Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, has been my home for nearly twenty years, and I still haven’t fully discovered the city. I’ve been so accustomed to living and working in KL that there are many pockets of the city that I’ve not had the chance to discover and experience. It’s funny that I have travelled to many places around the world, but I still have not had the chance to explore the places that are right in my own backyard!
I had written about the usual tourist spots in KL – the old colonial buildings, Chinatown, Little India, Kampung Baru, the National Museum, Bird Park, Batu Caves, etc – but those were published in separate posts. Perhaps it might be a better idea for me to consolidate some of these main spots in a post or two (well, maybe three!) as an easy reference for you, should you decide to travel to KL.
That said, KL is continuously growing and expanding. There will be sights that I might not be able to cover immediately or even fully explore. But starting from this year onwards, I will try my best to share as much information as possible about this city with the hope of enticing you to travel to KL!
If you’re travelling to KL for the first time, you may wonder what are the must-visit places in the city. You might also wonder how to explore the city – you could wander on your own, sign up for a guided tour or discover Kuala Lumpur with a local.
How you wish to explore the city is entirely up to you, but these are the places that you must consider to get an introduction to Kuala Lumpur:
Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square)
To know how KL began and how life was in KL during the colonial British rule, Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) is the place to get acquainted with our history.
Adjacent to the square is Kuala Lumpur City Gallery which was formerly the Government Printing Office during the British administration. The gallery has exhibitions that inform visitors how the name ‘Kuala Lumpur’ came into existence.
‘Kuala Lumpur’ means ‘muddy confluence’ of two rivers, Gombak and Klang, and it was these rivers in which tin was discovered and that attracted tin miners, workers and prospectors from China in the 19th century. By the mid-19th century, KL grew from a small jungle settlement into a frontier town under the control of a Chinese kapitan, Yah Ah Loy. Several settlements were formed along the east side of the river – the Chinese in Chinatown and Market Square, and the Malays and Indians in Java Street – while the British administrators lived and worked on the west side.
One of our historical landmarks in KL is the Sultan Abdul Samad Building, the first Mughal-style architecture in Malaysia which the British architect A.C. Norman, had adopted in many of his designs during his tenure with the Public Works Department in India and Africa. Sultan Abdul Samad Building used to house several government departments during the British rule, and the former High Court and Supreme Court of Malaysia.
Opposite the building is the Padang that was once a cricket ground. Fronting Padang is the Royal Selangor Club, a former exclusive whites-only gentleman’s club built with Tudor-style architecture in early 20th century. It was here at the Padang that that the Union Jack flag was lowered and the Malaysian flag was hoisted for the first time at midnight on 31 August 1957.
Chinatown (Petaling Street)
Chinatown in KL is located at Jalan Petaling (Petaling Street), famous for its night market of imitation goods and curio items. However, during the daytime, Chinatown is an interesting place to explore – lots of Chinese restaurants and shops and street food. It’s fun to watch the hustle and bustle of everyday life in Chinatown while sampling some of the local snacks or having a drink at one of the coffee shops nearby.
Close to Chinatown is Rex KL which was once a popular cinema in the city but is now rehabilitated to be an upcoming cultural destination and creative space for local creative communities and entrepreneurs.
Parallel to Jalan Petaling is Jalan Tun H.S. Lee where you will find the oldest Hindu temple in KL – the Sri Mahamariamman Temple. Founded by Tamil immigrants from South India, the temple was built in 1873 and is now, reputedly, the richest Hindu temple in KL. Every year during Thaipusam festival, large numbers of devotees converge on the temple to participate in a religious procession whereby the temple’s large silver chariot dedicated to Lord Murugan is transported through the city streets en route to Batu Caves in the northern part of KL.
Also, a stone’s throw away from Chinatown is the Sin Sze Si Ya Temple. Founded in 1864 by Yap Ah Loy who was the third Chinese Kapitan of Kuala Lumpur, Sin Sze Si Ya Temple is the oldest Taoist temple in KL.
Since its establishment in the 19th century, Sin Sze Si Ya Temple remains as an important temple to the Taoist community in KL. The temple functions as a cultural centre for the Chinese Taoists and is usually crowded with devotees on special festive days like Chinese New Year.
Little India Brickfields
Indian heritage and culture are also part of our unique Malaysian multi-cultural ethnicity, therefore you should venture to Little India in Brickfields.
During the early 20th century, the British brought workers from South India and Ceylon (formerly Sri Lanka) to work on the railways tracks of Malayan Railways and at the Brickfields depot. Many of the railway workers eventually settled in Malaya (pre-independence Malaysian) and lived in quarters in Brickfields. Today, the depot is now KL’s inter-city railway hub called KL Sentral.
When Malaya achieved independence and became Malaysia in 1957, Brickfields became an Indian enclave vibrant with retail shops, eateries, cultural schools and institutions serving the Malaysian-Indian community in KL.
In Little India, you will see rows of shops selling Indian food, spices, coconuts, flowers, sari, prayer items, incense sticks, kitchenware, Tamil music CDs, Tamil and Hindi movie DVDs, and beauty parlours offering bridal treatments. The atmosphere is loud, vibrant and even livelier especially during Indian New Year or Deepavali/Diwali Festival.
Make sure you have Indian cuisine during your visit to Little India. Experience the banana leaf rice at Vishal’s Food & Catering restaurant or a vegetarian buffet at Annalakshmi which is located at Temple of Fine Arts.
Batu Caves is a series of caves situated on a limestone hill in the northern suburbs of KL. Batu Caves is dedicated to Lord Murugan – the caves attract over a million people each year during Thaipusam, a Hindu festival celebrated on a grand scale in Malaysia, mostly by the Tamil community.
Batu Caves is also the site of the tallest Lord Murugan statue in the world at 42.7metres in height. People climb 272 steps leading up to the temple cave! The caves are also home to many monkeys or macaques, and they are quite a feisty bunch!
Halfway up the 272 steps is the Dark Cave – a conservation site managed by the Malaysian Nature Society, comprising passages covering 2km in which are impressive cave formations of stalactite, stalagmite, cave pearls, cave curtains, columns and gour pools.
Don’t forget to visit the Ramayana Cave which you can’t miss especially when you exit from the train station as there is a statue of Lord Hanuman at 15m in height situated at the entrance of the cave. Ramayana Cave depicts the story of the Indian epic Ramayana with colourful lightings and statues that line the walls. Look out for the sleeping giant of Kumbhakarna, brother of Ravana.
Petronas Twin Towers
You can’t come to KL without having a few photos of the Petronas Twin Towers! Petronas Twin Towers were once the tallest building in the world from 1998 to 2004, but it is still the tallest twin towers in the world. Take the opportunity to take photos of the twin towers during the day and at night as well – the lights are incredible at night!
Apart from admiring the awe-inspiring heights, there are other attractions at the Petronas Twin Towers. There is Suria KLCC, an upmarket retail shopping mall in Petronas Twin Towers; the KLCC Park where there are jogging and walking paths, wading pools and a children’s playground, and a musical light and sound fountain show at night; the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre; the aquariaKLCC, a state-of-the-art aquarium underneath the convention centre; and the Skybridge.
The Petronas Twin Towers Skybridge is a double-decker skybridge connecting the two towers on the 41st and 42nd floors, and is the highest two-storey bridge in the world. It is open to the public, but tickets are limited to 1,000 people per day.
Planning a trip to Kuala Lumpur soon? Let’s book your accommodation here:
This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. All opinions shared in this post are my own.