Things to do in Kota Kinabalu | Borneo Dream Dive Shop
Kota Kinabalu, often referred to as KK, is a coastal city located on the west coast of Sabah and is the main gateway for other destinations in Sabah. Being the Capital City of Sabah Kota Kinabalu is a busy yet relatively compact City making it really easy to explore. A popular question we often get asked by our customers is about things to do in Kota Kinabalu. Below we have shared our view on the top 10 things to do in Kota Kinabalu – so sit down, read on and start planning your holiday adventures in Sabah.
In at Number 1 – Climb Mount Kinabalu
Mount Kinabalu is the highest mountain in Malaysia and one of the highest peaks in South East Asia. Kota Kinabalu acts as the gateway to Kinabalu National Park, the home of 4,095m-high Mount Kinabalu. So, it’s not surprising that climbing Mount Kinabalu is one of the most popular requests for things to do in Kota Kinabalu. Climbing Mount Kinabalu can be done as a 2-day or 3-day trip. It’s a challenging trek up (and down), but the views from Low Peak’s Summit are breathtaking as you watch the sunrise over the Crocker Mountain Range. There are limited permits issued each day for climbing Mount Kinabalu, so Mount Kinabalu climbing trips do tend to get fully booked.
TOP TIP – book well in advance for climbing Mount Kinabalu. If you fancy reaching a summit that’s less well-travelled, then check out Mount Trus Madi, the second-highest peak in Sabah.
A Toasty Number 2 – Test out the Tropical Waters and Islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park
Visiting Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is a great choice when looking at things to do in Kota Kinabalu. Located just in front of Kota Kinabalu and accessible by a short boat transfer, it is very easy to visit the Marine Park. Home to five islands – Sapi, Gaya, Mamutik, Manukan, and Sulug (private island) – you can choose from chilling out on the beach, snorkelling, scuba diving and water sports activities. There’s even an island-to-island zipline between Sapi and Gaya. Cool! The best way to explore the coral reefs and see some of the amazing tropical reef life is by boat – either snorkelling or scuba diving. As Sabah is located in the Coral Triangle, there is a surprisingly wide variety of marine life living in the coral reefs – from Black Tip Reef Sharks, Turtles, and Seahorses to several species of Clown Fish. We even have an ‘Orangutan Crab’ that can be found living on the soft coral in the Marine Park. For those on a tight budget, there are island boat transfers allowing you to visit the islands independently.
TOP TIP – during peak periods, the islands/beaches can get very busy. Choose a trip where you will snorkel or scuba dive from a boat so you get away from the crowds and see more of the coral reefs.
Setting in at 3 – Watch a Stunning Sunset
We are blessed in Kota Kinabalu with amazing sunsets on a regular basis. The sky literally glows orange/red as the sun sets out to sea. As the sun sets around 6:30 pm (give or take a few minutes) you need to be setting yourself up at a good viewing location around 6:00 pm (preferably with a cold drink) then just sit back, watch and enjoy! This has to be one of the best free things to do in Kota Kinabalu.
TOP TIP – visit the rooftop bar at the Grandis Hotel for fantastic views of the sunset. It’s a nice bar too!
An Adventurous Number 4 – Go White Water Rafting
For some fun and adventure, white water rafting is a good choice when it comes to things to do in Kota Kinabalu. Choose between the gentler, family-friendly Kiulu River what water rafting trip (Grade I – II) or the ‘scream if you wanna go faster’ adrenalin rush offered by the Padas River white water rafting trip (Grade III-IV).
Roaring In At 5 – See Wildlife
The most popular location for seeing wildlife from Kota Kinabalu is Klias Wetland Mangrove Forest Reserve. Here you will find river cruise tours in search of wildlife along the Klias River and Garama River. It’s a ~ 2.5-hour journey to Klias River but worth it if seeing Proboscis Monkeys and Fireflies and seeing wildlife in its natural habitat is on your list of things to do in Kota Kinabalu. If you want a half-day activity closer to Kota Kinabalu to see wildlife, then you have the option of visiting Lok Kawi Wildlife Park or Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre.
TOP TIP – if you have 2 or 3 days free in Kota Kinabalu, and seeing wildlife is your priority, then visiting the Kinabatangan River is a better option for seeing wildlife.
Nom Nom Nom at 6 – Try out the Local food.
You can’t visit Kota Kinabalu without wanting to try some of the tasty local dishes. You’ll find a mix of traditional Malaysian dishes with a range of Asian influences and often at very affordable prices. This makes eating one of the popular things to do in Kota Kinabalu. A popular choice is to visit the Night Market located on the waterfront. It offers hawker stalls selling a range of tasty, freshly cooked food – from noodle dishes to kebabs and every choice of fresh fish from the day’s catch. It starts at ~ 5 pm and is worth a look around. For fresh fish, check out Sedco Square, which offers a choice of cafes with open court-style seating. There are myriads of local cafes to choose from – if you walk down Gaya Street and the nearby streets, you’ll be spoilt for choice. For some of the best KK street food, try Yee Fung Laksa on Gaya Street or for the best crispy pork in KK, tries Kuo Man restaurant coffee shop. If you fancy having a go at learning to cook some of the local dishes as one of your things to do in Kota Kinabalu, then join a traditional cooking class and learn to create tasty dishes such as Hinava and Manuk Tinapah.
TOP TIP – if a local café is busy, it typically means it’s good. Wander around and try a few – you’ll be surprised at the tasty local dishes and the cheap price.
Enlightening at Number 7 – Learn about Sabah’s Rich Culture
Mari Mari Cultural Village is popular. If you are happy to explore Kota Kinabalu independently, then you could visit the Sabah State Museum and Heritage Village, the Monsopiad Cultural Village or the two famous mosques in KK – the State Mosque and the City Mosque, also known as the ‘Floating Mosque’.
TOP TIP – Guided mosque tours are offered at the Floating Mosque. Remember to dress respectfully when visiting a Mosque.
Picking up the Pace at 8 – Go Trekking
Sabah is home to the stunning rainforest, and, luckily, there are trekking options within easy reach of KK, making trekking through the first, or ‘jungle’, an option for one of the things to do in Kota Kinabalu. In Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park, you could join a guided trek through the rain forest on Pulau Gaya with a choice of marked trails from 2km to ~ 7km. Slightly further away is trekking in Kiulu Valley, which can be joined as a day trip from Kota Kinabalu. There are also marked trails in Kinabalu Park Headquarters for those who want to visit the National Park, a ~ 2-hour journey from Kota Kinabalu.
Stepping Away from the City Centre at 9 – Explore KK’s Public Parks
Visiting one of the parks is a cheap option for things to do in Kota Kinabalu. Go for a stroll in the newer Perdana Park located in Tanjung Aru with the water fountain light show every night at 7 pm. On the outskirts of Kota Kinabalu is Bukit Padang – here, you will find a range of marked trails as well as the option of trekking up to the top of Bukit Padang (at 477 feet). Bukit Padang is also home to a water park which is popular on the weekend with local families. Just north of central Kota Kinabalu, you’ll find Likas Bay which is ~ 7km in length. Likas Bay Public Park is popular with the locals – especially at the weekend – you’ll also find a cycle/footpath along the length of the Bay, which passes by the ‘Floating Mosque’.
Dare I Say it, at 10 – Go Shopping
Personally, I think there are better cities in Asia for Shopping – think Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Kuala Lumpur. However, shopping is a popular pastime for many and has to be on our list of things to do in Kota Kinabalu. For a more local experience, check out Gaya Street Sunday Market, which starts early and starts wrapping up around 12 noon. You’ll find many stalls selling everything from ground coffee, Chinese medicine, and sunglasses to hand-made bags. There is also a Handicraft Market located on the Waterfront (next to the Night Market), which offers a range of local trinkets ideal for souvenirs and gifts. For more western shops, visit one of the larger shopping malls, such as Imago Shopping Mall and Suria Sabah Shopping Mall. At these latter shopping malls, you’ll also find food courts, restaurants and a cinema.
We hope you enjoyed our Top 10 of Things to do in Kota Kinabalu!!