Things to do in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

The state capital of Malaysia’s Sabah state, Kota Kinabalu is located in northern Borneo. Often referred to as KK, it is a coastal city with a modern boardwalk and bustling markets. The waterfront Kota Kinabalu City Mosque is a highlight, and it is also the gateway to the 4,095m Mount Kinabalu.

The main things to do in Kota Kinabalu include:

  • visit Manukan Island
  • enjoy the water at Tanjung Aru Beach
  • buy local crafts at the Gaya Street Sunday Market
  • taste local foods at the Kota Kinabalu Night Market
  • learn to scuba dive in the beautiful waters of the South China Sea

Must Do

The best thing and must do in my city is scuba diving. There are lots of sandy beaches, tropical islands, blue waters and coral reefs. Tourists who would come to Kota Kinabalu won’t miss the chance for scuba diving. For example, Pulau Tiga is believed to have been formed by the eruption of several mud volcanoes. The surrounding reefs are shallow with healthy coral and water visibility ranging approximately 20 metres. Several species of flora and fauna can be found and these make Pulau Tiga a truly wild tropical island. It was no surprise when Pulau Tiga was chosen as the location for the first US CBS TV series ‘Survivor’.

Besides, we have Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, a marine park, which is a cluster of islands comprising Pulau Gaya, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Manukan, Pulau Mamutik and Pulau Sulug. The five islands are characterized by shallow waters, sumptuous coral gardens and splendid white sandy beaches.

The city is an ideal spot for exploring local culture. The Mari Cultural Village offers a chance to learn about local customs and handicrafts, and a thirty-minute performance of a traditional dance will bring the evening to a close. Visitors can also experience the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, established in 1974, and see some of the world’s most beautiful coral reefs. Whether you are a novice or a pro, there’s something for everyone in this park.

For a more adventurous day, try white-water rafting on the Kiulu River. During the 90-minute trip, you’ll get to see the mountain’s peak and experience its lush vegetation. If you’re looking for something more active, you can sign up for guided two-day tours to Mt. Kinabalu. You can find several companies offering such tours.

The Marlin statue is a must-see venue in Kota Kinabalu. The statue, located just a few kilometers from the city centre, is a unique attraction. It is surrounded by the blue sea, making it the perfect location to watch the sun go down. At the same time, it is close to a large market and is an ideal place to experience the sunrise and sunset.

One of the most popular attractions in Kota Kinabalu is the city’s cultural village. The mosque is an important part of the city, and a trip to it can be an unforgettable experience. You can learn about the history of the island’s indigenous peoples at the Mari Cultural Village, a 30-minute ride from the city center. A visit to the Muslim quarters of the town will provide you with a unique perspective on the island’s diverse ethnic groups.

The Signal Hill Observatory Platform is the highest point in Kota Kinabalu. The observation platform is the city’s most scenic spot, with unbroken views of the region. The views from the top are stunning, and it is worth a trip to the park. If you have a hankering for nature, the museum will be a good place to start. If you’re a nature lover, you’ll love the local fauna and flora.

During the day, if you’re looking for a place to dine, take a cruise on the River Klias. This tour is very popular and offers a chance to observe the wildlife. It’s also a great way to see the city’s famous lost waterfront. It’s a great spot for photos, and you can enjoy the nightlife here. While you’re there, don’t miss out on the city’s nightlife.

For the foodies, you’ll want to visit the Chinatown. It’s a great place to pick up souvenirs. The market is a popular spot for tourists, and it’s also home to a Sunday market. You can also grab a bite at a nearby coffee shop. While you’re there, make sure to spend time walking around the waterfront of Kota Kinabalu, as this is the heart of the city.

For those interested in religion, Kota Kinabalu has two main mosques, the Donggongon Tamu and the City Mosque. The floating mosque is situated in the middle of the city and is open to visitors every day except for Sundays. You’ll have to rent a suit to enter the mosque, but it’s worth the visit. If you’re interested in observing Islam, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to do so.

With sandy beaches, tropical islands, and clear blue waters, diving in Kota Kinabalu is a great way to see the surrounding area. The nearby Pulau Tiga is an ideal spot to try scuba diving. This island is believed to be formed by mud volcanoes, and the reefs are shallow with healthy coral. The water’s visibility is up to 20 metres. Divers can experience several different species of fish and flora. Interestingly, this island was chosen as the location for the first US CBS series ‘Survivor’.

Manukan Island

Manukan Island

If you’re planning to visit the beautiful Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia, then you might want to consider the Sutera Sanctuary Lodges At Manukan Island. This luxurious resort boasts an outdoor pool and 16 air-conditioned rooms with direct beach access. Some units come with a kitchen and dining area. The lodge offers free toiletries and offers all-day dining and room service.

The island’s water sports are second to none. Visitors can enjoy banana boat rides, jet skiing, parasailing, and snorkelling. The coral reefs are protected, which means you are more likely to spot rare marine life. There are even jungle trails for nature lovers to explore the wildlife that lives on the island. Getting there is as easy as catching a ferry from the Jesselton Harbour.

Tanjung Aru Beach

For those who enjoy the beach, the Tanjung Aru Beach offers a long stretch of sand with stalls selling food and drinks. It is also a popular place to watch the sunset. Here are some of the things to do in Kota Kinabalu that will get you in the mood to spend your day on the beach! Read on to find out more about the various options for activities to enjoy while on holiday in this beautiful Malaysian island.

If you have a taste for art, don’t miss the graffiti wall located near Suria Sabah shopping mall. The graffiti was created on the ruins of an Old Welfare building that survived WWII bombing but was completely destroyed by a fire in 1992. It is the work of the Cracko Art Group of North Borneo, but anyone can spray over the current paintings.

North Borneo Railway

A trip on the North Borneo Railway from Kota Kinabalu to Tenom is one of the many unique experiences in the region. The journey is scenic, passing through paddy fields, healthy towns and the famous Padas Gorge. The train will also have a new steam operation that will showcase Sabah’s diverse indigenous groups. The new steam train service will be known as the North Borneo Railway.

The train’s historic heritage is also preserved at the North Borneo Railway. A British Vulcan steam locomotive, designed to burn wood instead of coal, pulls the train, reliving the colonial days of British North Borneo. Passengers enjoy the scenic ride along the route as well as a traditional ‘tiffin’ colonial lunch. The journey will take about four hours and features some of Sabah’s most picturesque scenery.

Gaya Street Sunday Market

Kota Kinabalu’s famous Sunday market can be found along Gaya Street, located in the city’s central business district. You can find everything from antiques to handcrafted batik clothing at this vibrant market. There are also a variety of street food vendors, shops, and restaurants to peruse. The market is also a great place to start your day with breakfast or to just browse.

The market is open every Sunday, and offers the perfect opportunity to shop local products. Many stalls feature Sabahan food, souvenir t-shirts, and local medicine. You can also find souvenirs and bamboo handicraft at the market. The market is easily accessible by local buses and taxis. Alternatively, if you prefer to stay in Kota Kinabalu a little longer, you can dine out at one of the many restaurants in the area.

Sabah State Museum

The Sabah State Museum is an interesting place to visit if you are in Kota Kinabalu. The museum is a fusion of heritage and modern art. Its mission is to promote Sabah’s culture and history through education. Apart from the usual exhibits, it also has areas dedicated to technology, science, ethnography and archaeology. In addition to the main museum building, there are other buildings nearby that you can check out. The Ethnobotanical Garden and the Heritage Village are other places you should visit.

The Sabah State Museum was established in 1984. This museum covers 17 hectares of land and is decorated in the shape of a Malay village. It has authentic Malay houses where visitors can see how people lived before British colonization. Other exhibits include artifacts from the George Woolley collection and a science center. It also offers lectures and open-air programs that teach about the history of the state.

Best Walk in Kota Kinabalu

Best walk around the city! We can start from the Filipino Market which is currently known as the Handicraft Market. Lots of exotic handicrafts sold here. After that, the next spot for good walk is Kota Kinabalu city mosque. It’s beautiful. And there is also floating mosque. Besides, we can go for sightseeing at cultural villages. For example, Monsopiad Cultural Village. Greet and mix with local people. It would be fun.

Next, we have the Nature Interpretation Centre located at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort. We can go for nature walk. Experience the flora and fauna. What I like about this place is there is Bird Watching Trail.

Then, for shopping, we have 1 Borneo Hyper mall, Asia City, Centre Point, Warisan Square, and the newest, Suria KK. It’s really fun strolling around this city.

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What do you like best about your Kota Kinabalu?

The best thing I like about my city is, it’s full with fun things to do. You will never get bored in this city. If you are bored with urban lifestyle, you can relax and enjoy the nature, away from the concrete jungle. Scuba diving also might be fun. There are lots of things to see. We have museum, monuments and so on. And we can also go for some adventurous activities.

Best Restaurants in Kota Kinabalu

Great cuisine is everywhere in this city – from restaurants that offer gourmet food in elegant surroundings to mouth watering flavors and textures in a bowl of food you buy from a hawker’s stall at the night market.

If you are in Kota Kinabalu, there are a few places you need to check out. You can’t go wrong with seafood, especially if you’ve been craving for it for a while. If you’re a fan of western food, you’ll love the variety of dishes offered here. From fresh oysters and scallops to squid ink, you’re sure to find something that suits your palate.

However, I would suggest local cuisine. There is this place called Anjung Selera near Tanjung Lipat. It’s by the seaside. You can have Malaysian cuisine here. Plus, there are also Chinese cuisine and Indian cuisine. 🙂

If you’re looking for authentic Indian food, Kohinoor is the place to go. Their authentic, delicious dishes are made from fresh seafood. The restaurant is open until 4 p.m., so you can expect a line. Owner Ye Liangde has been making meat and bone tea since he was 22, and he has been doing it for 30 years. To prepare the authentic flavor of this drink, he starts early in the morning and simmers the ingredients for seven to eight hours.

The food in Kota Kinabalu is diverse and has many unique flavors. The city has many Indian and other Asian restaurants, including Kohinoor, Choice and Hi Seoul. You can also get some decent Korean food from Hi Seoul. There are plenty of Western eateries to choose from, but if you’re looking for high-end fare, you can try Sushi Tei, which offers sushi, and Tambayan, which specializes in Filipino cuisine.

Sri Latha Curry House is a must-visit for the authentic laksa. This restaurant is very popular with locals and tourists alike, and is famous for its leaf rice set, which comes with chicken or lamb curry. You can try a lamb or chicken curry to complete the meal. You can also try one of the many other Indian restaurants in the area, which are also highly recommended.

If you want to eat a local dish, you should try Yu Kee Bak Kut Teh. This famous local dish is very popular, and is a must-try. You’ll find the restaurant open from 4 p.m., and a queue is usually formed by the time dinner rolls around. You can also try this dish in the nearby Central Market. However, it is recommended to make reservations at least a week in advance to avoid long queues.

 if you’re looking for a more exotic meal, consider the Twinsky Seafood Restaurant. This restaurant was opened in 1983 and uses deep sea and live seafood to create the traditional satay dish. Although the prices are slightly higher, the service is impeccable and the food is delicious. It’s worth visiting both the Chinese and Malay food markets in Kota Kinabalu.

Cooking Classes in Kota Kinabalu

Momma’s House is a local family run cooking class to learn the secret family recipes and cook like a Sabahan. The class is held 15 minutes from Kota Kinabalu and includes a small trip to the local market to buy ingredients. There are tour companies that provides transport to the cooking school.

There are a variety of other tour companies that offer cooking classes that seem to be all quite similar. You get picked up at the hotel you are taken to a local village where you go to the local market and then are taught to cook some local dishes.

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Best Music/Festivals:

There are lots of events going on throughout the year. Too much of them and I can’t list them all here. So, I’ll pick the hottest ones around the city. Every May, there will be Sabah Festival. It’s about celebrating Sabah’s natural charms. Delve into age-old traditions and learn about the multi-hued cultural heritage that embodies the essence of the mystical Land below the Wind.

And, we have 25th Sabah Dragon Boat Race this June. It’s organized in conjunction with the Duan Wu Festival and in honor of the legendary Chinese poet and patriot, Qu Yuan.

Besides, we have Music Fest at The Tip of Borneo this July. Music aficionados will enjoy the unique mix of world music ranging from jazz, pop, classical, and rhythm and blues to traditional folk performed by the indigenous people. Anyway, this is a bit ‘out of town’. It’s about 2-hours on road journey to the north.

And so much more! From January to December, this city will always have celebrations.

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Art Galleries in Kota Kinabalu

The Sabah Art Gallery is located at the same address as the Sabah Museum and organizes annual exhibitions and events that promotes work by local and international artists.

Ocean7 Art Gallery is located at the Oceanus Waterfront Mall.

Lavinia Private Art Gallery is another option but you need to make an appointment to be able to visit the gallery.

Borneo Sunrise Home Gallery and Artist Studio is located in Kampong Lakut a 45 minute drive from Kota Kinabalu and is the home of artist Adrian Ho

Best Hotels in Kota Kinabalu

Best Nightlife

Nightlife? There are lots of bars and clubs around the city. Try Shenanigans! Anyway, most tourists are disappointed with the ultra-price drinks in this pub. But no worry, because there are many other choices. We have Upper Star, Razz Ma Tazz and so much more.

But mostly, people would choose to enjoy their nightlife at Kota Kinabalu Waterfront. Lots of pubs can be found there. What’s unique, Waterfront also known as the sunset bar which is exactly an excellent place to view the sunset while sipping cocktail, beer, etc.

Another option? Local people would point to Sugar Bun. There would be live band performing until midnight. Beer is quite cheap there. 🙂

Best Day Trip out of Kota Kinabalu

For day trip out of the city, I would suggest Poring Hot Spring. There are cold and hot sulphur pools where water is piped in from natural springs. Apparently, the sulphur is supposed to be good for your skin. If you don’t fancy a dip, you can go for a short jungle trek (various treks that are well marked, not very difficult) or canopy walk.

Besides, it would be fun to visit Tanjung Simpang Mengayau which is also known as The Tip of Borneo in Kudat. It’s a beautiful place.

Or maybe visit the Honey Bee Village and Gong-making Village. Stay for a while at the Rungus longhouse and experience the local lifestyle.

Next, we could also join White Water Rafting. Adventurous activity would be fun.

Or perhaps you might want to go for a historical journey? Go to Labuan Island and we can see so much historical monuments from the World War 2. It’s more like memorial park. Well, for day trip out of city, there are so many choices. Whether we choose to go north, south or east, it’s worth it. It’s fun.

Something not many tourists would know about Kota Kinabalu

Last time I conducted a research about Home Stay program, most tourists don’t know about this program. Home Stay program is more like spending holidays with local people. This means, tourist got the chance to be part of the family. Tourists will get to experience the local lifestyle, from joining the day-life routines, eating the same food and living under the same roof. It’s nice and would remain as good memories.

10 Interesting facts about Kota Kinabalu

  1. Kota Kinabalu is the capital city of the state of Sabah in Malaysia.
  2. The city is located on the northwest coast of Borneo, and is the sixth largest city in Malaysia.
  3. Kota Kinabalu was formerly known as Jesselton, and was renamed in 1967.
  4. The city is a popular destination for tourists, with its beautiful beaches, rich culture, and unique wildlife.
  5. The Kinabalu National Park, which is located just outside of the city, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna, including the endangered orangutan.
  6. The city is also home to the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque, which is one of the largest mosques in Malaysia.
  7. Kota Kinabalu is a melting pot of cultures, with a diverse population made up of Malays, Chinese, and various indigenous groups.
  8. The city is known for its delicious cuisine, which is influenced by its multi-cultural population and its proximity to the sea.
  9. The city is a major hub for commerce and trade, and is home to many large companies and organizations.
  10. Kota Kinabalu is also a major transportation hub, with an international airport and a busy seaport.

David Cronk - Editor

David Cronk is the editor of online travel magazine Travelodium Travel Magazine. David has travelled to over 30 countries of the world and his writing has been published by enRoute magazine - Air Canada's inflight magazine and by Hotel & Accommodation Management Magazine. David has worked as a Sales Executive for Sheraton and Hilton Hotels and for Hotelbookers in London. He has worked also as a Hotel Night Manager and in bars throughout Europe. David eventually settled into a position working as a croupier for several years before changing careers to become a Data, Sales and Statistical Analyst.

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