I’ve always loved Kuala Lumpur. As a naïve 19-year-old leaving Australia for the first time, Kuala Lumpur was my first port of call… a friendly introduction to Asia before hitting the chaos that was Vietnam. In the next few years, I travelled back through KL several times in pursuit of whatever adventure would (hopefully) scratch my travel itch. I never found the cure, but I was afforded many awesome experiences in Malaysia’s largest city.
Two days in Kuala Lumpur
It had been years since I’d been back to this wonderful city, that so seamlessly straddles the divide between progressive Western business hub and frenetic Asian giant. And so, when planning this last trip, I forced everyone to add KL to the itinerary. Not everyone loves it as much as I do; not everyone was bothered to give it a try (my husband wasn’t fussed, for example). But I forced the issue.
The result? Well, the husband thought it was kinda “meh”… but I still love it just as much.
It’s different now though. At 19, I could party till dawn if I wanted to – KL is an excellent place to do this. That’s not possible for me now with two kids under four. So yeah, this experience lacked some of the excitement I was used to. But guess what? When you wake up early each morning with a clear head, you’re ready to seize the day. I know, crazy right?! But that’s what we did. And I regret nothing.
So here is my recommendation for filling two (full) days in Kuala Lumpur, based on what we got up to. We actually arrived late on the first day and left early on the fourth, giving us three nights but two full days in the city. This itinerary is for the earlybirds among us, the ones who like (or are forced) to greet the sun. Party animals, I’m afraid you might not find this itinerary so useful. Read this nightlife list too.
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First thing’s first
Day One. Good morning! After checking in late last night, you might be keen for a coffee. You could head to the nearest Starbucks, sure, or you could try one of the many gorgeous little cafes that are popping up all over the city. This TimeOut list has some excellent recommendations. We stayed at the Vortex Suites in KLCC so Gravy Baby was just on the corner. It became our go-to – my fave was the chilli baked eggs.
Menara Skybox Kuala Lumpur
After breakfast, walk over to Menara KLCC (or catch a Grab if you’re not staying close by). If you don’t mind heights, this is an excellent way to get those picture-perfect city views.
Lots of people love to head to the Skybridge that connects the two Petronas towers, but I’m not so keen. Why? Because to me, the Petronas twin towers are the most recognizable feature of the landscape. What’s the point of looking out over the city and not being able to see them?
Menara KL Tower, however, affords you an uninterrupted view over the whole city, Petronas included. The best part is the Skybox, a glass box suspended over the side of the tower. Yes, you can see the city right underneath your feet! It’s definitely an experience to make your heart thump a little harder, but it’s so cool. You can take photos yourself, or have the professional photographer take them for you. If you choose the pro option, you can decide whether or not to purchase them and, if you like them, they’ll put the best three in a gorgeous hardcover souvenir book for you too. Tickets are RM105 for adults and RM55 for children aged 4-12. Kids under four are free.
Next to the Skybox, there’s a cute little café/bar. If you have time, take a moment to have a drink and enjoy the views. From here, grab some lunch. Because our kids are so little, they still need a nap. So we made tracks back to our apartment and grabbed some lunch on the way. If you can, though, head out to explore the many options.
Hungry? Thirsty? Need to spend some money?
One thing KL does really well, in my opinion, is the food court. Even the high-end malls such as Pavilion or Suri KLCC have affordable options that are surprisingly delicious! So, if you want to squeeze in some shopping, you’ll never be short of food choices.
Late in the afternoon, head to Petaling Street in Chinatown and get haggling! Fake bags? Check. Fake wallets? Check. Fake shirts? Check. Fake watches? Check! I really like the Petaling markets because there are so many options. So if you can’t haggle down as low as you want, you can try the next stall. If you’re new to haggling in an Asian market, Petaling is a really good place to start because it’s reasonably friendly and, while vendors try to lure you into their stall, they’re not as aggressive as in other markets.
This also means it’s great as a first market experience for the little ones. Mister Three loved buying a model plane.
When you’ve finished browsing and buying, head over to the hawker centre. You’ll find well-priced delicious Chinese and Thai cuisine here and – most importantly – cheap beer. If you don’t feel like eating in the hawker centre, there are a whole bunch of restaurants just outside to choose from too.
On our way back to the apartment, we stopped at the Berjaya Times Square shopping mall. The main reason was to buy beer. Alcohol is (comparatively) expensive in Malaysia as it’s heavily taxed, so buying it at the supermarket/liquor store is more cost-effective than elsewhere.
The shops are open late, though, so if you still feel the need to shop here’s an opportunity. We used this stop to also give in to our sweet tooth with some churros and ice cream. And you know what? I just love malls in Kuala Lumpur. They’re so fun. There’s always something crazy going on and they’re so… extra. They really are their own little destinations.
Get the lay of the land
It’s day two – time to tick some sites off the list.
For us, day two meant trying to cram in as much as we possibly could (realising two small children can make that hard). The solution? A hop-on-hop-off bus!
It’s super touristy, sure, but let’s face it: you’re a tourist. I’ll save the rant about how I hate that whole “ugh tourist” thing for another day and just say the bus is really handy.
There’s a few reasons why I love hop-on-hop-off buses. Firstly, the itinerary is set by what the bus company and local tourism authority thinks are the “must-dos”. You can’t get much clearer a recommendation than that! This takes the trouble out of trying to plan a route around the city to see everything: the legwork is already done. All you have to do is get onboard and get off whenever you want to see something. I think, had I just caught a Grab around town, I would have seen less unless I spent hours planning my itinerary. Sure, that can be fun, but the bus gives you a little spontaneity too.
The bus will take you all around the city. Some of the options are Merdeka Square, the Sultan Abdul Samad building, Istana Negara (the National Palace), the bird park/butterfly garden, and Little India.
The second reason I like this option is because there’s usually a guide track that tells you a whole bunch of information on each stop. For me, there’s nothing worse then seeing something, taking a picture, then getting home to realise you have no idea what you’re actually looking at.
What actually ended up happening for us was that the kids fell asleep on the bus, which limited our ability to get off and explore. BUT – and this is the beauty – we still got to actually see each stop and hear about the history. So I still felt like it was a worthwhile thing to do, and I’m so glad I did rather than stay in the apartment while the kids napped. However, at about 3pm the bus we were on did overheat and break down, leaving us to catch a Grab back to our hotel. Pretty unlucky for us – I don’t think this is a standard experience! And to be fair it was absolutely sweltering hot.
One place we did manage to hop off was at Brickfields (or Little India). This is the perfect spot to see a different side of Kuala Lumpur. Just like the rest of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur is very ethnically diverse, with a significant Indian population. Little India is the complete embodiment of this. Colourful, loud, and full of delicious smells, Little India is probably my favourite part of the city.
Of course, the best thing to do in Little India is eat, eat, eat! It’s full of restaurants, but I highly recommend trying Indian street food. In particular, Indian fried snacks such as the donut-shaped Medu vada… and don’t forget masala vada: this one has a rougher texture, and is kind of round and squished. Stock up on a bunch of these for the journey back to the hotel.
It’s hot: freshen up a bit
I highly recommend freeing up a little bit of time late in the afternoon to head back to the hotel. If you’re like me, booking a hotel with a pool is important to you… so you might as well use it. For us, traveling in July which is pretty much the hottest time, this was a must. So home we went to the pool to enjoy a swim and a quick beer. A quick rinse-off and (for me) a re-do of a little bit of makeup and hey presto! We’re ready for dinner.
A quick Grab ride away is Jalan Alor, Bukit Bintang’s famous food street. Wade into the sea of hungry people, ready to try something new. Chinese-inspired cuisine is the main feature here, with some of the options on the more adventurous side. Frog on a stick anyone? But no word of a lie, anything you eat here will be mind-bogglingly delicious. And, like me, you’ll pretty much have to roll yourself out. At the end of the street are a bunch of massage parlours, but how anyone could even think of getting a massage after eating at Jalan Alor escapes me. Then again, not everyone stuffs themselves like a squid, like me. Soooo….
Since you’re so fat and stuffed you couldn’t possibly look good in a picture, why not head over to the Petronas Twin Towers for the ultimate night-time photo op?
How to get to Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia Airlines flies to Kuala Lumpur (its hub city) from many cities all over the world and from other destinations within Malaysia. European, Middle Eastern and North American carriers also have the city well-covered.
From Asia, you can take any of the flagship or budget carriers easily. Alternatively, it’s possible to catch the train from Singapore or Thailand, and there are some bus routes too.
Kuala Lumpur airport (KLIA) is a world-class facility and there is a skytrain that heads directly into the centre of the city, cutting out all the road traffic. If you’re traveling with kids and a lot of luggage, a road transfer is easier – but be warned, it’ll double the journey time from 45 to 90 minutes.
How to get around in Kuala Lumpur
KL is one of the easiest cities I’ve experienced in terms of getting around.
There’s a vast network of trains and monorail which makes navigating the city proper a breeze. From the airport, catch the KLIA Ekspres train and you’ll hit KL Sentral in about 40 minutes (as mentioned above, it takes about 90 minutes by road). In a pinch, Grab rides are readily available and super affordable and this is an excellent option at night, with kids in tow, or if you’re weighed down with bags from one of KL’s bustling mega-malls.
The hop-on-hop-off bus (also mentioned above) is a fun touristy way to get around. I recommend it just for one day to get the lay of the land and tick off some of those must-see sites.
Where to stay in Kuala Lumpur
The usual luxury chains are well-represented in Kuala Lumpur. My favourites are:
Kuala Lumpur is an amazing destination in terms of affordable places to stay. These options in particular are lovely and, importantly, in a great location.
Is Kuala Lumpur Safe?
I have been to Kuala Lumpur four times now, sometimes solo, and have often walked around at night. I have never felt unsafe. The usual caveats apply though – don’t walk alone down unlit alleyways. Don’t flash your cash or valuables. DO NOT take drugs (Southeast Asian drug laws are some of the harshest in the world). Use public transport, metred taxis or Grabs to get around. All in all, use your common sense and you’ll be absolutely fine.
So there it is… Kuala Lumpur. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but those people are boring (come at me). I love it, I really do. And I think you will too.
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