things to do in melaka

Melaka (or ‘Malacca‘) is the oldest town in Malaysia and one of the country’s major historic attractions. Melaka (map) can trace its roots back to the 15th century when it was founded by a prince from Temasek (present day Singapore). The settlement grew very quickly due to its favourable geographic location at one of the world’s most important shipping lanes: the Straits of Malacca, which connects the Far East with India, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Melaka is a great day trip from Kuala Lumpur or Singapore but I recommend spending a few days there to truly appreciate its history, culture and atmosphere. Scroll down to view my Melaka photos with suggestions for things to do in Melaka.

The majestic Chee Mansion in Heeren Street.

A short history of Malacca

…Malacca was second only to Venice in global trade in the 15th century. The port was regularly dominated by the cacophonies of hundreds of busy merchants who conversed in more than 50 different languages. The air was constantly filled with the scents of exotic perfumes and spices. The shelves at the market place were stacked with porcelain and silk from China, tea from the Indian foothills of the Himalayas, rice from Burma, dates from Arabia, carpets from Persia and a host of other merchandise.

In the early 16th century, the first Portuguese armadas arrived in Malacca, [and] proceeded in one swift move to conquer the weakened Malaccan Sultanate. The Portuguese ruled Malacca for 131 years (1511 – 1642) before finally conceding defeat to the Dutch, who in turn ruled the Sultanate until the Treaty of London (1824) by which Malacca was given to the British in exchange for the British colony of Bencoolen in Sumatera.

Source: preface of my university thesis

Things to do in Melaka

Through the centuries, Malacca became a melting pot of cultures. Immigrants from China, India and the Middle East settled in Malacca and assimilated themselves by adopting local customs. They soon became known as the Baba-Nyonya/Peranakan community. In addition, the mix of European (Portuguese and Dutch) and Asian groups created new ‘Eurasian’ communities. This cosmopolitan landscape exists till today and manifests itself in the local customs, architecture and cuisine in Malacca. I spent a few days exploring Malacca in search of this unique melting pot of cultures.

1. Visit the historic highlights

Being the oldest city in Malaysia, Melaka has a unique array of historic monuments. The most important to visit are within a short walking distance of each other. These are A Famosa (16th century Portuguese fort), the 16th century Church of St. Paul (atop the hill above A Famosa), Stadthuys (18th century Dutch city hall) and the adjacent Christ Church.

things to do in malacca
The 16th century Portuguese A Famosa fort in Melaka.
The Stadhuys, built by the Dutch in the 18th century.
The historic Christ Church, also built by the Dutch in the 18th century. Notice the colourful rickshaws.

2. Explore the old town

Exploring the old town of Melaka is a wonderful, multi-sensory experience! Start with the two most famous streets: Jonker Street and Heeren Street. From here, I recommend wandering off into the side lanes. Jonker Street is Melaka’s most popular street for visitors due to its many shops, restaurants and street market.

Jonker Street

As you walk down Jonker Street, you’ll undoubtedly pass beautiful antique stores, restaurants, food stalls and street musicians. Step into any of the shops to see the gorgeous architecture of an old Peranakan shophouse.

things to see in melaka
The beautiful Eng Choon Association building in Jonker street
An elderly man playing an erhu, a traditional Chinese two-stringed violin.
Loved this colourful shop in Jonker Street.

3. Shop for antiques

There’s a myriad of antique shops in Melaka, many of which can be found in Jonker and Heeren streets.

One of the antique shops in Jonker street. Love the antique porcelain vases.
things to do in melaka
This antique shop in Heeren Street boasts a stunning, typical Peranakan interior.

4. Visit historic places of worship

Just off Jonker Street is one of the oldest mosques in Malacca: the Kampung Kling mosque, built in the 18th century by Indian Muslim merchants.

Kampung Kling mosque

Other beautiful places of worship to visit in Melaka include Tengkera Mosque and the Cheng Hoon Teng temple.

things to do in melaka
Tengkera Mosque Melaka
Down the road from the Kling Mosque, you’ll find Cheng Hoon Teng temple, a 17th century Chinese temple.

5. Admire the stately ‘Millionaire’s Row’

Running parallel to Jonkers Street is Heeren Street, or ‘Millionaire’s Row’. You’ll soon see the reason for this nickname – the houses and mansions along this street are simply gorgeous.

Heeren Street, or ‘Millionaire’s Row’
The stunning Chee Mansion can also be found in Heeren Street. Note the mix of architectural styles.

6. See artisans at work

The old town is home to many artisanal shops, studios and ateliers. You can see the artisans at work, creating fashion accessories, souvenirs and other handicraft. Look out for little arts and handicraft shops in the lanes connecting Jonkers and Heeren Streets. 

I found this little shop with an artist at work.
This is what he makes: colourful wooden slippers.
And these more contemporary shoes.
I found another antique shop with beautiful Nyonya or Peranakan ceramics.

7. Go on a Melaka river cruise

The Melaka River was once one of the busiest ports in the world. These days, it’s a tranquil body of water lined by houses, shops and historic buildings, best seen from a boat. A river cruise is one of the top things to do in Melaka!

One thing to do in Melaka is stroll along the river (or go on a leisurely river cruise). The riverbank is packed with cafes, restaurants and colourful street art.
Melaka river cruise
Loved this row of houses along the Melaka River.

8. Indulge in Melaka food

Melaka’s melting pot of cultures is also evident in its cuisine. For instance, the Peranakan (Malay-Chinese) cuisine has its origins in Melaka. Portuguese colonists brought their cuisine with them too, which then fused with Malay, Chinese and Indian influences to create a cuisine unique to Melaka. Don’t miss the Portuguese specialties like Devil’s Curry and the famous egg tarts. Melaka food is a real treat so come hungry! Here are some of my favourite dishes:

I enjoyed the Nyonya Tiffin lunch at the Casa del Rio Hotel.
And tried various specialties I found at street stalls such as this sweet ‘fish cake’ filled with custard.

I feasted on various Melaka specialties such as ‘onde-onde’ (glutinous rice flour/pandan balls filled with palm sugar) and sambal (chili paste) dishes such as sambal kangkung (water spinach) and sambal chicken, and asam pedas fish (spicy sour fish curry). And I certainly didn’t miss the satay (BBQ chicken/beef/pork on skewers) as well and the infamous Nyonya Laksa (a curry broth with chicken and prawns)! It’s incredible!

Ladies making onde-onde at Baba Charlie, a foodie paradise in Melaka!
Nyonya Laksa
Sambal ayam (chicken).
Another yummy meal is chicken rice balls!
Ice kacang (shaved ice with sweet syrup, fruits and red beans) is a popular dessert.

9. Visit the Portuguese Village

On the outskirts of town lies the Portuguese Village. This village was created in 1933 to house the Kristang people (a Malaysian ethnic group with mixed Portuguese and Malay heritage). I recommend going to the village in the evenings to tuck into its unique cuisine.

The open-air food court at the Portuguese Village.
Devil’s curry – a must-try at the Portuguese Village.
Scallops laced with a spicy sauce at the Portuguese Village.

Check out this blog post with food and restaurant recommendations in Malacca.

10. Visit the Malacca Sultanate Palace

For those who are interested in the rich history of Melaka, a great thing to do is to visit the Malacca Sultanate Palace. This reconstructed palace is a short walk from A Famosa and is a replica of the Sultan of Melaka’s palace in the 16th century before the arrival of the Portuguese. It houses a large collection of artifacts, weapons, drawings and royal costumes.

Malacca Sultanate Palace Museum (image by Azuladnan/Wikimedia Commons).

I spent a weekend in Melaka but it really wasn’t enough to see all the sights and discover more of the Malacca cuisine. I have to go back! ๐Ÿ™‚

Getting to Melaka

Melaka is a roughly two-hour drive from Kuala Lumpur. You can get there easily by bus or taxi if you don’t have your own car. Search for rental cars in Malaysia. You can also choose to join a group tour for a day trip to Melaka.

Depending on your nationality, you may need a visa to visit Malaysia. Check the Malaysia visa requirements and apply for an online visa here.

Where to stay in Melaka

I highly recommend staying at the Casa del Rio, with its spacious rooms, riverside setting and excellent location.

Casa del Rio fronts the Melaka River.

I can also recommend the luxurious Majestic Hotel, the lovely Nest House guesthouse, or one of the boutique hotels housed in beautifully restored historic houses, such as Timez Hotel (links to

Majestic Hotel Melaka

Read about things to do in George Town Penang, Malaysiaโ€™s other UNESCO World Heritage listed city.



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