There are many places called ‘Georgetown’ across the globe, from the Caribbean to India, but few are as charming as Georgetown, Penang. We fell in love with Penang as an island and its capital city is quite different to the relaxed vibe of its surrounding beaches and countryside. Georgetown is worth visiting for all types of visitor and there’s an endless amount of things to do and see in a short stay.
Read on for our ultimate guide to Georgetown, from food to festivals and places to stay.
What does Georgetown have to offer?
- A UNESCO World Heritage Site that is highly rated for sightseeing.
- A vibrant collection of street art on almost every corner, in the form of large murals and smaller centre-pieces with meaning.
- Excellent food choices. Penang is famous for its food and Georgetown has a countless number of street food and restaurant options, which are mostly inexpensive.
- A collection of colonial and boutique hotels for every budget. It appeals to seasoned backpackers and luxury holidaymakers alike!
- An eclectic mix of cultures, from food and festivals to the buildings and districts of the city. Chinatown, Little India and Western-style malls and skyscrapers are all within walking distance.
When’s the best time to visit Georgetown and how long should you stay?
The best time to visit Georgetown is between November and January, where you’ll find pleasant weather and a lively atmosphere in bars and restaurants. The quietest time to visit is between February and April and you’ll find the wettest weeks are from May to October. No matter the season, Georgetown maintains a warm climate and has plenty of cover and things to do inside for when it starts raining.
We’d recommend staying at least 3 full days and combining your visit with other parts of Penang Island.
How to get there
Most people fly into Penang Airport from Kuala Lumpur and catch a taxi or bus into Georgetown city centre (which takes around 30 minutes).
Alternatively, those staying in Langkawi can catch the ferry directly into Georgetown’s port or drive from the mainland over Penang Bridge. Both flights and public transport in Malaysia is generally very cheap.
Top things to see in Georgetown
Pinang Peranakan Mansion – Pinang Peranakan Mansion is one of the main colonial museums to see in the city. This huge building was home to rich Chinese families knows as the Peranakans or ‘Babas’ and the hallways and many rooms are decorated with traditional artefacts and memoirs of the past. Walk around the mansion for a glimpse into how the Perankans lived over a century ago. Entrance costs 20 MYR (~£3.60).
Dharmikarama Burmese Temple – Dharmikarama is the only Burmese Buddhist Temple outside Myanmar. It’s located in the centre of Georgetown and two golden elephant statues guard the entrance. Inside the temple you’ll find practicing monks, a wishing pond and golden statues and furnishings.
Cheong Fatt Tze The Blue Mansion – The Blue Mansion is a hotel and also a tourist attraction in itself. This wonderfully colonial building has vibrant blue décor and historic centre pieces throughout. The daily tours cost 17 MYR (~£3) and you’ll learn the background story to this historic mansion. You can stay in the Blue Mansion overnight and it’s highly recommended; but it can be quite expensive in comparison to nearby hotels.
Armenian Street – Armenian Street is a boulevard in the cultural heart of Georgetown. It’s an old street with a temple, some of the main street art murals and a quaint assortment of colonial buildings, museums and cafes. Jump into a Tuk Tuk for a leisurely tour of the area. The nearby Chulia Street is also worth visiting.
Khoo Khongsi – Khoo Khongsi is the main temple in Georgetown. It’s an impressively intricate Indo-china building with vibrant red and gold furnishings. Browse the temple grounds, learn about the history of Georgetown and its Chinese influence and take pictures of the beautiful gardens. The entrance fee is 10 MYR (roughly ~£2).
Penang Hill – This towering mountain is to the west of Georgetown and right next to the enchanting ancient town of Air Itam. Catch the bus or a taxi to the bottom of the hill and board the funicular transport to take you to the top of the hill. The views are the best you’ll see in Penang! Combine your trip to Penang Hill with the impressive Kek Lok Si Temple in Air Itam town.
Colonial Penang Museum – Colonial heritage is apparent throughout Georgetown and one of the main sites to add to your itinerary is the Colonial Museum. Learn about the history of Penang and the mix of cultures that make up modern Malaysia. The museum has a number of exhibits and artefacts to explore.
Chew Jetty – Chew Jetty is a rickety old pier that looks very worn, but it sparks your imagination and casts your mind back to when Georgetown was a popular East India Trading Company post. Walk up the pier to find fishermen hard at work and small vendors selling snacks and gifts. It’s a small site that won’t take much time but it’s well worth adding to your itinerary.
3D Art/Upside down museums – Georgetown has a few cheap and unusual museums, including a building in which everything is upside down and a cool 3D perspective art museum which makes you the centre of attention. They’re a fun way to spend an hour or so, having a laugh whilst taking pictures.
This is just a small select of must-see’s but there’s a lot more to see in Georgetown! View a full list of top-rated things to do on Tripadvisor here. The city is a dream for museum lovers.
It’s unusual to have so much street art in a UNESCO World Heritage Site such as Georgetown, but the city has become famous for its distinct street murals, which can be found throughout the old town centre. Street artist Ernest Zacharevic was responsible for bringing the city’s buildings to life and was commissioned by Penang local council in 2012 for his ‘Mirrors Georgetown’ project. A trend was set by the artist and there are many more professional murals in the city, waiting for you to explore.
Here are some of our favourite murals:
Since being an established trading port of the East India Trading Company, Georgetown has always been home to handmade gifts and bargain buys in market and small street stores. For traditional gift, souvenir and apparel shopping, Lorong Kulit Flea Market is the best and cheapest place to go, located in the west of the city. Alternatively, browse Central Street near Armenian Street. Shops here are more touristy and expensive but there’s lot of intricate hand-made gifts and the quality is good.
If you’re looking for designer shopping, recognisable international brands and modern shopping, Gurney Paragon to the north of Georgetown is the place to go. It comes alive at night and makes a great evening out. It also has plenty of restaurants, bars and a cinema to enjoy. For more local brands and Asian stores, check out Gurney Plaza in the city centre. Both malls are huge!
There’s also Little Penang Street Market, which takes place on the last Sunday of every month and well worth seeing if your dates match up.
For more information about shopping in Georgetown and exploring the many markets, check out Hotels.com’s Georgetown Shopping guide here.
Eating out in Georgetown
Penang is famous for its cheap and delicious street food and that should be your first port of call, but Georgetown also has a wide array of nice restaurants for when you fancy a setting with a little bit more sophistication. Foodies will love the dishes and dining options in Georgetown and will be eager to come back for more!
Although you find hawker stalls and stands scattered around the city, we preferred the ‘outdoor food court’ style arrangements of street food stalls, where you can select multiple dishes from each stand and sample a selection, all in one place. New Lane Hawker Centre and Presgrave Street Hawker Centre are regarded as the best places to eat street food all in one place so we decided to try one for lunch and the other for dinner. Visit on an evening for a vibrant food court atmosphere with a mix of locals and tourists enjoying beer and good food together. Both hawker centres are in the centre of Georgetown and a short walk between eachother.
Our favourite Georgetown restaurants:
Although Georgetown street food is cheap and excellent (and you may only wish to eat street food), the restaurants in the city are also top notch and it can be a nicer and more intimate atmosphere to enjoy a meal. As there’s so many great restaurants to choose from, we thought we’d share our own favourites with you.
Mews Café – Mews café is part of the Mews Hotel. It’s a perfect lunch spot where you can enjoy home-style Malaysian food in a nice café environment. There’s also an outdoor seating area in the shade where you can enjoy your food and watch passers by in this particular pretty area of town. The service at Mews Café was excellent and the food was some of the best we had (we sampled the tremendous Rendang Beef). Visit for lunch and you won’t be disappointed.
Ivy’s Nyonya Cuisine – Another home-style restaurant that’s all about the great food is Ivy’s Nyonya Cuisine. It’s a little way north of the city but easy to get to in a taxi. The interior was nice but basic, however it’s all about the food at Ivy’s. This cheap and delicious restaurant will challenge the last meal that you thought was the ‘best you’ve had so far’. What’s so special about the food at Ivy’s is the traditional link to the city’s heritage – traditional Peranakan family food.
Tek Sen Restaurant – Georgetown has a large Chinese population and years of migration has brought with it an excellent selection of Chinese flavours and dishes. Tek Sen is rated the number one Chinese cuisine restaurant in the city and ideal if you fancy something sweet, sour or spicy. There’s lots of hype surrounding this restaurant so arrive early to miss the large queues.
Malaysian dishes to try
Nightlife in Georgetown
Georgetown has a big tourist population and plenty to do on a night-time, whether you drink alcohol or not. Don’t expect to find the booming beach raves or nightclubs of nearby countries, but do expect a nice selection of bars, cheap prices and enough to keep you entertained for a short stay.
Top things to do on an evening include:
- Rooftop bars –High-rise hotels and skyscrapers are perfect for sky-bars. Three Sixty Revolving Restaurant and Sky Bar and Press Rooftop Bar are the popular spots to try, providing great views of the island.
- Upper Penang Road bars –Upper Penang Road is to the east of the city near the sea. It’s a small street with a collection of lively bars, frequented by locals and tourists and where you’ll find most of the bars in Georgetown. Sit outside or head indoors to play some pool and enjoy a cocktail. It has a somewhat lively vibe but isn’t the party scene you’d find elsewhere in South-east Asia.
- Cocktail lounges –for a classier and more relaxed nightlife experience, check out G Lounge in the G Hotel. It’s suave, sophisticated and they do some great cocktails!
- Evening shopping –The mega mall of Gurney Paragon is an nice place to visit on an evening for dinner, drinks and a stroll around the shops. It’s a large mall with plenty of entertainment and it looks very trendy when lit up on an evening.
The Hungry Ghost Festival – If you’re a foodie, this festival is for you! The Hungry Ghost Festival is the celebration of the 7th month of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. This festival takes place some time between August and September and is relatively low-key compared to other Georgetown celebration. However, expect food laid out of street stalls and plenty of entertainment.
Chinese Lunar New Year – Experience Georgetown and its most vibrant and lively state during Chinese New Year. Its one of the few remaining true heritage towns of its kind and the streets come alive with red lanterns, parades, entertainment and lots of parties. Kek Lok Si Temple in the nearby town of Air Itam is particular fascinating to see.
Thaipusam – Thaipusam is a Hindu festival which takes place in January/February (depending on the lunar calendar), celebrating triumph over evil. Hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets of Penang and in Georgetown in particular, where it’s tradition to smash coconuts in front of chariots. Expect bright colours, street food and lots of celebration.
Where to stay in Georgetown
Being a busy city with a lot of history and character, most hotels and places to stay in the city are independent, small in size and a breath of fresh air from multi-plex chain hotels. Georgetown has accommodation options for every budget and we’ve hand selected the following options as some of the best places to stay.
Seven Terraces – The Seven Terraces Hotel will cost you around £100 per night but the reviews speak for themselves. This is the best hotel to stay in when visiting Georgetown. Its stunning interior and grounds perfectly fit with the colonial theme of the city and sleeping in this close-knit mansion provides a truly immersive experience which will leave you wanting to return. The hotel has a swimming pool and an array of artefacts and centre pieces throughout.
The Blue Mansion – The Cheong Fatt Tze Blue Mansion has already been mentioned in our guide for a top place to visit. Many people don’t realise that you can actually stay in this exuberant mansion and make it your home for the night. Its rooms, restaurant and lobby all follow the theme of the mansion museum and it’s beautiful setting to spend your time in the city. It costs around £100 per night.
Le Dream Boutique Hotel – The Le Dream Boutique was our hotel of choice when we visited Georgetown. It retains its top Tripadvisor rating as one of the best hotels in the city and we can see why. This quaint hotel is excellently located in the centre of town. It’s small but nicely furnished, has highly equipped modern rooms with a traditional bamboo finish and a nice rooftop relaxation area where you can watch a nightly movie or wind down in a hot tub. The low price provides excellent value for money (around £35 – 50 per night).
Chulia Mansion – This small boutique hotel is located a 2-minute walk from China town in a quiet but pretty area. It’s small and simple in design but retains its colonial heritage alongside most hotels in the area. The low price point of ~£30 makes it perfect for travellers that want a central place to rest after a busy day of sightseeing and aren’t concerned about luxury amenities. Chulia Mansion has its own rooftop bar, perfect for a pre-dinner drink overlooking the city.
Georgetown visitor/travel tips
- Penang has some excellent bus routes and although taxis are cheap, buses are extremely inexpensive. Catch the bus straight to/from the airport within 30 minutes. Buses depart from the main bus station in Georgetown and open up the island for exploration.
- Although the restaurants in Georgetown are great, don’t miss the street food scene! Malaysian street food is some of the best in the world and you won’t be disappointed.
- Try to stay in the city centre ancient town to be within walking distance or most of the city’s major attractions and experience the welcoming charm of the colonial streets. The hotels we recommended above are ideal and you’ll central find accommodation for every budget.
- If the only place you’re staying in on Penang Island is Georgetown, we’d recommend extending your stay and visiting some of the other parts of the island, or even venturing out for a day trip. Penang National Park to the north-west is excellent, as are the relaxing beaches of Batu Ferringhi on the northern edge of Penang.
- As there’s so much to see in the city, you’ll find yourself doing a lot of walking. Slow down the pace to thoroughly enjoy the sites and stop by for snack breaks in one of the quaint, corner coffee shops.
- Your map is your best friend and you should definitely plan your route. As there are so many winding streets in Georgetown with museums and art murals on every corner, plan out your route so you’re not backtracking. A physical map from your hotel/guesthouse or Google Offline Maps is ideal.