Explore the capital’s fascinating heritage core in Merdeka Square, enjoy a sensory jaunt through Brickfields or take a rejuvenating tour of sprawling Lake Gardens
One of Southeast Asia’s most exciting cities, Kuala Lumpur boasts plenty of noteworthy attractions for travellers to check out. While it can be an expensive city for tourists, there is plenty to do in the buzzing capital that won’t set you back a single ringgit. In fact, we’d wager that one of the best ways to experience its essential sights is completely free – and on foot. So slip on your comfiest pair of shoes and soak up the city via its wonderfully diverse walking tours. These include a self-guided exploration of the capital’s fascinating heritage core in Merdeka Square, a sensory jaunt through Brickfields, as well as a rejuvenating tour of Lake Gardens, its sprawling urban lung.
Ahead, we’ve rounded up the best walking tour trails to discover in Kuala Lumpur. They’re free and fairly easy to tackle alone (or with a guide, if you prefer.)
1. A glimpse into Malaysia’s history: Merdeka Square
Perfect for: History buffs
What to see: Sultan Abdul Samad Building, St. Mary’s Anglican Cathedral, Royal Selangor Club, KL City Gallery
This huge open-air square is historically significant for many reasons, most notably as the location where Malaysia’s independence was first declared in 1957. During the British Rule, it served as a cricket pitch; today it’s a choice spot to admire heritage Malaysian architecture in the city, thanks to the eclectic cluster of colonial buildings that each tell a story of the country’s past. Dominating the square is the striking Sultan Abdul Samad Building: its brick-walled exterior, domed turrets and arched balconies is a stunning example of classic British Raj-era architecture. You can also spy one of the world’s tallest flagpoles here, marking the spot where the Malay flag was first raised in 1885 to signify the nation’s independence from British rule. Not far from the square, you’ll find the original (and still operational) Kuala Lumpur Railway Station.
Tip: Prefer exploring with a guide? KL City Hall organises a free guided tour every Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 9am to 12.30pm, taking you around the 12 heritage buildings around Merdeka Square.
2. Take a breather in KL’s urban lung: Tun Abdul Razak Heritage Park
Perfect for: Those seeking a dose of nature, with a surprising dash of history
What to see: KL Bird Park, ASEAN Sculpture Garden, Perdana Botanical Gardens, Carcosa Seri Negara
The next time someone tells you KL is all concrete jungle, direct them to the Tun Abdul Razak Heritage Park. Best known as Lake Gardens, this sprawling 227-acre park in the heart of the city is where you’ll find many of Malaysia’s most popular attractions, such as the KL Bird Park (the world’s largest walk-in aviary), the neighbouring Deer Park (where you can see the adorable mouse deer up close), a sculpture garden and butterfly park, as well as the Perdana Botanical Garden. The latter, home to an idyllic man-made lake, is a popular picnic spot and houses both an orchid and hibiscus garden. Follow the main road through the Lake Gardens leading to the Tun Abdul Razak Memorial, the former residence of the country’s late second Prime Minister. Now an unofficial museum, visitors will find preserved documents, speeches, books as well as his collection of walking sticks and wooden pipes. Among the other significant landmarks within the park grounds are the National Monument, Parliament House and the Neo-Gothic Carcosa Seri Negara.
Tip: Free guided walks of the gardens take place between 8am and 10am on weekdays.
3. Discover KL’s Little India: Brickfields
Perfect for: Culture vultures
What to see: Vivekananda Ashram (an elegant early 1900s building), Our Lady of Fatima Church, Maha Vihara Buddhist Temple
This vibrant neighbourhood, also referred to as KL’s Little India, might lack the sleekness of KL’s skyline or the grandeur of its heritage center, but one might argue that’s precisely where it’s charm lies. A predominantly Indian enclave, Brickfields teems with vibrant shops blasting upbeat Bollywood tunes and peddling everything, from saris to spices. Brickfields has recently undergone a facelift. Interspersed in between in its pre-war shophouses, you’ll also stumble upon churches, temples and shrines, and its proximity to KL Sentral Station also makes it a tourist hotspot. Food stops are a must and spots like Mr. Naan and Mrs. Idly (for affordable South Indian buffets) and MTR 1945 (for delicious masala dosai) won’t disappoint.
Tip: Fancy a guided tour? KL City Hall runs a Little India @ Brickfields Guided Walking Tour every 1st Saturday of the month at 9.30am (tour kicks off in front of the YMCA building).
4. For a time capsule into KL’s past: Chinatown
Perfect for: Foodies, bargain shoppers, street art lovers
What to see: Petaling Street marketplace, Kwai Chai Hong, Kuan Ti Temple
Home to preserved Buddhist temples, vintage shophouses, traditional coffee houses and art galleries, Chinatown is one of KL’s oldest areas and a must-visit, whether it’s your first, second or umpteenth time in the city. Hit the Central Market for retail therapy, Chinatown-style. This market dates back to the 1880s and is a haven for handicrafts and souvenirs. For the best bargain finds, however, make your way to Petaling Street’s marketplace. Prices are dirt-cheap, but bring your haggling A-game anyway. After all the shopping, make a pitstop at Ho Kow Hainan Kopitiam, one of Chinatown’s long-standing kopitiams, to refuel with a quintessential local breakfast of soft-boiled eggs and kaya toast. Continue to the newly-restored Kwai Chai Hong, a mural-filled alleyway that dates back to the 1920s. There’s plenty of historic temple sites to visit in Chinatown too: the century-old Kuan Ti Temple is recognisable for its bright orange facade, but you’ll also find KL’s prime Hindu temple – the elaborately decorated Sri Mahamariamman – here too. A delightful mix of old and new, Chinatown is also home to arguably some of KL’s trendiest watering holes. Pull up a stool at the likes of PS150 and The Attic Bar for a well-deserved drink after a day of exploring on foot.