I’ve visited Kuala Lumpur twice, and I have to say I’m disappointed at how un-backpacker friendly the city is. In May 2018, the city banned all free walking tours. Popular attractions like the KL Tower and Petronas Building (KL Twin Towers) cost more than $20 just to go up and get a view of the city. Thankfully, there are a handful of attractions in the city that are free. If you’re traveling on a budget or want something of better value than the towers, here are my top suggestions.
By far the best attraction in Kuala Lumpur is the Batu Caves. These 400-million-year-old limestone caves contain the most famous Hindu shrine outside India. There are 272 steps leading up to the main cave (known as Cathedral or Temple Cave) which were painted rainbow colors in August 2018. Standing at the base of the stairs is a 140-foot tall gold statue of Lord Murugan, a Hindu deity. It’s the largest statue of him in the world.
There’s a train line directly from the center of Kuala Lumpur which costs under $1 each way. The caves themselves are free to enter. You can also go spelunking in the aptly named Dark Cave for less than $9, or visit the museum caves at the bottom of the stairs for a paltry $4.
Kuala Lumpur Forest Eco Park
As mentioned, the KL Tower is one of the more expensive attractions in Kuala Lumpur. A visit to the sky deck costs $25. Adding on the Upside Down House, Mini Zoo, XD theater and Mini Deck brings the ticket up to nearly $50. Yet just beneath all these attractions is the KL Forest Eco Park, a woodland on the slopes of the hill leading up to the tower. The park includes a fern house, an herbal garden and, best of all, a series of rope bridges running through the trees. They’re not nearly as high as the tower and you don’t get a great view from them, but it is fun to walk or run across the bridges. It’s also a cool and peaceful place in the heart of the busy city.
Beneath the Petronas Towers (also known as the KLCC Twin Towers) is a large park which is free to explore. You can go halfway up the towers to the observation tunnel (between the two buildings) for $20. On the other hand, every night at 8, 9, 10 and 11 p.m. you can watch a water show at the base of the towers on the edge of the park. Just know that the park closes at 10 and the police will usher you toward the other side of the pool. I wasn’t too happy with that when I was in the middle of filming a video of the water show, but sadly I heard from others that the security there are generally rude to visitors.
Perdana Botanical Gardens
As you might have noticed, most of the free attractions in Kuala Lumpur have to do with nature. Like most cities, Kuala Lumpur has their own botanical gardens, and theirs is quite impressive. Measuring over 226 acres, the gardens include a large butterfly exhibit, a deer park, several lakes, sunken gardens, a bamboo playhouse, and many other types of gardens. Unfortunately, this is the one free attraction that I missed personally. I’ve been in dozens of botanical gardens all around the world, and I actually wanted to go to this one, but it started raining the afternoon I was making my way there, and I had to cancel my visit. The park is free and great way to spend a day in Kuala Lumpur.
While there are no longer any free walking tours in Kuala Lumpur, you can still head out on your own to see all the unique sights of the city. There are tons of really interesting buildings, endless works of street art, walking streets in Chinatown and Little India, the famous Food and Beer Streets, etc. The public transport of KL is really extensive, but many of the attractions are close enough to get explore by foot. If you’re a little more adventurous, you can also go up to one of the many viewing platforms in town. Most of them will want you to pay for a drink and they’re not cheap, but some you can get into for a few quick photos before anyone notices. Have fun!
P.S. – This city is a much better bargain for residents than it is for backpackers passing through, thanks to cheap eats and good apartment rental prices. See this post from our editor’s blog on the cost of living in Malaysia for foreigners.