Penang Ferry: Ultimate Guide to traveling by sea between George Town and Butterworth

The iconic Penang Ferry has connected George Town with Butterworth for over a century, but things have changed in January 2021. Here's all you need to know about crossing the Straits Sea on the new ferry services for pedestrians, and how you can still ride on the old ferries.

Penang Old Ferry
One of the original Penang Ferries in the Straits Sea in 2012 (image courtesy of Wiki Commons)

Penang Ferry opened in 1894 as the only link between Penang island and the railway to Singapore. It’s still operating despite the two bridge links connecting Penang island to Seberang Perai — the mainland part of Penang state, where you can find the town of Bukit Mertajam, and beautiful places like Frog Hill, and Bukit Juru — but since January 2021, there have been quite a few major changes.

Penang iconic ferries used to shuttle pedestrians, cars, motorcycles, and bicycles. From 1 January 2021, however, cars are not allowed anymore and must use one of Penang’s two bridges. Pedestrians can take the new catamaran service, while two-wheeled vehicles are still allowed to use the old and iconic ferries — which we still believe is one of the essential things to do in Penang.

READ MORE ABOUT PENANG STATE’s MAINLAND 
– 19 Things to Do in Bukit Mertajam
Best Hikes in Seberang Perai

What Changed for the Iconic Penang Ferry in 2021

Penang Ferry, which is now under the administration of Penang Port Commission, was a very romantic and old-world way to reach Penang Little India in George Town (see what you can do with 48 hours in George Town and our itinerary for 3 days in Penang). Pedestrians and vehicles would travel all together on the two decks, crossing the Straits Sea on an old-world ferry boat, looking at George Town’s skyline get closer as you sail on the sea with the first Penang Bridge on one side and the Butterworth port on the other.

penang ferry butterworth
Pedestrians no more: you won’t see passengers like this on the iconic Penang Ferries anymore (image by Marco Ferrarese)

But now, pedestrians have to take the smaller, faster catamarans that land a little further north than the former pier, which was in very close distance to most of Penang’s best street art, trendy Penang cafes, and some of George Town’s best 5-star hotels.


So what’s happening to the iconic old Penang ferries?

Penang Ferry Butterworth pulau kapas
One of the original fleet of Penang Ferries (image © Marco Ferrarese)

The original iconic Penang Ferries ceased operations on 31 December 2020 after nearly a century of service.

As you can imagine, people have been quite concerned with what would happen to an iconic mode of transport like the old Penang Ferries, a real part of Penang heritage, after it has shuttled across the Straits Sea for so many years.

A furor ensued when one barge of the original fleet, the Pulau Pinang ferry, was found half-sunk at the Bagan Alam slipway in Butterworth at the beginning of June 2021. Activists like Khoo Salma Nasution of Penang Heritage Trust said that the vessel should have been salvaged immediately before more damage was done.

Finally, at the end of June 2021, it was announced that five of the iconic Penang ferries will be transformed into floating attractions in the next 3 to 6 months.

The Pulau Pinang will be transformed into a floating Penang Ferry museum. Two other barges, the Pulau Kapas and Pulau Payar will become two floating restaurants, while the Pulau Talang Talang and Pulau Undan will transform into two tourist ferries.

At last, the last ferry, Pulau Angsa, will be taken under the supervision of the tourism branch of the Penang State Government, which will turn it into a floating art space. That’s quite good news for the iconic Penang Ferries, which will have a new lease of life in Penang waters.


Penang Ferry Schedule and Operating Times (Updated 2021)

The latest advice on operating hours for the new catamarans shuttling between George Town's Sweethenam Pier and Butterworth
The latest advice on operating hours for the new catamarans shuttling between George Town’s Sweethenam Pier and Butterworth (image © Marco Ferrarese)

The new catamaran services that substitute the Old Penang Ferries for pedestrians are faster and run almost around the clock, connecting George Town and Butterworth from early morning until 11.30 pm. The service then pauses until 6.30 in the morning. These are the latest departure times and schedules as of the year 2021:

From Butterworth to Penang
First Ferry departs at  06.30 am.
The last Ferry departs at 11.30 pm.

From Penang to Butterworth
First Ferry departs at  06.30 am.
The last Ferry departs at 11.30 pm.

penang ferry butterworth
A scene of the past: getting on the Penang Ferry in Butterworth when pedestrians were still allowed. From January 2021, passengers on foot travel on a dedicated catamaran (image by Marco Ferrarese)

Penang Ferry Telephone Numbers

If you need any information on departures, you can call these numbers:

Penang Side: 04 261 0290 / 210 2363 (duty officer)

Butterworth Side: 04 331 2796 / 310 2377 (duty officer).


How much does the Penang Ferry Cost? (Updated July 2021)

The prices haven’t changed regardless of the upgrade. Remember that you only pay for a ride on Penang Ferry when you travel from Butterworth, the mainland side, to Penang island. The return ticket from Penang island is always free of charge for both pedestrians (traveling on the catamarans from Swettenham Pier) and two-wheeled vehicles (traveling from the Pangkalan Raja Tun Uda ferry terminal situated at the eastern end of popular Chulia Street).

Pedestrians
Since January 2021, pedestrians are no longer allowed on the iconic Penang Ferries, but on a new fleet of catamarans. Arriving from the mainland, you will board the catamaran at the same location, the Pangkalan Sultan Abdul Halim ferry terminal. This is connected to Penang Sentral, the main bus and transport hub of Penang state and Northwest Malaysia. Read our guide to catching a bus from Penang Sentral.

JULY 2021 UPDATE: As announced at the end of June 2021, in order to ease the burden of COVID-19 restrictions, the new Penang Ferry service for foot passengers will be free of charge until the end of 2021 courtesy of the Penang government.

Follow the directions to the ferry until you will find the ticket vending booths. Queue up and buy your ticket. The fees as of 2021 are:

Adult: RM 1.20
Children (from 5 to 12 years old): RM 0.60

Once you receive your ticket, you will have to walk through a turnpike. Scan your ticket over the code-reading machine and you’ll be let through. Ten meters ahead is a waiting area with chairs where you can wait for the next Penang Ferry departure.

penang ferry butterworth
Buy your ticket before boarding the Penang Ferry right beyond Butterworth’s Penang Sentral, where the ticket office of Pangkalan Sultan Abdul Halim terminal is (image by Marco Ferrarese)

Two-wheeled Vehicles

From 1 January 2021, only two-wheeled vehicles are allowed on the Penang Ferries until this fleet is upgraded, changed, or discarded in the next year and a half. The situation is still unclear, and we will update this post as soon as we get precise news.
The cost for two-wheeled vehicles is a bit higher, but still accessible and are paid for a one-way trip only.

Bicycle: RM 1.40
Motorbike: RM 2.00

Duration of a Penang Ferry trip

A trip on the Penang Ferry generally lasts around 20 to 30 minutes, depending on sea conditions. The new catamarans for pedestrians, on the other hand, take less than 10 minutes.


What happens to cars if they can’t board the Penang Ferry anymore then?

penang ferry butterworth
A view of the Straits Sea off Penang island from the Penang ferry (image by Marco Ferrarese)

Even when the Penang ferries still shuttled cars, there were relatively few vehicles on board. Most of the drivers preferred to get to the mainland faster by using one of the two Penang bridges. Indeed, the whole embarkation process used to take up to one hour so using the bridges is a faster option — take the first Penang Bridge if you are driving from George Town, as the second is way too far south, near Penang Airport.


Location of Penang Ferry on the Butterworth side

The Penang Ferry on the Butterworth side is located behind Penang Sentral, the same location it had prior to the changes implemented in January 2021. It’s about a kilometer away from Butterworth Art Walk, a place you would check out if you like murals and Penang Street Art.
Here’s a map:


Catching trains after disembarking from Penang Ferry

Butterworth is one of the few cities in the world where ferry, bus terminal, and train station are all interconnected and within walking distance from each other.
Penang’s train station is actually in Butterworth and has trains connections to Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, the Thailand border at Padang Besar (read our guide on how to do a Thailand Visa Run from Penang), Kuala Kangsar, and Taiping.
We have written a handy guide on trains from Penang where you can check more details on all the possible train routes.

penang ferry butterworth
Butterworth’s train station is only about 10 minutes walking distance from Penang Ferry’s terminal (image by Marco Ferrarese)

In brief, once you return from Penang to Butterworth by the new Penang Ferry catamaran services, enter Penang Sentral, go to the lower ground floor and follow the directions to Butterworth train station. It takes about 10 minutes by walking.


Penang Ferry Location on Penang Island’s Side

The Swetthenam Pier in George Town, from where pedestrians can proceed by catamaran to Butterworth
The Swettenham Pier in George Town, from where pedestrians can proceed by catamaran to Butterworth (image © Marco Ferrarese)

Since January 1st, 2021, pedestrians cannot travel on the old Penang Ferries. They have to use the new catamaran service which leaves from the Swettenham Pier Ferry Terminal, where boats usually travel from Penang to Langkawi. It is located opposite the Queen Victoria Memorial Clocktower, and within walking distance to the upper end of Beach Street. The tourist enclave of Chulia Street is about 500 meters walk away. Here is a map:


Where to stay nearby Penang Ferry

Swettenham Pier is near the end of Beach Street, and not far away from the old Penang Ferry terminal, which is very close to Chulia Street. This is Penang’s tourist enclave, which is filled with bars, trendy Penang cafes, restaurants, street stalls, and backpacker heaven. You can read about our guide on backpacker accommodation in Penang or, if you have more cash to splash, our guide on George Town’s best boutique hotels, Penang Best 5-Star Hotels, and budget hotels in Penang. Each of these hotels is within walking distance to Penang Ferry. You can also check our list of the best Penang Airbnbs, as there are several located on Karpal Singh drive — in close distance to the Penang Ferry port.


Places to stay in George Town near the two Penang ferry terminals

If you want to stay close to Penang Ferry, we recommend one of these three places

BUDGET
Sim City Stay
is a hostel set alongside Pengkalan Weld, perfect for backpackers or those who want to stay on a budget. Tucked on the first floor of a nondescript building, it has dorms and singles. CHECK PRICES AND BOOK

MID-RANGE AND LUXURY
Royale Chulan is just a few hundred meters down Pengakalan Weld, almost straight opposite the Penang Ferry. It’s a four-star hotel with large, comfortable rooms inside a restored British colonial building. A perfect option for some pampering without breaking the bank. CHECK PRICES AND BOOK

The Prestige is another luxe option that’s very close to Swettenham Pier. Renovated from a large colonial building, it has elegant rooms with flat-screen TVs and Nespresso machines, a restaurant, gym, and infinity pool. CHECK PRICES AND BOOK

If this is not what you are looking for, check many other accommodation options in George Town on Booking.com

Penang to Langkawi Ferry

Penang is connected by ferry also to Langkawi, another beautiful island in Kedah state, from the same Swettenham Pier. Langkawi, different from Penang’s cultural vibe, has plenty of nature and beaches and it’s a favorite tropical getaway for both locals and international tourists. Read our complete guide on how to get from Penang to Langkawi and from Kuala Lumpur to Langkawi.

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