2D1N Penang Itineraries: Traditional vs Modern

2D1N Penang Itineraries: Traditional vs Modern

From housing majestic temples and quaint jetties to trendy cafes and notable family-friendly attractions, Penang is ideal for that next short getaway.

For the seasoned traveller, Penang needs no elaborate introduction. Possibly Malaysia’s brightest travel gem, Penang is constantly touted as one of the best destinations in the region. The island city is a cauldron of rich heritage, metropolitan vibes, and colourful cultural diversity.

Penang is a city with two beautifully contrasting faces, each with its own unique charm. There’s the traditional side of Penang, with its cultural heritage sites, historical monuments, and rustic indulgences; and then there’s modern Penang, a bustling city with state-of-the-art attractions, chic cafes, and quirky museums.

With so much to see and do, planning an itinerary for a Penang trip is no easy task. If you want to see all that Penang has to offer in one go, you would need a really long holiday, something which not all of us can afford. Instead, why not split your Penang trip into two different weekend experiences?

Here are two distinct 2D1N Penang itineraries showcasing two different sides of the city. Find out which one suits you better!

Have a fixed budget but don’t know where you can afford to travel to? KAYAK’s Explore feature is here to save the day! Simply adjust the slider to your expected travel budget and a variety of possible destinations will pop up on Google Maps for you. With labels denoting the cheapest flights available to each destination that are within your budget – trip planning has never been easier.

Head over to KAYAK and start exploring your options today!

Getting there & where to stay

Image credit: Ah Wei (Lung Wei)

Getting to Penang is super simple, even if you’re travelling from overseas. Penang International Airport is the second busiest airport in Peninsular Malaysia and offers flights to and from most major cities in Southeast Asia.

Alternatively, if you have time to spare, you could board the ETS train to Butterworth Station and then take a ferry across. Public transport in Penang is quite reliable these days and getting around the city has never been easier. Check out Rapid Penang for more information on the city’s public buses.

For accommodation, the best option is to find a place in George Town. It may be the busiest district in Penang but it is also where most of the attractions are located. There are options to suit any budget and you should have no problem finding lodging here.

Traditional Penang

Day 1: George Town → Penang Hill → Kek Lok Si → Chulia Street

Image credit: Davidlohr Bueso

If you’re looking to explore the cultural history of Penang, there’s no better starting point than George Town. The entire area is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site after all. First, make your way to the iconic Khoo Kongsi for a tour of the grandest Chinese clan temple in Malaysia.

Built in 1851 by the wealthy forefathers of the Khoo family, Khoo Kongsi is one of Penang’s oldest pieces of cultural history. The clan house retains its authentic historical ambience, with heavily ornamented architecture and decorations adorning its hallowed halls. Once the tour is over, take a short walk to Weld Quay and visit the famous Clan Jetties of Penang.

Image credit: Ah Wei (Lung Wei)

The jetties here are remnants of Penang’s glory days as an important maritime trading port. As Chinese immigrants sailed to the island to seek their fortune, some of them eventually settled down here. Not long after that, the Clan Jetties were established in as early as the late 19th century. Back in those days, the six main clans would often get into bitter arguments and infighting was common.

These days, however, the jetties are an important part of Penang’s heritage. They are also one of the most Instagrammable locations in the city! The Chew Jetty is by far the most popular, containing many colourful stilt houses and even a souvenir shop.

Image credit: Gryffindor

Next, hug the coastal road of Weld Quay and make your way up to Fort Cornwallis. This 18th-century fort is the largest of its kind in the country, drawing in visitors on a daily basis. It was built in the 18th century by Captain Francis Light, the British founder of George Town. The fort was initially built as a naval defence unit but is now more frequently used for administrative reasons.

One particularly funny folklore about Fort Cornwallis concerns the Seri Rambai cannon. Legend has it that women used to place flowers on the cannon’s barrel in hopes of conceiving children.

Image credit: Charlene Wong-Podany

For lunch, head towards the Fort Cornwallis food court and tuck into Hameed Mee Goreng Sotong. Springy noodled are fried in savoury sauces and topped with spicy squid sambal. Don’t forget to wash it down with the food court’s popular coconut shake!

Once lunch is over, it’s time to check into your accommodation. For the complete traditional Penang experience, get a room at Cheong Fatt Tze Boutique Hotel (a.k.a. the Blue Mansion). Housed in the historical mansion of Cheong Fatt Tze, the hotel combines modern comforts with the picturesque, classic motifs of the mansion from days long gone. It even contains a museum which hosts daily tours.

Image credit: Damian

I cannot stress enough how much you should visit the Pinang Peranakan Museum. The museum, housed in a mansion from the 1900s, showcases the traditional lifestyles of the Baba and Nyonya community in Penang. Allow the majestic displays of traditional Peranakan furniture and interior decor to instantly siphon you back to the past.

The museum has been featured multiple times in the Amazing Race and the Amazing Race Asia. It was also the filming location of the 2008 Singaporean drama, The Little Nyonya.

Image credit: Shankar. S

Leaving the Peranakan Museum, you have two choices. You can either hitch a ride on a trishaw and see the intricate alleys of George Town, filled with interesting street murals and whitewashed buildings; or take a short walk towards the Street of Harmony (officially Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling).

At Harmony Street, you get to stroll through the very definition of Malaysian unity and spirit. This is because on this very street, you will find the Kapitan Keling Mosque, the Kuan Yin Buddhist Temple, the historical St. George’s Anglican Church, the Catholic Church of the Assumption and the Sri Maha Mariamman Hindu Temple, all within a stone’s throw of each other.

Image credit: Syed Abdul Khaliq

Next, it’s time to head to Ayer Itam and take a ride on Malaysia’s oldest funicular railway. The short journey will take you through lush greenery and old houses as you ascend to the summit of Penang Hill. As you stand 812 metres above sea level, you’ll be treated to breathtaking scenery and cool, fresh air. They say that on a good day, you can even see as far as northern Kedah from here!

Once you’ve explored the scenic nature trails, the bird sanctuary and the hilltop Hindu temple, feel free to head back down. It’s time for an early dinner. Located a short distance away from the station is the famous Ayer Itam Assam Laksa. The fragrant broth and the savoury laksa noodles are truly a match made in heaven.

Image credit: Keejw

As night falls, make your way to the Kek Lok Si Buddhist Temple. It is one of Penang’s most popular religious sites and also one of its most beautiful. While the temple complex is impressive enough during the day, it is at night when it truly transforms into something magical. As the lanterns and LED lights within the temple start to come on, you will surely be at a loss for words.

The best thing you can do is to whip out your camera and try to capture as much of this beautiful sight as possible. Now, one last thing to do before heading back to the hotel: MORE FOOD!

Image credit: Yeowatzup

Chulia Street is kind of special. While it looks just like any other street in the morning, it turns into one of Penang’s most treasured food havens at night. Yes, when the sun sets, Chulia Street is filled with push carts, plastic tables and chairs, and enough food to satisfy any self-respecting foodie.

While all food in Penang is good food, there are some that you simply must try on Chulia Street. These include the chee cheong fun, the traditional popiah, wanton mee, and of course, the char kuey tiaw. Bon appetit, my friends. Enjoy your supper and I shall see you tomorrow morning.

Day 2: Snake Temple → Penang War Museum → Airport

Image credit: Shankar. S

Even on your way to the airport, there are a few gems for to explore. First up is the Snake Temple. As the name implies, this Buddhist temple is full of snakes. Vipers to be exact. However, don’t worry, the snakes here have had their venom ducts removed and for the most part, they just laze around the temple, apparently lulled into nirvana by the smell of burning incense. Just don’t pick them up for a selfie.

Next, head to the Penang War Museum in Bayan Lepas. It is Southeast Asia’s biggest war museum and is the historical site where the Japanese invaders won the battle of Penang in 1941. Here, you can relive the dark days of World War II and take a tour of the old barracks and bunkers before heading to the airport and officially ending your tour of traditional Penang.

Modern Penang

Day 1: Rainbow Skywalk → Tavern in the Park → Batu Ferringhi Beach → Avatar Secret Garden → Upper Penang Road

Image credit: The TOP

The modern Penang itinerary is much shorter in comparison to traditional Penang. However, there shall be no shortage of fun things to do. The Komtar (Kompleks Tun Abdul Razak) building has been around for a fairly long time. It is the tallest building in all of Penang, at a height of 249 metres.

Located at the top of Komtar is the aptly named attraction: Window of the Top. This skyscraper gives you an epic view of Penang’s skyline. The open air Rainbow Skywalk, located on level 68 of Komtar, allows you to experience walking on glass panels 249 metres above the ground! Conquer your fear of heights and an impeccable view of the city below shall be yours to savour.

Image credit: The Top

If you thought the Rainbow Skywalk wasn’t exciting enough, then you should definitely try out the course offered by The Gravityz. This thrilling activity has you strapped in a harness and then lead to the outside of the narrow walkway outside the building. You will then have to complete a semi obstacle course as you circle around Komtar itself.  

Once again, a stunning bird’s eye view of Penang greets you as you tread carefully high up in the air. Apart from that, you can also take some awesome trick shots (if you can hold your nerve and pose for the camera)! Throughout the course, you’ll be able to zipline from one point to another and even lie down on a chair balanced precariously on the edge!

Image credit: The Gravityz

Once you’ve had enough of extreme heights and thrilling adventures, you can also explore the many other attractions at Komtar. For example, if you’re a huge dino-fan, then you simply must visit the Jurassic Research Centre, an interactive learning centre where animatronics bring over 200 species of prehistoric dinosaurs back to life for a fun experience. You can also find a dino gym, a mirror maze, and a 7D-motion theatre among other attractions.

When you’re ready to leave Komtar behind, head to the nearby New Lane Hawker Centre for some good ol’ hawker food. My personal favourite is the ikan bakar: spicy grilled fish with aromatic spices and occasionally topped with vegetables.

It’s time for a switch of pace from your exciting morning. Head towards Entopia by Penang Butterfly Farm. Completed in 2016, Entopia is a nature learning facility located in Teluk Bahang. The Natureland is by far the biggest attraction here. It is a massive domed garden housing more than 15,000 butterflies and other insects, reptiles and various plants. There’s also an indoor waterfall, man-made ponds and caves. This relatively new attraction is a great place to get close to and learn about nature without actually leaving the city.

Image credit: The Mugshot Cafe

Image credit: The Mugshot Cafe

Apart from having world-famous street food, Penang is also home to many trendy cafes and hangout spots. One such place which I personally like is Mugshot Cafe. This cafe in George Town serves coffee and awesome bagels in a hip setting. One thing you shouldn’t forget to do here is to get a memorable mugshot of yourself. Get creative as you write out your own charge and then proudly pose for your photo!

Alternatively, you can check out Tavern in the Park for a unique tea time experience. As the name suggests, the cafe is housed in a cozy wooden cottage set in a picturesque garden. Offering an awesome brunch and tea menu, Tavern in the Park is a popular spot for locals, more so because of the many photogenic spots found in the area.

Image credit: Adib Wahab

Once done, it’s time to hit the beach! While Penang has a whole host of beaches, you must hit up Batu Ferringhi. Kick back and enjoy the gentle sea breeze brushing against your face as you laze around on the sandy beach. Or, if you’re up for more excitement, there’s a bunch of watersports activities you can take part in, including parasailing. Just make sure you sign up for it with licensed providers.

Enjoy a moment of bliss on the beach and admire the sunset before heading back into town. Grab dinner at the nearby Long Beach Food Court before moving on to one of Penang’s most recent attractions.

Image credit: ShangChieh

The Penang Avatar Secret Garden is meant to be a replica of Pandora from the movie, Avatar. While you won’t find blue aliens here, I would say that it comes pretty close with its dazzling light show at night. Yes, the trees here are all wrapped in colourful LED lights which come on during the night, creating a magical ambiance that’s just out of this world.

You won’t spend your entire night here though! Instead, take some time to stroll around and then head to Upper Penang Road to fully experience the nightlife in Penang. Full of beach and rooftop bars and pubs, this area is THE place to be in Penang for a fun time at night. Go for a bar crawl with friends or simply find a cool pub to sit down for a drink or two. Just enjoy the night and unwind.

Day 2: Quirky Museums around George Town

Image credit: Penang Ghost Museum

For your final day in Penang, visit some museums! George Town has plenty of quirky museums to explore such as Penang Ghost Museum and the Made in Penang Interactive Museum.

The Ghost Museum is exactly as it sounds. It’s a museum about ghosts. Here, you’ll find life-size exhibits of most of Malaysia’s traditional ghosts and ghouls, including pontianaks and Chinese zombies like in the films. Have fun posing with the exhibits but be sure to not touch them or get too close. You never know…one of them might actually be haunted!

Image credit: Made in Penang

The Made in Penang Interactive Museum is a much less creepy attraction. It’s basically a trick-eye museum but focusing more on local Penang motifs. Let your creative juices flow as you come up with whacky ideas on how to capture the funniest, most memorable photos.

You can spend the rest of your time exploring George Town before heading to the airport for your flight home. Maybe you could get a bowl of the famous cendol from Penang Road before going home!

And there you have it, two different 2D1N Penang itineraries showcasing two different sides of this lovely city. Of course, there’s loads more to do here but if you’re short on time and want to see very specific sides of Penang, these itineraries will go a long way in helping you plan your trip.

If you’d like to explore other parts of Malaysia as well besides Penang, KAYAK’s Explore feature is a really convenient tool you should use! Simply adjust the slider to your expected travel budget and other destinations in Malaysia will pop up on Google Maps, along with the prices of the cheapest flights available. All that’s left for you to do is take your pick!

Head over to KAYAK and start exploring your options today!

About Author

Darren Yeoh
Darren Yeoh

Darren enjoys the finer things in life and loves exploring unfamiliar places on foot, guided with nothing but instinct and a good-old fashioned map. He enjoys cultural experiences and exciting adventures and is not a stranger to travelling alone. When he's not putting his travel experiences into words, he's probably sitting behind his laptop, planning his upcoming adventure.