Malaysia’s capital is a city many travellers fly through—but few truly get to know. But with spectacular street food, surprisingly stylish bars, an epic budget shopping scene and gorgeous religious monuments, Kuala Lumpur, or KL, is so much more than just a transport hub. Here’s how to make the very best of 24 hours there.
9am: Chat Masala
Though you may be in Malaysia, a great neighborhood to start the day in is Little India, with a selection of glorious Indian breads and dips. Try the dosa flatbreads, dals and curries at Chat Masala in the heart of the vibrant, party-coloured district of Brickfields. Wash them down with a foaming cup of Malaysia’s national drink, teh tarik: the name means “pulled tea” because it’s made by pouring streams of tea between two mugs.
9:30am: Get to know Little India
Spend the morning soaking up the atmosphere in Little India. Mangala Theebam superstore is sari shopping heaven, with glorious fabrics at bargain basement prices, and no haggling required. Amble your way down to Sri Kandaswamy Kovil, perhaps Kuala Lumpur’s most ornate and brilliant Hindu temple, stopping at the shops that take your fancy. Just up the street, the intimate Wei-Ling Gallery makes a fascinating art stop.
12:30 pm: Eat up at Lot 10 Hutong Food Court
Kuala Lumpur’s MRT is rapidly expanding, and the new line 9 makes hotspots like Damansara Heights more accessible than before. But for short hops around town, cabs rule. Jump in a red taxi, an Uber, or local favourite Grab for a bargain lunch at Lot 10 Hutong Food Court, where some of KL’s most famous street food vendors have set up their stalls. This is the place to discover Malaysia’s wealth of Chinese dishes—Hakka, Hokkien, Teochew and more.
1:30 pm: Explore Chinatown
Kuala Lumpur may be Malaysian, but it was founded by Chinese prospectors, and the mixture of cultures found in Chinatown shows how KL is perhaps Asia’s most multicultural city. Start at the Masjid Jamek, a stunning, brick mosque, designed more than a century ago by an English Christian architect as a tribute to Mughal Indian design. Stroll down to the Taoist Sin Sze Si Ya Temple that’s one of Chinatown’s most historic and beautiful buildings.
3:30 pm: Take a Coffee Amo break
It’s time for a coffee break, and for Instagrammers Coffee Amo is a KL must-visit. The 3D artworks sculpted into the foam of cappuccinos and lattes are wildly entertaining, and the cookies are good too.
4:00 pm: Shop the street markets
The Petaling Street Market should be in full flow by mid-afternoon—join flight crews and other tourists in the know from around the world on a quest for bargain sunglasses and bags. Or for souvenirs that are a bit more upscale, head to the pretty art deco Central Market, which has a history dating back to 1888.
6:00 pm: Dinner and drinks at The Troika
With all the money you’ve saved, it’s time to splurge a little, and see a more contemporary side of KL. Jump a taxi to The Troika, a luxury development with sky-high dining in the heart of Kuala Lumpur. Reserve a table at Fuego, its Latin American eatery, for spectacular sunset views, right across to the famous Petronas Twin Towers. After dinner, don’t miss the beautiful—and very Instagrammable—craft cocktails at Coppersmith.
For a small city, Kuala Lumpur has plenty of nightlife options. Omakase + Appreciate, a tiny, intimate speakeasy known as Malaysia’s best bar, is a classic choice if you love cocktails. For jazz, try KL music institution No Black Tie. Looking for something a bit livelier? Head to the Changkat Bukit Bintang area—famous for its rows of bars, pubs and clubs—and follow the crowds into the late, late night.
Whether you’re on a long layover or short stay in Kuala Lumpur, you can get to know the city’s character in just a day—provided you check out the right places. Next time, you might just want to book a few more nights—and when you do, there are even more fascinating sites to explore.