Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, George Town is a city frozen in time, one that has no shortage of colonial buildings, temples, and mosques. These historic landmarks—seamlessly integrating with the city’s iconic street art and modern buildings—form a diverse and multicultural tapestry that’s truly a sight to behold.
The city’s storied past as a centre of spice production and as an important British trading post in the 19th century attracted a diverse population that included the Chinese, Malays, Indians, Thais, and other ethnicities. All these groups left a mark on George Town, giving birth to its unique cuisine while setting an early example of how multiculturalism can promote harmony and enrich a country’s identity.
Today, George Town continues to thrive, with attractions and establishments catering to young and old alike. Visitors often leave with a heavy heart, as they fall in love with the city’s authentic charm and youthful vibe. Find out why George Town, the capital of the Malaysian state of Penang, is on everyone’s dream itinerary.
No Penang tour is complete without an introduction to George Town’s iconic street murals at Armenian Street and surrounding avenues. After the city was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, the government, through the Penang Public Arts Review Panel (PARP), commissioned artists to cover the city’s walls with murals, sometimes complete with prop installations. And while the panel sanctions most of the art, you may also view the “illegal” street art that are just as beautiful and profound.
George Town is not just an urban jungle, it has actual jungles, too. In fact, a few of its attractions are set in lush rainforests like the Penang National Park, The Habitat, and the Spice Garden.
Penang National Park is only 23 square kilometres and is Malaysia’s smallest national park, but it’s still a substantial trek amongst the beautiful flora and fauna unique to island. Meanwhile, The Habitat on Penang Hill dates back 130 million years and is one of the oldest surviving rainforests in the world. The highlights of this nature adventure destination are the Langur Way Canopy Walk and the Curtis Crest Tree Top Walk. Finally, the Spice Garden located at Teluk Bahang gives visitors the opportunity to learn about different spices, with over 500 species of spices having been planted in the garden.
Penang is one of the most famous street food destinations in the world. George Town, in particular, has organised food courts like the Medan Renong, Lebuh Kimberley, and Lebuh Chulia—all of which have an array of food stalls selling Penang favourites like Assam Laksa, Char Kway Teow, and more.
For the young coffee-loving crowd who likes to drink their third wave coffee under beautiful ambient lighting, indie coffee shops are the destinations of choice. Make sure to try them yourself, including the China House at Lebuh Pantai, which offers a selection of up to 30 types of cakes, or The Bean Sprout at Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, which attracts visitors with its savoury breakfast menu.
Some of the most beautiful buildings in George Town are the Chinese Kongsi Houses or Clan Houses built by pioneering Hokkien immigrants. Visit the Khoo, Cheah, Yeoh, Lim, and Tan kongsi, and learn more about the history of each house through the museums and galleries housed inside them.
If you want to see what a fusion of Chinese, Malay, and European architectural design is like, visit the Cheah Kongsi clan house. Built in 1873 it’s the oldest of the 5 Hokkien clan houses in the island. Meanwhile, the most popular house is arguably the Leong San Tong Khoo kongsi, where public performances and events often take place.
Since George Town is situated on an island, there are a number of white sand beaches here that you can explore and swim in. Batu Feringghi is the most popular beach destination, attracting the most tourists and serving host to a number of attractions such as a night market, an inflatable island, and a butterfly farm. However, if you want a more secluded hideaway, just head a little further to Gertak Sanggul beach.
One of the unique attractions of George Town and a part of the Penang Heritage Trail are the clan jetties. These are houses built on stilts that belong to 7 old Chinese clans. While these are actual residential communities, the families welcome visitors who are curious to learn about their heritage. Among the clan jetties open to visitors, the Chew Jetty is the most tourist-friendly. It is home to shops selling souvenirs, a photogenic walkway, and a small temple.
Whatever kind of tourist you are, George Town’s got something for you. With beaches, urban life, and jungles, you’ll never be bored in this city. After you’ve tried a few of these attractions, maybe you’ll fall in love with George Town like the many visitors before you.