City Guide: Kuala Lumpur

Simon Richmond discovers the highlights of Malaysia's dynamic capital

Known simply as KL, Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia at its most dynamic and multicultural. Be prepared to have your senses seduced by the scent of smoking joss sticks in Chinese temples; the mouthwatering sizzle of satay at pasar malams (night markets); the dazzle of ritzy shopping malls; and the indulgence of hotels such as the lovely Majestic Hotel, with its orchid conservatory, colonial ambience and serene spa with Charles Rennie Mackintosh-inspired decor.

Image of the Petronas Twin Towers in the Kuala Lumpur Skyline at night

Petronas Twin Towers in the city Skyline

KL's wow factor lies in its intriguing combination of colonial and Islamic-inspired architecture. The gleaming steel-clad Petronas Twin Towers, anchoring the Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC) complex, is the showstopper, but still holding their own are British-era constructions such as those surrounding Merdeka Square and the beautiful Masjid Jamek, a mosque that could have been ripped from the pages of Arabian Nights. Both are at the heart of an ambitious urban renewal project dubbed River of Life.

Bathe yourself in greenery and tropical flowers in the lush Perdana Botanical Garden, and then admire one of the world's top collections of Islamic decorative arts at the excellent Islamic Arts Museum. It also has a fantastic gift shop and good restaurant, as does the National Textile Museum, housed in an elegant Mughal-style building close to Merdeka Square. Local modern and contemporary art is showcased in the impressive Ilham gallery, occupying the lower floors of one of KL's newest skyscrapers, designed by Foster + Partners.

Image of the Masjid Jamek Mosque in Kuala Lumpur

Masjid Jamek Mosque

Ask any KLite where's best to eat and you'll be swamped with suggestions, many for the street stalls and markets severing delicious, freshly cooked local dishes. Jalan Alor in Bukit Bintang is the most famous food street, but also well worth searching out for breakfast is Imbi Market, recently relocated to sparkling new premises. If you prefer to glam it up, then try Fuego, one of several dining and drinking options that are part of Troika Sky Dining - its guacamoles, Spanish-style tapas and cocktails are served up with a jaw-dropping vista of the KL skyline.

When it comes to high-rise bars, however, it's hard to beat Heli Lounge Bar, where you can sip your sundowner alfresco on a helipad with an unimpeded 360-degree view of the metropolis. Should you suffer vertigo, take heart from KL's latest love affair with cosy, speakeasy-style bars such as Chinatown-based PS150, where the inventive cocktail menu is divided into five eras, starting with Vintage (1850s-1910s) and ending with Contemporary (late 2000s-present).

Image of part of the Perdana Botanical Garden in Kuala Lumpur City

Perdana Botanical Garden

Bally has outlets in both Suria KLCC and the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. A day could easily breeze by while cruising these glittering shopping temples stacked with international brands. However, don't overlook local design treasures such as Peter Hoe Beyond, an Ali Baba's cave of gorgeous homewares, fashion and accessories, tucked away in Chinatown; and Dr.Inc, a dreamy boutique, cafe and design agency on happening Jalan Kemjua in Bangsar. From here you should also hop in a cab for the 10-minute ride to Publika, KL's most innovative mall, a hotspot for art galleries, young creatives and up-and-coming designers.

Simon Richmond writes for Lonely Planet’s guide to Malaysia as well as The Guardian, The Japan Times and National Geographic

Majestic Hotel
5 Jln Sultan Hishamuddin
+60 3 2785 8000

Petronas Twin Towers
KLCC, Jln Ampang
+60 3 2331 8080

Merdeka Square
Jln Raja

Masjid Jamek
Off Jln Tun Perak

Perdana Botanical Garden
Jln Kebun Bunga, Tasik Perdana
+60 3 2617 6404

Islamic Arts Museum
Jln Lembah Perdana
+60 3 2274 2020

National Textile Museum
Jln Sultan Hishamuddin
+60 3 2694 3457

Ilham Gallery
Levels 3 & 5, Ilham Tower, 8 Jln Binjai
+60 3 2181 3003

Imbi Market
ICC Pudu, Jln 1/77c

Troika Sky Dining, Level 23A, Tower B, The Troika, Persiaran KLCC
+60 3 2162 0886

Heli Lounge Bar
Level 34, Menara KH, Jln Sultan Ismail
+60 3 2110 5034

150 Jalan Petaling
+60 3 2022 2888

Suria KLCC
KLCC, Jln Ampang
+60 3 2382 2828

Peter Hoe Beyond
2nd floor, Lee Rubber Bldg, 145 Jln Tun HS Lee
+60 3 2026 9788

8 Jln Kemjua, Bangsar
+60 3 2283 4698

1 Jln Dutamas, Solaris Dutamas
+60 3 6207 9426