Should you travel to Penang or Langkawi in Malaysia?

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, you’ll have to choose between traveling to Penang or Langkawi

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

  • 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 of the island and the ocean. However, apart from Pantai Cenang, it’s much more of a 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 Fort Cornwallis, the several temples, the tropical spice garden, the butterfly farm, the famous Penang Hill, and much more…

Outdoor activities in Langkawi and Penang

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

Time required to visit Penang National Park
Penang National Park | Penang or Langkawi

In Penang, we have Penang Hill, where you can hike and enjoy nature, but it also has botanical and 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 outdoor 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

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 Ferringhi 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 best Beaches

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

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 in 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.

Langkawi vs Penang travel
Georgetown Village in Langkawi | Langkawi or Penang

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 prominent 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 vast collection of 3D street art. Georgetown also has huge Indian and Chinese communities giving it an even more, global and interesting cultural aspect.

Penang or Langkawi
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. Overall we believe that Langkawi is better suited for resorts and has better ones. If you are looking for luxury beach resorts, then Langkawi is a better option.

As we stated above, Langkawi has better beaches than Penang, and on top of that, it also has a 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 their 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.

Shopping in Penang or Langkawi

When it comes to Shopping, the situation is interesting… On the 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 shopping in Penang is the Gurney Plaza, the Queensbay Mall, and the Prangin Mall. Penang also has excellent 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 a wider variety, and the prices aren’t really high. Unless you are only looking for duty-free stuff…

Langkawi or Penang
Shops of the Oriental Village by Langkawi Cable Car

Which has better nightlife? Langkawi or Penang?

Penang is a much more 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 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 less 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 are located in the Pantai Cenang area, the most developed in 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 snacks, Penang takes the food scene to another level.

To put it simply, Penang is hands down the best destination in Malaysia for foodies and one of the best in the world. Georgetown offers fantastic Indian, Chinese, and Malay food. From street food the hawkers to restaurants, you get some of the best food experiences 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 stay in a resort, then you’ll need to travel around. So between Penang and Langkawi, which one is easier to travel to? Penang definitely has better public transport and makes your life easier. You can reach almost everywhere by bus.

Langkawi, on the contrary, doesn’t have public transportation, which means that you need to take taxis or organize 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 of Malaysia is very budget-friendly. When we first went to Malaysia, we were very surprised by how inexpensive everything was. 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 budget-friendly options, but they are much fewer, and the island is more oriented to upscale tourists.

Langkawi to Penang ferry
Langkawi Cable Car | Penang vs Langkawi

Our verdict on this Langkawi vs Penang showdown

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

If you have more than five days, divide those days and go to both! Start in Penang, try the amazing food, and immerse yourself in the local culture and heritage. After a few days, go from Penang to Langkawi and enjoy 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

Sharing is caring!