Melaka (or Malacca) has a special place in my heart. During our long overland trip, we spent four weeks in Malaysia. About five days were reserved for Melaka. Not knowing that we would come back shortly after for an extended stay of three months. Result of the pandemic and the shutdown of international borders. Fortunately, Melaka is not a bad place to stick around. It is charming, colorful, and versatile. In this blog post, I am sharing 8 amazing things to do in Melaka, Malaysia.
1. Walk along the Melaka River
Walking along the Melaka River was one of my favorite things to do. The Sungai Melaka (meaning: river Melaka) was once one of the most important trade routes of the country. It opens directly onto the Strait of Melaka, the sea between Malaysia and Sumatra. The river runs right through the center and is flanked by colorful creative buildings on both sides. On the river bank, there is a walking path that passes cafes, restaurants, and a lot of street art. During the day, better to avoid this area because of the scorching sun. Come here in the late afternoon or evening. Warning: there are monitor lizards swimming around in the river. No worries, they are afraid of humans and will sprint away when you get too close.
2. Go on a little street art hunt
As you can see in the pictures, the riverfront buildings are filled with street art. And there is more of that in the center of Melaka. Because of the popularity of Georgetown’s murals in Penang, more and more Malaysian cities started to open up to street art, hoping to attract tourists. In Melaka, my favorite murals were the Kiehl’s wall and the Orangutan house, both near the intersection of Lorong Hang Jebat and Jalan Tukang Besi. Other nice street art locations are The Well, near Jalan Kampung Kuli, and Jalan Hang Kasturi.
Want to visit Melaka from Kuala Lumpur? Check out this day tour with lunch included.
3. Explore Jonker Street: daytime & night
Jonker Street is what Melaka is all about, the main street in Melaka’s old town. It is half a kilometer long and functions as the commercial heart of the city. Officially the road is called Jalan Hang Jebat, but everyone calls it Jonker Walk because of the famous night market that is organized here. Jonker sounds Dutch, and it is. The Dutch rulers used to live here, and their staff stayed in the houses in the street behind it (Heeren Street).
One of the best Melaka things to do: visiting the Jonker Street Night Market on the weekend. This is organized every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday starting at 6 pm. The street is sealed off for cars and an abundance of food stalls pop up. But be warned: because of the night market weekends in Melaka are the busiest.
4. Visit Dutch square
The Dutch influences don’t stop with Jonker Street and Heeren Street. Melaka also has a Dutch Square (Dataran Belanda), best known for its striking red color. Why the red color? It used to be all white, but when the British took over they painted everything red. There are different theories on this. Some say that it prevents moss growth.
The Dutch Square houses four iconic red buildings: the bell tower, the post office, the town hall (called Stadthuys), and the Christ church. All worth checking out. Good to know that the square is also the parking lot of the hysterical disco trishaws. Flickering lights, loud music. There’s nothing authentic about it, but it’s something special.
5. Make the climb up at St. Paul’s Hills
And there is more colonial heritage. Just behind Dutch Square, you can walk up to St. Paul Hill. Here you will find the ruins of St. Paul’s church, built by the Portuguese (who controlled Melaka before the Dutch) but filled with tombstones with old Dutch names. As a Dutch person, it is fascinating to see Dutch texts so far from my home country. Nearby the church there is another colonial remnant: the A Famosa fortress. Also built by the Portuguese. Only the gate is left. Just outside the city center, there is also a Portuguese settlement where the Kristang lives, people with a Portugues-Malay background.
6. Stroll down Temple Street
Malaysia is a country of three cultures: Malay, Chinese, and Indian. And that is reflected in the variety of temples and mosques. In Melaka, this comes together nicely on one street: Jalan Tokong (Temple Street or also called Harmony Street). Start with the 17th-century Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, built by southern Chinese expats. The level of detail here is stunning. Diagonally opposite is a second temple, Xiang Lin Si Temple. This one is only nice from the outside. Inside it was quite empty. If you walk further into the street, you will pass the Hindu temple Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi temple, dedicated to Ganesh. And a bit further is the Masjd Kampung Kling, a mosque with an unusual minaret.
7. Watch the sunset at the floating mosque
Seen everything there is to see in Melaka’s city center? Take a Grab taxi to the Melaka Straits Mosque, a mosque that is partly standing on stilts. During high tide these stilts disappear underwater which makes it seem as if this mosque is floating. Hence the nickname: Floating Mosque. The best time to visit the mosque is just before sunset when the sky turns red or pink. Go first inside and make a round on the outside deck. They offer suitable clothing for ladies at the entrance (a dress and headscarf). After the visit, find a spot outside to watch the sunset.
8. Eat in a Gujarati temple
I don’t know if this still exists, but when I was in Melaka I came across a Gujarati temple that served a free vegetarian meal every night. The food is prepared by volunteers. Everyone is welcome, also people from other religions and people with no religion. We met a German volunteer there, which was something I did not expect at all. The only thing you have to do is to clean your plate at the end. It was quite a unique experience.
Where to eat for vegetarians & vegans?
Shui Xian Su Shi Yuan: a vegetarian Buddhist restaurant. No fuss, very tasty but be on time. They close at 2:30 p.m.
The Daily Fix: fantastic for breakfast, coffee, or lunch. It’s in the back of a store. You can’t see it from the street side.
Navy: also delicious for breakfast. Quiet and small and the staff is very friendly. My favorite!
Wild Coriander: near the river. Has plenty of vegetarian and vegan options.
Botanist Cafe: completely vegan. They have Nasi Lemak and Rendang, both are delicious!
Sri Kaveri Catering: for south Indian banana leaf dishes.
Coffee recommendations: Calanthe Art Cafe (coffee varieties from all Malaysian states), The Stolen Cup, or The Coffee Jar.
Where to stay in Melaka?
We stayed in the Swiss Hotel Heritage Boutique on Heeren Street, just behind Jonker Street. Ideal, because everything was close by. Almost nothing to complain about, except for the bathroom door. This was a glass (not see-through) door without a lock. I’d rather have a real door. Another great option in Melaka is The Nest House, rated with a 9.0.
Click here for an overview of accommodations in Melaka.
That’s my list of favorite things to do in Melaka. Have you ever been to this city?
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the place looks so vibrant and relaxing at the same time. After 3 months this place must feel pretty familiar.
Yes, it surely did after 3 months. Loved my time in Melaka, and would highly recommend visiting it!