Visiting Penang Hill (Bukit Bendera) on Malaysia’s scenic and historic Penang Island makes a fun and easy day trip from Old Town George Town, even with little ones.
There’s so much more to see and do on Penang Hill than what our schedule for the day allowed, but we still felt the journey from sea level to 2,700 feet (820 m) was worth it, even for just a few hours.
Penang Hill is located just five miles west of George Town, yet it might as well be five hundred miles. Up here, it’s a whole other world.
Here’s our first-hand Penang Hill day trip report, plus helpful tips for making the most of your visit.
If you’re traveling to Penang with kids, a visit to Penang Hill is not to be missed, in addition to Entopia Butterfly Farm, the Tropical Spice Garden, and of course, the many child-friendly sights and attractions around Old Town George Town.
October 2021 Update
Great News!!! The Penang Hill Railway reopened to visitors on October 1st!
Keep reading for tips on planning your day trip and what to expect.
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Penang Hill Day Trip from George Town
How to Get from George Town to Penang Hill
Public Bus + GrabCar
However, we decided to make things a bit easier on ourselves with the boys and take a Grab.
Knowing that the trip took around 30 minutes and covered five miles, I was initially concerned it might take some time to find a Grab driver to take us.
Less than a minute after I made the request through the app we had a driver waiting outside our townhouse.
And the cost for our Grab Car trip? 11 RM each way (US$2.50).
But how does one get from sea level to half a mile up in a matter of miles and minutes?
Once you get to the Penang Hill Lower Station, the funicular takes care of the rest.
Penang Hill Railway
As of November 2021, a standard roundtrip funicular adult ticket costs RM 30 (US$8), and Fast Lane tickets run RM 80 (US$20).
Round trip child ticket (ages 4-12) is RM 15 RM (US$4), and Fast Lane tickets are RM 40. Kids under four years old are free.
There are also one-way ticket options available, which is a great option if you plan to hike up or down.
We purchased standard tickets and didn’t have to wait long midweek. We’ve been told, however, that queues can be brutal on the weekends any time of year.
Funiculars run hourly between 6:30am and 10pm – Yes! You can go up after sunset (though sunrise/sunset special rates are only applicable for Malaysian citizens).
The ride only takes a few minutes each way. If you’re keen on hiking around the hill, there are special Local trains that will drop you off at the various stations in between Lower and Upper station. All other trains are express (i.e. make no stops).
Booking Shuttles, Tours, and Packages
If you’d prefer not to go through the hassle of putting the day trip together yourself, there are a number of excellent options for shuttles from George Town or combining Penang Hill with a visit to Kek Lok Si or a George Town city tour.
If you’re short on time or keen on seeing multiple sights in the same day, this is by far the best option.
Inside view of one of the trains, looking downhill.
We were advised to try to get on the front of the train for the best view, which we did and would definitely advise others to do the same if possible.
Penang Hill Attractions + Things to Do
Penang Hill View of George Town
We found it surprisingly challenging in October to time our visit to Penang Hill with a clear morning.
We had several during our weeklong stay in George Town, and this day started out as such. But the weather can change on a dime, and that’s exactly what it did in the 30 minutes it took us to get from central George Town to the top.
Still, the views from the Penang Hill Upper Station are pretty incredible, even on a hazy day like we had on this particular morning.
There’s a crazy looking platform at the top that offers 360 degree views of the island and city of George Town.
The low density area on the water (above) is Old Town, where we are currently staying.
Though our views were hampered a bit by clouds and haze, we felt extremely fortunate we weren’t visiting a couple weeks earlier when the entire region was inundated with toxic smoke from seasonal burning down south in Indonesia.
You can just barely see it, but that’s the famous Kek Lok Si temple down there on the right near the tree line.
We opted not to fold a visit to the temple in with a visit to Penang Hill due to time constraints. However, many visitors to George Town recommend doing just that, given the proximity of these two top attractions to one another.
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Exploring the Cultural & Historic Attractions on Penang Hill
The sprawling complex on the summit of Penang Hill has been a hilltop resort for more than two centuries.
In the late 18th century, a retreat was established by British colonists looking to escape the heat and malaria in the lowlands.
The earliest British visitors arrived by horse track up until the opening of the funicular in 1923. The funicular was overhauled with speedy and modern trains that are in use today.
Most development on Penang Hill is strung along a ridge that stretches for several miles, though most visitors tend not to venture very far from Upper Station.
There are a number of restaurants and visitor services such as the historic and upmarket David Brown’s restaurant, and a number of local eateries; shops and gardens; and a mosque and colorful Hindu temple.
In front of the Hindu temple is a sizable and well-maintained playground, which our oldest couldn’t pass on, of course.
And, like usual, he made some new friends along the way.
But there’s so much more to see on the hill than just the tourist village. A short distance from the main attractions is another major attraction on the hill: The Habitat, which features a series of canopy walks and other nature-based attractions for an added fee.
Penang Hill also offers a vast network of hiking paths, and if we had a bit more time, that is exactly where you would have found us this afternoon.
Today, we’re content to see how much walking/hiking we can get in for a couple of hours and still have time to get the kiddos back down the hill for naps to avoid a miserable evening. Yay for rugrats!
Nonetheless, we still got in a nice 2 km (1.2 mile) walk along the main road, which was more than enough for us today.
When we saw this sign, we knew that MonkeyCup would be our destination for the morning. How can you pass up a place named MonkeyCup on a hill in the jungle?
The walk turned out to take much longer than 15 minutes (even with the kids, we were walking pretty “briskly,” and as I write this, Google says it’s a 20-minute walk, but I digress…).
Walking to MonkeyCup brought back all sorts of memories of doing a similar walk to the zoo in Darjeeling years ago. No zoo up here today, but plenty of greenery and wildlife to keep the kids entertained.
We made it!
MonkeyCup is one funky little place. It’s actually NOT named after any of the islands furry residents, but rather for the carnivorous conical-shaped Monkey Cup plant which has been used as a vessel for traditionally brewing a special local coffee concoction called Kopi Hutan.
Before our coffee arrived, I thought I’d go use the loo, which turned out to be quite the little experience in itself.
I can safely say I’ve never done my business in a forest gnome tree…at least not until today. I’m also happy to report that I did not encounter any gnomes on my trippy trip to the loo – just happy forest creatures.
The brew was a bit unusual, but tasty, nonetheless. Adding a generous helping of sugar and cream helped to balance out the flavor a bit (and I nearly always take my coffee black…).
There are signs posted all around cautioning against feeding the wild creatures. Noe clearly ignored the advice.
The Dusky Leaf monkeys back at the Upper Station were another matter, entirely. We all stayed clear of those.
That’s not to say they weren’t fun to watch. We were treated to quite the little show of acrobatics from the catwalk railing and upper terminal awning, complete with a special appearance by a gaggle of tiny baby Duskies.
MonkeyCup offers a free shuttle service for customers back to the hilltop village, which was a welcome little perk afterwards. On account of lunchtime, we waited about 15 minutes longer than expected for a ride, but it was worth the wait.
Return Trip to George Town
After taking the funicular back down the hill, Lori and Noe went to peruse the gift shop while I went about the work of grabbing a Grab car back to town.
Again, I assumed it would take a bit of time for someone to respond to my request, then for the driver to get here.
Yet, the driver accepted my request and sent me a notification that he was here and waiting almost immediately.
It seems a number of drivers just hang out around the entrance to the Lower Station, which makes sense in hindsight.
Twenty-five minutes later, we were back at our historic townhouse Airbnb in Old Town George Town, ready for a restful couple of hours.
🔥 HOT TIP 🔥
If you’re looking to arrange transport from George Town ahead of time or would like to combine your visit to Penang Hill with a George Town city tour or Penang island tour, you can now do that online.
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 Hill First-Hand Visitor Guide!
Have you visited George Town’s Penang Hill? Tell us about your experience in the comments below.