1 Central Market
It’s a good idea to plan ahead in Kuala Lumpur – not because things get booked up, but because you can easily spend four hours in traffic getting between some of its attractions.
The Malaysian capital is a relatively new city, dating from the 1850s when tin was discovered in the area. Its name comes from the Malay for “muddy confluence,” in this case, two rivers – the Gombak and its tributary, the Klang.
Beyond the point where the rivers meet is the Central Market. Originally a meat and fish market when it was established in 1888, the present art deco building in duck-egg blue is located at the junction of Jalan Benteng and Lebuh Pasar Besar. It underwent a renovation in the mid-1980s to become an arts and crafts center, catering to tourists looking for souvenirs from outlets such as Kheng’s Antiques and Collectibles.
2 Merdeka Square
Walk a few minutes north, cross the river just below the confluence and head to Merdeka Square.
A 300-feet-tall flagpole proudly bears the red- and white-striped Malaysian flag, first raised in 1957 when the nation gained independence from British rule. The popular and spacious grassy public area was once used as a cricket pitch by the Royal Selangor Club – a gathering place for the British colonial elite, founded in 1884.
The venue still exists, in its mock-Tudor style, although the original building has been rebuilt several times owing to fires and other mishaps. It still has a long bar where members can drink a cold gin and tonic at the end of a balmy day.
If it’s a little early, or you’re not a friend of a member, head for the Cathedral of St Mary. Built in 1894 by English architect A C Norman, the Gothic building houses plaques commemorating the often sad and grisly end of British officers.
3 Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery
Getting around Kuala Lumpur can be a nightmare by road. The highly anticipated Mass Rapid Transit won’t open its first line until 2017, but in the meantime, the Light Rail and Monorail allow you to get about quickly and cheaply in air-conditioned cars.
A five-minute walk from Bank Negara station is what’s popularly known as the Currency Museum.
Situated in a striking glass building opposite a memorial to Tunku Abdul, the country’s first prime minister, it has several galleries dedicated to the Malaysian economy, with interactive exhibitions on the bank’s role in the nation’s development, financial regulation and Islamic finance. The absorbing numismatics gallery presents coins and banknotes from antiquity to today.
The top-floor art gallery showcases the Central Bank’s impressive collection of contemporary Malaysian art acquired since 1962. Thirty Southeast Asian rising stars from 10 nations are now on display in “Art of ASEAN: Our Exhibition,” through Feb. 14. Open daily 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM; free admission. museum.bnm.gov.my
4 Petronas Towers
Hop back on the monorail, connect to the pink Kelana Jaya line and take it to KL Sentral station.
Here you’ll exit to find Kuala Lumpur’s futuristic landmark – the Petronas Towers – looming above you. Briefly the tallest building in the world (1998-2004), it is still the tallest twin-towered structure (although Dubai has plans to change this).
Wherever you travel in KL, the towers seem to pop into sight at unexpected moments, but you shouldn’t leave the capital without taking in the incredible views they offer of the city and the surrounding mountains.
Tours are available or for the price of a ticket, gaze down from the observation deck at level 86 – not for those with a fear of heights. The Sky Bridge connecting the towers at the 41st and 42ndfloors provides less challenging, but equally breathtaking views – however, it’s temporarily closed from March 1 through May 2.
At the foot of the towers is the exclusive Suria shopping center, a 50-acre park and the Philharmonic Hall, home to the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. Open Tues-Sun 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM (closed Mon and 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM Fri); tickets are RM84.80 ($20). petronastwintowers.com.my
5 Royal Selangor Visitor CentER
For anyone with an interest in history, industry or just making lots of noise, a relatively short trip to Royal Selangor’s visitor center – a 6-mile taxi ride from the Petronas Towers – is a must.
Famous around the world for its pewter, Royal Selangor has a stunning shop selling a variety of pewter and glass items. The factory tour offers in-depth exhibits on the history of Royal Selangor, as well as pewter-making in Malaysia and its wider historical context.
If you get organized and have a few colleagues with you (or don’t mind joining a group that’s already booked), the School of Hard Knocks gives you the chance to make your own pewter trinket – this is the noisy part, as you bash your creation into shape with a mallet.
Be warned, everyone makes an ugly ashtray – try something a little more adventurous. Priced RM60 ($14) per person, book a slot at visitorcentre.