What do you get when you stir up a seaside town with colonial buildings, lashings of street art and burnt sienna-style facades? The UNESCO World Heritage city of Melaka, one of the best small cities in Malaysia. Boasting some of the country’s most delicious dishes, heaps of culture and a sprinkling of temples, we explore some of the best things to do in Melaka, in this city guide.
Melaka by another name
Now if you haven’t heard of Melaka, then you’re in for a treat. Spelled as both Melaka and Malacca, this former fishing village was actually founded by a prince from neighboring Sumatra in Indonesia, who landed on the shores and designated it as a port.
It later became a key trading post with hawkers arriving from China, India and Arabia and, along with the colonization by the Portuguese and the Dutch, Melaka became a melting pot of cultures. This diverse community means that Melaka increasingly attracted tourists for its unique buildings and mouth-watering meals. Nowadays the city is a must-visit location, usually reached from Kuala Lumpur or even coming from Singapore to Melaka.
Sample the city’s delicacies
No visit to Melaka is complete without trying the vast array of moreish food that’s on offer. From sweet to savory and everything in between, Melaka is probably best known for its Nyonya cuisine. Also known as Peranakan cuisine, these dishes have been passed down through generations of early Chinese migrants who married Malays and combined their cooking to create a new, stand-out style of food.
From the humble laksa (a spicy coconut curry noodle soup) to cendol, that almost sickly-sweet dessert jammed full of ‘fingers’ of green rice flour jelly, coconut milk and palm sugar syrup, there are so many dishes to delight in.
Head to Jonker 88 for a sampling of the best, step into the Stolen Cup for their signature salted egg croissant or throw back the city’s legendary coffee, the Gula Melaka Latte. You can also wander the street to find gems like Jalan Bunga Raya, offering hundreds of different cockles for sale.
Jonker 88: 88 Jalan Hang Jebat, 75200 Melaka
Stolen Cup: 12 Jalan Hang Jebat, 75200 Melaka
Go street art spotting
Move over New York City, Melaka is coming for your street art title. Okay, maybe not quite. But Melaka, like its Malaysian city counterparts of Penang and Ipoh, boasts a number of beautiful street art installations that are worthy of a wander.
From the huge abstract artwork adorning the walls of the Lorong Seni Art House to the many riverside murals that make a stroll down the water’s edge a must-do in the town, you’ll find creative pieces by both local and international street arts sprinkled across the city.
Lorong Seni Art House: Jalan Tukang Besi, 75200 Melaka
Malaysia is best-known for its realistic ‘interactive’ murals where you find everyday scenes of Malaysian life that the viewer can pose with, and the best examples can be found on the ‘Mural Lane’, a small alley near Jalan Hang Kasturi.
Mural Lane: 1938, Jalan Kampung Kuli, 75200 Melaka
Sail down the Melaka River
One of the best ways to see some of that stunning street art is from the back of a boat. Where the Melaka River was once a grimy, litter-choked waterway it has undergone a clean-up and turned into a tourist attraction, as large river boats cruise down all day.
Starting at Muara jetty, just drift along the waters and have your camera ready to snap shots of the Stadthuys, Bastion Middleburg, all those brightly-tinted murals, the water wheel and the Church of St Francis Xavier, to name just a few.
The tours also run in the late evening, where you can see the luminous rhythmic water fountains erupting for your viewing pleasure.
Muara Jetty: Jalan Tun Mutahir, 75300 Melaka
Walk down Jonker Street
While it’s technically not near the centre of town, you can’t come to Melaka and not take a leisurely stroll down the tourist-heavy ‘heart’ of the city: Jonker Street, also known as Jonker Walk.
Kicking off near the Stadthuys at the mouth of the Melaka River, Jonker Street is where rich Malaysians used to live, ensuring some beautiful old colonial houses which are now converted into a tapestry of boutiques, cafes and souvenir shops.
The street not only offers all these wares to buy but is a great starting point for seeing all the tourist attractions in the area, with a number of the best museums dotted along it’s pavements and others sights, like the Kampung Kling Mosque and Sri Poyatha Moorthi Temple, just a road away.
Kampung Kling Mosque: 32 Jalan Tukang Emas, 75200 Melaka
Sri Poyatha Moorthi Temple: 5 to 11 Jalan Tukang Emas, 75200 Melaka
If you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Melaka over the weekend, Jonker Walk is transformed into a buzzing night market each night, as the street becomes a pedestrianised hub for fragrant foods and trendy t-shirt stalls.
Explore the colonial sights
Last, but definitely not least, you’ve probably made your way to Melaka to take in the captivating colonial buildings, which you’ll find in droves. Boasting European-style buildings from both the Portuguese and Dutch occupations, the entire city is full of historic buildings, notable for their intricate architecture.
Starting your walk at the Dutch Square, you’ll trip over yourself trying to take photos of the soaring Christ Church, the most prominent landmark in Malaysia. Just a few meters away is the Stadthuys (Town Hall), another terracotta-hued Dutch building opened in the late 1600’s.
Christchurch and Stadthuys: Jalan Gereja, Bandar Hilir, 75000 Melaka
Round the corner and you’ll find even more to explore. From the A Famosa fort, one of the oldest Portuguese buildings in Southeast Asia (albeit a crumbling one), to a short flight of steps up to the abandoned St Paul’s Church, a large church dating back to 1521. Up there you’ll not only find the church but sweeping views of magnificent Melaka plus an old Dutch cemetery with some interesting tombstones.
A Famosa: Jalan Parameswara, Bandar Hilir, 78000 Alor Gajah, Melaka
Convinced you to meander your way around Melaka? With so much to do in this historic city you definitely need to add it to your Malaysia itinerary, alongside other towns like Ipoh, Penang and the alluring island of Langkawi.
More than the attractions listed above you can go up the Taming Sari Revolving Tower, light sticks of flaming incense at the Cheng Hoon Teng Chinese Temple, take a ride in a flashing neon trishaw complete with Hello Kitty branding or dive into more culture, at the Baba and Nyonya Heritage Museum. The crux? If Melaka hasn’t made it onto your list yet, it had better shoot right to the top of the table right now.