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From its beautiful natural wonders and UNESCO Heritage sites to its rich culture and diverse food, Penang is a lovable destination which offers plenty to see and do.
When planning a trip to Penang, most people think about popular tourist spots like Batu Ferringhi, Penang Hill, or the vibrant streets of George Town. For a more unique experience though, here are 23 hidden gems in Penang usually only locals know about!
Also known as Frog Hill, Guar Petai is one of the many hidden gems in Mainland Penang that is a perfect place for photo opportunities and a quick hike. It is an abandoned tin mining site with views that resemble China’s famous Jiuzhaigou, known for its spectacular natural scenery, beautiful lakes, and amazing waterfalls!
It’s a short but steep 20-minute climb to the top where you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the surrounding area. On bright days with pleasant weather, you might even be able to spot green paddy fields and water buffaloes in the distance!
Penang has no shortage of verdant hills and ambient natural havens. Unsurprisingly then, there are also plenty of hidden hiking trails in the state!
To start, there are no less than five hiking trails at Penang Hill, one of the state’s most popular destinations. Many of these trails contain both historical significance and scenic views, with the Heritage Trail being the most popular one of all. Laksamana Trail in Teluk Bahang, on the other hand, is the longest and most challenging hiking trail in Penang.
In addition, you could also go across the Penang Bridge to Seberang Perai where you can visit Cherok To’Kun in Bukit Mertajam, a popular hiking spot amongst locals where you can spot the biggest and tallest Tetrameles Tree in the country!
If you can’t get enough of hiking in Penang, you could also check out hiking trails at the Penang Botanical Gardens, Bukit Cendana, or Esen Hill at Batu Maung.
Located at the very peak of Penang Hill, The Habitat Penang Hill is a mesmerising natural haven that is found within a virgin jungle reserve. It features a plethora of local flora and fauna and is one of the best ways to escape the hustle and bustle of the city.
Apart from its various tours, the most famous attraction here is the Curtis Crest Tree Top Walk, the highest viewing point in all of Penang. What’s more, you can now also camp overnight under the cover of the stars here! Starlight camping offers visitors the chance to camp overnight amidst Penang’s ancient rainforests, and to catch incredible views of the sunrise and sunset.
The Flight of the Colugo, on the other hand, is a thrilling adventure course that will excite those who love an adrenaline rush. There are three ziplines, an abseil and a rope bridge spread throughout the course which allows you to see the beauty of Penang’s rainforests from a bird’s eye view! For a more relaxing experience, try the Forest Bathing Experience, a 3-hour long ecotherapy experience to revitalise your health and state of mind.
On this group cycling tour organized by an eco-tour agency, Matahari Cycle Tours, you’ll be able to discover various landscapes, locations and even trades you may not have known existed in Penang!
As you travel along the route, you’ll come across hamlets, fish farms, fishing ports, and abandoned train tunnels that will take you back in time as you experience the history of the nation’s railroad and become acquainted with vanishing local trades like boat making and more.
Simply put, batik is a local fabric that is made using the traditional technique of wax-resist dyeing. This often results in colourful and unique patterns that are exceptionally pleasing to the eye.
When you visit the Penang Batik Factory, established all the way back in 1973, you can learn more about the intricacies of batik printing and why it’s so popular in Malaysia. Visit the art gallery and workshop to watch as masterful artists print fresh new batik on a guided tour before stopping by the shop to buy beautiful pieces of batik cloth as souvenirs!
Penang is one of the states in Malaysia with a deep history of Peranakan cultural heritage. Aside from the many mouth watering delicacies, there are plenty of other ways to experience Nyonya culture and history here.
One popular location is the Pinang Peranakan Mansion, an Insta-worthy living museum you can visit to discover all there is to know about the Peranakan culture and its fascinating. You can also participate in fun workshops and make your very own Peranakan Beaded Shoes, also known as kasut nenek.
Once you’ve completed your simple design under the guidance of your tutor, you can choose to bring the design home or have a cobbler craft it into your very own pair of Peranakan shoes!
Used as a major mode of transportation back in the day, trishaw rides are now a unique and fun way to experience Penang in style. There are many trishaw rides available throughout Penang, most of which can be found in George Town.
Thanks to the government’s ‘Back to Beca’ project, most of the trishaw drivers in Penang also have the knowledge and passion to share about the history of the places you’ll visit during your ride. Most of the routes will take you through Penang’s treasure trove of Heritage buildings, charming streets filled with street art, religious sites and more.
Most of the time, when people talk about heritage in Penang, they think of traditional food and whitewashed colonial buildings. However, did you know that many of the traditional traders in Penang, a majority of whom can be found in George Town, have been running their family businesses since the 1940s? As you explore every corner of George Town, you will see these traditional traders plying their trade from within shophouses in their family homes.
From handmade traditional Chinese stone seals (Tian Hua Arts & Antique) to the finest jewellery crafted by one of the last remaining goldsmiths in George Town (M. Thana’s Goldsmith) and even antique coins and notes (M.S.K.M Mohamed Haniffa Forex) and more, there are plenty of traditional traders in Penang with a long history in the business. The next time you’re visiting the area, make sure to spend some time to seek them out!
Penang has no shortage of great food. It is known as Malaysia’s top foodie paradise, after all! However, if you want a taste of an authentic Malay breakfast, then head to Astaka Taman Tun Sardon, one of the most popular breakfast spots among locals.
Here, you’ll find plenty of mouthwatering breakfast delicacies, ranging from nasi lemak , various flatbreads and apoms (traditional girdle pancakes), and even Halal versions of Penang’s famous breakfast foods like Kuey Teow Th’ng (flat rice noodles in soup).
Address: Taman Tun Sardon, 11700 Gelugor, Penang
Opening hours: 6am to 10pm daily
Located on the bustling Burma Road, Quallys Nusantara Kitchen offers diners an authentic experience of traditional Malay cuisine, punctuated by the homestyle cooking of owner Kak Ayu.
At this pork-free restaurant, you can savour a variety of aromatic savoury dishes such as ayam berempah (fried chicken with various spices), succulent satay, and more, all family recipes passed down through generations.
My personal favourite is the beef rendang. The tenderness of the beef, the aroma of the curry and the subtle creaminess of the coconut milk, combined with fluffy turmeric rice, oh it’s absolutely perfect!
Address: 44 i, Jalan Burma, 10500 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Opening hours: 11am to 7pm daily; Closed on Sundays
Out of all the savoury foods that Penang is famous for, perhaps none are as universally loved as nasi kandar. Simply put, you start off with a plate of rice and your mission is to pile it high with a variety of incredible dishes like fried or braised chicken, vegetables, and more.
Nasi Kandar Kampung Melayu is one of the most famous nasi kandar stalls in all of Penang. In fact, sometimes, you don’t even need any GPS directions to get to the restaurant. Simply get near the area during lunch or dinner time, and you’ll already start seeing a long line leading up to the entrance!
Address: A-29, Jalan Kampung Melayu, Kampung Melayu, 11500 Ayer Itam, Pulau Pinang
Opening hours: 6:30am to 1pm & 4pm to 10pm daily
Hameed Pata Mee Sotong is easily one of the most famous local eats in Penang. Located in Esplanade Park Food Court near Padang Kota Lama, this quaint store serves up delicious mee sotong on a daily basis. As the name suggests, this slurpy dish consists of fried noodles with succulent squid and other ingredients.
What you’ll definitely notice is the vibrant orange hue of the noodles, a result of the various sauces that are used to add flavour to the dish. Once you’re done with your meal, wash it down with a glass of coconut shake, a must-order beverage not to be missed!
Address: 5, Esplanade Park, Lebuh Light, 10300 George Town
Opening hours: 11:30am to 8pm daily; Closed on Sundays
Char Koay Teow is another one of Penang’s signature dishes. Unfortunately, most variations of this dish are not Halal as pork lard is often used as a key ingredient. Thankfully, you can sample this smoky flat noodle dish at Sany Char Koay Teow.
While it is not exactly the same as the typical stir-fried rice noodles (this version is drenched in rich gravy), it is still a mouth-wateringly delicious affair. What’s more, the koay teow is served with big, juicy prawns too!
Address: Jalan Mahsuri, 11950 Bayan Baru, Penang, Malaysia
Opening hours: 7pm to 12 am daily
oHow does a hearty bowl of noodles bathed in fragrant crab-flavoured gravy sound? That is precisely what many locals visit the humble corner shop outside the entrance of Cherok To’Kun in Bukit Mertajam for.
This hidden gem is mostly frequented by locals but the shop comes with a fine reputation amassed over the years. Their soupy crab broth is incredibly flavourful, savoury and tangy with just a bit of spice. Add to that the various textures of bean sprouts, fried tofu and more, and you have a real food gem to savour!
Address: 6260, Jalan Kulim, 14000 Bukit Mertajam, Pulau Pinang
Opening hours: 11am to 6:45pm daily; Closed on Fridays
Ikan Bakar is easily one of my favourite foods to eat in Penang. It is basically just fresh fish grilled to perfection over a charcoal grill and served with spicy sambal dipping sauce and rice. And one of the best places for Ikan Bakar is this beloved eatery at Kepala Batas!
As you dig into the succulent fish that is grilled to such perfection that the meat literally falls off the bones, I’m sure your mouth will start to water even before you have a taste! Apart from fish, you can also order a variety of fresh seafood here too, including juicy prawns and clams.
Address: 6735, Jalan Butterworth, Kampung Permatang Manggis, 13200 Kepala Batas, Pulau Pinang
Opening hours: 11am to 4pm every Saturday to Wednesday
Located at Fort Cornwallis, KOTA Dine & Coffee is perhaps the best portrayal of Penang as a whole: A perfect mix between history and modernity.
At this ambient cafe, not only can you sample amazing food consisting of fusion and local Peranakan delights, you’ll also be able to learn about Penang’s colonial history. After all, it IS built within the historical fort itself! Once you’re done with your meal, we recommend spending some time strolling about the fort to fully appreciate the rich history of Penang.
Address: Fort Cornwallis, Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah, George Town, 10200 George Town, Penang.
Opening hours: 11am to 10 pm daily
Tok Ma Kitchen is located amongst the newly-revamped shop lots along Kimberley Street. This ambient cafe offers classic Malay dishes with a creative, modern twist in a cosy cafe setting.
The go-to order at Tok Ma is definitely the traditional rice set menu, where you can enjoy a variety of delicious Malay delicacies such as pan-fried Tilapia fillet with Assam Pedas. You could also sample some classic western dishes like sirloin steak and grilled duck breast too!
Address: 249, Lebuh Kimberley, George Town, 10100 George Town, Pulau Pinang
Opening hours: 1pm to 10pm (Tuesday to Thursday; Saturday and Sunday); 3pm to 10pm (Friday); Closed on Mondays
Most Penangites will be familiar with the ALAMAK Cafe franchise. After all, it is one of the most popular supper spots for the locals, serving up yummy bites until early in the morning.
Featuring outlets in several locations in the state, their newest outlet is found on Jalan Argyll, just a few minutes away from the city centre. If you’re feeling like a late night snack, make sure to visit and try their signature coconut shakes and melted cheeseburgers! In fact, my tummy is rumbling already as I’m writing this!
Address: 175, Jalan Argyll, George Town, 10050 George Town, Penang
Opening hours: 6:30pm to 2:30am daily
When craving for some steaming dim sum and all things Chinese that is Halal-certified, look no further than the award-winning Canning Dim Sum Express, known for serving some of the best Halal dim sum in town. Make sure to try their Signature Salted Egg Lava Pao, and crispy har gow (prawn dumplings)!
Apart from the food, the restaurant also exudes a comfortable and cosy atmosphere that is perfect for families thanks to its huge, floral wall, unique decor, and colourful children’s area.
Address: 70-1-60, D’Piazza Mall, Jalan Mahsuri, Bandar Bayan Baru, 11900 Bayan Lepas, Pulau Pinang
Opening hours: 8am to 2:30pm & 6pm to 8:30pm daily; Closed on Wednesday
If you’re looking for a great cafe with mouthwatering food that’s perfect to celebrate a special occasion, look no further than Restoran KööK in Bukit Mertajam. Housed in a wide-open space with ambient mood lighting, Restoran KööK serves up delicious, Insta-worthy western classics in addition to Malay and Halal Chinese food.
Apart from the signature ribeye steak and buttermilk chicken rice, there is also a variety of sumptuous artisanal cakes and dessert for those with a sweet tooth. All in all, it’s an enjoyable dining experience for sure!
Address: No.49(Ground Floor, Lorong Perda Utama 3, Taman Prominence, 14000 Bukit Mertajam, Penang
Opening hours: 12pm to 12am daily
Dark Mansion in Penang is the country’s only 3D glow-in-the-dark museum that is fabulous for fun photo ops with your family and friends.
Here, you can immerse yourself in various interactive zones and capture incredible shots for the ‘gram. Some of my personal favourites include the magical glow-in-the-dark forest, and an Edgar Muller piece called Fire and Water, which is the biggest anamorphic glow-in-the-dark image in the world!
For a different way to experience the colourful world of Malaysian food, head to the quirky yet fun Wonderfood Museum. Here, you can experience and interact with the famous foods of Malaysia in a way that doesn’t quite involve your taste buds.
Instead, you’ll be looking at vivid, larger-than-life displays of Malaysia’s famous and traditional dishes as you learn about the rich heritage of Malaysian food. What’s more, there are also interactive zones where you can pose for plenty of memorable photos! It’s basically a foodie’s favourite museum!
Penang House of Music is truly one of those hidden travel gems that even some locals don’t know about. However, if you love all things music, you’re definitely in for a great time here.
At Penang House of Music, you’ll learn about the history of music in the state. But this isn’t your typical museum! Most of the exhibits come with an interactive component. Whether it’s trying your hand at playing traditional instruments or a concert held in Virtual Reality, you’ll be able to embark on a whimsical journey to discover Penang’s Musical Heritage.
Speaking of quirky museums, Penang Ghost Museum is truly a one-of-a-kind experience you shouldn’t miss in Penang. Before diving into it, let me just say that I’ve visited it myself and it is definitely NOT some haunted house experience!
Rather, consider it an interactive experience where you can learn about the various urban legends and mythical creatures in Malaysian folklore. While some of the exhibits can look intimidating, we guarantee that there are no jumpscares that will terrify you.
Ever wondered about the secret ingredient that makes food in Penang (and Malaysia) so delicious? The answer is the plethora of aromatic herbs and spices that are used in cooking!
At Tropical Spice Garden, not only will you be able to have a relaxing stroll in an ambient spice garden (there are plenty of awesome photo spots too!), but you can also sign up for an interactive cooking class where you can learn how to combine various spices to produce some of the famous foods Penang is famous for!
With its rich biodiversity and ancient rainforests, Penang is one of the best places in Malaysia to experience the beauty of Mother Nature. And what better way to do that than to go on a relaxing glamping trip surrounded by idyllic natural scenery?
At Boulder Valley in Teluk Bahang, you can stay in a luxurious cabin filled with modern comforts during the night while you explore the forests during the day. Alternatively, book a stay at Hillside Retreat Penang Hill. Here, you and your family can stay in a century-old colonial bungalow nestled within the ancient rainforests of Penang Hill.
During the day, you can explore the trekking trails surrounding the area or simply spend some quality time with your loved ones in the spacious common area outside.
To most locals, especially those in the Chinese Community, Tambun is synonymous with fresh seafood. After all, this coastal area is most popular for its many fishing villages.
However, what even some locals don’t know is that Bukit Tambun is home to plenty of hidden travel gems too. Apart from historical pre-war shophouses (now adorned with colourful murals), the area also houses the historical family mansions of Heah Swee Lee and Khaw Boo Aun, historically two of Bukit Tambun’s most influential and wealthiest men.
To complete your day trip to Bukit Tambun, hop on a ferry to Pulau Aman, an idyllic Malay fishing village where you can admire incredible coastal views, explore traditional villages and feast on fresh seafood. It is also here where you can find the oldest Sukun (breadfruit) tree in Malaysia!
The local art scene in Penang has been experiencing a boon in recent years, with local artists continually finding new ways and locations to showcase theirwork. One such location is Hin Bus Depot.
This former bus depot has now turned into a creative hub punctuated by pop up art galleries, artisanal cafes, bars, and artist studios. It is where creative minds gather and converge to exhibit their best works to visitors. In addition, try visiting Hin Bus Depot on Sunday afternoons for some live music performances and street food at the pop-up flea market.
Penang Bird Park, located in Seberang Jaya in Mainland Penang, is the first and largest bird park in Malaysia. Established in 1988, this five-acre park is home to over three hundred native and exotic bird species, some of which roam freely outside their enclosures!
Apart from admiring the sounds and colours of chirping birds in the walk-in aviaries, families can also enjoy entertaining shows and feeding sessions too. Children will also have the opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the different birds in the park.
Armenian Street is one of the main locations in George Town’s historical centre. As you stroll along this bustling street, you’ll find plenty of temples, museums, eateries, and the iconic ‘Children on a Bicycle’ street mural.
More importantly, it is also on Armenian Street where you’ll come across plenty of traditional shophouses. Apart from adding to the scenery, many of these shophouses are also where local artisans sell their wares. The Armenian Street Saturday Evening Market, held weekly, is especially popular for those who want to hunt for unique artisanal souvenirs.
Another unique place to shop for souvenirs in Penang is the Lorong Kulit Flea Market, the biggest of its kind in Penang. Here, you’ll find a large variety of different things on sale, including fresh fruits and vegetables.
However, the Lorong Kulit Flea Market is better known as the best place to hunt for bargain deals and pre-loved goods. You’ll find classic vinyl records, secondhand books, and even used clothes, all in tip-top condition and at incredibly affordable prices.
If you’re into collecting visual memorabilia, then you’ll definitely want to visit Shop Howard on Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling. Owned by local artist Howard Tan, the shop sells beautiful photographic prints, calendars, and even bags featuring Penang’s most iconic buildings and locations.
After buying souvenirs for your loved ones back home, why not stop by at Howard Studio, located on Armenian Street for pop-up exhibits and workshops featuring various artists? It’s definitely a different and more unique way to engage with street art in Penang!
What’s that? You’ve fallen in love with the colourful batik you saw at Penang Batik Factory and can’t get over them? Then head to Batek-Lah Collection for all your batik shopping needs.
Here, you can buy authentic hand-drawn batik scarves and clothing, as well as accessories and bags. If you’d like to create your own clothes at home, simply buy some batik fabric instead. Whatever style of batik you’re looking for, you’re almost certain to find it at Batek-Lah Collection!
There you have it, 18 hidden gems in Penang to add to your next Penang itinerary. Of course, for the best experience of Malaysia’s foodie haven, we recommend combining the experiences on this list with some of the tried-and-tested destinations Penang is famous for too, such as KOMTAR and the Clan Jetties.
Whichever way you like to explore Penang, we’re sure you’re gonna have an incredible time! All that’s left to do now is to start planning your next trip there!
Featured image credit: @malcolm.insta
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