Visiting KL on a budget: All the free things to do in the city, from nature spots to cultural sites

<i>Photo: Royal Selangor Visitor Centre/Facebook</i>
Photo: Royal Selangor Visitor Centre/Facebook

There’s plenty to do in the Malaysian capital city of Kuala Lumpur — from shopping for vintage threads and tchotchkes to bar-hopping across all the creative cocktail spots in town — but free stuff? Not so much.

So for all you travelers on a budget, we scoured KL for all the best spots that you can check out without having to spend a cent. From nature parks to heritage sites to craft markets, here’s what you can do to make your visit an inexpensive one.


 

Admire the artworks at the KL Craft Complex

Photo: Kompleks Kraf Kuala Lumpur/Facebook
Photo: Kompleks Kraf Kuala Lumpur/Facebook

For a glimpse of traditional and modern Malaysian handicrafts, take a walk around KL Craft Complex, an art center with an artist village, a craft museum and, of course, a souvenir section. It’s a touristy spot, no doubt, but hey, you can browse through batik pieces, rattan baskets, pottery wares, and more, while watching local artisans do what they do best.

 

Color your life green at Perdana Botanical Garden

Located in KL’s Heritage Park, this lush attraction houses a Hibiscus Garden, with a 4m-high waterfall, fountains, a colonial-style building with a gallery, and a variety of species of Malaysia’s national flower, the Bunga Raya.

More greenery awaits at the Sunken Garden and the Orchid Garden, and you can also spend some time at the Herbarium looking at the collection of dried plants, or hang with animals at the Deer Park. Once you’re done strolling through the grounds, you can unpack your picnic basket to chill at the pavilions.

 

Explore Kampung Baru 

Preserving its old world charm, Kampung Baru is like a slice of yesteryear in the bustling city. As the oldest residential area of KL (it was established in 1899), the neighborhood retains its traditional Malay kampong homes, in contrast to sleek new structures like the Petronas Twin Towers.

Here, you can catch a whiff of the aromatic foods sizzling on woks at famous food street Jalan Raja Muda Musa, then swing by historical pit stops like Kelab Sultan Sulaiman heritage building and Master Mat’s House, a headmaster’s family home built in 1921. Religious institutions you’ll pass by along the way include Masjid Jamek Kampung Baru mosque and Gurdwara Tatt Khalsa, a Sikh temple that’s been around for decades.

 

Laze the day away at KLCC Park

Located next to the massive mall that is Suria KLCC, at the base of Petronas Towers, this 50-acre garden is a swirl of waterfalls and manicured lawns, with highlights such as a children’s playground, a wading pool, and the man-made Lake Symphony that features daily light and sound shows at its musical fountains. It’s a breezy place to people-watch with a cup of coffee in hand, or see the sun go down as the city skyline gleams in the night sky.

 

Soak in the buzz of Chinatown

You can’t miss the colorful and chaotic Petaling Street of KL’s Chinatown, which bustles with flea market stalls (and their fake goods) and street food carts set up outside old shop houses. Beyond shopping, the area is also home to traditional temples, including the 1864 Taoist temple Sin Sze Si Ya, the Buddhist Chan See Shu Yuen Temple, and Sri Mahamariamman Temple, the oldest Hindu temple in the city.

 

Spend time with nature at KL Forest Eco Park

Photo: Aleksandr Ljamin/Unsplash
Photo: Aleksandr Ljamin/Unsplash

Trade in the urban jungle for a nature reserve at the KL Forest Eco Park, previously known as Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve. It’s one of the oldest of its kind in the country, yet one of the best places to traipse among the treetops on the 200m canopy walk. The rainforest is also good for picnics, trekking or running along one of the trails.

 

Stroll through the National Visual Art Gallery

Free for visitors to enter, the gallery, otherwise known as Balai Seni Visual Negara, finds its home in a building that blends traditional Malay design with contemporary elements. Open since 1998, it features permanent and rotating exhibitions of Malaysian and international artists, with a selection of artworks including batik prints, pop art, ink paintings, ceramics, textiles, and sculptures. Just take note that it closes at 6pm daily, so plan your visit accordingly.

 

Tour the Royal Selangor Visitor Centre

Photo: Royal Selangor Visitor Centre/Facebook
Photo: Royal Selangor Visitor Centre/Facebook

Pewter may not sound like the most exciting thing in the world, but Royal Selangor, which has been around since 1885, transforms it into sculptures, crafts, and home ware. Even though the brand’s visitor centre sits outside the city, it offers free shuttle services to and from multiple hotels. Inside, it’s a mix of galleries, a factory, and a retail store, with highlights such as a replica of the Petronas Twin Towers made from more than 7,000 tankards, pewter crafting showcases, and the globe’s biggest pewter tankard.

 

Window shop at Central Market

A familiar sight to locals, Central Market went from a wet market to a craft community in the early 1980s, with hordes of stalls hawking everything locally made, from batik prints and wood carvings to embroidery pieces and antiques. The heritage site gets a bit of a makeover each time cultural festivals come around, but otherwise it’s a good spot to rummage through traditional goods for the occasional hidden gem, or admire the works of local artists at the gallery.


 

For more on what to do in KL, check out:

Best live music venues in KL: Great spots to groove to jazz, folk, indie rock, and more

Brunch in KL: 10 best buzzy cafes for pancakes, pastries, pastas, and poached eggs

What to do in Damansara Heights: Pizza, cocktails, late-nights, boxing fights, and spray-tans in KL’s coolest neighborhood


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