If you've never been to Georgetown before, it can be hard to imagine what it's like. The city doesn't have the usual modern cosmopolitan feel of a multicultural city. Instead, it has more traditional ways of manifesting the different demographics that make up the city.
One of the most notable of these is its surprisingly intact period architecture reflecting a commercial past where the Port of Georgetown was a pivotal location for trade in Asia.
Image credit: calflier001 distributed under CC BY-SA 2.0 license
Since that time modern-day features have interspersed the old buildings -but somehow managed to do so without detracting from the historic feel of the place.
Instead, the artwork that tips its hat to Penang Island's past, and the high-rises that were thankfully mostly relegated to the outer parts of the city, enhance the unique cultural fusion that makes this location so special.
Having so much inherent richness, there are lots of free ways to amuse yourself around the city on foot - just discovering it as you go. Here are a few of my favourite free ways to while away the day in Georgetown:
Discover Georgetown's Historic Buildings
Settlements have been present on Penang island since the 1700's and many of the old buildings still stand as dignified reminders of a preserved past. This has resulted in part of the city being listed as a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site.
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Pick up a map at your hotel to guide you to other buildings of interest, or use Google maps to explore the city. Making your way from one building to the next on foot is an easy way to see them - and everything in between - at your own pace, and at no cost to you.
Blue Mansion. Image Credit: Gryffindor distributed under CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5 license
Georgetown's street art is one of the cities best attractions. You can find street art all over the city. It will often pop up in the most unexpected places - making it a perfect activity to do while on the way to other attractions. Much of the street art is life-sized while some of it is super-sized and covers the extent of one wall of a building, for example. Much of the art has themes and some of the pieces are world-famous. Take for instance the painting of Bruce Lee in flight that can be found just off the main drag.
Street art at Clan Jetty. Image Credit: DTW distributed under CC BY-SA 3.0 license
The most distinctive street art in Georgetown is really the wrought iron sculptures that are installed on so many of the cities building walls. These pieces of artwork are a series which was created as part of a competition held by the Penang State Government in their bid to brand Georgetown as a UNESCO World Heritage site. 'SCULPTUREATWORK' is responsible for this design concept which is called 'Voices from the People'.
Each of the wrought iron sculptures that are created in a black comic style relates humorously to a part of Georgetown's rich cultural history they also all have some form of caption that is also formed from the iron rods. There are in total over 50 of these wonderful wrought iron sculptures around the city.
Be sure to check out the Church of the Assumption and the Kapitan Keling Mosque which are close to the city centre. Do be aware, however, that if you wish to enter any of the religious buildings, you need to ask permission and should be dressed very modestly as required.
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Another religious site to be sure to visit is Arulmigu Mahamariamman Temple in Georgetown's Little India. Also simply referred to as Sri Mahamariamman Temple, it has been around since 1833 and is the oldest Hindu temple on Penang island, and one of the oldest in Malaysia. It started off as a shrine but was enlarged into a fully-fledged temple in 1833.
Image credit: Gryffindor distributed under CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC BY 2.5 license
Speaking of Little India, the Hindu temple is not the only attraction there. Little India is an area of Georgetown covering the space of a few streets in the centre of the most popular part of the city and as you enter the area, the contrast is unmistakeable.
Little India in Georgetown is like no other 'Little India' I have ever experienced. It floods you with the scent of incense, entices you with the drone of hypnotic Hindu prayer music and the sight of gaudy fabrics glinting in the hot Malaysian sun beckon you invitingly to each display.
Be assured you will find yourself jostled along the pavement-less streets - it's a great place to just roam - but there is lots of cheap, good Indian street food as well if you do decide to have a feed.
You can buy Indian groceries, get your eyebrows threaded, buy a sari or a Bollywood movie - or do none of that, and just drink in the sights.
For a real self-directed ramble, consider taking half a day to explore the foreshore. Get public transport out to Gurney Plaza and try walking all the way back to Padang Kota Lama near Penang City Hall. Consider embarking on your walk in the afternoon when it has begun to cool a little.
Take in the sights, pass by the locals fishermen and marvel at the unusual architecture of so many of the more modern buildings in this part of the city. Where Jalan Green Hall meets the coast, there are eateries with outdoor seating and great sea views for enjoying a meal after your long walk.
The Georgetown Cenotaph. Image Credit: calflier001 distributed under CC BY-SA 2.0 license