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George Town, Penang

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George Town
City and State Capital
Other transcription(s)
 • Malay Tanjung Penaga
 • Chinese 乔治市 (Simplified)
喬治市 (Traditional)
 • Tamil ஜோர்ஜ் டவுன்
Clockwise from top: Skyline of George Town, Queen Victoria Memorial Clock Tower, Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion, Eastern & Oriental Hotel, St. George's Church, skyscrapers at Gurney Drive
Flag of George Town
Official seal of George Town
Nickname(s): Pearl of the Orient[1]
Motto(s): Leading We Serve
(Malay: Memimpin Sambil Berkhidmat)
George Town is located in Penang
George Town
George Town
George Town is located in Peninsular Malaysia
George Town
George Town
Coordinates: 5°24′52.2″N 100°19′45.12″E / 5.414500°N 100.3292000°E / 5.414500; 100.3292000Coordinates: 5°24′52.2″N 100°19′45.12″E / 5.414500°N 100.3292000°E / 5.414500; 100.3292000
Country  Malaysia
State  Penang
Administrative Areas
Founded 11 August 1786
Incorporated 1857
British crown colony 1 April 1867 - 31 August 1957
Japanese occupation 19 December 1941 - 3 September 1945
Granted city status 1 January 1957[2]
 • Local government Penang Island City Council
 • Mayor of Penang Island Maimunah Mohd Sharif
 • City and State Capital 305.77 km2 (118.06 sq mi)
 • Metro 2,563.15 km2 (989.64 sq mi)
Elevation[4] 14 m (46 ft)
Population (2010)[5]
 • City and State Capital 708,127 (2nd)
 • Density 2,372/km2 (6,140/sq mi)
 • Metro 2,412,616 (2nd)
Time zone MST (UTC+8)
 • Summer (DST) Not observed (UTC)
Postal code

100xx to 108xx

111xx to 118xx
Area code(s) +604
Vehicle registration P
UNESCO World Heritage Site
Part of Melaka and George Town, Historic Cities of the Straits of Malacca
Criteria Cultural: ii, iii, iv
Reference 1223-002
Inscription 2008 (32nd Session)
Area 109.38 ha
Buffer zone 150.04 ha

George Town, the capital city of the Malaysian state of Penang, is located at the northeastern tip of Penang Island. It is Malaysia's second largest city, with 708,127 inhabitants as of 2010, while Greater Penang is the nation's second most populous conurbation with an estimated population of 2.5 million.[6][7][8][9] The historical core of George Town has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008.[10]

Established as an entrepôt by Francis Light of the British East India Company in 1786, George Town was one of the first British settlements in Southeast Asia. Together with Singapore and Malacca, George Town was governed under the Straits Settlements, which became a British crown colony in 1867. It was subjugated by Japan during World War II, before being recaptured by the British at war's end. Shortly before Malaya attained independence from the United Kingdom in 1957, George Town was declared a city by Queen Elizabeth II, making it the first city in the country's modern history.

Due to the intermingling of the various ethnicities and religions that arrived on its shores, George Town acquired a large eclectic assortment of colonial and Asian architectural styles.[11] It also gained a reputation as Malaysia's gastronomic capital for its distinct and ubiquitous street food.[12][13][14][15] Moreover, the city hosts unique cultural heritage, such as the Peranakans, a hybrid ethnicity which has left its mark on Penang's architecture and cuisine.

Today, George Town is Malaysia's most vital medical tourism hub, receiving approximately half of Malaysia's medical tourists.[16][17][18] The city, home to numerous Malaysian and international banks, has evolved into the financial centre of northern Malaysia. In addition, George Town is logistically well-connected; the Penang International Airport to the south links it with several major regional cities, while a ferry service and the Penang Bridge connects the city with the rest of Peninsular Malaysia. The Port of Penang still links George Town with over 200 ports worldwide and has brought about a thriving cruise tourism industry.[19][20][21]


Historical Affiliations Period
Kedah Sultanate 1136–1786
British East India Company 1786–1867
Straits Settlements Straits Settlements 1826–1941; 1945–1946
Empire of Japan Empire of Japan 1941–1945
Malayan Union Malayan Union 1946–1948
Federation of Malaya Federation of Malaya 1948–1963
Malaysia Malaysia 1963–Present


George Town was named after King George III, who ruled the British Empire from 1760 until 1801.
A bronze statue of Francis Light stands within Fort Cornwallis.
Fort Cornwallis was built in 1786 to protect Penang Island from amphibious invasion.

In the 1770s, the British East India Company instructed Francis Light to form trade relations in the Malay Peninsula.[22][23] Light subsequently landed in Kedah, a Siamese vassal state threatened by both Siam and Burma, as well as an internal Bugis revolt.[22][24] Aware of this situation, Light formed friendly relations with the then Sultan of Kedah, Sultan Abdullah Mukarram Shah, and promised British military protection, while the Sultan reciprocally offered Penang Island, then part of Kedah.[22][23]

However, nothing materialised until 1786, when by that point the British were fighting the Thirteen American Colonies, which were backed by France and the Netherlands.[22] Faced with the Dutch dominance of the East Indies (now Indonesia) and a growing French threat, Light was ordered to obtain Penang Island from Kedah. The British East India Company sought control of Penang Island as a Royal Navy repair base and a trading post between China and the Indian subcontinent.[23]

Light negotiated with Sultan Abdullah regarding the cession of Penang Island to the British East India Company in exchange for British military aid.[22][23] After an agreement was signed between Light and the Kedah Sultan, Light and his entourage sailed on to Penang Island, where they arrived on 17 July 1786.[25][26] Fort Cornwallis would later be erected at the spot where Light first set foot.

The area where Light first landed, which is now the Esplanade, was originally a swamp covered in thick jungle.[22][23] Once the area was cleared, a simple ceremony was held on 11 August, during which the Union Jack was raised. This signified the formal possession of the island by the British East India Company in the name of King George III.[27] Penang Island was renamed the Prince of Wales Island after the heir to the British throne, while the new settlement of George Town was created in honour of King George III.

Light developed George Town as a free port, thus allowing merchants to trade without having to pay any form of tax or duties. In effect, this measure was intended to entice traders from the Dutch ports in the region.[28] The number of incoming vessels rose from 85 in 1786 to 3,569 in 1802; George Town's population had also increased to 10,000 by 1792.[29][30][31]

A 1799 map of George Town.

In its early years, George Town was developed in a haphazard fashion, as buildings and streets were created on an ad hoc basis.[32][33] The new settlement was originally bounded by four streets - Light Street, Beach Street, Chulia Street and Pitt Street.[34] The segregation of George Town's commercial and administrative centres, as well as ethnic enclaves, can still be seen to this day; the city's main Central Business District is centred around Beach Street, whereas Light Street functions as an administrative and judicial precinct.[35]

A committee of assessors was established in 1800. It was the first local council to be established in British Malaya.[36] Meanwhile, the establishment of the Supreme Court at Fort Cornwallis in 1808 also marked the birth of Malaysia's modern judiciary.[37][38]

Colonial era

Panoramic view of George Town from the sea, drawn in 1811.
The Port of Penang at Weld Quay in the 1910s.
Sun Yat-sen Museum, one of the typical Peranakan townhouses in the city, was where Sun plotted his plans against the Qing dynasty.

In the early 19th century, Penang Island became a centre of spice production within Southeast Asia. Spices such as nutmeg, clove and pepper, produced from the spice farms throughout the island, were exported via the Port of Penang in George Town.[39][40] The spice trade also allowed the British East India Company to cover the administrative costs of Penang.

In 1826, George Town was made the capital of the Straits Settlements, an administrative polity that was also composed of Singapore and Malacca. However, the capital was then shifted to Singapore in 1832, as the Port of Singapore, more strategically located along the India-China maritime route, had already surpassed George Town as the preeminent harbour in the region.[41]

Nonetheless, George Town retained its importance as a vital British entrepôt.[42][43] The opening of the Suez Canal and the advent of steam ships cemented the Port of Penang's role as a vital harbour within British Malaya, a role which was further boosted by the tin mining boom in Perak and southern Siam. The Port of Penang subsequently became a major tin-exporting harbour, directly challenging the Port of Singapore.[44][45] By the end of the 19th century, as mercantile firms and banks, including Standard Chartered and HSBC, flocked into George Town, the city also evolved into a leading financial centre in Malaya.[26][45]

Throughout the 19th century, George Town's population grew rapidly in tandem with the city's economic prosperity. A cosmopolitan, multi-cultural population emerged, comprising Chinese, Malay, Indian, Peranakan, Eurasian, Thai and other ethnicities. However, the population growth also created social problems, such as inadequate sanitation and public health facilities, as well as rampant crime.[46] The latter culminated in the Penang Riots of 1867, during which rival Chinese triads clashed in the streets of George Town.[47][48] The British authorities, assisted by European residents and reinforcements from Singapore, quelled the unrest.[49][50]

Also in the same year, the Straits Settlements was made a British crown colony, thereby placing the administration of Penang, Singapore and Malacca directly under the Colonial Office in London.[51][52] For George Town, direct British rule meant better law enforcement, as Penang's police force was vastly improved and the secret societies that had previously plagued the city were gradually outlawed.[42][53] Greater investments were also made on the city's health care and public transportation.[46][54][55]

With improved access to education, a greater level of participation in municipal affairs by its Asian residents and substantial press freedom, George Town was perceived as being more intellectually receptive than Singapore.[35][42][55] The city became a magnet for well known English authors, Asian intellectuals and reformists, including Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham and Sun Yat-sen.[56][57][58]

World Wars

A 1914 map from the New York Times depicting the Battle of Penang.
The Cenotaph was built in honour of fallen Allied servicemen of World War I.[59]

At the start of World War I in 1914, SMS Emden, an Imperial German Navy cruiser, sank two Allied warships off the coast of George Town, in what would become known as the Battle of Penang. 147 French and Russian sailors lost their lives, while the others were rescued by local Malay fishermen.[60]

World War II, on the other hand, brought unparalleled social and political upheaval to Penang. In early December 1941, Japanese warplanes indiscriminately strafed and bombed George Town, as well as wiping out obsolete Royal Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force squadrons.[61][62] It was estimated that 600 civilians perished as a result of the air raids, with an additional 1,100 wounded.

While the British Army had earlier designated Penang Island as a fortress, Lieutenant-General Arthur Percival then ordered a withdrawal from Penang. Not only did the British Army abandon the Batu Maung Fort south of the city, they also covertly evacuated Penang's European population, leaving the rest of Penang's populace to their fates.[63] Historians have since argued that the withdrawal and the silent evacuation of the white race led to the loss of the British sense of invincibility, and that the moral collapse of British rule in Southeast Asia came not in Singapore, but in Penang.[64]

George Town fell to the Imperial Japanese Army on 19 December 1941, marking the start of a brutal period of Japanese occupation.[61][65] Penang Island was renamed Tojo-to, after the then Japanese Prime Minister Hideki Tojo.[64] This period was renowned for the Imperial Japanese Army's massacres of Penang's Chinese populace, known as Sook Ching to the locals.[66] Women in George Town were also coerced to work as comfort women by the Imperial Japanese Army.[67][68]

George Town's harbour facilities were also put to use as a major U-boat base by Nazi Germany.[69][70] Between 1942 and 1944, the Port of Penang was utilised by submarines of the Imperial Japanese Navy, the Kriegsmarine and the Regia Marina (of the Kingdom of Italy).[71][72][73]

Japanese officials signing the surrender of Penang documents on board HMS Nelson on 2 September 1945.
British Royal Marines liberating George Town on 3 September 1945.

Between 1944 and 1945, Royal Air Force and United States Army Air Force bomber squadrons based in India repeatedly bombed George Town, seeking to destroy the naval facilities and administrative centres.[61] Several colonial buildings were destroyed or damaged, including the Government Offices, St. Xavier's Institution, Hutchings School (now Penang State Museum) and the Penang Secretariat Building.[45] The Penang Strait was also mined to impede Japanese shipping.[74]

Following the Japanese surrender on 15 August 1945, the Penang Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper, published on 21 August the proclamation of surrender issued by the Emperor of Japan. Under Operation Jurist, the British Royal Marines accepted the surrender of the Japanese garrison in Penang and retook Penang Island on 3 September 1945.


After a period of military administration, the British dissolved the Straits Settlements in 1946 and proceeded to merge the crown colonies of Penang and Malacca into the Malayan Union, which was then replaced with the Federation of Malaya in 1948. However, the absorption of the British colony of Penang into Malaya alarmed Penang's population over economic and ethnic concerns.[75] Between 1948 and 1951, the Penang Secessionist Committee was formed to preclude Penang's merger with Malaya, but ultimately petered out due to British disapproval.[76][77][78][79]

Coat of arms of the George Town City Council, inaugurated in 1957.
The Esplanade, where Francis Light had announced the establishment of George Town in 1786, was also the venue of the proclamation of George Town's city status in 1957.[80]

The British government responded to the concerns raised by the secessionists by guaranteeing George Town's free port status, as well as reintroducing municipal elections in George Town in 1951.[76] By 1956, George Town had become the first municipality in the Malayan Federation to have a fully elected local council.

On 1 January 1957, George Town was accorded city status by Queen Elizabeth II, becoming the first city in the Federation of Malaya, and by extension, Malaysia.[81][82][83][84] George Town continued to be the only city within Malaysia (other than Singapore between 1963 and 1965) until 1972, when Kuala Lumpur was granted city status.


Komtar Tower, Penang's tallest skyscraper, was built in the 1970s.

In the following years, George Town retained its free port status, as guaranteed by the British colonial authorities before granting independence to Malaya. This was not to last, however - in 1969, the Malaysian federal government revoked George Town's free port status, sparking massive unemployment in the city.[35][77][85]

This also marked the start of George Town's decline, which lasted up to the early 2000s.[86] As the Malaysian federal government continued to develop Kuala Lumpur and nearby Port Klang by directing investments in communication, transport, education and health, Penang began to suffer considerable brain drain as younger Penangites started emigrating for better employment prospects.[35][87][88]

In a bid to revitalise George Town, the Komtar project was launched in 1974. Hundreds of shophouses, schools and temples, as well as whole streets, were erased from the map in order to make way for the construction of Penang's tallest skyscraper.[35] However, instead of arresting George Town's decline, Komtar itself became a white elephant by the 2000s.[89][90]

In 1974, the George Town City Council was merged with the Penang Island Rural District Council to form the Penang Island Municipal Council, sparking a decades-long debate over George Town's city status.[81][91][92]


The 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami hit the northern coastline of George Town.

The city's decline continued into the early 2000s. In 2001, the Rent Control Act, which had protected the low-income residents and smaller businesses within the city centre from arbitrary rental hikes, was repealed.[35][93][94] Consequently, the historical core of George Town became hollowed out and its colonial-era heritage buildings were left in disrepair, while unscrupulous private developers began demolishing some of the heritage buildings. Meanwhile, an incoherent urban planning policy and poor traffic management led to worsening traffic congestion, while decades of brain drain also took its toll as the city lacked the expertise to regulate urban development and new construction projects.[95][96][97]

In response, George Town's non-governmental organisations started mobilising public support and forming strategic partnerships for the conservation of historic buildings. A media campaign was also initiated in 2004 to restore the city to its former glory.[97][98][99][100] As a result of the widespread resentment over George Town's decline, the federal opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, was voted into power within Penang in the 2008 State Election.[101][102][103][104]

The historic centre of George Town has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2008.

Also in 2008, George Town was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Malacca. It was a recognition of the conservation efforts of the "unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia".[11][105] Subsequent efforts to clean up the city and other measures to improve traffic flow, pedestrianisation, cultural and environmental aspects by the new state government also led to George Town being ranked Asia's 8th most liveable city by ECA International in 2010.[106][107][108] The city's services sector has since been boosted by the private sector and an influx of foreign investors, who have converted shophouses within the UNESCO zone into trendy eateries, hotels and shops.[109][110][111]

The Indian Ocean tsunami which struck on Boxing Day of 2004 hit the western and northern coasts of Penang Island, including George Town, claiming 52 lives (out of 68 in Malaysia).[112]

Whilst George Town had been declared a city by Queen Elizabeth II in 1957, Penang Island as a whole was also granted city status by the Malaysian federal government in 2015.[113]


Satellite view of George Town.

As Penang Island is only slightly more than ​13 the size of Singapore with a population density of 2,372/km2 (6,140/sq mi), George Town has one of the highest population densities of all Malaysian cities.[114][115] Originally a small settlement at the northeastern tip of Penang Island, George Town has expanded in all directions, eventually linking up with the industrial town of Bayan Lepas to the south, and in the process, urbanising the entire eastern coast of the island.

The contiguous hotel and resort belts of Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Bungah and Tanjung Tokong along the northern beaches of Penang Island form the northwestern fringes of George Town.[116][117] The central hills of Penang Island, including Penang Hill, serve as a giant green lung for George Town and an important forested catchment area. While the central hills have somewhat limited the westward urban sprawl, George Town's expansion is more evident southward along the eastern seaboard of Penang Island, creating the suburbs of Jelutong and Gelugor, the latter merging with the northward development of Bayan Lepas.[116][118]

As with most island cities, land scarcity is a pressing issue in George Town. Land reclamation projects have been carried out to provide more low-lying land at high-demand areas, such as at Gurney Drive, Tanjung Tokong and Jelutong.[119][120][121]


Skyline of George Town, as seen from Gurney Drive.
Skyline of George Town at night, as seen from Jelutong.

UNESCO World Heritage Site

Street map of George Town city centre, with the UNESCO World Heritage Site in purple

The oldest portion of the city centre has been designated by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site since 2008.[10] Recognised as having a unique architectural and cultural townscape without parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia, George Town contains one of the largest collections of pre-war buildings in Southeast Asia and is considered an architectural gem.[105][122]

The World Heritage Site covers nearly 260 hectares (640 acres) of the city centre, roughly bounded by Transfer Road to the west and Prangin Road to the south.[123] It is further divided into two - the core and buffer zones. The core zone includes the oldest quarter of George Town, where the most historic landmarks like Fort Cornwallis, City Hall, Penang State Museum and the main Central Business District along Beach Street are located. This particular area dates all the way back to the settlement's establishment by Francis Light in 1786, thereby predating most cities within Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore.

The core zone is surrounded by the buffer zone, which is delineated along George Town's 19th century boundaries.[124] Chinese shophouses, Hindu temples, Indian Muslim mosques and two of the city's oldest wet markets are located within this zone, as are Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and the Eastern & Oriental Hotel.

Among the restrictions in force within both zones is a ban on the construction of any structure exceeding 18 m (59 ft) in height, and that any new building which is located adjacent to a historically important structure must not exceed the height of the latter.[125][126]

Street names

A bilingual road sign at Victoria Street.

Unlike other cities in Malaysia, George Town still retains most of its English street names.[127][128][129] Even for roads that have been renamed in Malay, such as Jalan Masjid Negeri, Penangites in general still prefer to use the road's former colonial name, which in this particular case is Green Lane.[130] This is partly because the new names are often unwieldy (e.g. Pitt Street vs Jalan Masjid Kapitan Keling, Northam Road vs Jalan Sultan Ahmad Shah), but also reflects a strong conservatism in the local population, who see Penang's colonial history as part of their local identity.[131]

In addition, since 2008, multi-lingual road signs have been in use throughout Penang Island. Each of the new road signs shows the street's official Malay name and either the street's English, Chinese, Tamil or Arabic name.[132][133] To this day, George Town is the only city in Peninsular Malaysia to have multi-lingual road signs.


Aerial view of Tanjung Tokong looking towards Gurney Drive.

The expansion of George Town has created suburbs to its northwest, west and south. The northwestern suburbs are somewhat more affluent, given their seafront locations which attract tourists and expatriates.[134][135][136] The southern suburbs, such as Jelutong, grew due to industrial activities.[137] On the other hand, Air Itam and Paya Terubong emerged to the west of George Town as a result of agricultural plantations on the central hills of Penang Island.[138][139]

The suburbs are as follows.

Beaches and seafronts

Gurney Drive also forms part of the city's new Central Business District.[140]

The most popular beaches of George Town are situated along the city's northwestern suburbs, specifically Batu Ferringhi, Tanjung Bungah and Tanjung Tokong. Several hotels and resorts have been established along these locations, including Hard Rock Hotel.

Other than that, the most famous promenades in George Town are Gurney Drive, the Esplanade and Karpal Singh Drive. In particular, Gurney Drive forms part of the city's second Central Business District, and is a shopping haven with two upmarket shopping malls - Gurney Plaza and Gurney Paragon.[140][141]

Land reclamation is currently ongoing off Gurney Drive in a state-led effort to create a major seafront public park, named Gurney Wharf.


Penang Hill forms an imposing backdrop over George Town.

The central hills of Penang Island, situated to the west of George Town, serve as a gigantic green lung and water catchment area for the urbanised island.

Penang Hill, the tallest peak on Penang Island, lies near the centre of the island and west of Air Itam. Rising 833 m (2,733 ft) above sea level, the hill's peak is accessible via the Penang Hill Railway from its base station off Hill Railway Road at Air Itam. Once a retreat used by British officials and Queen Elizabeth II, the peak of Penang Hill is one of Penang's most well-known tourist attractions, with 1.36 million tourist arrivals in 2014.[142][143]


The City Park is also colloquially known as the Youth Park.

The main parks within George Town are the Penang Botanic Gardens, located off Waterfall Road to the west of Pulau Tikus, and the nearby City Park.

Founded in 1884 as an offshoot of the Singapore Botanic Gardens, the Penang Botanic Gardens is Malaysia's oldest botanical garden. Today, it serves as a major recreational area, receiving about 5,000 visitors every weekend.[144] This botanical garden also encompasses Penang's biggest waterfall, which contributes a small amount of George Town's water supply.[145]

The City Park at Quarry Drive, a short distance away from the Penang Botanic Gardens, was officially opened in 1972.[146] This 172-acre (70 ha) urban park now consists of a water park, a skating rink, a children's playground and a street art corner, and has also become a popular place for recreational activities.[147][148]

Several other smaller parks dot the entire city, serving the surrounding neighbourhoods. These include the Armenian Street Park, TPO Friendship Park and Relau Metropolitan Park.[149][150][151]

Drainage system

Major rivers within George Town include the Pinang River, Air Itam River and Gelugor River. The Teluk Bahang and Air Itam dams, along with the Penang Botanic Gardens Waterfall, form a small portion of state land which is set aside as water catchment areas.[145][152]


The city features a tropical rainforest climate, under the Köppen climate classification (Af). George Town experiences relatively consistent temperatures throughout the course of the year, with an average high temperature of about 32 °C (90 °F) and an average low of 21 °C (70 °F).[153] Its driest months are between December and February. The city sees on average about 2,477 millimetres (97.5 in) of precipitation annually with the lowest being 60 mm (2.4 in) in February, while the highest is around 210 mm (8.3 in) between August and October.[154]

George Town's proximity to the island of Sumatra, Indonesia makes it susceptible to dust particles carried by wind from the perennial but transient forest fires, creating a yearly phenomenon known as the Southeast Asian haze.[155] The haze season typically hits between July and October.

Weather forecast in George Town is served by the Penang Meteorological Office in Bayan Lepas, which acts as the primary weather forecast facility for northern Peninsular Malaysia.[156]

Climate data for George Town (Bayan Lepas)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 35.2
Average high °C (°F) 31.6
Daily mean °C (°F) 26.9
Average low °C (°F) 23.2
Record low °C (°F) 19.0
Average rainfall mm (inches) 68.7
Average rainy days (≥ 1.0 mm) 9 9 14 19 19 15 17 18 24 24 22 15 205
Average relative humidity (%) 75 78 81 84 85 84 84 85 86 87 85 78 83
Mean monthly sunshine hours 248.8 233.2 235.3 224.5 203.6 202.4 205.5 188.8 161.0 170.2 182.1 209.0 2,464.4
Source #1: NOAA[157]
Source #2: Deutscher Wetterdienst (extremes and humidity)[158]

Governance and politics

Local government

The City Hall, built in 1903, now serves as the headquarters of the Penang Island City Council.

Local administration of George Town and all of Penang Island is carried out by the Penang Island City Council, which comes under the purview of the Penang state government. This city council has jurisdiction over a municipal area of 305.77 km2 (118.06 sq mi), encompassing the entirety of Penang Island, as well as five offshore islets.[3] With a history dating back to 1800, it is also Malaysia's oldest local authority and the successor to the nation's first city council - the George Town City Council.

Headquartered in the City Hall, the city council is responsible for urban planning, heritage preservation, public health, sanitation, waste management, traffic management, environmental protection, building control, social and economic development, and general maintenance of urban infrastructure. In 2017, George Town was ranked the second cleanest city in Malaysia, after Ipoh.[159]

The Mayor is appointed by the Penang state government every two years, while each of the 24 councillors is appointed for a one-year term.[160] The current Mayor of Penang Island is Maimunah Mohd Sharif, who took office in 2017.[161] Penang-based non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are allocated four of the 24 councillor positions to allow for the participation in the city's policy-making by the local civil societies.[162]

State government

The Komtar Tower houses both state and local government offices, as well as the Office of the Chief Minister of Penang.
The Residency is the official residence of Penang's head of state, the Governor.

As the capital of the State of Penang, George Town is the seat of the Penang state government. The Office of the Chief Minister of Penang is housed within the 28th floor of the Komtar Tower, Penang's tallest skyscraper.[163] Meanwhile, the unicameral Penang State Legislative Assembly convenes inside the State Assembly Building at Light Street. Built in the early 19th century, the building once served as the city's central police station, before being converted for its current use in 1959.[45][164] The Governor of Penang, the head of state, also has his official residence within the city.

In the State Legislative Assembly, George Town is represented by 13 state constituencies. The members of the State Legislative Assembly, known as State Assemblymen, are elected into office via the Penang State Election, which by convention is held simultaneously with the Malaysian General Election every five years.

In addition, the city is represented by four Members of Parliament in the Malaysian Parliament. The Members of Parliament are elected via the Malaysian General Election.

As of 2017, the State Assemblymen and the Members of Parliament representing George Town are as follows.

Map Parliamentary constituency Member of Parliament Party State seat State Assemblyman Party
Northeast Penang Island District electoral constituencies.png Bukit Bendera (P048) Zairil Khir Johari DAP Tanjong Bunga (N22) Teh Yee Cheu DAP
Air Putih (N23) Lim Guan Eng DAP
Kebun Bunga (N24) Cheah Kah Peng PKR
Pulau Tikus (N25) Yap Soo Huey DAP
Tanjong (P049) Ng Wei Aik DAP Padang Kota (N26) Chow Kon Yeow DAP
Pengkalan Kota (N27) Lau Keng Ee DAP
Komtar (N28) Teh Lai Heng DAP
Jelutong (P050) Jeff Ooi Chuan Aun DAP Datok Keramat (N29) Jagdeep Singh Deo DAP
Sungai Pinang (N30) Lim Siew Khim DAP
Batu Lancang (N31) Law Heng Kiang DAP
Bukit Gelugor (P051) Ramkarpal Singh DAP Seri Delima (N32) RSN Rayer DAP
Air Itam (N33) Wong Hon Wai DAP
Paya Terubong (N34) Yeoh Soon Hin DAP


The High Court of Penang, based at Light Street, occupies the top of the hierarchy of Penang courts.

The Malaysian legal system had its roots in George Town. In 1807, a Royal Charter was granted to Penang which provided for the establishment of a Supreme Court. This was followed by the appointment of the first Supreme Court judge designated as the Recorder.

The Supreme Court of Penang (now High Court of Penang) was first opened at Fort Cornwallis on 31 May 1808.[37][38] The first Superior Court Judge in Malaya originated from Penang when Edmond Stanley assumed office as the First Recorder (later, Judge) of the Supreme Court of Penang in 1808. The Supreme Court was then relocated a short distance away to Light Street, where the present building was built in 1903.[164][165]

Today, the Malaysian judiciary has become largely centralised. The courts in George Town consist of the Magistrates, Sessions and the High Court, the latter of which sits at the top of Penang's judicial system. The High Court remains at Light Street to this day, along with the Magistrates and Sessions Court across the street.[166]


Penangites celebrating Songkran in George Town.

By 1792, merely six years after the founding of George Town by Francis Light, the new settlement had a population of about 10,000.[167] In the decades that followed, Chinese immigrants continued to flood into George Town, causing the Chinese population to outnumber the Malays by the 1850s.[7] Based on census figures from the Straits Settlements authorities, George Town's population had soared to 101,182 by 1911.[7][168]

According to the 2010 Census conducted by the Malaysian federal government, George Town had a population of 708,127.[169] More recent estimates from Malaysia's Department of Statistics indicated that 738,500 inhabitants lived within this cosmopolitan city as of 2012.[170] These figures placed George Town as Malaysia's second largest city by population.

In addition, the Greater Penang conurbation, which also covers Seberang Perai (the mainland halve of Penang), and parts of neighbouring Kedah and Perak, was home to 2,412,616 residents as of 2010.[169] Thus, Greater Penang is the most populous metropolitan area in Malaysia outside the Klang Valley (Greater Kuala Lumpur).

Penang is one of the most urbanised Malaysian states, with an urbanisation level of 90.8% as of 2015.[171]


Ethnic composition of George Town (2010)[172]
Ethnicities / Nationality Percentage
Other Bumiputeras
The Pinang Peranakan Mansion houses thousands of Peranakan antiques and showcases its rich architectural heritage.

According to Malaysia's Department of Statistics, George Town is a Chinese-majority city; as of 2010, over 53% of the urban population consisted of ethnic Chinese, including the Peranakans.[172] The Bumiputeras, which include ethnic Malays and East Malaysian indigenous races like the Dayaks and Kadazans, collectively made up almost 31.7% of the city's population.[173][174] Ethnic Indians comprised another 9% of George Town's population. These are in addition to small, but prominent, Eurasian and Siamese minorities.[175] In particular, most of the nearly 1,500 Eurasians remain concentrated at the Pulau Tikus suburb.[176][177]

The Peranakans, descendants of mixed Malay and Chinese ancestries, were once the political and business elites in George Town. Some of the city's most influential associations, such as the Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Penang Straits Chinese British Association, were led by the Peranakans, who also represented Penang in the Straits Settlements Legislative Council.[75] As the Peranakans tended to be more loyal to the British Crown than to China, they were also known as the King's Chinese.[178][179] In spite of Malaysia's ethnic policies that have effectively forced the Peranakans to identify themselves as Chinese, Peranakan culture still thrives in George Town to this day, in the form of Straits Chinese architectural styles and dishes like asam laksa.[180]

George Town currently has a sizeable expatriate population, especially from Singapore, Japan and various Asian countries as well as the United Kingdom, many of whom chose to retire in Penang as part of Malaysia My Second Home programme. In recent years, George Town has been acknowledged as one of the best cities for retirement within Southeast Asia by the likes of CNN and Forbes.[181][182] As of 2010, expatriates made up nearly 6% of George Town's population, reflecting the city's popularity amongst foreigners.[172][183]

The Jewish Cemetery at Jalan Zainal Abidin (formerly Yahudi Road) is believed to be the oldest in Southeast Asia.[40]

The city was also once home to Burmese, Filipino, Sinhalese, Japanese, Sumatran, Arab, Armenian and Persian communities.[184] A small but commercially significant community of German merchants existed in George Town as well, as did a Jewish enclave.[185] Even though most of these other communities, including the Jews, are no longer extant, they lent their legacy to numerous street and place names such as the Dhammikarama Temple, Burmah Road, Armenian Street, Jewish Cemetery and Gottlieb Road.[184][186][187]


As with other multi-ethnic cities in Malaysia, all four major languages are widely spoken in George Town - Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil. However, George Town, and by extension Penang, is best known for its distinct Hokkien dialect, known as Penang Hokkien.

During the British colonial era, English was the official language. This was helped by the mushrooming of missionary schools throughout George Town, all of which used English as their medium of instruction and were held in high esteem by the locals.[188] Most Penangites still maintain reasonable command of the language; while British English is formally used, spoken English usually takes the form of Manglish.[189] Notably, George Town is the only city in Malaysia that retains most of its English street names, as can be seen on the multi-lingual street signs in the city.

As in the rest of Malaysia, Malay is currently the official language in George Town. The Malays of George Town also use a variant of the Kedah Malay dialect, with slight modifications made to the original dialect to suit the conditions of a cosmopolitan city.[190] These modifications include the use of words of Indian origin and the alteration of the final l syllable into i.

Due to their Tamil ancestry, most Indians in George Town speak Tamil. Punjabi and Telugu are also spoken by smaller numbers of Indians.[191][192]

Meanwhile, George Town's Chinese population uses a variety of Chinese dialects, reflective of their forebears' different places of origins in southern China. These include Hakka and Cantonese, while Mandarin, more widely used by youths, has been the medium of instruction in Chinese schools throughout Penang.[193]

However, it is Penang Hokkien that serves as the lingua franca of George Town. Originally a variant of the Minnan dialect, over the centuries, Penang Hokkien has incorporated a large number of loanwords from Malay and English, yet another legacy of the Peranakan culture. It is spoken by many Penangites regardless of race for communication purposes, so much so that even police officers also take courses in Penang Hokkien.[194][195][196] In recent years, there are more efforts to maintain the dialect's relevance in the face of the increasing influence of Mandarin and English among the younger populace, including through books, dictionaries and movies.[197][198]


Residential high-rises now dot the landscape of George Town's suburbs.

As of December 2016, George Town had 218,321 existing housing units, of which over 80% consisted of high-rises, such as condominiums, apartments and lower-cost flats.[199] This alludes to the inherent scarcity of land on Penang Island, which necessitates the construction of high-rise housing. In spite of this, George Town and its suburbs remain the areas of choice for homeowners, due to the closer proximity to workplaces and George Town's various amenities, as well as the city's popularity as a tourist haven.[200][201] Consequently, George Town's population density has risen to 2,372/km2 (6,140/sq mi).[115]

Overall, Penang has an average household size of 3.7 persons.[202]


As the capital city of Penang, one of the most urbanised states in Malaysia, George Town is one of the top contributors of Malaysia's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and tax income; the State of Penang contributed as much as RM7 billion of the nation's tax income in 2014.[203][204][205][206][207] As of 2016, Penang's GDP per capita spiked to RM47,322, the highest among Malaysian states.[208] In the same year, George Town was ranked Malaysia's most attractive destination for commercial property investment by Knight Frank, surpassing even Kuala Lumpur.[209] George Town's popularity amongst foreign investors has also helped Penang to attract the highest level of investments within Malaysia, amounting to RM7.7 billion, or 45% of the total investments within the nation, in the first half of 2017 alone; nearly 81% of that figure were in the form of foreign direct investments.[210]

Originally established as an entrepôt by the British, George Town's economy is now dominated by other tertiary sub-sectors ranging from finance to tourism, whilst newer industries, including entrepreneurial startups, are taking root within the city as well.[211] In addition, George Town serves as the economic pole of northern Malaysia, with relatively wide logistical connectivity.[204] The Penang International Airport is one of the nation's busiest, while the Port of Penang has cemented the city's reputation as a popular destination for cruise shipping.[205][212]


Northam Road, George Town's second Central Business District

George Town was the centre of banking in Malaysia at a time when Kuala Lumpur was still a small outpost. The oldest bank in Malaysia, Standard Chartered (then the Chartered Bank of India, Australia and China) opened its main branch in George Town in 1875 to cater to the financial requirements of early European traders.[26][45][213] This was followed by HSBC (then the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation) in 1885 and the Royal Bank of Scotland (then ABN AMRO) in 1888.[26][45][214]

Today, George Town remains the banking hub of northern Malaysia, with branches of major banks such as Standard Chartered, HSBC, Citibank, UOB, OCBC, Bank of China and Bank Negara Malaysia (Malaysian central bank), together with Malaysian banks such as Public Bank, Maybank, Ambank and CIMB.[215] Most of the older foreign banks still maintain their Penang headquarters at Beach Street, which serves as George Town's main Central Business District.

Since the 1990s, Northam Road, along with Gurney Drive, has evolved into George Town's second Central Business District.[216] Northam Road is now home to a cluster of financial services, with a number of accounting, auditing and insurance firms based along this coastal road.[217] In addition to these, the Employees Provident Fund, run by the Malaysian federal government, operates an office at the road as well.[218]

The financial sector and its related industries, such as insurance, auditing and real estate transactions, accounted for about 13.5% of Penang's economy as of 2010.[204]


A cruise ship at Swettenham Pier, Weld Quay
The Rainbow Skywalk at the top of Komtar Tower, launched in 2016, is the highest outdoor glass footwalk in Malaysia.[219]
The Goddess of Mercy Temple, the oldest Taoist temple in Penang, is one of the major attractions along Pitt Street.

George Town has always been one of the most popular tourist destinations in Malaysia. Throughout history, the city has even welcomed some of the most influential personalities, including Somerset Maugham, Rudyard Kipling, Noël Coward, Lee Kuan Yew and Queen Elizabeth II. As of 2014, Penang attracted 6.84 million tourists.[21]

George Town's various attractions include the impressive array of heritage architecture, its multicultural society, a wide range of modern entertainment and retail choices, natural features such as beaches and verdant hills, and the world-famous Penang cuisine. The city's low cost of living and relatively well-developed infrastructure have also been cited as pull factors.[88]

In recent years, George Town has received numerous international accolades, further putting the city on the world stage. In 2016, George Town was recommended as one of the 16 must-see destinations by the Los Angeles Times, as well as one of the top ten by the Lonely Planet.[15][220] CNN followed suit by listing Penang Island as one of the 17 best places to visit in 2017.[221] Forbes also listed George Town as one of the best budget tourist destinations in 2016, while the Time magazine included Penang in its list of 10 budget-friendly Asian destinations in 2017.[222][223]

These are in addition to George Town's reputation as a gastronomic haven, with CNN placing the city as one of Asia's best street food cities.[12]

Unlike most other Malaysian cities, George Town does not rely only on air transportation for tourist arrivals. Aside from the Penang International Airport, Swettenham Pier, conveniently located within the city centre, has emerged as one of the major tourist entry points into Penang. As of 2014, Swettenham Pier recorded 1.2 million tourist arrivals and attracted some of the world's largest cruise liners, such as the RMS Queen Mary 2.[21] With the number of annual port calls at Swettenham Pier continuing to increase in recent years, it was announced in 2017 that the pier will be expanded in the near future to simultaneously accommodate two mega cruise ships.[224][225]


A row of renovated shophouses in George Town, repainted in vibrant colours.

In recent years, the services sector, driven mainly by tourist arrivals into George Town, has become one of the top economic sectors in Penang. With nearly ​23 of Penang's workforce employed in services-related fields, this particular sector has marginally overtaken manufacturing as Penang's biggest economic sector, contributing 48.6% of Penang's total GDP in 2015.[226]

Within Penang's services sector, the greatest number of employment was recorded in the retail, accommodation, and food and beverages (F&B) sub-sectors, clearly depicting the influence of tourist arrivals on service-related industries.[226] Since the inscription of George Town as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an emerging trend is the acquisition of heritage shophouses within the zone by foreign investors, especially from Singapore and Hong Kong.[109][110][227][111] These shophouses are then refurbished and turned into cafes, restaurants, bars, hotels and shops, further contributing to the city's booming services sector and its nightlife.

In addition to these, a startup community has been growing in the city, including the likes of Piktochart and DeliverEat.[211] Attracted by the city's cheaper living costs and the presence of several multinational technology firms in Penang, the city's startups are also being actively encouraged by the Penang state government and the private sector, with initiatives to encourage entrepreneurship and promote the Internet of Things (IoT).[228][229]

This services sector has also been boosted by firms seeking to establish shared services outsourcing (SSO) operations within or around George Town, including AirAsia, Citigroup, Dell and Temasek Holdings. The SSO sub-sector has raked in a yearly revenue of RM12.79 billion by 2013 and created over 8,000 jobs.[230][231][232]

Medical tourism

An integral part of Penang's services sector is medical tourism, which has made George Town the medical tourism hub of Malaysia. The city has attracted approximately half of Malaysia's medical tourist arrivals in 2013 and generated about 70% of the nation's medical tourism revenue.[17][18][88] About 1,000 patients arrive in George Town daily, mostly from Asian countries such as Indonesia, Singapore and Japan.

The success of George Town's medical tourism industry is mainly due to the specialised medical treatments offered at more affordable costs by the city's numerous private hospitals, coupled with well-trained professionals and advanced equipment.[88] Indirect factors that were cited include the relatively low cost of living and the ease of travel facilitated by the well-developed logistical infrastructure.[17]


Gurney Plaza, one of the more popular shopping malls in George Town.
Shophouses along George Town's Little India sell Indian fabrics and textile, as well as Hindu prayer paraphernalia.

As many as 24% of Penang's workforce are employed in the retail sub-sector, the largest of all economic sub-sectors in Penang.[226] Due to the numerous shopping malls and hypermarkets in George Town, the city is the main shopping hub of northern Malaysia. This is supported by the large number of tourist arrivals, and Penang's well-developed logistical connections and infrastructure, which facilitated the import of goods.

Since 2001, shopping complexes in George Town registered the biggest increases in Malaysia.[233] Correspondingly, many of the shopping malls in George Town, including Gurney Plaza, Gurney Paragon and 1st Avenue, have been launched since that year.

While shopping malls now dominate the retail scene in George Town, many centuries-old shophouses are still operating alongside the city's flea markets and wet markets, such as Chowrasta Market.[233][234] These traditional retail establishments cater more to locally made products, including spices, nutmegs and tau sar pneah, a famous Penang delicacy.


Centuries of development have brought a mix of architectural styles to George Town, both historical and modern. The oldest portion of the city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, while outside the UNESCO zone lies the modern cityscape, with skyscrapers, residential high-rises, office blocks and shopping malls built all over the city.[10][105] In particular, the older architecture reflects the legacy of 171 years of British presence on Penang Island, coalescing Malay, Chinese, Indian, Peranakan, Siamese, Burmese, British and other cultural influences.

Historic architecture

Kapitan Keling Mosque, one of the oldest mosques in the city, was built by Indian Muslims in the early 1800s.
Sri Mahamariamman Temple, with a history dating back to 1801, is the focal point of George Town's Little India.
Wat Chaiyamangkalaram at Pulau Tikus was constructed in 1845 by the city's Siamese.

Most of George Town's famous heritage landmarks, including Fort Cornwallis, the City Hall, the High Court, St. George's Church and the Eastern & Oriental Hotel are located within the UNESCO World Heritage Site.[45] The city's main Central Business District at Beach Street, also within the UNESCO zone, is home to banks built in various Art Deco-based hybrid styles.[26][45][214] Colonial-era bungalows, such as The Residency and Suffolk House, can be found within and outside the city centre.

Aside from colonial European architecture, a huge assortment of Asian architectural styles also exist throughout the city. For instance, the Kapitan Keling Mosque combines Moorish and Mughal architecture, while both the Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion and the Pinang Peranakan Mansion are notable for the mix of Chinese architecture and European interior design.[235] Peranakan townhouses, exemplified by the Sun Yat-sen Museum, dominate the cityscape as well.[236] Meanwhile, Indian architecture is more prominent within the city's Little India, which also contains the Sri Mahamariamman Temple.

In the suburbs, the Siamese and Burmese communities have left their mark too; the Buddhist temples at Pulau Tikus include Wat Chaiyamangkalaram and the Dhammikarama Temple. Another fine example of a hybrid Asian architecture is the Kek Lok Si Temple at Air Itam, which merges Chinese, Siamese and Burmese influences.

Modern architecture

Skyscrapers along Northam Road and Gurney Drive at dusk

Since the mid 20th century, modern urbanisation has transformed much of George Town. Skyscrapers and high-rises have sprung up all over the city, sometimes side-by-side with heritage buildings.

Just south of the UNESCO World Heritage Site stands the Komtar Tower, the tallest skyscraper in Penang at nearly 250 m (820 ft) tall. It forms the core of the modern city centre, surrounded by high-rises like Hotel Jen, St. Giles Wembley Hotel, Neo+ Hotel and Penang Times Square. The second Central Business District at Northam Road and Gurney Drive, which lies along the city's northern shoreline, is also home to some of Penang's tallest skyscrapers, including Setia V, Gurney Paragon and BHL Tower.

With increasing urbanisation, high-rises are also springing up within the suburbs of George Town.[200]



A bowl of asam laksa, Penang's most famous hawker dish. It was ranked 7th in CNN's list of the world's 50 best foods.[237]
Gurney Drive Hawker Centre

George Town, long known as the food capital of Malaysia, is renowned for its good and varied street food, incorporating Malay, Chinese, Indian, Peranakan, Thai and European influences into its literal melting pot.

The city has been recognised as one of Asia's top street food cities by the CNN, as well the top culinary destination in the world by the Lonely Planet in 2014.[12][14] These were in addition to the Time magazine in 2004, which acclaimed Penang as having the best street food in Asia.[238]

The best places to savour Penang cuisine include Gurney Drive, Pulau Tikus, Chulia Street, Kimberley Street, New Lane, New World Park, Penang Road and Air Itam. The more prominent Penang dishes include asam laksa, char kway teow, curry mee, Hokkien mee, nasi kandar, oh chien (fried oyster omelette), rojak and chendol. Certain places throughout George Town are more renowned for particular dishes, such as chendol at Penang Road, Hokkien mee at Pulau Tikus, asam laksa at Air Itam, and char kway teow at Siam Road and Carnavon Street.[239][240][241][242][243][244]

Besides these, several tau sar pneah shops can be found throughout the city, selling delectable bean paste biscuits.[234]

Performance arts

George Town is the birthplace of a unique form of Chingay procession, which began with its first parade in 1919.[43][245] Although Chingay parades are held throughout Malaysia and Singapore, Penang's Chingay is unique in that the balancing of enormous flags on one's forehead or hands is an essential component. It was said that Singapore even copied Penang's Chingay processions in order to spice up its own Chinese New Year festivities.[246] An annual Chingay parade is held in George Town every December, though Chingay performances are also a common feature of Chinese festivities and major state celebrations in Penang.[247]

Bangsawan is a Malay theatre art form (often referred to as the Malay opera) which originated from India, developed in Penang with Indian, Western, Islamic, Chinese and Indonesian influences. It went into decline in the latter decades of the 20th century and is now a dying art form.[248][249] Boria is another traditional dance drama indigenous to Penang, featuring singing accompanied by violin, maracas and tabla.[250]

Chinese opera (usually the Teochew and Hokkien versions) is frequently performed in George Town, often on specially-built platforms, especially during the annual Hungry Ghost Festival.[251][252] There are also puppetry performances, although they are less frequently performed.[253]

There are also two Western orchestras based in George Town - the Penang Philharmonic and the Penang Symphony Orchestra (PSO) - as well as several chamber and school-based musical ensembles.[254][255] Dewan Sri Pinang and Penangpac within Straits Quay are two of the major performing venues in the city.

Street art

One of the dozens of wrought iron caricatures that have been put up within George Town's UNESCO World Heritage Site. This one is located at Cintra Street.
Ernest Zacharevic's Children on a Bicycle, at Armenian Street.

In 2012, as part of the annual George Town Festival, Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic created a series of 6 wall paintings depicting local culture, inhabitants and lifestyles.[256] They now stand as celebrated cultural landmarks of George Town, with Children on a Bicycle becoming one of the most photographed spots in the city.[257]

Since then, the street art scene has blossomed. Cultural centres such as the Hin Bus Depot are now curating exciting exhibitions and inviting international artists to visit and paint murals, building on the existing reputation the city has as a vibrant arts and culture centre.[258] Aside from wall art, several wrought iron caricatures, each depicting a unique aspect of George Town's history and culture, have been installed thorughout the city centre.[259]

The Penang State Museum and Art Gallery is an architectural gem on its own right. It formerly housed the Penang Free School until 1927.


The Penang State Museum and Art Gallery houses relics, photographs, maps, and other artifacts that document the history and culture of Penang.[260] Other museums within the city focus on religious and cultural aspects, as well as famous personalities, including the Penang Islamic Museum, Sun Yat-sen Museum, P. Ramlee's House, Batik Painting Museum and Universiti Sains Malaysia Museum and Gallery.[261][262]

In recent years, private-run museums have sprung up all over George Town, such as the Camera Museum at Muntri Street and Penang Toy Museum at Tanjung Bungah. A handful of newer 3D visual museums have also opened, such as the Made-in-Penang Interactive Museum and the Penang Time Tunnel.[263][264]


Ethnic Indians celebrating Thaipusam in George Town.

George Town's cultural melting pot of various races and religions means that there are a great many celebrations and festivities in any given year. The major cultural and religious festivities in George Town include, but not limited to, the Chinese New Year, Eid ul-Fitri, Deepavali, Thaipusam, Vaisakhi, Christmas, Vesak Day and Songkran.[265][266]

New Year celebrations at Karpal Singh Drive.

The city's expatriates have introduced a host of other celebrations as well. Bon Odori is celebrated yearly at the Esplanade by the Japanese, while St. Patrick's Day and Oktoberfest, traditionally celebrated by the Irish and the Germans respectively, have also been gaining popularity amongst the locals.[267][268][269]

In recent years, the Penang state government has been organising the annual George Town Festival.[270] Held every August, the George Town Festival has grown into one of the most highly anticipated cultural events in Malaysia, with an estimated annual participation of over 200,000 people from all over the world.[271][272]

Another well-known festival is the Penang Hot Air Balloon Fiesta, typically held every February at the Polo Ground.[273][274] This particular festival has attracted Malaysian and international balloonists, such as from Belgium, the Netherlands and the United States.


The City Stadium in George Town was where Mohd Faiz Subri, a Penang FA player, scored the goal that won him the FIFA Puskás Award.
Nicol David, one of the world's top squash players, hailed from George Town.
The SPICE Arena is also a major meetings, incentives, conferencing and exhibitions (MICE) venue in Penang.

George Town has produced some of Malaysia's sporting greats. Nicol David, considered by some to be the world's greatest female squash player of all time, was born in George Town and had trained at Gelugor at a young age.[275] Fellow squash players Low Wee Wern and Ong Beng Hee also hailed from George Town, as is Chan Peng Soon, who won a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics in mixed doubles badminton.

The city also houses relatively well-developed sporting infrastructure. The City Stadium at Dato' Keramat Road is Penang Island's main football stadium, with a capacity of about 25,000.[276][277] The stadium is the home ground of Penang FA, and was where Penang footballer, Mohd Faiz Subri, scored the goal that won him the 2016 FIFA Puskás Award.[278] The SPICE Arena near Relau consists of an indoor stadium and an aquatics centre, while the Nicol David International Squash Centre at Gelugor is a major squash training facility.[279] In addition, the Penang Turf Club, established in 1864, is Malaysia's oldest horse racing and equestrian centre.[232]

The Penang Bridge Marathon is a popular annual event. The full marathon route starts from near Queensbay Mall, then on to the 13.5 km (8.4 mi) length of the Penang Bridge, and finally back to the starting point for the finish.

The national and international sporting events that were held in George Town include the 2000 Sukma Games and the 2013 Women's World Open Squash Championship. In addition, George Town will host the Asia Pacific Masters Games in 2018, the first Malaysian city to be selected to host this regional multi-sports tournament.[280]


George Town is home to some of the oldest schools in Malaysia, making it a pioneer in the country's education system. Under British rule, missionary schools were set up across George Town. They were followed by Chinese schools, some of which are also among the oldest in the nation, thus making George Town the nucleus of Chinese education in Southeast Asia.

More recently, international schools have also been established to cater to the growing expatriate population. These international schools offer primary to secondary education up to A Levels and International Baccalaureate.

In addition, George Town contains a number of private tertiary educational institutions, as well as one of the premier Malaysian public universities - Universiti Sains Malaysia. Aside from these, the city has a handful of language institutions, such as the British Council, Alliance Française and the Malaysian German Society.[281][282][283]

These educational institutions have contributed to George Town's relatively educated populace and led to Penang having the third highest Human Development Index in Malaysia. Overall, Penang had a recorded literacy rate of 98.2% in 2010, and its youth literacy rate rose to 99.5% as of 2014.[284][285]


Penang Free School, the oldest English school in Southeast Asia.

There are a total of 77 primary schools, 38 high schools, three Islamic religious schools, one technical school and one vocational college throughout George Town.[286] The breakdown of these schools is as follows.

Type Total
Primary schools National 30
National-type Chinese 37
National-type Tamil 5
Private 3
Special needs 2
High schools National 31
Private 6
Special needs 1
Islamic 3
Technical/vocational 2

Some of the oldest missionary schools in George Town include the Penang Free School (1816), St. Xavier's Institution (1852), Convent Light Street (1852), St. George's Girls' School (1885) and Methodist Boys' School (1891).[287] These missionary schools have educated generations of Malaysian and Singaporean leaders, politicians, businessmen and other professionals.

The first Chinese school in Southeast Asia was Chung Hwa Confucian School, formed in 1904. Since then, Chinese schools in George Town, such as Chung Ling, Heng Ee and Penang Chinese Girls' High School have maintained their reputation for academic excellence, attracting Chinese students from Indonesia and Thailand, where Chinese education was banned, as well as non-Chinese students.[43][288][289]

Aside from government-run and private schools, the city has seven international schools. Of these, Dalat, Uplands, Tenby, Pelita and Hua Xia offer both primary and secondary education.[290][291] The Penang Japanese School is the only international school in George Town that caters for expatriates of a specific nationality.[292]

Tertiary education

Wawasan Open University, at Northam Road, is a private institution specialising in open-distance learning.

Universiti Sains Malaysia, situated at Gelugor, is one of the premier Malaysian public universities. Established in 1969 as Malaysia's second university, it was originally named Universiti Pulau Pinang (University of Penang).[293] As of 2016, it is ranked 264th in the QS World University Rankings, the fifth highest in Malaysia.

Several private colleges have also been set up across George Town.


Penang Digital Library at Green Lane

George Town contains a total of 12 libraries.[286] Among the libraries in the city are the Penang State Library at Scotland Road and the Penang Digital Library at Green Lane.[301][302] The latter, which was opened by the Penang state government in 2016, is Malaysia's first digital library.[303] The Penang Digital Library currently houses a digitalised collection of more than 3,000 books, magazines and journals, and is accessible by the general public for free.[304][305]

Health care

Penang General Hospital, the oldest and largest hospital in Penang.
Loh Guan Lye Specialist Centre, at Macalister Road, is one of the many private hospitals located within the city.

The numerous public and private hospitals in George Town has helped the city to emerge as the centre of medical tourism in Malaysia. The public health care system first established by the British authorities was supplemented by health care provided by local Chinese philanthropists and Christian missionaries.[40][306]

The Penang General Hospital, administered and funded by the Ministry of Health, is the main public hospital for George Town. Built in 1882, it now also serves as the reference hospital within the northern region of Malaysia.[307] A medical school within the hospital is slated for completion by 2017.

Aside from the Penang General Hospital, there are 31 government-run clinics throughout George Town, supported by 10 private hospitals and 247 private clinics.[308] The private hospitals within the city, in particular, have contributed significantly to Penang's medical tourism sector, catering not only to the locals but also to interstate patients and foreign tourists.[17][18][88][309] The hospitals in George Town are as listed below.

Public hospital Private hospitals

George Town became the first Malaysian city to have public automated external defibrillators (AEDs), with the launch of the first device in Komtar in 2015.[318][319] This initiative by the Penang state government is aimed at increasing the survivability of residents who suffer sudden cardiac arrests.[320] Since then, AEDs have been installed at a number of locations throughout the city, including the Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal, Penang Hill and the City Park.[321][320]



George Town was once the centre of Malaysia's print media. The country's first newspaper – the Prince of Wales Island Gazette – was established in the city in 1806.[322] One of Malaysia's top newspapers in circulation today, The Star, has its origins as a regional daily founded in George Town in the 1970s, while the oldest Chinese newspaper in the country, Kwong Wah Yit Poh, was also founded in the city in 1910.

The mainstream newspapers in George Town include the English dailies The Star, New Straits Times and The Sun; the Malay dailies Berita Harian, Utusan Malaysia, Harian Metro and Kosmo!; the Chinese dailies Kwong Wah Yit Poh, Sin Chew Daily, China Press and Oriental Daily News; and the Tamil dailies Tamil Nesan, Malaysia Nanban and Makkal Osai. The Malay Mail is an English weekly. Nanyang Siang Pau is a Chinese-language financial daily while The Edge is an English-language weekly financial newspaper. All of them are in national circulation.

In 2011, the Chief Minister of Penang, Lim Guan Eng, officiated the launch of the Penang edition of Time Out.[323] This version of the international listings magazine is currently published in three versions: a yearly printed guide, a regularly updated website, and mobile app.[324] The Penang state government also publishes its own multi-lingual newspaper, Buletin Mutiara, which is circulated for free every fortnight. The Penang-centric newspaper focuses on the current issues affecting Penang.


The television stations available in George Town are national broadcaster RTM's TV1 and TV2, and privately owned TV3, NTV7, 8TV and TV9. Programmes are broadcast in Malay, English, Chinese and Tamil. A pay television service, Astro, is also widely in subscription in the city, as it broadcasts international television channels such as CNN International Asia Pacific, BBC World News, Channel News Asia, STAR World, FOX Movies Premium and HBO Asia.

Due to its well-preserved heritage cityscape, George Town served as the filming location for a number of movies, such as Anna and the King, Lust, Caution and You Mean the World to Me, the latter of which is the first movie to be filmed entirely in Penang Hokkien.[325] Singaporean drama series, The Little Nyonya and The Journey: Tumultuous Times, were also shot within the UNESCO zone. In addition, the city was one of the pit-stops of The Amazing Race 16, The Amazing Race Asia 4 and The Amazing Race Asia 5.


The available FM radio stations in George Town, both government (including Penang-based Mutiara FM) and commercial, are as listed below.

Frequency Station Operator Language
87.8 One FM Media Prima Mandarin, Cantonese
88.2 Hot FM Media Prima Malay
89.9 Fly FM Media Prima English
91.0 Mix FM Astro Radio English
92.8 Hitz FM Astro Radio English
93.9 Mutiara FM RTM Malay
94.5 988 FM Star RFM Radio Mandarin, Cantonese
94.9 Klasik FM RTM Malay
96.7 Minnal FM RTM Tamil
97.1 Sinar FM Astro Radio Malay
98.1 Red FM Star RFM Radio English
98.7 TraXX FM RTM English
99.3 THR Raaga Astro Radio Tamil
99.7 My FM Astro Radio Mandarin, Cantonese
101.3 Ai FM RTM Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien
102.4 Suria FM Star RFM Radio Malay
103.6 Era FM Astro Radio Malay
104.4 Lite FM Astro Radio English
107.6 goXuan[326] Astro Radio Mandarin, Cantonese



The Penang Bridge was completed in 1985. It was the longest bridge in Southeast Asia until superseded by the Second Penang Bridge further south in 2014.
Penang Road is one of the busy thoroughfares in the heart of George Town.

Development of George Town's streets and roads is an ongoing process that dates back to the early years of British rule. The city's oldest streets, including Light Street, Beach Street, Chulia Street and Pitt Street, were arranged in a grid pattern.[327] Outside the narrow streets of the city centre, more modern roads link the city centre with the surrounding suburbs such as Tanjung Tokong, Air Itam and Jelutong.

The Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu Expressway runs along the eastern coastline of Penang Island between the city centre and the Penang International Airport, linking both locations with the Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone and the Penang Bridge. The George Town Inner Ring Road and the Penang Middle Ring Road are the two major ring roads around the city centre. Meanwhile, the city proper is also linked with the western parts of Penang Island, such as Balik Pulau, via the pan-island Federal Route 6, a circuitous route that winds along the island's coastline.

The 13.5 km (8.4 mi)-long Penang Bridge, completed in 1985, links George Town with the rest of Peninsular Malaysia.

Public transportation

A trishaw, known locally as beca, at a street in George Town.

George Town was once a pioneer of public transportation in British Malaya. The city's first tram system, then powered by steam, commenced operations in the 1880s.[328][329] While the tram lines have since been disused, another colonial legacy, the trishaw, remains in use throughout the city, albeit catering primarily for tourists.[330][331]

Rapid Penang buses at the Weld Quay Bus Terminal.

Today, buses form the backbone of public transportation within George Town. The sole public bus service provider in George Town is Rapid Penang, which is managed by Prasarana, an entity of the Malaysian federal government. As of 2016, Rapid Penang's fleet of 406 buses plied 56 routes throughout Greater Penang.[332] 30 of these routes were on Penang Island, including free shuttle bus services within the city centre and the Pulau Tikus suburb.[333][334][335] Rapid Penang's daily ridership has also increased to 94,185 in 2016.[336][337] In addition, open-air double deckers, known as Hop-On Hop-Off buses, have been introduced for tourists in the city.[338]

Express long-haul buses linking George Town with the rest of Peninsular Malaysia, Singapore and southern Thailand utilise the Sungai Nibong Bus Terminal, south of the city, as their Penang Island terminus.[339]

The new Penang Hill Railway funicular train, which has been in use since 2011.

The only rail-based transportation system in George Town is the Penang Hill Railway, a funicular railway to the peak of Penang Hill. When completed in 1923, the railway, then utilising Swiss-made coaches, was considered an engineering feat of sorts. It underwent an extensive upgrading in 2010 and was reopened in early 2011.[340]

A LinkBike station near Komtar. Either a smartphone or a smart card is required to rent a bicycle at any of the 25 stations throughout George Town.[341]

Within the city centre, efforts are being undertaken to promote pedestrianisation and the use of bicycles as a greener alternative transportation mode.[342] Dedicated cycling lanes have been marked throughout the city and in 2016, George Town became the first Malaysian city to operate a public bicycle-sharing service, with the launch of LinkBike.[343][344][345]

There are plans by the Penang state government to introduce more rail-based transportation systems throughout Penang. The Penang Transport Master Plan envisages the following long-term solutions to counter George Town's increasing traffic congestion.


The Penang International Airport, 16 km (9.9 mi) south of George Town proper, was opened in 1935 while Penang was part of the Straits Settlements, making it the oldest airport in Malaysia. It serves as the main airport for northern Malaysia, with frequent links to major Asian cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Bangkok, Jakarta, Ho Chi Minh City, Taipei, Hong Kong, Guangzhou and Doha.[351][352] It is also a hub for two Malaysian low-cost carriers - AirAsia and Firefly.

The airport is Malaysia's second busiest in terms of cargo traffic and recorded the third highest passenger traffic of all Malaysian airports as of 2013. It also plays a vital part in facilitating the transport of goods and products to and from the adjacent Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone.


A cruise liner docked at Swettenham Pier.

The Port of Penang consists of seven facilities along the Penang Strait, with the sole harbour facility within George Town being the Swettenham Pier.[353][354]

Swettenham Pier is designed to accommodate cruise ships, making it one of the major tourist entry points into George Town.[212] This also makes cruise tourism a major component of tourism arrivals into Penang.[21] A number of cruise ships call Swettenham Pier as their homeport, bringing tourists into and out of George Town towards regional destinations like Phuket and Singapore.[355]

Occasionally, Swettenham Pier hosts warships as well, including those from Singapore, Thailand and the United States.[356][357][358]


A Rapid Ferry crossing the Penang Strait towards George Town.

Rapid Ferry is a cross-strait shuttle ferry service that connects George Town with the town of Butterworth on the Malay Peninsula. It is the oldest ferry service in Malaysia, dating back to 1894 when the first passenger ferry commenced operations.[59]

In 2017, Prasarana, which already runs Rapid Penang, acquired the ferry service from the Penang Port Commission. Following the transfer, the ferry service has been renamed as Rapid Ferry.[359][360] Plans to introduce catamarans to complement the existing ferries are on the cards as well.

Currently, six ferries ply the Penang Strait between George Town and Butterworth daily, serving as a convenient mode of cross-strait transportation for the residents of George Town.[361] The roll-on/roll-off ferries are designed to transport both passengers and automobiles.


Water supply in George Town, which comes under the purview of the Penang state government, is wholly managed by the state-owned but privatised PBA Holdings Bhd, whose sole subsidiary is the Perbadanan Bekalan Air Pulau Pinang (PBAPP).[362][363] PBA's water rates are also one of the lowest in the world; at RM0.32 per 1,000 litres, George Town enjoys the cheapest water tariff in Malaysia.[364]

George Town was among the first cities in Malaya to be electrified in 1905 upon the completion of the first hydroelectric scheme.[365] At present, electricity for industrial and domestic consumption is provided by the national electricity utility company, Tenaga Nasional Berhad (TNB). Currently, TNB operates an oil-powered power plant at the Gelugor suburb, which is capable of generating 398MW of electricity.[366][367]

As of the first quarter of 2014, Penang had a recorded broadband penetration rate of 80.3%, the highest among all Malaysian states.[368] Currently, the Penang state government is in the process of implementing a statewide Wi-Fi service. Known as Penang Free Wi-Fi, it aims to improve internet penetration throughout Penang and is provided free-of-charge.[369] As of 2015, its bandwidth speeds are being increased to 3Mbit/s within the city centre, while 1,560 hotspots have been installed throughout Penang.[370] When completed, Penang will be the first Malaysian state to provide its citizens with free internet connection.[371]

International relations


The Royal Thai Consulate-General in George Town.

Befitting George Town's status as a major Malaysian city with various multi-national economic and social interests, several nations have either established their consulates or appointed honorary-consulates within George Town.

Sister cities

George Town has seven sister cities.

The State of Penang also has a sister area partnership with Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan, which was signed in 1991.[396][397][398]

Sister subdivision

Friendship cities

In addition to the sister cities and areas, George Town has inked five other friendship city agreements.

In 2013, the State of Penang signed a friendship state agreement with Hainan Province in China.[403][404]

Friendship subdivision

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  • Suet Leng Khoo; Narimah Samat; Nurwati Badarulzaman; Sharifah Rohayah Sheikh Dawood The Promise and Perils of the Island City of George Town (Penang) as a Creative City. Urban Island Studies. (2015).
  • Francis, Ric; Ganley, Colin. Penang Trams, Trolleybuses & Railways: Municipal Transport History 1880s–1963. Penang: Areca Books. (2006, 2nd ed. 2012) ISBN 983-42834-0-7.
  • Khoo Salma Nasution. More Than Merchants: A History of the German-speaking Community in Penang, 1800s–1940s. Areca Books. (2006). ISBN 978-983-42834-1-4
  • Ooi Cheng Ghee. Portraits of Penang: Little India. Areca Books. (2011). ISBN 978-967-5719-05-9

External links

  • Penang Island (George Town) City Council
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