In 2015 I visited Kuala Lumpur for the first time. It was not my plan to go there, because the trip’s goal was China. But the return flight from Hong Kong to Amsterdam had an 8-hour layover in the Malaysian capital. My boyfriend and I seized the opportunity to get a first impression of Kuala Lumpur. When I wrote this blog post for the first time, I said that KL had never been on my radar. In fact, Malaysia as a country was totally unknown to me. Something that definitely changed years later, when I lived there – unplanned – for almost a year. Unavoidably, I fell in love with the country and the people. I hope to have the chance to visit it many more times in the future. Today I am doing this virtually by sharing a list of wonderful Kuala Lumpur things to do.
1. See KL’s city icon: the Petronas Towers
When you think of Kuala Lumpur, the Petronas twin towers probably come to mind. With its 452 meters height, it is one of the tallest buildings in the world. I still remember how difficult it was to get a good picture of the towers. In a densely built-up city like Kuala Lumpur, you are always standing too close. The Petronas Towers is on everyone’s to-do list, so the place can get crowded. Tip: there is a large park next to the towers (KLCC park) where the vibe is more relaxed.
Left: 1st visit. Right: 2nd visit five years later. The weather did not approve.
Looking at the towers is fun, but most tourists also plan to go into the building to see the view from the Skybridge on the 41st floor and the Observation Deck on the 86th floor. I never did this myself. Every time I was at the towers, it was cloudy or rainy. Maybe next time the skies are finally clear. Good to know: they sell a maximum of 800 tickets per day. Buy your tickets online in advance to make sure you can go in.
2. Relax on Merdeka Square
Historically, Merdeka Square is one of the most important squares in Kuala Lumpur. It was this location where in 1957 independence was declared, after having lived under British rule for 150 years. Merdeka, therefore, means Independence. The first time I visited this square it was pouring, so I hastily looked around before seeking shelter in the Dataran Underground shopping center.
On my second visit years later, I made up for it. The square doesn’t have a lot of sights. It’s basically a large field with the Sultan Abdul Samad building on the side. Still, the architecture is beautiful and I really enjoyed taking my time to see all the details. There are also a number of museums here such as the City Gallery (with the red I Heart KL letters) about the history of the city.
3. Walk the River of Life
If you are exploring Merdeka square, I also recommend you to check out the River of Life. This is the riverfront where the Klang river merges with the Gombak river. What makes it stunning is the location of the Masjid Jamek mosque. It is on the river, surrounded by highrises from all sides. The river sidewalk also has some great murals. And at night, I heard that it is beautifully lit.
4. Stroll through Chinatown
Chinatown in Kuala Lumpur with its main street Jalan Petaling is the bustling heart of the city. Not to be missed on a list of Kuala Lumpur things to do. Under the red lanterns, you will find many stalls and shops. They offer your standard tacky tourist bags and T-shirts but also authentic Chinese food items such as mooncakes (typically sold in September). Moreover, Chinatown is more multicultural than you might think. For example, there is a beautiful Indian temple located here: the Sri Mahamariamman temple. This is the oldest Hindu temple in the city with a stunner gateway (called a “gopuram”).
5. Filling up your tummy in Little India
We’re staying with the Indian theme. Another must-visit is Little India in the Brickfields district, a colorful area full of decorative lighting and cheerful arches along the street side. Especially in the evening, it is quite charming. When we were there we sat down at one of the many restaurants for a south Indian banana leaf dish. With this dish, you do not get a plate, but a large green leaf. On it, the curry, rice, and vegetables are placed in groups. Mix it all together with your hands, or ask the waiters for cutlery. This was so delicious!
Tip: outside little India, I can also highly recommend the South Indian restaurant Vinny Curry House near the Pasar Seni. A popular local place that quickly fills up around noon for the lunch break.
6. Check out the street art in Bukit Bintang
There is plenty of cool street art in a big city like Kuala Lumpur. The most colorful spot is Jalan Alor in Bukit Bintang. In the past, this used to be an unsavory area like so many back alleys (“Jalan” in Malay) are in metropolitan cities. The city decided to tackle this problem by turning this area into an art project. The result: a fairy-tale landscape where walls and sidewalks are painted with cartoons, clouds, animals, and insects. It’s like walking around in a life-size comic strip. And this is not the only place in Bukit Bintang, there are more colorful streets such as Jalan Rembia and Tengkat Tong Shin.
Other places in the city to spot street art are Chinatown and near Masjid Jamek mosque (on Jalan Gereja and Jalan Tun Tan Siew Sin – Kiehl’s).
7. Capture the colors of the Batu Caves Shrine
The Batu Caves are for most people the second reason to visit Kuala Lumpur. Unlike Petronas towers, the caves are located outside the city. I’ll explain how you get there in a minute. First about the place itself. The caves are an important shrine for the Tamil community. It is an ode to Lord Murugan – the immense golden statue at the entrance – who, according to the stories, defeated many devils. Next to the statue, the colorful stairs shape the path up to the limestone temple caves. Most tourists linger on these stairs, which is why the caves are much more relaxed.
The Batu Caves left me with mixed feelings. Yes, the colors are amazing, but the stairs were dominated by an army of monkeys (macaques). Of course, the jumping around of the animals is great for photos. But they also jump on people, on a mission to find food in people’s bags. A sad result of regular feeding by visitors. It has made these macaques largely dependent on people. So yes, mixed feelings.
Update: in January 2023 the steps were painted white. Not sure whether it is part of renovation work or the new permanent color.
How to get to the Batu Caves
Getting to the Batu Caves is super easy. Take the KTM train from Sentral Station to Batu Caves station. The ride takes 30 minutes and a one-way ticket costs 2.60 RM. Entrance to Batu Caves is free. It is recommended to dress appropriately. Or bring a sarong with you to quickly adjust your clothing.
Practical tips for Kuala Lumpur
Getting into the city from the airport is best done with the KLIA ekspres. This is a non-stop high-speed train that connects the international airport with the center of Kuala Lumpur. A one-way ticket costs 55 RM. In the city itself, there is a lot within walking distance, and otherwise, there is always an MTR or LTR station nearby. To use the metro system, you need to buy a plastic token at the station’s vending machines. Tap the coin to get in, and throw it in the gate to get out. The fare depends on the journey.
Looking for accommodation inspiration in Kuala Lumpur? Check out these two sustainable hotels in Bukit Bintang: CitizenM (9.3 rating) and CeylonZ (8.2 rating). I stayed at the Travelodge City Centre and I really enjoyed staying here. The room was nice, breakfast was amazing and Vinny Curry House is right across the street for all other meals of the day.
Click here for more accommodations in Kuala Lumpur.
And that is my list of Kuala Lumpur things to do. Have you ever been to this city?
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