Kuala Lumpur (KL) is a city that is all too familiar to me after visiting countless times. As a major transport hub not only within Malaysia but also for destinations around Southeast Asia, the Malaysian capital has long been a popular destination due to its relative ease of access, plethora of eats as well as the iconic Petronas Towers.
There are plenty of attractions in Kuala Lumpur and if you spend two or three days here, you will soon discover that there is so much more to the city than just the twin towers. Over the years, a noticeably prominent coffee culture has also developed, giving way to plenty of concept cafes catering to just about every whim and fancy.
Around the metropolis, you will also discover pockets of culture, whether it be at the Kampung Baru or Brickfields (the city’s Little India). The abolition of GST (goods and services tax) has also made shopping in Kuala Lumpur a convincing proposition and the malls around Bukit Bintang or KLCC are more than happy to oblige.
If you are looking for ideas of things to do, see and eat in Kuala Lumpur (KL); here is a recommended itinerary that you can do in as little as 3 days.
Table of Contents
Day 1 – Downtown KL, Batu Caves, Bukit Bintang & Jalan Alor
Tip: You might want to get a Malaysia sim card that includes data and calls that you can easily pick-up once you arrive in KLIA. This enables you to escape potentially snaking queues at the airport’s SIM counter. You can get one here
Start your Kuala Lumpur itinerary by exploring the civic area. The Sultan Abdul Samad Building is an appealing late 19th century structure known for its Moorish architecture, with the Merdeka Square fronting it. It was the main government building used during the British colonial administration. Nowadays, it houses the Ministry of Tourism.
From here, it is a short walk to the imposing Jamek Mosque, a sprawling complex that shares some similar features with the Sultan Abdul Samad Building. The mosque is open to the public outside of prayer times and is well worth a visit. To appreciate the architecture of the complex as a whole, I would suggest climbing up to the monorail station adjacent to it. To get to a higher point, you’d need to purchase a ticket. MYR 1 is the minimum ticket price but the view from up there is definitely worth much more than that.
For a bit of shopping, head to the nearby Central Market (daily 10AM to 6PM), an art deco building filled with stores selling all sorts of wares including household items, apparel and souvenirs. The place is admittedly quite touristy but for local handicrafts and souvenirs, the range here is hard to beat.
Selfie Time at Kwai Chai Hong
From that market, it is a short walk to Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown. Petaling Street is where all the action is with its souvenir shops and night market. Towards the southern portion in a side street (Lorong Panggung) you will find Kwai Chai Hong, a charming little spot filled with street murals, brightly painted restored shophouses housing souvenir shops as well as plenty of insta-worthy spots. Kwai Chai Hong reminds me a bit of Penang or even Ipoh with all the street art.
A 6 minute walk from Kwai Chai Hong is the atmospheric Fung Wong (daily, 9AM to 6PM). This age-old confectionery has spent most of its life as an old-school bakery doling out traditional cookies such as red bean pastry, wife’s cookies and egg tarts. The 4th generation owners moved the confectionery to a new space not far from the original site and turned it into a cafe with a distinct blend of the old and the new.
A Dose of Modern Culture at REXKL
A short walk from Fung Wong is the intriguing REXKL, a cultural/exhibition space that gives one a glimpse of Kuala Lumpur’s hipster scene. The basement houses a number of chic bars and eateries while the upper floor has a very picturesque bookstore and exhibition space.
Before leaving the older part of town, make sure to stop by the Kuala Lumpur Railway Station and stand in amazement at the beautiful mishmash of British colonial and Mughal architecture. If you want to live it up like during the olden days, walk across the station to The Majestic Hotel Kuala Lumpur for some tea.
While most people recommend heading to Batu Caves in the morning, my personal preference and suggestion is to do it in the afternoon. This is especially if you intend to take photos of the giant statue outside as it faces against the sun in the morning. Situated in the state of Selangor, Batu Caves is one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India. 272 steps will take you inside the cave and into the Murugan temple. If you have been to Batu Caves before but have not been back in the last 4 years, it is well worth returning for the colorful stairs which appear particularly picturesque when taken with a zoom camera from afar.
Shopping Galore in Bukit Bintang
Spend the rest of the afternoon back in Kuala Lumpur and in its busiest area, Bukit Bintang. Even if you have been to other shopping districts in Southeast Asia such as Bangkok’s Sukhumvit or Singapore’s Orchard Road; Bukit Bintang is still worth a look for its myriad high street brands and elements of Middle Eastern culture. Malls to check out include Lot 10, Sungei Wang and Pavilion. Kuala Lumpur is also a popular destination for people from Arab countries and you’ll find a distinct Islamic flavor in many of the establishments here.
Street Eats in Jalan Alor
For an atmospheric dinner experience, eat at one of the food stalls in Jalan Alor and sample KL’s hawker culture. Things to try here include char kway teow, bak kut teh and fried oysters. The area is heavily frequented by tourists but you can still get yourself some pretty delicious local fare. If you are looking for a good and decent massage place nearby, you can check out Chaang Thai Massage (daily 12PM to 10pm) to soothe those tired muscles. The therapists come from Thailand.
Day 2 – Kampung Baru, Petronas Towers & Mall-hopping
Witness Traditional Malay Life in Kampung Baru
Morning is the best time to explore the traditional Malay village, Kampung Baru located not far from town. Cultural attractions here include Masjid Jamek Kampung Baru, Rumah Limas and Master Mat’s House. Essentially, Kampung Baru is an enclave of quaint and charming Malay-style houses right in the middle of the city. While here, you may also want to have some nasi lemak (a Malaysian staple) for breakfast. A popular spot within Kampung Baru for this dish include Nasi Lemak Antarabangsa (4, Jalan Raja Muda Musa, Kampung Baru, 50300 Kuala Lumpur, Open daily: 8AM to Midnight).
Try the Best Nasi Lemak in Town
If you are willing to head out to Petaling Jaya (around 30 minutes drive from downtown), the undisputed most popular place for nasi lemak is Village Park Nasi Lemak (5, Jalan SS 21/37, Damansara Utama, 47400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Open daily: 8AM to 5:30PM).
See Some of Malaysia’s Rich Marine Life in Aquaria KLCC
In the afternoon, head to KLCC to check out Aquaria KLCC, the educational and family-friendly oceanarium located mere minutes from the Petronas Towers. This 5,600 sqm complex features several zones showcasing the rich marine life in Malaysian waters. The highlight here is the 90 meter underwater tunnel where you can see sharks, manta rays and other underwater creatures as they gather above and beside you (you can get discounted tickets here).
See the Petronas Towers – A Must For Your Kuala Lumpur Itinerary
From Aquaria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur’s most iconic attraction is a mere 5 minute walk through either a well-manicured park or underground tunnel. The best time to admire the Petronas Towers is during sunset (for KL this usually happens between 7PM to 7:15PM). It’s also possible to go up to the building’s observation deck (you can book here for discounted tickets plus free pick-up within any KL city location). My personal pick for the best view of Petronas Towers is from the Skybar of Traders Hotel Kuala Lumpur.
Walk Through the Saloma Bridge
The Klang River separates Kampung Baru and KLCC and before the Saloma Bridge was built in 2020, one had to take quite a bit of a detour to get between these two spots. The 69-meter long link way which is shaped like a betel leaf is noted for its futuristic design. While seeing this bridge has its own merits either during the day or night, I would specifically recommend coming here at night to see the how it looks when it is lighted up with the colors of the Malaysian flag. Otherwise, you can easily do this part of the itinerary on the morning of day 2 as you cross from Kampung Baru into KLCC. But trust me, coming back here at night is worth it!
Day 3 – Bangsar, Thean Hou Temple, KL Tower
A Walk in the Park
Kuala Lumpur’s Perdana Botanical Gardens is a sprawling 226 acre oasis of greenery right in the heart of town. Its well-manicured surroundings are a favorite among joggers as well as families enjoying the wide open spaces during off days. Some tourist attractions such as the Bird Park and Butterfly Park are also located here. My favorite spot is the highly instagrammable D’Sun Zone, a relatively unknown gem constructed to house the park’s collection of bottle trees.
Cafe Hopping in Bangsar
The quieter neighborhood of Bangsar is one of the city’s trendiest with its mix of bars, restaurants and hipsters cafes. Start your day with a cup of coffee at some of the most atmospheric cafes in the area. If coffee is not your thing, Bangsar also has a host of interesting restaurants that it is entirely possible to spend the whole day restaurant / cafe hopping as most places offer not just a feast for the tummy but for the eyes as well. To round up your morning, you can also check out other places such as Pulp (daily 7:30AM to 10PM) and Podgy Kurau (daily except Tues, 10AM to 5PM).
For matcha lovers, there is Niko Neko Matcha (daily except Wednesday, 11AM to 5:30PM) which has become something of a local institution where matcha is concerned as they supply green tea to a few other cafes in the city. Even those who are used to matcha cafes in other countries will find the assortment here quite unique. Aside from the usual matcha and matcha lattes, one can also have a sip at matcha mocktails (think matcha infused with various fruit juices) and matcha desserts. The white minimalist interior of this unassuming upstairs joint makes it one of the highlights of a visit to Bangsar.
Elevate Your Merit at the Thean Hou Temple
Close to Bangsar is the Thean Hou Temple, a place of worship dedicated to the sea goddess Mazu. The architecture here is relatively intricate, with ornate carvings in each hall and pavilion. While temples of this sort are common throughout Southeast Asia, I have yet to see one which exceeds this in terms of detail. It is especially photogenic during the period around Chinese new year and the Mid-autumn festival when hundreds of lanterns would be strung across the complex.
Head to Publika for a nice contrast while you cool away and escape the heat of the afternoon sun. This sprawling shopping mall differs from the ones you find in Bukit Bintang in the sense that it specializes in independent brands and food outlets. You’ll find plenty of hipster cafes here as well. Places to check out include Coffeestain by Joseph and Namoo for Korean desserts.
Before ending your Kuala Lumpur itinerary, make sure to check out the KL Tower or Menara Kuala Lumpur (daily 9AM to 10PM). While it is definitely possible to catch views of the city’s skyline from many hotels, a visit to this tower is definitely still recommended and that’s primarily because of its sky box. A visual feast for those seeking instagram-worthy shots, the sky box is essentially a glass cage that extends out of the observation deck of the tower. The glass construction (floor, wall, ceiling) gives the feeling of being suspended in mid-air and is definitely not for acrophobes. I visited on a weekend and found the queue of people going up to the observation deck / sky deck to clear up pretty fast. However, once up there, you’ll get a separate queue number for the sky box and that can take up about a 1 to 1.5 hour wait. You can buy discounted tickets here.
Get Your Fix of Klang Bak Kut Teh
There are two versions of bak kut teh or pork bone soup. The one in Singapore is peppery with a more translucent broth while the Malaysian version is herbal with soy sauce for a darker broth. The Malaysian version is said to have originated in Klang which is around an hour away from downtown Kuala Lumpur. If you are pressed for time and don’t want to travel that far, Subang Jaya is your second best bet. It is located roughly halfway between KL and Klang. In Subang Jaya’s Jalan SS14/2, you can find a long row of shophouses with multiple eateries serving bak kut teh. You can take your pick here but the more popular ones are Restoran Ah Ping Bak Kut Teh (daily, 4PM to 10PM) and Restoran Yu Kee (daily, 8AM to 10PM). Go for the thicker dry version which includes wolfberries, dried squid and chili in the broth. Servings are huge and you can also ask the server for a leaner cut of meat.
If you are heading to Penang, check out this suggested itinerary for Penang.
Day Trips From Kuala Lumpur
If you have more days to spare in and around Kuala Lumpur, you may also want to check out these places:
- Putrajaya – The administrative capital of Malaysia, Putrajaya is a modern (albeit, relatively empty) city filled with palatial structures including some impressive government and religious buildings. The city is around 35 minutes away from Kuala Lumpur and is on the way if you are heading to the airport.
- Ipoh– The sleepy city in Perak is known for its charming shophouses, colonial architecture, nationally renowned cuisine and numerous limestone hills. The place is well worth a day trip or even a night or two. It is accessible by an easy 2.5 hour train ride from KL Sentral.
- Genting Highlands – A popular place for locals and tourists to cool off from the punishing heat of the lowlands, Genting Highlands is home to casinos, theme parks and hotels.
- Melaka – A UNESCO World Heritage Site along the vein of Penang, Melaka is around 1.5 hours away from Kuala Lumpur and features plenty of historical buildings, popular eats, museums and night markets. If you do plan to visit, stay at least one night to fully appreciate the town.
- Seremban – A relatively off-the-radar destination from Kuala Lumpur, Seremban is home to Malaysia’s Minangkabau community. The curved roofs of the city museum and the intriguing architectural style of the royal state capital, Sri Menanti, attest to this.
Getting to Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur is accessible from most Asian capitals, often with no need to do a transit. When visiting Kuala Lumpur or Malaysia in general, I typically try booking AirAsia flights as the airline usually has the most number of flights to the city. Alternatively, you can also search here for the cheapest flights.
Getting From KLIA to City
KLIA Ekspres (Airport Train)
The fast KLIA Ekspres trains take you from the airport to the city (KL Sentral) in as little as 28 minutes. Tickets cost MYR 55 but you can purchase here for a discount. There are departures every 15 to 20 minutes. If you arrive during rush hours like between 8AM to 9AM in the morning or 5PM to 7:30PM in the evening, it’s advisable to take the train to avoid the traffic jams. Alternatively, you can purchase a KL TravelPass which includes a roundtrip journey with the KLIA Ekspres plus unlimited LRT, MRT and monorail rides in Kuala Lumpur for 2 days. You can purchase the KL TravelPass here.
Taxis / Airport Transfers
In contrast, a ride via GRAB costs between MYR 80 to 100 depending on the time of day, excluding toll fees. Alternatively, you can book for private airport transfers here at a standard rate of MYR 75 regardless of the time of day and also inclusive of toll fees.
A relatively cheap way to get from the airport to city is via the airport bus. It costs MYR 12 for a one-way ticket from the airport and you get dropped off at KL Sentral but be prepared for a 1+ hour ride! You can book bus tickets here.
While Kuala Lumpur’s public transport system underwent a massive upgrade recently with the opening of their MRT, I typically get around via a ride-sharing app like Grab. Thanks to petrol subsidies, fares in Kuala Lumpur are among the cheapest in Southeast Asia. Hops within Kuala Lumpur itself, for instance, will set you back by only MYR 5 – 15 typically.
Car rentals have also become more popular these days as some folks prefer to minimize interacting with crowds especially in the current pandemic era. Kuala Lumpur’s roads are highly developed and foreigners can drive here provided they have a valid international driver’s license. You can check out car rental deals here.
In this era of uncertainties, I will normally purchase travel insurance even for short trips. If you reside in Singapore, check out Starr Travelead, one of the cheapest travel insurance. They have a promotion running until 29th Feb that comes with FREE Apple AirTag (worth S$45) that may even be worth more than the cost of the insurance itself.
Where to Stay in Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur is one of the most affordable major city to stay in luxury hotels so why not live it up a bit and stay somewhere nicer? Here, it’s very well possible to stay in a 5-star property with a US$100 per night budget. You can get a good 3-star hotel with US$40 and 4-star accommodations for about US$75.
Santa Grand Signature Kuala Lumpur – This is a great value hotel with rooms that are rarely above US$50 a night (and that is already with breakfast). Location-wise, the hotel is situated in Jalan Ampang, close to the KL Tower and a few minutes walk from Dang Wangi Station.
KLoé Hotel – This is the place to stay if you are looking for an instaworthy hotel that is close to the city center. KLoé Hotel is located right in Bukit Bintang. Rooms are stylish and feature a modern industrial look. Don’t miss a picture-perfect opportunity in the concrete hallways with vines – get your friend/family member to take a photo of you from across the open hallway.
Else Kuala Lumpur – This spanking new boutique hotel opened in 2022 is stylish and luxurious at a wallet-friendly price. You can expect carefully-designed rooms and suites with soft palettes and natural tropical textures. The hotel also has an inhouse “meditation pod” for your relaxation and enjoyment.
Alila Bangsar – Situated a few minutes’ walk from Bangsar Station and around 15 minutes to the cafes the Bangsar neighborhood is known for, the Alila Bangsar boasts of stylish and relaxing public spaces high up in the city. I like how there is a semi-partition in the sitting areas here, even in the most basic guestrooms.
Hilton Kuala Lumpur – Personally one of my favorite places to stay in the city, this hotel stands close to KL Sentral which makes airport connections a breeze. Rooms are recently furnished and there are plenty of food options here. The Japanese (Iketeru), Chinese (Chynna) and Western (Graze) options are all exceptional.
You can also compare for the best prices at other KL hotels here