Turn your back for a moment in KL and a new skyscraper will have shouldered its way into the skyline, or a dilapidated street been reborn as the latest eat, work and play hub. The Malaysian capital is an exciting place to be, but a tricky one to keep up with. KLCC and Bukit Bintang in the city centre boast countless luxury hotels and high-end boutiques, but it's worth the (very affordable) cab or LRT fare to venture a little further afield to neighbourhoods such as Bangsar, Taman Tun Dr Ismail and Bukit Damansara for more authentic encounters, especially when it comes to food. The appeal of Kuala Lumpur? Simultaneously fancy and humble, local and international, creative and commercial, this is an intriguing, multifaceted city like no other.
A Kuala Lumpur city guide: where to eat, drink, stay and play
Where to stay
The RuMa Hotel & Residences
This pocket of stillness in KL's jostling city centre is proof that luxury hotels needn't sacrifice individuality. Filled with handcrafted furniture and local art, RuMa looks and feels more like the well-appointed home of a stylish friend (the name is taken from the Malay word for home, "rumah"). Thoughtful features include a free minibar, Truefitt & Hill barbershop and 24-hour fitness centre for jet-lagged gym bunnies. Rooms are spacious and characterful, with many offering views of the dazzling Petronas Twin Towers. The elegant spa offers everything from express manicures to full-day wellness retreats, while the sundeck and infinity pool make for a relaxing afternoon before dinner in Atas restaurant.7 Jalan Kia Peng, 50450 +60 3 2778 0888 theruma.com
The Chow Kit
Once known for gambling dens and questionable after-dark activity, the central Chow Kit neighbourhood has had a rebrand, and it's largely thanks to this charming boutique hotel making the New York Times' 52 Places to Go list in 2020. Rooms blend the heritage nostalgia of old KL with a contemporary design aesthetic, while the Chow Kit Kitchen & Bar is worth a visit in its own right for home-style Malaysian cooking. Book a foodie or walking tour to explore the area with a local, and be sure to sample Malaysia's beloved nasi lemak from Taste Legendary Nasi Lemak in nearby Chow Kit Market.1012 Jalan Sultan Ismail, 50350 +60 3 2778 6666 thechowkit.com
For those who want to disconnect, this low-lit, design-led hotel is the place to do it - if you can resist the itch to Instagram its many photo-ready vignettes. Switch off your phone and soak up the sun by the pool, or take to one of the sensory-deprivation floatation pods in the boutique gym for true zero-gravity relaxation. Located on the edge of newly hip-again Chinatown, Else is a hit among KL's style-savvy set, who love to congregate at Raw Kitchen Hall, and the ideal base for exploring the neighbourhood's lively nightlife.145 Jalan Tun HS Lee, 50000 +60 3 2300 3700 elseretreats.com
Where to drink
Feeka at The Five
KL's third-wave coffee scene has really taken off and there's no lack of decent joe options wherever you find yourself in the city. Feeka Coffee Roasters has a few outposts, the latest of which is this industrial-styled space at The Five. The aims-to-please menu offers all-day breakfasts, salads, pasta, laksa and weekend roasts, but it's the coffee that's the true star. Linger over a macchiato before diving into your day of exploring.E-GF-02, The Five, Kompleks Pejabat Damansara, 49 Jalan Dungun, 50490 +60 3 2011 5850 instagram.com/feekacoffeeroasters
Common Man Coffee Roasters
Common Man Coffee Roasters
Suburban Taman Tun Dr Ismail (better known as TTDI) has no shortage of great cafés and restaurants, but this all-day diner is one of the biggest (meaning they'll probably find you a table) and most consistent for both coffee and food. Brunches are a particular highlight, but be prepared for gargantuan portions. If you're here late in the day during Ramadan, check out the nearby TTDI night market, too, for the best Malay takeaway.Plaza Vads, A-G-1 New Podium, 1 Jalan Tun Mohd Fuad, 60000 +60 3 7731 7095 commonmancoffeeroasters.com.my
Where to eat
Housed in a former Bangsar printing factory, APW (A Place Where) is a hipster haven for food, drinks and shopping that swarms with people day and night. There are plenty of options for all-day dining, but for dinner our pick is Olivia Deli, a relaxed, open-air deli-come-restaurant whose Mediterranean-inspired vibe and menu feel right at home in KL's balmy climate. Order ahead if you want to try its famous paella.APW, 29 Jalan Riong, Bangsar Lot B03, 59100 +60 1 2911 2537 instagram.com/oliviadeli.bangsar
Cheap and cheerful banana leaf curry houses are scattered across KL, but Jwala is the city's first upscale north Indian restaurant. Co-founded by one of the team behind Bangkok's Michelin-starred Gaggan, and tucked amid the lush greenery of Damansara Heights, Jwala is all about fire and charcoal. Watching the veteran chefs work the striking copper-clad tandoor ovens in the open kitchen provides both dinner and a show. Don't miss the juiciest kebabs of your life, cooked over mangrove charcoal, and the signature tandoori croissant, an artisanal bread that gives new meaning to "flaky".E-2-01, Level 2, Block E, The Five, Kompleks Pejabat Damansara, 49 Jalan Dungun, 50490 +60 1 2947 9100 jwalakl.com
Troika Sky Dining
This KL dining mainstay atop Norman Foster's Troika building is as popular for its unrivalled skyline views as it is for its four restaurants. Fuego is inspired by the fresh flavours of Central and South America, and has a chilled balcony setting (as long as you don't suffer from vertigo); Strato's the pick for pizza and pasta; Cantaloupe offers upmarket fine dining worthy of celebration meals; while Mr Chew's Chino Latino Bar does as its name suggests by merging two unlikely cuisines to great effect in novelties such as nori tacos and Korean duck fajitas.Level 23A, Tower B, The Troika, 19 Persiaran KLCC, 50450 +60 3 2162 0886 troikaskydining.com
What to do
Islamic Arts Museum
You don't have to be a museums type to appreciate this stunning insight into Islam's history, artistry and contribution to the world. More than 1,400 years of Islamic culture are documented in 12 permanent galleries filled with ceramics, textiles, manuscripts, art, jewellery and more drawn from south-east Asia, China, the Middle East and Africa.Jalan Lembah Perdana, 50480 +60 3 2092 7070 iamm.org.my
KL-ites love their frosty shopping malls and international brands, but seek out local indie labels for souvenirs you can't find anywhere else, whether it's a coveted piece of wearable art by fashion designers Alia Bastamam and Cassey Gan (make an appointment for the latter via Instagram first), shoes from Nelissa Hilman, quirky gifts from Snackfood, jewellery from Wanderlust & Co, or ceramics from Bendang Studio. Keep an eye out for sporadic Riuh markets and pop-ups for artisanal goods from local creatives, too.
Guarded by a towering golden statue of Hindu deity Lord Murugan, the Batu Caves are both a place of pilgrimage and a geographical wonder. (And a macaque paradise - be prepared.) Take a cab to the limestone hills some 13km from KL, then climb the 272 rainbow-hued steps to reach soaring, spectacular Temple Cave. This one's free to enter, but it's worth paying for guided tours of the Ramayana Cave, to witness its spectacular diorama of scenes from the Indian epic, and the Dark Cave, to truly appreciate just how many critters it holds (including the incredibly rare trapdoor spider).Gombak, 68100 +60 3 6189 6284 selangor.travel
How to get there
Kick off your trip in style by flying to Malaysia with Qatar Airways. Qatar Airways flies to Kuala Lumpur from Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester, Edinburgh and Birmingham. Voted Skytrax Airline of the Year 2022 for a record seventh time, Qatar Airways is an industry leader whose many other awards include Best Business Class, Best Airline in the Middle East and Best Business Class Airline Lounge Dining experience.
Ready to explore Kuala Lumpur? Visit Qatar Airways to book your trip.