Kuala Lumpur heritage sites: an historic tour of Malaysia’s bustling capital

KL’s long and colourful history has left a legacy of heritage sites which bear the stamp of various foreign influences. The main heritage zones in the city are Merdeka Square, Market Square, Chinatown (Petaling Street) and Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.

Merdeka Square


Dataran Merdeka or Merdeka Square is the perfect starting point to dive into the city’s heritage sites. The Union Jack was lowered here on 31 August 1957 marking Malaysia’s independence from colonial rule. Hence the name Merdeka, which means “Independence” in Malay. A 100 metre-high flagpole, said to be one of the tallest in the world, proudly flies the Malaysian flag. The Square used to be the focal point of Kuala Lumpur and the field here was the venue for police parades and cricket matches. Today it is beautifully landscaped area with gardens, terraces and fountains. Merdeka Square is still an important venue for national events such as National Day celebrations and street parades.

Royal Selangor Club


Adjacent to Dataram Merdeka is the Royal Selangor Club, a charming mock-Tudor structure. It was founded in 1884 as a small plank building with thatched roof, serving as a social and cricket club for the growing expatriate community. In the colonial days the club was dubbed “The spotted Dog”, a nickname that is said to originate from the Police Commissioner’s black and white dalmations which accompanied his wife to the club. The club was rebuilt to its present form in 1979 after a fire razed the building in 1970.


Sultan Abdul Samad Building


This spectacular edifice, built in 1897, was named after the State Ruler and served as the government administration building during the British era. Boasting a Mahometan or Neo-Saracenic style, the building is constructed entirely of brick. It was the largest building of its day and was said to be the finest in the Malay states. The stately structure consists of an imposing porch, graceful horseshoe-shaped arches, shiny copper domes and a 41.2-metre-high clock tower. In the night, when illuminate, it becomes even more stunning.

Pasar Seni (Central Market)


This building, designed by architect and engineer TY Lee, is a fine example of Art Deco styles of the 1930s. Central Market used to be the town’s wholesale and retail wet market for fresh produce. It was renovated and reopened in 1986, and it was the first example of a heritage building being adapted for a different use. It is now a leading crafts centre in the city.


Jalan Hang Kasturi Shophouses

Just a short walk from the Central Market, Jalan Hang Kasturi used to be the spot for provisions such as dried fish and preserved vegetables. Many of the dried goods stores here can still be found today. The pre-war shophouses are mostly of Neo-Classical style.

Medan Pasar (Market Square)


Situated between Lebuh Pasar Besar and Lebuh Ampang, Market Square refers to the spot once owned by Yap Ah Loy, head of the Chinese community. The three-storey shophouses here are examples of ornate Neo-Classical designs, as characterised by the decorative plaster garlands, roof-top gables and balustrades.


Lebuh Ampang


This bustling street was the traditional preserve of the Chettiars, the South Indian moneylenders who were an economic force in the early days. The glazed ceramic tiles, peacock designs, traditional low benches and chests are some of the distinctive features of this community. Today, the street is still predominantly occupied by Indian traders, with restaurants, textile shops and sundry stores.


Jalan Tun H.S. Lee

Formerly known as High Street, the stretch of shophouses here are some of the oldest, dating back to the mid-1880s. It has a strong Chinese influence. This was one of the early streets in which the shophouses were rebuilt in brick and tiles. A unique feature here is that the five-foot ways are lower than the surface of the road.

Chinatown (Petaling Street)


KL’s Chinatown is a bustling and colourful street of shops, restaurants and hawker stalls. Aside from the popular shopping district of Petaling Street, the nearby buildings, clan houses and temples contain evidences of the city’s built heritage. Among them are the Lee Rubber Building, Kwong Siew Association, Old High Street Police Station, Police Sikh Temple, Old China Cafe, Old Victoria Institution and Sri Maha Mariamman Temple.

Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman

Originally known as Batu Road, this road is now named after the first King of Malaysia. The buildings here reflect the changing trends in architectural design, and provide clues as to the period of their construction, including the Utilitarian, Neo-Classical and Art Deco traditions. Noteworthy buildings in this zone include Masjid India, PH Hendry Building, Coliseum Cinema, Coliseum Cafe, and Rex and Tivoli Hotels.

KL Railway Station


This exquisite building in the heart of the city was the hub for the nation’s rail transportation system before the modern KL Sentral Station was built. Its Moorish architecture with graceful arches and minarets makes it one of the city’s most photographed landmarks. Equally impressive is the Malayan Railway (KTM) Headquarters overlooking the railway station.


Malaysia Tourism Centre (MATIC)

This building was constructed in 1935 as a family residence by Eu Tong Seng, a wealthy tin miner and rubber estate tycoon. During the war, it served as the military base of the British army and as the headquarters of the Japanese army. The building has been the venue of numerous significant occasions, including the first sitting of Malaysia’s Parliament and the installation ceremonies of several kings of the country.

The Heritage Centre

The Heritage Centre is owned by Badan Warisan Malaysia or the Heritage of Malaysia Trust which promotes conservation and preservation of the nation’s heritage buildings. This centre offers an insight into Malaysia’s built heritage through exhibitions and seminars. Within its grounds is the Rumah Penghulu Abu Seman, a fine example of a traditional Malay house. Originally the residence of a local headman, it was restored and transported from the northern state of Kedah. The house showcases intricate carvings, as well as furniture and artifacts dating back to 1930.

Little India at Brickfields

Little India at Brickfields is a bustling and vibrant township situated minutes away from KL Sentral, the city’s transportation hub. Decorated with ornate lamp posts and a beautiful fountain, this township features age old landmarks and beautiful places of worship. Visitors can take in the charm of Little India by browsing through the rows of stalls selling beautiful garlands, selecting accessories and souvenirs or savouring tasty Indian food at the restaurants.


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