Kota Kinabalu City Guide
Type G – 230V/50hz
Malaysian Ringgit (MYR)
Average Cost of 3 course meal
Average Cost of a meal in an inexpensive restaurant
Average Room Rate
227 per night (3* hotel)
Kota Kinabalu is the Capital city Malaysia’s Sabah in North-western Borneo and is often referred to by the locals as KK. The area is known for its beautiful and exotic rainforest, which partly surrounds the coastal city, its bustling markets, modern boardwalk beaches and the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque on the waterfront. The city is the gateway to the National Park where Mount Kinabalu can be found.
“Kota Kinabalu is the gateway to a truly beautiful, serene and extremely green part of Malaysia. The food is amazing (seafood and Menggatal beef noodles!), so many adventures to be had (like the canopy walkway) and culture to explore (war memorials, cultural village and more). A truly picturesque place”.
By Gareth, Shaolin Tiger
Mt. Kinabalu is referred to as one of the most popular ‘bucket list’ spots in the world and is a world Heritage listed site that boasts beautiful flora and is among the ecologically richest in the world. Trekking up the famous mountain is not the only attraction and those after less of a physical challenge can skip the climb and explore the surrounding parks or numerous forests walking trails at the bottom of the mountain.
Kota Kinabalu City Mosque is well worth the visit to capture stunning photos of the majestic white mosque and the man-made lagoon that has given the Mosque’s famous nickname, ‘the floating mosque’. Explore the immense prayer hall inside of the Mosque that is open to non-Muslims after prayer times. If you do decide to venture into the prayer hall it is recommended that you wear long trousers and covered arms.
North Borneo Railway is a perfect way to revisit the lingering remnants of British North Borneo, the traditional village homes on stilts, and the sprawling paddy fields full of buffaloes looming in the distance. The train journey starts at Tanjung Aru and take you through Kinarut before arriving at Sabah Papar. Lunch is provided on this 1900s steam train. The office is open daily, so book up your tickets and enjoy the ride!
Things to do in Kota Kinabalu
There are so many activities to choose from when it comes to things to do in Kota Kinabalu. Whether your idea of a great day out is exploring the architecture and historical sites, discovering the local wildlife or a spot of retail therapy, Kota Kinabalu has something to suit every holiday type.
Image Source: Bernard DUPONT
Standing 4095m above Borneo, Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain between the Himalayas and New Guinea. Known as Gunung Kinabalu in Bahasa Malaysia, the mountain is famous for overshadowing its neighbouring mountains by more than twice the height. Whether you decide to climb to the summit or not, the parks surrounding the mountain are a popular escape from the humidity of the coast. Through the forest you can find a number of walking trails to enjoy when the sun is a little too hot to handle. Climbing tours are available for anyone wishing to take on the challenge.
Address: 88300, Malaysia
“Mount Kinabalu is the 20th most prominent mountain in the world and recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage, this mountain has its peak at 13,000 feet. Depending on good weather, visitors can climb up to its low peak within hours and has options to engage climber guides and porters at fantastic rates. Enjoy along the hiking varieties of wildlife plants and animals and breath-taking views upon reaching the top.”
Kelambu Beach, with its clear aquamarine water and white sand beaches that is engulfed by verdant islands, is by far the most visually appealing beach in Kota Kinabalu. If you’re into water sports than Kelambu Beach is the spot to be; offering speed boating, water skiing, swimming and snorkelling. However, it is also a beautiful spot for a picnic or romantic walk. Kelambu Beach is located in Kudat, so if you don’t fancy the journey, Tanjung Aru beach is the next best location to enjoy a day by the sea.
Address: 89050 Kudat, Sabah, Malaysia
“While visiting Kota Kinabalu, head to Gaya Island. This small island is easily visible from the city and a short boat trip from Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal. The island itself is full of jungle and wildlife. Go for a hike, a swim at the beach and snorkel for great views under the water.”
By Sharon, Where’s Sharon
Petegas War Memorial
Image Source: CEphoto, Uwe Aranas
The Petagas War Memorial is a tranquil setting where those who gave their lives protecting their country, during the Japanese occupation in World War II, can be remembered. It is located on the exact spot where 176 guerrillas lost their lives on January 21st 1944. The grounds are well kept surrounding the plaques where the names of the lives lost can be read and remembered. A memorial service is held on the anniversary each year to commemorate those who fought and fell during the war.
Opening Times: Open all day, every day
Address: No.1, Jalan Bandaran, 88675, Kota Kinabalu
Poring Hot Springs Canopy Walkway
Image Source: Percita
Poring Hot Springs is where you will find the famous Canopy Walkway. Hovering 43 meters above ground is this canopy walk is not for those with a fear of heights. The 175 metre long bridge takes you through a treetop adventure with amazing views once you have made the long climb up to where the bridge begins, this walk can take around an hour so it’s best to choose a cooler day or take plenty of water with you.
Price: Prices vary depending on what excursion you embark on
Opening Times: 07:00 – 18:00
Address: Poring Hot Spring and Nature Reserve, 89300 Ranau, Sabah, Malaysia
A popular spot for walkers and joggers, Perdana Park is a hot spot for locals into their fitness with the exercise areas that can be found around the lake. On a clear day, Perdana Park is the best place to catch a beautiful sunset, but the main attraction is the musical fountain that comes alive at 19.00-21.00 Monday-Thursdays (at weekends the show runs for an extra 30 minutes). The fountain is synchronized with the music to make it a spectacular show. As a little treat in the park, try out the reflexology path by taking a walk barefoot. Admission to the park is free but parking charges apply.
Price: Free (except parking charges)
Opening Times: 08:00 – 23:00
Address: Tanjung Aru, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
“It’s a perfect getaway for your outdoors and wildlife adventures in Borneo! Start with some white sand beaches only a few miles away from the city, hike through the lush green jungle on the Manukan Island, get on a boat trip in wild lush nature of Klias River and continue to Sepilok orangutan centre.”
By Ivana, Nomad is Beautiful
North Borneo Railway
Fall in love with the nostalgia of British North Borneo aboard the North Borneo Railway. Travelling from Tanjung Aru, the train takes you through Kinarut before arriving in Sabah, Papar. The journey takes you past sprawling paddy fields, traditional village homes on stilts and buffaloes ambling in the distance. Lunch is provided on board in the form of a Tiffin style lunch of Asian and Continental cuisine. The 1900s steam train is made up of five Colonial-style passenger carriages which hold up to 180 people.
Price: Tickets per adult are 318.00MYR and 159.00MYR per child
Opening Times: There are just two departure trains each week on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 10.00 from Tanjung Aru, boarding time for the train is at 09.30
Address: 1 Sutera Harbour Boulevard | Level 2, The Magellan Sutera Resort, Sutera Harbour, Kota Kinabalu 88100, Malaysia
Shopping in London
Shopping in Kota Kinabalu can be a rare treat, whether you like tracking down bargains at the local markets or spending an afternoon with a personal shopper, Kota Kinabalu has something for every budget. Imago Shopping Mall (KK Times Square Phase 2 | Off Coastal Highway) opened in March 2015 and is a high-end shopping mall featuring all the famous brands. The mall houses over 300 shops which sell goods from clothing and shoes to technology and gadgets to the most delicious food. There is also a concierge service for a personal shopping experience.
Suria Sabah (Jalan Tun Fuad Stephens) is the original shopping mall in Kota Kinabalu and houses some of the more affordable brands. Famed for its high tech technology and gadget stores the mall is also best known for its GSC Cinemas.
For a more traditional shopping experience, Gaya Street Sunday Market (Gaya Street, Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia) has been open for more than 100 years. The old wooden shops with Nipah Roofs are long gone but generations of family still trade here, passing down their business from parent to child. You can buy everything you can think of here, from batik sarongs, fruits and flowers, arts and craft, footwear, antiques and souvenirs, cakes, even pets and herbs. Opening hours are Sunday from 6.00 to 13.00.
“Kota Kinabalu is a coastal vibrant city and one should not miss the opportunity to visit the Filipino Market located by the local outdoor food market in town. And twenty minutes out from KK City by boat, you will be mesmerized by the crystal clear waters on several islands suitable for day trips. Don’t forget to ask about the new floating pontoon and Coral Flyer, the longest island to island zip line in the world.”
By David, Malaysia Asia
Where to Eat in Kota Kinabalu
Kota Kinabalu has a wide selection of restaurants and street food vendors offering cuisine from all ends of the globe. For dinner we recommend the Sunset Bar at Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort and Spa (20 Jalan Aru, Tanjung Aru); it is one of the pricier places to eat but has a romantic and relaxed atmosphere with one of the best views in the city.
For a spot of no nonsense Italian food, visit Little Italy (Jln Haji Saman), where the food has won numerous customer satisfaction awards. If Italian food isn’t your thing, then don’t worry, they also serve Russian and Mandarin food. If you’d rather dine in a laid back café than something fancy, Chilli Vanilla (35, Jalan Haji Saman) is the place for you. They offer vegan and gluten free options and have a cake menu that’ll leave you wanting more than a slice. Their relaxed atmosphere is a favourite amongst travellers and locals.
One of the best ways to find the nicest restaurants is to ask your hotel concierge or some of the locals where they like to eat. You may stumble upon a hidden treasure that you wouldn’t have otherwise found.
Nightlife in Kota Kinabalu
Image Source: Simon Doggett
From night clubs to bars and cafes, Kota Kinabalu has a lot to offer for the night time activities. The biggest and best nightclub is B.E.D Best Entertainment Destination (The Waterfront, Jalan Tun Fuad Stephen) which is best known for its live music and DJ’s. On weekends the dance floor is packed with partygoers who keep dancing until late into the night. Opening Hours are 18.00 until late night.
Another great spot for dancing the night away is The Loft; this spot is set over two floors and finished with a modern design. Downstairs you will find large TVs where sporting events are shown. The Loft also has a stage for live performances and upstairs you will find the outside area which is perfect for watching the sunsets. The Loft serves a selection of draft beers, cocktails and liquor by the glass or bottle.
For something a little more relaxed, El Centro (32 Jln Haji Saman) is popular among locals and travellers due to its laid back, non-smoking atmosphere. The food here is good if you fancy a snack whilst you drink and if you’re lucky, you may stop by on a quiz night, costume party or when a live band is playing.
Top Tips for Your Trip to Kota Kinabalu
- The climate in Kota Kinabalu is mostly hot and sunny but at times there can be unpredictable scattered rains, so always just pack a raincoat or an umbrella on your day trips just in case.
- Kota Kinabalu has a very laid back attitude so turn your holiday mode on and go with the flow, patience is key, especially in restaurants.
- If you are exploring the lowland jungles be weary of leeches, they aren’t dangerous but can be unpleasant, so either buy ‘leech socks’, or keep you’re your trousers tucked into your boots or socks.
Hotels in Kota Kinabalu
Luxury Hotels in Kota Kinabalu
Hotels in Kota Kinabalu can be luxurious no matter what your budget, but if you want to stay in five star luxury on your holiday then the finest hotel in KK is the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort and Spa. The hotel has its very own 18-hole golf course and a nature reserve to enjoy on your stay. The hotel has a very long list of amenities such as a kids club, convenience store, café, hotel transportation, laundry service and more. The Sunset Bar at the Shangri-La Rasa Ria Resort and Spa is one of the most popular bars in Kota Kinabalu due to its relaxed atmosphere and stunning views.
Other fantastic five star hotels in Kota Kinabalu include Bunga Raya Island Resort Spa where breakfast is made to order each morning and along with the outdoor pool, the hotel has two spa pools. The Pacific Sutera Hotel is great for golf lovers with their 27-hole green, there are also three outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts and its own private beach. Prices range from 1,000 to 1,112 MYR per night.
“Kota Kinabalu is home to one of the most amazing sights in the world – Mount Kinabalu. You shouldn’t leave KK without scaling the mountain. However, if you preferred more sedated activities, just book a hotel with a view of the peak and enjoy it from the comfort of your room. “
By Kimberly Low
Mid-Range Hotels in Kota Kinabalu
If you’d prefer something a little more reasonably priced, Kota Kinabalu offers a wide choice of more affordable hotels. Avangio Hotel Kota Kinbulua is a beautiful four star hotel which offers outdoor pools, a fitness centre, free Wi-Fi and three on site bars. Nearby attractions include the Puh Toi Si Chinese Temple and the Likas Stadium.
Another good mid-range hotel in Kota Kinabalu is the Horizon Hotel, from this hotel you are only 0.2km from the Atkinson Clock Tower or the Kota Kinabalu Plaza. The Horizon Hotel offers two restaurants on their site, along with a full service spa and an outdoor pool with poolside bar. Wi-Fi is free to guests.
Other hotels you may like to try are the Grandis Hotel which is situated just 0.2km from the Suria Sabah shopping mall or the Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu which is close to the Filipino Market. Prices range from 261 to 506MYR per night.
Budget Hotels in Kota Kinabalu
For the lower end of the budget there are also some hotels in Kota Kinabalu that will provide more than enough comfort. Hotel Sixty3 is located just 0.2km from Gaya Street Sunday Market and has amenities such as free Wi-fi and a dry cleaning/laundry service. All rooms include coffee makers and hairdryers to make you feel a little more at home.
Other options for the lower budget are Hotel Capital which is on the doorstep of the Suria Sabah Shopping Mall and the Gaya Street Sunday Market. Hotel amenities include free Wi-Fi, bottled water and room service. Kasih Sayang Health Resort is within close proximity to the Mari Mari Cultural Village and breakfast is included with your stay. The hotel has its own restaurant and includes free Wi-Fi and airport transportation. Prices range from 163 to 225MYR per night.
For more hotels, explore our hotels in Kota Kinabalu today.
Getting Around in Kota Kinabalu
Image Source: EurovisionNim
Taxis to the centre of Kota Kinabalu from the airport are the best form of transport as they are the most convenient. The taxis do not run on metres so can be a little pricey; make sure to agree on a price before getting in. Once you’re in the city, it is just 3km long so walking is the best way to get around as it is basically a grid system.
The days can be quite hot, so be sure to carry an umbrella with you to shade you from the sun whilst you walk. If you don’t fancy walking to and from the attractions, hiring a car or scooter is the best alternative as the local buses can be overcrowded and do not have air conditioning.
To make sure you get to see all of the things to do in Kota Kinabalu, check with your hotel concierge to see what excursions your hotel offers.
Fun Facts About Kota Kinabalu
- When greeting or simply asking a question to a stranger it’s a common courtesy and friendly to use the word “boss”, such as “Excuse me boss, where’s the entry”
- The “Land Below The Wind” is a common reference to Sabah which originated from a phrase used by seafarers to describe lands south of the typhoon belt.
- K.K is what Kota Kinabalu is often known as within Malaysia and Internationally.
Best Time to Visit Kota Kinabalu
Best Time to Visit Kota Kinabalu
Image Source: NepGrower
Temperatures in Kota Kinabalu stay between 25-32° C all year round, but can be quite humid. The city escapes most of the storms so can be visited all year round, but they do have a wet season typically in October-March. If you’re staying close to the mountains, be sure to pack some layers for the evening as temperatures have been known to drop below freezing at night.
The best time to visit is May-September; trees are fruiting at this time so you may be lucky enough to spot Orang-utans grazing close to the ground.