Best things to do in Kuala Lumpur, 3-day itinerary
Kuala Lumpur, or KL for short, is one of the fastest-growing and most culturally diverse tourist destinations in Asia. Because KL is such a melting pot of different nationalities, English is a commonly spoken language. This, plus its central location in Asia make it a great hub for digital nomads. The city is mainly known for its skyscrapers and cheap shopping but has so much more to offer.
We spent three days in KL on our layover to New Zealand and fell in love with this vibrant city. There’s a bit of everything for everyone; from delicious food to giant shopping malls, from temples to mosques, from old colonial architecture to modern skyscrapers, and from green parks to street art.
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First things first
Kuala Lumpur is a big city and attractions are quite spread out so we recommend using Grab to cover the bigger distances. To use the Grab app you’ll need an internet connection, so get a local sim card before you start exploring the city. A 3GB data bundle will cost you around 20 MYR (~ 5 USD) and you can get them at the airport or at one of the countless top-up places around town. Also, remember that the humidity in KL is very high and tap water is not potable, so always take a bottle of drinking water with you when you go out. Bring a refillable bottle and fill it at refill stations that you can find in most streets to both save money and reduce the use of plastic bottles.
Thean Hou Temple
Now that you’ve got your sim card, you can book a Grab taxi that brings you to the Thean Hou Temple. This beautiful Chinese Buddhist temple is built on a hilltop just outside of the city center. Go for a stroll in the garden, or climb up to the top level of the temple to enjoy the view over the city. If you get here early morning you’ll likely see locals practicing Tai Chi or other forms of meditation in the temple.
From the calmness of the Chinese temple to the busy street markets of Chinatown. Walk over Petaling Street - the heart of Chinatown to sharpen your haggling skills and score some souvenirs. Hidden on the edge of Chinatown is a cool & quirky cafe called Merchant’s Lane that you’ll only find if you know what to look for. We followed our navigation to the cafe and still spent 5 minutes looking for the entrance which is through a tiny blue door tucked away next to a newspaper store. Merchant’s Lane is the perfect place to relax for a bit and have some food.
Merdeka Square & Sultan Abdul Samad
From Chinatown, it is a 10-15 minute walk along the Kuala Lumpur Heritage Trail to Merdeka Square. On this small green square stands a 95-meter high flagpole with the Malaysian flag, marking the spot where the Malaysian independence started. In front of Merdeka Square, you’ll find one of Kuala Lumpur’s most beautiful buildings; the Sultan Abdul Samad building. This former seat of the British colonial administration is nowadays occupied by Malaysian ministries and its big clocktower is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the area. Make sure to walk all the way around the building as each side is unique and equally impressive.
Cross the bridge over the river on the backside of the Sultan Abdul Samad building to get to the Masjid Jamek (Jamek Mosque). This is the oldest mosque in KL and the 3 domes make it super picturesque. The mosque is free to visit outside of prayer times and if you don’t wear appropriate clothing you’ll be given some to wear at the entrance.
Rise and shine! Batu Caves is one of the most popular tourist attractions in KL, making getting up early to avoid the crowds absolutely worth it. The massive limestone caves are entered via the insta-famous 272 rainbow coloured stairs. Inside the caves stands a Hindu temple and on a sunny day, rays of light shine through holes in the roof of the cave, giving it a mystical feeling. The gates open at 7 am and we recommend not getting here much later than that if you want to avoid the crowds. Starting at about 8:30 - 9 am the tourist buses come rolling in and the caves get very busy. Oh and hide your hats and loose items when going up and down the stairs or the monkeys at Batu Caves roam around freely and will try to steal them.
This massive mosque is a must-see if you ask us. All the little details on the walls and ceiling will make your jaw drop. From window panels decorated with handcrafted wooden flowers to arches covered with tiny mosaic inlay. Every little corner shows incredible craftsmanship making this mosque truly breathtaking. You’re not allowed to walk around the complex without supervision, but volunteer guides are always available and happy to show you around for free. Just as at the Masjid Jamek you’ll be given appropriate clothing if you don’t wear it already. The guides take their time for you and answer any questions that you have about the mosque or Islam, and they can show you all the best spots to take pictures too. This place is a true hidden gem, we saw only 5 other tourists during the two hours that we spent here, just make sure to check prayer times before arriving.
Perdana Botanical Garden
These botanical gardens are perfect for escaping the busy city and relaxing for a bit after lunch. Walking around the park can be done in about an hour and the walk takes you alongside the lake, over cute little bridges, several flower gardens, and a deer park. The park itself is free, but the attached bird park and butterfly garden have their own entrance fee.
Jalan Alor Night Market
Your KL experience is not complete without having tasted some Malaysian street food, and the best place for that is the Jalan Alor Night Market. During the day Jalan Alor is a colourful neighbourhood where you can admire some of the best Kuala Lumpur street art masterpieces and in the evening it fills up with food stalls offering real Malaysian cuisine for real Malaysian prices. It is almost impossible to not get hungry when walking through this street at night and smelling all the delicious food.
KL Forest Eco Park
Let’s start the day off easy. In the middle of the city center lies a park that gives a whole new meaning to the term ‘urban jungle’. The KL Forest Eco Park offers a few short nature trails on ground level, but the real fun here is walking over the suspension bridges of the canopy walk up in the trees. Seeing skyscrapers in the distance while you’re walking in between jungle treetops is a really cool experience.
Shop till you drop
Did we mention that KL is great for shopping yet? From cheap electronics to designer clothing, you can find it all! There are some massive shopping malls in KL. The Surya KLCC mall is located directly under the Petronas Towers, the Nu Sentral mall is conveniently attached to the central train station, and the Pavilion mall is your best bet for designer clothing. If you’re looking for camera gear then YL Camera is great.
Petronas Towers & KLCC Park
People that haven’t seen pictures of the iconic Petronas Towers yet have probably been living under a rock. The 452 meter high towers are the highest twin towers in the world and Malaysia’s most famous landmark, so checking them out is something that has to be in your KL itinerary. If you want to go up the tower to the sky bridge connecting the towers or to the observation deck on the 86th floor you need to buy tickets first. You can buy them at the ticket office in front of the towers, but if you want a chance for a ticket you’ll need to queue up there at 8:30 am. Alternatively, you can skip the queue and buy tickets in advance online. We, however, prefer to gaze upon the towers from the KLCC Park at the back of the towers. The towers are particularly spectacular in the evening when they are lit up with hundreds of lights and the fountain in the park lights up in different colours.
Kuala Lumpur’s skyline is without a doubt the most stunning during sunset and at night when all the highrise lights up. We’ve heard great things about the Helipad Lounge, which is an active rooftop helicopter landing platform that turns into a bar after 6 pm. Alternatively, you can do what we did and book a hotel with a rooftop infinity pool to admire the sunset and evening city skyline from.
Ready to go?!
Kuala Lumpur really is a year-round destinations with temperatures around 30 degrees Celcius all year long, and as you just read there is plenty to do in this cultural and vibrant city. No matter if you’re planning to go backpacking through Asia or you’re just looking for a city trip, KL is an awesome place to visit in any case.
Have you visited Kuala Lumpur yet? Do you have anything to add to this itinerary? Let us know in the comments below!
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Where to stay
Hotel 1000 Miles - On a budget? Hotel 1000 Miles offers hostel-style and private hotel rooms. The hotel is very centrally located and offers rooms at very good prices.
The Ritz Carlton, Kuala Lumpur - Willing to splurge and looking for luxury? Staying in KL doesn’t really get much more luxurious than The Ritz Carlton. It is located smack in the middle of the city center with great views over the city, but staying here comes with a pretty hefty price tag.
D’Majestic Place by Homes Asian - This is where we stayed during our trip to KL. Big private rooms with comfy beds and conveniently located. Great value for money and it has an infinity pool on the top floor.
The Face Suites - This place is famous for its infinity pool with an unobstructed view of the Petronas Towers. Looking to get that perfect infinity pool shot? Then The Face Suites is the place for you.
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