Kuala Lumpur is a modern city in the heart of Malaysia. Chances are if you think of Malaysia, you will instantly think of Kuala Lumpur, specifically the iconic Petronas Twin Towers in the heart of the city.
Kuala Lumpur really surprised me. I’m not a city girl and feel much more comfortable surrounded by nature where there’s more space, less traffic and less people! However, I really enjoyed my time in Kuala Lumpur. The city is so clean, modern and is really easy to get around with a great (and cheap!) rail network. It even has wide pavements that you can actually walk on and aren't used as a car park for scooters (if you’ve travelled a lot in Asia, you will know what I am talking about!).
If it’s your first time visiting, you might be wondering what is there to do in Kuala Lumpur?, and maybe even questioning is it worth visiting? Let me answer that one right away. In my opinion, yes Kuala Lumpur is definitely worth visiting. There’s lots of things to see and do, many of which are absolutely free!
I would recommend between 3 - 5 days in Kuala Lumpur to really explore the city, but if you only have 1 or 2 days, I’ve also noted my ‘must-see’ spots below. So let’s jump right in with some great things to do during your trip to Kuala Lumpur…(plus, my honest review of visiting the Batu Caves!)
14 Fun things to do in Kuala Lumpur
1. See the Petronas Twin Towers
Obvious, yes. But you can’t come to Kuala Lumpur and not visit the Petronas Twin Towers! If you only have one day to spend in Kuala Lumpur, then you should definitely make sure you add the Petronas Towers to your itinerary. They are an absolute must-see.
Standing at 88 floors high, these iconic buildings are the world’s tallest twin towers. You can pay to ascend the Petronas Towers, stopping at the skybridge - a glass walkway on the 41st floor which connects the two towers - and then the Observation Deck. The Observation deck on the 86th floor offers stunning views across Kuala Lumpur city. The cost is RM 80 for adults (£15).
If you don’t have time to visit the observation deck, are on a budget or just don’t have the legs for heights, then you can still marvel at the structures from ground level.
The Petronas Twin Towers emerging from the Suria Mall
2. Visit the KLCC Park
Located in front of the Petronas Twin Towers, the KLCC park is the perfect spot to cool off under the shade of large trees.
The 50 acre park in the middle of downtown Kuala Lumpur has a small children’s playground, as well as walking paths around the small man-made lake.
At night, water fountains in the lake are illuminated for a choreographed show, set to music. The ‘Symphony Lake Water Show’ takes place each evening, in front of the Petronas Towers from 8pm - 10pm.
3. Stroll around Chinatown
If you're short on time when visiting Kuala Lumpur, make sure that one of the places you visit is Chinatown. It is a lively, colourful neighbourhood and is one of the must-see spots in Kuala Lumpur, so definitely worth stopping by. The are of Chinatown centres around the busy Petaling Street. Surrounding that, you will find lots of smaller streets with boutique cafes, restaurants and traditional hawker stalls serving up local dishes. Look out for the street art dotted around Chinatown and in the little alleyways.
In the evening, head to the REXKL centre - an urban food and entertainment hub where you will find various food and drink stalls and a great atmosphere. This is one of the best places to visit in Chinatown at night.
4. Grab a bargain on Jalan Petaling
Jalan Petaling (Petaling Street) is a pedestrianised street in the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. The whole street is basically one large covered market. If you are exploring Chinatown, you cannot miss walking down Petaling Street, it’s a hive of activity and an absolute must-see.
The market stalls are a great place to grab a bargain. You will find everything from bags and sunglasses to shoes, trainers and clothes. It is the perfect place to get ‘branded’ items for a fraction of the normal retail price and the quality is pretty good here. In fact the quality of the trainers in particular are much better than in most of the markets we have visited in Asia, so this is the place to buy them!
Chinatown is one of the best areas to visit in Kuala Lumpur
5. Have a night out on Changkat Avenue
There are some great places to enjoy a night out in Kuala Lumpur and one of them is Changkat Avenue. This road is lined with (mostly) western-style bars and restaurants which come alive from 6pm each night. Changkat Avenue is popular with expats and western tourists alike. You can find restaurants serving tapas, Mexican, Italian, Indian and of course there’s an Irish restaurant!
Prices are higher in the restaurants here, so if you are on a backpacking budget bear that in mind. One of the more reasonable places is the chain Gravy Baby, where you can get pie and mash that’s almost as good as at home in the UK!
6. Enjoy local cuisine on Jalan Alor Food Street
If Changkat Avenue is a little out of your price range, or you’re looking for something a little more authentic, head to nearby Jalan Alor. Down this lively street you will find more local Asian restaurants with plastic chairs and tables spilling out onto the road.
There is a great atmosphere here, making Jalan Alor Food Street one of the best places to spend an evening in Kuala Lumpur.
Jalan Alor Food Street is a great place to enjoy an evening in Kuala Lumpur
7. Gaze at the Kuala Lumpur’s skyline at a rooftop bar
Like any big city, Kuala Lumpur’s skyline at night is beautiful. There’s something quite magical about being at the top of a skyscraper looking across the city, and what better way to enjoy the view than with a cocktail in hand?! Wondering which rooftop bar to book for your date night? The guys at The Rooftop guide have you covered with 16 of the Best rooftop bars in Kuala Lumpur.
8. Visit Little India
Close to KL Sentral station and NU Sentral shopping mall are the neighbourhoods of Little India and Brickfields. There’s not a huge amount to see here, but the main road of Jalan Tun Sambanthan in the heart of Little India is an interesting stroll. You will find shops selling clothing, silks and delicious Indian food.
Another ‘notable’ street in Brickfields is Umbrella Walk. Some of the photos of this street make it look really appealing, however it is actually just a dirty backstreet which has been painted in bright colours and has umbrellas hanging overhead. The umbrellas are faded and many have rips in. If you are heading to Brickfields expecting to find lots of cute streets like this, then I'm afraid you will be disappointed.
The area of Little India and Brickfields is a great way to spend an hour or so when you are in KL Sentral but if you only have a day or two to spare in Kuala Lumpur, you can probably skip this.
Little India's main street (L) and Umbrella Walk in Brickfields (R)
9. Go to one of Kuala Lumpur’s many shopping malls
Whilst there are not as many big shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur as there is in Singapore, you can still find plenty of them dotted around the city. One of the best shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur is the Suria mall, located at the base of the Petronas Twin Towers. This mall not only has the advantage of being a great place to see the towers, but it also has a large food court, supermarket, plenty of shops and a cinema. It also has an M&S with a small food section stocked with biscuits and treats for all you Brits missing a taste of home!
The shopping malls in Kuala Lumpur are a great place to cool off from the intense heat of the day and if you are on a budget, then grabbing something to eat in the food courts is a great way to save money.
10. Pick up some souvenirs at Central Market
Central Market is just a short walk from Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. The indoor market / shopping centre has many shops selling various types of crafts, clothes and homeware. Come here to pick up your souvenirs beofre you leave.
11. Stroll by the river to Dataran Merdeka
From the Central Market, follow the signs along the Klang river towards Dataran Merdeka, a large square with historic importance. Dataran Merdeka was the site where the first Malaysian flag was raised. Surrounding the square are many buildings with beautiful architecture, such as the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and Victoria fountain.
Strolling along the Klang River (L) and the Sultan Abdul Samad building (R)
12. Visit the Kuala Lumpur Lake Gardens
The Lake Gardens are the perfect oasis in Kuala Lumpur, despite being sat right in the centre of the city! Established in 1888, the Lake Gardens cover almost 92 hectares and have plenty of activities and attractions for all the family. There is a jogging track with exercise stations, lots of paths to walk around and a kids playground. Once you’ve done enough walking, pay a visit to the KL Bird park or Butterfly farm, or stroll through the deer park. You can also hire rowing boats to get out on the lake.
The best way to get to the Kuala Lumpur Lake Gardens is to take the KTM train to the Old Kuala Lumpur station, or by grab taxi.
13. Walk the rain forest canopy trail at the KL Eco Forest Park
The Eco Forest Park is quite small, but its position in the centre of Kuala Lumpur means that it is popular for those wanting a slice of nature without having to travel too far. The Forest park is set in Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve, one of the oldest reserves in the country. The admission is 40RM for foreigners (about £7.50) and you can expect to spend about 1 hour or so in the park. There are several short walking trails through the forest park as well as a canopy trail amongst the tops of the trees.
14. Test your fear of heights at the KL Menara Tower
The Menara tower is the tallest telecoms tower in Southeast Asia, standing at 421m tall. There are a number of attractions to choose from at the tower complex, including the Upside Down House, and Eco Forest Park (see above). However, the main attractions of the Menara Tower sit at 300m above ground, with the SkyDeck observation platform and Skybox. Skybox will definitely test your nerves as you stand in a glass box at 300m high!
If you’re feeling fancy, make a reservation at Atmosphere 360. The revolving restaurant has great views over the city and is one of the best places for couples to dine (though maybe not if you’re on a budget!)
The Menara Observation Tower and the Eco Forest Park
There’s my top 14 must-see things to do in Kuala Lumpur if you’re visiting for the first time. But, wait! I hear you say… you’ve not mentioned the Batu Caves! Well, despite the Batu Caves being one of Kuala Lumpur’s most well known and most visited attractions, I was so disappointed!
I don’t feel that I could include the Batu Caves in a post where I’m recommending the ‘Best things to do in Kuala Lumpur’ if I didn't enjoy it. However, I do feel that everyone should make up their own mind, so in order to give you all the information, below is my honest review of the Batu Caves.
My honest review of Kuala Lumpur’s Batu Caves (why I didn’t like them!)
As I mentioned above, I was really disappointed and just very underwhelmed when I arrived at the Batu Caves. The limestone caves should be impressive with large chambers which you can walk in, however they have (in my opinion) been completely ruined by the addition of tourist attractions and amenities, both in and around the caves.
There is a car park, several cafes and shops around the base of the caves, as well as a couple of smaller shrines. A large golden statue sits at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the main cave. The stairs have become a tourist attraction in their own right after they were controversially painted in bright colours. They might look attractive in the Instagram photos you see, but in reality the steps are covered in rotting food and rubbish, discarded by monkeys which roam the area, stealing anything they can get their hands on that looks like it might be food. The Monkeys are only half the problem, as there are also lots of pigeons pecking at food left by tourists too.
The Batu Caves
Once you get to the top of the steps and into the main cave, there are a couple of small shrines. Unfortunately they just look like they were plonked there awkwardly with no consideration to the aesthetic of the cave itself. There was also lots of random equipment and ‘stuff’ discarded at the side of the cave. In short, everywhere just looked and felt messy and dirty.
Of course places like this are always going to be turned into tourist attractions, it is to be expected. I just felt that this was not done in the most sympathetic way and all the additions really took away from the natural beauty of the caves.
Perhaps my expectations were too high. Perhaps I have just been spoiled by visiting Paradise Cave in Vietnam’s Phong Nha National Park, or the Sung Sot cave in Ha Long Bay. I personally didn't like Kuala Lumpur’s Batu Caves, but you might - they are one of Kuala Lumpur’s most visited attractions after all! All I aim to do in my blog posts is to be 100% honest.
If you do decide to visit the Batu Caves, getting there is super easy and cheap. You can get the train directly to the Batu Caves station. The trains run roughly every hour, so just check ahead of travelling so you’re not waiting around for too long.
Be careful of your cameras and phones around the Monkeys at Batu Caves and use zoom!