Don't Miss in Penang
George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Area: George Town's historic buildings earned the city UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008. These buildings include Fort Cornwallis and the grand colonial architecture along Lebuh Light and Lebuh Farquhar, as well as historic shophouses (buildings with shops on the bottom and residences above), places of worship, mansions and Chinese clan jetties.
The Penang Heritage Trust offers several different heritage walking tours (604-264-2631; firstname.lastname@example.org) that start at 9 a.m. and last about three hours; be sure to book in advance. If you'd like to tour on your own, Penang Tourism offers a colored map that you can download and print. It includes the locations and photos of many heritage buildings.
Penang State Museum and Art Gallery: This is an air-conditioned oasis with excellent, well-curated displays depicting the history and culture of Penang. You'll see everything from ornate Peranakan wedding outfits to information on George Town's food scene. The art gallery features Malaysian artists past and present. (Lebuh Farquhar; 604-261-3144; Saturday through Thursday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
"Street of Harmony": Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling (formerly known as Pitt Street), offers an opportunity to see major religious communities existing side by side. Just off the street, you'll find the beautiful, historic Kapitan Keling Mosque, the Indian Sri Maha Mariamman Temple, the Chinese Goddess of Mercy Temple and Anglican St. George's Church. You'll come upon many other historic Chinese temples and clan buildings in the city's old streets and alleys that are also well worth a look.
Street Art: George Town is becoming known for clever street art, including engaging murals with 3D elements by Lithuanian-born Ernest Zacharevic, as well as entertaining welded-iron caricatures that illustrate how different streets or neighborhoods earned their names. A downloadable brochure from Penang Tourism offers descriptions and tells you where to find the art (or just look for a gaggle of tourists posing for photos with some of Zacharevic's most popular works).
Pinang Peranakan Mansion: See how wealthy George Town traders lived by visiting this huge, airy historic house, which also has examples of furniture, artifacts, clothing and lovely beaded shoes. If you have time to visit only one mansion, we recommend this one. (29 Church Street; 604-264292; daily 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.)
Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion: This bright blue mansion also serves as a hotel, so access is a bit more limited, but the tour is interesting. (14 Lebuh Leith; 604-262-0006; daily 45-minute guided tours at 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.)
Chinese Clan Jetties: These jetties jut into the water about a half-mile south of the cruise terminal, off Pengkalan Weld. Houses and temples are built along historic piers. The most famous (and the most crowded) is the Chew Jetty. For a quieter experience, explore the narrow passageways of the Lim Jetty, which you reach before the Chew Jetty.
Botanic Gardens: This 72-acre garden was founded in 1884 by the British. It's a 5-mile trip outside of George Town by bus, taxi or tour. In addition to the vast collection of unusual tropical trees and plants, you'll also probably spot long-tailed macaques and dusky leaf monkeys as you stroll the paths. In fact, don't take any food with you, or the critters might get a bit too friendly. (673A Jalan Kebun Bunga; 604-226-4401; daily 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.)
Tropical Spice Garden: About 13 miles from the pier and best reachable by taxi or hop-on hop-off bus (Beach route), features 500 species of flora and fauna, spread over 8 acres of secondary tropical jungle. The facility also has a gift shop and cafe and offers guided tours and cooking lessons. (Book both in advance.) The garden can be combined with a visit to the nearby beach area, Batu Ferringhi. (Lot 595 Mukim 2, Jalan Teluk Bahang; 604-881-1797; daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
Kek Lok Si Temple: This huge complex is said to be the largest Buddhist temple in Southeast Asia. It's located in the hills, about 6 miles from the pier. Aside from the excellent views, attractions include a funicular train that travels up to a massive 120-foot-high statue of Guan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, as well as a tower of 10,000 Buddhas, which you can climb for more views. With souvenir shops and crowds, the place feels as much like a tourist attraction as a religious site. It can also be combined with a trip to nearby Penang Hill, about a mile away. (1000-L, Tingkat Lembah Ria 1, Ayer Itam; 604-828-3317; daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
Penang Hill: This hill was a cool refuge for the British, who built bungalows along its slopes. The hop-on hop-off City route bus stops at Penang Hill and, once here, Penang Hill Railway can take you to the top, 2,000 feet above sea level, where food and tea vendors offer refreshments to accompany the views. (Perbadanan Bukit Bendera, Jalan Stesen Bukit Bendera, Air Itam; 604-828-8880; daily 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., closed for annual inspection during one week in January)
Ben's Vintage Toy Museum: Toy-lovers can travel back to their childhoods at this small, but delightful museum. Chances are, the friendly family members who lovingly collected the toys will be there to walk you through the small private museum's two floors. (55 Lebuh Acheh; 604-308-6657; Saturday through Thursday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.)
Wonderfood Museum: The Instagram crowd will go for this "museum" filled with giant 3D depictions of local food, as well as some crazy food scenes that make great backdrops for selfies. (49 Lebuh Pantai; 604-251 9095; daily 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.)