I put together this list of the best cheap and free Melaka attractions for you during the ten weeks that I stayed in Melaka.
I hope you will check some of them out when you visit.
Cheerful cheap and free Melaka attractions.
To get an understanding of the historical background of the city begin with one or both of the two free walking tours that the Tourist Information Centre organises. (Check with the tourist office for up to date information as they don’t run all year round).
The Old Melaka Heritage Tour
This tour takes you around the colonial district on a Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday at 9.30am. Learn about St Paul’s Church, La Famosa and the riverside and find out just how many times Melaka was conquered and occupied in the past.
Meeting point: the Tourist Information Centre: the walk takes 2.5 hours
The Tourist Information Centre is inside the modern looking building which is right on the roundabout (opposite the fountain) in what is known as Dutch Square at the end of Jonker Street.
Be there 20 minutes before the start of the tour to register.
Kampung Morten: traditional Malay village life.
This second free walking tour in Melaka will show you a different side of city life by guiding you around Kampung Morten. See a traditional Malay village and meet the locals, whilst learning about the food that they eat, the clothes that they wear and see some of the small businesses that thrive here.
Meeting point: the Kampung Morten Fountain: the walk takes 1.5 hours and take place on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 5pm
To get to Kampung Morten walk upriver following the path on the left-hand side where much of the street art is found. Continue until you come to a small amusement park and a ferris wheel. The path drops away from the river for a short while but search it out and continue along until you notice the buildings on your left change in character as you enter the village of Kampung Morten.
Keep an eye out on the road alongside you and just through the ‘gate’ to the village you will see a stone fountain which is the meeting point for this free walking tour.
Allow approximately 40 minutes to walk to the meeting point from Dutch Square and arrive 20 minutes before the start of the tour to register.
Vila Sentosa – a living museum.
Visit this traditional wooden home in the Malay settlement of Kampung Morten and learn about its history from one of the family members who still live there.
I met Ibrahim who was the youngest son of 12 children who were raised in the house. Ibrahim was a vet before he retired and he now shows people around his former family home. Ibrahim’s ancestors were originally from Java.
Ibrahim’s grandfather was the leader of a community that were forced to relocate to the present one when their land was purchased for redevelopment. This house, the grandest in the village of 96 houses, was completed 95 years ago. Ibrahims grandfather received the Certificate of Honour from George IV and later the MBE and OBE for services to the community.
The house is ever so pretty and with the breeze coming in from all sides through open windows it was cool and peaceful. It was also very colourful and made of wood with a steep pitched and curved roof and was set in lush green gardens.
Inside, the house is just like a museum with original family pieces displayed, photos on the walls and the best family porcelain set on the table.
You may be allowed to strike the ancient gong – it is said that people who strike the gong while making a wish will see their wish granted, and you will usually be given a cup of tea in the sitting room.
If you visit Melaka, #villasentosamelaka is well worth a visit. Entrance is free although you can donate to its upkeep and to thank the family for giving their time to show you around.
Open daily between 9 – 5. Admission is free but a donation towards the upkeep of the house and for the owners’ time would be appreciated.
Follow the directions for the Kampung Morten walking tour to the stone fountain but instead of stepping off onto the road continue following the river around the curve, keeping an eye on the houses to your left. You are looking for a large green wooden house and garden with a big sign facing the river, ‘Vila Sentosa’.
Note: If you want to combine your visit to Vila Sentosa with the walking tour, allow 45 minutes at the living museum before back-tracking to the meeting point to register for the tour.
Wander along the river with friends or sit and have a coffee or a beer and relax with a book. You might spot one of the huge monitor lizards and you are almost guaranteed that one of the local people who live in Melaka will stop to chat to you.
If you are wandering along the riverbank between 9.30 and 10pm you might catch the musical fountains with their music and light show.
Go to the small pedestrian bridge near to the Masjid (Mosque) Kampung Hulu and look upriver. Just be aware that the fountains don’t always play and sometimes you will bizarrely just hear the music.
Boat tours in Melaka
Hop on one of the boats that go up and down the river for a 45 minute tour – both daytime and night time tours are good – boats often run late into the night and many come with a commentary.
Street Art in Melaka
Whilst nowhere near as good as the art in George Town the street art in Melaka wins due to its location. There are some nice murals dotted around Melaka mostly painted along the riverbanks but if you explore the little alleyways that run behind the streets of China Town you will find many more.
Can you find Michael Jackson, the wishing well or the references to Harry Potter as you wander around?
The Jonker Walk Night Market
Melaka becomes very lively every Friday, Saturday & Sunday when traffic is banned from Jonker Walk and traders set up their market stalls.
Things get going about 6pm and continue until 11.30pm – give or take a bit.
There are lots of street food carts and you can shop for some of those gifts and trinkets that you want to take home with you. To be honest, I have seen better walking street markets in Asia but the Jonker Walk night market in Melaka is still a good one.
For additional entertainment, near the bottom end of Jonker Street is a large stage which hosts karaoke or dance competitions whilst the night market is on. Many of the Chinese Community Halls that line Jonker Street are also open and you can see residents watching DVDs, playing chess, line dancing and once, I even saw an orchestra playing. So grab some street food and a chair and sit and enjoy the shows.
Temples, Mosques and Churches
Melaka has lots of temples, mosques and churches, some of which are hundreds of years old. Grab a map from the tourist office and wander around and check them all out, but the biggest collection of the oldest ones are along Jalan Tokong which runs parallel to Jonker Walk.
You will notice that the architecture reflects the maritime heritage of Melaka and some of the minarets look like lighthouses.
Dress respectfully and don’t enter during the main prayer times, but otherwise you will be welcome in all of the places of worship.
The Sikh Temple at the end of Jalan Temenggong serves up basic but tasty meals three times a day. All are welcome: just make sure that you wash your dishes after you and maybe pop a donation in for the temple.
The Floating Mosque in Melaka
The Melaka Straits Mosque or to give it its proper title, the Masjid Selat Melaka really is one of the stars of Melaka in my opinion and well worth its own entry in this guide to cheap and free Melaka attractions.
The mosque was my favourite destination when I was leading the bicycle tours from Ringo’s Foyer Hostel. The guests and I would get there just before dusk and settle down on the rocky jetty opposite and wait for the sun to set. No matter if we had a decent sunset, the sound of the call to prayer floating across the still water with the lights from the mosque reflected in the sea was always magical.
Local markets and food in Melaka
There are local food markets on a Saturday and a Sunday afternoon (4-8pm) and on a Tuesday evening (4-7pm).
Key the following locations into your map app for directions.
Saturday: Pasar Malam (night bazaar) Kota Laksamana
Sunday: Pasar Malam Bandar Hilir
Tuesday: Pasar Malam Kampung Lapan
I would need to devote an entire article solely to the food in Melaka but my best advice is to simply wander around. Search out the Malay food courts for spicy fish dishes or the unusual but addictive sweet cendol, Little India for the banana leaf curries that you eat with your right hand or China Town for a massive variety of foods.
Explore the Sam Po Keng Temple and Princess Hang Po Li’s Well before walking to the top of Chinese Hill for views of Melaka. On the way up you will pass many ancient Chinese tombs and graves. Make sure that you go into the room at the back of the Sam Po Keng temple and see the display that explains the history of the site. Chinese Hill is a great spot to come for a sunset view over Melaka but don’t be tempted to eat any of the fruit from the trees that are dotted around the hill. In the past the conquering armies would poison the water wells and legend has it that the fruit trees still contain this poison.
Ringo’s Foyer Hostel and the Famous Bicycle Tours
Even if you don’t stay at Ringo’s Foyer Hostel you can join them on one of their famous bike tours. Pop in to reception and ask where and when they will be leaving. During my time as a volunteer at the hostel I was one of the bicycle tour guides and we would usually set off between 5 and 6.30pm – although this can change at any time.
Preference will always be given to guests and the tours can be cancelled or altered due to the weather but they are always interesting and fun.
The most popular tours will take you to the ‘Floating Mosque’ for a spectacular sunset or to Chinese Hill. Ringo’s will show you some of the alleyways with their street art and maybe you will stop by a deserted theatre. Occasionally you may take a tour to a local night market or even stop at a toddy shop and sample palm wine. Depending on the guide, you may stop on the way back for a group dinner or you might just make a detour for a beer by the river.
Hire a bicycle for the day
Hire a bicycle for the day and explore the town. The city is more or less flat and easy to get around. Don’t be daunted by the traffic either. The drivers in Melaka may seem erratic but the majority of them are very patient and happy for you to wobble out in front of them. Just make sure that you make plenty of eye contact, wave your arms like your life depends upon it and smile and wave thank you as you pass them.
Apart from the Floating Mosque you could head off to the beach (try Pantai Puteri) or you could cycle to St John’s Fort as well as any of the other places that are listed in this guide.
Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum
Do go and see the Baba & Nyonya Heritage Museum and tour a house that has been kept in the Peranakan style. Several generations ago Chinese traders married Malay women and they developed a distinctive style of living which includes lots of colour and masses of bling. In this family home you can learn about the lifestyle and see the luxury items on display in this house in Jalan Tan Cheng Lock which is parallel to Jonker Street.
Views of Melaka
You could ride up to the top of the Taming Sari Tower – or for similar money why not buy a drink at the nearby Pampas Skybar on the 41st floor of the largest building close to the hostel. Relax for an hour or so as you take in the views and don’t forget to look up at the ceiling for a surprise!!
Directions for the skybar: Walk out of the hostel and turn left towards the river. At the river, follow the path to the left. Continue until you come to a small amusement park and a ferris wheel. Cross the river by the road bridge and then turn to the left and find the entrance to the skybar inside the first building that you come to.
The Woof Station
Pepper, Bella, Chewy, Mr Bean & Rocket are the 5 dogs belonging to of Sharine and Ace who own the Woof Station in Melaka. They are 3 huskies, 1 samoyed and an Old English Sheepdog.
Unlike some similar establishments, the dogs at the Wood Station are the couple’s pets and go home with them each evening.
Ace & Sharine firmly place the well-being of their beloved pets first and educate visitors how they must act around the dogs.
If a dog chooses time out under a table, he or she is allowed to sleep and they play together quite naturally.
Visitors to the café must purchase a drink but we were not rushed out at all and spent a long time chatting and interacting with the dogs.
The excitement on the faces of visitors who had little contact with dogs was wonderful to see, as was the pleasure of travellers who were missing their pets back at home.
The Woof Station is a 30 minute walk from the bottom end of Jonker Street, or take a Grab taxi or an Uber cab.
You just need to buy a drink to cover your entrance and you can lounge on bean bags and play with the animals for as long as you like.
Swimming Pool in Melaka
There is an outside Olympic sized swimming pool right in the heart of the old town of Melaka. Ladies are fine to wear a bikini – men must wear Speedos (that is, no baggy board shorts). Knee length yoga pants or cycling pants are fine or you can buy a suitable pair at the shop at the pool.
Check the board outside the pool for the swimming session timetable and the latest prices.
Directions to the swimming pool: Turn right at the roundabout at Dutch Square. Take the first left along Jalan Kota and look for a little path on the right through the park next to a statue of a bullock cart. The entrance to the swimming pool is in front of you. At the time of writing the cost of entry was 5RM a session.
To sum up: Melaka attractions.
Melaka deserves to be more than simply a stopping off point en-route between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, but all too often, travellers book just one night in the town and dash around the key sights before moving on; and then they declare that there is not much to see or to keep them occupied.
The cultural mix that makes up Malaysia is very apparent in Melaka.
There is the distinctive Dutch sector, China Town and Little India. There are also many remnants from the British occupation and of course there is a huge Malay/Muslim presence which all combine to make a very interesting experience here in Melaka.
Melaka is a proud city and you will constantly get people calling out to you ‘Welcome to Melaka’. Take time to wander along the riverbank and check out some of the activities above. Get to feel the soul of the city. It may not be immediately obvious but it is there and it has a big heart. Book more than a couple of nights and take the time to get to know Melaka.
I would obviously recommend that you stay at Ringo’s Foyer Hostel because I volunteered there for two months but if you prefer something different check out some alternative accommodation here – Agoda Booking
The following travel resources may make your trip planning easier