Oh where to begin with Penang… well it probably all started back when my friend Annabel recommended it to me for a short break. She’d just been with her in-laws and said it was a perfect mini break with the extended family. So as these things go, it was added to the ever-growing travel list. We were meant to go early last year when my parents were visiting but I had to apply for a new passport and that put a spanner in the works.
So when we were due to spend yet another Christmas in Singapore, no skiing or family for us, we decided to book Penang as a New Year family treat. New Years Eve in Singapore had thus far involved a catalogue of disasters for us, so an escape plan was hatched.
Having now been to Penang I’d have perhaps visited earlier as it has so much to offer, it’s great for those who like to eat good food, wander around and soak up the atmosphere and there is plenty to keep the kids entertained.
We booked three nights in Penang, what we didn’t check out before we booked flights, was the hotel availability over New Year. This was a mistake on our part and another travel lesson to chalk up. Our top choice had been Seven Terraces, part of a gorgeous chain of boutique heritage hotels, but alas they were fully booked. So we booked ourselves into a hotel near the center of George Town, as we wanted to be within walking distance to the main attractions.
Our first night didn’t go quite to plan and we ended up switching the next night and staying instead at the luxurious Eastern & Oriental Hotel (our original 2nd choice). It was lovely having a room which overlooked the sea, the bridge and the Blue Mansion. The kids were mainly excited about the huge roll top bath. The team pushed in two fold up beds for the kids to sleep on and we were set.
E&O hotel Penang is a really easy hotel to stay in, the breakfasts covered all nationalities and you had a choice of which restaurant to eat in. The best part was the pool on the 6th floor overlooking the sea and islands beyond, albeit a little nippy.
15 Things to See and Do in Penang
I did a whole load of research before we left for Penang, lots of our friends had said that two nights would be enough to tick it off the list. But I disagree, we did three nights in Penang and still didn’t get anywhere near the end of our to do list. For us, one more night would’ve been good. But as I said you’re spoilt for choice on things to do. We’d opted to stay in George Town itself as we wanted a ‘city break’ but you can also choose to stay up the coast in Batu Ferringhi which has more of a seaside vibe but then you have the half hour journey into town each time.
Most of the places in George Town were walkable from our hotel but you have to travel by car to places like the butterfly garden.. I feel like we packed a lot into our short stay and here are our top things to do in George Town and Penang.
1. Take a Selfie in the Butterfly Farm, Entopia Penang
The first hotel hooked us up with an awesome driver, when I say awesome I’m being sarcastic as he said he’d wait for us at the Penang butterfly farm and then disappeared. There were plenty of Grab cars there, so we weren’t stuck. But that aside Entopia was an great experience in Penang with kids, we walked in to have timed it perfectly with a talk about butterflies and were shown how to pick them up (crucial to upping your photo game) and the kids got to release some into the dome.
It was then easy to spend a good hour walking around the dome, it’s a bit like the Eden Project in Cornwall but filled with amazing butterflies everywhere. We stopped for a bite to eat (perhaps take your own food, as the cafe wasn’t great, the only downside). Then we were just expecting to walk through the exit, but instead the path led us around all these amazing exhibitions to learn all about how butterflies grow, how they’re shipped all around the world and about bugs in general. For sure one of the best exhibitions we’ve been through with the kids, so bright, interesting and interactive.
The kids got to spin some silk too (please no judgement). I suggest if you’re going to Penang that you put half a day aside for the butterfly farm as it takes a while to walk around.
2. Go Ape in the Upside Down Museum, Penang
My first tip for The Upside Down Museum, Penang is to get there early, we seemed to rock up just as it was getting busy and only had a five min wait. But as we walked out the waiting room was backed to the rafters. The Upside Down Museum is a selection of interconnecting rooms all with the furniture on the ceilings.
If you’re worried about how to get the best photo, fear not they have guides on hand in every room who’ll get you into the best whacky poses and even take the shot for you. Expect to take 1-2 hours.
3. Explore The Dark Mansion – 3D Glow In The Dark Museum, Penang
This was just down the street from the Upside Down Museum, so we did both in one morning. This one, however, was more enjoyed by the kids. It only took us 30-45mins to go around, and there are some cool glow-in-the-dark displays, it’s just not as interactive as the Upside Down Museum.
4. Go Tasting at the Chocolate / Coffee Factories, Penang
There are Chocolate and Coffee tasting rooms all over town and our taxi driver took us to one on the way home from the Butterfly Farm. Again it’s only 10-20mins out of your day, but if you’re passing its quite fun to stop by and try all the different types of tea and coffee. The caffeine fix was very much appreciated by the husband.
4. Sit Back in a Trishaw Ride Around George Town
We had the funniest experience on our Trip-Shaw ride in Penang… we asked this lovely man to take us to the Chew Jetty, on the map it had only looked a short distance. So we all squeezed on, but it soon became apparent that the poor guy was struggling to push us all along (the flat tyre wasn’t helping). So I hopped off and ran/walked alongside, a good 15mins later we arrived at the cruise ship terminal instead. Oh how we laughed that we’d been taken in the wrong direction and then had to walk back to our original destination. We saw some lovely sights along the way and found a really good coffee shop, love how travel throws you curve balls.
5. See the Floating Mosque, Penang
The floating mosque was on our list as I really wanted to fly the drone and get a top down shot, but we only managed to see this beautiful mosque from the car. Do try and stop if you’re going and get a better look than we did.
6. Walk up The Kek Lok Si Temple, Penang
We spotted the Kek Lok Si temple as we were driving over to Penang Hill, so our driver kindly took us over there on the way back. It’s certainly one of the biggest temples we’ve visited and in true Chinese style they’re not done yet, they’re still adding to it now. We were really pushed for time this day so our driver dropped us in the K basement and we took a variety of steps, escalators, funiculars and lifts to get all the way to the top.
It’s said to have the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. We asked our driver to drive up the top to collect us, which saved us waiting in the lift and funicular queues to get back down.
Tip: If you get stuck up at the top, you can walk down too, it’s really not that steep or far and the lift queues are crazy long.
7. Visit the Clan Jetties of Penang
There are seven jetty’s in total with different family clans living on them, we opted to wander along the Chew Jetty Floating Village, which is one of the longest. I was really surprised to see how buzzing the jetty was with shops, eateries all the way along and dotted with homes. I felt a little bit like I was intruding as you can see right into people’s homes. What was lovely was the sense of community spirit, how everyone knew each other and had the time to stop for a chitchat.
8. Take a Tour of The Blue Mansion, Penang
This hotel is also known locally as the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, we were excited when we managed to spot it from our E&O hotel room balcony. They do twice-daily guided tours of the Blue Mansion, and whilst we missed a morning one we booked in for an afternoon tour on our last day. I can highly recommend the tour, the lady who gives the tours is so enchanting and the story of the mansion is not to be missed. Even the kids were mesmerised.
Sadly we had to miss the last part of the tour as we had a flight to catch, but we’d certainly go again. My favourite fact which we learnt was that the roof was made from broken tiles a bit like a mosaic and not painted which is what it looks like from a distance. I also read that you can eat at the
Tip: Get there early so you can get a spot at the front of the tour.
9. Wander around Seh Tek Tong Cheah Kongsi, Penang
This is a temple just over the road from the China Cafe (see point 12 below) so we headed over after lunch. Be prepared as you’ll need cash to get in, we weren’t and hubby had to go off in search of an atm. It was bliss though as the kids played barefoot on the amazing bit of lawn out the front for half hour whilst we waited. We had the Seh Tek Tong Cheah mansion to ourselves, and it was good to have a wander around.
Tip: You might want to read up on the temple before you go as there wasn’t much in the way of education or explanation.
10. Go in Search of Street Art in Armenian Street Penang
This was one of the things I was most excited about before our visit to George Town. We simply headed over to Armenian Street one morning and followed the crowds. I’d have loved to have had more time to see all the street art, but what we saw was so much fun. The kids loved interacting with the wall paintings and picking out their favourites. There are loads of maps on the internet which you can download before you go or ask your hotel to book you a tour.
11. Take the Funicular up Penang Hill
I was advised before we went to Penang that Penang Hill makes for a nice hike up or down. Well judging by how long the really fast funicular took to climb up, I won’t be recommending that in the heat. Take the Penang Hill Funicular, which unfortunately for me has the same effect on me as cable cars (green around the gills), but it’s fast and efficient. Again as I’ve suggested before, get there early. We lucked out again and got there just before the crowds. Time it wrong and you’ll queue for ages, or you can buy your way out, if you’re feeling flush and skip the queues, with a fast-pass ticket.
Once at the top the views are breathtaking. The biggest surprise was seeing a family of Dusky Leaf Monkeys, officially the cutest monkeys I’ve ever seen. We kept our distance as I’d heard they can snatch food and drink from tourists. But we spent a good half hour watching a baby monkey run up to a guy, tap him on the leg and sprint off. He did this repeatedly, we belly-laughed so much.
After the monkeys we headed over to The Habitat for a walk around the nature reserve. It was stunning and the kids didn’t moan at all. I had really wanted to walk around the Curtis Crest Tree Top Walk but I chickened out after I dropped my lens cap at the top of the stairs into the canopy below (I actually got it back as a man found it below but that’s another story). I’m still glad I got to take in the view albeit not walk all the way around.
Tip: There are water refill stations all the way around too and the cafe at the end was really cute, sat up in the tree canopy.
12. Stuff your Face with Cake at China House Cafe, George Town
I’d read about China House Cafe time and time again in my research for George Town so I knew we had to visit. It’s a very long narrow cafe tucked into a shophouse near Armenian Street, so it makes a good refuel for mid street-art touring. I had mostly read about their cake, of which they have an amazing selection, but I was blown away by their lunch menu. I tucked into a delicious curry with loads of trimmings. Service was a little on the slow side, so don’t go if you’re in a rush, but if you have time to kill it’s perfect. They also have a lovely gift shop upstairs to explore whilst you wait.
Tip: If you can book a table in advance, you’ll jump the wait!
13. Eat a traditional Peranakan Meal at Kebaya Dining Room, The Seven Terraces Hotel, Penang
We had so wanted to stay at the Seven Terraces Hotel Penang but it was fully booked. But when we heard you could just go for dinner in their traditional Peranakan restaurant, we of course jumped at the chance. Book in advance as it’s fully booked most evenings, the service team kindly managed to squeeze us in with only two days notice, but I wouldn’t take that risk again. I have some weird dietary requirements (gluten free and veggie) and they kindly adapted the set meals. They also had some tasty ‘off menu’ kids options which you can ask for. The service is charming here and my favourite part was the live piano player who tapped away at the keys whilst we ate dinner.
14. Dine at Holy Guacamole Mexican Restaurant, George Town
We arrived in George Town on New Years Eve and as we’d been so busy in the run up to the trip we hadn’t really given much thought to what we’d do on the first night. Which when I look back on, seems so lame as it was New Years Eve. So I hopped onto Four Square (a really handy app for finding good food whilst travelling) and looked at what was local and what was recommended. We somehow seem to gravitate towards a good Mexican meal when we’re away, and this time was no exception. The team at Holy Guacamole came to the rescue and helped us secure an early dinner table when the rest of the night was fully booked. The food, service and live band were so good we went back the following night again.
Tip: Try their Sangria, it’s delicious.
15. All the Things we Ran Out of Time to Do in George Town and Penang
The following I’ve lumped into one small sub list as these are the things we didn’t get time to check out ourselves in Penang, as we ran out of time for them. So I can’t give you a proper review but I wanted to share as they looked fun.
- TeddyVille bear museum
- Escape – big water park.
- Countryside Stables– visit the horses and go for a ride.
- Youth Park Playground, Muninciple Park – I heard there is a great swimming pool.
- Monkey Beach – hike or boat there – apparently a very chilled out beach (at least on weekdays) at the Penang National Park with giant swings and hammocks. Very easy day trip but does require a short boat trip.
- Chill out on Ferringhi beach – then eat at Ferringhi garden restaurant.
- Take a Food Tour around Georgetown.
- Visit Pinang Peranakan Mansion A typical home of rich Baba of more than a century ago.
Hope you enjoyed this round up and review of George Town and Penang. Let me know what your favourites were.