Malaysia’s capital, Kuala Lumpur, is a heaving, sweaty, tropical metropolis which means it is chock full of fun things to do with children. Affectionately known as KL, the city has a great mix of culture and modernity to make it a fascinating place to explore. Blogger Anna Mehta of Mum On The Move lives in KL with kids Arran (5) and Sienna (18 months). She shares her insider city secrets for what makes KL with kids such a fantastic family holiday destination.
Why should parents plan a family holiday in Kuala Lumpur with kids?
The catchy “Malaysia, Truly
Asia” PR campaign sums it up well. KL is a diverse city and it’s possible to
experience the Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures all in the one day. KL has
everything from towering modern skyrises to quaint temples and chaotic markets.
There are plenty of family friendly attractions for kids and with year-round
heat and humidity KL screams “summer holiday”.
Children are welcomed almost everywhere and there are enough family friendly accommodation options to ensure that your family will be well catered for. Kuala Lumpur is also an amazing stepping-off point for exploring the stunning beaches and jungles in other parts of Malaysia.
Where is your favourite place to take kids in Kuala Lumpur?
Sunway Lagoon. This is a huge theme park divided into five areas (water park, amusement park, zoo, extreme park and “scream” park).
[For more family travel tips on other theme parks in Malaysia for kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
We love it because it has something for everyone and even though it’s just a 20-minute drive away we always feel as if we have gone away on a mini holiday whenever we visit. For us the highlights are a huge man-made beach (the closest we get to sand play here in KL) the wave pool which hosts weekend dance parties (hilarious!) and the toddler water play area.
[Love theme parks? Then don’t miss the suitcases&strollers interview with Theme Park Guy.]
The children also really enjoy visiting the small, but good, zoo here. It’s a full day out and our little ones always sleep very well afterwards! It’s not cheap but you can sometimes get some good discounts if you book in advance online.
There are lots of other great places to take kids. We're also big fans of the beautiful KL Bird Park in the Lake Gardens, a few of the museums and some of the indoor play centres. Although not world-class, the zoo is decent, there is a fun indoor climbing centre and a decent aquarium. Overall, I’d say we’re pretty spoiled here!
For museums, we like Petrosains, the big science discovery centre inside KLCC. There is also a National Science Centre (Pusat Sains Negara, Persiaran Bukit Kiara, Bukit Damansara, Wilayah Persekutuan Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, +60 3 2089 3400) that, although a little tired, is huge and a good diversion. It has a small toddler area, lots of exhibits for older children and also an outdoor water splash area. Lastly, the National Museum is also worth a visit. There are lots of old cars and trains on display outside – a big hit with our little boy. Inside there are four halls with different themes. It's a fairly small museum but the exhibits are interesting and there are many that will appeal to children.
Indoor play centres: you can find one in almost every mall here in KL! Some of my favourites are Kizsports and Kids E World. Most have facilities for babies/toddlers as well as older children with everything from ball pits to climbing frames to slides. Do be warned that they can be jam packed on rainy weekends!
The indoor climbing centre is at Camp 5 in the 1 Utama mall. It's the largest indoor climbing centre in Asia and has excellent facilities and good instructors. Training courses are recommended for children aged 12 or over but there are activities for younger children and a large rock play area for the littlest climbers.
Aquaria KLCC aquarium is conveniently located at KLCC and is a world-class aquarium. It's not large so you can get around it in an hour of so but it has some excellent displays of all sorts of sea life and even some ridiculously cute otters. There is a great underwater tunnel with lots of sharks, rays and all manner of other odd-looking creatures to gawp at. And, of course, there's a huge gift shop awaiting little ones at the end of all the fun.
Where are your kids’ favourite places in Kuala Lumpur to hang out?
We spend a lot of time in the big park at the bottom of the Twin Towers in KLCC. It has the largest playground I’ve ever seen. There is also a water play area which is perfect on hot and humid afternoons. The park gets excruciatingly hot in the middle of the day and is best avoided then but it’s fun to visit the fountains in the lake here in the evenings. Every hour they are lit up and “dance” to music. The park backs onto the Suria KLCC shopping mall. A visit to the park is a great incentive to get kids through a tedious shopping trip!
All four of us also love going to Jump Street, a new venture where kids and adults can jump their socks off.
It’s a huge indoor trampolining centre and I’ve yet to meet a child who doesn’t love the place. It’s a little out of town in Petaling Jaya but worth the trip.
And when you’ve worked up a sweat you can nip in next door to The School at the Jaya One mall. The School is a mall aimed at children with enrichment centres and child-centred stores. Best of all, on a Sunday morning children are allowed to ride bikes around the ground floor of the building while little food vans pop up around the place with some tasty treats for everyone to enjoy.
What is the best free activity to do in KL with kids?
The park I mentioned above is excellent and there are a number of other good parks to visit in KL as well. We recently stumbled across the free Royal Malaysian Police Museum (5 Jalan Perdana, Bukit Persekutuan, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, +60 3 2272 5689) and were pleasantly surprised. It’s a fairly extensive museum and our little boy (who is mad about rescues and emergencies) was fascinated by the displays of police vehicles, uniforms and memorabilia.
[For more family travel tips on free activities for kids in most cities, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
And for children who don’t particularly care for cops and robbers, strolling around Chinatown’s Central Markets (air conditioned!) or visiting the Craft Complex on Jalan Conlay are interesting and free ways to spend an afternoon pottering. Our children love watching the resident artisans at work in the Craft Complex.
Where is the best place to take kids in Kuala Lumpur when the weather is bad?
We spend a lot more time
indoors than we anticipated. The midday heat means that outdoor activities are
almost impossible at this time of day and regular tropical downpours can put a
halt to outdoor activities very quickly!
Here in Malaysia the first port of call is nearly always a mall: not so you can drag your child around the shops, but because many of KL’s indoor activities are housed in the larger malls. Nearly all of the major malls have an indoor play centre and there is even an amusement park inside Berjaya Times Square. You can also easily find ten pin bowling and good cinemas all over town. Some of the museums are housed in malls as well. We love going to Petrosains, a hands-on discovery centre inside the Suria KLCC mall. You’ll also find LEGO centres, ice skating, a big range of kids’ classes and workshops and my personal favourite, a number of cafes that boast both good coffee and children’s play areas (see below).
[Kids love LEGO? Then don’t miss the suitcases&strollers photo tour of LEGOLAND Malaysia.]
What are some of the city secrets that tourists might not know about but shouldn’t miss on a family holiday in Kuala Lumpur with kids?
There are so many secrets
here! After three years here in KL I feel I’m still only getting to learn many
of them! Here are some of my favourites…
· Rumah Penghulu (2 Jalan Stonor, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, +60 3 2144 9273) This is a traditional Malay house tucked away in a leafy pocket of central KL. You can join an excellent tour at set times to learn more about the history and design of the house. The tour is fairly detailed so best suited for slightly older children.
· Children who enjoy painting will love trying out batik painting. For a small fee you’ll receive all materials and children can try the traditional art form out for themselves. It’s a satisfying task – you don’t need to be particularly talented to produce something that looks very striking. I’d recommend it for children aged four and upwards. There are a number of places where you can try it out including at the back of the Central Markets or the Craft Complex. No booking needed.
· Paya Indah Wetlands is a drive out of the city near Putrajaya and well worth the trip. It’s a manmade wetlands that houses crocodiles and hippos, of all things. You can watch these beasts being fed in the mornings on weekends. It’s also a great place for birdwatching, kayaking, fishing and bike riding. There are some decent looking chalets for rent if you want to make a weekend of it (though I haven’t tried these myself).
· Kidzania Whilst firmly on the expat radar, this is perhaps less well known to tourists. It’s a so-called “edutainment” centre simulating a mini city where children can take on real professions (fire fighter, doctor, travel agent, etc) and function in a mini economy. It’s a bit of a trek out of the city centre but situated next to, you guessed it, a big mall.
What’s the best way for children to have an authentic Kuala Lumpur experience?
Find a food court! In a country where eating out is almost a national pastime, you won’t want to miss the chance to try some of the incredible offerings. Head to any busy food court and you’ll be in for a win. Try sampling several small dishes rather than sticking to just one large plate. And trying durian (once!) is a must!
[For more family travel tips on feeding fussy eaters, see the suitcases&strollers interview with kid and baby feeding experts Annabel Karmel.]
It’s also well worth visiting a few temples. A stroll round Chinatown will take you past a number of Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu temples. My children find temples fascinating – but do be careful to avoid temple fatigue: trying to cram too much in never really works for my kids.
[Read Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler talking about dealing with kids and temple fatigue in his suitcases&strollers story here.]
Pop over to Brickfields to look at the colourful sari and bangle shops or try some delicious South Indian meals.
Go to a local market. Sample a few of the snacks on sale.
Visit a suburban mall and take your children to play in one of the indoor play centres. We like going to the massive Tesco Ampang mall where our kids have a blast playing on the bouncy castle.
Where are your top 3 places for family-friendly restaurants for kids in Kuala Lumpur?
There are far too many to list! Nearly all restaurants provide high chairs and some also offer colouring in for children (or parents!). Eating out is a great way to experience Kuala Lumpur!
One of my favourites is Marmalade. It’s in the trendy suburb of Bangsar and features a large playroom. If you’re lucky enough to get a table near the playroom parents can sit back with a coffee while their children wile away a happy afternoon. The menu is essentially Western but quite varied. There are a number of good kids’ meals.
We also like going to Alexis in the Great Eastern Mall, a short taxi ride from KLCC. While not set-up particularly as a family restaurant, it has a welcoming vibe and is very accommodating. Our little man loves sitting up at the bar watching the friendly chef cook woodfired pizzas. The staff are really friendly and always take the time to chat with our little ones. They offer an interesting menu – a mix of local fare with some Western options too. Later in the evenings they host jazz performances but these tend to start well after bedtime for most little ones.
My third pick is the food court in the basement level of Pavilion mall in the popular Bukit Bintang area. As far as food courts go, this is quite a swanky one but still very reasonably priced. You’ll find every cuisine you could imagine including, of course, a huge offering of local fare. The food court is huge, meaning that finding a table isn’t usually too difficult and it is also spotlessly clean.
What are your tips for kids’ shops in Kuala Lumpur?
Toys R Us is all over town and sells all the usual branded
toys and some baby products. There are also a number of Mothercare shops, some with ELC stores
attached selling Mothercare’s range of toys. Do bear in mind that imported
products are often more expensive than in their country of origin.
There are also a number of smaller, boutique-style shops offering quality wooden toys and high-end baby products. These are mostly in the trendier malls. You can pick up nappies, wipes and other baby gear easily in supermarkets and some pharmacies. It’s worth noting though that the range of children’s medications is different and you may prefer to bring trusted brands from home.
[For a travel checklist of what to pack in your travel first aid kit for kids, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
There are a few stores that sell beautiful children’s clothes at fairly reasonable prices. I particularly like Gingersnaps, a chain from the Philippines that sells sweet, brightly coloured outfits for babies and young children. Poney is a local brand selling classic, well-made kids and babies clothes. I find the prices a little pricey here, but there are nearly always some items on sale and these are well worth snapping up.
There are a number of international brands represented in KL as well. From amongst these I like Cotton On Kids for its funky, reasonably-priced summer clothes and H&M for trendy, affordable bits and pieces. It’s also worth visiting some of the department stores (Parkson and Isetan in particular) as these have a range of brands on offer.
Which is the best place to find family friendly accommodation in Kuala Lumpur with kids?
Good locations to consider are the KLCC area, Bukit Bintang and KL Sentral. These are all central and close to the main attractions. Bukit Bintang is full of the big name hotel chains, many of these quite high-end. Of these, I have heard good things about The Marriott and The Westin.
You could also choose to stay in a serviced apartment. These are readily available in KL and will give you the option to cook and do laundry etc. They are also considerably more spacious than hotel rooms. I like the sound of MiCasa All Suite set in Ampang, in a quieter neighbourhood but just a few minutes by taxi from KLCC or a short walk from the nearest LRT station.
Airbnb is also a great option to consider, offering families larger spaces for variable prices. [Is Airbnb really suitable for family friendly accommodation? Read our suitcases&strollers review here.]
What is the ideal time frame for a family holiday in KL with kids?
Three to four days will give you enough time for a good overview but if you have more time and are willing to venture outside the city centre you could easily fill a week. There are also lots of wonderful day trips to make (Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary and Malacca for example) if you have more time at your disposal.
When is the best time of year to go on a family holiday in Kuala Lumpur with kids?
Any time of year is OK as there are no major variations in temperature. However, May to July is generally the driest time of year, though thunderstorms still do occur on a fairly regular basis. Tropical downpours can be very heavy but, on the plus side, are generally short and clear up quickly.
What is the best way to move around Kuala Lumpur with kids?
Traffic in KL is not always pleasant; roads can be very congested during peak hours and driving style can be a little “different” for newcomers! That said, it’s usually very easy to pick up a taxi either by hailing it or, for more security, by using the excellent My Teksi app. Taxis do not have provisions for kids car seats so you may want to consider this option carefully.
[Should you really bother bringing your own kids car seats with you? Don’t miss the suitcases&strollers interview with a car safety expert to find out.]
Blue taxis are more costly than their red cousins but are generally more spacious and comfortable. You may be able to discuss a day rate if you wish to hire a driver and car for your exclusive use.
I always recommend a day spent on the Hop-On Hop-Off bus which circuits KL every day. A full loop takes several hours to complete but if you add in a few stops at some of the major tourist destinations the journey will fill a full day. Tickets can be purchased at any of the stops along the route. With its open top, the upper deck has the best breeze I’ve found in KL!
The trains and monorails are very comfortable and fairly reliable. However, the rail network does not cover all areas of KL and public transport routes are not always well integrated. There is a bus network but many of the buses are in poor states of repair and can be rather tricky with a stroller or small children in tow.
What are your top 3 family travel tips for families travelling to Kuala Lumpur with kids?
Be prepared for your kids to get a lot of attention, especially if they look foreign. You may find it strange to see your children’s cheeks being pinched or strangers wanting to engage with your children. It is nearly always well meant but do of course speak up if you feel uncomfortable.
Hydrate! It’s so easy to become dehydrated in KL’s humid climate, particularly if you are moving around a lot. Make it a habit to stop for regular water breaks. Bear in mind that it’s not recommended to drink tap water and carry lots of spare change to buy mineral water on the go. It goes without saying that you should wear a hat and sunscreen too. You can buy brilliant clip on fans for strollers in many of the major toy shops in KL. The batteries don’t last for long but they are fantastic for little ones moving around town.
Pack a supply kit of a few essentials: tissues, hand sanitiser, baby wipes and insect repellent. Public amenities aren’t always fully stocked. And do make sure you put repellent on every member of the family whenever you head outdoors. Even if mosquito bites don’t bother you, they can have serious implications – in the last year dengue fever has become endemic. Save yourself the hassle of trying to find repellents locally and bring along a trusted product from home. [For more family travel tips on dealing with dengue fever, see the suitcases&strollers story here.]
Don’t let this put you off though – KL is a fantastic destination for families and you won’t regret your decision to visit this fascinating city.
Images: Jump Street, Anna Mehta of Mum On The Move, PizHere Studio, Sunway Lagoon