Flashy malls and green parks rub up against massive skyscrapers and tiny street food stalls. A spin around the city will have you ooh-ing at modern buildings and ahh-ing at old mosques. The contrast between old and new make this SE Asian city a favorite of mine.
It’s small enough to see a good chunk of it in a full weekend, but big enough to leave you wanting more.
By no means am I an expert in travel in Kuala Lumpur. I did a lot of research before arriving in the city, as I knew I had to make the most of my limited time. The perfect itinerary for me includes a mixture of popular sites, off the beaten path destinations and local eateries.
This itinerary is for you if you want see the top sights of the city, eat some authentic local food, and spend the weekend seeing KL on foot.
Friday Night – Hustle and Bustle at Jalon Alor Food Street
Whatever time you arrive in Kuala Lumpur, get settled at your hotel and head over to Jalon Alor. This is a street for the food lovers. Hawker stalls line both sides of the road. It is noisy and crowded and full of life. A great place to start your weekend in KL.
Many people will suggest you head to Wong Ah Wah at the end of Jalon Alor for their famous chicken wings. We did this immediately, and were not super impressed. We had a much better time walking up and down the street tasting different foods from the street vendors.
After eating your way through the street, go to one of the bars nearby, get a foot massage, or just head back to the hotel and rest up for tomorrow.
Saturday – Discover the Vibrant and Colorful Neighborhoods
Breakfast at RA Nasi Lemak
Skip the hotel breakfast and get an early start on your day in KL. Venture out RA Nasi Lemak near the Dang Wangi LRT Station, and enjoy a local and authentic breakfast. Chances are you will be the only tourist, and the owners and other locals will help you navigate the serve yourself buffet. This was one of my favorite meals in Kuala Lumpur – the food was fresh and flavorful, and I enjoyed eating my meal sharing a table with some locals. Be sure to buy some of the coconut candies on your way out – so delicious!
From Nasi Lemak, take a walk to your next destination, Masid Jamek Mosque. The early morning hour makes it a good time to walk around, not too busy and not too hot yet. It is just 1km away and should take you about 20 minutes to get to the mosque from Nasi Lemak.
DIY Day Time Walking Tour
Masid Jamek Mosque
This is the oldest mosque in Kuala Lumpur and sits in a tranquil spot at the intersection of two rivers. The mosque has three domes, the center one sitting the tallest at 21 meters tall. It is a beautiful place and makes you feel like you are not in a busy city.
* If you skip breakfast and want to start here, take the Star LRT to Masjid Jamek Station.
Next up is Mederka Square. You can actually see the Sultan Ahmed Samad Building from the mosque, but you need to walk around and cross the river. It should take about 5 minutes.
Mederka Square is the spot where, in 1957, the country declared independence from Britain. Surrounded by important colonial buildings, this is the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Here you will find the National History Museum, and that famous I<3KL sign, and the Sultan Ahmed Samad Building facing the square. Walk to the middle of the square and look toward the city. You will see a nice view of the Menara Building, the twin towers and a bell clock.
From Mederka Square head to Central Market – it is super close, just a 5 minute walk.
This is a sprawling market filled with kiosks and stalls selling Malaysian art and handicrafts. It’s long history is more interesting than the actual shopping experience. Started in 1888 as a wet market, it has expanded over the years and is now an enclosed permanent structure. All the ethnicities that make KL so diverse combine in this market, having distinct sections for Malaysians, Chinese and Indians. I found it to be filled with tourists, though it was nice to stroll around.
From Central Market, it is a quick 3 minute to Petaling Street (Chinatown).
Like many Chinatown’s around the world, this is a bargain hunters dream. Vendors selling DVDs, clothes, jewelry, and knick-knacks line Petaling Street shouting at customers to come and buy their goods. There are Chinese pharmacies where you can buy some traditional Chinese herbs.
If you are hungry, do some food hunting through the streets of Chinatown. Here is a guide for some of the best places to eat in this neighborhood.
If it is super hot (which it most likely will be) pop into a cafe and cool off with a cold drink and some air conditioning before heading to Brickfields.
Chinatown to Brickfields is walkable, though a bit of a hike. I would just get in a cab and tell them the address of the restaurant. It shouldn’t cost more than RM8.
This busy neighborhood was the pioneering settlement in KL, and my favorite area in the city (that I’ve been to). Like most of Kuala Lumpur, old colonial buildings stand next to new businesses. Intricately designed temples surprise you around corners. Indian music blares from speakers. And the smell of flavorful Indian food permeates the air.
Start your time in Brickfields with a meal. Hopefully you are not too full from snacking in Chinatown and are ready to eat some lunch!
Lunch at Visalatchis
All over Brickfields you will find restaurants and food stalls preparing traditional banana leaf meals, and discovering Visalatchis from Mark over at Migrationology was the highlight of my eating experience in Malaysia. A banana leaf takes the place of a plate at this restaurant. Vegetables, rice and chutneys fill the leaf, and the waiter comes around and gives you a choice of however many meat dishes you want. Three of us ate here, and we chose 5 small dishes of meat.
After lunch it’s time to walk around. On the same street as Visalatchis is the impressive Sri Kandaswamy Temple. It’s colorful facade will immediately intrigue you. From here, stroll around and soak in the culture of Kuala Lumpur’s ‘Little India’.
It is quite a big neighborhood, so if you want to plan your time here are some other things to check out in Brickfields:
- Thean Hou Temple, a six tier temple dedicated to dedicated to the Goddess of fisherman.
- Buddhist Maha Vihara Temple, one of KL’s major Buddhist temples.
- Sen Hong Tokong, a shrine turned into a sauna/steam room
- Go Shopping, buy sari’s, traditional Indian snacks, and Indian spices.
At this point you probably need a rest, so head back to your hotel and relax before your night out on the town.
*I can only recommend one place to stay in Kuala Lumpur (as it’s the only hotel I stayed in!), Hotel Istana Kuala Lumpur in KLCC. I looked for deals on booking.com a couple days before arriving in the city and found a sweet deal for this hotel! For $60, we had a suite with a view of the twin towers – incredible!
DIY Night Time Walking Tour
I would suggest starting your night at the Petronas Twin Towers and taking a walk through the underground shopping mall to Bukit Bintang. However, if you are interested in starting at the Menara Tower for views of the city, you can do that as well.
The KL Tower (Menara Tower) is the second tallest building in the city, and the revolving restaurant on the top is a popular dining destination. With the viewing deck at 276m, it supposedly gives the best view of the city.
We opted to go to the top of this building, thinking we would get a nice view of the twin towers and the rest of the city, but in complete honesty – I was unimpressed. I have been to the top of a lot of towers around the world, and this was my least favorite. The lights inside reflected too heavily on the glass windows making it difficult to see. It was crowded, and didn’t offer much of a view. Next time, I will go to the top of the twin towers during the day.
Next up are the Petronas Twin Towers. These architecturally stunning towers are the highlight of the KL skyline. At 452 meters high, they are the tallest buildings in the city and stunning both day and night. Seeing them at night was one of the best things in the city.
From the twin towers, walk into the buildings and head downstairs – you will be in the shopping mall Suria KLCC. This mall is connected to many of the other malls and buildings around. Walking through the massive underground space is fascinating. A whole other world exists below the city – stores and restaurants and people and an aquarium.
Your ultimate goal is to make it to Bukit Bintang. Follow the signs for the aquarium. You will walk underground for about 10 minutes. Once you get to the aquarium, go up the escalator to the outside sidewalk, then up another escalator to a walkway above the traffic. Walk another 10 minutes in this comfortable air conditioned walkway to Pavilion.
Make sure you walk through Pavilion, an elegant and extravagant mall. I visited during Christmas, so it was beautifully decorated.
From here, pick a place to eat that appeals to you, or do what I did, and head back to Jalon Alor and taste whatever you didn’t eat the night before!
Sunday – Nature in the City
Yesterday you spent a lot of time walking (and probably sweating) through the towering buildings. Today is all about discovering the natural side of KL. Wake up early and hop on the train to Batu Caves.
Batu Caves are just 13km outside the city, and well worth a co
uple of hours of your day. Getting there is easy. The train leaves from multiple stops in the city, and drops you off directly at the caves. It is free to climb the 272 stairs and explore the caves. Monkeys are everywhere, and the later in the day you go, the more people there will be.
**Women are not allowed to wear shorts in the caves. I didn’t realize this and had to purchase a sarong at one of the shops to cover my legs.
Head back on the train and take it to Kuala Lumpur Station. Leave the train station and walk toward Lake Gardens Park.
Lake Gardens Park
You might almost forget you are in a massive city when you wander through the lushness of Lake Gardens Park. Pick up a map from one of the kiosks when you enter, so you can get your bearings. There are tons of things to do here, and no way did I cover them all. Here are some of things that I did (and a couple I wish!):
Masjid Negara – The National Mosque of Malaysia. Check the visiting hours before you come if you are a non-muslim.
Orchid Park – A beautiful space filled with over 3,000 orchids (cost: RM1)
KL Bird Park – The largest ‘free flight walk in aviary’ in the world; it resembles more of a rainforest than a park inside a city.
Local Food Stalls behind the police station (at the intersection of Jalan Tanglin & Jalan Cenderwasih)
If you are just in KL for the weekend, late afternoon means you probably need to get moving to wherever you are going next. But, if you have more time and are looking for some other things to do, check out these blogs:
- Kuala Lumpur Travel Guide for Food Lovers
- A Malaysian Food & Travel Blog
- Enjoy Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
The Bottom Line
You could easily spend a month in Kuala Lumpur without seeing and doing everything. This guide is meant as a jumping off point for exploring the city. Decide the things that are most important to you, and take it from there!