After living in KL for over a year, I concluded that it’s far better to live there than to be a tourist. There’s so much great about this city, but it takes time to really see it. Well, if you don’t have much time, hopefully this will help. Here are 10 things to do in Kuala Lumpur.
1 – CLIMB A MILLION STAIRS AT BATU CAVES
It’s high up on the vast majority of travel itineraries in KL but with good reason. Batu Caves is a series of caves and cave temples in the North of the city, and is the most popular site in Malaysia for the Hindu Thaipusam festival (which is interestingly far bigger here than in India), during which devotees pierce their skin (including their face) with often hundreds of metal hooks, using them to pull chariots through the streets in a procession. Even if you’re in KL for that (it’s in mid-Feb), it’s still one of those must-do places to tick off the list. Just beware the mischievous monkeys.
2 – SEE WHERE KUALA LUMPUR WAS ‘BORN’
“Kuala Lumpur” literally translates as “muddy confluence” (catchy I know), and the title was given to the very place where Masjid Jamek now stands, where the Gombak and Klang rivers come together. It’s a great place to start a walking tour as a few key landmarks are very nearby. Just over the road you’ll find Merdeka (freedom) Square, a open area surrounded by heritage buildings, which happens to be home to the world’s tallest flag pole. Before you jump in a cab and head off…
3 – WANDER THROUGH CENTRAL MARKET & HAVE A COCKTAIL IN CHINATOWN
Just behind the Sultan Abdul Samad building you’ll find Central Market, the best place in KL to buy locally made souvenirs, arts and nick-nacks. There is also a good food court on the second level. From there, just down the road you’ll find the entrance to Petaling Street, AKA KL’s Chinatown. It’s a typical Chinatown – plenty of knock-off clothes, jewelry and electronics, lots to eat, and some backpacker bars and cafes too. And when you want to escape it all, head to the hidden bar PS150, a short walk away. It’s one of the best cocktail bars in the city in my opinion with excellent mixologists and it’s a complete escape from the humidity and hecticness.
4 – HEAR THE CITY’S BEST LIVE JAZZ
Live music in KL is pretty hit-and-miss, and most of the bars in the main drinking areas around Bukit Bintang are limited to usually less than fantastic cover bands playing the usual tunes. However, just off Changkat is the city’s best jazz bar, No Black Tie. It’s really down-to-earth and the music is excellent. Check out what’s playing on their website.
5 – HAVE A COCKTAIL IN A HIDDEN UNDERGROUND BAR
This is a place that even many locals in KL don’t know about. Just up the road from Masjid Jamek, down a dodgy looking set of stairs that seem to lead nowhere, and finally through a small door that says “DO NOT ENTER” in several languages, Omekase + Appreciate is an awesome little (and I mean tiny) bar that has featured in the World’s Top 50 Bar list. The drinks are as good as they get in KL, and not too pricey as well.
6 – GO FOR A JUNGLE HIKE
Kuala Lumpur is literally surrounded by jungle and there are countless trails all over that offer a chance to go from urban Asian city to dense rainforest in mere moments. Bukit Kiara trail is one of the most accessible, just a 30 minute drive (traffic dependent) from KLCC. It’s great for hiking, trail running and mountain biking, and the trails are for the most part marked on Google Maps (although Maps.me‘s maps are more accurate).
7 – EXPLORE THE MALAY VILLAGE NEXT TO THE CBD (KAMPUNG BARU)
It still amazes me that Kampung Baru exists. It’s a classic old Malay village, ramshackle and rural, with many houses built on stilts and out of wood and tin, and the crazy thing is that it’s almost right next to the Petronas Towers. You’ll find lots of local restaurants and street food, and a true kampung (village) vibe.
8 – SEE THE MANY COLOURS OF BRICKFIELDS
Brickfields is KL’s Little India; a colourful and noisy area filled with restaurants, temples and clothes, fabric and jewelry stores. It’s right next to KL Sentral and is being developed pretty hard but is still a cool area and one of the best to buy Indian fabrics and jewelry, and not to mention eat at a Banana Leaf restaurant.
9 – GRAB SOME STREET FOOD ON JALAN ALOR
Jalan Alor is the most popular street in the city to eat local food, with countless restaurants and stalls lining the road, and by night, the crowds descend, turning it into a buzzing and slightly chaotic place to get dinner. The thing I like about this street is that although it is very popular with tourists, you still see many local groups of friends and families enjoying dinner with some drinks. Always a good sign.
10 – WATCH THE SUN GO DOWN AT FUEGO
There are many bars in KL and probably many better than Fuego, but this little South American themed bar hits all the right notes. It’s got a great view of KLCC (although the new building that recently went up next to the towers means you don’t quite have a full view), they do good food and some cool cocktails (try the one served inside a book), and it’s a fantastic place to watch the sun go down. It’s pretty low-key too, with a nice mix of down to earth people.