Free Things to do in Penang
Despite being considered to be the ‘pearl of the orient’, Penang Island in Malaysia remains an underrated option for modern-day travellers to choose as their next holiday destination.
As Georgetown is a UNESCO World Heritage site and Malaysia’s second-largest city, you would expect a visit to cost a fair amount. This is far from the case however, as there are plenty of free attractions to see and activities to do all over the island!
Here are five suggestions to get you started:
1. Visit Penang Botanical Gardens
When I got to Penang, visiting the Botanical Gardens was on the top of my to-do list! Unbelievably, admission is completely free, meaning you can spend an entire day roaming around the sections of beautiful gardens and landscapes.
As well as the flora, the Gardens are home to many faunas, including squirrels, birds, butterflies and monkeys.
You should be particularly vigilant around the monkeys as they are known for stealing tourist belongings! If you are planning on exploring the Gardens in their entirety, then sensible footwear is essential as there are some steep staircases that can prove to be a challenge.
2. Go on an Architectural / Art Walking Tour
For anyone interested in history, the colonial architecture of Georgetown is a must-see, such as Fort Cornwallis which possesses a large collection of old artillery.
Visiting these sites is important to understand the development that Penang has undergone in recent decades, providing context that every tourist should engage with. The buildings beautifully reflect the multicultural nature of the city in the integration of Islamic, Chinese and British styles. In comparison, the street art of Penang is relatively new, but are just as much of a treat for the eye, including sculptures as well as paintings that chart the history of the town!
There are online trail maps you can follow to make sure you don’t miss anything important.
3. Explore the Temples
Scattered all over the islands are Hindu and Buddhist temples, alongside Islamic mosques. These are all worth dedicating a day to, aside from the other fascinating architecture of the region.
A stand out example is Kek Lok Si Temple, which is alleged to be the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. Of course when visiting these sites of worship, tourists need to be particularly considerate of local laws and customs, which can be checked on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Travel Aware site.
Dressing modestly is important within cosmopolitan areas like Georgetown but especially so in and around the temples.
4. Venture to the Penang National Park
The Penang National Park is a highly important ecological and scientific reserve. Not only can you hike there via two main tracks, but you can also camp at two of the Park’s beaches free of charge, with the only requirement being that you have to sign yourself in and out. Not only that, but accompanying the rainforest and beaches is a turtle sanctuary that is as adorable as it sounds! It is worth splitting a visit to the Park across a minimum of two days to ensure you get the full experience of the wonders it has to offer.
5. Discover the Nutmeg Factory
A more unusual activity for the average tourist but an interesting one nonetheless, the Nutmeg Factory offers the opportunity to learn all about the fruit Penang produces so well. If you end up going nuts for nutmeg, free samples are provided for any products you may like to buy! You can also experience the unparalleled friendliness of the Penang people up close as they explain the facts of the fruit.
In being connected to the mainland by two major bridges, Penang Island is perfect for tourists who want a quick weekend break within their wider travels as well as those who want to stick to an island that also provides an urban experience. It is often not the first place on people’s minds when they talk of the wonders of South-East Asia, but it deserves to be held in the same regard as more traditional destinations, particularly with the abundance of free activities on offer.
For more information on travelling to Malaysia, take a look here. Also if you have any advice or recommendations for visiting Penang leave feedback in the comments section below.
By Claire Jenns