Among the essential things to do in Penang for first-time visitors are gorging on Penang’s best food, have a drink at one of Penang’s best bars, soak the sun on one of Penang best beaches, and visit the famous Penang Avatar Secret Garden.
But the island also has a wide choice of shopping malls, among the biggest in Malaysia. For many Malaysians, shopping is a natural activity, and lingering in shopping malls to enjoy an air-conditioned break from the punishing heat a necessity – we even suggested that in our guide to the best of Penang in 48 hours.
But if there’s a social aspect to shopping, what are Penang’s best malls? Where is worth hanging out, both to find good bargains, and meeting people? If you like the outdoors, you may prefer our guide to places for alternative shopping in Penang. Otherwise, here’s a selection of the 10 best Penang shopping malls we think you shouldn’t overlook.
1Gurney Plaza: The Poshest Penang shopping mall
Gurney Plaza, facing the seaside at popular Gurney Drive not far away from the lush Penang Botanical Gardens, is big, a nightmare to drive to at weekends, and always, always shiny and filled with Penang’s most well-heeled people — and those who want to look like one.
Here you’ll find a great selection of designer brands, expensive clothes, several bookstores (including Times, Popular and MPH) carrying a lot of English books, Western foods at Cold Storage supermarket (a good place for grocery shopping in Penang) on the ground floor, complete with a collection of mid-range food outlets and one food court.
There’s a multi-screen cinema on the top floor, and more electronics and consumer goods you can ask for. Gurney also has an indoor children playground, certainly one of the best things to do in Penang with kids. The perk of both shopping malls is the outdoor seating areas filled with franchise restaurant chains, such as Starbucks, Nando’s and others, that see quite a bit of people, especially at weekends. And yes, it’s a regular spot to bring a date out.
2Gurney Paragon: Futuristic Exclusive Penang Shopping Mall
Since Gurney Plaza apparently wasn’t enough, the even more posh, high-class and futuristic Gurney Paragon came to be just a few doors down. The northern side of Gurney Drive now packs more shopping that anyone can muster in Penang.
A few of Gurney Paragon’s most interesting shops are BookXcess, one of Malaysia’s largest and tallest bookstores, packed to the gills with heavily discounted titles; and Daiso, a popular Japanese franchise where you can get high-quality gear of most types at a fraction of the price. For the rest, expect Gurney Paragon to be an expensive affair, especially if you decided to dine in.
3Prangin Mall: The Less Pretentious Penang shopping mall
Prangin Mall, possibly the most central, next to KOMTAR, with its urban theme park and Rainbow Skywalk, and in walking distance to George Town’s tourist enclave Chulia Street. It’s been around for a while. It cracked beyond recognition a few years ago and was restructured and given a nice coat of paint more recently.
It’s five floors of compact low-cost bonanza, and the best place to come find cheap clothes (especially for women), shoes, and also glass frames and lenses — I got myself a new pair for a mere RM150. They have a decent multiplex cinema on the top floor, paired with a game saloon for the youngest, and the usual smorgasbord of food options at a fraction of Gurney Drive’s prices. The fourth floor has a cluster of good for electronics and computer shops.
4ICT Digital [email protected]: The Technical Penang shopping mall
Next to Prangin Mall and connected via an elevated walkway, ICT Digital Mall @KOMTAR is where one goes for — you guessed it — electronics, computers, smartphones and so on. There are a couple of second-hand stores here where you can buy spare parts or get a cheaper, refurbished computer, cheap laptop and phone covers. Also, it’s the only place I know of in Penang where you can dispose of electronic parts and spent batteries. Not sure about the frequency of collection, but yes, there’s a dedicated bin for that.
51st Avenue Penang: The Cold-Hearted Penang shopping mall
With a frosty temperature apt to breed penguins and polar bears, 1st Avenue is George Town’s latest, and probably least needed, shopping mall. It sits right across the Digital Mall and across the street from Prangin Mall, connected to both by elevated passageways, and selling more of the same stuff at higher prices. It wins over both for style, for sure, and has great toilets, if you ever need one.
The series of small electronic shops on the second and third floors are good if looking for second-hand MacBooks, and there’s also a convenient Mac Store. The cinema on the top floor is one of George Town’s most expensive, and all the food options don’t come cheaper. All in all, a very well packaged mall that doesn’t add much to the plate, but wins when it comes to chill — I mean, getting yourself out of the sun and into a punishing wall of a/c. Bring a jacket.
6Queensbay Mall: The Longest Penang shopping mall
Queensbay Mall may as well be one of the biggest shopping malls in Malaysia. It takes about 25 minutes to walk from one end to the other, and as you can imagine, it has everything and more. Since it’s not too far from the Universiti Sains Malaysia area, many of its cafes and food outlets are often filled with young international students trying to crack at their books — and failing miserably.
But yes, it’s a good place for a casual stroll, a drink, and some people-watching. Not as posh-oriented as Gurney Drive and Paragon, Queensbay still sports some pretty well-heeled Penang population. I love the Borders bookstore upstairs, the only one where every book and magazine is not shrink-wrapped and can be taken off the shelves to browse at the handy annexed Starbucks cafe’. Again, no wonder students love this place.
7Bukit Jambul Shopping Complex: The Most Packed Penang shopping mall
Bukit Jambul Complex is a South-of-the-island institution that’s hard to beat. As it serves a portion of Penang island that’s quite a journey from George Town, it tends to be very packed, especially on weekends. This is also a favourite destination for many immigrant workers who live and work in the south of the island.
In terms of posh scale, it is Prangin Mall’s southern equivalent, without space — when it’s packed, it’s a bit cramped, and finding a parking spot in their huge annexed lot can also be a time-consuming affair. Long known to be one of the best for cheap electronic repairs, I believe it’s at par with Prangin Mall and ICT Digital Mall these days. Very good if you like crowds, but besides, pretty handy only if you live on the southern side of the island.
Shopping Malls on Penang Mainland Seberang Perai
Most people shop on Penang island, but there are several important Shopping Malls also on the mainland at Seberang Perai. If you come here, don’t forget to check out our guides to Penang Mainland’s Best Hiking Trails, which include Bukit Juru and the turquoise water pools of Frog Hill. And of course, with all it has to offer in terms of food and attractions, check out our list of the best things to do in Bukit Mertajam and the best hotels in Bukit Mertajam.
8Design Village Outlet Mall: The Best Deals among all Penang Shopping Malls
Set in Penang’s Mainland, Seberang Perai, and just off the second Penang bridge, Design Village is the place to go get designer brands at cheaper prices. The speciality of this Penang shopping mall is its open-air layout, with shops set along a pedestrian walk dotted with a number of trees. This may be the greenest mall in Malaysia, too. You will find, among others, boutiques by Adidas, Kate Spade, Reebok, Guess, and more. Nearby Aspen Vision City is home to some of Penang street art and will become one of northern Malaysia’s most swanky land developments. The future of Batu Kawan will be… technologic? We’ll wait and see.
Contact: +604-589 9888
9IKEA Batu Kawan Penang: The Most International of Penang Shopping Malls
The area of Batu Kawan just off Penang second bridge used to be a forgotten coastal wasteland, but it has now become the kingdom of shopping. It was inevitable that even the popular Swedish brand IKEA came to set foot here. This huge IKEA shopping mall is just south of the Design Village Outlet Mall, and sells the type of high-quality European-styled furniture that’s famous (and found) all around the world. It opens from 10 am to 10 pm, and it also has Småland, an indoor playground where you can let your kids loose as you browse for Nordic deals. And if you fancy trying some Swedish food, there’s a restaurant where you may do so at decent prices.
Opening Hours: Daily from 10am to 10pm
Contact: +603 7952 7575
10Sunway Carnival Mall: The Grand Dame of Seberang Perai Shopping Malls
This is one of Seberang Perai’s most important shopping malls, and it’s in walking distance to the Light, one of Penang’s best 5-star hotels. There’s plenty to shop and browse in these four storeys, from household items at Parkson to a wide variety of groceries at Sam’s Groceria. You may even catch a film at the Golden Screen Cinemas on the top floor. It’s also a popular place for a weekend of shopping in Seberang Perai, when it gets often packed with people from all over the state. Don’t expect anything out of the ordinary from this shopping mall, but it’s a solid choice for both groceries and entertainment for those living in Perai.