Though it deserves a few days of exploration in its own right, Kuala Lumpur’s location and massive transit industry means many travelers find themselves in the city on long flights layovers . Walk through KL Sentral train station or the international terminal at the airport and you will find hoards of people milling about, debating on whether or not to leave the transit hub and see the city. If you find yourself in this situation, know that the decision is easy: See the city!
Kuala Lumpur has plenty to offer visitors with time to spare between transit legs. Though Kuala Lumpur is a sprawling and massive city, attractions in the downtown area are packed so close to one another that it’s easy to see the city and sit down for a meal in just a few hours. A speedy train connects the airport with the urban rail network, and taxis are cheap—you can expect to pay around RM 14 for a long ride from a bus station on the city’s outskirts to downtown.
On a recent trip, I only had five hours between trains in and out of the city, and I managed to do everything below.
Kuala Lumpur Layover Must-See: Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia
Located just one stop up from the massive KL Sentral train station, the Islamic Arts Museum is a great way to pack in some culture and history when you’re short on time. Covering multiple regions, mediums, and eras, the museum provides insight into the cultural heritage enjoyed by Malaysians that might be hard to see in modern, bustling Kuala Lumpur. With a collection of artifacts unique in the region, the museum is a must-see, especially for those without plans to explore Muslim southeast Asia further.
If you have extra time and appropriate dress, you may want to pop into the Masjid Negara, Malaysia’s National Mosque as it is located on the same street. It’s free and open to visitors when it’s not prayer time, but non-Muslims cannot use the bathrooms. If religious sites aren’t your forte, there are several other attractions in the area, including an orchid garden and bird park.Hours: Open everyday 10 am – 6 pm Cost: RM 12 Closest public transit stop: Kuala Lumpur train station
Kuala Lumpur Layover Must-See: Petronas Towers
Standing for six years as the world’s tallest buildings, the twin Petronas Towers are a symbol of modernity and affluence in Malaysia. Towering over the city and visible from many vantage points across the sprawling metropolis, the colossal structures are powerful characters in anyone’s visit to KL.
There are two major ways to enjoy the towers, with the most popular method being a trip up to the observation deck on the 86th level. Here you’ll absorb the massiveness of Kuala Lumpur from a height of 360 meters above the city. However, if heights give you the willies and snapping panoramic cityscapes isn’t your thing, you can always take a walk through Kuala Lumpur City Center Park to the Trader’s Hotel for a drink at Sky Bar. Here you can observe the towers safely from the 33rd floor while sipping a cocktail in posh company. While there is no strict dress code, customers dressing nicely seem to get better service.Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 9 am – 9 pm, closed 1 pm – 2:30 pm Fridays Cost: RM 80 Closest public transit stop: KLCC LRT station
Sky Bar at the Trader’s HotelHours: Sunday to Thursday 11 am – 1 am, Friday and Saturday 11 am – 3 am Cost: Cocktails start around RM40 Closest public transit stop: KLCC LRT station
Kuala Lumpur Layover Must-See: Jalan Alor
For a wide selection of Malaysian food in a vibrant setting, look no further than Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur’s street food wonderland. In the evenings, Jalan Alor is closed to traffic and the colorful restaurants lining the sidewalks spill their tables into the street, while vendors cram into any available space leftover. Though busy and popular with tourists and locals alike, prices along Jalan Alor remain reasonable and the food delicious. Alcohol might cost more than you expect, but the prices are still quite good for downtown Kuala Lumpur. The one drawback of Jalan Alor is the proliferation of fruity stink during durian season. The sensitively-nosed will notice the spiny beasts are everywhere.Hours: Food is available almost all day, but it’s best at dinner time Cost: RM 20 – RM 45 Closest public transit stop: dBukit Bintang Monorail station
Kuala Lumpur Layover Must-See: KL Pavilion
There are two major ways to enjoy the towers, with the most popular method being a trip up to the observation deck on the 86th level. Here you’ll absorb the massiveness of Kuala Lumpur from a height of 360 meters above the city. However, if heights give you the willies and snapping panoramic cityscapes isn’t your thing, you can always take a walk through the city Center Park to the Trader’s Hotel in Kuala Lumpur for a drink at the Sky Bar. Here you can observe the towers safely from the 33rd floor while sipping a cocktail in posh company. While there is no strict dress code, customers dressing nicely seem to get better service.
Hours: Open everyday 10 am to 10 pm
Cost: FreeClosest public transit stop: Bukit Bintang Monorail station