Melaka (Malacca) is one of the most historic destinations in all of Malaysia. With an old town that is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Melaka is filled with charming Peranakan shophouses, old churches, unusual-looking mosques and one of the best restored old towns in the country. Tourist attractions aside, Melaka is also known for the food. Chendol, chicken rice balls, Peranakan food and Portuguese cuisines are just some of the things your tastebuds should try while here.
For a practical and efficient weekend trip to Melaka, this itinerary and travel guide aims to tell you how the town should be done within 2 days.
If you are taking the very first morning bus from Singapore, you would have arrived in Melaka at around noon. If you are coming from Kuala Lumpur and are taking the early morning bus, you would have arrived at around 10am. After dropping your bags in the hotel, head out to the Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum. A reconstruction of an actual sultan’s palace, the magnificent structure now houses a museum showcasing the local Malay culture. A visit here is as much about the photogenic exterior as it is about the interesting museum pieces inside. It’s also recommended to visit this place in the morning when the sun will be shining on the palace museum, making for great photos.
Afterwards, head to A’Famosa or Porta de Santiago. Dating back from 1511, the fort was built by the Portuguese to solidify their hold on Melaka. After the Dutch took over the city, they imprinted the logo of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) which can still be seen there to this day.
Afterwards, climb up the series of steps to the hilltop St. Paul’s Church. Another Portuguese construction, the church was turned to a burial site after the Dutch took over. The stones plaques displayed around the walls of the church are actually tombstones erected by the Dutch back in the 1600s.
If you are thinking of where to have lunch around the heritage area of Melaka, I would recommend having chicken rice balls for your first meal in the city. In view of the crisis that gripped the tourism sector in Melaka, many of the chicken rice ball venues in the old town have closed. A 10 to 15 minute cab ride away is Huang Chang (BB-376, Taman Melaka Baru, Batu Berendam, open daily except Wednesday and Thursday from 8AM to 3PM). This restaurant is refreshingly out of the tourist trail and you’ll find yourself dining with locals rather than those restaurants in Jonker Street that cater primarily to tourists.
Afternoon is an excellent time to visit Dutch Square, the center of tourist activity in Melaka. Famous for its fiery red Christ Church and Stadhuys, the buildings around the square date back from the 1700s when Melaka was under Dutch influence. Now you might wonder why I did not combine Dutch Square with the other heritage sites prior to lunch. The reason is because the Christ Church and Stadhuys would have been against the sun during the mornings. This makes a huge difference especially during sunny days. You’ll be able to appreciate the vivid redness of the buildings when you visit during the afternoon.
One of my favorite museums in Melaka is the Baba and Nyonya Museum (daily 10AM to 5PM except Monday). Built in 1986, the venue showcases the life and times of the Peranakans, or the Chinese-Malay people across the Straits of Malacca who have their own unique culture and cuisine. Another unique museum to check out in the area is the Jaya Mata Knife Gallery. Swords are a part of the local Malay culture, as seen through the elaborately made keris (local type of daggers). Jaya Mata has a number of sections with well thought out and interactive exhibitions including a section dedicated to Malay daggers. There are a few photo opps as well.
One of the recommended activities in the city is the Melaka River Cruise. There are merits to doing in the day and the evening. If you do it during the day, the wall art would be more visible while doing the cruise during the evening allows you to appreciate the lights by the riverside. The cruise is priced at MYR 30 for foreigners and MYR 25 for Malaysians.
Probably one of the liveliest night markets I have seen in the entire Malaysia is the Jonker Street Night Market. This is another reason why a weekend trip to Melaka is recommended as the night market is only open from Fridays to Sundays between 6PM and midnight. You’ll get to see a lot of interesting food and souvenirs. While here, don’t miss out on coconut ice cream, chendol and the local popiah. You’ll find elements of Taiwanese night markets here through stalls selling dragon beard candy and mochi while Thai influences are also evident through the many Thai iced tea stalls.
Another evening activity you can do in Melaka is to climb up to the observation deck of The Shore Sky Tower. At 163 meters tall, this is the highest building in Melaka and you can catch views as far as 50 km away. The observation deck is open daily from 11AM to 10PM. The best time to visit is during sunset at around 7+PM.
Start the day early by watching the glorious sunrise at the seaside Straits Mosque of Melaka. The structure has a floating-like position whenever the water level is high which is compounded by the fact that the structure is situated at land’s end. The best place to view the mosque is by the beach just next to it.
Afterwards, drop by Cheng Ho Museum (open daily 9AM to 5:30PM) to check out artifacts related to Chinese exploration of Melaka from 600 years back. The building housing the museum is itself believed to have been built by Chinese explorer Cheng Ho as a storehouse during his time in Melaka. The museum also serves simple breakfast. I had bee hoon (vermicelli) here.
While here, make a stop at the Kampung Kling Mosque next door. Personally, I found the architecture quite interesting as it does not resemble a mosque at all. The design is said to be a cross between Chinese, Sumatran, Hindu and Malay sensibilities. The mosque also has a minaret with a pagoda-like rooftop.
Spend the rest of the day at your leisure before making your way back to Kuala Lumpur or Singapore. For some family fun, you may wish to check out my suggestions under the “Melaka for Families” section below.
If you have your own car, you may wish to check out the unmarked sand dunes of Melaka. Located to the west of town in Klebang, the sand dunes were essentially left over from the reclamation project that occurred in the area. The result is a desert-like atmosphere by the sea. Do note that the pathway leading to the sand dunes is not fully paved.
If you are heading back to Singapore or Kuala Lumpur for the evening, it would be great to leave at around 3PM to 4PM (for Singapore) or 6PM (Kuala Lumpur) in order to reach your respective destination before it gets too late. Also, do note that the international border between Malaysia and Singapore tends to get jammed during Sunday evenings so leaving early certainly has its merits.
Melaka For Families
- A’Famosa Water Theme Park – 11 rides and attractions including pools and slides at Malaysia’s largest water theme park. Suitable for children of all ages. Those 90cm and below in height can enter for free. The theme park is located in Alor Gajah, around 30 minutes away from Melaka city proper.
- A’Famosa Safari Wonderland – Appealing to both kids and adults, this safari minutes away from the water park is filled with ostriches, flamingos, lemurs, giraffes, camels, zebras and more.
Frequent departures between Melaka and Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Johor Bahru are available but you might want to book tickets in advance especially if you are traveling during a weekend. You can compare bus ticket prices here or here.
What to Eat in Melaka
The Daily Fix Cafe – Located right at the heart of Jonker Street, The Daily Fix Cafe is perhaps the most popular cafe in town. It’s an excellent option for breakfast / brunch especially if you love pancakes. Do note however that the wait can be extremely long during weekends. If so, you can check out their sister cafe – Kin by The Daily Fix located less than 3km away. They have excellent caneles.
Bei Zhan Restaurant – This is a popular Chinese restaurant for banquets in Melaka due to the venue’s sheer size. Frequented by locals, Bei Zhan serves Chinese cuisine with a slight Malaysian flair. Specialties include their Pumpkin Tofu as well as Fish with Assam Sauce.
Bunga Raya Popiah – You will find a snaking queue well before this humble stall opens at noon. Bunga Raya Popiah serves neatly rolled takeaway popiah (fresh spring rolls) in either spicy or non-spicy versions. Their secret is the crispy pork lard which they stuff inside the popiah.
Siang Chang – If you prefer local breakfast, Kedai Kopi Siang Chang is a reliable option for its thinly sliced kaya toast, laksa and Sarawak kolo mee. Be prepared to queue a bit if you come from 10AM onwards.
Ban Lee Siang Satay Celup – Satay celup is Melaka’s variation of the satay / lok lok concept with various types of skewers cooked in simmering satay sauce. In Melaka tradition, re-used sauce (from the previous set of diners) supposedly makes the food taste better and is the default option if you choose to dine here. Those concerned with hygiene can also opt to get a fresh pot of sauce or have the restaurant cook the skewers themselves.
Atlantic Nyonya Restaurant – Melaka, like Penang and Singapore, is one of the strongholds of the Peranakan community. As such, you’ll find a number of Nyonya restaurants around Melaka. One of the most popular options is Atlantic Nyonya Restaurant. They have 3 outlets within the city with the main branch in the old town typically having a long wait. If you’d prefer to skip the queue, I suggest heading to their Melaka Raya outlet a few kilometers away.
Klebang Original Coconut Shake – For a rather filling dessert, head out to the suburb of Klebang for this popular coconut shake stall. The business started as a purely takeaway business with a tent by the street selling coconut shake with ice cream. They have since expanded to an actual shop with dine-in options.
Where to Stay in Melaka
There are three main areas to stay in Melaka. The first is within the traditional core near Jonker Street or the old forts. The second is in an area called “Melaka Raya” which is dubbed as the new downtown of the city. The third is along the area immediately north of the old town.
The benefit of staying in the old town area is that guests get easy access to the bulk of Melaka’s tourist attractions. The main disadvantage however is that traffic can be congested here due to narrow roads and parking is rather limited for those who are driving. Most of the hotels in this area are also small boutique hotels as many buildings here are conserved under UNESCO.
Midrange: The Rucksack Caratel – Garden Wing feels like a world away with its beautiful garden views. Rooms are stylish with a slight hipster vibe. Excellent value for money.
Luxury: Majestic Malacca – A luxurious colonial hotel located by the river, the Majestic Malacca is perhaps the most upscale accommodations to be had while in the city. Nearer to the old town, Casa del Rio charms with its Mediterranean style interiors.
Surrounded by shopping malls and close to direct drop off points (for buses coming from Singapore), Melaka Raya is the area to choose if you’d rather stay in a multi-storey chain hotels.
Midrange: Holiday Inn Melaka and Hatten Hotel are popular picks along this stretch due to their sheer size. If you’d prefer accommodations with a bit more personality, you can check out the no-frills but nicely decorated The Nest House located in one of the side streets.
Luxury: Doubletree by Hilton, at the end of Melaka Raya, is undoubtedly the poshest hotel along this stretch. It is located just next to ElementX Mall.