What to do in Kota Kinabalu

With its lush rainforests, beautiful beaches and bustling city life, Kota Kinabalu has a lot to offer. From island holidays to mountain climbing, check out five things you can do while you’re in Sabah’s capital:

Island hopping

A 20-minute boat ride from Kota Kinabalu lies the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, a cluster of five islands: Gaya, Sapi, Manukan, Mamutik and Sulug, the first two of which are the most popular.

Despite being one of the smaller islands in the park, Pulau Sapi has one of the most popular beaches. It’s a public beach with changing rooms, gear rental shops and a cafe, so find yourself some shelter and you can dive straight in. There’s a sizeable area off the white sandy beach cordoned off for snorkelling.

For something a little more thrilling, take a short boat ride across to Pulau Gaya and zipline 250m above the waters over to Sapi. Known as the Coral Flyer, it’s the longest island to island zipline in the world and you’ll be airborne for around 40 seconds!

Visit local attractions

For an introduction to Sabah’s various tribes and cultures, the Heritage Village on the Sabah Museum grounds is the place to visit. One of the largest houses on the plot is the Murut longhouse where you’ll also find the traditional bamboo trampoline known as the “lansaran”. Guests are allowed to get on it, so get a group of friends and see if you can spin the wooden bird flying above!

A little outside Kota Kinabalu city, prepare to have your mind blown by the first Upside Down House in Malaysia along with the mind-bending 3D Wonders Museum. Where everything is turned on its head and optical illusions rule, here’s where you can take crazy pictures to confuse your friends and family back home!

Apart from that, if you find yourself in Kota Kinabalu on Sunday, don’t miss out on the lively Gaya Street Sunday Market where you’ll find anything from fresh produce to arts and crafts and everything in between.


If you’re a foodie, you’ll know there’s no better way to get to know a new city than through its food, and you’re in luck! Kota Kinabalu has everything from street food to hawker favourites to cafes and more.

But the very first thing that should be on your list is seafood. Its strategic location next to the sea means Sabah’s seafood is fresh and affordable. Be it Chinese-style dishes or street-side grilling, chow down on as much seafood as you can. If you can’t get enough, it’s totally normal to pack and freeze some back with you. You can have the frozen packages sent to the airport or buy them at the terminal itself – it’s that popular!

Explore the rainforest

Located a two-hour ride away from the city, Kinabalu Park is one of the first national parks established in Malaysia and a Unesco World Heritage Site. The park is where you’ll find Mount Kinabalu, the highest mountain on Borneo and in Malaysia at 13,438 feet.

Other than climbing the mountain, visitors can also explore the surrounding rainforest which is home to thousands of species of flora and fauna. If you’re in luck, you might even find the largest flower in the world, the rafflesia, in bloom.

Catch the sunset

While many climb Mount Kinabalu to catch the sunrise over the peaks, Kota Kinabalu’s sunsets are not to be missed either. It was even listed as one of the best sunsets in the world by the Huffington Post.

We loved enjoying a cuppa at Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu’s exclusive club lounge as we watched the sun tinge the sky in pretty shades of orange, pink and purple before sinking below the horizon.

Otherwise, you can settle in with a cold pint at any one of the bars on the waterfront or pack a picnic and watch it from the beach. Either way, add watching the sunset to your must-do list!


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