If you search any article on the internet for “top things to do in Kuala Lumpur”, there’ll be dozens of travel bloggers claiming to have the best ‘top 50’. Although if you ask any expat, they’ll probably struggle to name a handful!
Personally I find that KL is perhaps one of those places that’s better to live than visit. It’s incredibly expat friendly and offers a very good standard of living, but doesn’t necessarily flood you with a ton of things to do that other ‘more established’ cities offer. Let’s not forget that KL is just a baby when compared to the likes of London or Paris, at only 162-years young.
But whilst it may not be the most thrilling, prettiest or oldest city in the world, it does have its own unique vibe that you can’t find anywhere else in SouthEast Asia.
KL is a ‘modern-Asian’ melting pot that is as diverse and multicultural as it’s food. Seasoned with a rich colonial history, it’s peppered with parks and grand old buildings that adds to its ‘sometimes European’ feel.
I’ll never forget the first things I loved about the city when I arrived two and a half years ago. Like the fact that it’s cradled by jungle and from almost anywhere in the city, you can see the Petronas Towers gleaming in the middle. Or eating roti canai for breakfast whilst listening to a muslim call-to prayer, with the sun’s heat already toasty at 28 degrees.
It’s a chilled city with buzzing bits, where you can find sprawling outer-suburbs that house swankier postcodes than KLCC, and parts of the centre that feel more like kampungs (villages).
It is, by large, a city of contrasts and diversity – as the mayor of KL likes to put it.
Things To Do in Kuala Lumpur
The only way for me to recommend thing to do in the city, is to take you to places that I like to go, doing things that I like to do as an expat here.
There’s “a thousand and one” things to do in KL, but I’m not going to suggest anything I haven’t enjoyed personally, multiple times. Rather, I’ll be listing activities and places I’d tell to my friends.
If you’re a complete KL newbie, find out what to pack, how to get around and where to stay in my ultimate KL city guide.
Otherwise, stick around for my ‘just more than a handful’ list of suggestions. 🤟🏼
Tip: I always search for my hotels on Booking.com for the best rates and genius discounts. Check out their stash to see if you can find a good’n’…and make sure it has a pool, you’ll need the dip to refresh yourself from the heat!
1. Self Guided Tour of the Colonial District and Chinatown
Just before I left KL, I realised that I’d never properly visited Chinatown. By this point I’d been living in the city for two years, so cockily thought I knew all I needed to know. What a bad expat I am.
So in a bid to finally catch up on some touristy stuff, I grabbed a history book and scored a few pinpoints on Google Maps before hitting the old heart of KL – Chinatown and Merdeka Square (aka, the Colonial District).
It turns out, I knew very little.
I was amazed with what I discovered about KL’s rich history and surprisingly, it changed my outlook on the city. I was even one of the first few to stumble across a new heritage feature, which is now an icon in Chinatown.
There’s definitely more sustenance to Kuala Lumpur than its glitzy Petronas Towers and secret cocktail bars, and its got far more soul than just being born out of tin mining. So do yourself a favour, and if you only get to visit two places in KL (aside from the Petronas Towers) – make it here.
Not long ago, DBKL (City Hall) held free walking tours in Merdeka Square. Yet despite being popular, they were abruptly cancelled in May 2018. Unfortunately, sudden closures of businesses, services or parks are not uncommon in the city.
So I decided to create my own “forever available” and “free” self-guided walking tour, taking you through the best bits of Chinatown and Merdeka Square. It’s rich with plenty of photo ops, saucy architecture and forgotten stories. I’ve included a selection of food stops too, so don’t go wild on the breakfast buffet!
2. Self Guided Malaysian Food Tour
If you’re a complete and utter foodie like me and every Malaysian, then this food tour will be right up your alley.
I’ve rounded up a list of my ‘top 10’ favourite Malaysian dishes in this article, which includes where to find them in KL. Again, don’t go crazy on that brekky buffet!
3. Secret Bar Crawl
Kuala Lumpur’s burgeoning bar scene includes a pukka selection of speakeasies that I had a lot of fun researching, a few times over!
Rooftop bars in in the city are also a thing, but personally I’ve yet to find one that’s not overly busy, commercial or that serves better cocktails than the ones in my list. Advice? Head to a sky-dining restaurant like Fuegos instead to gawp over the twin towers, then hit the secret bars 🙌🏼.
4. Marvel at a Mosque
As a muslim majority country, KL and Malaysia is home to some stunning mosques. The first time I visited one was in KL and it was such a peaceful, beautiful place. I also had a great guide who showed us around and happily answered my many questions.
Conveniently, many mosques around KL provide headscarves and robes for the ladies and some offer tours. I visited the Blue Mosque in Shah Alam (aka ‘Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz’) which was gorgeous, but the traffic back was a nightmare, so I’d only suggest it if you’re staying nearby.
Otherwise, Masjid Negara, which is Malaysia’s National Mosque is a good, central alternative. Take note of their opening hours before setting forth: Mon- Sun (except Friday) open 9am-12pm; 3-4pm and 5:30-6:30pm. Friday only: 3-4pm and 5:30-6:30pm.
5. Visit Cracking KL Restaurants
Now I’m bringing you a list of all those awesome non-Malaysian restaurants! Great for your dinner options whilst in town, it’s taken me two years to accumulate this array of beauty’s- including some epic Modern Asian eateries that are seriously not to be missed.
Access my favourite eats (and pay special attention to the first six!)
6. Crackhouse Comedy Club
I’m a sucker for a good comedy club. But particularly in KL where the entertainment is somewhat ‘thin on the ground’, and usually pretty bland and inoffensive, Crackhouse has been a massive saving grace.
When I first arrived to the city and visited this place, it was kind of a ‘KL culture lesson’ with its host, Rizal Van Geyzel’s side-stitching observations on Malaysian life. I also got to see Sri Lankan-Aussie comic Dilruk Jayasinha which was a touch.
Crackhouse usually hosts 3 acts on a Friday and Saturday night which includes an international headliner, or try to check out their hilarious improv sessions with AI-IA.
Check out their schedule for upcoming events and to book.
Okay, so not your typical tourist attraction, but if you’re a bit of a thrill-seeker like moi and want a cooling water based activity from KL’s heat, then this could be your thang!
Many people head to Putrajaya to wakeboard on its lake, but there’s one much closer to home- in KL- with an awesome instructor called Aaron.
Starting out a lawyer, he packed it in to pursue his love of wakeboarding and is the best instructor I’ve ever had. Aaron talks you through each step and gives great feedback, so the Sailor and I made heaps of progress. We had a pukka morning of riding here, just expect to feel knackered afterwards!
Check out his website Wakeboard Malaysia where you’ll find his contact details to book your space.
8. Jungle Hiking
Just to think this city used to be nothing but jungle with potential. This is one of my highly recommended activities in KL, so don’t forget your trainers!
There’s quite a few pockets of bush in and around KL that you can check out. Personally, I was fiercely loyal to Bukit Kiara because I lived right in front of it. Guaranteed are feel good vibes, rugged trails and wildlife appearances before refuelling at one of TTDI’s eateries afterwards (check my list of eats again for suggestions ☝🏼).
Here’s my Bukit Kiara trail guide with all you need to know.
9. Visit KL’s Hip Markets
I moved to Kuala Lumpur from Melbourne so was kind of spoilt with its cool selection of markets. But I was happy to find out that there were similar alternatives in KL, even though there’re not permanent fixtures.
Running once a month, Riuh market is my favourite to check out. Their curated platform houses only local brands, complete with food vendors and live music. They don’t have a fixed spot but pop-up in some cool areas, like the River of Life in KLCC, or the artsy area of Sentul Park and *APW in Bangsar (who also do occasional pop up themselves).
Artbox MY also offers a similar line-up, although they’ve only hosted a couple of events so far.
Otherwise, the more artsy Publika Mall regularly sports a decent line-up of markets on the Ground Floor, as well as boutique shops and events.
But on the whole, you need to keep your ear very close to the ground to find out about upcoming happenings, as they’re usually announced late in the day or the marketing is a bit bleak. Keep an eye out on Time Out!
10. Do virtually “everything” in a Shopping Centre!
I actually can’t believe I’m putting Shopping Centres on here! 🙈But since living in Malaysia I’ve found myself in them virtually every weekend, for one reason or another.
As opposed to Europe or the West where they’re mainly just ‘clothes’ shopping outlets, here they’re more lavish affairs that kind of do everything. So I visit them to eat, get a haircut, do my weekly food shopping, visit the cinema, go for a pedicure and massage (check out Thai Odyssey and Hammam), attend the odd event…you get my point.
They’re also beautifully air-conditioned! To be honest, I’d be surprised if you don’t end up visiting one during your time in KL. So here are some of my favourites.
- Publika: As mentioned before, this Mont Kiara based ‘artsy’ mall has a selection of good eats, boutique shops, and hosts regular markets and events.
- Mid-Valley Megamall and The Gardens Mall: These two are right next to each other so I’ve included them together. It’s conveniently located in between KLCC and Bangsar and pretty much has the best selection of shops combined in KL. Mid-Valley houses more mid-range high-street shops like Zara to Uniqlo, whilst Gardens is for your designer divas. There’s food outlets here too, but they’re a bit average so maybe save yourself for eating nearby in Bangsar instead.
- Pavilion: This huge mall is central and plush, so it’s popular with out-of-towners. It houses many mid-to-high end shops, including designer brands and some retailers that you can’t find anywhere else in KL. There’s a large selection of food options here too.
- 1 Utama: This one is closer to my home so I regularly visit for “wardrobe shopping” as its got a large selection of high-street shops. It’s also a good cinema and food stop – I love the sushi house Ichiro and getting a good glass of vino with cured meats at Luretta D.O.P.
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Need suggestions for further afield?
Check out my post on awesome short getaways from KL, from jungle retreats, to beach stays and island escapes!
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