Kuala Lumpur is a huge hub in Southeast Asia, yet I don’t know many people who have been. It’s home to one of the most iconic structures in the world – the Petronas Towers – and is a melting pot of culture, history and culinary experiences.
We visited in November 2022 and spent 3 days exploring this not-so-hidden gem and capital city of Malaysia. Here’s the rundown of where we stayed, where (and what) we ate, what we did, and some helpful tips to make your trip to Kuala Lumpur easy to organise and full of fun activities.
WHERE TO STAY
The Bukit Bintang is the most popular and central area for tourists to stay. It’s walkable to almost all the usual tourist sites and caters well to visitors with some fantastic places to eat and drink. We stayed at the beautiful Ceylonz Suites, right next to the Eco Forest Park. The hotel itself was absolutely stunning – it caters to both short stay tourists and those who wish to stay a little longer, with a conference room/working space, rooftop ‘garden’ and pool, bar and restaurant. It was a little pricey up there so we indulged in a cocktail one night and didn’t bother eating there, preferring instead to venture into the city.
The ‘suites’ themselves are absolutely incredible for the price. The room featured a very modern wet room/bathroom, a small kitchenette (we like to make our own coffees and buy breakfasts and lunches whenever possible to reduce costs), a big comfortable bed, smart TV, and a huge window with panoramic views over the city – we could even see KL Tower and the Petronas Towers! For all of this, we paid just £150 for four nights!
WHERE TO EAT
Kuala Lumpur was our first stop in Malaysia and we really weren’t sure what to expect when it came to food. We were pleasantly surprised to find that in addition to traditional Malaysian dishes, Indian cuisine is incredibly popular!
Kuala Lumpur’s ‘Little India’, lying just outside the city centre to the southwest (on Google maps you’ll find it in the Brickfields district), is not so little at all – the Indian population here is significant and so there are tons of fantastic restaurants and street food stalls in this part of the city. We had a fantastic meal with a couple from our hotel at a brilliant restaurant right in the heart of Little India where we enjoyed creamy butter chicken, vegetable dhal, and fresh garlic naan. In fact, throughout Malaysia we loved the Indian influence and ate many roti cannai for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
Jalan Alor is one of the main food streets in Kuala Lumpur and we ate there twice, it was so good. This vibrant al fresco food district is filled with Malaysian, Indian and Chinese street food restaurants. The atmosphere was fantastic and the food really authentic. We tried a number of fried rice dishes, nasi lemak (a Malaysian chicken and rice dish), calamari, chicken satay, and finished off with deliciously fresh coconut ice cream (served in an actual coconut!) for dessert.
The surrounding streets house lively bars and pubs directed at tourists, so if you fancy a bit of a night out, this is the place to go.
Petaling Street is one of the main streets running through Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown and is home to a few street food stalls as well as lots of clothing and trinket stalls. We didn’t eat here as we found it a bit touristy with people just trying to sell you things, but it’s well worth a visit and if you wander the surrounding streets you’ll find some of the best food in Kuala Lumpur. We ate in Chinatown twice (on a street called Jalan Sultan which is just filled with restaurants and cafes) and had some of the best food of our trip, including crispy sweet and sour pork, stir fried ginger and garlic veggies, and pork noodle soup.
One thing which did surprise us was that alcohol was expensive here and in Malaysia as a whole. This made total sense when it clicked that the main religion in Malaysia is Islam and therefore drinking is not a part of the culture. It was only ever tourists drinking and it wasn’t uncommon for restaurants to not serve alcohol at all. A large Tiger beer (just over a pint) cost around £4-5, so if you’re drinking every evening Malaysia suddenly becomes a not-so-budget place! Just be mindful of getting drunk and stick to having a drink or two in an actual bar if you fancy a treat.
WHAT TO DO
There are things to see and do aplenty in Kuala Lumpur and we spent our 3 days balancing fun activities with wandering the busy streets across the city. Here are the top 5 things you absolutely must do on a visit to Kuala Lumpur:
KL Tower and Sky Box
Unexpectedly, our favourite activity during our trip to Kuala Lumpur was ascending the Menara tower, also known as KL Tower. It is the 7th tallest tower in the world (specifically tower, not building), standing at 421 metres tall! This structure looks remarkably like the iconic Toronto Space Needle and boasts the best views over the city.
There are two sky boxes at the top where you can take off your shoes and walk to the edge of the glass box sticking out of the side… it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted! One box provides views of the Petronas Towers below while the other side offers a view of the newly built 118-storey, 678 metre-tall skyscraper, Merdeka 118. We bought our tickets the day before on the Klook app for £14 each rather than the usual £20 that we would have paid if we had queued up.
Also known as the Petronas Twin Towers, these identical 88-storey, 451-metre towers are an icon of Kuala Lumpur. This spectacular feat of engineering and architectural design was what I was most excited to see before we arrived in the city. It certainly didn’t disappoint! The sky bridge which connects the two towers is a popular activity for tourists but having been up to KL Tower’s sky deck we decided to give it a miss. One thing you must do is make sure to see the towers both during the day and at night; the towers glitter in the sunlight and sparkle even more at night. Visit the Petronas Towers between 8pm and 10pm to catch the Symphony Lake Show – a delightful show of music, coloured lights, and impressive water features!
Another big reason for wanting to visit Kuala Lumpur was to go to Batu Caves! This beautiful site just on the edge of the city is free to enter (additional temples and shrines request a small fee) and was a real highlight of our visit. In fact, it was probably tied with KL Tower as my personal favourite.
The vibrant, colourfully-painted staircase built into the side of the mountain takes visitors into a vast cave filled with shrines, music… and monkeys. Mind these cheeky fellas when you walk up the steps as they will jump on you if you’re not careful! The rainbow steps aren’t the only recognisable feature of Batu Caves though. The gigantic golden statue of Murugan, the Hindu God of War, is truly dazzling. Standing at 42 metres tall, this statue is actually bigger than Christ the Redeemer!
Top tip: get a Grab to Batu Caves early – we arrived at around 8:45 and there were only a few people around. By the time we were leaving at 10:30 the tour buses had rolled in, there were people everywhere, and it was getting very hot!
Eco Forest Park
Not one of the top activities you hear a lot about but the eco forest park was nestled below KL tower right by our hotel, so we spent a couple of hours there one morning doing the treetop walk. It cost a few pounds each to enter and the views of KL tower and the surrounding city were beautiful. Despite the mosquitoes we had a great time and would recommend combining this with a visit to KL tower.
Kuala Lumpur Botanical Gardens
We love exploring local parks and gardens, they’re a great way to spend an afternoon stretching your legs and seeing a bit of nature away from the hustle and bustle of a city. Kuala Lumpur Botanical Gardens are vast and while there’s not much to do there besides walk around admiring the natural beauty of the place – and looking out for monitor lizards – it’s a great place to spend a couple of hours with a picnic by the lake.
Resources we absolutely couldn’t do without when we visited Kuala Lumpur were:
Basically Asia’s version of Uber, Grab allowed us to easily order taxis to pick us up from any location around the city and cost significantly less than the standard taxis. For example, when we first arrived in the city and didn’t yet have the Grab app, we paid a taxi driver (after haggling a bit of course) around £10 to take us to our hotel. This same journey using Grab would’ve been around £4-5. Doh! However, it is worth asking around in each place you visit to make sure Grab is the cheapest. We have since visited a couple of places where it’s the same price as a standard taxi, and once it was actually way more expensive. But in general, Grab is a must-have while you’re travelling in Southeast Asia.
We were told about Klook by a very kind Aussie couple we met in our hotel. Basically it’s an app (or website) which gives you discounts to a wide variety of activities around Southeast Asia. We first used it to book the Skydeck at KL Tower which saved us £6 each, and since used it a number of times in Malaysia and Thailand and saved loads!
Easybook helped us throughout Malaysia when it came to booking buses from one city to the next. It was very well priced – sometimes cheaper than we were told in tourist offices or even what we found from searching elsewhere online – and simple to book. Every journey we took was booked and paid for within minutes and we received detailed instructions via email on how to pick up bus tickets from each terminal/bus stop. If you’re budget backpackers like us, Easybook is another must have in Southeast Asia.
Hopefully this gives you a bit of insight into our time in Kuala Lumpur and might even help you plan a future trip to the city!
One more note – if you are flying via Kuala Lumpur to anywhere else in Asia or Australasia, I highly recommend extending your stay to see the sights. It gives you a great taste of Malaysia and is a really cheap city to stay in and explore for those on a budget.
Don’t forget to add Kuala Lumpur to your Southeast Asia bucket list!
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4 thoughts on “Ultimate Guide to Kuala Lumpur”
Great tips. Thanks for sharing. I enjoyed reading your guide
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