1. Kids on Bicycle
The “Kids on Bicycle” mural was painted on the wall of an Armenian Street shophouse by Ernest Zacharevic, a young Lithuania-born artist, in conjunction with the George Town Festival 2012. Depicting a young girl taking her little brother on a bicycle ride, the mural emanates a powerful sense of joy and adds a distinct flavour to the heritage enclave.
Zacharevic’s series of murals rode on George Town’s rising popularity with its inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008. “Kids on Bicycle” in particular has drawn numerous local and international visitors since then, becoming one of the most famous photo-taking spots in town. However, the mural also marks the increasing gentrification of George Town. Modern cafés, museums, and art installations have mushroomed all over the historic inner-city to cater to tourists in search for the “authentic Penang experience”, altering the character of the place.
2. Boy on Chair
Located on Cannon Street, “Boy on Chair” is another in a series of murals painted by a Lithuania-born artist, Ernest Zacharevic in 2012 in conjunction with the annual George Town Festival. The artwork shows a little boy standing on a chair and reaching as high as he can for a hole in the wall. Upon completion, “Boy on Chair” joined the multiple tourist hotspots in the surrounding area, such as Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi and the Acheen Street Mosque within walking distance, adding to the heritage hype in the historic city.
Similar to the “Kids on Bicycle” mural, “Boy on Chair” is also a part of George Town’s pathway of gentrification since the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing in 2008. Lines after lines of tourists have waited under the scorching sun just to snap some photographs with the famed street art. However, the spot where the mural is seems to be falling into disrepair now.
3. Brother and Sister on a Swing
On the wall of a printing warehouse in an alleyway off Chulia Street Ghaut, the “Brother and Sister on a Swing” mural depicts a boy and a girl laughing while standing on a swing. Louis Gan, a deaf-mute artist from Malacca who was invited by the owner of the printing firm to paint the mural, aimed to express the intimacy between the siblings as inspired by his closeness with his own brothers. The owner also installed a bilingual road sign, “Step by Step Lane”, as part of the artwork in the otherwise unnamed back alley.
Gan mainly uses watercolour and acrylic, and “Brother and Sister on a Swing” was the piece that first garnered him a lot of local attention. Nonetheless, some critics have pointed out that Gan did not use paint that was friendly to the heritage buildings. Despite any and all good intentions, this mural exemplifies multiple attempts to follow in Zacharevic’s footsteps to fame using street art.
4. Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Clock Tower
The Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Clock Tower was commissioned in 1897 by a local millionaire, Cheah Chen Eok, to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Cheah was a powerful merchant who controlled the opium and spirit monopolies in the Straits Settlements.
Standing at 60 feet-high, each foot of the clock tower represents a year of the Queen’s 60 years on the throne. The six steps leading up to the tower’s main entrance also signify the number of decades of Her Majesty’s reign. Nevertheless, Queen Victoria never had the opportunity to see the tower as Her Majesty had passed away by the time it was completed in 1902.
The Japanese and Allied forces’ bombardments during World War Two damaged the clock tower, causing the tower to lean slightly until this day. Though the clock and chimes were repaired after the Japanese occupation, the chimes are silent once again in today’s George Town.
5. Fort Cornwallis
Marking the very spot where Francis Light, the person responsible for British colonial settlement in Penang, first arrived in 1786, Fort Cornwallis was a witness of Penang’s early history even as it never really played a role in defending the island.
Light had envisioned the fort to serve as the main defence post for the island, which was then known as the Prince of Wales Island. Named after Lord Charles Cornwallis, the Governor-General of Bengal and commander-in-chief in India, the fort was initially a stockade made of nibong palm trunks. Over the years, the fort has undergone multiple fortifications and expansions, but despite all those, it fell into disrepair very early on, with decaying platforms that failed to support cannons. The fort was rebuilt into a sturdier stone structure in 1794. Nonetheless, frequent usage of the cannons for simply firing ceremonial salutes created the need to dismantle and rebuild a large section of the rampart.
While it was never engaged in actual battle, Fort Cornwallis stands today as one of Penang’s main tourist attractions.
6. Penang City Hall
The Penang City Hall, the seat of the Penang Island City Council (MBPP), was constructed in 1903 though it was not identified as “City Hall” until several decades later – a fact that testifies to the intertwined fates of the building and George Town.
From the early decades of the British East India Company (EIC) settlement into the late 1800s, the land that the City Hall now stands on was the location of a large private residence owned by Thomas Halyburton. Halyburton, a merchant, leased it to the EIC to accommodate visiting navy captains at first, and then as the Government Secretary’s office starting in 1815.
Only in 1906 did the municipal commissioners and their staff move from the neighbouring Town Hall into the new building, which was then called the Municipal Building. It was renamed as City Hall when George Town was granted city status in 1957, becoming the first town in Malaya to be declared a city.
7. The Cenotaph
To commemorate the fallen Allied servicemen during World War One, The Cenotaph was built on the Esplanade seafront in 1929 and unveiled by the Prince of Wales on Remembrance Day (11 November) that year. Like many cenotaphs constructed in the (former) British empire, this cenotaph closely resembled The Cenotaph in London.
The Cenotaph itself became a victim of war when the British Royal Air Force and the U.S. Army Air Force conducted an aerial bombing raid to weaken Japanese bases in the region towards the end of World War Two, destroying several nearby buildings as well. After the war, remaining granite blocks and bronze plaques of the original structure were used to rebuild it. The new Cenotaph was unveiled on Remembrance Day in 1948.
The Penang Veterans Association (PVA) has also erected a small monument next to The Cenotaph in commemoration of those lost in World War Two, the Malayan Emergency (1948-1989), and the Indonesia-Malaysian confrontation (1963-1966).
8. Logan’s Monument
The Logan Memorial is a gothic monument erected in 1873 in the memory of James Richardson Logan, a Scottish lawyer who championed the rights of both the Europeans and non-Europeans in colonial Penang. Logan first arrived in Penang in 1839 and had fought over the years for freedom of speech as well as legal and human rights for all. Some of his most notable cases included fighting for an Indian sireh planter against the British East India Company and helping the Chinese community to petition to overturn a ban on the activities of several Chinese clans on the island. Apart from the courtroom, another of his avenues of advocacy was the newspaper Pinang Gazette, which he edited.
When Logan died in 1869 at the age of 50 from malaria, the sadness was felt far and wide. People from all over the Straits Settlement (Penang, Singapore, and Malacca) donated to help build the memorial.
9. St. George’s Church
The first Anglican church in Southeast Asia, the St. George’s Church was built in 1818 by convict labourers from Penang Hill brought by the British East India Company. The church was modelled on the St. George’s Cathedral in Madras, however, the Indian-style terrace roof did not fit well with Penang’s tropical climate and soon began to leak. Severe destructions came when the Japanese dropped six bombs on the church’s compound on December 11, 1941, especially damaging the main church building. Worse, looters ransacked the church in the following year and stole the pipe organ and most of the furnishings. After the launch of a successful restoration fund, the church finally reopened for services in 1948. It was listed in 2007 as one of Malaysia’s 50 National Treasures, and further restorations have taken place since then. As the church celebrated its bicentennial in 2018, it is dedicated to its renewed vision of “Empowering the Disadvantaged”.
10. Penang Islamic Museum (Syed Alatas Mansion)
The Syed Alatas Mansion, presently the Penang Islamic Museum, was the residence of Syed Alatas and his family from 1860 to the early 20th century. Syed Alatas was a prominent leader of the Malay community and the Red Flag Society, one of the secret societies in the Acheen Street-Armenian Street community. He also played a significant role in Acehnese resistance against the Dutch.
Nicknamed the Rumah Besar, or the Grand House, the mansion was a classic upper-class Muslim residence that incorporated European, Indian, and Malay cultural influences. It was also a significant communal gathering spot where many cultural celebrations took place, including the annual Boria which is a form of traditional choral entertainment.
Between the 1930s and early 1990s, the mansion was a recycling depot run by the Indian Chettiars. It currently houses the Penang Islamic Museum, which contains an exhibition about the ways in which Malay leaders have contributed to the growth and spread of Islam in Penang and Malaysia.
11. Cheong Fatt Tze – The Blue Mansion
The Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, also known as The Blue Mansion thanks to its striking indigo-blue exterior, is a traditional Chinese courtyard house boasting 38 rooms, five granite-paved courtyards, seven staircases, and 220 timber-framed windows. It was the base for Cheong’s commercial enterprises and home to his favoured seventh wife.
“A financier, tycoon, diplomat, politician, philanthropist, and minister” all in one, Cheong had an incredible rags-to-riches story. Cheong was only 16 years old when he left Hakka in 1856 but had since built his business empire spanning various industries, from cattle and textile to banks and steamships. In the late 19th century upon his return to China, he also served in important governmental positions, such as the head of the Ministry of Commerce and Railway Services and a senator.
The mansion currently doubles as a boutique hotel and a museum, welcoming visitors from all over the world. You can also catch glimpses of it in various films, including Crazy Rich Asians most recently.
12. Hainan Association and Temple
Hainan Association and Temple, also known as Thean Hou Temple, was founded by the Hainanese community whose ancestors hailed from Hainan, China. Next to the temple and the association, which is an administrative office, the community also established Aik Hua Primary School. Such arrangements were typical of Chinese settlements in early Penang, taking care of communal needs for education and also social and religious functions.
The Hainanese community built their first temple in 1866 on Church Street, dedicating it to Ma Chor Poh, the patron saint of seafarers. The temple was relocated to its present location on Muntri Street in 1895, which from then on was commonly called the New Hainanese Clanhouse Street. The temple became a clan association in 1925, renaming itself as Penang Qiong Zhou Clan Association. In 1991, they further broadened the base of the clan association by adopting the name Hainan Clan Association, expanding from just Qiong Zhou district to the larger Hainan province.
13. Campbell Street Market
Campbell Street Market, built in the 1900s, is one of two wet markets in inner George Town alongside Chowrasta Market, which is the oldest market in Penang dating from 1890. Unlike Chowrasta Market, Campbell Street Market has retained its original Victorian-style architecture. Both markets continue to play a significant role in fulfilling the daily needs of surrounding communities.
The land on which Campbell Street Market currently stands at the junction of Campbell Street and Carnarvon Street was previously allocated to the Indian Muslim community for the construction of a mosque in the 1800s. In 1899, the George Town Municipal Council bought back the land and built the Carnarvon Street Market, as Campbell Street Market was known then.
Every morning, traders and customers still bustled about the historic market. However, the place has lost much of its vibrancy as once the heartbeat of inner-George Town following the flight of many of its residents to the suburbs beginning in the 1980s, among many changes to the town in recent decades.
14. Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi
Leong San Tong Khoo Kongsi, or Khoo Kongsi in short, is one of the Five Big Clans at the core of the Hokkien community in early Penang. Its members are those with the surname of Khoo whose ancestors came from Sin Kang Seah in Fujian Province, China.
The Khoos bought the current site of Khoo Kongsi in 1850. They converted the initial bungalow into a clan house, named Leong San Tong, which was used for gatherings, ancestral worship, and weddings. As its members became more established, they rebuilt a new clan house by hiring master craftsmen from Southern Fujian towards the end of the 1890s. Unfortunately, the architectural masterpiece was destroyed in a fire on Chinese New Year’s Eve in 1901. A four-year long reconstruction project produced the Leong San Tong that we see standing on Cannon Street today.
Now a popular tourist destination, the basement of Leong San Tong has been converted into a museum and some of the shophouses in its compound have turned into boutique hotels and shops.
15. Seh Tek Tong Cheah Kongsi
Cheah Kongsi, established in 1810, is one of Penang’s oldest Hokkien clan associations. It is also formally known as Seh Tek Tong Cheah Kongsi, and its members’ ancestors hailed from Sek Tong Seah in Fujian Province, China.
Like other Chinese clan associations, Cheah Kongsi was founded to help their relatives and fellow residents from Sek Tong Seah to adapt to a new life in Penang and to maintain connections among the settlers. Those who arrived before commonly helped the newcomers to find work and a place to live. As the Kongsi grew and its members gained in influence, their collective social network and resources also became stronger.
The ornate ancestral building, which is a clan temple built in 1858, completed in 1873, and renovated subsequently, demonstrates the successes of its members. The building also exemplifies Straits and post-independence architecture with a fusion of Malay, traditional Straits Chinese, and European designs, reflecting the interactions between cultures that began long ago.
16. Acheen Street Malay Mosque
Located at the heart of the Muslim settlement around Acheen street, the history of Acheen Street Mosque is intertwined with the development of the local Muslim community as well as George Town’s multicultural society.
The mosque was founded in 1808 by Tengku Syed Hussain Al-Aidid, an Arab merchant prince from Aceh, Sumatera, Indonesia. Beyond serving the Acehnese and Muslim communities nearby, the mosque was a renowned centre for Islamic studies and a gathering point for many pilgrims from nearby countries on their way to Mecca. It also played an integral role in the emergence of the Acehnese settlement as an international trading hub.
In terms of architecture, the mosque and its surrounding buildings in the Acehnese village settlement exemplify a mixture of Moorish, Chinese, and classical influences. The fusion of cultures can also be seen in the design of many buildings in other settlements in George Town, reflecting the rich cultural exchange and confluence that took place.
17. Armenian Park
Located at the intersection of Acheh Street and Armenian Street, Armenian Park is one of a few open spaces in the heart of George Town. Since the buildings sitting on the land were burned down in the late 19th century, residents in the surrounding neighbourhood had used the space for informal leisurely activities in the following decades. In the 1990s, the area was formally reorganised into a garden and renamed as Armenian Park, but it evolved into a flea market in the 2000s, transforming the landscape into one with scattered stalls and rapidly disappearing greenery.
A participatory design project in 2015 has transformed the park. By incorporating input from users and nearby residents, the space has become more lively, inclusive, and complementary to surrounding infrastructure like the adjacent Penang Youth Centre. While most of the time it is a community garden, it sometimes serves as the venue for public events and various art installations during significant cultural occasions.
18. Kapitan Keling Mosque
One of the most central communal sites for Indian Muslims in George Town, the Kapitan Keling Mosque embodies the rich history of the community since its initial settlement and continues to symbolise their strong sense of identity.
After Francis Light arrived in Penang in 1786, the rapid pace of development soon resulted in an increasing demand for labour and a growing settlement of the Chulias in George Town, which called for a more permanent place of worship. In 1801, Cauder Mohideen, who was appointed as Captain of the South Indian Keling community or Kapitan Keling in short, led the construction of the mosque on land granted by the British colonial government. Mohideen brought in builders, artisans, stones, and bricks from South India. By 1803, the building was ready to receive its first congregation.
Today, worshippers continue to fill the place for regular prayers as well as important celebrations, and the mosque has taken on unique significance as part of George Town’s thriving cultural heritage economy.
19. Goddess of Mercy Temple
The Goddess of Mercy Temple on Kapitan Keling Mosque Road (then Pitt Street) was built in 1728 through the joint efforts of early immigrant Chinese settlers, specifically the Hokkien and the Cantonese. Unlike what its name suggests, the temple is dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy or Kuan Yin as well as several other deities, including Ma Chor Poh, the patron saint of seafarers. The temple is also known locally by the name Kong Hock Keong.
As the oldest Chinese temple in Penang, the Goddess of Mercy Temple serves not only religious but also social functions within the Chinese community. It was, and to some extent still is, an integral part of the network of Chinese social organisations on the island, bringing people together for communal events and common welfare goals while being entangled in the politics among different groups. Though its political importance might have changed, the temple remains highly regarded, overflowing with devotees especially during significant occasions.
20. Sri Mahamariamman Temple
Built in 1833, the Arulmigu Sri Mahamariamman Temple on Queen Street is the oldest Hindu temple in Penang, though the role of the site as a place of worship dates back to 1801.
Similar to other communities, the establishment of the temple is tied to the growing numbers of Tamil Indian settlers amidst the rapid development of the island as a trading hub in the early 19th century. The British colonial administration allocated the land on which the temple currently stands to Betty Lingam Chetty, the Kapitan of the Tamils and South Indians at the time. Multiple renovations have been carried out in the years since, as the community develops culturally and economically.
Today, the temple’s impressive gopuram, or entrance gate, and colourful four-tiered tower make it impossible to miss amidst the bustling Little India district. Along with several other Hindu temples on the island, Sri Mahamariamman Temple remains an important base for celebrations that always attract numerous residents and visitors regardless of religion.
21. Central Fire Station
The Central Fire Station, also known as the Beach Street Fire Station, was the first fire station in Penang and remains active as the main fire station for George Town to this day. The now 113-year-old building, located at the junction of Beach Street and Chulia Street Ghaut, first opened in 1909 and was staffed by a brigade of 28 firefighters then. Before that, policemen in George Town had to double up as firefighters when necessary.
The building is often referred to as a classic example of civic architecture in the George Town UNESCO World Heritage Site. It features a blend of multiple architectural styles, boasting a classical façade and an impressive four-storey tower showcasing both Mughal and Edwardian influences.
With bolder rebranding initiatives in recent years, the Central Fire Station has become an increasingly notable icon in George Town while continuing to defend the city, especially the many vulnerable heritage shophouses, against the threat of fires.
22. George Town Dispensary
The George Town Dispensary building is a three-storey building at the junction between Beach Street and China Street Ghaut. Completed in 1923, the building used to house not only the George Town Dispensary, but also the George Town Chambers, which served as offices for architects, lawyers, and doctors.
The George Town Dispensary was founded by an Armenian physician in 1886 within Logan’s building. Business soon grew quickly, marking a time where the provision of pharmaceutical and chemical services in George Town shifted from the hands of the British East India Company to a private entity. By 1900, the dispensary had emerged as an important distributor of high-quality imported pharmaceuticals to dispensaries and hospitals across British Malaya and Siam.
In 1901, the George Town Dispensary Limited was established to manage the George Town Dispensary, which survived until the 1980s when it was acquired by another firm. Today, it is succeeded by George Town Pharmacy Sdn. Bhd., which has several branches on the island and in the neighbouring state of Kedah.
23. India House
India House is an Art Deco-styled double-storey building built in 1937 by S.N.A.S Sockalingam Chettiar. The disruptive period of World War Two saw the building unoccupied for several years. Then, the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited (HSBC) found a temporary home here after its own building had been destroyed by Allied bombings. Afterwards from 1951 to the 1970s, India House hosted the Lincoln Resource Centre of the United States Information Service (USIS), a well-stocked library with the aim of “building understanding of the U.S. as a nation, its institutions, culture and ideals”.
Back in the early 20th century, the location of India House on the corner of Beach Street and Church Street Ghaut was formerly the site of a number of businesses. One of them was Frazer and Neave, better known today by its brand of soft drinks, F&N.
24. The Whiteaways Arcade
Spanning from Church Street to Bishop Street, The Whiteaways Arcade has been home to many businesses, mostly upmarket shops and firms, since it was built in 1903. Its namesake is its original and probably most renowned occupant, Whiteaway, Laidlaw & Co., the first departmental store on the island. The building was also one of many properties owned by Chung Keng Kwee, who was an extremely influential political and business figure in the Chinese community.
Unfortunately, a fire in 1904 destroyed the building complex just when it was deemed “the finest and newest block of offices in Penang.” The top portions of the structure thus had to be removed and its edifice reconstructed. After the inscription of George Town’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008, extensive restoration for both the building exterior and interior was carried out. Today, The Whiteaways Arcade houses various retail outlets, restaurants, offices, and galleries.
25. Logan Heritage Building
The Logan Heritage building was the first large-scale complex of shops and offices constructed in Penang. It was part of the estate of the multi-millionaire and former Chinese Kapitan, Chung Keng Kwee, and was named after Daniel Logan, the son of the famous Scottish Lawyer, James Richardson Logan. Daniel Logan had an outstanding legal career himself, operating from an office in this building for many years.
In the 1930s, the building faced serious structural damages due to its location near the sea and Penang’s tropical climate and at one point was even declared a “dangerous building” by the British authorities. The building was never really revived until its reopening in 2010, after being acquired and renovated by the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation Limited (OCBC).
Currently, various retail outlets, such as modern cafés commonly seen around George Town, a foreign currency exchanger, and a convenience store can be found here.
26. Pinang Peranakan Mansion
Built at the end of the 19th century, the Pinang Peranakan Mansion – also called “Hai Kee Chan” in Hokkien – had once served as the residence and office of one of the most prominent personalities in Penang’s history, Chung Keng Kwee.
Though Chung was not a Baba, the Mansion is a glorious display of a typical home of a rich Baba a century ago. The Peranakans, who are also known as the Babas and Nyonyas or the Straits Chinese, are a unique community whose culture and lifestyle show a mix of Chinese, Malay, and British influences. While it is difficult to define the exact origins of the Peranakans, it is widely believed that they are descendants of Chinese immigrant traders who married local Malay women in the Straits Settlements.
After decades of neglect and decay, the Mansion has since been restored and turned into a museum showcasing a private collection of Peranakan antiques and artefacts.
27. Chong San Wooi Koon
Located at the junction of King Street and Church Street, Chong San Wooi Koon is a Cantonese district association and its members’ ancestors came from Heong San District in present-day Guangdong Province in southern China. Penang’s Chong San Wooi Koon is one of many around the world which aim to strengthen the connection among people of the same ancestral origin and also between those people and the place of origin.
When the association was established in 1801, it was named Heong San Hoay Kuan after Heong San District. It was renamed Chong San Wooi Koon in honour of Dr. Sun Yat Sen, who was originally from Heong San District, in light of the successful 1911 revolution that ended China’s last imperial dynasty. After relocating multiple times, the association settled in its current building in 1890. The building was likely built in the earlier parts of the 19th century.
28. Malayan Railway Building (Wisma Kastam)
Completed in 1909, the Malayan Railway Building was perhaps the only railway station in the world without a railway.
The building housed a ticketing office for people on the island who would like to take the train from the town of Butterworth across the Penang Channel. Ticketed passengers would be sent to Butterworth via one of the iconic Penang ferries, which had stopped operating starting in 2021 after 126 years of service.
The building itself was the largest on the island and its clock tower the highest when it was built. However, its remarkable height also stirred up some controversy. The nearby Chinese community was dissatisfied that the building with its imposing structure on the Weld Quay seafront blocked their views of the sea from the Goddess of Mercy Temple.
From the 1960s onwards, the building has served as the Penang headquarters of the Royal Malaysian Customs Department, hence its current name in Malay, Wisma Kastam.
29. Sia Boey Urban Archaeological Park
The Sia Boey Urban Archaeological Park is a recent innovation that aims to revitalise Sia Boey as a historically communally significant site.
The Sia Boey area was a busy trading hub centred around the Prangin Canal, which was built back in 1804 to allow transport of goods into the inner city. The name Sia Boey, meaning “end of the village” in Hokkien, reflects how the Prangin Canal was considered to be the boundary of George Town. In the mid-1880s, the Hokkien community established an urban village around the Canal with a bustling market hall at the centre and shophouses surrounding it, though the Malays, Indians, and Acehnese were also part of the thriving trading district.
After the Sia Boey Market was relocated in the early 2000s, the site became idle and news of it being earmarked for a new LRT interchange station stirred up controversies related to heritage conservation and development. Then, archaeological discoveries onsite steered Sia Boey onto a path to be transformed into a public urban park since November 2019.
30. Protestant Cemetery (Northam Road Cemetery)
Located at Northam Road, the old Protestant Cemetery was established when the British East India Company initially settled on the island in 1786. The cemetery is adjacent to the Roman Catholic Cemetery, which were jointly referred to as just the “Burying Grounds”, highlighting an absence of animosity between Catholics and Protestants which pervaded the Old World at the time. However, a dividing wall was built between the Protestant and Catholic sections when St. George’s Church was completed in 1819.
Among those interred in the cemetery, at least 10 different ethnicities are represented, including German, Armenian, Chinese, and Scottish, as well as various occupations, ranging from planters and sailors to missionaries and government officials. Francis Light, the person responsible for British colonial settlement in Penang, and renowned lawyer James Richardson Logan, are among several notable people who have found their final resting place in the cemetery. The cemetery was declared full in the 1890s and subsequent burials shifted to the Western Road Christian Cemetery, which remains in use today.