen to check out some other options, look to Mandarin Oriental, Shangri-La, Ritz-Carlton and DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel. If you prefer to be in the heart of the shopping, nightlife and restaurants however, book a hotel in the Bukit Bintang area. And for those on a budget or seeking out hostel options, look around Petaling Street in Chinatown, where more affordable accommodations can be found.
Where to eat and drink:
As with any city filled with tall buildings, it’s always a must to try and get to the top of one of them, so that you can take in the view! There are countless bars and restaurants that offer cocktails and dining with a view, but here are a few of Kuala Lumpur’s most popular options:
- Mantra Rooftop Bar
- View Rooftop Bar, G-Tower
- Marini’s On 57 (this is also an awesome Italian restaurant)
- SkyBar (located on the 33/F of Traders Hotel)
- Luna (360 degree views of the city from Pacific Regency Suites)
- Bridge Bar, Kuala Lumpur (this is an exclusive nightclub suspended between two blocks of G-Tower Hotel. If you’re feeling brave, check out the glass platform!)
- Heli Lounge Bar
- Dinner in the Sky Malaysia (take to the skies for a three course dinner and sweeping views of the city)
Like many Asian cities, Kuala Lumpur is also extremely well known for its huge array of delicious street fare. Duck into an ‘Mamak stall’ and don’t hesitate in sampling one of everything. Roti Canai, Nasi Lemak, Rendang and Roti Jala are but a few in an endless list of dishes to try! Tip: for the one of the best Banana Leaf meals in the city, head to Sri Nirwana Maju in Bangsar Baru and then after a spot of shopping, go to Devi’s Corner next door for a quick snack.
Things to do:
There are plenty of things to do in Kuala Lumpur! I have visited the city three times and still find something new to do each time, but I do have my favourite activities and must-see recommendations – check them out below:
Visit Thean Hou Temple: The Thean Hou Temple situated atop Robson Heights is my number one place to visit in the city. Originally a Chinese temple dedicated to Thean Hou, it now sees worshippers and a handful of tourist visitors every day. The temple is a sanctuary away from the city, quiet with spectacular views and beautiful designs that makes you want to stay all day.
Take in the Petronas Twin Towers: A visit to Kuala Lumpur wouldn’t be complete without seeing the Petronas Twin Towers. Go really early in the morning to avoid the crowds and capture all the photos you want in time for sunrise, or visit later in the day towards sunset or after the sun goes down to witness the towers light up and glow against the night sky you will be amongst crowds at this time, however. If you want to head up to the Skybridge, 1,500 tickets are available each day, with half sold online in advance, so be sure to book ahead to avoid disappointment. If you haven’t booked online, arrive early in the day to secure a ticket.
Shop ’till you drop: If shopping is your thing, make your way to one of the many air-conditioned malls across the city. You will find designer and luxury brands at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, Suria KLCC and Mid Valley Megamall. But for smaller, independent brands head to Bangsar or Publika. Looking for trinkets and souvenirs? Central Market is great option! If you look hard enough you may even find a few antiques and some old artisan shops in and around Chinatown.
Eat your way through Chinatown: Chinatown’s shop-lined streets reveal a lot about the history of Kuala Lumpur. Head here to enjoy some traditional Chinese food and just spend your time wandering aimlessly in the market. You can also make a stop at Sin Sze Si Ya Temple, the oldest temple in Kuala Lumpur whilst you are in the area.
Visit Masjid Jamek: Add Masjid Jamek, the first brick mosque in Malaysia (completed in 1907) , to your itinerary! This mosque was the city’s centre of Islamic worship until the opening of the National Mosque in 1965.
Climb up to Batu Caves: Another famous landmark in Kuala Lumpur is the Batu Caves, recognisable by its 140ft statue of Murugan (a Hindu deity) at the foot of the 272 steps leading up to the caves. The Batu Caves is a 400 million year old limestone hill with three major caves and many smaller ones within it – it is also considered an important religious landmark for Hindus. Cathedral Cave is the largest and most popular one for visitors to visit, housing many Hindu shrines. If you time your visit around the end of January, you can join thousands of visitors and devotees that head to the caves for the annual Hindu festival of Thaipusam. Be sure to dress modestly when visiting (no shorts and skirts!), however you’ll find sarongs available to rent near the entrance if you forget.
Take a break at Merdeka Square: Besides the Petronas Twin Towers, Merdeka Square (also known as Dataran Merdeka) is one of Kuala Lumpur’s best known landmarks. Essentially just a big green lawn, the square is set in front of the Sultan Abdul Samad Building (the former State Secretariat) and is also home to the Royal Selangor Club. To the north you will see St. Mary’s Church, one of Malaysia’s oldest Anglican churches. Stop here for a casual walk around the square and take in what remains of some of the old British empire.
When to visit:
The wet season in Malaysia runs between May and October, so there are less tourists at this time of year. If you want to enjoy the city without (as many!) tourists and when prices of hotels are cheaper, I’d suggest visiting through this period. As with any city however, you probably want to avoid visiting in the height of summer or during the middle of the rainy season, so try and select the shoulder seasons to get the best weather and best deals on your stay.
Beyond Kuala Lumpur:
Malaysia is beautiful, and whilst there is a lot of tourism, it still seems to feel like you are in on a little-known secret when you visit. If you plan on spending more than a few days in Malaysia, consider trips to the island of Langkawi and explore its beautiful beaches, or head up to the Cameron Highlands to visit the tea plantations, Penang to explore all of the street art or venture to the East coast to check out the stunning Perhentian Islands.
I hope however, that this guide has inspired you to the visit the city on your next trip or layover! If you would like more information about Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur, be sure to check out more articles on my blog!
All images credited to Becky van Dijk