The bustling colorful town, George Town Penang, named after the British King George III is renowned for its beautiful colonial architecture listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

It is the capital of Penang, Malaysia and a picturesque, postcard-city of a place that will make you feel at home the very day you set foot here.

The quite popular mode of transport for traveling to George Town from Kuala Lumpur is to book an express bus and arrive in style, conveniently and save your pocket. 

Alluring smells of delicious food wafting down its cobbled streets, the heady scent of incense sticks, we give you five reasons why you must visit this pretty place, including some of the best Georgetown things to do.

George Town Penang, Malaysia
George Town street art in Penang, Malaysia

5 Reasons to Visit George Town Penang

1. For the Love of Architecture

The British charm is reflected through every structure here, and it is because of its architectural genius that saw George Town being declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

2. For the Wondrous Chinese Temples

George Town boasts of some spectacular Chinese temples that you won’t find anywhere else in Southeast Asia. Built over 100 years ago, the Khoo Kongsi temple is one of the most beautifully carved structures here.

3. For the Love of India

Welcome to Little India in George Town, a bustling, lively place that will drive away all the homesickness you felt after arriving in Malaysia.

You can also indulge in shopping at Mustafa Centre which is considered to be a must visit place the moment you step foot in Little India.

Mustafa Centre is the Singaporean institution and is considered to be an epicentre of life in this small community. It is a one stop shop for all your shopping needs.

The best part about little India is that most of the shops here are open for 24 hours and the shopping experience that you will get here is truly unique. Little India is popular for both locals as well as tourists as you will come across several household products, electronics, watches and apparels.

The best buys of Little India also includes accessories that are completely hand made with an ethnic touch to them. Bags, costumes, jewelry have been priced quite reasonably here. It also includes some Asian specialty goods like Sarees and Food produce. You might need to visit this place a couple of times to explore the entire variety of goods.

4. A Treat for the Eyes 

Recent years have seen the rapid development of Penang’s arts scene. In fact, its street murals have captured the attention of many tourists. These art pieces started off with the Marking George Town initiative by the Penang State Government back in September 2009. George Town street art is definitely worth checking out!

5. Soak Up the Rich Heritage

If you are looking to soak up some culture during your getaway, then George Town should be top on your list. The city has long been known for its colorful history; it was even listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. This rich ancestry is reflected in the old school architecture of its buildings.

George Town Penang also has some great food, join a food tour to truly experience the best of the cuisine in the area.

Where to sleep and eat in Georgetown

Accommodation in Georgetown Penang

When visiting Georgetown, I’ve found that the best place to look for accommodation is in the buffer zone, not the heart of the old town itself.

When you’re in the old zone, the streets are narrow and some are poorly lit at night. It’s an effort to get out of the old town.

Located on the buffer of the old town, our heritage hotel, called the Panage (pronounced pee-naga) is at the corner of Hutton and Transfer. Just a block away, we can catch the free Hop-On/Hop Off shuttle bus that tours the entire area in a forty five minute loop. Also around the corner, we can catch the Route 101 public bus which takes you to the modern outskirts of Penang, easily worth a day trip.

Regarding the bus, make a note that if you’re staying in town for five days, buy a week’s pass for 30 RM. You’ll be able to cover huge distances, conveniently and comfortably since the buses are air conditioned and thankfully silent running on electric batteries. Over a few days, the investment will pay off handsomely if you want to take in many of the local sites.

Old Town George Town Penang, Malaysia
Old Town George Town Penang, Malaysia

Restaurants in Georgetown Penang

Restaurants have been a challenge in old Georgetown, particularly for mature travelers like ourselves (I always want access to a clean washroom). While there’s plenty of flattering coverage on the web of a dozen eateries, we’re finding that most of the good places in the old town are night markets.

Since my husband and I are careful about hygiene when we travel in Asia, night markets are not our first choice. We’ve found ourselves stuck mid day and therefore taking lunch at the expensive E&O Hotel just because we trust that the back room there understands food handling. We may be deluding ourselves; hopefully not.

But lunch of a simple bowl of soup and tea at the E&O while pricey is still affordable in that it’s just closer to north american prices which we’re used to. We’re still hunting for a dinner option more reflective of Malaysian prices.

Having said that, the ambiance and old world charm of E&O’s Starkey Restaurant is worth a trip, even just for drinks. The view is lovely from the terrace and there are overhead fans and a sea breeze that soothes the body on wretchedly hot days.

For us, the dinner solution for Georgetown is found in the beach suburbs, where all the new condo and hotel development has occurred. So with a bus pass in hand, and Bus 101 just a block away running every five minutes during normal hours, we’re just a ride away from a choice of well recommended eateries.

Route 101 also stops at the ButterflyGarden as well as the highly recommended TropicalSpiceGarden. The Monkey Tree restaurant at the Spice Garden is worth the trip by itself. The view over the Strait high up on the hill is lovely and the monkeys provide some entertainment on the side with their gymnastics through the rain trees.

And if you really want a day at the beach, Route 101 also stops at the Golden Sands Hotel. It has a beach and pool bar and cafe and you’re welcome to walk off the street and lunch or drink there.

Watching the parasailing is fun but be careful about the beach itself. Malaysians in the know will take their beach vacation on Langkawi Island rather than in Penang. The straits of Melacca are pleasing to look at but I’ll swim elsewhere. I noticed too that there’s a quick drop off to waist deep water steps off shore.

George town Penang, Malaysia
Georgetown Pinang Peranakan Mansion

The bottom line is that while we find ourselves going outside the colonial heart to eat dinner, we’re glad we chose our accommodation in town. We feel connected and can walk around town. And the deteriorated, derelict buildings are often as interesting as the restored ones. 

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  • Bridget Langer