How to do family travel in Penang, Malaysia with kids. Penang is one of Malaysia’s most popular cultural tourist destinations. Famed for its street food, street art and gorgeous heritage architecture, a family holiday to Penang is like stepping back into the Malaysia of yesteryear. A few days in Penang with kids can easily be spent shopping, eating and exploring the streets, posing for pictures and creating lots of happy family memories.

The Destination – Penang With Kids

The heart of Penang is historic George Town, a city that has under gone a dramatic transformation. Since 2008, when the city was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list, crumbling British colonial houses and Chinese pre-war shophouses have been restored to their former glory. Many of these now house hotels, shops and restaurants. Streets have been repaired and are begging to be explored, even by families traveling with kids.

Kids often don’t care for history and art galleries. But in historic George Town, they just might accidentally love both. You may find your children shouting at you to take selfies and posing by a sculpture of a street-food vendor, “helping” him to lift heavy baskets.

The Activities in Penang With Kids

The fun starts with a self-guided walking tour of George Town’s heritage “core-zone,” a central area marked out by UNESCO as deserving special protection. Art works adorn the outside walls of old buildings and fences depicting life in the early days of the settlement.

Many are designed for interaction and kids (young and old) clamber on top of real bikes and motorcycles positioned by paintings to become part of a fabulous Instagram shot. Wrought iron caricatures bring historic stories to life and there is never a “do not touch” sign.

Head to Ah Quee Street and Armenian Street for some of the best street art. There is a “minion” kids will love on Ah Quee Street.

The British first retreated from the heat to Penang Hill in 1788, and it’s been a tourist attraction ever since. Kids will love the dramatic ascent of the hill’s funicular railway; in ten minutes they will have risen 800 metres. At the top there are nature trails to explore and tourist attractions. Visit the Monkeycup Garden which showcases the carnivorous pitcher plants that grow on Penang Hill. Tired little legs may appreciate the golf buggy ride, which passes English heritage bungalows.  Grab a milkshake at David Brown’s Sky Terrace to enjoy the view before the descent.

For weekend visits, arrive around 8 am to avoid long queues. It’s also possible to take a four-wheel drive trip up the “jeep track.”

Malaysia With Kids: Penang Insider

For a countryside escape, take the family on a bike tour. Owner of Matahari Cycle Tours Princilia Lee explains why she custom designs every tour. “We don’t have an itinerary so we can gauge how kids are responding. We change the tour as needed during the day.”

A popular family ride is Balik Pulau, a lush farming area. During the day kids get frequent breaks to feed goats at a farm, see pineapples growing, gobble traditional Malay sweets and eat a kid-friendly lunch in a rice paddy. Princilia ensures families learn from their experience too. She explains: “Kids love the bike tour. This is the real theme park – animals, orchards, palm plantations. Not all classrooms have four walls.”

Note: these tours are suitable for kids that can ride bikes competently on their own and are at least five years old.

Family Holiday Activities: Cycling With Kids

If the heat is all too much, head to indoor playcentre Kidland. There is a huge indoor jungle gym and rope climbing structure, craft activities, role play dress ups and rides.

Alternatively Escape  is an outdoor adventure park that offers rope climbs, canopy obstacle courses and a huge treehouse to get the kids climbing, swinging, sliding and playing amongst the tropical rainforest.

Shopping in Penang With Kids

If you’re traveling in Penang with kids and looking for an authentic Malay souvenir, visit 41 Living Story. Kids can learn about traditional batik and choose from cute batik toys. Parents will love the selection of traditional tiffins (old fashioned lunch boxes) and stained glass wall panels.

For pure quirkiness, head to the Owl Shop. A whole store full of toys, wooden carvings and bejeweled trinkets will amuse owl-lovers of every age.

On a Sunday, check out the Hin Bus Depot for trendy pop-up markets. Penang’s art community gathers in this flashed-up ruin to sell quality arts and crafts, delicious homemade Penang food and some mighty coffee.

Food in Penang For Kids

Penang is famous around the Malay Straits for its food with many families with kids traveling specifically from all around Malaysia and even from Singapore just to sample the street stall delights.

Road Trips With Kids: The Singapore to Malaysia Border Crossing 

The kids will love the biggest hawker centre in Penang at Gurney Drive. Try barbeque lok-lok, bite-sized food on a stick. Simply select a collection from the fish balls, chicken sausages, fried dumplings, baby octopus or chicken satay. These are then expertly re-barbequed and extracted off their sticks, served mixed together in a bowl with optional spicy sauce.

Arrive at 6 pm as this place gets crowded. Find a table before you order and note the table number for food delivery. Each seat is the territory of a particular drink vendor so you will only be able to order your drinks from them.

10 Asian Street Foods For Kids 

Closer to town is the Kafe Kheng Ping (80 Jalan Penang). Cafes like this in Penang have traditional coffee and tea at their centre, surrounded by various tenants with hawker food. This one is famous for lor bak, a combination of prawn, pork and tofu fritters, all chopped up and served with a sticky brown sauce. Also try the Hokkien mee soup for a rich flavor hit.

If you’re searching for coffee in Penang, drop in to the cavernous renovated warehouse which is home to Space Bar Coffee. Adults recharge with hand brewed filter coffee while kids indulge in luscious hot chocolate. Formerly a trading hub on the waterfront, this now landlocked warehouse is shared with other businesses Awesome Canteen and sleek boutique hotel Sekeping Victoria.

Next door at historic Ming Xiang Tai pastry shop, tourists and locals alike sample the traditional trishaw egg tarts.

The salted egg pastry may result in screwed up junior faces, but the pineapple mango cube tart and chicken BBQ sauce tart both get applause all round.

To cool the kids indoors, try out some fur therapy at the Purrfect Cat Café. For a small entry fee, kids can stroke enormous fluffy cats of various pedigrees and enjoy coconut ice cream at the same time.

For those needing a western food fix, George Town has burger hawkers every evening. A good bet is the burger truck, Tom’s Burgers

The best steak in George Town is being served at Steak Frites. This cosy restaurant has a choice of only one menu item. Their succulent, Australian grass-fed steak comes in two sizes with the chef’s secret butter sauce. (Two small kids can easily share a 150-gram steak and the chef can happily arrange extra fries.) Choice abounds in the well-priced wine list and kids will be spoilt with gorgeous tropical juices.

Family Friendly Accommodation in Penang With Kids

In the heart of the heritage action, 23 Love Lane Hotel is a 250-year old Anglo-Indian bungalow. Various outbuildings were added to the mansion during its history and all have been lovingly restored. It houses 10 individually styled rooms, incorporating a mix of Straits Chinese and European antiques. The staff here genuinely enjoy children and can be heard giggling during hide and seek or challenging kids to outdoor checkers during the daily afternoon tea. The hotel also owns two individual pre-war shophouses, just around the corner. Both of these are suitable for families and groups. The gorgeous two-storey suite at Stewart Lane includes a cool-water Jacuzzi and sleeping for four to five people. Every comfort has been considered, whilst maintaining unique Straits Chinese heritage.

Those that require a pool and a kids’ club might enjoy the Shangri-la’s Rasa Sayang Resort and Spa at Batu Ferringhi beach. This large hotel offers a variety of family rooms, an adventure zone with drop slides and play equipment.

Also at Batu Ferringhi, the Hard Rock Hotel has family rooms that include a Playstation and kid-friendly mini-bar, some with a courtyard. Hard Rock has the Roxity Kids Club and the Tabu Teens Club.

Tip: The ocean water at Batu Ferringhi is somewhat polluted at times, kids are advised to stick to the pools or seek advice before ocean swimming.

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The Practicalities of Family Travel to Penang With Kids

It is not safe to drink the water from the tap in Malaysia. Only use bottled water for drinking and be wary of children drinking water in the shower or the bath.

By Carolyn Beasley

Images: 23 Love Lane Hotel, Carolyn Beasley, Kidland, Tahli Shepherd