10 Things to See and Do in Kuala Lumpur for First Timers
Kuala Lumpur (aka KL) has always had a special place in my heart. I grew up here and my recent trip to visit family (who I had not seen in 2 years oops…) reminded me of some of the fantastic and awe-inspiring sights to see in this vibrant city. Although best known for it’s shopping culture and incredible taste sensations, this modern metropolitan has plenty more to offer with its multicultural asian mix, historical and religious architectural backdrop. Usually I base myself at family houses or hotels (my family don’t do hostels…), but as I was doing a little backpacker route this time round, I based myself at the Reggae Mansion Hostel (incredible rooftop bar!). So put that those shopping bags down and without further a do here are the 10 Things to See and Do in Kuala Lumpur.
1. Marvel at the Petronas Towers (KLCC)
One of two of the most recognizable buildings of Kuala Lumpur. No first time trip here is complete without a wander to the Petronas Towers. The tallest buildings in KL, the top floors are office buildings owned by Petronas (lucky people) and the bottom floors are shopping malls. The towers also gained (more) fame by featuring in the film Entrapment, where Sean Connery scaled the bridge that attaches the two towers. Although there’s no way for you to scale the outside of the bridge (health and safety paperwork would be dire), you can still get the views from inside the bridge on the 86th floor by buying tickets here.
Top tip: You can only buy tickets on the day and its first come first serve. Some try and queue up (super early), however you would have better luck by booking in advance through the link above!
2. Haggle a bargain at China Town (Jalan Petaling)
Based at the heart of Kuala Lumpur and immersed in Oriental culture and heritage, not only can you find epic food markets, but it is also a bargain hunter’s paradise from fake designer good to Chinese medicine. It is more colourful, bustling and authentic in comparison to the larger more glamorous counterpart of KLCC, however you ARE able to haggle here…which doesn’t work too well in the other shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur.
3. Soak in the view at Menara KL
The second most recognisable building in Kuala Lumpur, the Menara KL offers the highest and arguably more spectacular viewing point of the city. As you are able to access the viewing deck at 100 m higher than KLCC you can marvel at the twilight surroundings below through the 360 rotating restaurant within the tower. If you are bored of looking at the skyline, you can also enjoy the forest reserve which surrounds the Menara KL.
Top tip: The Menara KL has a light show every day between 8pm – 12pm which can be seen from across the city.
4. Jalan Alor (Bukit Bintang)
Previously a red light district, Jalan Alor has had a major face-lift into a street-market food haven. When the sun sets, the street comes to life as the hawker stalls open up and the area is significant contrast to the high-rises and shopping complex which surrounds the street. Here you will find the best culinary delights that Kuala Lumpur and South East Asia has to offer at very reasonable prices. I always try to visit at least once when in Malaysia as it is one of the few places that has authentic hawker stalls and remind me of my childhood days. If you’re having trouble choosing what to have (there are so many yummy treats) try the oyster omelette or anything from this list!
5. Take monkey selfies in Batu Caves
If you love monkeys and walking up steps then the Batu Caves is for you. One of the most popular Hindu temples outside of India, the short 272 steps to get up to the caves will reward you with monkeys galore and various shrines within the temples (don’t worry it’s not as big a hike as Elephant Mountain). Batu Caves is also the focal point for the Thaipusam festival in Malaysia … though I have never been able to align my visits with this event.
6. Have cocktails at the Heli Lounge
When somebody asks me what or where to visit in Kuala Lumpur, the Heli Lounge is the first port of call. Head over for happy hour (buy one get one free) just before sunset and you can take in the skyline views of the city which includes KLCC and Menara KL. Then with said cocktail (White Russian all the way) enjoy as the sunset over Menara KL. Literally one of my favourite things to do in the city.
Top tip: Align the visit between 8pm – 12pm to catch the light show of Menara KL
7. Pay respects at Jamek Mosque
Built in 1909 Masjid Jamek (Jamek Mosque) is the oldest mosque in the city, built at the birthplace of Kuala Lumpur at the point the Klang and Gombak rivers meet. The architecture of the building is stunning and it is open to the public as long as it is outside prayer times and visitors are dressed modestly.
8. Cool off at Sunway Lagoon
When the weather becomes far too humid and hot (which is all the time), you need an excuse to cool off and the hostel pool is simply not cutting it. then head over to Sunway Lagoon! Split into 5 parts: Scream, Extreme, Wildlife, Amusement and Water Park, it can easily take a day of lounging and lazing in the massive pools, slides and rides. Can you believe it took me 24 years before I actually came to the water lagoon part…and it’s the BEST of all 5 sections. You can clearly see how happy I am by the photo.
A whole day pass is 170 RM around $40. It’s a little steep for Malaysia but whats a few extra pennies for a whole day of fun!
9. Get your history fix at Merdeka Square
Although there is not much to physically see at Merdeka Square, this area is a symbol of Malaysia’s independence. This old British cricket ground is where the Union Flag was lowered and for the first time, the Malaysian flag raised at midnight on 31st August 1957. From that point on Merdeka Square is the point for the National Day Parade. The British built government buildings around the square is also still present and restored to its former glory.
10. Check out the Putra and Iron mosques at Putra Jaya
Putra Jaya is a federal administration area south of Kuala Lumpur with incredible architecture which includes the prime ministers office as well as two of my favourite mosques. The Putra Mosque, large enough for 10,000 worshipers is a distinctive landmark in Putra Jaya with architectural influences from Malaysia, Persia and Arab – Islmaic design. It bears a stark contrast to the Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin Mosque or the Iron Mosque (if you didn’t fancy a tongue twister), with its sleek metallic silver and white design being something of a futuristic style. Although the Iron Mosque is the second mosque in line, its the larger of the two with a capacity of 30,000 worshipers.
And if after all that, you STILL want to go shopping then head over to Bukit Bintang area where there are malls to your hearts content (My favourite is Pavillion KL or Times Square where there is a roller-coaster in the building!)
Do you travel to shop or to visit the culture? Would you be willing to try oyster omelette? Is spending a whole day at a water park a waste of a day? (The answer is no). I would love to hear your thoughts below!
Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Language: Bahasa Malaysian, English, Cantonese, Tamil,
How To Get Around: Walk, Buses, Monorail, LRT
Currency: MYR, Malaysia Ringgit
Best Bits: Cocktails at Sunset at Heli Lounge, Constantly eating my weight in food at Jalan Alor
Be Wary: Getting sucked in to the shopping malls and blowing all your travel budget
I Visited: Jan 2017