We recently spent 24 hours in Malaysia’s capital on our way from Kuching back to Phnom Penh. Given Kuala Lumpur’s reputation for being ‘just another big city’, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. If you’ve been travelling around Southeast Asia or living elsewhere in the region, it definitely represents a dramatic change of scenery and pace! Here’s my classic itinerary for a day in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
essential reading: My KL layover guide + 9 alternative things to do in Kuala Lumpur.
10-11am: Central Market
KL’s Central Market is housed in a beautiful colonial-era building with a very photogenic blue facade. It’s definitely a tourist-friendly market, mostly comprised of souvenir and antique stands with a large number of batik and fabric stores on the second level. You can easily navigate through the market within an hour. Stop in for a drink at Old Town White Coffee on the ground floor – it’s the spiritual home of one of my favourite Southeast Asian inventions, 3-in-1 (an addictive mix of coffee, milk powder and sugar sold in small packets). If you fancy a snack, there is a Putu Bambu Tradisi stand tucked outside a side door in the market laneway. The super-soft, steamed rice flour cakes (pictured above in their bamboo casings) are a KL classic and well worth sampling.
11am-1pm: Petaling Street
Not far from Central Market in KL’s Chinatown district is Petaling Street, a sprawling zone of undercover markets, informal stalls and most days, a flee market as well. You’d be hard-pressed finding any quality souvenirs, but it’s fun to jostle with the crowds. It’s also a good place to pick up travel supplies (brand-name clothes, new shoes, watches, etc.). Set aside a few hours and grab lunch at one of the Chinese or Turkish restaurants that open out onto the street.
1-3pm: Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia
I’ve been looking forward to visiting the IAMM for years now, and I wasn’t disappointed. This is a first-class museum full of beautiful objects and informative didactics that detail the history of Islam and its various manifestations in calligraphy, architecture, dress, metalwork and a dozen other disciplines of arts and crafts.
3-4pm: The National Mosque
When it’s time to see some Islamic architecture in person, make your way down the road to Malaysia’s National Mosque (Masjid Negara). Non-Muslims are welcome to visit only at certain hours, so check in advance. Women are expected to dress conservatively and it’s free to borrow the outfit pictured below. It’s acceptable to take photos and selfies inside the grounds – check out the great view of KL’s grand train station and other colonial buildings from the mosque’s elevated terrace.
4-7pm: KLCC Park & surrounding malls
Mall culture is a serious thing in KL and it’s a great time to visit in the early evening (especially on the weekend) when the sidewalks are buzzing with locals. There are some flashy malls clustered around KLCC Park and if it’s your scene, you can spend hours in air-conditioned comfort sampling different dishes at the various food courts. The park itself is also worth a visit, especially for the outstanding views of the nearby Petronas Towers.
7-8pm: Sunset & the Petronas Towers
It wouldn’t be a trip to Kuala Lumpur without a look at Malaysia’s iconic twin towers. I’m not one for flashy architecture, but the Petronas Towers are truly beautiful – especially at dusk when the jewel-like facade shimmers. You can get a great view of sunset over the towers from KLCC Park.
8-9pm: Jalan Alor food street
A walk down Jalan Alor food street is the perfect way to end your day in KL. Restaurants, food carts and improvised stalls run all the way to horizon serving Malaysian dishes and a plethora of other Asian cuisines (we even spotted a Cambodian BBQ joint). It’s difficult to decide where to eat, but you’re not always hemmed in by your final choice – ‘freelance’ agents will often drop an extra menu on your table so you can order à la carte from their stall.
With KL being the travel hub that it is, there’s no doubt we will be back in the big city sometime soon. Have you been to Kuala Lumpur recently? Please share any tips or recommendations in the comments below.