Tip: Melaka, in Malaysia, is sometimes spelled 'Malacca'.

Reputation: Lots of old Portuguese, Dutch and English history. 

Why you should go: great food and a laid-back atmosphere. A nice change from the hectic pace of Kuala Lumpur. Lots of nooks and crannies to explore. Did we mention the food?

A quick note bout accessibility in Melaka: Melaka is full of uneven footpaths, no footpaths, steps, crazy-wider gutters and other hazards that can make it tricky to get around if you have a pushchair or use a mobility device. So plan your route carefully and take your time.

Everything's free unless stated.

Take part in a national pastime: eating

Every Malaysian will tell you with pride that eating is a national pastime, which is okay with us. You’ll find loads of restaurants of every description in Chinatown. Our favourite is Nancy's Kitchen which serves dishes that combine Malay and Chinese food. This style of food, called Peranakan , is only found in the ‘Straits’ settlements: Melaka, Penang and, with less frequency these days, Singapore, and is seriously delicious.

Another local specialty is satay celup, food on sticks cooked in boiling satay sauce at your table. It's really good and kinda fun. Be prepared to queue at the really good places but it's worth it.

Also try the laksa soup, popiah (like unfried spring rolls) and chicken rice balls.

Follow your nose around Chinatown and eat like a king. If you’ve been travelling for a while and fancy something you’re used to eating at home, Chinatown has a few western-style coffee shops too. Oh, and a Hard Rock Café. You can decide if that's a good thing.

Explore Chinatown

Melaka is easy to cover on foot and Chinatown, with its traditional shop-houses and homes, is a great place to explore. We also recommend staying here (there are lots of great little hotels) and eating here. Check out the nooks and crannies of the narrow lanes for little shops, museums and tasty places to eat. Plus, there's a night market most evenings.

One of the places we like is the Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum at 48 and 50 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock*. See how the other half lived when Melaka was still an important trading port. You’ll need to join a tour but they’re not painful. An entry fee applies. Note that you must remove your shoes for the tour.

For a contrast, head to No 8 Heeren Street Heritage Centre at 8 Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock*, which shows a more modest version of life.

Cheng Hoon Teng on Jalan Tukang Emas is Malaysia’s oldest functioning temple. There’s been a temple here since 1645 and the current building dates from the 19th century. Have a look around but be mindful of worshippers.

One of our favourite shops is The Orangutan House on Lorong Hang Jebat for great t-shirts and art. It seemed to be open every time we walked past, regardless of the time of day.

* Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock used to be called Heeren Street and is sometimes still referred to by its old name.

Enjoy the views

You'll get great views over Melaka and out to the Straits of Melaka from the top of St Paul's Hill in the middle of town. The Straits, the stretch of water between Malaysia and Indonesia, was one of the most pirate-infested seas back in the day. Modern-day pirates are still known to prey on smaller vessels.

It's a short but hot climb so take a bottle of water. There's usually a nice breeze at the top.

FYI, the old church at the top of the hill is St Paul’s, which was built by the Portuguese and dates back to 1521. The sea used to lap at the bottom of the hill, which shows just how much land has been reclaimed.

Get your disco on

If you want to see Melaka in the most conspicuous way possible, hire one of the brightly-decorated trishaws that cluster around Dutch Square and the bottom of St Paul's Hill. This is best done at night to get the full effect. You’ll be seen from the moon, we promise. Haggle hard over the price.

Explore the river

A series of walkways run along the river heading inland and here you’ll find great street art and cafes. Take a stroll and check it out.

Or you can jump on a river cruise boat and see the sites without battling the heat. Cruises take about an hour and depart from Jalan Merdeka just down from Dutch Square or, on the other side of town, from the intersection of Jalan Tun Mutahir and Jalan Pengkalan. A fee applies.

If you check out the old European stuff just once…

Take a walk through Dutch Square. You're bound to go passed at some stage so you may as well pause for a look.

The red Stadthuys building was originally the city hall and now houses the History and Ethnography Museum. The other equally red building is Christ Church. Both were built by the Dutch and apparently, the Studthuys is the oldest surviving Dutch building in Asia. The English used these buildings too, and they're at the base of the hill where the Portuguese first set up shop, so you've just covered all the European colonisers in one swoop. An entry fee applies to the History and Ethnography Museum.

Where to stay

Courtyard@Heeren is a gorgeous boutique hotel with loads of character. It’s located in a series of old shop-houses in Chinatown. The rooms are really comfortable although many don’t have windows facing outside. This is not such a bad thing as it ensures a dark, quiet sleep. You’ll find Courtyard@Heeren on Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock* in Old Chinatown.

* Jalan Tun Tan Cheng Lock used to be called Heeren Street and is sometimes still referred to by its old name.


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Contributors: Ann-Marie Nansett, Michael Nansett

Updated 8 August 2016.