Kota Kinabalu may be synonymous with its mountainous namesake, but there’s so much more to the capital of Sabah, Borneo. The city’s close proximity to beaches, islands, wildlife, and culture means that there’s plenty to see and do. Here’s how to make the most of one day in KK.
Things to do in Kota Kinabalu
Welcome to Kota Kinabalu
The capital city of the Malaysian state of Sabah on north Borneo, Kota Kinabalu (or KK as it’s usually called) functions more as a civic and transport hub than as a destination in its own right. This is a good thing, as visitors who base their trips out of KK will find abundant travelers services, big-city amenities, and an ease of communication from a tourism industry used to pleasing globetrotters, all with easy access to the nearby Borneo wilderness. Located practically in KK’s backyard, the 7.5-million acre (roughly 3-million hectare) Kinabalu Park promises a full day of adventure: Hike Mount Kinabalu; soak in the Poring Hot Springs; and learn about the lush flora and fauna (including the famous proboscis monkey) that earned this stretch of wilderness its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other outings include a short flight to the Sandakan Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre; ziplining excursions through the rain forests of Gaya Island; or snorkeling and scuba diving trips off off the coast of Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. Those who choose to linger in the city can see its most prominent attractions on a sightseeing tour, likely to feature the Sabah Museum, Wisma Tun Mustapha (Sabah Foundation Building), City Mosque, and views of Likas Bay from the summit of Signal Hill.
Top 10 attractions in Kota Kinabalu
Tucked within the jungles of Malaysian Borneo and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kinabalu Park, Poring Hot Spring & Nature Reserve (better known as Poring Hot springs) is a collection of built attractions highlighting some of the region’s wild features. The star is a series of tiled pools and public baths built by the Japanese during their occupation in WWI. Containing naturally hot sulfurous water pumped to the surface, the baths are popular with tired Mt. Kinabalu trekkers as well as area residents, especially on weekends....
Thanks to the rising of sea levels at the end of the last ice age, what were once sandstone mountains connected to the mainland are now a collection of five tropical islands left piercing the surface just off the coastline of Kota Kinabalu. Comprised of the islands of Manukan, Gaya, Sapi, Mamutuk, and Sulug, these five forested islets make up Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park (TARP), conveniently located an easy 20 minute speedboat ride from downtown Kota Kinabalu....
Located on the hills near Padang Merdeka, the Signal Hill Observatory Platform is the highest point in Kota Kinabalu, which means it’s one of the best places to go for sweeping, unobstructed views of the city and beyond....
The Kota Kinabalu City Mosque (Masjid Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu) is not only the largest mosque in the city, but also the most visually striking. Surrounded by a lagoon, the building appears to float when viewed from a distance, and casts a picturesque reflection into the water below....
Few beaches offer the same picturesque white sands and crystal blue waters that travelers will find on Pulau Sapi. Its coral reefs and clear waters make it ideal for snorkeling, and the surrounding epic landscapes and unmatched beauty make it one of the best spots for travelers seeking an island retreat. Whether it’s enjoying picnic shelters and BBQ pits with family and friends or watching crab-eating monkeys gather along the shore, there’s plenty to see on a visit to Sapi. And travelers won’t be disappointed by the para sailing, scuba diving and underwater adventure they’ll find here, either....
Located within easy reach of Kota Kinabalu city center, the Sabah State Museum is a comprehensive museum exploring the heritage, art, culture, and daily life of Sabah and its people. The museum is made up of the main building, along with galleries exhibiting the various themes, including the Science and Education Center, the Heritage Village, the Sabah Art Gallery and the Museum of Islamic Civilization. Natural history, ceramics, ethnography and archaeology are among the many displays, along with a centerpiece whale skeleton. The Heritage Village features traditional tribal dwellings of the different indigenous groups of Sabah set on a lake, including Kadazan bamboo houses and a Chinese farmhouse, all set on a lake. The Science and Education Center next door has an interesting exhibition on the petroleum industry, while the the Sabah Art Gallery features exhibitions by local artists....
Travelers in search of a true cultural exchange need look no further than Mari Mari, a cultural village situation in a remote forest on the island of Borneo. Here, visitors can learn about the indigenous Sabahan people, explore their traditional homes and witness fire-starting, blowpipe-making and tattoo-making demonstrations. In addition to sharing their cultures and traditions, representatives from the Bajau, Lundayeh, Murut, Rungus and Dusun people also cook ethnic delicacies for travelers with an adventurous palate to sample. While some visitors say the village can feel a bit too touristy, others argue it’s the perfect way to experience the vibrant cultures and traditions of Borneo in a single stop....
The second largest of the islands that make up the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, Manukan Island is just a short boat-ride from Kota Kinabalu, attracting a large number of locals and international visitors alike. Manukan Island boasts a beautiful coastline, some stunning coral reefs, and areas of lush vegetation. The main beach on the southern side of the island is a huge stretch of white sand facing a bay of crystal-clear ocean. The water is calm and safe, making snorkeling and swimming the most popular pastimes for visitors to the island. Meanwhile, a network of walking trails leading inland allow keen walkers to explore the island’s natural environment without getting wet. The island caters well to tourism, with various facilities and services on offer, from accommodation and restaurants to gift shops and a diving center....
A separate entity than the Kota Kinabalu city mosque, as the name implies the Sabah State Mosque (Masjid Negeri Sabah) is meant to be the principal place of worship for the Malaysian state of Sabah. Located on the outskirts of the Kota Kinabalu city center, the most immediately noticeable aspect of the State Mosque is the 215 ft. minaret which towers over the white and gold honeycombed main dome....
Located along the banks of the Penampang River, just 16 kilometers the bustling capital of Sabah, the Monsopiad Cultural Village is a living, breathing museum that aims to give visitors an insight into the history and culture of the Kadazandusun people....
Top activities in Kota Kinabalu
Frequently Asked Questions
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Top activities in Kota Kinabalu include:
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- Weston Fireflies River Cruise from Kota Kinabalu City
- Kinabalu Park & Poring Hot Spring & Canopy Walk
- Klias Wildlife Safari River Cruise from Kota Kinabalu
- Day Trip to Mount Kinabalu Poring Rainforest
- The Essence of Kota Kinabalu
Discover the top things to do in Kota Kinabalu.
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