A city steeped in history, the UNESCO World Heritage Site and City of Melaka (or Malacca as it’s commonly spelled in English) in Malaysia is a wonderful mix of atmospheric colonial buildings, a sparkling waterfront, and authentic and local culinary experiences. It presents a striking contrast to glitzy Kuala Lumpur. With a rich past peppered with Portuguese, Dutch, Chinese, and even Indian influences, Melaka is an eclectic fusion of cultures and traditions; a place where nearly everybody can find a travel style to suit them. So, with that in mind, we’ve put together this: a Melaka itinerary to suit just about anyone’s travelling tastes.
A few words on Melaka / Malacca
The oldest city on the Straits of Malacca, the city of Melaka harks back to the Malacca Sultanate, and for many years was a trading port, with traders from all of the Middle East, Asia and Europe (particularly the Portuguese) flocking to it. It has a long history of conflict – from it’s occupation by the Portuguese, to the sultanates of Johor and Aceh trying to wrestle it away, as well as a stint under the Dutch, the British and the Japanese before it returned to the hands of the Malaysians, during the country’s formation in 1963.
Now one of the most confusing bits about any travel to Melaka, is understanding the name – you’ll find Malacca and Melaka used interchangeably everywhere you look. Essentially, the name Melaka has three potential origins, each with it’s own colourful story. It could be related to it’s trading history, with the name originated from the Arabic word ‘malakat’ which means to gather trade. It could be from a Hindu myth, that the area was akin to ‘amalaka’, a tree associated with wealth and power. Or, our personal favourite: It could have been named after a tree, with a prince resting under a pokok melaka (Indian gooseberry tree) when he came up with the name
Whatever led to the moniker of the place, Malacca is considered the English or anglicized version of the name, while Melaka is the Malaysian version. If you ask us? It’s Melaka. That’s since the Malaysian state itself decreed this it’s official name in 2017.
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Malacca Highlights: 2 day Melaka itinerary
Need an itinerary in a hurry? If you just want our highlights from our time spent in Melaka, here is a short and sweet list of the must-do’s on any Malacca itinerary:
- Head to the Red Square to see Christ Church, Stadthuys and Queen Victoria’s Fountain
- Check out A Famosa, and the Porta de Santiago gate, alongside St Paul’s Church, one of the oldest churches in Southeast Asia
- Meander around museums like the Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum, the Maritime Museum, and the Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum
- Eat Nyonya or Peranakan cuisine – chicken rice balls, cendol, laksa lamek – you name!
- Take a walk down Jonker Street, admiring the shops or visiting the Jonker Walk Night Market for the food and clothing stalls
- Take a funky trishaw ride, or float down the Melaka river on a river cruise
- Search for street art in all the alleys and walkways of Melaka
Heading to Melaka just for the photo highlights? We’d recommend getting a local guide for your Instagram itinerary – you can book this great Get your Guide tour which takes you to all the most ‘grammable spots.
Witness cultural and religious harmony
Melaka has several notable religious structures, including mosques, churches, and Buddhist and Indian temples scattered across the city, a reflection of the region’s rich cultural diversity.
And with a Buddhist and Hindu temple and mosque located just a few minutes from each other, Jalan Tukang Emas or Harmony Street is a perfect example of this.
Cheng Hoon Teng temple is the first of these religious structures you will come across. Built in the 1600s, it is the oldest temple in all of Malaysia and was painstakingly restored in 2003, for which it was recognized by UNESCO.
Located 100 meters away is the Kampung Kling Mosque that features a unique mix of traditional Islamic and Chinese architectural features.
A minute’s walk from the Kampung Kling Mosque will take you to the Sri Poyatha Moorthi Temple, dedicated to the Hindu elephant god, Vinayagar.
We loved observing the distinctly different cultural influences in each of these structures but what stood out was how the vibe was always the same – that of peace and spirituality.
Another religious monument worth visiting is the Melaka Straits Mosque, a beautiful mosque that sits on a platform constructed on the water. With its golden-colored dome and arched entryway, it makes for a striking image and is definitely one of the most notable landmarks in Malaysia. The best time to visit the mosque is during the evening hours when the sun goes down, and the mosque and minaret are lit up.
Take a stroll back in time
The region is not called ‘The Historic State’ for nothing. You will find remnants of the Portuguese and Dutch period in many parts of the city but nothing quite as grand as the Dutch Square, the site of the iconic Christ Church. Just around the corner is the Stadthuys, built in 1660 and one of the oldest Dutch-style buildings in Asia.
A Famosa Fort is around the bend, a crumbling 16th-century fort that holds within its walls tales of a bygone era.
A short walk uphill from the fort will take you to the beautiful St. Paul’s Church. The oldest church in Malaysia, its dilapidated walls still retain much of its character. Take a walk around the structure; there is an old Dutch cemetery nearby. Not to be missed are the delightful views of the city the vantage position of the church provides.
The perfect city for museum hopping
Melaka has a curiously large number of museums, given the size of the town.
The Melaka Sultanate Palace Museum is a gorgeous wooden building that is as interesting on the inside as it is beautiful on the outside. The structure is a replica of Sultan Mansur Shah’s wooden palace, the ruler who presided over Melaka from 1456 to 1477. Inside you will find exhibits and artifacts that showcase the history of the city.
The Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum is a fascinating museum and one of our favorites. The museum is actually a house converted into a museum. It is located on a street that was once called Millionaires Row and known for its large, luxurious homes. The museum traces the history of the ethnic Chinese Malays, also known as Baba Nyonya or Peranakans, and is filled with exquisite porcelain pieces, furniture, and intricately carved furniture.
Housed in a ship-shaped structure, the Maritime Museum is one of the most famous museums in Melaka. The museum design is based on the Flor de la Mar, a treasure-filled ship that sank off the coast of Melaka after the Portuguese conquest of the city. The museum takes you through the importance of Melaka as a maritime trade center through the Sultanate, Portuguese, Dutch and British periods.
Amble around Jonker Street, be it day or night
The main street of Chinatown, Jonker Street, is lively, festive and busy. Some of the city’s most recognizable landmarks, including some popular museums are located on or near the area. The lane itself has a mix of charming old buildings, some from the 18th century, and some newer establishments.
A daytime visit to Jonker Street will allow you to appreciate the architecture and history of this place and also grant easy access to some of the city’s best-known attractions. And with some unique antique shops, cafes, and restaurants, it’s the perfect place to shop until you are ready to sample some fabulous local cuisine.
This street is famous because of the Jonker Street Night Market that takes place every Friday and Saturday night. Stalls pop up, live music streams through the entire road, and a party atmosphere takes over the whole walk. The Jonker Walk Night Market is considered the best in all of Malaysia, and you will find tourists from Kuala Lumpur and neighboring Singapore heading to the city just to be part of this.
With a wide variety of merchandise on offer, it’s the perfect place to shop and bargain hunt. But for us, the biggest draw was the street food – hot and sizzling! Juicy grilled meats, spring rolls, dim sums, and more are on offer, and you really don’t have to empty your wallet to try out a wide variety of local specialties.
Savor authentic and traditional dishes
Melaka is a melting pot of sorts, and the best way to experience the diversity of the region is by savoring the city’s culinary offerings.
Peranakan or Nyonya cuisine, an exciting blend of Chinese and Malaysian flavors, originated in Melaka and is known for its unique fusion of ingredients and techniques. The cuisine developed as a result of Chinese immigrants marrying local Malays. If you are in the mood for food that gets your taste buds tingling, then head to Nancy’s Kitchen or, for a more upscale experience, to Seri Nyonya Peranakan Restaurant. Get a taste of dishes such as Otak otak, a fish dish cooked in banana leaves, Laksa Lemak, a coconut-based dish, and Rendang, a fiery meat-based stew and so many more delicious foods.
Try out the Chicken Rice Balls, a local delicacy, at Huang Chang Chicken Rice, an eatery popular with locals, or at the busy Hoe Kee Chicken Rice, located on Jonker Street.
For regional desserts, head straight to the Jonker Dessert Cafe for some cool Baba Ice Kachang or Durian Cendol with Palm Sugar and other local confections.
One of our favorite places to spend the evening was near the riverfront – at one of the many restaurants facing the Melaka River. Strolling past the vibrant art and twinkling lights and enjoying a beer and local cuisine at one of the outdoor eateries as a gentle breeze wafted by remains one of our most memorable moments from Melaka.
Cool off with a cruise down the river
If you’ve had a day or two of sightseeing, then taking a cruise down the Melaka River is the perfect way to finish off your tour of this charming city. The Melaka river cruise starts at Muara jetty and gives you a waterside view of the Stadthuys, brown-faced colonial buildings, and the colorful street art of Melaka. An evening cruise is particularly romantic as the skies change colors and your boat sails by beautifully lit-up shops and restaurants.
Experience nighttime in Mekala aboard a trishaw
This is one of those touristy things that can be totally avoided. Yet, we are glad we didn’t! Yes, it’s gaudy and quite over the top, but it was a total riot to tour the historic center of Melaka in a trishaw with flashing lights and a loud sound system. Hello Kitty-themed trishaws seem to be the most popular ones though we did see some trishaws decked based on floral and superman themes too!
You’ll find the trishaw drivers waiting near Red Square.
Attractions for families
Those traveling with children will find plenty to do in Melaka. The Melaka Zoo is home to 1200 animals and is a perennial family favorite. The Shore Oceanarium gives you and your little ones a glimpse of the wonders that lie under the ocean’s floor. Kids love the interactive exhibits there! There is also the Melaka Butterfly & Reptile Sanctuary, the Melaka Botanical Garden, and the Melaka Bird Park, all child-friendly places that also hold the interest of adults.
If you are looking for a bit of seaside fun, head to Big Island, located around 8 miles from mainland Melaka and known for its clean beaches. The other option if you want some beach fun is to visit Puteri Beach.
Bonus things to do in Melaka
Menara Taming Sari: This is a viewing tower and theme park ‘ride’ in one; a rotating tower that whizzes you up to 110 metres to give you a 360 degree view of the city. It’s not top of our list, but if you have the time, check it out. It’s open from 9am to 11pm, the 7 minute ride will only set you back 23 MYR (5.20 USD/4.50 GBP).
Kampung Morten: Morten village is essentially a traditional Malay village which boasts over 100 traditional Malay houses. It’s a great little slice of the city’s history but keep in mind it’s a real residential neighbourhood and not just a tourist attraction when you visit!
Where to Stay in Melaka
What we really liked about Melaka was that you really could get a great room, at a pretty affordable price. So, regardless of your budget, here are a few top notch options for accommodation:
Budget: If you’re saving your Ringgit, Ola Lavanderia Café is a lovely hostel in the heart of old town that offers a range of rooms, and a nice sociable atmosphere.
Mid-range: Stay in the old town, in the hotel we stayed in on our last visit – JonkeRED Heritage Hotel. It’s a wonderful family-run hotel which is honestly a stone’s throw from the Dutch Square!
Luxury: If you really want to splash out, our choice would be Casa Del Rio Melaka. A hop, skip and a jump from Jonker Street with 5 star facilities to boot, it’s a great luxurious option.
Best places to visit near Melaka
Travel time: 2 hours by road – book it here
You can’t really explore Malaysia without spending time in Kuala Lumpur, the bustling capital which – spoiler alert – is one of our favourite cities in the world! We probably don’t need to sell you on visiting KL since surely it’s already part of your travel plans. If not, make sure you read through our entire Kuala Lumpur itinerary, to find out the best bits.
Travel time: 90 minutes – book it here
Port Dickson (or PD as it’s known to locals) is a bit of a Malaysian secret, a beach town frequented by Malaysians (and Singaporeans) but usually totally unknown to international tourists. It packs a punch – if you want to find out more, just read out full Things to do in Port Dickson guide.
Travel time: 3 hours by bus – book it here
While it might not be in Malaysia itself, Singapore needs no introduction really. This incredible city is just three hours away on the bus! Head there to gasp at Gardens by the Bay, to explore Little India, to shop til you drop and so much more. And, of course, you guessed it: we have a Singapore itinerary for you when you arrive.
What did you think of our Melaka itinerary and travel guide? Did you use it, and has something changed? Do let us know in the comments below!
About the Author: Gayathri Ranganathan
Gayathri is an accomplished travel writer, who loves to travel with her family – her teenage girls and her husband. She feels that ‘traveling is the best way to open up one’s mind and heart to different cultures, foods, and lifestyles.’ When she’s not traveling, she’s dreaming about traveling or busy researching some new destination. “Over the years, I’ve discovered that in life and travel, it’s always about the journey, never about the destination.”
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