A 48-hour mini-guide to Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s capital and the country’s symbol of modernity. The city has several skyscrapers, a vast restaurant scene and active night life; it not only is the financial and commercial center of the nation, but it also boasts a rich cultural heritage, seen through colonial architecture, temples and mosques. Kuala Lumpur International Airport is Malaysia's main airport and one of the most important in Southeast Asia, often making it the first destination in Asia for many Western travelers.
I had the opportunity to spend 48 hours in Kuala Lumpur and, with so many options, I had to choose what to do to make the most of my time. If you plan to spend a weekend or 2 days in the city before heading to another Asian destination, keep reading to find out what to do there.
Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan
If you are interested in learning more about Islam and are in Malaysia, a country that is majority Muslim, it is possible to have a tour at Masjid Wilayah Persekutuan, Federal Territory Mosque. It was built at the end of the 1990’s and it is possible to see through its architecture and design, influences from different cultures such as Iran, Turkey, India and Egypt. Non-Muslims can take the tour, starting at 10 am, but must use the proper attire provided at the entrance.
When we were there, our guide was extremely kind and answered all our questions, including about the use of hijab, the 5 daily prayers, polygamy, etc.
Islamic Arts Museum
Opened in 1998, the Islamic Arts Museum has the largest collection of Islamic art in Southeast Asia, with more than 9,000 artifacts. The collection includes jewelry, Qur’ans, ceramics and incredible miniature models of mosques from around the world, for example the Great Mosque of Mecca, in Saudi Arabia. The building is a modern construction with Iranian blue tiles covering the entrance columns, which makes it very different from the other Islamic art museum we visited in Doha. Inside, 5 domes made by Uzbek craftsman elegantly decorate the interior, including one inverted dome. The entrance is 14 MYR and can be bought without problems at the museum.
Thean Hou Temple
The temple was built in the 1980’s and is one of the largest Chinese temples in Malaysia. Dedicated to the goddess protector of fisherman, also known as Mazu, the temple is located at the top of a mountain and offers unique views of the city. It displays a traditional Chinese roof, with golden dragons, Phoenix and the classic red lanterns. It also has statues of Buddha and other Buddhist and Taoist figures. Outside of the temple there are 12 statues representing the 12 Chinese zodiac signs.
With a height of more than 450 meters, the Petronas Towers are the symbol of Malaysia’s modernity. With 88 floors of concrete, iron and glass and a design inspired in the Muslim architecture, the towers have the biggest two level bridge of the world on the 41st and 42nd floors.
For a view of the entire city, it is possible to go up to the observation deck on the 86th floor. Tickets can be bought here in advance, and cost 80 MYR. It is important to mention that one of the towers is home to Petronas, the national oil and gas company, and the architect is the same of the Canary Warf, in London.
Suria KLCC and KLCC Park
On the first six floors of the Petronas Towers is the Suria KLCC, which is one of the popular malls of Kuala Lumpur, with restaurants, bars, movie theater and luxury stores.
The KLCC Park has walking paths, children playground, public pool and a huge tropical garden, with around 1,900 trees and plants. It is a nice place for a walk and picnics, and it is there that the Symphony Lake Fountain, a show of light and water at the base of the Petronas Towers, happens every night at 8 pm.
The Batu Caves are one of the most popular attractions of Kuala Lumpur and one of the most popular Hindu shrines outside of India. The picture of the imposing golden statue of Lord Murugan, god of war, in front of the caves always appears when searching about the city on Google. The place is a set of caves and has several temples, some of them still in the lower ground. To get to the top, you must climb 272 steps, and during this climb you will see the numerous monkeys that inhabit the caves, which go out to get food from the visitors. Go early, to avoid the crowds.
Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown might be considered small when compared to the ones from other cities, but it doesn’t make it any less vibrant. In its heart is Jalan Petaling, with its famous street market. Every day, around 5 pm, the streets are closed to cars and the night market starts. There it is possible to find not only the classic products of every Chinatown, but also souvenirs and local food.
Restaurants and Cafés
If you like a having coffee break while traveling, Kuala Lumpur has plenty of options.
The Merchant's Lane Cafe is located on Petaling street, perfect for a stopover after visiting Chinatown. The place is located inside a former brothel that has been turned into a hipster cafe, and has drawn people interested not only in its menu, but also in capturing the perfect photo to post on social media.
A few steps away separates Merchant's Lane from Chocha Foodstore, another restaurant on Petaling street. In a purposely untouched environment, with rusty, ripped walls, exposed bricks and that old-school vibe, Chocha offers Chinese / Asian food (and a variety of teas) in a quiet, stripped-down atmosphere.
Practical information for visiting Kuala Lumpur
Visa: Citizens of a few countries must have a visa to get in Malaysia. Please check the list here before planning your trip.
Currency: Malaysian Ringgit (MYR).
Language: Malay, but English is well spoken.
Transportation: the city has a good subway system, but Uber is widely used and gives more flexibility and economy - we used it during the whole trip.
Hotels: We stayed at the Shangri-la, but the Mandarin Oriental and Grand Hyatt also seemed to be good options. A lower cost alternative is the Traders Hotel, which has a rooftop pool offering exceptional views of the Petronas Towers.