I thought it’s about time I wrote a post like this, now that I’ve been in Kuala Lumpur for almost a year (on and off).
Over these months, I’ve had some friends visit, which requires me to brainstorm a list of things to do/eat for them. And some people who happen to find my blog also ask for suggestions. I’m by nooooo means an local expert, but so I don’t have to repeat myself over and over, I figured I’d put it all in one post!
For this guide, I’m only focusing on the city center, because I’m guessing this is where most visitors will stay. And most people only pass through KL for a few days, so I’m sure this is way more than enough options to fill your time! I may write something later on other areas outside of the city center.
A bit about my KL experience: I first came as a tourist, and long story short, it resulted in me meeting a local guy, which resulted in me living in KL for most of the year (while that relationship is over now, I stayed). I spent about 2 months living in the city center in Bukit Bintang, and then moved out to live in one of the suburbs. These suggestions are based on what’s popular to do as a tourist and things I learned from locals.
Where to Stay
Kuala Lumpur is a very large city. There’s the busy city center, which most people will know as where the famous Petronas Twin Towers are located. Then there are dozens of suburban neighborhoods.
Honestly, I enjoy the neighborhoods a lot more. These places are more laid back and bursting with small local businesses, great food, and innovative cafes. And 95% of locals will also say that they NEVER go into the city unless they absolutely have to.
But I still feel like that for your first time in KL, the city center is a good place to be. Just because it’s close to things to do. And it may be easier for you to find food fast too. You can always Uber to visit one of the neighborhoods.
It seems like that the most popular options for staying in the city center are:
- close to KLCC (the twin towers)
- close to Changkat Bukit Bintang (the popular bar street)
- close to Chinatown
I only recommend staying close to Changkat Bukit Bintang. The Chinatown area is sketchy and the KLCC area is rather dead and you won’t find much within walking distance.
Bukit Bintang is Kuala Lumpur’s famed entertainment and shopping district. There’s a ton of stuff to do/eat here. You’ll be walking distance to Changkat Bar Street, Pavilion Shopping Center, Lot 10, and Jalan Alor Food Street (don’t worry, I’ll go over what each is!).
There’s an abundance of hotels, hostels, and airbnbs in the city center. And all for relatively cheap too! Always wanted to stay in a high rise luxury condo with an infinity pool? Yep, experience that in KL for just $35/night.
What to do
Petronas Towers: Okay this one is obvious. The towers are only one of the most recognizable landmarks in the entire world. They are pretty glorious, especially when they’re all lit up at night. Personally, I’ve never been up to the bridge (170m above ground), because just enjoying them from the ground is pretty good already.
In the evenings, the park behind the towers have a dancing water show with lights. I believe it’s every hour on the hour. It’s fun to catch it if you happen to be there (such as doing shopping in KLCC).
My verdict: Yes, see it, but not necessary to go up. Tickets are 85rm (or about US $20) to go up to the pedestrian bridge.
KL Tower: This is the 4th tallest communications tower in the world! Now if you do want to go up something tall to see a view of the city, I’d recommend going up KL Tower. Because 1) the observation deck is muuuuuch taller at 276m, 2) you see the Petronas Towers from here, and 3) it’s way cheaper.
Tip: If you go really early in the mornings, like 9 am, you’ll have the entire place to yourself (verified by more than a couple of friends).
My verdict: Yes, this is probably really fun to do! I believe tickets are only 38rm (less than US $10).
Confession: I actually haven’t done this yet… though I want to! I’m waiting until my family visits me to take them to do this!
Chinatown (Petaling Street): This is basically a street with a ton of hawkers on each side selling
crap cheap stuff. Honestly, nothing too exciting here. But you could make it a worthwhile expedition by checking out the food court or other restaurants here. Or better yet! – go eat at my favorite Indian restaurant nearby (I’ll get to it in a bit).
My verdict: Maybe worth it go check it out once, but meh.
KL Botantical Garden and Bird Park: If you’re in need of a green escape, there is a huge botanical garden in the center of KL. It’s a nice way to get away from the city, but good luck not sweating your head off :P.
Inside the large garden is the KL Bird Park. This is the world’s largest free-flight aviary. You’ll get up and personal to free-roaming storks, crested pigeons, parrots, etc. I’ve been meaning to write a blog post on this!
My verdict: The Bird Park is FUN! If you want to do something different for an afternoon, not a bad way to spend a few hours!
Changkat Bar Street: One of the most notorious bar streets in Kuala Lumpur. This one-block street is lined with bars and restaurants on both sides. It get super rowdy at night, with the restaurants all having happy hour deals and “ladies nights”. It’s not really my scene, but there are some of KL’s famous establishments here, such as Opium and Whiskey Bar. Just be careful, stuff here is expensive!
My verdit: Nope. This isn’t my scene because I don’t really drink or party, but you may have a good time. If you’re more like me, you will enjoy quieter places like Pisco (yes, legit pisco sours) or Taps Beer Bar more. Both of these places are just 1 block away from the rowdy bar street.
Batu Caves: Honestly, this is one of the only “touristy” activities to do in Kuala Lumpur. Every single traveler who comes to KL go to the Batu Caves. And almost every single local has never been there*. Ever. (*Based on every local I’ve talked to at least…)
The Batu Caves is about 40 minutes outside of the city and easily reachable by train. It’s famous for the giant golden statue and the almost 300 steps leading into a limestone cave. Every year, one of Malaysia’s most famous holidays – Thaipusam – is celebrated here, where Hindu devotees walk all night from Kuala Lumpur to Batu Caves.
My verdict: Nope, never been and not interested either. It may be interesting to go during Thaipusam, if only it’s not so damn crowded.
Okay maybe I’m being a little harsh. But honestly, it is true that there is just not a whole lot to do in Kuala Lumpur. Maybe just stick to eating instead :P (coming up later!!).
If you don’t already know, shopping is a huge part of KL. If you ask a local what there is to do in KL, they’ll say “Just eat, drink, and shop.” So this is why I’m breaking out the malls into its own section. If you do happen to need to replenish your wardrobe, then KL is a great place to do it!
Here are some of the more notable malls in the city center, as well as some suggestions of things to do there (not shopping).
KLCC: This is the huge mall right under the twin towers. It’s got a lot of designer and mid-level stores. Honestly I don’t really like coming here. It’s super crowded all the time and it doesn’t have the kind of stores I like.
There is a huge aquarium here – called Aquaria. I haven’t been yet, but locals say it’s definitely worth visiting. It’s got a bunch of exhibits featuring marine life from all over the world. This is on my list of things to see here in KL!
Pavilion: This is a huge mall on Bukit Bintang street. It’s got a good mix of high-end and lower-end clothing stores. Mainly I just like that it’s not too crowded ever.
It also has some nice places to eat. The basement food court is huge and you can probably find something to satisfy any craving. Or if you want Malay food, you can try Madame Kwan (a Malay restaurant chain that’s popular with locals). The food mezzanine has some nice restaurants, and there’s even a Din Tai Fung here.
And of course, the malls are always a good place to watch the latest movies! A ticket only costs about US $4.
Starhill Gallery: This shopping center is right across from Pavilion. If you see the futurist-looking Sephora, that’s part of Starhill Gallery. This is probably KL’s most luxurious mall. If you’re in the area, you may want to just walk through it once to see how fancy it is. The basement food level also has some of the fanciest restaurants in the city.
Sungei Wang: I love this shopping center! This is located just behind Lot 10. This is where you want to come if you want to get a cheap haircut and/or mani/pedi. This mall has all local shops, so you can find clothes for super cheap (everything from basics to current street fashion to fancy dresses). It’s even worth ubering from outside the city to come here to shop and get pampered for cheap!
Berjaya Times Square: This mall is just weird, but it has the most character. Every level has a different theme, such as Little Taipei or Central Park. And there’s even an indoor amusement park on the 7th floor (though none of the rides seemed to be open when I went). This mall also has a lot of local clothing stalls so you can find really cheap stuff. Think $5 shirts.
Where to eat
Kuala Lumpur is my favorite city for eating! I curated this list carefully to include all my favorites (as well as a wishlist one!), and to give a balanced list of rec’s for all the different types of dining experiences you can have in KL.
This isn’t a list of what dishes to eat in Kuala Lumpur (that’ll come next). This is just a list of good places to eat at for your first time in the city.
Lot 10 Hutong (best food court): This is one of my favorite recommendations! And thanks to CL for letting me know about it!
This basement food court is in the Lot 10 mall (that ugly old green building down the block from Pavilion). It’s one of the best in the area. When it was built, they asked a lot of the most famous hawker stalls in KL to set up a branch there. As a result, you get a lot of the “best of KL” eats all under one roof (albeit all in a slightly poorer version). But the food is still amazing.
Jalan Alor (for Chinese street food): This is the most popular street food street in Bukit Bintang. In the evenings, this street gets crazy busy when all the streetside restaurants open for business. A good rule of thumb is to just go wherever it’s busy.
And a must try? The grilled stingray. It’s quite good. :)
Betel Leaf (for Indian food): Indian food is amazing in KL. And one of the most popular ones in town is Betel Leaf, located near to Chinatown. A few locals have recommended this to me, so you know it’s popular with them as well. Just one word of caution: this place means business when they say spicy!
Address: 77a, Leboh Ampang, City Centre, 50000 Kuala Lumpur
Madame Kwan (for normal Malay food): I’ve mentioned this earlier, but I figure I’ll put it here again in case you missed it. Madame Kwan is a very popular Malay food chain restaurant. Locals all agree that the food is very decent. You’ll find your typical Malay foods such as nasi lemak (pictured) and curry laksa.
Where: All malls will usually have a Madame Kwan restaurant. There’s one in the basement food level in Pavilion.
Bijan (for fancy Malay food): This place is fancier (as in, maybe you’ll spend US $25 per person, haha!) but it’s a great way to experience Malay food. The food is all made very delicately with well balanced flavors. I first heard of it from my airbnb host, and I was surprised to discover what a popular place this is. I went here with Upasna and we both really loved it.
Address: 3-5, Seri Bukit Ceylon, 8 Lorong Ceylon Off, Jalan Raja Chulan, Bukit Ceylon, 50250 Kuala Lumpur
It’s right off of Changkat Bar Street, so it’s super easy to get to if you’re staying around this area.
NZ Garden Cafe (for mamak food): Mamaks are staples in Malaysia culture. They’re basically 24/7 Indian-Muslim eateries serving quick, freshly cooked meals. They can be a little intimidating to go to because the menus will all be in Malay and you won’t understand. But this one is a “fancier” mamak with menus in English.
This was introduced to me by a local. And yes a ton of locals eat here at all hours of day. The food is fantastic. Come here to get all your local food like roti canai, tandoori chicken, and fried rice.
Address: Jalan Ampang, Kampung Baru, 50300 Kuala Lumpur
Kitty-corner from KLCC, so this is a great place to visit if you happen to be doing some shopping there.
Village Park (for nasi lemak): You can’t come to Malaysia and NOT eat nasi lemak – the national dish! Now, this is the ONLY place I’m recommending that’s outside of the city center, but it’s soooo worth it to Uber there.
Village Park is the most popular nasi lemak in KL. Almost all locals will bring visitors here to eat. They have a lot of things on the menu, but EVERYONE gets just one dish: the nasi lemak with fried chicken (ayam goreng).
I don’t know how they make it so good. The chicken is fried with some kind of magical spiced crust. It’s nice and crispy on the outside, while being tender inside. Trust me, if you want to eat real nasi lemak, make it this one! This place is usually PACKED on weekends and doesn’t start to empty until 4 pm.
Address: 5, Jalan SS 21/37, Damansara Utama, 47400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia
About 30 minutes from the city center by car.
Lepaq Lepaq (for a cafe): KL is also HUUUUUGE on cafes. There’s a very vibrant hipster cafe scene and it seems like that new ones are popping up alllll the time, each one trying to be the newest, most innovative. It’s a shame to come to KL and not experience the unique cafe culture.
I’m suggesting this one, not because it’s the best, but because it’s one of the more unique ones (and easily walkable from Changkat).
Lepaq Lepaq (which means “hang out” in Malay) was hugely popular when it opened. It’s got an industrial chic vibe with a creative menu of drinks, food, and desserts. They got famous for their Rainy Day coffee, which has a fluffy cotton candy cloud floating atop the cup. There’s also a nasi lemak cheesecake, complete with fried anchovies and everything (which sounds disgusting to me, but maybe you dare to try it).
Address: 57, Jalan Ceylon, Bukit Ceylon, 50200 Kuala Lumpur
Just a few minutes walk from Changkat bar street.
Troika Tower (for fine dining): If you want a fancy “dining in the sky” experience, one of the best is the view from the restaurants in Troika Tower. You get a direct view of the glittering Petronas Towers. I really wanted to eat here (Fuego is a popular restaurant here), but never managed to. And then I moved away from Bukit Bintang, so now I’m too lazy to go into the city center if I don’t need to :P.
Address: Persiaran KLCC, Kuala Lumpur, 50450 Kuala Lumpur
*By the way, all these places are on Google Maps if you just type in the name. And they’re all in Uber too!
Other things to know:
- Currency: The currency here is the ringgit (rm), which as of the time of publishing: 1 US$ = 4.4rm. Most cafes and restaurants will accept credit card. Food courts and hawker stalls are cash only.
- Language: Malay is the official language, but English is the universal language.
- Getting around: Public transportation sucks in Kuala Lumpur. But no worries, because Uber (or Grab Car) is super cheap and convenient.
- Transport from airport: This is super easy. You can either take a bus from the airport to KL Sentral, and then take an Uber to your place, or just Uber from the airport for about US $20. The airport is about 1 hour away.
- Dress: Yes this is a Muslim country, but you can dress however you want and no one will bat an eye. The rules don’t apply if you’re not Malay.
- Weather: It rains a LOT in KL. You’ll be lucky if it doesn’t rain at all on your trip! I can’t figure out what’s the wet season and dry season, so just be prepared for rain and flash thunderstorms at any time of the year! (Actually, I think the dry season may be Jan – April.)
- Tipping: Not a custom. If you’re eating at a proper restaurant, 10% service charge will automatically be added to your bill. And there is no tipping for services like massage, mani/pedi, haircut, etc.
- Safety: I have never ever felt unsafe in KL. Of course just practice common sense (especially in crowded areas), such as wearing your bag across your body, not leaving your phone on the table, etc.
Have you been to Kuala Lumpur? Anything else to add to this list??
Come to think of it, this probably should have been like 3 separate posts….