Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia: The Ultimate Guide
Updated 7th December 2022
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.
Kuala Lumpur (KL), the capital city of Malaysia, is a metropolitan melting pot of Malay, Chinese, and Indian influences and a thriving expat population. Markets, shopping centres, skyscrapers, food markets, cultural shows, historical buildings, towers, wildlife, and kid friendly activities make Kuala Lumpur an ideal holiday destination for people of all age groups.
Missing the pre-COVID days? So am I. And as Malaysia reopens to foreign travellers, it’s time for you to plan your trip, pack your bags, and head out for the ultimate Kuala Lumpur adventure!
Note: this post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I’ll earn a small commission at no cost to you. Even so, I’ll only recommend experiences I love.
Current COVID situation in Malaysia
As of December 2022, Malaysia has reopened to tourism. You no longer need to provide proof of vaccination, nor complete COVID testing upon departure/arrival.
You should, however, have travel insurance that covers COVID. If you contract COVID while in Malayisa, you’ll need to complete seven days of home quarantine.
For all the latest information, see Malaysia’s My Safe Travel site.
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, metered taxis or Grabs to get around. All in all, use your common sense and you’ll be absolutely fine.
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.
Getting 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, or book a road transfer in advance (as mentioned above, the journey takes about 90 minutes by road).
Grab is the ride-sharing service available in Malaysia. 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.
Things to do in Kuala Lumpur (that are great for kids)
Kuala Lumpur is amazing for big kids (like me) and little kids alike. Below are some of my favourite activities – many of them tried and tested by my own little ones!
Kuala Lumpur Markets: Petaling Street and Central Markets
The air-conditioned Central Markets are great for artisan finds and here you’ll find boutique stalls, souvenirs and handicrafts at a reasonable price. Good food courts are present at the second floor where you can quench the appetite for the delicious Malaysian cuisine. Local artists exhibit their talent on the streets outside the central market – we really loved chilling and and enjoying the performance.
Petaling Street (Jalan Petaling) markets are also great fun, so 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.
Menara Skybox Kuala Lumpur
If you don’t mind heights, the Menara KL Skybox 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.
Hop-on hop-off bus
When you’re desperately trying to see as much as you can, and travelling with small children, it can be a hard juggle. 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 than 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.
Little India 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.
One of the most popular Hindu temples outside of India, the breathtaking Hindu Caves are a must-visit on any trip to Kuala Lumpur.
Make your life easier by booking your Batu Caves tour before you go.
Eating, drinking, and shopping in Kuala Lumpur
If you’re anything like me, you need a coffee to kickstart your day.
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.
Last time we visited Kuala Lumpur 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. Pop in later in the day for delicious cocktails as well.
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.
The shops are also open late, though, so if you’re shopping late and getting hungry, here’s an opportunity. Last time we were in KL, we stopped in the evening at Berjaya Times Square to give in to our sweet tooth with some churros and ice cream (and buy cheap beer from the supermarket, since alcohol is heavily taxed in Malaysia). 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.
Jalan Alor “Food Street”
One of Kuala Lumpur’s absolute must-dos 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….
Yong Tau Food Hawker stall
Halfway between Petronas Towers and the Bukit Nanas (“Pineapple Hill”) monorail station is the Yong Tau Hawker stall on Jalan Perak.
This tiny, unassuming stall offers some of the best Cantonese food in Kuala Lumpur. Don’t be put off by its humble appearance – this is what the most authentic hawkers look like. Grab a bite to eat here for breakfast or early lunch (a favourite local secret, they sometimes sell out).
Where to stay in Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur has many amazing place to stay. You can choose from luxurious city hotels, resorts, or condo apartments. Each has their own pros and cons. Make sure you read my Kuala Lumpur accommodation guide to help you choose the best place to stay.
The best thing to do when choosing where to stay is to consider location and transport. We love staying right in the action around KLCC or Bukit Bintang, which is easy for walking and catching public transport. However, the road traffic here can be quite full-on. If you’re more likely to hire a car or catch a Grab, you could consider staying somewhere a bit quieter.
If you’re like me, booking a hotel with a pool is important to you… and you might as well use it. I highly recommend freeing up a little bit of time late in the afternoon each day to head back to the hotel if you’re staying in the city. For us, we’re often traveling in July which is pretty much the hottest time, so this is a must. I also find it helps the kids to re-centre after a busy morning of exploring.
Considering a holiday to Malaysia? Why not add Penang or Langkawi to your itinerary too?
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Glad you enjoyed KL and have been a repeat visitor! Hope you can explore outside KL like Kuala Selangor, Sekinchan and Kuala Langat which has a lot of family friendly activities!
Thanks Danial! This wars itinerary included Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Langkawi so I hope next time we get to explore the mainland a bit more. We’d also like to see Malaysian Borneo very soon too!
Great pics & great post! It’s like you were there longer lol.
Haha thanks Brittney! I wish I was!
I want your life? your pictures and words are so inspiring. I really want to be able to travel more. Can’t wait to read more.
Awww thanks Dani! I’m currently working on a post about what holds people back from traveling so if you’d like to chat let me know!
Wow! It looks so beautiful and so fun! Thank you for recommending where to go, I’ve never been but it’s definitely on my bucket list to visit KL.
Thanks Karolina! I think it’s a place everyone needs to visit at least once and really give it a chance. I think it’s a bit like Singapore in that sometimes people think it’s a bit bland, but if they think that they haven’t done it right!
I am so happy that you loved Kl, my second home. I lived there for nearly two years before moving to Germany. You just made me miss Jalan Alor so much.
Thanks Dani! I’m so jealous! Yeah, I could just eat at Jalan Alor every single night for pretty much ever, haha! I love the food culture in that part of the world. Here, eating out is so expensive so it’s a special treat. There, it’s the thing to do and I love the hustle and bustle that goes with it.
Wow! all your pics are awesome! ive been to KL twice, too. 🙂
Thank you so much! Isn’t it fantastic?!
Lovely post Amelia……KL came alive in many ways through your writings and some amazing pictures you took…..will definitely add KL to my bucket list for the future and specially would love to visit little India, to see what all they got up there….:)…. Petronas is of course the dream watch and to visit….
Thanks so much! Yes, it really is a fascinating place to explore.
I’m not boring!! I love the pictures and post. Hmmm… another place to add to the list!
hahahaha, let me know when you get there, I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Your pictures alone could tell a story! Fab!
Thank you so much Gloria!
Those are gorgeous pictures! What camera and editing apps did you use?! ?
Thanks so much Tamara! I’m still a bit of a novice so haven’t invested a huge amount in equipment yet… most shots are taken with a Nikon AW1 because it’s super portable as well as waterproof and shockproof (I’m a clumsy traveler!). We also use a Canon 400D and my old but trusty iPhone 6S haha. And I’m editing on Lightroom ?
Do highly do you rate the Suria KLCC shopping mall? If I had time to visit just one in Kuala Lumpur, should it be that one?
Hi Stuart! It depends what you’re after. The retailers in Suria are more high end brands so if that’s your thing then yes I’d recommend it. There are also some fantastic dining options and I love the atmosphere. You’ll find me over at Times Square though, as the shopping is more in my budget (ie the high street fashion brands) and I can get an ice cream or churro while I shop.