Kuala Lumpur is often a stop-over city for those setting off to explore Southeast Asia. Don’t make this mistake! The Malay capital is a bustling city with a fascinating history, beautiful sites, delicious food, and more to explore. It’s a city that truly caters to all types of travelers. If you’re only in Kuala Lumpur for a quick stopover try to squeeze in as much as possible. Here are 14 awesome things to do in Kuala Lumpur.
Kuala Lumpur views snapped from the rooftop infinity pool of The Face Hotel. Unfortunately, to take in these views you have to be a guest, they don’t even allow paid day use of the pool. To find out where the below view was shot follow me on Instagram @MissFilatelista. Finding views of Kuala Lumpur is one of the most popular things to do in Kuala Lumpur.
I’ve been to KL twice and have spent about 2 weeks discovering the city and surrounding areas. There are many more things I’d like to do in the city such as visit the gigantic Buddha in Genting Highlands and Perdana Botanical Gardens, so I’ll have to go back soon!
WHERE TO STAY IN KUALA LUMPUR
I was invited to stay at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Kuala Lumpur during my second stay in the city. It was the perfect base for exploration as it’s close to many of the top sites (10-minute walk to the Petronas Twin Towers and KLCC park) and public transportation (5-minute walk to the Ampang Park LRT metro station).
What made me fall in love with the luxurious property was exceptional hospitality. There’s the delicious welcome cookie—which isn’t vegan but I won’t lie, I did try a bite, and even an extensive pillow menu. Go all out and order them all, you better believe I gave them each a try (except for the feather pillow, I’m allergic and it’s not vegan).
Although DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Kuala Lumpur doesn’t have many notable sustainability initiatives they are working on reducing waste by using recycled paper for their pens and for staff’s business cards. They were also happy to refill my water bottle at the restaurant so I didn’t have to use the plastic water bottles in the guest room. I loved that they use paper straws at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Kuala Lumpur.
The Makan Kitchen restaurant is one of the major reasons to stay at DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Kuala Lumpur! Local chefs from Malaysia’s diverse cultures create delicious feasts using traditional ingredients with a modern flair. There’s a section dedicated to Malay Cuisine which is spicy yet creamy and sweet with coconut milk and herbs. There were plenty of vegan-friendly options from the Malay, Chinese, and Indian buffets as well as custom prepared dishes that the chef made for me especially.
There are epic views of the KL skyline from all over DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Kuala Lumpur. From the hallways and the saltwater pool, you can see the twin towers.
Browse available rooms and make a reservation at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Kuala Lumpur on Booking.com.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN KUALA LUMPUR
TAKE A FREE CITY BREAK AT THE CANOPY WALK
The Forest Eco Park (GoogleMaps) is free to explore and is an epic green escape in the center of the city. It’s wild to see monkeys chilling in a tree with gigantic skyscrapers in the background. The pristine forest can be explored on the hanging canopy walk or on footpath trails.
A visit can take anywhere from 30-minutes to several hours depending on how far you want to go into the park. This juxtaposition of nature and the city is something I’ll need to keep my sanity should I ever live in a large city again.
VISIT THE BLUSH MASJID PUTRA
The pink mosque is one of the things I really missed out on during my first trip to KL so I faced the heat and made my way to the beautiful Putra Masjid(GoogleMaps)by taking the public transit and a Grab to Putrajaya. The journey was absolutely worth it to see the rose-hued dome glistening in the sunlight and reflecting on the bay. The structure is made of glass fiber and mosaic tiling. The azan tower (or minaret as they’re called in Morocco) is 380-feet tall!
Visiting hours vary daily so be sure to check the schedule. I believe non-Muslims are not allowed to enter, but it wasn’t a problem for me to peek inside and a few locals even told me to come in but I didn’t have a head scarf and wasn’t comfortable entering without one as it’s disrespectful. Apparently, there were robes available to rent, but I didn’t see them.
LEARN ABOUT MALAY MUSLIMS AT WILAYAH MOSQUE
The beautiful Wilayah Mosque (GoogleMaps) is one of the only mosques in Malaysia that non-Muslim can enter. You can only explore on a guided tour but they’re so worthwhile as you’ll learn about Malay Muslim culture and history from a local expert. The guides encourage questions so feel free to have an open yet respectful banter. I asked about gender and gay equality and while I didn’t really love the response from my guide I did appreciate that he was at least willing to express where he stands on these issues—even if I strongly disagree.
Islamic culture is so different in Malaysia than it is in other Muslim-majority countries I’ve visited such as Morocco. Did you know there are more people who follow Islam in Southeast Asia than the Middle East or Africa? Malaysia has Sharia law which must be strictly followed by anyone who is Malay. If you’re Malay and born in Malaysia you are required to be Muslim. If you’re Chinese-Malay or Indian-Malay you may be Christian or Hindu.
I made sure not to visit during the prayer time in order to be respectful and was treated to a mostly empty mosque. The environment is incredibly serene and I felt deeply honored to be able to have this experience. Visiting a mosque is an important part of learning about culture in Malaysia.
GET A GLIMPSE OF CHINESE MALAY CULTURE AT THEAN HOU TEMPLE
The Thean Hou Temple (GoogleMaps) is absolutely breathtaking. I was lucky to arrive just before the Lunar New Year and got to see thousands of lanterns being strung around the religious structure. Fortunately, the temple wasn’t very crowded, even in the middle of the afternoon.
Similar to the Eco Park, it’s a strange juxtaposition to see the Chinese handiwork and art positioned against a backdrop of skyscrapers.
Thean Hou is dedicated to the Chinese goddess of the sea and is free to enter. There aren’t many signs here with information at the temple but it is an active religious site so be sure to be respectful with your tone of voice and behavior—people are here to pray.
STOCK UP ON GOODS AT THE ECO-SHOP
The Hive Bulk Foods (GoogleMaps) has everything on hand that a sustainable traveler could need from powdered face masks, natural deodorant, safety razors, and more. The prices are incredibly reasonable and the owners are delightful. As their primary focus is bulk food you can also stock up on vegan snacks for all those upcoming long bus rides around Malaysia. Everything in the shop is zero-waste. I’d love to own a place like this one day.
GO SPOT SOME STREET ART
As with everywhere, I go, I went on the hunt for street art in Kuala Lumpur on both of my trips. The second time I visited in January 2019 was majority motivated by the new vibrant murals that have taken over the Bukit Bintang area. Just type Jalan Alor Street Art into your GoogleMaps and two locations will pop up that are quite close to each other and covered in gigantic murals.
I went in the middle of the day and no one else was around as it was the peak heat hours. I’m sure the area is a bit more hectic in the morning when the weather is cooler and in the evening when all the neon lights get switched on.
There’s a lot more to Chinatown than its various religious structures—although it’s very cool to see Hindu, Tao, Muslim, and Christian houses of worship in the same small vicinity. The highlight for me was discovering unique murals and street art along the corridors of the neighborhood and endless strings of Chinese lanterns.
Wander around town and you’re sure to come across many street art murals. Some are vibrant depictions of urban life and others are faded memories of what once was.
REACH NEW HEIGHTS AT THE SKYBAR
KL is a major commerce hub in Southeast Asia and has the skyscrapers to prove it! The best spot to get unobstructed views of the Petronas Twin Towers is from the SkyBar at the Traders Hotel. SkyBar is the best bar in the city with creative cocktails, delicious food, a swimming pool, and awesome throwback tunes. It’s also one of the only places open to the public where you can view the twin towers in their entirety. I was invited to experience SkyBar at sunset and had an awesome poolside sunken booth. Arrive early, at least an hour before sunset, to take in views of the towers by light, and then stay late to see them by night. You’ll have a birds-eye perspective of the famous fountain show. To make things better they also have frequent happy hours and drink specials, so this is one view in KL that doesn’t have to break the bank.
BEHOLD THE TWIN PETRONAS TOWERS
Now that you’ve seen these beautiful paired buildings from above it’s time to go take it some different vistas. You can go to the top to the viewing platform of the Petronas Towers, a walkway between the towers. The landmark of the city was once the tallest building in the world. You can bask in its glory for free by strolling through the adjacent KLCC Park (GoogleMaps). Make time to see the towers by day, and again after dark. In the night they glow like crystals crushing the skyline. Their elongated pyramid-like shape actually reminded me of a Hindu Gopuram.
EXPLORE THE BATU CAVES
You probably recognize the massive golden Hindu Lord Murugan, Commander of War and Victory, that stands guard at the entrance of the Batu Caves (GoogleMaps). The glistening 140-foot statuesque presences beckons photographers from around the world to capture its powerful stance in all its glory. After you climb the 272 steps to the mouth of the cave you’ll be greeted by Hindu shrines and temples. The stairs have been painted in rainbow hues since my first visit in 2017. If you’re lucky and it’s a clear day from the top you’ll be able to see a sweeping view of the KL skyline.
Before you pay your respects to the Gods take the stairs further up to the left to reserve a spot on the guided tour of the Dark Cave. The Batu Caves have only been a sacred spot for Hindu pilgrims for the last 100 years or so. But it’s been a popular spot for locals to collect guano (yep, bat poop). During your exploration of the Dark Cave, you’ll get to see the goop up close, and maybe even a massive centipede, or two. You’ll learn about the local animal life within the cave and listen to the flattering of bat wings in complete darkness, it’s an experience not to be missed. Watch out for the monkeys, they’ll steal your coconut!
PAMPER YOURSELF WITH A MASSAGE
Kuala Lumpur has no shortage of available spa services–from foot massage parlors, luxury hotel spas, and lovely day spas. Services may be slightly more expensive than other Asian countries such as India or Thailand but they’re still wildly affordable when compared to western rates for similar experiences. Balinese style massages are the most common but you can also find specific spas offering other sorts of rub downs. My absolute favorite indulgence in KL was Donna Spa. If you want to really submerge into a day of pampering there is no better place than this traditional Balinese spot in central KL.
GET IN TOUCH WITH YOUR INNER CHILD
Spend the afternoon playing at the KL Upside Down House (GoogleMaps). These amusing galleries are the newest form of entertainment in Malaysia and the KL location is the tallest in the entire country. The quirky attraction is literally a two-story upside down home, there’s even an upside down Morris 1974 automobile at the entrance. Inside you’ll find a fully furnished home with a living room, kitchen, playroom, children’s room, restroom, and more. It’s located next to the Menara Tower and boasts an amazing view of the looming building.
EAT ALL THE STREET FOOD
If you’ve gone on the Food Tour Malaysia eating experience around KL then you already have a solid understanding of what dishes are what in KL. If you haven’t done the tour you seriously should, it will pave the way for good eats throughout your entire Malaysia trip. You probably also already know that Chinatown markets are a big tourist trap and that no locals will be seen eating there. You’ve likely been advised that Jalan Alor is another tourist trap. This street food mecca was located near our hotel and was open late so we ate dinner here most nights and were never disappointed. I found everything to be fresh and the prices to be much more reasonable than surrounding restaurants. My favorite stall was towards the end of the street called Restoran Lim Kee–be sure to try the eggplant!
EXPLORE TEMPLES IN CHINATOWN
Visit traditional Chinese temples such as the Taoist Sin Sze Si Ya which was built in 1864 and is famous for fortune telling sticks or the Guan Di Taoist temple just down the road. Head further south down Jalan Tun H S Lee and you’ll end up at the Hindu Sri Maha Mariamman Temple. It’s the oldest temple in KL and is well known for its colorful Gopuram. On the northern edge of Chinatown, you’ll find the aburn Catherdral of St. John, the Masjid Jamek and the Masjid India.
BE DAZZLED BY ARCHITECTURE
There are many fantastic buildings in KL–from futuristic blocks of buildings to sky scrappers but my favorites were the historic buildings lining Independence Square, locally called Dataran Merdeka (GoogleMaps). There’s a flagpole here that bestowed the first flag raising in Malaysia but I was much more intrigued by the magnificent buildings around the block. My favorite of which was the National Textiles Museum (GoogleMaps) with its red and white stripes and picturesque towers. If you’re fascinated by design as I am you must visit the gallery, which is free of charge.
A lot of the structures here have Moorish influence. The most noteworthy is the massive Sultan Abdul Samad (GoogleMaps) which was built in the 1800s as a government building but is often mistakingly coined as being the Sultan’s former palace. The copper dome and clock tower that houses at 1-ton bell are spectacular. Visit the KL Tower (GoogleMaps) for sweeping views of the city.
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Thank you to DoubleTree by Hilton, SkyBar, Donna Spa, and Food Tour Malaysia for hosting me and making my KL experience so memorable. All opinions and photos are my own. This post contains affiliate links. Please read the Miss Filatelista disclosure policy for more information.