Conveniently located at a crossroads of Southeast Asia, Kuala Lumpur is exploding with a vibrant culture and fusion of international influences.
While the Malaysian capital city is often overlooked by Western tourists, Kuala Lumpur has plenty to offer any traveler, no matter what your interests are. With Kuala Lumpur International Airport serving as a major hub for the region, the city is an easy stopover for your next international adventure that won’t disappoint. Here are some of the highlights to check out in this Southeast Asian metropolis.
In Malaysian culture, shopping is a social activity and a great way to take a break from the heat and escape into air conditioning. As a result, it should come as no surprise that Kuala Lumpur has a high density of malls with endless retail options. For starters, located in what is known as the Golden Triangle, Bukit Bintang is a major hub for all kinds of shopping and entertainment with the Pavilion mall as a popular stop. Then there’s Nu Sentral, which serves not only as a central train station but as a massive shopping destination as well. Suria KLCC is arguably Kuala Lumpur’s most famous mall that’s jam-packed with things to do. Located directly beneath the Petronas Towers, the mall contains over 300 stores, an aquarium, and a concert hall, making it possible to spend your entire trip here and still not experience everything it has to offer.
For a traditional Malaysian shopping experience, head to one of Kuala Lumpur’s numerous markets. Located in Chinatown, Petaling Street is packed with stalls of… well, everything you can imagine. You can buy souvenirs here, but the biggest draw is the street food. The vendors are open into the early morning hours, making it the perfect stop after a night out or a solution for jet lag-induced hunger. Another great option for late-night eats is Kampung Baru Night Market, which is open Saturday nights into early Sunday mornings. Chow Kit Market and Pudu Wet Market are both places locals go to get spices, meats, and produce. As a tourist, they’re great for tasting regional fruits and vegetables. If you like art, head to the Central Market where local artists sell their crafts. Even if your suitcase is full, Central Market is still a cultural heritage site that is quite fun to browse.
One of the best parts of traveling is trying the local cuisine, and Malaysia does not disappoint. While street food can be found throughout Kuala Lumpur, Jalan Alor in Bukit Bintang is THE place to taste everything your heart desires. A popular choice is lok lok, which is served by street vendors but prepared yourself by dipping skewers into boiling water and adding your choice of sauces and toppings. Roti Jala, or “net bread,” is often served with curry but is popular as an afternoon snack on its own. Noodle dishes like laksa, Hokkien mee, and curry mee are staples in Kuala Lumpur and can be found in restaurants or as street food. Try nasi lemak for a traditional taste of Malaysia and finish your meal with apam balik, a sweet peanut-filled pancake. Looking for a full taste of Asia? Chinatown and Little India are hotspots for deliciously authentic eats.
Get in touch with your spiritual side and explore one of Kuala Lumpur’s many religious sites. Masjid Jamek is Kuala Lumpur’s oldest mosque and is located where the Klang and Gombak rivers converge. Head to the Islamic Arts Museum to see the beautiful iconography Malaysia’s official religion has inspired. The Batu Caves are one of Kuala Lumpur’s most popular tourist destinations and hold a series of Hindu temples found throughout a network of caves. Thean Hou Temple is dedicated to the Chinese Heavenly Mother and is a popular place for Chinese weddings. St. Mary’s Cathedral was built for the small Anglican population residing in Kuala Lumpur in the late 1800s and maintains its original architecture from that time.
Continuing with architecture, due to its complex history, Kuala Lumpur has a mix of styles from all over the world. St. John’s Institution is a prime example of the colonial British influence on the city’s landscape. The Sultan Abdul Samad Building, much like Masjid Jamek, was inspired by the construction of Moorish and Mughal architecture as well as traditional Islamic design. Check out the iconic Petronas Twin Towers (the tallest twin towers in the world) for a prime example of Kuala Lumpur’s postmodern architectural style that’s becoming increasingly more common in the city. For a mix of old and new, you’ll want to see Menara KL. The tower is the seventh-tallest in the world but is designed with Islamic motifs as a nod to the country’s religious heritage.
One of the most unique features of Kuala Lumpur is its natural landscape. It may come as a surprise to many, but KL is home to the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve, which is the world’s smallest rainforest and is located in the center of the city. This Eco Park has treetop walkways that provide contrasting views of the city and the lush forest below. Another great green space in Kuala Lumpur is the Tun Abdul Razak Heritage Park, also known as the Lake Gardens. The Gardens have numerous activities to offer within, such as the Perdana Botanical Gardens, the Kuala Lumpur Bird Park, and the ASEAN Sculpture Garden. While some of the activities have an entry fee, the grounds themselves are free for everyone to enjoy.
No stopover in Kuala Lumpur is complete without a proper night out. Coley has been voted the best cocktail bar in Kuala Lumpur thanks to its inventive drinks and laid-back vibes, making it a must-visit. Explore Kuala Lumpur’s speakeasy scene at bars like Skullduggery, Pahit, and PS150 for a calm but cool night out. Head to Heli Lounge Bar for a one-of-a-kind experience, as the bar is a functioning helicopter pad by day and rooftop lounge with stunning city views by night. For a more upbeat atmosphere, head to Bukit Bintang and check out bars like Havana or Pisco. If your ideal night out involves the club, head to Zouk at KL’s entertainment hub TREC (Taste, Relish, Experience, Celebrate) where DJs play all night in eight different rooms.