Packed with incredible food and interactive street art, Penang features influences from across the world. Both the food and the architecture are the love-child of Malaysian, Chinese, Indian and Western influences. From the moment I landed, I fell in love with the historic streets, intricate temples and world-famous dishes. If you’re wondering what to do in Penang in 3 days, this itinerary will help you make the most of your trip. I detail our favourite restaurants on the island and the best places to visit to really experience the culture and beauty of the area.
Where to stay in Penang
I usually always prefer to stay in the centre of the action – it’s more convenient to get around, you can save money on transport by walking, and there’s so much more to do. If that’s what you’re looking for, then I recommend staying near backpacker central on Love Lane. With plenty of bars, the nightlife here is incredible. It’s a great place to stay if you’re looking to meet other travellers.
For this trip, we decided to stay slightly outside of the touristy areas, and instead chose an apartment in Georgetown. It had bus stops nearby but, with the price of taxis being so cheap, we opted to use Grab instead.
If I were to visit again, however, I’d look to stay in the Blue Mansion. The photos are gorgeous and it has a really intriguing history. It was originally build in the late 1800s by a Chinese businessman and his descendants now run a daily tour where you can learn the story of the building.
Getting around Penang
Georgetown, where most of the touristy places can be found, is a very walkable size. However, Penang is very hot and incredibly humid, and so you may want to consider other forms of transportation.
Buses are one of the most inexpensive forms of transport around Penang, and are a great option for travelling long distances. Tickets are cheap, between RM 1-3, and the buses are fairly frequent. If you’re expecting to do a lot of travelling, you can also buy a week’s travel pass for RM 30.
Some places on the below 3 day Penang itinerary are a little outside of Georgetown (e.g. Penang Hill). Whilst you could take public transport, it would likely require a few changes and wouldn’t be a comfortable journey. We had a group of 4, which made taxis a competitive price per person. In Malaysia, I recommend using a popular taxi app called Grab; it’s very similar to Uber and is used all over Asia. Rides are cheap, efficient and air-conditioned. The only issue is that you’ll need WiFi or mobile data to call a Grab and you may need to manually enter an exact address – the app’s search function isn’t very accurate.
Exchanging Ringgits in Malaysia
I am a self-confessed stereotypical millennial, to the point where I’d much rather use a fancy card and app than change traditional cash. I’ve fallen in love with Monzo, and will never go on holiday without it. Between the great exchange rates, the instant notifications an dhow easy it is to top up, I feel like exchanging cash belongs in the Mesozoic Era.
However, in Malaysia I spoke too soon. Card machines are very uncommon there, particularly in a small island such as Penang. Throughout our entire stay, the only place I found that took a card payment was the Sixth Sense store near Armenian Street. This made my Monzo card devastatingly redundant. Instead, you’ll find plenty of places to exchange cash to Ringgits, or an ATM where you can withdraw some. (I’d be careful about the latter option unless you’re with a bank that explicitly states they don’t add foreign transaction fees.)
We found the exchange rates in Malaysia were much more generous than those we found before going,. So, if you’re exchanging from a fairly common currency (£ / $ / €), wait to exchange once you land.
What to do in Penang in 3 days
Penang Itinerary: Day 1
Zhu Yuan Vegetarian Restaurant: We went for brunch and had, possibly, some of the most delicious vegetarian food for the whole trip. A mixture of tofu and ridiculously meat-like seitan, this is the perfect place for those who don’t eat meat or are trying to eat less. The variety was huge, and the prices were low, which made it the perfect pit stop. I highly recommend the bento boxes!
Armenian Street, Georgetown: Located within the city’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, a visit to the world’s most instagrammable street has to be on your Penang itinerary. The interactive street art is incredible, and a lot of fun. The street itself has become very gentrified and touristy over the years and can be quite busy. You may have to queue for a photo, but it’s worth it. On the other hand, that also means it’s packed with coffee shops, cute restaurants and gorgeous boutique stores that make it a great place to stop and explore.
Chew Jetty: The largest and most intact of the clan jetties. The origins of this can be traced back back to earlier Chinese settlements who built houses on stilts. Now, the streets lined with souvenir stalls and street food have become a tourist attraction.
Penang Interactive Museum: Whilst we actually skipped this when we went, I recommend it for those who have the time and have more than 3 days in Penang. It’s fun to pose with the interactive 3D murals or trick art, and you might get some great photos for the ‘gram.
Tofu Village: It’s all about the food for us! It was incredible here and the service was amazing. Our host was so friendly and attentive. They spent time teaching / showing us all the different kinds of noodles they serve, as well as some background around what foods they go best with.
Three Sixty Revolving Restaurant: Penang is hardly known for its thrilling nightlife or gorgeous skyline views, but that doesn’t mean it hurts to try. Although it was freakishly empty when we visited, we actually we loved having the place to ourselves to drink, chat and enjoy the view. I’d suggest aiming to get here for sunset, so you can watch the colours of the sky change over Penang’s skyline.
Penang Itinerary: Day 2
Tropical Spice Garden: Frequently described as one of the best places to visit in Penang, the gardens are gorgeous and very well-maintained. I recently found out that you’re able to do a cooking class using freshly-picked spices from inside the garden itself. I wish I’d included this in my 3 day Penang itinerary so I could make my favourite dishes now I’m back home!
Floating Mosque: Built on stilts in the sea, the Floating Mosque is ridiculously gorgeous. You’ll need to cover up if you want to go inside, but they’re generous enough to loan you robes at the entrance.
Teluk Duyung (Monkey Beach): Located within Penang’s National Park, you’ll either need to hire a boat from the park’s entrance or embark on a 3 hour hike (I know which one I’d prefer!) Make this trip in the morning if you want to spot some monkeys, otherwise it’s a pretty nice beach to visit at any point during the day. We went at golden hour, and got to enjoy a stunning sunset on the boat ride back.
Avatar Secret Garden: In Penang, this secret garden features hundreds of colourful lights and is clearly themed after a famous movie. It’s beautiful to see and the atmosphere almost borders on magical. Confession: we actually visited during the day at first, foolishly thinking it was an inside attraction. We were wrong. It was pretty during the day, but pretty magical at night! If you’re looking for a what to do with 3 days in Penang; entry was only 1RM and it’s definitely worth it. The only struggle? Getting pictures that did it justice!
Chulia Street Night Hawker Stalls: For any self-confessed foodies out there, this is a must-visit place to eat in Penang. A local hotspot, you’ll find a variety of favoured local dishes including laksa and char kway teow. The food is also ridiculously cheap .. buy one of everything!
Upper Penang Road: Widely considered the centre of Georgetown’s nightlife, this area is incredibly trendy. Here, you’ll find the upscale restaurants, nice bars and great clubs. If you’re wondering what to do in Penang in your 3 days, this is a definite must-visit. We went to Slippery Senoritas (incredible music, but surprisingly empty. We put this down to it being mid-week and the bar having recently been bought over. I imagine it will get more lively as it markets itself!)
Penang Itinerary: Day 3
Penang Hill: You can choose to walk but I highly recommend the train, just so you can say you’ve been on the steepest tunnel track in the world. Either way you get there, the views from the top are absolutely incredible. It was unfortunately closed during the week we went (just our luck!); but I still think it’s one of the best places to visit in Penang.
Kek Lok Si Temple: Standing grandly on a hilltop near Penang Hill, Kek Lok Si is the largest Buddhist temple in Malaysia. Pavilions, turtle ponds, three-story shrines of the Buddha and gorgeous views over Air Itam, this definitely belongs on your 3 day Penang itinerary. Also, if you’re visiting over Chinese New Year, the entire temple is lit up with gorgeous lanterns for the month.
Love Lane: A touristy local hotspot, here’s where the backpackers in the area seem to flock to. Whilst it doesn’t show you the culture of Penang, it’s has a great atmosphere and is a wonderful place to meet new people if you’re travelling solo. Food is more expensive (and not as good) as other places, but it’s good for a drink or two.
For those staying longer
If you’re looking to extend your stay, or you want to swap out some of the above 3 day Penang itinerary, here are my recommendations:
- Visit some of the wacky museums in Georgetown – the Upside Down museum looked incredible
- Hike some of the famous trails in Penang. The National Park is gorgeous and I wish I’d gotten to spend some more time exploring it
- Rent a scooter and explore the island; you never know what you might stumble upon
- Explore the Botanical Gardens
- Go on a street food hunt and try all of the delicious local delicacies.
I hope you enjoyed this post, and hopefully you’ve left with a better idea of what to do in Penang in 3 days. Don’t forget to pin this Penang itinerary for later!