1 - Central Market
Tom Otley discovers art deco, Gothic and mock-Tudor architecture in the shadows of the mighty Petronas Towers
It’s a good idea to plan ahead in Kuala Lumpur – not because things get booked up, but because you can easily spend four hours in traffic getting between some of its attractions.
The Malaysian capital is a relatively new city, dating from the 1850s when tin was discovered in the area. Its name comes from the Malay for “muddy confluence”, in this case of two rivers – the Klang and the Gombak.
Beyond the point where the rivers meet is the Central Market. Originally a “wet” market (meat and fish) when it was established in 1888, the present art deco building in duck-egg blue is located at the junction of Jalan Benteng and Lebuh Pasar Besar. It underwent a renovation in the mid-1980s to become an arts and crafts centre, catering for tourists looking for souvenirs from outlets such as Kheng’s Antiques and Collectibles (now called Kota Pinang).
On one side of the market, an annexe filled with art galleries leads on to Kasturi Walk, where you can pick up local snacks suh as kuih (colourful rice dumplings) or roasted chestnuts. centralmarket.com.my
2 - Merdeka Square
Walk a few minutes north, cross the river just below the confluence and head to Merdeka Square.
A 95-metre-tall flagpole proudly bears the red- and white-striped Malaysian flag, first raised in 1957 when the nation gained independence from British rule. The grassy public area was once used as a cricket pitch by the Royal Selangor Club – a gathering place for the British colonial elite, founded in 1884.
The venue still exists, in its mock-Tudor style, although the original building has been rebuilt several times owing to fires and other mishaps. It still has a long bar where members can drink a cold gin and tonic at the end of a balmy day.
If it’s a little early, or you’re not a friend of a member, head for the Cathedral of St Mary. Built in 1894 by English architect A C Norman, the Gothic building houses plaques commemorating the often sad and grisly end of British officers.
3 - Bank Negara Malaysia Museum and Art Gallery
Getting around KL can be a nightmare by road. The new Mass Rapid Transit won’t open its first line until 2017, but in the meantime, the Light Rail and Monorail allow you to get about quickly and cheaply in air-conditioned carriages.
A five-minute walk from Bank Negara station is what’s popularly known as the Currency Museum.
Situated in a striking glass building opposite a memorial to Tunku Abdul, the country’s first prime minister, it has several galleries dedicated to the Malaysian economy, with interactive exhibitions on the bank’s role in the nation’s development, financial regulation and Islamic finance. The absorbing numismatics gallery presents coins and banknotes from antiquity to today.
The top-floor art gallery showcases the Central Bank’s impressive collection of contemporary Malaysian art acquired since 1962. Open daily 10am-6pm; free entry. museum.bnm.gov.my
4 - Petronas Towers
Hop back on the monorail, connect to the pink Kelana Jaya line and take it to KLCC station.
Here you’ll exit to find Kuala Lumpur’s futuristic landmark – the Petronas Towers – looming above you. Briefly the tallest building in the world (1998-2004), it is still the tallest twin-towered structure (although Dubai has plans to change this).
Wherever you travel in KL, the towers seem to pop into sight at unexpected moments, but you shouldn’t leave the capital without witnessing the incredible views they offer of the city and the surrounding mountains.
Tours are available or you can simply stroll the Sky Bridge connecting the towers at the 41st and 42nd floors. Alternatively, gaze down from the observation deck at level 86 – not one for those scared of heights.
At the foot of the towers is the exclusive Suria shopping centre, a 20-hectare park and the Philharmonic Hall, home to the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. Open Tues-Sun 9am-9pm (closed Mon and 1pm-2.30pm Fri); entry RM84.80 (£14.50). petronastwintowers.com.my
5 - Royal Selangor Visitor Centre
For anyone with an interest in history, industry or just making lots of noise, a trip to Royal Selangor’s visitor centre – a 10km taxi ride from the Petronas Towers – is a must.
Famous around the world for its pewter, Royal Selangor has a stunning shop selling a variety of pewter and glass items. The factory tour offers in-depth exhibits on the history of Royal Selangor, as well as pewter-making in Malaysia and its wider historical context.
If you get organised and have a few colleagues with you (or don’t mind joining a group that’s already booked), the School of Hard Knocks gives you the chance to make your own pewter trinket – this is the noisy part, as you bash your creation into shape with a mallet.
Be warned, everyone makes an ugly ashtray – try something a little more adventurous. Priced RM60 (£10) per person, book a slot at visitorcentre.royalselangor.com.
Visit tourismmalaysia.gov.my. British Airways flies daily from London Heathrow to Kuala Lumpur. ba.com