Things to do in Melaka, Malaysia
Melaka (sometimes called Malacca) was our final destination in Malaysia, being also our gateway to Singapore, so we really hoped to find enough interesting things to do in Melaka to ensure that our experience would be a fitting ending to the 40-plus days we spent in Malaysia.
And indeed, we were not disappointed. The UNESCO World Heritage city seems to encompass many of Malaysia’s different aspects, and with so many things to do in Melaka, our time there just flew past. Explosions of colour, diverse food options and rich culture line Melaka’s roads which are steeped in history, making it a fun and lively city in which to enjoy a few days.
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Things to do in Melaka and why you should visit
Our initial impression of Melaka old town was that it was a cute collection of roads lining a canal which was confirmed during our tour around town the next day. However, we also discovered that this part of town is very “happening” and buzzing with activity, making it a unique destination which should not be missed.
Our half-day tour was just right. It was long enough to showcase Melaka’s history in depth and short enough to give us time to explore the city by ourselves given that we were only spending two nights and wanted to discover all the things to do to in Melaka.
Getting To Melaka
We arrived in Melaka from Mersing jetty (serving the ferry from Tioman Island which was our previous destination) by bus, which cost RM 29 each (about €5.75). The journey was about 4.5 hours long and the bus ticket can be booked here.
Melaka is extremely well connected by train from Kuala Lumpur (KL Sentral) or via a myriad of comfortable buses leaving KL’s TBS station, a short trip taking no more than 2 hours. We were also quite surprised to notice that the trip to Melaka from KLIA (Kuala Lumpur’s International Airport) takes no more than 1.5 hrs, i.e. it would probably take less time to travel to Melaka rather than to travel to KL’s busy centre (when factoring in traffic)!
Where to stay in Melaka
Moty Hotel is a newcomer to Melaka’s accommodation scene but there’s no doubt that it is about to become a firm favourite with business and leisure tourists alike. The lobby is welcoming and staff gracious, the rooms are spacious and extremely comfortable, so much so that we found it difficult to get off the soft beds to get ready for dinner on time!
After a busy day exploring Melaka’s old town, the indoor pool provided some welcome relief from the city’s heat. Despite its proximity to city centre, at a walking distance from all major attractions, the hotel is located in a quiet road thus ensuring that we were not disturbed by the outside noise during our stay. It is also a stone’s throw away from the popular Dataran Pahlawan Megamall, making it very convenient for those planning a shopping spree.
We thought that the breakfast served was more than sufficient ensuring that we had enough energy to last us throughout the day, whilst we ticked all of the things to do in Melaka off our list. It was served continental style and we were asked to choose between an American breakfast and a Malaysian breakfast, both of which were different on different days.
My favourite meal was the soft roti canai with curry served on the first day. Both breakfast options were accompanied by cereal, fruit, pastries, juice and coffee (or tea). Nikki loved the sausages and the hashbrowns!
You can check the availability at the Moty Hotel here.
Things to do in Melaka
Despite the city’s small size, there are ample things to do in Melaka. Our tour guide first explained some of its rich history so that we could appreciate the different sights and architectural styles around town more. If you are not exploring with a guide, you should catch up on some history reading before coming to Melaka; it will come in handy when you’re walking through town!
Here’s a look at the recommended things to do in Melaka if you only have one day to explore the city.
Also known as the Red Square because of the red-painted buildings that surround it, this square is a bit of a carnival spot being full of tourists posing for selfies in almost every part of it. Tacky trishaws adorned with Hello Kitty and Doraemon images will offer you a ride every 5 seconds and there’s no avoiding their loud baring music (“Despacito” when we visited)!
Nevertheless, it is a good spot for some souvenir hunting and people watching. Just try to avoid the large umbrella-holding tour groups and focus on the beautiful Dutch architecture instead!
Located in one corner of the Dutch Square (and also painted red), this Anglican Church has a lovely façade but a not-so-special interior (especially if like us, you’re used to Europe’s intricately-decorated churches).
We did enjoy spending a few minutes in the cool interior to cool off from the unbearable hot sun though!
A’Famosa (Porta de Santiago)
Not to be confused with the resort of the same name, the building was originally a Portuguese fortress of which only the Porta de Santiago remains. It is one of the oldest European ruins in all of Southeast Asia and originally housed all of the Portuguese administration in Melaka.
Taking a photo at this historical spot is one of the more popular things to do in Melaka, so you might need to stand in line for the perfect photo opportunity!
St. Paul’s Church
This church ruin is situated high on a hill in the middle of town and commands some great views of the surrounding area and the straits of Melaka, one of the most important shipping routes in the world.
It was once the resting place of St. Francis Xavier before the corpse was moved to Goa, India. His statue is still standing right outside the building, minus the right hand which broke off in a storm. This particular event led to some rather awkward coincidence, considering that the Saint’s actual right arm was removed from his corpse and is stored in a reliquary in Rome, away from the rest of his body.
The Canal Walk
One of the most charming and picturesque parts of Melaka is the colourful canal area lined with little cafes and street art. You can take a canal cruise which is one of the most popular things to do in Melaka, but we preferred walking around so as to appreciate the ambience at our own pace.
This is one of the most famous streets in Melaka being home to many cafes, bakeries, temples, galleries and antiques shops. It comes to life in the evening on Fridays and Saturdays when the whole street becomes very crowded with people wanting to experience its night market.
If you want to shop and eat, this is the street to come to! Here you can find Chinese, Malaya and even Portuguese food, sweets and pastries as well as an assortment of cheap souvenirs. We were very excited to find Portuguese Pastel de Nata being sold in the bakeries!
Harmony Street (Jalan Tukang)
Just like Penang, Melaka has a street in which buildings representing different faiths can be found just metres away from each other. The Kampung Kling Mosque rubs shoulders with the Sri Poyyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple and the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple is only a few metres away, whilst the Xiang Lin Si Temple stands right across the street. Malaysia is truly multicultural and this street is testimony to the peaceful co-existence of different faiths in the same area!
Treat yourself to Cendol
You might not be familiar with Cendol. We were introduced to the sweet refreshing dessert in Melaka and liked it so much that we had it three times during our short stay! The sweet consists of shaved ice topped by palm sugar syrup, green tapioca “worms”, coconut milk and beans or fruit. There’s a great Cendol stall just across the road from the Dutch Square which seems to be very popular.
Where and what to eat in Melaka
Cottage Spices Nyonya Restaurant
Melaka is well-known among foodies for its gastronomic delights, in particular for its Peranakan or Baba-Nyonya cuisine. Trying out this type of local food at different eateries is easily one of the best things to do in Melaka. It incorporates Malaysian flavours with Chinese-style ingredients and cooking methods and every Nyonya dish we tried at Cottage Spices Nyonya Restaurant was nothing short of delicious being both delicate and flavoursome.
My favourite dish out of the many we tried was Bendih Sambal, steamed ladyfingers with a spicy sweet sambal sauce which I couldn’t get enough of! Nikki loved the Udang Lemak Nenas (prawns cooked with pineapple and coconut milk) for the sweet tangy flavour. The Asam Pedas Ikan Nyonya dish in which fish is cooked in tamarind sauce was outstanding, and deserves a special mention.
During our stay in Melaka I really wanted to try the local laksa which we had been told is very different to the Asam laksa that I had become almost addicted to in Penang. Our kind host Mr. Goh Hock Gin made sure that my wish was granted, even though laksa is more of a lunch-type dish and few outlets serve it at dinner time.
Bulldog Cafe is a hip joint with contemporary décor also serving Nyonya dishes. We were served spicy Nyonya laksa with coconut milk which I loved (I am now confused as whether I like Asam or Nyonya laksa best!), Nyonya Popiah, a like a soft crepe-like spring roll stuffed shrimp, pork and veggies, and Nyonya Kuih Pie Tee (top hats because that’s exactly what they look like), pastry cups holding delicious blend of savory ingredients which I never bothered to identify (but they were so good!). Special thanks goes to our host for ensuring that that the restaurant remained open so that I could get my laksa!
Capitol Satay Celup
The last eatery we tried was the very popular Capitol Satay Celup, one of the many satay steamboat outlets in town. It is not surprising that this is one of the most popular though!
Although we were pretty stuffed by this time, we really enjoyed choosing the skewered raw ingredients which we then cooked ourselves in our pot of boiling satay (peanut sauce) placed in the middle of the table. Even better was the fact that we were given pieces of bread to mop up the sauce! This was easily one of our favourite things to do in Melaka!
Sid’s Pub @ Jonker’s
If you’re looking for a breezy place on the riverside for a quick bite to eat whilst watching the boats cruise gently up and down the canal, we really recommend Sid’s Pub @ Jonker’s. The old building has been renovated in style and serves some great beers as well as wine (which is not so easy to find in Malaysia!)
The staff is highly professional and very welcoming and we were happy to visit during the daytime to enjoy the cool breeze when taking a break from sightseeing, as well as by night when the place was more lively.
Our unique experience in Melaka
One very special experience in Melaka and indeed one of the most unique we have experienced during our travels in Southeast Asia, was a private ceremony celebrating Chinese culture which our host Mr. Goh Hock Gin invited us to.
The event was a praying ceremony for the deities during which our host and his family were blessed at their temple. The ceremony, in which the family took an active part, consisted of a ritual (in the form of a dance) by three deities, where prosperity, happiness and good health were celebrated.
We really enjoyed watching the ceremony, which gave us further insight into the cultural and religious activities happening around the town, and further strengthened our conviction that there are a great number of things to do in Melaka.
We would like thank our host in Melaka Mr. Goh Hock Gin of Bel Travel and Tours, the Ministry of Tourism and Culture Malaysia and Moty Hotel for sponsoring our trip to Melaka. Opinions expressed in this post are, as always, our own.