For a modestly sized city, Kuala Lumpur does an excellent job of packing everything in – and much like the local culture, the keyword here is diversity.
Looking for a glitzy, metropolitan experience? Maybe a glimpse of the city’s historical roots as you sample some of the best-tasting dishes in the world on a dime? There are many adventures to be had in Malaysia’s capital, and our number one tip is this: try everything.
Here are some of the best things to do in Kuala Lumpur to get you off on a running start.
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1. Go on a culinary escapade at Lot 10 Hutong
It’s not an exaggeration – KLites live to eat. Malaysian food is a beautiful amalgamation of Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisine that offers endless variety, all delicious.
Head to Lot 10 Hutong for a selection of the best local Chinese cuisine – don’t miss the Hokkien mee at Lim Liam Kee, or stir-fried rice noodles at Penang Famous Fried Koay Teow.
Detour: For excellent Indian cuisine, stop by Sri Nirwana Maju for banana-leaf rice; some locals eat with their hands. Madam Kwan’s serves signature local dishes, like nasi lemak and laksa noodles. For street eats, go to Jalan Alor, where chicken wings at Wong Ah Wah are a must-try.
Pavilion KL is a sprawling complex packed with shops, bistros and plenty to eat © iStockphoto / Getty Images
2. Shop the season’s styles at Pavilion Kuala Lumpur
Where does one go to escape Kuala Lumpur’s sizzling heat and torrential rains? To the mall, of course.
Pavilion KL is a sprawling complex, packed with shops and bistros carrying everything from luxury fashion houses to local brands (plus plenty to eat). Starhill Gallery is a short walk away, with more high-end fashion in stock. For yet more shops, a 15-minute walk via a connecting bridge takes you to Suria KLCC.
Local tip: Malaysia’s many holiday seasons bring frequent sales. The biggest sales periods come around Lunar New Year (January to February) and Hari Raya (varies yearly, but falls around June in 2023). The end of the year is also a great time to snag a bargain.
3. Stand at the pinnacle of Kuala Lumpur: the Petronas Twin Towers
No trip to Kuala Lumpur is complete without stopping to see the Petronas Twin Towers, once the tallest buildings in the world. Head up to the observation deck and observe the sprawling city below, or take a guided tour (tickets can be purchased online). The best places to snap photos of the towers are KLCC Park, or the pavilion in front of the towers.
Travelers with children will find a few hours of fun at Petrosains, a science museum inside Suria KLCC. Also at the Twin Towers is the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. For dynamic snaps of the city with the Twin Towers in the background, head up to Sky Deck at KL Tower.
4. Experience the local art scene at the city’s independent galleries
See how traditional folk art meets modern design, find that one-of-a-kind memento to take home with you, chat with local artists, watch a performance, or get hands-on at a workshop – the KL art scene is meant to be experienced intimately.
GMBB KL is a space for independent creative exhibits in the heart of the city. Check out Gerimis for a glimpse into indigenous art and culture. To rub elbows with locals and join a workshop, the Godown is the place to go. Temu House provides a space for artists to get creative, whether that’s showcasing their art, writing, cooking, or music.
Local Tip: The quickest way to see what’s happening in these spaces is via their Instagram pages. Some locations may be less accessible via public transport; in that case, call a Grab (the local equivalent of Uber).
5. Let loose and party at Changkat Bukit Bintang
As the sun sets over the city, Kuala Lumpur’s premier party spot comes to life with bright lights and thumping music.
Old Shanghai is modeled after early the Chinese city in the 1900s and lets you pair signature cocktails with dim sum. Rabbit Hole is a cafe by day and a bar by night, with a sleek, minimalist interior and refreshing cocktails on tap.
Jazz enthusiasts can catch some of KL’s live acts at No Black Tie or Jao Tim, and those looking for a more relaxed night out can slip into the city’s many speakeasies: Pahit serves up an impressive list of gin cocktails, while the decor at PS150 harkens back to colonial-era Chinatown.
Detour: Merdekarya keeps it low-key and casual with young local acts and grunge decor. Try the tuak (rice wine from East Malaysia).
Petaling Street is an assault on the senses, with merchandise-packed shops and food stalls laid out on every corner © iStockphoto / Getty Images
6. Eat and haggle your way through Petaling Street
Established in Kuala Lumpur’s colonial era, Petaling Street was where Chinese merchants of the time set up shop. While still known as the city’s Chinatown, the area has grown more diverse over the years, though the giant Chinese-style gate at the entrance proudly marks its roots.
Even for locals, Petaling Street is an assault on the senses, with its merchandise-packed shops and food stalls laid out on every corner. Many of the city’s most famous eateries are here too. Try some bak kwa (sweet barbecued jerky), and stop by Lai Foong Lala Noodles for a bowl of vermicelli with clams.
Local tip: Petaling Street can be a good place to find souvenirs, but hold off on buying until you’ve seen what’s on offer at most of the shops here; a lot of the merchandise is similar, though prices can vary greatly. If you find the prices unreasonably high, try haggling. For local crafts and none of the haggling, Central Market is your spot.
Scale up Batu Caves via a flight of colorful steps and you’ll find Hindu shrines nestled amidst the towering limestone caves © iStockphoto / Getty Images
7. Marvel at Kuala Lumpur’s many religious sites
Islam is the primary religion practiced in Malaysia, but the country’s makeup of multiple ethnic groups means that you’ll also find stately temples and churches dotted around the city.
Jamek Mosque has been a longstanding landmark of Kuala Lumpur, while Thean Hou Temple astounds with its elaborate architecture. Scale up Batu Caves via a flight of colorful steps and you’ll find Hindu shrines nestled amidst the towering caves of limestone.
Local tip: Local Muslims come out to worship every Friday afternoon, and city traffic can get congested, so visits to mosques would be better done on other days of the week. Revealing clothing and tight leggings are not allowed at most religious sites, though some will offer sarongs for visitors to cover up.
8. Dine amidst skyscrapers at Troika Sky Dining
Thanks to KL’s year-round summers, it’s nearly always a good time to head up to a rooftop bar or restaurant, where you can sink into scrumptious dishes and sip on cocktails while gazing out at the city’s skyline.
Troika Sky Dining is a great place to start – there are six restaurants here to choose from. The massive balcony at Fuego offers a stunning view of the Twin Towers, completely unobstructed. Beautiful Bar Trigona at the Four Seasons Hotel creates cocktails out of sustainably-sourced ingredients; the hotel is right up close to the Twin Towers. For a change in perspective and atmosphere, Wet Deck at W Kuala Lumpur brings a fresh young vibe and promises of an exciting evening.
Local tip: Phone in advance to guarantee a spot. Traffic in the city can get very congested in the evening and on Fridays especially, so allow ample travel time.