Just a few hours coach trip from Kuala Lumpur, Melaka (or Malacca) makes a fantastic day trip for anyone visiting Malaysia’s capital city or a great place to explore over a few days. Our Melaka itinerary will guide you around this fascinating and fun city.
Melaka’s importance as a trading port once rivalled that of Venice. Chinese and European settlers have left an indelible impression on this Malaysian city, which has come to reflect a little bit of everything from all of its previous owners and occupants.
In recognition of its rich heritage, the old town of Melaka was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008 (along with Penang).
Melaka is around 90 miles south of Malaysia’s capital city, Kuala Lumpur. It’s about a two hour bus ride to Melaka from Kuala Lumpur depending on traffic.
Buses for Melaka depart from Kuala Lumpur’s Bandar Tasik Selatan, in the south of the city. There are frequent trains from KL Sentral station to Bandar Tasik Selatan around every 15 to 20 minutes.
If you’d prefer you could book a full day private tour of Melaka including a pick up and drop off from your hotel in Kuala Lumpur.
With so many things to do in Melaka you might need more than one day to see it all. If so, there’s a huge variety of accommodation available in Melaka to suit every budget.
You can find a wide range of accommodation in Melaka from hostels to luxury hotels by clicking here. If you need some suggestions, here are a few recommendations for somewhere to stay in Melaka:
Less than a ten minute walk from the Dutch Square, [email protected] is perfect for anyone travelling on a budget. The rooms are clean and colourful and come with an excellent breakfast included.
A stone’s throw from all of central Melaka’s main sights is the Heeren Straits Hotel. Set inside a beautifully refurbished shophouse with bags of character, you can unwind at the end of the day on the hotel’s wonderful roof terrace.
Top of the Range
Today, Melaka is a feast for the senses. The tempting aroma of some of Malaysia’s finest food follows you around the city’s vibrant streets. Ancient Mosques and Hindu temples sit side by side with classic colourful Chinese shophouses on Melaka’s narrow bustling roads.
Our Melaka itinerary starts at the heart of Melaka is Dutch Square, also known as Red Square. The Dutch Square is the main focal point for Melaka, where people gather and relax throughout the day.
Against the deep blue sky, the Dutch Square is an ambush of colour, mostly the rich crimson red of the beautiful Christ Church and the imposing Stadthuys, the oldest example of Dutch architecture in South East Asia.
Both buildings are wonderful examples of the architectural legacy imposed on Melaka by the Dutch, who governed the city in the 17th and 18th century. The small clock tower and even smaller windmill nearby add to Melaka’s European feel.
Cross the Melaka River that glides gently past the Dutch Square and you’ll find that the European colonial architecture on the east bank gives way to the Chinese and Malay neighbourhoods on the west.
Here you’ll find Melaka’s two main shopping and eating streets, Jonker Street and Heeren Street. The hustle and bustle of the narrow roads that nestle together on the west side of the river gives a glimpse of what Melaka might have been like during its heyday as a trading post.
A red lantern in front of a tiger design at a Chinese temple and a colourful shop front in Melaka
Jonker Street is the throbbing heart of Melaka. This long narrow street is crammed with shophouses all tightly packed together. Busy shops and restaurants spill into the street to entice the passing crowds. This is a good place to pick up some Melakan staples, such as chicken rice balls, white coffee and, if you’re feeling brave, durian cendol.
From 6.00pm onwards every weekend the whole street is given over to the famous Jonker Street night market, bringing even more opportunities to eat some of Melaka’s famous food.
Running parallel to Jonker Street, the colourful Heeren Street provides a mini potted history of Melaka all by itself. Once home to some of the richest traders in Malaya, the whole street contains bold and beautiful traditional houses exquisitely maintained or restored, alongside others still in need of rescue.
The houses and shop fronts are a mishmash of decoration and competing colours. Traditional decorative Peranakan tiles skirt along the bottom of many facades, and large wooden name plates in bright golden Chinese script hang over many of the doors.
Towards the start of Heeren Street is the excellent Baba and Nonya Heritage Museum, an immaculately maintained example of an early 20th century Melakan and Peranakan house. A home to four generations of the same Straits Chinese family since the 1860s, the house was opened as the Baba and Nonya Heritage Museum in 1985.
The road north of Jonker Street is Harmony Street, the name given to highlight the peaceful coexistence of a number of religions that have worshiped side by side here in Melaka for hundreds of years.
Buddhist, Taoist, Islamic and Hindu places of worship all line the same side of the street. Cheng Hoon Teng temple at the far end of the street is the oldest temple in Malaysia, whereas the Sri Poyatha Moorthi Temple is the oldest Hindu temple in the country.
The Kampung Kling Mosque next door is a relatively sprightly 147 years old, though there’s been a mosque on the site since 1748.
The Kampung Kling Mosque and Cheng Hoon Teng temple on Melaka’s Harmony Street
Outside the Boon Leong International Gym on Jalan Kubu near the north end of Harmony Street are a pair of wonderfully outrageous golden statues of the evidently superhuman Datuk Wira Gan Boon Leong.
There’s another statue of him in the Jonker Walk World Heritage Park just off Jonker Street. Gan Boon Leong is a former bodybuilder from Melaka who seems to have claimed the titles of Mr Melaka, Mr Malaysia, Mr Asia and Mr Universe.
Gan Boon Leong becoming a local politician in the 1970s and is credited with playing a large part in helping Melaka acquire World Heritage status. The statues are either a fitting tribute or an embarrassing vanity project that lower the tone, depending on who you talk to.
Statues of the shy and retiring Gan Boon Leong in Melaka’s old town
Behind the Stadthuys is Melaka’s museum quarter, where there’s a museum dedicated to almost everything to do with the history of the city, the region and Malaysia, including the Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum and The Malay and Islamic World Museum.
The Proclamation of Independence Memorial is housed slightly ironically in what was originally built as a social hub for the British.
At the top of the hill are the ruins of St Paul’s church, built by the Portuguese, reconsecrated by the Dutch and then left to deteriorate once Christ Church was built.
Dutch gravestones at St Paul’s church in Melaka and the Proclamation of Independence Memorial
A number of fascinating original tombstones of the Dutch settlers who were buried in the church’s grounds are on display.
Nearby, A Formosa is another ruined church that the Dutch inherited from the Portuguese. A Formosa is one of the oldest examples of European architecture anywhere in south east Asia.
The quieter streets to the north of Jonker walk make for a pleasant slower paced stroll away from the crowds. From here you can nip down an alley between shophouses that will take you on to the walk along the Melaka River.
The two leaning towers of the Neo-Gothic Church of St Francis Xavier, another reminder of Melaka’s religious and cultural diversity, guides you back towards the Dutch Square, or if you follow the river upstream, you’ll reach Kampung Morten, the traditional Malay village just to the north of the old town.
This unique village of traditional Malay houses dates from the 1920s and is now effectively a living museum that’s still home to many Malay families.
The village is home to around 100 traditional Malay houses, with their bright red pitched roofs tightly packed around the curving river at odds with the neighbouring Chinese influence on Melaka.
No Melaka itinerary is complete without a Melaka River cruise. A 45 minute boat ride slowly meanders through the city, taking in most of Melaka’s main sights. Cruises begin at the Melaka River Square jetty, just next to the Maritime Museum.
Tour guides gives a potted history of several of the main spots in Melaka, ending at Kampung Morten, before returning to Melaka River Square jetty.
One of the best things to do in Melaka is eat. With a wide variety of Malay, Chinese, Indian and traditional Peranakan restaurants there are no shortage of great places to eat in Melaka.
Check out Hoe Kee Chicken Rice on Jonker Street for Hainanese chicken rice. It gets very busy with tourists and locals so either get there early or be prepared to queue.
Also don’t miss Cottage Spices, a traditional Peranakan restaurant about a 5 minute walk from the centre of town. Expect traditional nyonya food stuffed with deep flavours all served in a warm and welcoming homely setting.
→ For a full list of restaurants in Melaka ordered by customer ratings on TripAdvisor click here.
The centre of Melaka is small and tightly packed together, making all of the main sights easily reached by foot. As Melaka’s climate is tropical remember to keep out of the sun and to stay hydrated.
For the majority of people going to Melaka the only journey you’ll need to take is getting to and from Melaka Sentral bus station to the centre of the city.
From Melaka Sentral station take the 17 bus that goes to the Dutch Square in the centre of Melaka. The same bus goes back to the bus station from the opposite side of the road from where you’re dropped off.
There are also a number of taxis available from Melaka Sentral. Taxi drivers don’t always have the meter running even though they’re supposed to by law, so try and agree a price with them before setting off.
A taxi to Melaka Sentral from Jonker Street should cost around 20RM (about £3.60/$5).
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