Despite its rather inauspicious beginnings, Kuala Lumpur has become a tourist destination with a litany of sights worth exploring. Variety is what characterises the city more than anything, and it can hard to reconcile the narrow lanes and banana leaf restaurants of Little India with the grand opulence of Bukit Bintang’s marble-laden shopping malls.
This contrast means that there is a little something for all tastes in the city, and visiting Kuala Lumpur attractions is pleasantly helped by the cheap and efficient metro system which glides over the busy streets with often spectacular views.
The sprawling metropolis is not ideal for walking, however, and seemingly simple journeys on a map can suddenly become concrete quests as dead ends, motorway flyovers and canals appear out of nowhere to block your path.
The oppressively sticky heat also makes Kuala Lumpur sightseeing outside the pedestrianised zones a little more taxing than other Southeast Asian cities. So it may be wise to trust in public transport and perhaps indulge in a taxi or two for a refreshing blast of air conditioning if nothing else. Taxi drivers are often reluctant to use their meters so at least agree a fare beforehand.
Modern grandeur of KL attractions
The Golden Triangle is an flashy area of skyscrapers, high-end fashion boutiques and five star hotels. Although predominantly a district for night-life and shopping, it is also features a few sights of note.
Petronas Twin Towers
Formerly the tallest building in the world, the iconic Petronas Twin Towers are the true symbol of the city and often the first stop for visiting attractions in Kuala Lumpur. Below the towers themselves is the KLCC shopping mall and convention centre plus KLCC Aquarium complete with 5,000 different tropical fish, sharks and coral.
Menara KL Tower
The KL Tower is just a touch south of the Petronas Towers and features favourable views from its slightly higher viewing platform (276m compared with 170m). It is a good first port of call to allow newcomers sightseeing around Kuala Lumpur attractions to get an aerial perspective of the city. (website: www.kltower.com.my).
The Skybar at the Traders Hotel has become one of Kuala Lumpur tourist attractions in its own right thanks to unparalleled views of the majestic Twin Towers just across KLCC Park. Best visited for a sunset cocktail when you can watch the red haze descend upon the city and its gradual illumination by thousands of twinkling lights. (website: www.shangri-la.com).
Masjid Negara (National Mosque)
Although outside the Golden Triangle another modern wonder popular for those touring attractions in Kuala Lumpur is Masjid Negara, or the National Mosque. It is a uniquely designed place of worship based upon Mecca’s Grand Mosque with 48 small domes with one main dome. As with all mosques visitors must remove shoes and female travellers should cover their head before entering.
Museums and colonial Kuala Lumpur attractions
Dataran Merdeka (Independence Square) is a large open space of beautifully manicured grass where the nation declared independence from the British on August 31, 1957. It is surrounded by impressive buildings of the colonial era such as the Sultan Abdul Samad Building and National Museum of History.
Kuala Lumpur Railway Station
This Moorish-style building now contains a mini-museum dedicated to Malaysian railway history. Its minarets, domes, spires and arches attempt to combine local architectural motifs with traditional British style. Of all the colonial stations built by the British in Southeast Asia, historians believe that this is the most significant so it is well worth including in your sightseeing tour of Kuala Lumpur.
The newly refurbished National Museum teaches those sightseeing in Kuala Lumpur about Malaysian history from prehistoric times through to the Malaccan empire and Independence from British rule. Probably the finest museum in KL which is a treat for even the fussiest kids.
There are dioramas depicting traditional village life for the various tribes that inhabited the region plus archeological artefacts, weaponry and traditional musical instruments of indigenous tribes. (website: www.muziumnegara.gov.my).
Museum of Islamic Arts
This fascinating collection of metal work, textiles and ancient scriptures is one of the most awe-inspiring sites in Kuala Lumpur. There are Korans dating back thousands of years and meticulous calligraphy with intricate scrolls. (website: www.iamm.org.my).
Kuala Lumpur attractions for shopping
Shopping is a major pastime in Kuala Lumpur with everything from weird and wonderful Chinese potions to the latest electronics and designer fashions on offer. Some people can come sightseeing in KL and never leave the countless air conditioned shopping malls.
This historic Art Deco market lies just between Pasar Seni metro station and Chinatown. There are more than 100 stalls here spread across two floors selling jewels, t-shirts and Batik handicrafts. Prices are a little steeper here than other areas though so it pays to shop around. There’s also a great food court on the top floor with inexpensive local delicacies.
Most budget travellers sightseeing in Kuala Lumpur end up staying in Chinatown. Featuring the majority of hostels in the city, there is a lively market selling all sorts of cheap knock-off goods and affordable oriental meals. Remember to bargain hard as its not uncommon for traders to start off quoting prices ten times what you should be really be paying.
This daily market two kilometres north of the city centre sells everything and anything. Textiles and clothes are specialities but there’s a lively and aromatic food section too with fish, meat and vegetables.
Bukit Bintang (meaning star hill) is the main shopping drag in the city and most people who are Kuala Lumpur sightseeing are either staying in one of this area’s many hotels or spend some time souvenir shopping here. There are around 30,000 shops and stores nearby so expect to find everything from hi-tech gadgets and cheap suits to Tiffany’s jewellery. Plus there are countless restaurants of all description to relax in when you’ve exhausted your wallet or purse.
Gardens and green KL tourist attractions
Bukit Nanas (meaning Pineapple Hill) is a forest reserve by KL Tower right in the heart of the city. It is one of the oldest rainforests in the country and covers around 27 acres of prime downtown real estate. Great for a quick change of pace from sightseeing in Kuala Lumpur’s glitzy shopping malls, there are many trails to follow and visitors to the KL Tower get a free tour upon showing their ticket. It is extremely hot and humid though so bring a bottle of water. (Open: 07:00–18:00, with tours at 11:00, 12:30, 14:30, 16:30; Admission: free; NBo 2, Jalan Punack, tel: +60 3 2020 5448).
Located in the city suburbs eight miles to the north of Kuala Lumpur, the Batu caves are situated within a limestone outcrop and fascinating to explore. They are the centre of February’s annual Thaipusam festival and one of the most important Hindu shrines to be found outside India.
KL Bird Park
This walk-in aviary may not be popular amongst Hitchcock fans but is a unique habitat stretching for more than 20 acres containing a large variety of Asian birds such as Brahminy Kites and hornbills. Visitors can approach quite close as the birds are used to having people nearby, meaning some decent photos can be taken. There are shows and feedings periodically throughout the day. (website: www.klbirdpark.com).
Near the bird park are the city’s extensive Lake Gardens. This is where locals come to escape the hustle and bustle of downtown and it is a great place to unwind after a busy day sightseeing around Kuala Lumpur. The park includes the National Monument, Butterfly Park, Deer park, Bird Park, Forest Research Institute, Hibiscus Garden and Orchid Garden plus children’s playground, exercise stations and jogging track.