Ground view of Petronas Towers and surrounding skyscrapers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia — Getty Images

The essential travel guide to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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What do you need to know before going to Kuala Lumpur? How many days is enough and what time of year is best to visit? What’s a good budget and what are the best things to see? Kiwi.com has the answers

Here’s Kiwi.com’s essential travel guide to the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur. Whether you’re traveling solo or in a group, visiting for a while or just a day or two, here you’ll be able to find all the info regarding attractions, safety, visas, food, accommodation, and more.

Travel basics

 

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Kuala Lumpur’s main airport is simply called Kuala Lumpur International Airport and is located in Sepang, around 50 kilometers south of the city. The easiest way to reach the airport is on the KLIA Ekspres, a direct rail link that runs to and from KL Sentral station. The journey costs RM55 (roughly €11) and takes half an hour. Alternatively, you can take the bus; there are services running from the center every 15 minutes at peak times costing from RM11 (€2.20) to RM15 (€3). These take longer (around one hour), but they’re air-conditioned and comfortable — just beware of the traffic and give yourself plenty of time.

Visitors from the US, UK, most of Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Canada don’t require a visa if they’re staying for less than three months, although you will need your passport to be valid for at least six months. Citizens of other nations may need additional paperwork; all requirements can be found here.

Major sites and attractions

You’ve made it to the city. Hooray! What can you expect to see while you’re here?

Petronas Towers and the Kuala Lumpur skyline

Petronas Towers up-close at dusk — Getty ImagesThese are the tallest twin towers in the world — Getty Images

The tallest twin towers in the world dominate the skyline of the city, and although most visitors flock to go up inside and cross the bridge that links them, we recommend heading to one of the bars that exist high up in the surrounding buildings. Most are pretty pricey and have a dress code of some sort, but for a one-off, try the SkyBar on the 33rd floor of Traders Hotel. There’s a live DJ, no strictly-enforced dress code, and if you just want a drink, you don’t have to reserve in advance. Go up, treat yourself to a cocktail, see the views (particularly at night), then go about your business.

Sri Mahamariamman Temple

Interior of Sri Mahamariamman Temple — Getty ImagesThe elaborate interior of the Sri Mahamariamman Temple — Getty Images

Sure, KL is a strikingly modern city, but Malaysia has been a cultural crossroads for centuries. The older buildings are a mix of influences — particularly Malay itself, Chinese and Indian — although you’ll also see buildings from when it was a regional capital for British colonies, throwing Mock Tudor, Neo-Gothic and Spanish styles into the mix.

The Sri Mahamariamman Temple is a place of worship for the local Tamil community, but it also serves as a place to learn about the religions and cultures that make up the city, both historically and today.

Jalan Alor

Group of people eating street food at Jalan Alor — Getty ImagesJalan Alor is the street in Kuala Lumpur for foodies — Getty Images

The former red-light district is now a street (and surrounding area) dedicated to food. During the day it’s relatively calm, but come nightfall it morphs into an overwhelming mix of aromas, flavors, lights and sounds, with hawkers at barrows and basic restaurants sacrificing luxury for good, honest, delicious food. Grilled fish, noodles in broth, spicy chicken, fruity desserts and cheap, cold beer mean it’s popular with locals and tourists alike, and shouldn’t be missed.

Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square)

Woman holding hand in front of Sultan Abdul Samad Building — Getty ImagesDataran Merdeka makes a great starting point for a self-guided adventure — Getty Images

For an overview of the political history of the city, you’ll find everything you need right here. Surrounded by churches, museums, a monumental fountain and the world’s former tallest flagpole (gasp!), it’s another mish-mash of styles and historical periods. You can use it as a starting point for a self-guided tour of the city that takes between two and three hours, hitting a load of major points of interest on the way. Download the PDF walking route guide here.

Kuala Lumpur railway station

Kuala Lumpur railway station exterior — Getty ImagesCompleted in 1917, today, the old railway station is an extensive museum — Getty Images

Now usurped by the modern KL Sentral, the original railway station (completed in an extravagant British-Asian colonial style in 1917), it’s now a museum to rail travel. The Great Hall houses steam trains and fire engines, and visitors can explore replicas of carriages made to carry dignitaries in the height of luxury, the rest of the station, and they can also learn about the history of rail travel in the region.

The Zhongshan Building

KL’s coolest place to be, this nondescript, even slightly run-down-looking building in the Kampung Attap area of the city is home to a commune of artists and creatives. In its own words, the variety ranges from “emerging art and artisanal sourdough, independent booksellers and underground musicians, letterpress-ers and silkscreen-ers, coffees and suits, law and punk records”… meaning small, indie shops and food sellers, as well as exhibitions, gigs, readings, workshops and discussion groups.

@kiwi.com layover gone wild 🌊 #layoverdiaries #selftransfer #airportlife #traveltipsandhacks #kiwicomflight #travelwithkiwicom ♬ original sound – Kiwi.com

Obviously, these are just a few selected highlights, but as you can see, Kuala Lumpur has something for any time frame, any area of interest, and any budget. Speaking of which…

Budget

Okay, let’s break down an average daily budget for your time in KL (not including accommodation).

Local currency: Malaysian ringgit; €1 = RM5 (RM4.91 to be exact, but close enough)

Coffee: €2.50

0.5l local beer: €3.65

Lunch: €3.25

Dinner in a mid-range restaurant: €12.20

Two-day KL Travelpass (return airport transfer plus 48 hours of unlimited use of LRT, MRT and Monorail lines): €24.50

Hostel for one night: €5 — €40

3-star hotel for one night: €40 — €120 with breakfast

Daily budget: €40 — €65

What’s the best time of year to visit?

Nighttime shot from the ground of puddle in backstreet of Kuala Lumpur with Petronas Towers in background — Getty ImagesKuala Lumpur is pretty humid throughout the year — Getty Images

With a warm climate all year round, there’s not really a ‘bad’ time to visit Kuala Lumpur, but accommodation prices do vary depending on whether you’re in the wet or dry seasons. December to February and May to July are the dry seasons, and also the times when some of the most popular festivals take place, so prices do go up a touch.

Whenever you go, prepare for it to be pretty humid; although the dry season is called that, it just means it’s not monsoon season. The humid weather makes the odd shower a possibility even at the height of summer.

Safety

Kuala Lumpur is ranked the 35th-safest city in the world at the moment, meaning you’ll most likely be absolutely fine as long as you keep your wits about you and don’t do anything silly (and, to be fair, that applies to every big city in the world). The occasional spot of pickpocketing in crowded tourist areas and the odd taxi scam have been reported, but if you stay aware of your surroundings and buy a transport card, all will be good.

It’s a city where lone and female travelers can visit without feeling threatened, and the obvious pieces of advice — don’t drink too much, don’t go anywhere with a stranger, if you feel uncomfortable, then leave — apply as much here as anywhere else. After dark, the city center is still fine, but there are a couple of sketchy areas outside the city (Chow Kit, Jinjang, and Kepong) which you should probably steer clear of, no matter how nicely someone asks you to join them.

Where to stay

Woman in infinity pool with skyscrapers in background — Getty ImagesThe Penthouse on 34 is a popular place for visitors to stay, especially because of its infinity pool — Getty Images

Places to stay vary wildly in both what you get and the price you pay: hostels start from as little as €5, as described above, but there are a couple of extraordinary deals to be found. The Penthouse on 34, for example, will give you a private room for as little as €39, but you get views from the 34th floor and access to an infinity pool! Lower-cost options will see you out of the city center proper, but not far — two kilometers, perhaps, no distance — especially with the free buses (see the ‘Other tips and tricks’ section below).

Hotel-wise, you’re spoiled for choice. From the Petronas Towers to Chinatown and east to Bukit Bintang, you’ll be both central and able to find a hotel to suit most budgets. KL is one of those cities that can feel expensive, but that’s just because the pricey stuff is so pricey — you can get a perfectly comfortable hotel for less than you’d think. Ceylonz Suite, for example, will furnish you with a double room, amazing views and a rooftop pool for less than €50 a night, depending on the season.

What to eat and drink

The cuisine of Kuala Lumpur is, like its history, a mix of cultures and styles, but there are a number of staples you’ll see about the place.

Woman sitting at diner with trays of Malaysian food — Getty ImagesTwo popular staple dishes are nasi lemak and roti canai — Getty Images

First, go for nasi lemak: pretty much the national dish of Malaysia. At its most basic, it’s rice cooked in coconut milk served with a spicy paste, eggs and peanuts. However, you’ll also see it served with fried chicken, and it’ll cost you as little as RM9 (€1.80). Roti canai is another popular basic option. A flaky, buttery flatbread originally from southern India, it’s served as a breakfast food with sugar or as a snack with curry sauce.

Plate of nasi kandar — Getty ImagesNasi kandar — Getty Images

Nasi kandar is steamed rice with rich curry sauce and one of a variety of meats ranging from chicken to shrimp, prawn, squid, fish roe, or even deep-fried spleen if you’re feeling adventurous. Add to that Chinese-influenced dishes like pork noodles, fried vegetables, ribs and stir-fries, as well as the famous Ramly burger (a greasy, juicy meat patty wrapped in an egg then shoved in a burger bun), and you’ve got a culinary journey around Asia.

Close-up of dishes of Malaysian food and cups of teh tarik — Getty ImagesWash everything down with a frothy cup of teh tarik — Getty Images

Teh tarik (literally ‘pulled tea’) is the main drink of Malaysia. It’s a strong black tea sweetened with condensed milk with a pleasing froth on top. You’ll find it all over, but Indian Muslim restaurants (mamak) serve arguably the best. Sirap bandung is the local take on strawberry milkshake and, if you can find it, tuak is the Malaysian take on rice wine, originally from a recipe of the tribal people of Borneo.

Other tips and tricks

  • When in the center of the city, there’s a network of bus routes past all the major sights run by GoKL Bus. There are 11 color-coded lines, and all journeys are absolutely free.
  • Prepare to haggle. Although Kuala Lumpur is a very modern city, when shopping at local markets, you’ll still be expected to strike a bargain. Don’t be intimidated, play it cool, stick to your price and just play the game!
  • Dress appropriately. In a diverse city, if you’re visiting somewhere that conforms to a particular cultural or religious belief, have the correct attire. Longer skirts and maybe a light scarf to cover your shoulders if you’re a woman, and plain colors (no messages or slogans) and long sleeves for men. Oh, and no flip-flops or sandals, either — no one needs your feet after weeks of traveling and walking!
  • PDAs are frowned upon. Don’t flaunt your relationship in public, it just isn’t really done.
  • If you’re not using public transport, the local ride-sharing app is Grab Car, affordable and widely-used.

Other than that, the only thing we can say is: get out there and enjoy Kuala Lumpur! It’s a wildly diverse city in so many respects, and with flights from around the region and across the world with Kiwi.com, there’s no reason not to add it to your list today!

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