While at first glance it may not seem like George Town in Penang, Malaysia is a destination geared towards entertaining children, the UNESCO World Heritage site really has a lot to offer the whole family. George Town is just one of Penang’s many jewels. While visiting you’ll learn about the island’s fascinating history and why it’s so multicultural today. Throw in many different wonderful types of food to sample, trendy markets to explore and interesting street art to check out, and you’ve got memories in the making.
Things to Do in George Town, Penang
Whether on foot, by bike or by trishaw, get out and explore the streets. George Town (also referred to as Georgetown) is a small enough area that you don’t need a car to get around. Plus, it’s the type of place that is all about enjoying the journey at a slower pace anyway.
1. Check out the George Town Street Art
To celebrate Penang’s unique history the Penang State Government held a design competition which resulted in a series of steel rod sculptures (caricatures) being created. You can find them all throughout George Town informing you of historical tidbits on specific areas and streets. They are comical and interesting and no one in our family was able to pass by one without reading it; including the kids.
Also, artist Ernest Zacharevic was commissioned to bring some life to the streets of George Town and has been transforming old walls with his interactive murals since 2012. Zacharevic’s graffiti art can be found all throughout George Town. His pieces are fun to check out and pose creatively with, while a crowd looks on. (Not awkward at all.)
2. Take in the History of Penang
Penang has a rich and interesting history. It’s located in the Strait of Malacca and used to be an important trade route connecting East to West. This past has given us an interesting island with a diverse melting pot of cultures that travelers can explore. And because of the British colonization of Penang from the late 1700s until WW2, English is commonly spoken. Coming from an Asian country where English is not so common, this was a welcome change for me. I really picked up on the Western influences, even though they were not totally tangible. But again, the real historical beauty is found in the truly multicultural experience that you enjoy while on the island.
3. Explore Fort Cornwallis
Traveling a lot in Ontario and Michigan growing up, I have visited my fair share of forts. But this was my first in Asia and it was a great experience. Built in 1786 as a defensive structure for the Royal artillery troops, it ended up serving more of an administrative part. Walking around the scenic Fort Cornwallis is definitely worth the small fee to enter and if you’re lucky you may even see a Malaysian man dressed in full British regalia standing by the entrance. In a way, it was similar to my childhood experiences exploring forts back in North America, except now it was with my children, on the other side of the world.
4. Eat and Shop in George Town
What vacation isn’t complete without some excellent food and a little souvenir shopping? The island of Penang regularly tops foodie “best of Asia” lists and a lot Penang’s well known specialities can be enjoyed in George Town. Little India is located in George Town and is definitely a lively and tasty area to check out. And of course the bustling food courts, coming at you with so many enticing aromas, are all part of George Town’s charm.
5. Enjoy the Beautiful Weather and Views
Penang boasts beautiful clear skies and lovely weather all year round, with an average yearly temperature of just under 30° Celsius. The Esplanade of George Town, with its stately Edwardian Baroque styled buildings and tall palm trees swaying in the breeze, is a site worth taking a few moments to appreciate. As is the Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower, standing white and bold against beautiful blue skies. And of course, the view of the turquoise ocean, never gets old.
One of the things that impressed me the most as we walked around on a Saturday afternoon was the abundance of planned activities open to the public and for people of all ages. With already so much to see and do, the people of Penang go out of their way to give just that much more. They know they have something special to offer. And instead of taking it for granted, they celebrate it. Of all the destinations we’ve visited in Asia, Penang makes it on the favourite list. And the time we spent in George Town was special and enjoyable for the whole family.
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