Free (or Cheap) Things to Do in Kuala Lumpur
KL Forest Eco Park
Formerly known as Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve, KL Forest Eco Park is a small piece of rainforest in the middle of the city. You can still hear cars whizz by on the motorway and see the nearby KL Tower peeking through but you will be surrounded by tropical plants and trees. There is a canopy walk and a whole forest to explore but beware that the further you go, the more unkempt it is. The signage is not very clear, some paths are closed off and others are rundown.
It’s perfectly alright if you don’t mind wandering around. Even without neat pathways and tripping a few times we enjoyed it all the same – it’s fun and free and it’s supposed to be a jungle anyway.
There are signs warning of snakes and other nasties however the only other living souls we met were monkeys at one of the entrance gates - they did turn a bit aggressive so be prepared to be assertive and keep them away or just leg it (like we did).
National Museum of Malaysia
The venue is divided into four main sections with a focus on Pre-History, Sultanate era (emphasis on Malacca Sultanate), Colonial Period and the final establishment of the Malaysian nation, with a focus on the independence movements and modern-day Malaysia.
National Museum of Malaysia provides a great and concise overview of the country’s history and culture, rich in detail but sized just about right so that it doesn’t become tiresome for anyone just looking for an overview. It’s amazing how much you can learn in a couple of hours about this diverse country and its people. It will make you want to travel and explore it more.
The entry cost of MYR 5 ~ £0.95 is great value. And if you’re up for a deeper dive into the early days of the region there is also a separate building dedicated to the Orang Asli – original inhabitants of Peninsular Malaysia – for an additional cost of MYR 5.
Built on an old Malay burial place, Jamek or as locals refer to it, Friday Mosque, is the oldest Islamic place of worship in Kuala Lumpur. Its stunning architecture comprises Moorish, Islamic and Mughal styles. Located where Klang and Gombak Rivers meet, it’s worth seeing both during the day and when it’s lit up at night.
Conservative dressing is encouraged but headscarves can be borrowed at the entrance. If you want to see it from the inside, remember not to turn up on Friday, which is a Muslim holy day, so they do the congregational prayer and the mosque is closed for visitors.
Another highlight of visiting Kuala Lumpur, these caves formed in a limestone hill are said to be around 400 million years old.
What once served as a shelter for Orang Asli (indigenous people of Peninsular Malaysia) are now cave temples and shrines dedicated to Lord Murugan – Hindu god of war.
The first thing you will undoubtedly spot is the 42.7m golden statue of Murugan, tallest in the world, dedicated to this deity. 272 steps will lead you to the main Temple Cave where you will find numerous colourful Hindu shrines within the walls of the cave and temple.
Obvious tip here, but I do suggest heading there early if you want to beat the tourist rush. We showed up around 8:30am and the place was more than half empty, which allowed for time to fully appreciate the beauty, the colours and the joyous festive feeling from the worshippers.
Bear in mind that this is a place of worship so be respectful when walking around and taking pictures. There is no entrance fee however women should be wearing pants or a long skirt, otherwise, you can get a scarf from one of the ladies at the bottom of the steps for MYR 5 of which MYR 2 are refunded upon returning it.
Technically, Batu Caves are located on the outskirts of the city, but they’re only a short car or train ride away from central KL.
Petronas Twin Towers
You’ve heard of them. At 451.9m, Petronas are the tallest twin towers in the world. They somewhat resemble two rocket ships with Islamic motifs built in the steel and glass façade paying homage to the dominant culture of Malaysia.
And yes, they are not free to visit but let me give you some options of taking in the views of this postcard landmark of Kuala Lumpur:
If you want to go the expensive way, visit the Observation Deck and Skybridge (MYR 80 ~ £15) that connects both towers. Personally, I wouldn’t choose this option as it’s pricey, you will have to queue up, then you will be allowed about 10 min for snapping a few pictures…but what’s a Kuala Lumpur skyline without its most iconic building? Would you want to see the skyline of Paris without the Eiffel Tower?
I would rather spend that money (or not even half of it) to stuff my face with some delicious goodies at Suria KLCC, the luxury shopping mall located at the base of the towers, which packs a decent food court and a big Cold Storage supermarket with hot & cold takeaway counters.
From the ground, the main picture hot spot is just opposite the towers main entrance, easy to tell by the number of tourists always posing for a photo. But if you go in and walk through the shopping mall towards the KLCC Park on the opposite end, you get a garden with lush greenery and fountains, and here you won’t have to queue up with the rest of the keen selfie snappers.
My favourite way of seeing Petronas Towers, however, is from the Heli Lounge Bar.
It’s a fully functioning helipad by day that turns into a rooftop bar after 5pm so you can sip drinks with 360° views of Kuala Lumpur.
The dress code is relaxed however after 9pm it’s smart casual so ditch the flip-flops. We rocked up looking like textbook tourists - shorts, t-shirt and fanny packs included - and nobody said a thing.
The drinks are slightly more expensive than the regular bars but definitely affordable. You will be asked to purchase drinks in the bar upon arrival and only after allowed access to the rooftop. We paid MYR 25 (~£4.70) for a whiskey and MYR 30 (~£5.60) for a pint of Tiger beer.
Once up on the helipad, the vibe is relaxed and if you get there after sundown the breeze from the top makes the temperature enjoyable. It does get quite busy, so even though seating space is widely available I would recommend booking a table in advance if you’re really keen on sitting down and spending some quality time there. Oh, and did I mention the views? So worth it.
I’m including this since it comes up a lot in suggestions for things to do in KL so it might be appealing to some people but in all honesty, I believe it’s a bit of a tourist trap.
It’s a shopping and entertainment district that feels a bit like the Times Square or Piccadilly Circus of KL - giant screen billboards, flashing lights, overpriced restaurants and tourist hordes. It is a lively part of the city and there are plenty of bars and shopping options if that’s your thing.
One place worth visiting, especially if you’re after a cheap and filling meal, is the food court at the lower ground level of the Lot 10 shopping centre. It offers over 20 different Malaysian heritage food stands.
You will even be able to find a vegan option (ask to skip the eggs) for half the price of what you pay on the famed Jalan Alor street that is overwhelmed with tourists and restaurant staff all trying to lure you in for a meal that is not really worth the price, especially if you are after the veggie options.
Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown is worth a stop for a couple of landmarks such as Guan Di Taoist temple and Sri Mahamariamman – the city’s oldest Hindu temple with ornate and colourful architecture.
Here you’ll also find an array of street food options, including super cheap vegan options if you look closely and ask around.