Kuala Lumpur is a city of contrasts, and this in itself may be one of the aspects that makes the city so intriguing and attractive. A concentrated metropolis in the vast country of Malaysia, this city is a mix of the concrete jungle with a surprising sprinkling of lush green jungle. The city is bursting with new and modern construction and yet it retains so much history and culture of the days gone by.
Although almost 50% of the population of KL are Malay / Bumiputera and almost 50% of the population are self-identified Muslims, the remaining 50% are incredibly diverse in both culture and religion. And while traditions run deep and demand a certain understandable amount of respect, there is also an impressive amount of tolerance towards diversity and modern living.
We first visited Kuala Lumpur for a few days back in 2014 and more recently (2019) spent the first 2 weeks of a 70 day stay in Malaysia, in Kuala Lumpur. Take a listen to our Podcast "Going To… Kuala Lumpur" series where we discuss our time in Kuala Lumpur from the perspective of full-time travellers (Part 1) and as tourists (Part 2). You can also see a full report of our expenditure for our two weeks in our Budget Report - Kuala Lumpur Blog Post.
Being such a central Asian destination, with an abundance of cheap flights, we will surely be back!
These twin towers were the world’s tallest building from their completion in 1998 to 2004 when they were surpassed by Taipei 101. Today they still remain the tallest twin towers in the world and in my opinion are definitely still one of the most majestic and special buildings from a visual perspective. You may consider coughing up the hefty fee to go up the Towers, personally, however, we preferred going to the Menara KL Tower from where you get a stunning view over the whole of Kuala Lumpur, including the beautiful Petronas Twin Towers! You can of course also just enjoy the beauty of the towers for free from the surrounding KLCC Park. This is a great place to be for sunset as you can enjoy the fountain display and the lights coming on at the Petronas Towers from the same place. If you are very organised, you can even picnic in the park!
This spacious and green park is loved by both locals and visitors alike. It is a breath of fresh air in the busy city of Kuala Lumpur and is the perfect place to take a walk or have a picnic while enjoying the beauty of the adjacent Petronas Twin Towers. There is a musical fountain display which sprays water up to 180m high, multiple kids playgrounds and water park splash pools, a 1.3km running track and plenty of green open space to relax. The park is a great place to be for sunset, as the sun drops behind the Petronas Towers, you will hear the locals call to prayer and see the fountains come to life with colourful lights as the Petronas Towers gently start glowing in the night.
Linked directly to the Petronas Towers and KLCC Park, this mall has every shop you could imagine, including a grocery store and a food court area. Even if you’re not there to shop, you may well find yourself inside the mall enjoying the cool air conditioning as you escape the heat outside!
The antenna of the Menara KL Tower reaches 421m high and elegantly towers over the city of Kuala Lumpur. The KL Tower offers many experiences and attractions, including an observation deck which offers magnificent views over Kuala Lumpur and of the Petronas Twin Towers. Perched on a hill, you can even get a fair view just from walking around the base of the tower for free, and enjoy the KL Forest Eco Park while you are there.
A wonderful example of a lush green jungle which has been retaining within the modern concrete jungle of Kuala Lumpur. Entry to the park is free (although not all entrances are in use!) and there is even a fairly extensive Canopy Walk which might not be recommended for those with a fear of heights, but which gives a wonderful view and feeling of immersion in the jungle. There are a few other options of paths, most of which are shady, just remember your anti-mosquito spray! A nice place to spend a few hours while visiting the KL Tower or if you just want to escape the city and enjoy nature.
Batu cave is one of the most popular Tamil shrines outside of India and although visited by many tourists, it remains an active place of worship. The limestone cave formation is truly spectacular and a very special place to experience. There is no entry fee and both the outside and inside of the cave make for some great photos. We have visited the caves more than once now and every time we are still blown away by this incredible natural formation and its beauty, Definitely worth the short ride from KL to visit. You can watch a video we made recently of our visit there by train from Kuala Lumpur.
For the best photos, it's recommended to go really early in the morning before the site gets too crowded. If you are short on time check out this tour going to the Batu Caves and if you something more unique a combination tour for Batu Caves and firefly watching in Kuala Selangor can be a great wat to spend an afternoon.
BRICKFIELDS / LITTLE INDIA
Brickfields is home to Kuala Lumpur’s Little India, a colourful maze of textile shops, jewellery stores and local restaurants serving traditional Indian banana-leaf curries. If you have some time to spare in the vicinity of KL Sentral Station, then take a walk around, but we wouldn’t recommend heading here especially.
If you’re looking for electronics of any kind, then Low Yat Electronics Plaza is the place to go! With more than 9 levels of shops to choose from, you’re almost guaranteed to find what you’re looking for. Plaza Low Yat is the oldest shopping centre specialising in electronics and IT products in Kuala Lumpur. Rumour has it that the shops on the ground level are more expensive and as you ascend the levels, prices reduce - from our experience back in 2014 and 2019, we can say that there is definitely some truth in this, so start your shopping from the top down! While you are there, also check out the food court in the basement, chances are you’ll spend enough time shopping that you’ll get hungry!
Located at the start (or is that end?) of Bukit Bintang Street, Pavillion Kuala Lumpur is an extensive shopping mall with every fashion outlet you could possibly imagine and more. The mall has a laid back feel to it and the staff are very friendly and eager to assist. Be sure to register for the “Tourist Reward Card” at the information desk which will offer you special discounts at participating retailers. There is also a large food court area which is a great alternative way to try local cuisine in a nice cool air-conditioned environment!
BUKIT BINTANG SHOPPING STREET
Stretching all the way from Pavillion Shopping Mall to Plaza Low Yat and the Jalan Alor Street Food Market, Bukit Bintang Street and the surrounding area is a popular shopping and entertainment district for both tourists and locals and especially among the youth. The Bukit Bintang area is filled with shopping centres, al-fresco cafés, bars, night markets, food street as well as hawker-type eateries. This is a great area to get a feel for the fun side of KL.
JALAN ALOR STREET FOOD MARKET
Located in the bustling and backpacker area of Bukit Bintang, Jalan Alor Street Food Market is a must for any first-timer to Kuala Lumpur. The street is lined with plastic tables and chairs and food vendors selling anything from fresh fish to grilled skewers, fresh fruit lassies to Pisang Goreng. You will need to fend off each and every restaurant trying to lure you in with their menu, but this is part of the experience! If you want to escape the crowds and business, just head into one of the side streets where you will find plenty of local restaurants even cheaper than the market.
PETALING STREET MARKET IN CHINATOWN
If you’re looking for any imitation branded item, from Louis Vuitton to Rolex and everything in between, you will find it here at the Petaling Street Market in Chinatown. The main market street is a bustling and busy place with every vendor competing for your attention by trying to convince you that their item is exactly what you need. The stalls mostly sell imitation bags, watches, shoes and clothing. Whatever you do, don’t pay the initial asking price, be sure to haggle before you buy - prices are said to be anything from 35% more than expected to even double what you should pay if they see that you are well dressed and look like you have the money! The market continues late into the night and if you can escape the imitation brand stalls, there are also plenty of places where you can grab a local snack.
Although Central Market has been around since 1888, the current market is neither old nor dilapidated! The market now has a modern air-conditioned interior and the goods for sale are mostly touristy souvenirs, handmade arts and crafts and some local food. It is a great place to escape the heat of the day, get a feel for the cultural diversity of Malaysia and appreciate the current use of such a historical site. Be sure to also take a stroll around the outside of the market where you will find some delicious local delicacies such as this Putu Bamboo which we tasted here for the first time.
SULTAN ABDUL SAMAD JAMEK MOSQUE
Also simply referred to as Jamek Mosque, this is one of the oldest mosques in Kuala Lumpur. Although not particularly grand from the inside, the mosque’s location, at the confluence of the Klang and Gombak River, makes it rather special. It is well worth walking a short distance along the river (adjacent to the Sultan Abdul Samad Building) to view the mosque from the bridge as this perspective will truly allow you to appreciate the location of the mosque. The mosque is open to visitors and the friendly staff will provide you with a visitors cloak if you are not suitably clothed.
Also known as Dataran Merdeka in Malay, or directly translated as Independence Square, it was here that the Union Flag was lowered and the Malaysian flag was hoisted for the first time on 31 August 1957. This centrepiece of Merdeka Square is the tallest flagpole in the world (95m) and proudly displays a gigantic and beautiful Malaysian flag. This is also the venue for Malaysia’s annual Merdeka Parade (Independence Day) celebration. The perfectly manicured green lawn was formerly known as the Selangor Club Padang or simply the "Padang" (meaning "field" in Malay) and was used as the cricket green of the Selangor Club. Underneath the pitch, you will find the Plaza Putra shopping complex.
SULTAN ABDUL SAMAD BUILDING
Approaching from both Merdeka Square and Jamek Mosque, you cannot help but notice the elaborate and beautiful Sultan Abdul Samad Building. The building originally housed the offices of the British colonial administration but in 1974 it was renamed after Sultan Abdul Samad, who was the reigning Sultan of Selangor at the time when construction began. You can get the best view of the stunning building from Merdeka Square, but it is also well worth taking a walk around the building in order to appreciate its architecture up close.
ENJOY SUNSET FROM A ROOFTOP BAR
There are so many options of bars and observation decks in the city of Kuala Lumpur from which you can take your pick. We would suggest checking the most recent review and recommendations from locals. We chose to visit the Heli Lounge Bar, which is an operational helicopter landing during the day and which only opens from 6 pm as a rooftop bar. Although drinks are not cheap, in our opinion, it's still better value than just visiting an observation deck!