A city like no other, Kuala Lumpur mixes cosmopolitan with a huge dose of tradition. Here’s a 12-hour guide to exploring the bustling capital of Malaysia
Kick off where Kuala Lumpur itself began – the bridge at Lebuh Pasar where the Klang and Gombak rivers meet to create an estuary where the first settlement was built. On the one side are colonial British buildings arranged around Independence Square. With domes and arches lending it a quirky humour, the Sultan Abdul Samad building – once a courthouse – is the biggest structure. Across the road, the Tudor-styled Royal Selangor Club, a member’s only social club, still clings to the tradition of being a men’s-only bar.
Cross the bridge into Medan Pasar (Old Market Square) and enjoy a local breakfast of toast, boiled eggs and coffee at one of the kopitiams. The old shop-houses are evocative for their playful Art Deco appearance. After breakfast, walk to Lebuh Pudu to the Sin Sze Si Ya Temple founded in 1864 to find out what the fortune sticks say about your future.
A few steps away sits Central Market. Built in 1888, it’s now a handicraft market selling everything from ornaments to souvenirs, and even keris (traditional Malay daggers).
Cross the road to Petaling Street to explore lanes filled with stalls piled high with clothes and accessories. This is the place to indulge in old-style Chinese snacks like egg tarts and puff pastries. The adjacent and newly-restored Kwai Chai Hong is also a must-visit for its stunning murals and all-round nostalgic feels. For the best curry noodles, make a beeline for Madras Lane.
Read more: KL’s Kwai Chai Hong is a time capsule of Chinatown’s old-world charm
Retrace your steps toward Medan Pasar and head to the Jamek Mosque, built in 1909 with whimsical arcs and loops. Visitors should dress modestly. Here, you can catch a train to KL’s city center.
Two stops later at Kuala Lumpur City Centre, or KLCC, you’re in skyscraper land. Walk around the park for striking views of the glittering Petronas Twin Towers before checking out the Suria mall at the foot of the towers.
To see KL as a bird does, flit up to the Thirty8 restaurant for an optional food stop in the Grand Hyatt Hotel. Admire the views from the restaurant, or tuck into dishes like sashimi or roast duck.
Get a cab, and zoom from skyscrapers to wooden houses in five minutes. Kampung Baru was built in the 1880s as a Malay agricultural settlement; today, it remains a rustic village amid the city lights. If you’re still peckish, hunt out hidden stalls to sample Malay street food like mee rebus and nasi lemak.
Hop into a taxi to Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, a road flanked by well-preserved pre-war buildings, to see where the locals shop for textiles and clothing at bargain prices.
Head to KL Tower for 360-degree views of the day turning to dusk.
Pop over to Changkat Bukit Bintang, widely regarded as one of KL’s best nightlife spots and located within easy reach from famous landmarks like Pavilion KL. This narrow strip brims with cocktail bars, pubs and trendy resto-bars (crowd-favourites like Opium KL continue to delight diners for its fusion cuisine and inventive cocktails).
Alternatively, for some delicious local fare, head to Jalan Alor, the city’s famed hawker street. Located just a short walk away from Changkat Bukit Bintang, its slew of hawker stalls and seafood restaurants whipping up everything from juicy barbecued meats, noodles and desserts makes it a popular (and wallet-friendly) supper spot in the Golden Triangle.
Read more: Where to go in Kuala Lumpur for a dose of culture and history
A version of this article was originally published in 2015.