Things to Do in Kuala Lumpur
The twin 88-story steel and glass buildings known as the Petronas Twin Towers (or Petronas Towers), completed in 1996, are icons of Malaysia. Designed to symbolize courage and the country’s advancement, the two towers are connected by a double-decker Skybridge between the 41st and 42nd floor—the world’s highest two-story bridge of its kind—to form the shape of an “M” for Malaysia.
Considered among the world’s most beautiful train stations, the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station showcases the Moorish style of architecture favored by the British during Malaysia’s colonial era. Built in 1911 and designed by A.B. Hubback, the station is one of the most recognizable (and most photographed) landmarks in the city, thanks to its white arched facade and onion domes on the roof.
Kuala Lumpur Sentral Station took over as the city’s major train transport hub in 2001, but the old station still operates on a smaller scale (for commuter trains mostly) and remains a popular sightseeing stop.
Colonial architects A.C. Norman and A.B. Hubbock completed the now iconic Sultan Abdul Samad Building (Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad) in 1897 during the British administration of the region. Designed for governmental administrative offices, the building on Merdeka Square was the first public building in the country to feature a Mughal architectural style — a school that combines Indian Muslim, Gothic and Moorish influences.
Today, the building is home of the Ministry of Information, Communications and Culture. Its 135-foot (41-meter) tall clock tower flanked by two copper cupolas have become one of Kuala Lumpur’s most recognizable landmarks. The structure is particularly impressive at night, when the domes and clock tower are lit up.
A large grassy expanse in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, Merdeka Square (Dataran Merdeka) is where Malaysia declared independence in 1957: The word “merdeka” means “independent” or “free.” The city’s best-known historic landmark, the square is home to structures including the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, museums, and a cathedral.
The Kuala Lumpur National Monument (Tugu Negara) commemorates the 11,000 people who lost their lives fighting for Malaysian independence. The 51-foot (15.5-meter) bronze statue of seven soldiers, built to replace a colonial-era cenotaph that now stands behind it, is part of a site that also includes a central pavilion with regimental emblems.
The Malaysian equivalent to Buckingham Palace, the King's Palace (Istana Negara) attracts thousands of visitors with its golden domes and Islamic-style architecture. Although you can’t explore the palace, you can learn about the Malaysian monarchy at the Royal Museum, located on the palace grounds.
National Mosque of Malaysia (Masjid Negara)
Beside the Lake Gardens of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s National Mosque (Masjid Negara) reinvents traditional Islamic architecture with its angular lines and neutral color scheme. Built in 1965, the mosque was designed as a symbol of Malaysia’s independence and is a center of Kuala Lumpur’s vibrant Muslim community.
Kuala Lumpur may be the capital of Malaysia, but Putrajaya, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) away, is the nation’s seat of government. A planned city laid out in the mid-1990s, its grandiose buildings, manicured gardens, and space-age architecture spread out around an artificial lake.
Putrajaya Bridge, perhaps the most important bridge in Malaysia, spans Putrajaya Lake at a length of 1,427 feet (435 meters). Inspired by the Khaji Bridge in Iran, the Putrajaya Bridge combines cable backstays and steel tiebacks to create an elegant, sail-like appearance reminiscent of Santiago Calatrava’s sculptural bridges.
The lower level of the bridge accommodates motor traffic and a monorail across the lake, connecting the Government Precinct in the North to a Mixed Development Precinct in the South, while the upper level carries a pedestrian path for jogging, walking or cycling. It’s also a popular spot for watching the sun set over Putrajaya Lake in the evening. At night, changing colored lights illuminate the bridge.
Housed in a beautifully restored art deco building, Kuala Lumpur’s Central Market (Pasar Seni) forms the backbone of the city’s commercial scene. Hundreds of stalls sell household goods, souvenirs, and traditional batik artwork, and Kasturi Walk offers visitors some of Malaysia’s most popular street-food dishes.
More Things to Do in Kuala Lumpur
Looming 1,381 feet (421 meters) atop the Bukit Nanas (Pineapple Hill) in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, the Kuala Lumpur Tower (KL Tower) is one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. Visible from all around, it also affords a spectacular 360-degree view from its observation deck.
Located in the heart of the city, the Perdana Botanical Garden (formerly known as the Lake Gardens) is Kuala Lumpur’s oldest public park. This 225-acre (91-hectare) site is home to a bird park, hibiscus and orchid garden, butterfly sanctuary and a deer park, with the main attraction being its central lake surrounded by lush greenery.
The gardens between the park’s attractions are dotted with sculptures (including a miniature model of England's Stonehenge) plus plenty of walking paths and benches for strolling around and relaxing in the shade. The gardens feature native and foreign plants, with sections dedicated to ferns, rare trees, medicinal herbs and aquatic plants.
The park offers an escape from the bustling metropolis of the city, and you’ll spot locals taking full advantage of this with running and early morning t'ai serving as popular activities here. A visit to the Perdana Botanical Garden is included in a variety of Kuala Lumpur tours, including photography tours (which include tickets to the Petronas Twin Towers and KL Tower) plus half-day and full-day city sightseeing tours, which often include the Batu Caves.
The extravagantly decorated Sri Mahamariamman Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in Malaysia—and a popular stop for locals and visitors navigating the streets of Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. Rising 75 feet (23 meters) above the busy marketplace, the temple’s five-tiered tower is adorned with colorful tiles, precious stones and hundreds of carvings of Hindu deities, rendering the building a popular attraction as well as a place of worship.
The main prayer hall inside the temple is as ornate as its exterior, with murals and frescos lining the walls and shrines beneath the embellished dome ceiling. At the back of the complex, you’ll find the shrine of South Indian mother goddess Mariamman, also known as Parvati, as well as smaller shrines dedicated to Lord Ganesha and Lord Muruga. During the Hindu festival of Thaipusam, held in January and February, the sculpture of Lord Muruga is transported from the temple to Batu Caves on a silver chariot, drawing crowds in the tens of thousands.
You can visit Sri Mahamariamman Temple on a walk through bustling Petaling Street or as a part of a variety of cultural heritage tours, including city walking and night tours. Expect to be in the company of devotees in prayer, especially if visiting early morning or late evening.
Some of Kuala Lumpur’s best shopping—and eating—happens at night, at the city’spasar malam, or night markets. Many locals come to Jalan Masjid India Night Market for cheap clothing and accessories. Most foreigners visit to enjoy the excellent Malay, Chinese, and Indian street foods, washed down with a dose of people watching.
While far from historic (it opened in 1989), Thean Hou Temple is one of Malaysia’s—and indeed southeast Asia’s—most important Chinese temples. Set atop a hill a little way outside the city center, the 6-tiered temple blends Buddhism, Taoism, and Confucianism in a tribute to the sea goddess Mazu and hosts a wealth of festivals.
One of two South Asian enclaves in Kuala Lumpur—the other, also known as Little India, is in Brickfields—this Little India sits conveniently near Chinatown, making the pair an easy destination for food tours. Set around Jalan Masjid India (Indian Mosque Street), this bustling district offers rewards from markets and sari stores to eateries.
Home to a 154-foot (47-meter) statue of the resplendent gold Lord Murugan, the Batu Caves are a must-see for anyone visiting Kuala Lumpur for the first-time. The UNESCO World Heritage Site consists of four limestone caves—Temple Cave, Dark Cave, Cave Villa, and Ramayana Cave—which are famously frequented by long-tailed gray macaques.
Kuala Lumpur Bird Park (Taman Burung Kuala Lumpur) is the largest free-flight aviary of its kind, with 20 acres (8.1 hectares) of space for more than 3,000 birds to roam. Home to iridescent blue peacocks, flamingos, hornbills, ostriches, and many more bird species, this Malaysian park is a popular choice with nature lovers and families.
Royal Selangor is one of the world’s largest pewter manufacturers, founded in 1885 at the start of Malaysia’s Tin Rush by a young Chinese immigrant named Yong Koon. The Royal Selangor Visitor Centre offers insight into Malaysia’s cultural heritage with a museum, store, factory tours, and hands-on pewter workshops.
Housed in a beautiful Minangkabau-style building in Kuala Lumpur, the National Museum (Muzium Negara) details Malaysia’s rich history and diverse cultural heritage. Spanning the prehistoric age to present day, four distinctive galleries exhibit fascinating artifacts such as Palaeolithic-era tools thought to be more than 200,000 years old.
The Taman Warisan Pertanian (Agriculture Heritage Park) is a leisure park that also serves as a living museum. It cultivates various crops that are native to Malaysia, such as cocoa, palm oil, rubber, and a variety of tropical fruits and herbs.
The park’s fruit trees include jackfruit, guava, mango, dragon fruit, star fruit, and many more. You’ll notice that some of the fruits have plastic bags wrapped around them to deter pests, and there are also signs with information on each fruit species, such as their health benefits. The herbs and spices at the park include things like lemongrass and black pepper, while the commercial crops, such as the rubber tree groves, have demonstrations on how they are transformed into their final products.
While you’re not allowed to pick the fruit as you wander around the park, the hilly pathways and abundance of trees and crops makes for a pleasant experience. The whole park is built on a hill, and there’s an observation platform with views across Putrajaya at the top.
A visit to the Taman Warisan Pertanian Agriculture Heritage Park is part of the itinerary of various Putrajaya day trips from Kuala Lumpur, including a private half-day tour of the city with a cruise on Putrajaya Lake.
The sprawling 88-acre (36-hectare) Sunway Lagoon ranks among Southeast Asia’s biggest theme parks and boasts rides, water slides, a man-made beach, a wildlife park, and Malaysia’s first surf simulator. It’s one of Kuala Lumpur’s top family attractions, offering activities that will suit kids of all ages.
Jamek Mosque (Masjid Jamek), formally known as Masjid Sultan Abdul Samad Jamek, is Kuala Lumpur’s oldest mosque, dating back to 1909. Inspired by the Mughal mosques of India, it’s a beautiful brick-built affair in the heart of the city, where the Gombak and Klang rivers meet. Some areas are off-limits to non-Muslims.
Set in an old colonial building beside Merdeka Square, the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery is a great place to learn about the history of the Malaysian capital. It features a collection of paintings and photographs recording the city’s past, plus miniature-scale models of its most famous landmarks.
A huge timeline chronicles the city’s history, from its origins in the 1850s up until the present day. The two main attractions at the gallery include the small-scale model of the historic Medeka Square, as well as the Spectacular City Model Show, which represents modern-day Kuala Lumpur. There are videos of the city’s proudest and most important events, such as the 16th Commonwealth Games, and photographs of the progress of the iconic Petronas Twin Towers. The museum also features displays on the country’s multicultural population, with traditional national dress such as baju kurungs and sarees on display.
Before leaving, visitors can enjoy some Malaysian food at the gallery’s ARCH Cafe, before taking a look around the gift shop, which offers locally-made handicrafts like batik, pewter, and hand-woven items.
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