While Malaysia is an old nation which had a big influence on world history, Kuala Lumpur is a recent city. For centuries Malacca was the center of the very lucrative spice trade and attracted the attention of the colonial Powers (Portugal, Netherlands, and England). However, Kuala Lumpur was founded only in 1857 as a mining town but quickly rose in importance, becoming a major urban center and named the capital since 1896.
Kuala Lumpur and even Malaysia are sometimes forgotten by the backpackers, however, a visit to Kuala Lumpur is in our opinion a ‘must do’ to anyone traveling in South East Asia. Apart from Singapore, it’s easily the most modern city in the most developed country in the region, though it still has some of the other loved characteristics of the region. Thus, we gathered all of the best things to do in Kuala Lumpur.
Kuala Lumpur Points of Interest
Petronas Twin Towers
Since its construction in 1998, the Petronas twin towers are the crown jewel and the most striking feature of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline. Soaring to a height of 452 meters (and 88-story) they were the tallest buildings in the world from 1998 to 2004 and remain the tallest twin towers in the world. The distinctive postmodern style and the double-decker Skybridge connecting the towers (the highest 2 story bridge in the world) make the Petronas strikingly unique.
Building the Petronas towers was a huge engineering an architecture success to Malaysia, embracing its heritage and culture, evoking Islamic arabesques and employing repetitive geometries characteristic of Muslim architecture while proclaiming its modernization. As per Cesar Pelli, the Petronas Twin towers’ architect, “it’s a monument that is not specifically Malaysian, but will forever be identified with Kuala Lumpur”!
The tour to the towers includes a visit to the Skybridge (the 58-meter long connecting structure between the towers) and then to level 86, where you can take on the breathtaking views of Kuala Lumpur. It can be difficult to get tickets to the tours, thus go to the ticket office early in the day! We ended up going at night and the lights were magical.
Visiting Hours: 9:00 – 21:00
Ticket price: RM 85.00
KLCC park has been designed to provide greenery to Petronas Twin Towers and the areas surrounding it. The park attracts not only tourists but also city joggers and corporate people as it is directly situated in front of the Petronas Twin Towers! It has water fountains that can shoot water up to a height of 42 m every hour and a water show with music and lights called the Lake Symphony.
The park is excellent for families with a huge children playground and a public children’s swimming pool. Though it also includes waterfalls, fountains and a jogging/walking path! However, like every other park in Malaysia, it’s the fauna and flora that make it really amazing, particularly the fascinating trees and flowers. Moreover, the view of the Petronas towers makes a quite spectacular sight.
Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown
Kuala Lumpur Chinatown is very much in the city center, it’s an area that never sleeps. It’s full of colors, stores, restaurants, and shops! The center of Chinatown is Petaling Street which at night becomes a bustling night market bustling. Here you can buy everything and anything at dirt cheap prices and one can even lower them by haggling a little. Remember, haggling is expected, it’s almost a way of life:). Electronics (and its accessories), clothes and snickers were particularly cheap and abundant thus it’s a great place for some shopping fun!
Sri Mahamariamman Temple
This iconic Indian temple is situated right in the middle of… Chinatown (obviously 🙂 ), only 50 meters from our hostel so we went to take a look. The main feature of the temple is the impressive 5-tiered gopuram (tower) This 23 meters high gate tower is decorated with depictions of Hindu gods and a very impressive view from the outside.
Though it’s not the most obvious attraction we really had a good time. Luckily we were there when a ceremony took place and I have to say it was something quite… let’s say unique! Imagine live Indian music, prayers, food offerings, bathing the gods with water and the milk… We know very little about Indian culture and religion thus everything was new to us and we understood nothing of what was happening around us. Yet we loved it!
The Batu caves are an iconic and popular tourist attraction in Kuala Lumpur. They are also a Hindu temple and a shrine that attracts thousands of worshipers. At the entrance, there is a 43 meters statue of Murugan (world’s tallest statue o Murugan) and then a 272 steps staircase to the actual caves. From the top of the staircase, we get an incredible view of Kuala Lumpur’s skyline. Usually, you can find monkeys in the stairs and tourists feeding them, be aware that these are wild animals.
Very close to the Batu caves, we enjoyed the paintings and scenes of Hindu Gods that can be seen in the Ramayana Cave. We know very little about Hindu mythology which made it even more interesting. Though the caves are actually roughly 20 km from city center it’s very easy to reach because there’s a metro station (KTM Komuter) very close to it.
Merdeka (Independence) Square is very important to Malaysian people because it was there that Malaysia proclaimed its independence (thus the name) in 1957. It’s one of KL most famous landmark and point of interest, though it isn’t particularly astonishing. It’s a big, green pitch with giant flag pole and a few historical buildings surrounding it: St. Mary’s Church, Sultan Abdul Samad Building and the Royal Selangur Club. It’s really missing shades and under the hot sun of KL, it quickly became unbearable to stay there for long! In our opinion, it’s more of a historically important place than interesting by itself.
The Kuala Lumpur tower (or Menara Kuala Lumpur) is a communications tower of 421 meters making it the 7th tallest free-standing tower in the world. KL Tower has become a significant landmark, a symbol and an obvious Kuala Lumpur point of interest.
Visitors to the KL tower enjoy breathtaking views of Kuala Lumpur skyline at 276 meters above ground in the Observation Deck. If you are more adventurous you buy the Skydeck ticket that allows you to go up to the observation deck and then up to the Sky box. We ended up going only to the observation deck because it was significantly cheaper and we were also going the Petronas and that was our priority! Some people say that going up to the KL tower is better than to the Petronas Towers, though we don’t agree! The view from KL tower is amazing but the Petronas is the Landmark of Kuala Lumpur and one of the most famous buildings in the world. If you can visit both if you have to choose the Petronas is the obvious choice.
There’s an annual race where participants race up the stairs to the top thus if you are crazy (fit) maybe you can try it 🙂
Observation deck price: RM52
Skydeck price: RM105
KL tower forest Eco Park
Very close to the KL Tower there’s a beautiful forest Eco Park with awesome canopy bridges and hiking trails. Why? How? The KL Tower is located within Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve, one of the oldest forest reserves in the country. In fact, apparently, KL Tower is the only tower in the world located in a forest. So, for those of you inclined to be on the ground, take a walk through a tropical rainforest and experience a variety of flora and fauna only found in Malaysia. To be honest, this was a big surprise for us, we weren’t expecting it to be so beautiful, but Malaysian parks are really something. And it was free!
Perdana Botanical Gardens
Perdana Botanical Gardens are the oldest and most popular park in Kuala Lumpur! This 92 hectares park is located in the heart of the city and was established in 1888! This is one of the favorite places for locals to go walk and run but there’s plenty of touristy sites to enjoy like National Monument, deer park, Hibiscus Garden, Orchid Garden, Kuala Lumpur Bird Park and Kuala Lumpur Butterfly Park. The day we visited it was incredibly hot so we really appreciated the shades and a slightly cooler breeze! In our opinion is a must visit attraction and again the Malays show that they really know how to build a beautiful and pleasant park/garden.
Kuala Lumpur Bird Park
KL Bird Park, located in the serene and bucolic lake gardens (now known as Perdana botanical gardens), is usually dubbed as the “world’s largest free-flight walk-in aviary.” However, this title is the least important thing while there. In this bird park you can chase peacocks and hornbills, feed parakeets, watch ostriches and be awed by soaring storks and flamingos in surroundings that hardly feel caged-in… We really enjoyed our time in the bird park and particularly posing and feeding owls and parrots on our shoulder.
Visiting hours: 9:00 to 18:00
Little India in Brickfields, close to Kuala Lumpur Central Station is a concentrated wedge of Indian culture! The shops sell everything Indian from traditional goods such as sarees, flower garlands, spices, and Bollywood music, to local delicacies such as vadai, thosai (Indian pancakes made from fermented rice flour) and much much more. The colors of the street are simply amazing. You can find sarees of any colors and designs, glass bangles to are aplenty. There are even shops which sell traditional Indian candies, savories, and so on. Fortunately, it was our last stop in Southeast Asia so after our visit, we stuffed our bags with souvenirs and spices to bring back home.
Of course, don’t miss out on the authentic Indian food. The traditional food stalls are also a must-try, at least for anyone who loves Indian food and we surely do!
Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia
The Islamic Arts Museum is located on the fringe of the Perdana botanical gardens and only 5 minutes away from the National Mosque. The building would be worth a visit by itself with features such as a huge blue turquoise dome on top of the building, glass walls that allow natural light to flow in, domed ceilings adorned with intricate Islamic patterns. It’s the biggest of its kind in Southeast Asia and holds an impressive collection of Islamic arts including Quran, Manuscripts, Architecture, Ceramics, Jewelry, Metalwork, coins, and textiles. We particularly enjoyed the architecture gallery with models of impressive mosques all around the world on display and with high attention to the detail of each building.
In our opinion the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia is a pleasant way to spend a morning/afternoon, offering a unique and mesmerizing insight into the Islam world, which was new for us and will be for many of you. We strongly advise you to visit it together with the National Mosque.
Ticket price: RM14.00
Visiting Hours: 10:00 to 18:00
National Mosque (Masjid Negara)
Less than 5 minutes walking from the Islamic Arts Museum and only 1 km from the Lake Gardens is the contemporary-styled National Mosque. It has a capacity of 15 000 people and is situated within beautiful outdoor gardens with white marble reflecting pools and fountains. The 73 meters high minaret (mosque tower) with its umbrella-style rooftop is one of the building main features. However, the Grand Hall is undoubtedly the most intricate part of the mosque with verses from the Koran decorating the walls.
You can only enter the mosque when prayers are over and visitors must be appropriately dressed (no sleeveless shirts, shorts or other skimpy clothing). However, this isn’t a major problem because if you (like us) come unprepared, robes and headscarves can be borrowed from the desk at the mosque’s entrance gate. They even help and teach you to dress it the right way, which was kind of cool 🙂
Shopping in Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur is well-known as a shopping heaven for both tourists and locals, with several things such as high-quality shopping, affordable prices, huge variety and big sales factoring in. In KL you can find a little (I mean A LOT) of everything, from high-end shops with luxury goods to the fake branded products of Chinatown. It’s a shopaholic’s dream!
Central Market Kuala Lumpur
Our favorite shopping is the Central Market with its shops and kiosks, selling handicraft, batik, souvenirs, antiques, and collectibles! The Central Market also features a few restaurants and eateries where we can savor very flavorful cuisine. Moreover, the adjoining Kasturi Walk features an array of food stalls! And the art deco building is a good attraction by itself! Central Market is an easy 5 minutes walk from Chinatown.
If you are interested in big shopping malls, be it high-end stores or mid-range KL has more than its share of it! Suria KLCC is probably your best option and is very conveniently located as it occupies the bottom six podium floors of the Petronas Twin Towers.
Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur’s most famous shopping street with Pavillion Kuala Lumpur (more high end/luxury products) and Mid Valley Megamall (one of the biggest shopping areas in the world) are other options you should keep in mind!
Looking for an itinerary? Check this ultimate guide to Kuala Lumpur.
Accommodation in Kuala Lumpur
Backpackers and budget hotels in Kuala Lumpur
If you are a backpacker or a budget travel there are a lot of hostels and guesthouses to choose from in Kuala Lumpur! Though, most of them are located in Chinatown and can be quite difficult to choose which one to stay in! So, we will help!
Should you stay in Chinatown? YES! It’s centrally located, full of stores and restaurants and easy to access with Metro.
Which hostel/hotel? We stayed at Suzie’s Hostel and Guesthouse and truly recommend it to you! It’s perfectly located, 50 meters from Sri Mahamariamman Temple, 100 meters from Pasar Seni Metro Station, 2 minutes walking from Petaling street and also within walking distance of Central Market. It was clean and silent at night, with good wi-fi connection! It also includes breakfast which was a great bonus. We liked it so much we stayed there both times we stayed in KL and only paid 12 USD per night!
Luxury Hotel in Kuala Lumpur
If you are looking for a high-end hotel in Kuala Lumpur, We have you covered: Mandarin Oriental is located between the famous Petronas Twin Towers and the lush gardens of Kuala Lumpur City Park. This hotel features stylish rooms with iPod docks and DVD players. The hotel offers an infinity pool and 10 dining options. It has an indoor golf area, tennis courts, fitness center, and a spa.
Kuala Lumpur Weather
Kuala Lumpur only has 2 seasons, a wet season and a dry season. The wet season is from October to March and the dry season from May to September. The temperatures are fairly constant, 28-32°C all year round. Kuala Lumpur is a year-round destination, though most people prefer to visit it during the drier months.
If you visit in the wet season it’s highly probable that you can still visit most of the Kuala Lumpur points of interest. We have visited KL during a monsoon season and despite raining almost every day, it was only for one hour or so. It doesn’t prevent you from doing anything, in fact, it may help because the temperatures tend to be lower after the rainfall.
Have a look at this post if you want to know when is the best time to go to Malaysia, or any of its regions.