Penang or Langkawi? Which one should you visit…? They are two of the best and most widely known tourist destinations in Malaysia. If you are planning a trip to Malaysia you probably have Penang and/or Langkawi on your list. But, if you only have time to visit one, and you’ll have to choose between traveling to Penang or Langkawi

 

The two islands offer a wide range of activities for travelers to enjoy, but they are famous for their beaches and tropical forests. Here we will compare them in terms of:

  • Tourist attractions;
  • Outdoor activities;
  • Beaches;
  • Culture and heritage;
  • Resorts;
  • Shopping;
  • Nightlife;
  • Food scene;
  • Travel facilities;
  • Costs;

Penang vs Langkawi

Tourist attractions in Penang and Langkawi

Both destinations have plenty of things to do but Penang has the upper hand here, with a much lively environment and activities for everyone.

How to travel from Penang to Langkawi by ferry
Sky Bridge in Langkawi

Langkawi has its fair share of tourist attractions with the Langkawi sky cab and Sky Bridge being the most famous. They are pretty cool and provide amazing views to the island and the ocean. However, apart from Pantai Cenang it’s much more of place to relax.

Things to do in George Town
Views from Penang Hill

Penang, on the other hand, is a much more developed island with a variety of things to do and see that will keep you occupied for several days. Things like the Fort Cornwallis, the several temples, the spice tropical garden, the butterfly farm, the famous Penang Hill and much more…

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Outdoors activities in Langkawi and Penang

While Penang has some cool outdoors activities, Langkawi takes it to another level.

Time required to visit Penang National Park
Penang National park

In Penang, we have Penang Hill where you can hike and enjoy nature, but also has botanical and the spice gardens. However, our favorite outdoor activity in Penang is hiking in Penang National park, with two amazing trails through the tropical forests.

Should travel to Penang or Langkawi
Mangroves in Kilim Karst Geoforest Park

Yet, Langkawi is simply better! Langkawi is a nature and outdoors enthusiasts paradise. The mangroves, the beaches where one can snorkel and dive, the kilim karst, the many hikes and waterfalls, and the cherry on top, the breathtaking cable car and sky bridge

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The Beaches of Penang Vs Langkawi

Before going to Penang and Langkawi, you would think that this would a close call.. it isn’t! Langkawi’s beaches are much better than Penang’s.

Should travel to Penang or Langkawi
Monkey beach in Penang National Park

Besides the beaches in Penang National Park (which are good), the beaches in Penang are average at best! Batu ferrigni is one of the most overrated beach destinations that we have ever been to. It’s dirty, with little sand and too many sports activities.

Best Beaches in Langkawi
Pantai Kok Langkawi beach is one of Langkawi beast Beaches

Contrarily, Langkawi has a set of amazing beaches, with very different characteristics. In Langkawi, we have, wild beaches, resort beaches, activity fueled beaches, but more importantly, almost all are wonderful beaches. So, if you are looking for a beach holiday, Langkawi is the right aswer.

Langkawi’s beaches are easily better than Penang’s, but our favorite beaches in Malaysia are in the Perhentian Islands

Check here to check our guide on the Big Perhentian ISlands

Culture and Heritage of Penang and Langkawi

When it comes to cultural tourism, historical importance and Heritage Langkawi simply doesn’t have the same relevance as Penang. If you want to experience the local lifestyle and culture Penang is the island to go.

visit Georgetown vs Malacca
Georgetown village in Langkawi

Malacca and Georgetown are UNESCO world heritage sites, they have developed over 500 years of trading and cultural exchanges between East and West in the Straits of Malacca. Georgetown gives the obvious edge here to Penang.

When it comes to Heritage Malacca is even more interesting than Georgetown!


Click here to find out why
!

Yet, it’s not only because it’s a UNESCO heritage, but the city also thrives in the art with a huge collection of 3D street art. Georgetown also has huge Indian and Chinese communities giving it an even more global and interesting cultural aspect.

3D street art em Georgetown, Penang
3D street art em Georgetown, Penang

Langkawi on the other hand, doesn’t really have much going for it in terms of art, culture and heritage. It’s much more a resort, beaches and nature island.

Resorts of Langkawi vs Penang

This is an interesting one… Both islands have resorts and some of them are pretty good. Overal we believe that Langkawi is better suited for resorts and has better ones. If you are looking for luxury, beach resorts then Lankawi is a better option.

As we stated above Langkawi have better beaches than Penang and on top of that it also has long list of wonderful beach resorts. The list of great resorts is quite long but we really need to mention the Tanjung Rhu Resort and the four seasons also in Tanjung Rhu which are internationally famous for its high quality. Although, if you want something more affordable yet still amazing the Vivanta Taj Rebak is a good option.

In Penang, some of the most notable resorts are the DoubleTree Resort by Hilton Hotel Penang, the hard rock Penang and Shangri-La’s Rasa Sayang Resort & Spa, Penang, which are great, but not even close to the best ones of Langkawi that we referenced above.

Or just search here your accommodation…

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Shopping in Penang or Langkawi

When it comes to Shopping the situation is interesting… On one hand, Langkawi is a duty-free area, so you can buy alcohol, cigarettes, perfumes, chocolates and a few other things quite cheaply…

On the other hand, Penang is much more lively, with plenty of shopping, some of them very big, and has a much bigger variety of things to buy. The most popular shoppings in Penang are the Gurney Plaza, the Queensbay Mall, and the Prangin mall. Penang also has nice night markets which a great to walk around and people watch but they are also great places to actually buy stuff at amazing prices.

So, in our opinion, Penang wins this one! It simply has wider variety and the prices aren’t really expensive. Unless, you are only looking for duty-free stuff..

Shops of the Oriental village by Langkawi Cable Car

Which has better nightlife? Langkawi or Penang?

Penang is a much lively place than Langkawi and reflects on its nightlife. If you are looking for nightlife, then Penang is easily the best option.

The biggest party hotspot in Penang is located on the Upper Penang Road in Georgetown, which features lots of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. The area around Batu Ferringhi is also pretty lively at night with tourists and party-goers.

Langkawi has much fewer variety in terms of nightlife. It’s an island oriented to honeymooners, relaxing and Nature. Although it still has some trendy bars and restaurants, almost all located in the Pantai Cenang area, the most developed of Langkawi ..

Food Scene of Penang and Langkawi

When it comes to the food Penang wins by a landslide… While there are some nice options in Langkawi they are mainly in the resorts (for fine dining) and in the Pantai Cenang for street food and snaks, Penang takes the food scene to another level.

To put it simply, Penang is the best destination in Malaysia for foodies and one of the best in the world. Georgetown offers amazing Indian, Chinese and Malay food. From street food in the hawkers to restaurants you get some of the best food experience in Malaysia. We strongly advise you to try the dozens of delicious options available, usually at an affordable price. And, the best way to do it is simply doing a food tour!

traditional Penang dishes
Indian-Malay food from Penang

Traveling in Langkawi and Penang

If you are going to an island and you want to visit it, and not only staying in a resort, then you’ll need to travel around. So between Penang and Langkawi, in which one easier to travel? Penang definitely has better public transports and makes your life easier. You can reach almost everywhere by bus.

Langkawi, to the contrary, doesn’t have public transportation, which means that you need to take taxis or organized tours to reach the attractions you want to visit. Or you can just rent a car, if you don’t mind driving…

 

Which one is more budget-friendly? Penang or Langkawi?

All Malaysia is very budget friendly. When we first went to Malaysia we were very surprised by how inexpensive everything is. However, even in such a cheap country, there are regions more expensive than others. In this case, Penang is clearly a more budget-friendly destination than Langkawi.

In Penang, you can easily find budget accommodation, cheap food, and transportation. Langkawi also has options budget friendly, but they are much fewer and the island is more oriented to upscale tourists.

Langkawi to Penang ferry
Langkawi Cable Car

Our veredict

In conclusion, Langkawi is the place to go when you want to go to the outdoors and enjoy natura, have great beaches, and maybe even relax on a nice resort! Penang is where the great food, and culture and heritage is. It’s also the best place to shop and party.

If you have more than 5 days divide those days and go to both! Start in Penang, try the amazing food and immerse on the local culture and heritage. After a few days go from Penang to Langkawi and enjoy the nature and the beaches. If it’s on your budget you may even stay in a nice resort!

If you only have up to 5 days, it really depends on what you value the most…

  • Langkawi: Nature, beaches and nice resorts
  • Penang: Culture, heritage, food and lively lifestyle
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Penang or Langkawi? which should be your next destination in Malaysia? We compare everything, beaches, nightlife, things to do, prices, resorts, food, heritage... #visitlangkawi #visitPenang #Malaysia #Malaysiaintinerary

Jorge Bastos

Jorge is an economist who loves to travel. He has worked in Portugal and in Angola as the Head Financial Controller of an international transports and logistics company. He is always planning new trips and discovering new places he wants to go. He explores his ability in finance and planning to help you plan your trips, take the most of your dollars and travel more, smarter and better.