ULTIMATE To Do Kuala Lumpur – Merdeka Square & Petaling Street


Merdeka Square is the historical place where Tanah Melayu (Malaysia) declared independence from the British on 31 August 1957. Along with the square, there are nearby historical landmarks that will also be covered in this article alongside Petaling Street (Chinatown).

I have categorized and batched attractions so it makes logistical sense for you to cover by public transport, GrabCar (there’s no Uber in South East Asia) and on foot.

This article will help you to understand the history of what makes this city what it is. So I have organized the attractions in order to make logistical sense for you:

Masjid Jamek (Mosque)

View of the Mosque from the Masjid Jamek LRT station at night

You can start your journey at Masjid Jamek. There is an LRT station nearby or simply use GrabCar to reach here.

Masjid Jamek is one of the oldest mosques in Kuala Lumpur. It was the main mosque in the city until the National Mosque (Masjid Negara) was built in 1965.

The mosque is well kept but small. It will only take about 15 mins to walk around it so don’t get your hopes up. The nearest LRT station is named after it, LRT Masjid Jamek.

Unique things about Masjid Jamek:

  • It was opened in 1909 and the design was influenced by Moghul architecture (India).
  • The location of the mosque is at the meeting point of the Klang and Gombak rivers, which is also where the light and fog show is.
  • There were restoration and upgrading works of the mosque done in 2017 together with the River of Life project.

Dress code: Guys need to cover below their knees and for the ladies, you will have to wear a scarf and cover your legs. You can borrow a scarf at the counter at the entrance.

Registration counter on the left to borrow a scarf

Opening hours: 8:30 am to 4:30 pm.
Map.

River of Life

River of Life overlooking Masjid Jamek with Koi Pond along with the river

Under the River of Life Project (RoL) in 2017, the area where the 2 rivers meet has been cleaned up, installed with LED lights, mist blowers and a fountain show in the efforts to boost tourism.

The cool thing about this place is that most Malaysians themselves have not actually been here as it was not marketed heavily by the media.

At night with Kuala Lumpur sign, fog show, and KL Tower
without the fog
At night with the fog
A nice touch of Koi fish along the walkway of the river
The pedestrian bridge from Masjid Jamek to Merdeka Square
From Masjid Jamek, use the back alley to cross the bridge as shown below:

The light show starts at 9:15 pm till 11 pm at an interval of 15 mins.

Overall Verdict:

  • I like the story behind a good restoration project.
  • The light, fog show, and walkway are pretty magical. Despite salty reviews, I personally enjoyed it.
  • Poor signage and information, so I hope this blog will help you to get the best of this attraction.

The best place to take photos is on the big bridge where you can see the 2 rivers meet, overlooking Masjid Jamek and the fog/light show. Once you have crossed the pedestrian bridge from Masjid Jamek, follow the walkway along the river until you reach the photo area (map):

Count Down Clock Monument

Dead during the day

Water fountain feature with LED lights. Dead during the day. So the best is to come at night with the LED lights, water, and projector show. Map.

Water show schedule

Pics of the Monument at night coming soon.

From Masjid Jamek and after you have crossed the bridge.

St. Mary’s Cathedral

Restored Cathedral constructed in 1895. Worth a pop in. It’s good to see the contrast of religious institutions in close proximity to one another and coexisting in harmony. Map.

What the Cathedral looks like inside
The Cathedral is located near the Count Down Clock Monument, across the river:

Merdeka Square

Merdeka in Malay means independence (local name: Dataran Merdeka) is a historical place where Malaysia declared independence from the British on 31st August 1957. There are frequent events happening especially during weekend nights. Map.

Popular family hang out during the weekend nights
Local families take their kids and let them run loose on the square

Frequent Events at Merdeka Square:

  • KL Car-Free Morning (1st & 3rd Sunday of every month, 7 AM to 9 AM)
  • Ramadhan Food Bazaar (the whole of Ramadhan)
  • Yearly Independence Day Parade (31 August)
  • Marathons.
  • Food Trucks.
  • Concerts.

Plaza Merdeka website.

Sultan Abdul Samad Building

Probably the icon of the whole Merdeka Square area beside the square itself. Map.

  • Before it was built, the land was used as humble vegetable farmland.
  • The building was originally built for the British Colonial offices in 1897.
  • It was named after the Sultan of Selangor at the time.
  • Moorish style architecture. It was built by the same architect that designed Masjid Jamek, which is why the two buildings look similar.
  • After independence in 1957, the building was used for the Selangor Government Office until they moved to Shah Alam in 1974.
  • 1974, it was used for the Malaysian Court system.
  • After Putrajaya and Kuala Lumpur Courts complex was completed in the 2000’s, the Sultan Abdul Samad Building is currently repurposed for the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia, and the Tourism Ministry.
Alleyway
Beautifully lit at night
Recommended walkway around the building to explore and take photos

National Textile Museum

A small 2 story air-conditioned museum displaying the different ethnic clothes in Malaysia and how they are made.

I only recommend this if you are somewhat cultured and are genuinely interested in history and culture. My opinion would be that young adults and kids would be bored here.

  • Opens every day from 9 AM to 6 PM.
  • Admission is RM5 per adult.
  • Map.
Batik sarongs & how it’s made
Sample of local traditional clothes
View of Merdeka Square from the second floor of the Textile Museum
Admission fees
The textile museum is next to the Sultan Abdul Samad Building

Kuala Lumpur City Gallery

The famous ‘I Love Kuala Lumpur‘ sign is located here for you to take your Instagram photos.

Inside, there are buildings and city models, a cafe and a souvenir shop.

  • Opens every day from 9 AM to 6 PM.
  • Admission is FREE.
  • Map.
Gift shop
Kuala Lumpur city video tour
Kuala Lumpur iconic building models

Pasar Seni (Central Market)

A great place to explore local artwork and purchase souvenirs. Haggling is a must. Opens daily from 10 am to 10 pm. Map.

Local art including batik for sale
sample of beautiful batik painting

Kasturi Walk is a section next to the Central market that they sell more souvenirs and local snacks.

The entrance resembles Malaysia’s traditional Wau (kite)
A lot of artsy household items for sale
Kasturi Walk
Directions after from National Textile Museum

Sin Sze Si Ya Temple

Chinese-style Taoist temple. Opening hours are from 8:30 am to 5 pm. Map.

Petaling Street (Chinatown)

A shopper’s paradise. Mostly contraband items perfect for impulse purchases or as a souvenir.

It is more lively at night as the sellers start to setup counterfeit mobile shelves publicly on display.

Haggling is absolutely necessary and don’t dress too fancy it will work againts your favor when haggling. As with being in a crowded area, always keep an eye on your belongings and pockets.

the walkway around Petaling Street
The famous Mata Kucing (longan) drink. Quite sweet though
Old gemstone store full of character
Petaling Street looks like a cross on this map. each wing specializing selling different things

Guan Di Temple

Entrance

A well maintained, colorful Taoist shrine worth a pop in for some pictures. Map.

Praying Sticks

Jao Tim – Gypsy Jazz Cafe

Live Gypsy Jazz performance on selected Sundays

A restored shop lot with original wood flooring and beams from 1910. It is a cafe but the unique thing about it is that it hosts a live Gypsy Jazz performance on selected Sundays.

Local swing dance clubs frequent this event while they do their dances to the music which is very nice and lively.

Cafe Opening Hours: 11 am to 7 pm.
Gypsy Jazz time: Selected Sundays from 3 pm to 5 pm.
Map.
Their Facebook Page.

A personal friend of mine, Zulhilmy is a full-time bassist, he organizes and performs at this event. Check out his Instagram.

View this post on Instagram

Best way to spend Sunday afternoon

A post shared by Zulhilmy Zulkifli (@zulhilmyzulkifli) on

walking map from Petaling Street

Chocha’s Foodstore

A former hotel turned into a restaurant
The entrance of Choca’s food store

This is one of those establishments that need to be researched beforehand. If you were just strolling around, you probably wouldn’t realize that the place exists let alone know it’s actually a restaurant. It is just a few steps away from Merchant’s Lane Cafe.

Not the be confused as a cafe, but Chocha’s Food Store is an Asian fusion restaurant. The restaurant is downstairs and the bar is upstairs (opens at 5 pm).

To me, this restaurant has a great vibe and would be the perfect place to enjoy lunch or dinner with great company.

Charming interior
ordering counter with lush plants
Colorful food presentation
Spiral staircase to go up to the bar (after 5 pm)
Craft beer
Bar upstairs

Open 11 am to 11 pm, Closed on Monday.
Map.
Their Website.

Merchant’s Lane Cafe

A former brothel then abandoned shop lot turned into this charming cafe. It is a perfect place to hang out after a long day of walking about exploring the city.

Unique open-aired terrace
Fried chicken

Opening Hours: 11:30 am – 9:30 pm. Closed on Wednesday.
Their Website.
Map.

PS 150 Bar

Another speakeasy bar I recommend. Shanghai theme cocktail bar. It’s a little hard to find at first so make sure you have it saved on your Google Maps.

The entrance to the bar that looks like a vintage toy store

Opening Hours: 6 pm – 2 am. Closed on Mondays.
Their Website.
Map.

Wrapping Up Merdeka Square Attractions

These attractions should be enough to occupy you for a day or at least an afternoon. To explore the next area of KL, read my other articles that cover the other 3 areas of the city:

  1. AREA 1: Merdeka Square Attractions (Historical)
  2. AREA 2: Bukit Bintang Attractions (Shopping, Fun, and Dining)
  3. AREA 3: KLCC Attractions (Modern and Traditional Side of KL)
  4. AREA 4: Botanical Gardens Area Attractions (Nature)

Helmi

Business owner and online content creator for balkonihijau.com.

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