Written by Nadia Crowe
Edited by Candice Neo
Despite actually having a job now, I still somehow find myself as broke as I was during my university days. Don’t ask me how, it just happens. Obviously, I don’t want to sit at home all weekend doing nothing, so finding things to do in Kuala Lumpur for free (or at least for under RM 15) has been my new favourite thing to do!
Of course, a lot of tourist attractions in KL are actually pretty affordable, but often they’re packed with people so I’d rather go somewhere a little more hidden and more unique!
And now, if anyone tells you there’s nothing fun and cheap to do in KL, you know what to show them! 😉
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1. Transport yourself to the land of vibrant colours: Astaka Morocco (RM 3)
It’s always been a dream of mine to visit the Moroccan Riads; I just think that they are so beautiful with their intricately designed tiles, vibrant colours, and the unique architecture. You can imagine my joy and surprise at finding out there’s a replica right here in KL!
Hidden in Putrajaya, next to the botanical gardens, Astaka Morocco transports you to the land of colourful tiles. It’s the perfect place to take some beautiful photos and is best paired with a trip to both the Putra Mosque (which is pink!) and also Taman Botani Putrajaya. You can’t actually take photos inside, but the courtyard is all you need!
You could spend a whole day just exploring Putrajaya, it has a seriously different vibe from the rest of KL, and Astaka Morocco brings it to a whole new level.2. Enjoy a nice homemade picnic and surround yourself with fresh nature: Perdana Botanical Gardens (Free)
Despite being a well-developed city, I’m always surprised by how many different patches of greenery there are around. Having grown up in both Bali and KL, I’m never satisfied with leading just a purely city life.
Perdana Botanical Gardens is where I go to indulge my nature-loving side just a little bit. On a nice (not-too-sunny day), it’s also the perfect place to come for a picnic! Pack some kuih, prepare some fresh nasi lemak and park yourself under a nice big tree with outstretched branches for maximum shade!
Once you’re full, you can even take a little siesta, or if you’re the type of person who enjoys being a bit more active after a meal, rent some bicycles and roam around! Make sure to stop by the massive yellow beehive type structure and snap some shots of its gripping facade!
3. Find yourself taken back in time to a traditional village: Kampung Baru (Free)
My family comes from a small kampung in Negeri Sembilan called Kuala Pilah. It’s full of those classic wooden houses on stilts that are super fun to run under and around (only when I was a kid, as I can’t fit under it now!).
In fact, KL used to be home to these traditional houses as well, and it seems almost a shame that they no longer exist across the masses, but there is one spot where you can still find them lovingly preserved – Kampung Baru!
Something that most people don’t know is that Kampung Baru is not only famous for its authentic village, but it’s also home to some delicious food! Several tours are available to take you to the best spots to find grilled mackerel or sweet fermented cassava, but personally I’d rather explore at my own pace.
This self-guided tour leads you to the yummiest food without making you feel like you have to try it, or like you have to rush your experience!
Stick around at night-time and head to the latest installation there, an LED bridge that will take you from Kampung Baru to KLCC in less than 10 minutes instead of 30 minutes! It’s super colourful and designed based off the traditional betel nut leaf. It’s absolutely gorgeous for photos, and is a lovely stroll to take you from one time period to another!
4. Take a trip through colourful streets and marvel at art!: Street Art Jalan Alor (Free)
I’m a sucker for art, I genuinely have no talent in that department so I greatly admire people who can do it, and more so graffiti style! Changkat is famous for its endless rows of bars and cheap street food, but while there’s ample to do at night, during the day is also a great time to explore!
The Art Street in Changkat is a fairly new addition (as at 2018) which brings the whole area to a new level of vibrancy. It goes on for what seems like forever, and even the ground itself is painted bright shades of pink, blue, and green.
Take a moment out of exploring Bukit Bintang and let yourself be mesmerised by all the talent we have here in KL, and don’t forget to pose in front of some of them and fill your Instagram feed with life!
5. Enjoy an affordable alternative to art therapy!: Batik Painting at Kompleks Kraf Jalan Conlay (From RM 15)
Batik is an artform that’s native to Java, and it made its way to Malaysia a while back. It surprises me how little people know that you can paint your own batik in a quaint wooden house just a couple hundred metres away from the majestic twin towers!
There are several different designs and sizes to choose from, or you could even design your own and ask if you could learn to draw on your own wax! You could easily spend hours there carefully mixing the paint to get it to the right shade, and blending it together delicately on the fabric, all so you can finally get a beautiful piece of art to hang on your wall. They don’t technically run workshops here, but they are super friendly and happy to help!
Just be careful that you don’t accidentally drip the wrong paint on your canvas or there’s no turning back! When you’re finished, make sure to check out the rest of the shops for unique finds!
6. Hit away your stress and watch it soar into the sky: Aquatic Driving Range (From RM 14)
I was only introduced to this place a short while ago, but as someone who thoroughly enjoyed playing mini golf during my youth, I was super keen to try it! I can honestly tell you that hearing the sound of the golf club hitting the ball seamlessly is so incredibly satisfying. It’s even better if you see it hit the second lake!
That’s right, did I mention that here you hit the balls into two different lakes? It’s also situated near the jungle, so while you’re there it honestly feels like you’ve escaped society and are hidden somewhere away from the city.
The best time to go is when it rains, because then you get to watch as the drops hit the water, see the forest turn a little misty, and enjoy the cool wind as you play!
7. Nature’s very own natural fish spa: Kanching Waterfall (From RM 3)
Thanks to how close this is to KL, I actually visit this place so often. It’s one of those things that my boyfriend and I like to do when we just need some time away from the polluted city and want to feel closer to nature.
The best part about Kanching Waterfall is that there are actually 7 different levels! Not all of them are accessible of course, but I always try to get to the highest level possible so it’s less crowded!
I often find that I get to enjoy the cool waters all to myself, so if you’re feeling it’s a little crowded, go higher! I do have a slight warning though, for all the fish-phobic people out there, this waterfall may not be the right one for you. Do you remember those fish spas where you put your feet in and have all your dead skin removed? Kanching Falls is the proud owner of several of those naturally-occurring fish!
So if you’re feeling brave, dip your whole body in and let nature do its work. Don’t worry if you don’t though, I still haven’t!
8. Enjoy the natural charisma of a gorgeous lake and park!: Titiwangsa Lake Park (Free)
In a city that’s teeming with malls, skyscrapers, and lots of cars, it can get really overwhelming and I often feel like I just want to sit amongst some greenery. But I also don’t always feel like hiking or doing something strenuous!
That’s why KL seriously needs more parks like Titiwangsa Lake Park, which just reopened in December 2019 with a major facelift.
A massive lake is encompassed by green grass and towering trees. In the middle, a water fountain sprays up into the air and across, leaving water droplets to drop across the lake, creating a soothing feeling as you relax by the side of it.
For the kiddos (and adult kiddos), there’s a playground and mini water park to cool off and have fun in too! If you want to get a little more active, you can also rent a bicycle to go around the lake. You can also take a nice stroll along their Instagrammable treetop walk too.
9. Walk along Instagrammable suspension bridges surrounded by greenery right in the city centre: KL Eco Forest Park (Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve) (Free)
The contrast that you experience when roaming through KL Eco Forest Park is spectacular.
In front of you and your immediate surroundings is endless greenery, but beyond that you’ll see towering office buildings and even the famous KL Tower! It’s a green oasis in the middle of the concrete jungle – a lovely experience escaping the hustle and bustle for a little bit.
There’s also a treetop canopy walk with very IG-worthy suspension bridges that you can walk along, and when some of us were there, we even spotted a few groups of monkeys sunning themselves on the bridge itself. We had to walk around them; they don’t seem to be afraid of people at all but do be careful!
10. Visit religious sites and learn about Malaysia’s beautiful culture: Batu Caves, Thean Hou Temple, Wilayah Mosque (Free)
The one thing I love about KL is how multicultural it is, and no list of things to do would be complete without mentioning some of its most iconic religious sites.
Batu Caves is, of course, the most famous thanks to the gorgeous multi-coloured stairway it now owns. Would you believe me if I told you I’ve never actually been here? It’s on my to-do list for the next few months as so many people say it’s a must!
Thean Hou Temple is also pretty well-known, home to bright red pillars, a plethora of bright lanterns hanging from each corner, and gorgeous paintings adorning each wall. What’s surprising is that it also doesn’t get that crowded, so you can spend as much time as you want roaming around or sitting on one of the benches and soaking in the wind!
Wilayah Mosque has a gorgeous sky blue facade, which is a gorgeous contrast to its white walls. What’s best about this mosque is that they provide free tours to explain the culture and symbolism behind everything!
Note: Make sure you cover your knees at Batu Caves as it is a religious site. At Wilayah Mosque, they will provide you with a cover-up.
11. A mall with a hidden oasis: The Secret Garden, 1 Utama (Free)
More often than not, I find myself in a mall, and it tends to be 1 Utama. Thanks to its enormous premises, huge variety of shops, and endless food choices, it’s arguably one of the best malls to go to. What makes it even better is that it holds a little secret, a mini little escape…
On the rooftop, there’s actually a secret garden that you can go to when the bright lights, big crowds and expensive prices get a little bit too overwhelming. Though small, you can actually feel like you’re lost and away from civilization. Wander around the different plant species and maybe even chill for a little while on a bench under the shade of some hanging leaves.
So the next time you want the best of both worlds, a mall filled with shiny new things to buy, but also a place where you can feel disconnected… Head to 1 Utama!
12. Marvel at the beauty of a thousand years of culture: Islamic Arts Museum (From RM 14)
To me the arts are sacred – preserving it, practising it, and learning about it are all ways to keep them alive especially when it comes to art tied to culture! The Islamic Arts Museum is where you need to go if you’re ready to expose yourself to an ancient and ever-present art form.
Islamic art has influenced thousands of civilisations, from AlHambra in Spain to the Riads of Morocco; there’s just something about Islamic art that people can’t seem to get enough of! Responsible for beautiful multi-coloured mosaics and intricate designs, spending a few hours exploring the origins and different varieties of is a valuable way to get some insight into the culture.
Located near the National Mosque of Malaysia, which is home to a stunning angular dome rather than a traditional round one, be sure to pay that a visit too!
13. Cycle around a beautiful garden and explore its sprawling land: Taman Botani Putrajaya (Free)
Another sprawling park makes the list because we could never get enough fresh air, the smell of grass and the sound of birds singing in the wind! Taman Botani Putrajaya is attached to Astaka Morocco, so don’t forget to drop by both together.
Spend your morning exploring a place with beautiful bright colours and your afternoon immersing yourself in calming tones of green. There are ample things to do here from renting a bicycle to wandering across canopy bridges.
When you get hungry, there’s even a seafood restaurant that serves delicious food and stunning views over the lake! Settle there for a nice wholesome meal after a day of exploring.
Special Mention 1: Explore different workshops and pop-up markets every month: Riuh Monthly Events
Update: Physical Riuh events are currently temporarily put on hold.
Some of us are always on the hunt for art markets in KL – it’s so rare to find a market where all creatives gather and you can find handmade items that are not mass-produced pieces that every other person would have. There’s personality in art, don’t you agree? Sometimes it inspires us too!
Riuh is a platform which organises events such as pop-up art markets, workshops, performances and talks, and sometimes all of these happen altogether in the same market! We have been to some and they are often very vibrant, full of creative energy that is sometimes difficult to find in the commercialised malls in the city.
They tend to rotate performers and pop-up stores so you rarely find the same vendors or performances at each one (which means they’re super unique)!
While entrance to these events is usually free, you will enjoy it a lot more if you spend a little more on either food, buying products that are worthwhile or pick up a new skill while you’re there. Make sure to check their Instagram or Facebook page for details of their next event so you don’t miss it! Often they’re different themes as well, so you’ll always be in for a treat!
Now who says you can’t skip the boring malls, get some fresh air, and do something both fun and affordable this weekend? Tag your bored and broke friends (because we all know a few 😉) to inspire them!