The Penang street art in the heart of the island’s UNESCO-designated historic zone are one of the city’s most beloved attractions and perfect for all ages and abilities.
Whether you decide to DIY historic George Town‘s colorful and whimsical wall murals and art installations on foot, hire a trishaw (3-wheeled cycle rickshaw), or experience Penang‘s street art as part of an organized tour, doing the rounds to view these murals (which are scattered throughout Old Town) makes for both a fun scavenger hunt and unique tour of this historic city.
Here’s our first-hand Penang Street Art review and guide, plus some of our favorite watering holes in George Town.
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Penang Street Art: What to Expect + Helpful Tips
Penang Street Art Tour
Penang is known for a lot of things — historic neighborhoods, amazing food, beautiful beaches — and these days, street art in the form of wall murals scattered across Old Town.
In 2012, looking to breathe new life into dozens of crumbling walls across the historic section of the city, the Penang Municipal Council commissioned Lithuanian graffiti master Ernest Zacharevic to see what he could do. What is now commonly known as the Penang Street Art is the result.
The murals are scattered throughout Old Town, so the best way to see them all (especially with little ones) is by trishaw (3-wheeled cycle rickshaw) or on an organized tour.
This guy looked a little busy, so we went with another guy.
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Our failed attempt at a trishaw selfie.
A hallmark feature of the murals is that they incorporate existing architectural features and elements of daily life into the paintings.
Visitors are encouraged to interact with many of the installations, becoming part of the art piece.
Noe particularly loved this aspect of the street art, as you can see.
Our trishaw tour led us around to all of the top street art sites, as well as a few funky shopping enclaves, such as this handmade postcard shop.
We also revisited a few places, such as Art Lane and the Clan Jetties.
If you want to get the most out of your Penang street art experienced, booking an organized tour is the way to go. There are also a number of city tours that include a tour of the George Town murals as well.
George Town Eating + Drinking Recommendations
We started the day back at China House.
Following Riley’s birthday celebration, Noe was very concerned that Riley didn’t get “happy-birthday-to-you” (i.e. birthday cake) on his birthday.
We reminded Noe that he did in fact get a birthday “cake” banana. Noe, however, refused to buy that. “Riley” needed a real happy-birthday-to-you.
We reassured Noe that before we left George Town we’d make sure that happened.
So… on our final full morning in town, we had breakfast at China House (which we highly recommend, with or without wee ones). Then, afterwards, we let Noe pick out a slice of cake from the case (all of the cakes looked amazing).
We fully realize that this could have gone a number of ways and could have ended very badly. Fortunately, the kid has good taste. Noe went straight for the double chocolate, you know, because he thought Riley would like that one.
Riley couldn’t care less about the gooey black thing sitting in front of him, and instead, opted to play with the lid of his food container while we dug in.
Noe was the first to dig in, of course. It was a huge piece of cake — too much for us to finish in what sitting. After Noe finished with his promised bites, we took the rest for takeaway to enjoy during afternoon nap time.
It is not a coincidence that we chose early morning to do this rather than just before bedtime, which would have been more convenient. This way, Noe got an entire morning to burn off all that new-found energy, which he did with gusto — and conveniently crashed at his usual nap time.
Specialty Coffee: Kopi Loewak + Ome by Spacebar
If you’ve ever wondered how cold drip cold brew is made, this is one method commonly used in Southeast Asia.
This one here’s at Kopi Loewak (find on map). Kopi Loewak and Ome by Spacebar Coffee are the two best places in town we found for cold brew coffee.
Looks like a storm’s a-brewin’ as well.
Street Stalls: Chendol
No visit to Penang would be complete without sampling chendol, a popular local street dessert.
Taking a walk through Chinatown on the outskirts of the UNESCO district en route to the Blue Mansion.
Sure, over 50% of Georgetown’s residents are Chinese, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be a Chinatown!
The Blue Mansion
Cheong Fatt Tze (aka the Blue Mansion) is a relaxing place in the city to grab a drink and take in the historic surroundings.
If you don’t want to commit to a 45-minute tour (or night’s stay in one of their historic guest rooms), you can visit the bar like we did.
Eastern & Oriental (E&O) Hotel
Blue Mansion was nice, but where I really wanted to be sipping a cocktail on our final evening in George Town was at the Grande Dame of hotels, the historic Eastern & Oriental Hotel (better known as the E&O).
The main heritage building is closed for renovation, but the pool bar was open.
We stuck around for a while. The decision wasn’t a difficult one.
Afterwards, we thought we’d take a little self-guided tour, because, why not?
…and what better way to follow up sunset cocktails at the E&O than street food stalls for dinner!
New Lane Food Stalls
We caught a Grab down to New Lane food stalls (map), widely considered the best street food market near Old Town.
This dude is very popular because he is the only one that still uses charcoal. Everyone else uses propane. And his queue certainly reflected his popularity.
Can’t leave the night market without a few sticks of chicken satay!
As I was putting in our order for beers, a little voice added, “And one coconut, please!”
Cheeky little guy. I couldn’t say no to that.
There are a lot worse things to be hooked on than all-natural $1 coconut water and snack, I suppose.
After dinner, I thought it might be interesting to head up to the Top of Penang tower to see what we could see.
Little did I know it would turn into a crazy hour-long trek that would end back at the townhouse without having gotten anywhere near the top.
The Top of Penang (above) is the highest building in George Town. It was originally about half the size but added on to over the years. The building’s layout reflects this as it is a nonsensical mishmash of loosely connected sections.
The first issue was simply finding our way into the core area of the tower. Not a simple feat.
After wandering around for a while in a deserted shopping center, we eventually found one set of elevators, but they only led to a desk with a night watchman.
We told him we were looking for the “Top” and he led us through some unmarked doors down a dark and narrow hallway, then through a nightclub and eventually to another desk.
From there, we were led to another desk in another section where a woman told us we needed to pay an exorbitant fee for the four of us to take the elevator up.
We told her we simply wanted to visit the restaurant to buy a couple of overpriced cocktails for the chance to peer out a panel of glass that hasn’t been washed since the Reagan administration out towards the pitch black bay.
Nope, apparently you had to pay the same fee to visit the restaurant, then pay for the overpriced cocktails.
We thanked her and left. Fortunately, the exit to the street was close. It was also the entrance, but there was no way of knowing that beforehand. Certainly, no helpful signage on the outside of the building.
Oh, well. We’ve had a full enough day as it is.
Tomorrow, the beach!
A Word About Health & Safety in Malaysia
The majority of visitors to Malaysia don't encounter serious issues with health and security. But stuff does happen. Personally, we've had plenty of surprises affect our health and itinerary while traveling over the years — severe weather, road accidents, broken bones, tropical illnesses...
Each and every time, we've been very relieved to have a good travel insurance policy. We've personally used World Nomads for the past decade for all of our independent travel overseas and have found them to be affordable and responsive. You can see a full list of what they cover here.
Be prepared, use common sense, and travel safe!
And That’s Our Penang Street Art Review + Visitor Guide!
Have you visited George Town in Malaysia? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.