A guide to Penang’s must-see attractions
Start with a hearty breakfast at Wembley Cafe in St Giles Wembley then take a taxi to the UNESCO Heritage Trail to begin your discovery of Penang’s history and cultural heritage, which blends East and West. Start at the iconic Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower, built in 1897 to commemorate the 60th year of the Queen’s reign. Then head to Fort Cornwallis, erected when Captain Francis Light first landed on Penang in 1786. Named after the distinguished Governor General of India Charles Marquis Cornwallis, the fort was initially a wooden structure but was later reinforced with bricks to protect the island from enemy attacks.
For insight into the life of an immigrant from China who later became a local captain of industry, step into the House of Yeap Chor Ee. Yeap arrived in Penang in 1885 as a young immigrant. The building, his first home, was turned into a Social History Gallery in 2008. Once done, walk toward the Esplanade to admire the handsome Victorian-style Penang Island City Hall building. Constructed in 1903, it is one of the first in George Town to be completely fitted with electric lights and fans.
For a glimpse of what used to be a 19th-century Chinese courtyard house, take a short taxi ride to Leith Street for The Blue Mansion, formerly known as Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion. Built in stages over seven years, the two-storey house was the residence of Cheong, a prominent Chinese figure in the Penang Straits Settlement. It is now a boutique hotel that houses beautiful antique furniture, artwork, traditional Chinese costumes and other highlights.
Get a map of George Town’s famous street art to appreciate the series of interactive murals by London-trained Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic. Although scattered all over George Town, you might just catch a glimpse or two of his brilliant artwork around the area.
For lunch, take a trishaw ride to Joo Hooi Coffee Shop on Penang Road for its famous Penang Assam Laksa, a spicy-sour fish base soup served with vermicelli noodles and garnished with finely-sliced cucumber, red chillies, lettuce, pineapple, onions, ginger and mint leaves and topped with a thick sweet shrimp paste for taste. Order cendol for dessert. The bowl of shaved ice, flavoured with coconut milk, palm sugar syrup, kidney beans, and green starched noodles with pandan flavouring is heavenly on a hot day.
Take a taxi to the oldest standing Hindu temple in Penang, the Sri Mahamariamman Temple in Little India, to admire the amazing sculptures and statues of deities. Remember to take your shoes off before stepping into the 200-year-old temple. Afterwards, take a short walk to Kapitan Keling Mosque, built by Indian Muslim traders in the 19th century, featuring large Mughal-style domes, crescents and stars.
Continue on a slow walk to Khoo Kongsi and spend some time taking in the sight of the magnificent complex, comprising a clan-house, 62 units of terrace houses and shop-houses, an opera stage and a cannon square.
Penang’s Gurney Drive is as famous for its hawker food as Rodeo Drive is for star-studded shopping in Beverly Hills. Expect to find a wide variety of local delicacies for dinner at one of the biggest hawker centres in Penang, including char koay teow, lok lok, mee rebus, satay, Hokkien mee, mee goreng, and apom, to name a few. Walk off dinner at the nearby Gurney Paragon Mall, a 65,000-square-metre complex built around St Joseph’s Novitiate, a 1925 chapel that has been beautifully restored.
Read more: Armchair Travel: How to explore Penang’s best sights from home