Rich in colonial history and home to some of the best street food we’ve ever tasted, this was our first trip to Melaka in Malaysia, after finally overcoming our desire to return to Georgetown yet again for the umpteenth time (we know, we know!)
After spending 2 nights in Kuala Lumpur, we headed south to this historic and UNESCO world heritage city and fell seriously in love (and definitely looking to return again as soon as possible). From the iconic Red Square and Stadthuys to the random golden body-building statue (do read on!), Melaka is a Malaysian must-visit (and we didn’t get run over by the famous cartoon cyclos once….)
Here is our guide to the best things to do in Melaka (plus the odd lowlight and random Melaka musings):
Things to do in Melaka
1. Jonker Street Weekend Night Market
The weekend night market runs every Friday to Sunday (albeit in a slightly reduced form on Sunday) from the river to the far end of Jonker Street. We highly recommend you try to coincide your stay in Melaka during a weekend as it is hands down one of the best night markets we went to in the whole of Asia. The range of products was varied (so not just your usual tourist tat) plus the food options available were fantastic and very cheap.
The entertainment on offer during the night market also kept us entertained – our highlight on the main stage was some synchronised dancing by one of the local ladies groups – who needs ‘Strictly Come Dancing with the Stars’ (or whatever it is called) when you have cute old ladies doing cartwheels in unison?
The Melaka night markets are open 6pm – midnight, Friday – Sunday (correct as of January 2019).
2. Melaka Red Square / Stadthuys
Probably the first image you see when you do any form of search for Melaka online, this iconic red square (not Russia!) is home to the Stadthuys (the former town hall built by the Dutch in 1650) and Christ Church (an 18th century Anglican church that was actually painted red later in 1911 to match the rest of the distinctive square).
These days, it is also the meeting point for Melaka’s cartoon cyclos (see below) plus the ubiquitous ‘I love’ sign (in this case, I Love Melaka) that seem to have popped up in every major Malaysian city. A steady stream of gift-shop stalls can also be found here, in the shadow of the Melaka History and Ethnography Museum.
3. Melaka River Cruise
A Melaka River Cruise is a great and relaxing way to see many beautiful historical buildings and interesting sights in the old town. The round trip with commentary takes 45 minutes and the boat trips run daily from 9am to 11.30pm. The ticketing counter is located next to the tourist information centre opposite the Red Square buildings – prices for foreigners are 30 RM.
4. Take a ride in a colourful and kitsch trishaw
We’ve all seen cyclos around Asia, but here in Melaka, they really make a special effort in terms of how they dress and design their cycling contraptions. There are hundreds of cyclos whizzing around the city, all with a cartoon character theme; Hello Kitty, Doraemon, Pokemon and Marvel characters, particularly Spiderman, seemed to be the most popular.
You also don’t need to worry about getting run over by them, as they all have incredibly loud stereo speaker systems blaring out cartoon tunes. One of our favourite activities in Melaka was to sit in the bars overlooking the main streets and watch the cartoon cyclos whizz past, watching tourists giggle with their selfie sticks.
Also make sure you return at night near the Stadthuys to see the very same cyclos come alive with flashing lights, LED strip lighting and even glitter-balls; disco at its finest!
5. Visit St. Pauls Church
High on a hill overlooking Melaka, St Paul’s Church was originally built in 1521 and is supposed to be the oldest church in Malaysia and indeed the whole of SouthEast Asia. Now partially ruined after being used as a military store by the British in the 19th century, the sacred site offers fantastic 360 degree views overlooking Melaka (the stray cats also seem to love it there!)
One of the most visited attractions in Melaka, we preferred to visit later in the evening, to both coincide with the sunset and the departure of all the cruise-ship tours.
6. Spot the quirky street art
Although not on par with say Georgetown for its street art, it is fun to stumble across Melaka murals in the most unusual of places. The best way to explore the street-art is to simply explore the streets of Melaka with no fixed plan (although if this isn’t to your liking, concentrate your search along the river and surrounding side-streets for the highest volume of street-art).
Travelling around Malaysia?
7. Melaka local snacks and dishes
There are many reasons to visit Malaysia, and sampling delicious Malaysian food is one of them. Melaka has some amazing local dishes known as Nyonya cuisine (a unique blend of Chinese, Malay and other Southeast Asian cultures). Below are some of the local foods we ate during our short stay – look out for them at the night markets or at any of the traditional Nyonya restaurants.
Chicken Rice Ball – this is a dish of Chinese origin and not really found anywhere in Malaysia except Melaka. Rice is boiled in a chicken soup, and once cooked is rolled into balls, then served with steamed or roasted chicken and a homemade sauce (a mix of red chillies, garlic, ginger and lime). There are several restaurants in the old town serving Chicken Rice Balls but apparently the best place to try this dish is at Chung Wah Chicken Rice Ball.
Nyonya Laksa – this spicy dish is a rich and creamy coconut-based noodle soup with broth made from chicken and prawns. It is usually topped with sliced cucumber, a boiled egg, sambal, fish balls and fishcake slices. We tried a lovely version of it at the Jonker Street night market.
Pineapple Tart: this is a very delicious bitesize snack, made from flaky and buttery pastry and filled with a zingy pineapple jam. You will find shops all over town selling these, and locals love to buy boxes of them as gifts for family and friends during the festive seasons, especially Chinese New Year.
8. Sip a delicious coconut shake
The Melaka coconut shakes were one of our favourite drinks during our Asia travels and are a refreshing concoction of coconut water and flesh, ice cubes and vanilla ice cream blended together. There are a few stalls around town selling them but the best ones we tasted were from the stalls at the very start of the Jonker Street Night Market (the sellers were also very entertaining – juggling coconuts to entertain the crowds). One cup costs around 4RM and you will definitely want more than one!
9. Head to the Melaka Straits floating mosque
We’ve all seen floating markets before but how about a floating mosque? A little out of town (so getting a GRAB taxi is essential), a trip to the Malacca Straits ‘floating mosque’ is a rejuvenating experience.
While the main dome is Islamic in design, the four corner turrets are topped with typical Malaysian rooflines. Built on a man-made island in 2006, with glorious ocean views, you are free to visit the floating mosque inside (it doesn’t sway or anything!) and a change of clothing is provided in the outside changing rooms to ensure you totally cover your body. Just be careful not to step on the large prayer carpet / mat inside as you’ll be politely prompted not to by one of the helpful but assertive staff inside.
10. Visit Cheng Hoon Teng Temple
The oldest functioning temple in Melaka (founded in 1645), Cheng Hoon Teng Temple (also known as the ‘Temple of Green Cloud’), this temple was awarded a UNESCO award in the early 2000s for its outstanding architectural restoration over the years.
It is free to visit and pleasant to wander around, although a little underwhelming compared to other temples we’ve visited in Malaysia, like Kek Lok Si.
11. View the city from above
We love a good observation deck here at CK Travels and there are 3 different spots in the city to view Melaka from above. We only had time during our trip to visit 2 of them and here are our thoughts:
The first viewing deck was the Melaka Skydeck @ Hatten City – we weren’t particularly impressed by the set-up and we were the only visitors at the time. In fact, the entrance is in a nearby abandoned mall and it looks like this is another tourist attraction that has never quite taken off (we saw a lot of this across Malaysia).
The viewing deck itself is OK (the views in Melaka are quite ‘flat’) and the entrance fee of RM15 per person includes a voucher towards drinks in the Aroma Cafe on level 43 (sadly the views were facing the wrong way, overlooking wasteland). As such, we’d only recommend a visit here is you have lots of time to kill in Melaka.
The second viewing deck is the Taming Sari Revolving Tower which has awesome 360 degree views of the city. The views here are much better than the Melaka Skydeck as it is located in the city centre, but the ride only lasts 7 minutes and costs a bit more at 25RM per person.
We would personally recommend visiting the Taming Sari Revolving Tower for the better views and the fact it is much easier to access from most hotels in Melaka.
There is a third viewing platform a short walk north of the city called The Shore Sky Tower, which is also supposed to have excellent views and has a cool glass bottom ledge overhang. We will check it out next time we visit and update this page!
12. Take a stroll along the river to Kampung Morten
A relaxed stroll along the Melaka River (or tourist boat) brings you to the rustic setting of Kampung Morten village, one of the few remaining traditional villages in the area. Set amidst various skyscrapers and hotels (e.g the huge Majestic hotel is just next door), this is a charming place to explore, as residents wave to you from their impeccable and lush gardens.
The vast majority of households here (mainly descendants of the first Melaka settlers) have now tapped into the tourist market, turning their homes into traditional home-stays – there are also several houses that have small restaurants and cafes located in their front gardens.
13. Enjoy some dinner and drinks by the river
Drinks along the Melaka River (once dubbed the ‘Venice of the East’) is a fun way to wind down in the evenings – there are several bars all next to each other along the river, with various competing Melaka Happy Hours. Go early so you can grab an alfresco spot by the river and watch all the tourist boats glide by, brightly lit by various neon lights and LED strips (sunglasses optional – beer essential).
14. Relax at one of Melaka’s hipster cafes
There are several charming cafes in Melaka old town that are great for a quick coffee or smoothie pit stop. One of the cutest Melaka cafes that we visited was the The Daily Fix cafe located at the back of a souvenir shop on Jonker Street, which had a very trendy interior and served some really yummy lunches.
15. Get cultural at Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum
This is in fact a recreation of Sultan Mansur Shah’s 15th-century palace, built in 1985 using traditional construction techniques and materials. The painstaking palace recreation contains over 1,300 artefacts, prints and photographs detailing the Malacca Malay Sultanate’s history (plus lots of rather creepy looking mannequin dummies, which we found rather off-putting!).
Also make sure you check out the gardens before you leave as these were equally as impressive.
16. Eat like a local at Jonker Street Hawker Centre
A few minutes walk from the main lodgings in Melaka, we’d recommend you visit here during the week when the night market isn’t on, to get your fill of cheap street-food.
There are around 10 to 15 street hawker / food stalls located here, across two ground floor rooms, with lots of outdoor seating. Wander round the stalls, choose and order your food from the respective stalls (make sure you have a table number) and then pay them when they bring it over. The food here was inexpensive and delicious – there was lots of choice but we eventually opted for some yummy char kway teow and some seafood noodles.
Open 6pm – midnight except Thursdays (correct January 2019)
17. Visit the Melaka Bodybuilding Statues – Datuk Wira Dr. Gan Boon Leong
Malaysia’s most successful bodybuilder and Melaka’s answer to Arnold Schwarzenegger, there are four enormous statues dedicated to Datuk Wira Dr. Gan Boon Leong. Born in 1937 and known as the ‘Father of Bodybuilding in Malaysia’, he is now involved in local politics plus also owns a gym – the several statues of him dotted around Melaka were erected in his honour and have now become a curious tourist attraction.
18. Go on a free walking tour
We didn’t have time to do this but there is a free 2 and a half hour walking tour which starts at 9.30am every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday* from the tourist information office near Dutch Square. Aim to arrive at 9.15am to sign up for it and guarantee a place. *Times and days are correct as of January 2019.
Abandoned Melaka Monorail
Look up whilst walking along the Melaka River and you’ll see the remains of a now mothballed monorail system that really never took off after its launch – several mechanical problems coupled with a comparatively expensive fare (too much for locals) meant this looks like a huge white elephant – there is often talk of relaunching it, but nothing has happened since we visited in January 2019.
Abandoned theme parks and ‘ghost’ shopping centres
We also noticed several abandoned small-scale theme parks whilst in Melaka including a pirate inspired park next to the river, plus several shopping centres that seemed to be nigh on vacant – this seems to be a thing in Malaysia, as also experienced at the Sky Deck at Hatten City.
The People’s Museum / Museum of Beauty
We first heard about this from an article on the Atlas Obscura website. In essence, it is a museum that charts the people’s history of Melaka as seen through their eyes. All in all, it is a bit of an oddity, with dated exhibitions on subjects like kite-flying that rarely seem to get changed. Cheap as chips though as it less than $1 entry so maybe treat this an alternative rainy day activity?
ATMS in Melaka
It was hard to find ATMs in Melaka – however we did find one inside the 7/11 on Jalan Laksamana 4 street, and also some in Dataran Pahlawan Melaka Megamall.
How to get to Melaka
How to get to Melaka from Kuala Lumpur
You can visit Melaka as part of a day tour from Kuala Lumpur, or by independently taking a bus and staying a few nights in a hotel/hostel.
The bus journey time from Kuala Lumpur to Melaka is around 2 and a half hours from Terminal Bersepadu Selatan bus station (located a bit out of the city so take a Grab taxi there). The fare usually costs between RM10 and RM20 and the bus arrive at Melaka Sentral station which is 3 miles north of the the city (so again you will need to take a taxi to your accommodation for about RM15).
You can also reach Melaka by bus from Singapore (it is a good stopping off point if you are travelling from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur or vice versa). Buses also go to and from other Malaysian cities such as Genting Highlands, Ipoh, Penang, Kota Bahru, Johor Bahru, as well as Hatyai in Thailand.
Use 12Go Asia to find the best fares for your trip to Melaka:
Getting around Melaka
Melaka is fairly compact so getting around by foot is no problem (70% of the major attractions are within 1km radius), or you could pay to take a sightseeing ride around the old town in one of those really cool trishaws! Some hotels also offer bicycle rental for their guests.
To get to and from the bus station to your accommodation, and also to visit places a bit further out of town such as floating mosque and the Melaka Skydeck you will most likely be needing a taxi. Grab taxis are widely used by both tourists and locals, and the fares are really cheap! Download the Grab app here and use the code GRABCKTRAVELS to earn a free ride when you sign up.
Where to stay in Melaka
We stayed at Hotel Puri – the location was amazing and just a few minutes walk to Jonker street weekend market, the river and many restaurants. The rooms were a little tired looking but there was a fairly decent free breakfast every morning.
Here are some other suggestions for accommodation to suit all budgets:
Here are some cheap hostels that come highly rated on Hostelworld:
Traditional guest house with friendly owners – a short walk from town. Check out prices and availability for Tonys Guesthouse
Newly renovated guest house with plant-filled inner courtyards and free WIFI. Check out prices and availability for Jalan-Jalan Emas
Ringo’s Foyer Guest House
Budget accommodation ranging from family and double rooms to single and dorm rooms, with rooftop and cycling tours. Check out prices and availability for Ringo’s Foyer Guest House
If you are looking for something mid range then these hotels have great reviews:r
Modern hotel featuring contemporary-industrial decor. Check out prices and availability for Rosa Malacca
Timez Modern Heritage Hotel
Boutique hotel located in a side alley just off Jonker street. Check out prices and availability for Timez Modern Heritage Hotel
RC Hotel Melaka
Boutique hotel located just beside the Malacca River with rooms featuring different unique themes. Check out prices and availability for RC Hotel Melaka
Alternatively if you are looking for something more special then treat yourself to a stay at one of these seriously beautiful hotels in Melaka:
The Majestic Malacca
Boutique hotel set along the banks of Melaka River featuring elegantly decorated guest rooms and spa and outdoor pool. Check out prices and availability for The Majestic Malacca
Casa Del Rio
Riverside hotel featuring an infinity pool, fitness centre, spa, 3 restaurants and rooms with a private balcony. Check out prices and availability for Casa Del Rio
Sim cards and pocket WIFI
Having data on your phone whilst travelling is almost essential these days – from planning your route around the city, booking a Grab taxi or for staying connected with friends and family back home. SIM cards are pretty cheap in Malaysia with generous data allowances and are available to purchase from airports, malls and convenience stores (bring your passport along for identification purposes).
You can also prepay online and collect a SIM from KLIA2 airport. Just remember to make sure your phone is not locked to your local network provider before purchasing one.
Alternatively if you do not want to change your sim card then renting a pocket WIFI device might be for you. We’ve used them multiple times and love that we can both connect our devices to it, however the downside to the Malaysian ones is that there is a data allowance of 1GB per day. Pre-order one online with Klook for collection when you arrive at either KLIA or KLIA2 airport in Kuala Lumpur.
Other Malaysia blog posts
- Top things to do in Georgetown, Penang – travel guide
- The perfect 2 week Malaysia itinerary and travel guide
- Cameron Highlands attractions: the ultimate travel guide
- Tasting Malaysian cuisine on a Kuala Lumpur food tour
- A cheap day tour in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia
- Visiting Batu Caves in Kuala Lumpur for the Thaipusam Festival
- Exploring Langkawi’s Mangrove flora and fauna
- Island hopping in Langkawi
- Exploring Kuala Lumpur from above – KL Tower and Eco Forest Park
Did you enjoy our things to do in Melaka / Malacca blog post? Let us know in the comments or by sharing it on social media.