Despite it’s rapid rise to being one of the most formidable business centres of Asia, there are many museums and galleries in Kuala Lumpur that display a more cultured and spiritual side to the metropolis. Private collections of internationally renown artists mix with century-old pages of Islamic texts, so there is no shortage of things to explore.
Kuala Lumpur museums and galleries depict everything from the birth of the nation, the rise of the Malaysian currency to the fuel that funds it all, oil. So spend some time exploring the past and present of this nation’s rich and diverse society and uncover countless surprises along the way.
Recommended Kuala Lumpur museums and galleries
Houses within the iconic Petronas Twin Towers, Petrosains takes visitors through the history of petroleum exploration in Malaysia, the science behind its discovery and the benefits it brings to the people. Despite the rather one-sided analysis of the situation, this is a unique Kuala Lumpur museum taking up around 100,000 square-feet with countless exciting displays.
The science discovery centre is fully interactive and a good way to get the kids interested in engineering. The singing dinosaur may not be quite as educational but is still lots of fun. And the nerve-wracking helicopter simulator through a tropical storm is not for the faint-hearted.
Be sure to catch one of the live science demonstrations which take place periodically throughout the day, and are perfect for inspiring budding Einsteins. (website: www.petrosains.com.my.
National Museum (Muzium Negara)
The weapons and vintage cars contained here are generally the most popular attractions, but The National Museum in Kuala Lumpur (or Muzium Negara) also contains galleries containing musical instruments, metalworks, sporting memorabilia and depicting the rich culture of peninsular Malaysia. Muzium Negara is a diverse and all-encompassing museum which provides a decent insight into the country and its many peoples. If you only intend to visit one museum during your stay, this should probably be it.
National Art Gallery
With more than 2,500 permanent exhibits, The National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur has one of the best regarded collections in Asia. The building itself is acclaimed as a marvel of architecture and seamlessly combines modern design with traditional motifs. There are five galleries featuring local and international artists, a café, auditorium, resource centre, outdoor exhibition zone plus a creative centre where workshops are organised. There are seminars and programmes arranged all year round so find out what is going on during your visit. (website: www.artgallery.gov.my).
The Rainforest Gallery
Exhibits based upon the Malaysian rainforest fill this KL art gallery, with exclusively national painters and sculptors having work on an environmental theme included here. View bowls and vessels lovingly carved from driftwood or masks and figures showing local characters. The gift shop is a good place to stock up on authentic handicrafts such as batik cloth, ceramics and toiletries manufactured from locally-sourced natural ingredients.
Islamic Art Museum
Islamic art has become more and more popular in recent times and the largest collection anywhere in Southeast Asia is held in the Islamic Art Museum in Kuala Lumpur. With more than 30,000 square-metres of scrolls, sculptures and jewellery, visitors can spend a good portion of their trip here and still only see a fraction of the 7,000 exhibits. Situated among the Lake Gardens of downtown KL, works from China, India and Southeast Asia are particularly well represented. (website: www.iamm.org.my).
Pelita Hati Gallery of Arts
This highly-regarded art gallery in Kuala Lumpur contains an exclusive collection by acclaimed local artists such as Awang Damit, Sharifah Fatimah and Yusof Ghani. Other than these stalwarts of the international art scene, up-and-coming young pretenders also get the chance to rub shoulders with the big boys and put on displays here. Situated among the Lake Gardens of downtown KL, works from Southeast Asia are particularly well represented. (website:www.pelitahati.com.my).
Also houses within the Petronas Towers, this is one of the most state-of-the-art Kuala Lumpur art galleries and a favourite for foreign tourists. Having first opened its doors in 1992, a dazzling array of international and home-grown talent has had work displayed here including over 100 dedicated exhibitions. The 2,000 square-metre space contains many high-tech innovations such as audio-visual materials which allow it to feature all manner of international collections. (website: www.galeripetronas.com.my).
Bank Negara Money Museum
This Kuala Lumpur museum shows visitors how money in Malaysia has evolved throughout history. Mainly used as a depository for early currency, there is plenty here to keep the most cynical child occupied. The museum contains a variety of rare and commemorative coins, plus interesting national and foreign denominations. Plus there are artefacts, tokens and medals used for exchange or trade. This is a great place to learn about the history of currency generally, and how it effects Malaysia specifically. (website: www.museum.bnm.gov.my).
Star Hill Gallery
This warmly-lit and intimate gallery in KL is adorned with oil paintings showing traditional Malay figures. Some are modern in design while others attempt to recreate the style employed by early local artists where the dimensions of some of the subjects are exaggerated.
Works depicting Kampung villages with fishermen and farmers are worth seeing as are the bronze sculptures and still lives. (website: www.starhillgallery.com).
This is not a Kuala Lumpur museum for the squeamish, as many of the exhibits are of preserved animals and human organs used for medical research. There are materials on display regarding public health problems experienced by Malaysia and the research conducted to address them. Find squirrels, rodents, flying squirrels, flying foxes plus frogs, snakes and bats. A fascinating and educational excursion well worth the trip.