Come to Penang for the food, but stay for our collection of street art murals. Scattered across the multitude of tourist hotspots in the heart of George Town, it is effortless to embark on a treasure hunt and search for them, all while integrating the vital food hunting and sightseeing that makes up the very essence of any Penang trip.
Use the murals as an impromptu map to access all of the must-see stops around Penang, from hidden gems to queue-worthy places and cendol guides to open green spaces.
‘Little Children on a Bicycle’
We’re starting with the most famous one in Penang! Everyone who’s been to George Town knows about the mural of the two little kids on a bicycle, winning hearts around Armenian Street since 2012. Commissioned by the Penang Municipal Council, ‘Little Children on a Bicycle’ is part of a series of six murals painted by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic for the George Town Festival in 2012.
Zacharevic incorporated an old bicycle into this artwork and modelled the two kids on actual children who once played on his bike. ‘Little Children on a Bicycle’ remains an iconic tourist spot for a good reason, as it captures the joy and simplicity of childhood in Penang back in the 80s.
Address: 2 Lebuh Armenian, 10300 George Town, Pulau Pinang
‘Boy on a Motorbike’ and ‘The Little Boy with a Pet Dinosaur’
Another famous work by Zacharevic, this playful mural features a boy perched atop his motorcycle as he watches the traffic pass by along the street. Installed on a red shophouse side door on Lebuh Ah Quee, the ‘Boy on a Motorbike’ is being chased by a ‘Little Boy with a Pet Dinosaur’ — another whimsical work of Zacharevic.
Whenever you spot lurking tourists snapping pictures around George Town’s heritage enclave, you’re bound to be on the right track to see one of these famous murals. Zacharevic’s distinctive art style and his style of using actual props in his art have since inspired many artists to create such works.
For instance, ‘Children on the Swing’ and ‘Children Playing Basketball’ are murals by local hard-of-hearing artist Louis Gan, which incorporate the same endearing celebration of joy. ‘Boy on Chair’ and ‘I Want Bao!’ are other excellent, must-see creative Ernest Zacharevic creations of real-life objects incorporated into mixed-medium murals. Distinguished by their universal charm of childhood simplicity, these cheerful and nostalgic works succeed in attracting tourists near and far.
Addresses: ‘Boy on a Motorbike’ and ‘Little Boy with a Pet Dinosaur’ – 12, Lebuh Ah Quee, 10300 George Town, Penang; ‘Children on the Swing’ and ‘Children Playing Basketball’ – Gat Lebuh Chulia, 10200 George Town, Penang; ‘Boy on Chair’ – 14 Cannon Street, 10300 George Town, Penang; ‘I Want Bao!’ – 28 Gat Lebuh Armenian, 10300 George Town, Penang
Hin bus depot
If you’re strolling around Penang on a Sunday, head to this open-aired artistic space adorned with a myriad of colourful murals concentrated in every nook and corner. You’ll see pieces such as the ‘Upside-Down Girl’, ‘Swans’, and ‘Thoughtful Girl’ in the mural garden, and even a gigantic Malayan tiger by Japanese-Australian artist Hiroyasu Tsuri, gracing an entire wall.
The repurposed bus depot runs art exhibitions, workshops, film screenings, and weekly Sunday markets filled to the brim with all things crafty. Vendors sell anything ranging from handicrafts, artisan jewellery, and funky souvenirs to delectable bites and slurps.
Live performers busk throughout the day, so settle into the cosy circle of chairs and soak up the wonderful ambience of this place.
Address: 31A, Jalan Gurdwara, 10300 George Town, Penang
‘Folklore by the Sea’ and ‘Ah Mah & Ah Soon’
The clan jetties of Penang dates back to the 19th century, when immigrants from China’s Fujian province settled down and built villages on stilts over the water. These jetties remain inhabited to this day and are vibrant tourist attractions for anyone eager to witness this thriving cultural capsule.
The most well-known out of all the jetties, Chew Jetty, houses the beautiful mural and heritage program ‘Folklore by the Sea’, which hosts live performances of the humble beginnings of the jetty settlers engagingly and entertainingly.
Located at the entrance to the Chew Jetty, ‘Ah Mah & Ah Soon’ (meaning grandma and grandson in Hokkien) is another charming mural to look out for here.
Address: Chew Jetty, Weld Quay, 10300 George Town, Penang
‘Teach You Hokkien’
Speaking of the Hokkien dialect, one enormous blue mural commemorates the Hokkien descendants of Chinese Penangites. Spanning 2.5 metres tall, the ‘Teach You Hokkien’ mural depicts a boy shouting that he’ll teach you to speak the Chinese dialect.
Address: 30 Lorong Soo Hong, George Town, 10300 George Town, Penang
‘The Three Girls’
There are many beautiful murals throughout George Town that commemorate the multiculturalism of Penang’s community. On a vibrant purple architectural building facing Lorong Soo Hong, you’ll spot this miniature mural adorned with three girls dressed in their intricate traditional attire, representing our diversity and how Malaysia’s people is a cultural mosaic.
Address: 78 Lebuh Armenian, George Town, 10200 George Town, Penang
‘Indian Boatman’ and ‘Praying Indian Lady’
A beautiful, arresting, and larger-than-life painting, the ‘Indian Boatman’ is a tribute from Russian street artist Julia Volchkova to Penang’s Indian community.
She has since painted a few murals across Penang, such as the wispy and ethereal ‘Praying Indian Lady’. Located on a quiet street, Volchkova incorporates the natural structure of the existing banyan tree trunk to depict this elderly lady beneath it, with her hands clasped in a posture of worship.
Addresses: ‘Indian Boatman’ – 75, Lorong Stewart, 10200 George Town, Penang; ‘Praying Indian Lady’ – 9, Lorong Lumut, 10300 George Town, Penang
Wrought iron sculptures
History lesson, who? This collection of 52 wrought-iron sculptures scattered across George Town’s network of streets tells the story of the particular place where they are mounted on.
It all started with a competition in 2009, when the Penang State Government sought ways to physically commemorate George Town’s achievement as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sculpture at Work, won the commission to represent ‘voices from the people’ through wrought iron caricatures, and the rest is history.
My personal favourite one would be ‘Jimmy Choo’s Humble Beginnings’. This wrought iron caricature of kedai kasut (shoe shop in Bahasa Malaysia) was made by Baba Chuah and is mounted on the outside wall of a corner shop on Leith Street. It commemorates the humble beginnings of Jimmy Choo in his shoemaking journey and who is now as a world-class fashion designer.
Address: 52 Lebuh Leith, 10200 George Town, Penang
Paper hot air balloons
A few years ago, I was a bit confused to see my little brother rushing over a forgotten art project (nothing unusual) that he said had to be, “passed up to the state government to hang by the roadside.”
Today, this romantic walkway at Sia Boey Park is made up of hundreds of bright hot air balloons, courtesy of the efforts of primary school children toiling over art classes all across Penang.
Albeit a bit faded, this remains one of my favourite art installations in the city. Displayed in conjunction with the Penang Hot Air Balloon Fiesta 2018, it reinforces the belief that art should be educational and accessible to all. It is especially meaningful when it radiates joy and beauty to others.
Address: 50 Jalan Dr Lim Chwee Leong, 10100 George Town, Penang
Multiple murals at Umbrella Alley
Hidden amidst the streets of George Town lies this art alleyway filled with bright rainbow umbrellas hanging overhead, reminiscent of London’s Camden Market. You’ll find a plethora of murals gracing the walls along the alley, such as this yellow rainbow cat and two men pushing a door.
Address: 55 Lebuh Armenian, 10200 George Town, Penang
This large mural depicts an elderly trishaw paddler lounging in his vehicle and is another fitting tribute to Penang’s heritage and culture. Commemorating the paddlers who congregate at the trishaw station across the road, they still do to this day. It is an interesting and worthwhile experience to participate in if it’s your first time in Penang.
Address: Jalan Penang, 10000 George Town, Penang
The icing on top of the cendol for customers visiting arguably one of the best cendol spots in Penang. This mural can be found right where Penang’s famous Teochew Cendol stall is located. Canadian street artist Emmanuel Jarus used a picture of his local tour guide – a 16-year-old boy named Andersen – eating cendol as the subject upon which the mural is based.
Address: 4 Lebuh Keng Kwee, 10100 George Town, Penang
This is not officially a ‘street’ art spot, but if you’re stopping by China House Cafe for one of their famous cakes, be sure to walk through the entire length of the 400ft-long longhouse and admire the many, many artworks on display along the way.
China House is a multi-concept heritage compound, and its walls are filled with its customers’ artistic and quirky drawings. They even have an upstairs gallery for the serious art appreciator.
At the back section of the courtyard, you will see an exciting array of murals, all complementing the artfully decorated courtyard with its mango trees, rustic café sets, and swimming pool.
Choose to have your meals outdoors in the open and enjoy the atmosphere after a hard day’s work of street art hunting.
Address: 153 Beach Street, 10300 George Town, Penang