We love flying into KL long haul from London. It’s so easy to move on from there with cheap flights to tons of destinations both internal and international, so a perfect jumping off point for Malaysia, Asia and beyond. However, rather than just jump straight onto an onwards flight to our next destination we always like to spend a few nights in Kuala Lumpur. KL itself is a blend of modernity with tradition – glitzy shopping malls and sky high towers compete with village life, food stalls and narrow, bustling streets packed with markets. We enjoy starting our Asia travel journey in KL with it’s great places to eat, fantastic shopping and well priced, quality hotels. Keep reading to discover our top tips on what to see and where to eat in Kuala Lumpur.
Top things to do in Kuala Lumpur
What to see (in no particular order):
A small corner in downton KL. Kampung Baru means ‘new village’ and was first established in the early 1900’s as a pastoral community to attract rural Malays to KL. It still has a village feel to it with the local warung’s (family-run restaurants and cafes) and the traditional Malay houses and a lively night market.
How long that will last is anyone’s guess. Whilst the elders have been holding out against development for years, apparently the area is earmarked for development with a planned RM43billion ‘facelift’ planned in the next 20 years. So it’s worth a visit before it totally disappears and the march of modernity and gentrification takes over.
We went there to try an authentic Nasi Lemak (see below under Breakfast) on a Sunday morning but there’s a popular night market every Saturday from 6pm until 1am on the same street (Jalan Raja Muda Musa).
The iconic Petronas Towers are a must-see for any first time visitor to KL. They epitomise the image of Malaysia as an emerging economic powerhouse. The 88-storey building was designed by Cesar Pelli & Associates. It was built in 1998 and is still officially the tallest twin structure in the world at 452m tall (it used to be the tallest building in the world but lost the crown in 2004). The Towers join at the 41stand 42ndfloors by a 58m long double decker Sky Bridge. The design is based on Islamic geometric forms of 2 interlocking squares, creating a shape of 8-pointed towers. At night it really is quite beautiful.
The tour of the Petronas Twin Towers takes in the Skybridge at the 41stfloor and the Observation Deck on 86thfloor. Tickets on the day sell out early and the queues are long so if you can buy in advance online here. Open 9am – 7pm Tuesdays to Sundays.
If you aren’t keen on doing the tour here are some other ways you can get your Petronas Tower fix
Esplanade Lake Symphony
Just in front of the Towers is the shopping centre Suria KLCC and in front of that there’s a nice park with a lake and fountains where they put on a display nightly at 8pm, 9pm and 9.45pm.
We enjoyed having a drink at one of the restaurants around the Lake (attached to the shopping centre’s perimeter) whilst enjoying the pretty lights and music.
KLCC to Bukit Bintang pedestrian walkway
If your itinerary takes you between Petronas Towers /KLCC shopping centre and the Bukit Bintang area you can always take the covered pedestrian walkway from KLCC to Pavilion Shopping Centre (in Bukit Bintang) to avoid the heat or, perhaps more importantly, the sudden afternoon downpours. It’s not the easiest to find (or maybe that was just us) but on the KLCC side it’s down on the Lower Ground Floor, section C and in the Pavilion you’ll find it at the Connection (the al-fresco dining area).
This is the main shopping and entertainment district in KL offering everything from the downright seedy to the sparkling temples of consumerism such as the Pavilion and Starhill Gallery shopping malls.
It’s where many of the luxury hotels are so it may be where you are calling ‘home’ for the next few days.
This is also where you’ll find Jalan Alor which is a must visit destination for any foodie looking for where to eat in KL at night. This is the street where locals and tourists flock to from early evening to grab some local food from one of the many restaurants or hawker stalls that line the street.
It’s packed and slightly bonkers. When we were there last there were some quite unusual karaoke acts going on and the whole street is buzzing with life. The food is predominantly Chinese or Thai. This is cheap and cheerful. Some of the restaurants bathrooms facilities are quite basic so it’s worth being be prepared or hold off if you can.
Open from about 5pm everyday until around 3am.
For later on there’s Jalan Changkat, which can only be described as KL’s Party Street. Walk down here after 5pm and you’ll be greeted with a cacophony of noise as the bars’ sound systems compete with each other blaring out their latest favourites. Eager staff try to tempt you into their bar with various drink offers and can get a bit over enthusiastic at times literally trying to drag you in. Beware though – we got ripped off on a drinks deal – where we were actually served smaller ‘jugs’ instead of pints so in fact we didn’t get a discount at all. The staff weren’t in the least bit interested when we queried them about it and in the end we drank up, paid up and left. The area is certainly popular with locals and expats alike and was rammed from about 8pm on a Friday night.
One of the most famous streets in Chinatown is Jalan Petaling, which hosts the most famous street market in KL. This is where you will find stalls selling everything and anything including fake designer gear – handbags, watches, clothing and shoes. If you’re planning to head down here to grab yourself a bargain then be prepared to haggle hard. The entire street is covered by an awning so not even rain or the searing heat can put a stop to the shopping madness. There’s also restaurants and hawker stalls galore filling the alleyways off the main stretch so if you don’t manage to bag yourself a Jimmy Choo you’ll certainly be able to chow down on a Yong Tau Foo :0)
Open 9am – 12pm and 6pm to 1am every day.
Chow Kit Market
KL’s largest wet market. Lively and very, very authentic. Warning! This is NOT for the faint hearted but certainly worth a visit if you want to see what a typical Malaysian market looks, sounds (and smells) like. The dry section of the market is a bit more tourist friendly and shaded by colourful umbrella’s. Here you’ll find fruit, vegetables and spices as well as clothes, textiles, CDs and DVDs.
Top tip: if you’re planning to walk through the wet market don’t put on your finest shoes – and you may not want flip flops either!
Open 6am to 5pm every day.
Note: the Chow Kit area is also home to the cities’ red light district so is a bit seedy. That said we went during the day to visit the market and felt perfectly safe. However I’ve read that even KL residents tend to avoid the area at night.
Malaysian independence from the British was declared in this square in 1957. Surrounded by heritage buildings such as the Sultan Abdul Samad Building (the former State Secretariat), Royal Selangor Club and St Mary’s Church, one of Malyasia’s oldest Anglican churches. Prior to Independence the Square was used as a cricket pitch for the Royal Selangor Club (a prestigious social club founded by the British in 1884). It has a VERY tall flagpole displaying the Malaysian flag.
We liked it because it’s always nice to see a green expanse in a city and also, for it’s place in Malaysia’s history.
Find Merdeka Square here.
What and where to eat in KL
As a first time visitor you couldn’t fail to spot that the two biggest passions for KL’ites are food and shopping. The choice for both is staggering and there really are options to suit all pockets. Anyone who loves both shopping and food will be delighted to discover that KL has numerous outstanding restaurants and food stalls located within the several shopping malls around town. This becomes even more appealing when the heat, humidity and pollution have begun to take their toll and you start to wilt. The lovely air-conditioned malls are a welcome escape and an opportunity to recharge your batteries.
The choice of restaurants in KL are predominantly Malay, Chinese and Indian. There are international options too, of course – but with such delicious regional food it’s hard to see why you’d bother.
If you’re looking for recommendations on where to eat in KL then read on to discover what we thought were the best places for local food and some must-try restaurants.
If you’re keen on trying some local specialties, then two of the most popular breakfast dishes in Malaysia are Nasi Lemak and Roti Canai:
Nasi Lemak, rice steamed in coconut milk and served with an assortment of sides including spicy sambal, small fried anchovies, cucumber and a hard boiled egg.
We had an authentic Nasi Lemak at a street stall in Kampung Baru. Nasi Lemak Antarabangsa on Jalan Muda Musa, down the road on the left from the arch. They’ve been serving customers since 1973 so they must be doing something right. Open through the night to feed hungry diners and you won’t pay more than RM10-15 a head (£2-3).
Another place we heard about is Village Park restaurant. People are raving about the Nasi Lemak in this restaurant so we’ve added it our list for our next visit to KL. In the meantime if you’re there before us, why not give it a try and let us know what you think in the comments section below.
Roti Canai, delicious indian style flatbread made with flour, water and oil twirled around to give it a flaky, layered texture, its usually served with dal (lentil curry).
Our taxi driver recommended this unnamed street stall just opposite the Banana Leaf Curry house on Jalan Sahabat near Havana Bar for classic Roti Canai – it was just around the corner from our apartment. Simple stuff but we really enjoyed our roti’s, they were crispy and fluffy. Breakfast for two with a soft drink each was under MR8 (less than £2). Open – we’re not sure of the exact times but we went about 9am on a Saturday. It was closed when we walked past at 5pm. We guessed it was open for breakfast and lunch. Closed Sunday.
Valentine Roti has been voted as having ‘the best’ Roti Canai in KL . We haven’t tried it yet but it gets some great reviews from local food bloggers. Warning! It is quite far off the beaten track so only go if you really LOVE Roti Canai :0)
If you’re after a more Western take on breakfast or just a caffeine fix – try Feeka, a lovely little place situated on Jalan Mesui near Changkat Bukit Bintang . Serves delicious breakfast/pastries and great coffee. Service is good, staff are friendly. Good wifi so perfect for planning the day ahead or catching up on stuff.
There are some more suggestions for café’s here in this blog so you can refuel as you make your way around the city.
Lunch and dinner
There are innumerable options for good places to eat in KL. We visited in early May when it was hot and humid so we often ate in the shopping malls as they were ideal for keeping cool and comfortable during the hottest part of the day. Our two favourites for food in KL are The Pavilion and Lot 10.
This is a HUGE shopping centre with every shop you could imagine, a vast array of restaurants and an enormous food court. It even has a special section called Tokyo Street just for Japanese shops and restaurants. The choice is immense. You could eat there for weeks. We wish we could have tried more places and we’ll certainly be back in 2019 to do just that.
After a dearth of top quality Chinese food in the Algarve we were craving dim sum – so we knew exactly what was going to be for lunch!
These two, both in the Pavilion are well worth a visit:
We ate here following a recommendation from a Malaysian friend who’s lived in KL for years and really knows his food. Super clean, café style restaurant situated in the Pavilion Elite part of the shopping centre. We ordered Cheung Fun, dumplings and steamed honey pork buns. All were delicious but the standout dish for us was the Cheung Fun. We found the quality of the dim sum comparable to michelin star dim sum we’ve had many times in London yet at a fraction of the price. We ate and drank enough to be truly stuffed for well under MR100 (£20 approx).
Another great dim sum restaurant. Part of a chain with branches worldwide, one even has a Michelin Star (Hong Kong). You can see the masters at work in the front window preparing the daily dim sum in the Pavilion branch. We’ve eaten here a few times now and have tried a lot of the dishes on the menu. Generally very busy with a numbered queuing system although the last time we went we managed to sneak straight in. Prices are very reasonable although still at a premium when compared with other good quality shopping mall food outlets.
The brainchild of billionaiare Dr. Francis Yeow when he purchased the shopping mall Lot 10. Conceived in a bid to preserve the cooking methods and dishes of the heritage stalls that have long been the stalwarts of Kuala Lumpur life. He convinced the owners of the most famous hawker stalls in the city to open a 2nd location inside the mall to be managed by a relative. Some of these stalls had been going for over 100 years old and making their signature dishes for generations.
There are over thirty vendors at Lot 10 Hutong serving a variety of local Malaysian favourites – whilst it probably doesn’t have quite the same charm as the original stalls it is certainly helpful to have all the options under one (fairly well air-conditioned) roof. Prices are a little higher too but we noticed that most of the people eating there seemed to be locals or certainly Malaysians. As with all hawker stalls probably your best bet is to see which ones are the busiest – but bear in mind that some stalls will be popular with dishes you might never have heard of such as fishball noodle soup.
This is somewhat of a KL institution down in Chinatown (on Petaling St) and there was a queue here in their Lot 10 outpost when we arrived in late afternoon. The dishes were being wok fried over charcoal (even in the shopping centre). We tried the famous Signature Hokkien Mee noodles supposedly invented by Kim Lian Kee himself – this seemed to be what most people were having. They were fabulous. (under RM15)
For delicious roast duck try Roast Dukking a stall specialising in Cantonese style BBQ Meat. Their signature dish is (you guessed it!) roasted duck. It’s stuffed with traditional Chinese herbs and roasted on charcoal until the skin is golden brown. Crispy skin and juicy meat. What’s not to like?
In addition to Lot 10 Hutong Basement there are several other dining options within the Lot 10 mall. One which stood out for us was The Table, a collection of Five top notch Japanese restaurants that offer a taste of Washoku (Japanese cuisine) from sushi, yakiniku, tonkatsu and chicken hotpot all housed on the top floor of Lot 10 next to J’s-Dining section (another selection of 18 or so Japanese restaurants).
Our first sushi treat in a long while. This is the KL outpost of one Michelin starred Sushi Azabu from New York headed by Chef Toshihide Terado.
We chose the lunch menu which we thought was excellent value at RM120. It comprised of a tasty appetiser, a savoury egg custard, 6 pieces of nigiri, a miso soup and a dessert. We’ll definitely be going back next time we’re in KL.
Don’t fancy eating in a shopping centre? Try these restaurant recommendations instead,……
Cheap and cheerful places to eat in KL
A perfect end to a hot sticky day! Spicy chicken wings and an ice cold Heineken beer. This restaurant seems to encompass about 5 different restaurant fronts – we’re guessing due to ever expanding demand. We visited on Friday and again on Saturday night (yes the wings are delicious) and it was packed to the rafters. Service was quick and efficient although a bit hectic. Table sharing is most definitely a thing. Big menu of mainly Chinese and Malay dishes. We ordered the wings, chicken and beef satay and sweet and sour pork with rice. All were good. Prices were very reasonable. A bottle of beer here is about as cheap as you’ll find it in KL (RM17 for a large bottle of Heineken – around £3) so if you’re surprised by the price of a beer around the city this is a good spot to wet your whistle. The locals were ordering lots of seafood and shellfish dishes as well as the wings – the more local food blogs seem to be going mad for the Kam Heong Lala (Golden Fragrant Clams).
Tasty, cheap and cheerful curry house. Positioned on a busy road intersection this probably won’t win you prizes on date night but certainly serves a tasty curry and prices are very reasonable.
Fancy pants – must try restaurants in KL
We loved this restaurant. The fish is flown in daily from Japan and prepared with care, precision and respect by a true sushi master. It was so good that Scott felt confident enough to try Fugu (Blowfish) here or the first ever time! We chose the lunch menu coupled with a refined but affordable sake. There were private dining spaces that were available to book, as well as the opton to sit at sushi bar which we always prefer as we love to watch the sushi chefs work – it’s mesmerising. Great for a date (as long as you both like raw fish!).
A final splurge on our last day. This is a beautiful restaurant inside the Mandarin Oriental hotel, just by Suria KLCC and the Petronas Towers. Specialising in classic Cantonese delicacies and dim sum specialities, you can see the chefs working their magic in the open kitchen, which we love.
Food was excellent and portions were generous. Menu is extensive with set options for lunch, dinner and dim sum as well as a la carte. Dim Sum brunch from 10.30 on Saturdays and Sundays.
This isn’t a cheap option and there’s a dress code. Perfect for a special lunch or evening meal.