George Town is in the north-east of Penang island. It’s Malaysia’s second largest city and the capital of Penang state. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site, because of its history as a British colony and trading port between east and west.
We find that UNESCO sites tend to be quite expensive, as they draw huge crowds of tourists and the local businesses know it. So we thought we would focus on free things. Sights and activities that won’t cost you a penny, for those times when the budget is tight.
1. Street Art (Armenian street)
One of the things George Town is most famous for, is its amazing array of street art. All over the city you will find small wall paintings, incredible murals and some awesome interactive pieces. There are also cute metal work caricatures depicting scenes that explain the names of streets. The street where a number of the most well known pieces are is Armenian Street. The best part about all of these…they are free to photograph/play on, so get creative.
2. chinese clan jetties
The Chinese clan jetties are a must see and again, are absolutely free. These water villages are over a century old and each jetty belongs to a different clan. The descendants of the original Chinese settlers still live in the wooden houses that jut out into the water supported by stilts. There are now many tourists shops and cafes here, but they are still worth seeing for a glimpse into the past.
3. explore Chinatown & Little India
George Town is a multicultural melting pot of people and buildings. Two of Malaysia’s largest resident cultures are Chinese and Indian, so it’s no surprise that George Town has areas known as Little India and China Town. It really is easy to imagine that you have been transported to India; Hindu temples, curry houses generating tantalizing aromas, sari shops and Bollywood music blaring out over loud speakers, all create a heady mix. China Town is full of intricately decorated Buddhist temples and shrines, incense sticks both tiny and huge gently send out smoky wisps and the streets with are lined with shop houses.
3. heritage trails
There are a number of different walking routes around George Town that you can follow, depending on your interests, The trail was a a project by the local council as part of securing the UNESCO World Heritage status. You can follow the Food Trail, Heritage Building Trail, The Chinese Kongsi Trail, Old Trades Trail, Muslim Heritage Trail and the Clan Jettties.
4. window Shopping in Malls
Travelling around, we have discovered that Malaysia loves its shopping malls, and George Town is no different. There are over 10 malls in and just outside the city. They range from newly built complexes including cinemas and restaurants, to older more traditional and slightly run down affairs. Either way you can spend hours and hours browsing. If you do decide to indulge your inner shopaholic, there’s plenty to choose from.
5. Just stroll around
One of our favourite things to do in George Town was simply to stroll around the streets. Take in the beautiful colonial architecture, experience local life as it happens and maybe spot some artwork (see above). Take your time and your camera and see the real George Town up close.
6. Fort Cornwallis
Fort Cornwallis marks the spot where the British landed in the 18th Century to lay claim to Penang. A star shaped fort, it is one the most popular historical landmarks in George Town. The entrance fee is steep at 20MYR per person and many visitors have bemoaned the lack of information to read. We therefore suggest just looking at this important piece of history from the outside.
7. the bears
United Buddy Bears is an initiative aimed at promoting the idea of living together in harmony. A collection of 149 bears each 2m tall, stood in a circle at Penang Esplanade. These brightly coloured bears had been designed and decorated by artists from their respective countries. Unfortunately they have now left Penang and will continue on their world tour, spreading awareness of peace and harmony.
9. ride the ferry back to the mainland
The George Town to Butterworth ferry is the oldest ferry service in Malaysia. Transporting both passengers and vehicles, this service is free if you’re going back to the mainland. Admittedly it only costs just over 1MYR which is about £0.20/$0.25 to travel in the opposite direction so either way it’s worth doing. The journey lasts about 15 to 20 minutes and affords some great views.
10. DIY bus tour
We love hop-on-hop-off bus tours. They give you a great overview of a new town or city and help you get your bearings. In addition live commentaries can be hilarious. However, this sort of “tour” is big business, especially in the world’s biggest cities and the tickets can be extortionately expensive. In George Town, the Central Area Transit (or CAT) company offers a free, shuttle bus service that runs from the ferry port all around town. If you grab a map or guide from any hostel or tour agency, you can create your very own guided tour (minus the commentary) using the free bus.
We have linked up with Kana from LifeInwanderlust and Chloe from TimeTravelBlonde for FlyAwayFriday and with the Weekend Wanderlust Facebook group for its travel blog party. Click on the images below to join in the link-up.
Have you been to George Town? Do you know of any other great free things to do? Get in touch below.