From markets brimming with foodie and handicraft delights to post-colonial landmarks, futuristic houses of worship and beautiful offshore islands. There’s so much in Sabah’s state capital just waiting to be explored. Here are the ten top things to do in Kota Kinabalu you can’t miss when you’re there.

Signal Hill Observatory Platform

The Signal Hill Observatory Platform is one of the best places in Kota Kinabalu to enjoy views across the whole city. Perched on Signal Hill you can access steps to the top from Lg Dewan. Although a relatively short climb, the steps are quite steep, so it’s best to go in the early morning or late afternoon. Or better yet, for sunrise or sunset!

Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park

Another of the top things to do in Kota Kinabalu is a day trip to the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. Hidden just a few kilometres off KK’s shore is a collection of five paradise islands that make up the park. Each with shallow turquoise shores to snorkel and swim, stunning beaches to relax at and lush jungles to trek. Gaya Island is the largest by far and with the most to do, so I would recommend visiting here if you are only visiting for a day. You buy boat tickets from Jesselton Point jetty for around 300 MYR which includes your return fare, conservation and jetty fee.

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Watch the sunset over the water

Although the Signal Hill Observatory Platform is a great place to watch the sunset, they’re even better on KK’s waterfront. Here, there are plenty of bars to settle into for golden hour that offer views out to sea. However, Sky Blu Bar was my favourite, with great happy hour deals and unrivalled ocean views from their balcony.

Masjid Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu

The Masjid Bandaraya is certainly the jewel of the city. Beautifully decorated both inside and out, it’s certainly one of the top things to see in Kota Kinabalu. It costs just 5 MYR for international visitors to enter the mosque. However, if you don’t want to pay to go inside, you can walk around the equally stunning grounds for free. It’s particularly impressive to visit on an evening where the lights from the mosque perfectly reflect in the man-made lagoon that surrounds it.

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Hire bikes from City Hall

Another top (and free) thing to do in Kota Kinabalu is to hire bikes from the City Hall. As well as being a great initiative it’s a really easy way to explore the city. All you have to do is take some form of ID with you, pay a small deposit and then the bikes are yours for the day. A particularly good cycle route is along the waterfront from the City Hall to the Masjid Bandaraya.

Kota Kinabalu Handicraft Market (Filipino Market)

Set next to the waterfront, the Handicraft Market, formally known as the Filipino market is another top thing to do in Kota Kinabalu. During the day, it’s made up of a wet market and handicraft market, making it a go-to destination for both seafood and souvenirs. Make sure to head back in the evening too for the night market, where you can rub shoulders with locals and enjoy fresh grilled seafood in the Filipino Market canteen.

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Atkinson Clock Tower

The Atkinson Clock Tower is the oldest standing wooden structure in KK, surviving the city’s destruction during WW2. Although I wouldn’t class it as one of the most important top things to do in Kota Kinabalu, it’s still an interesting piece of history to stop off and see on the way to Signal Hill.

Central Market

Kota Kinabalu’s Central Market is an indoor hawker centre where you can buy dry and fresh food, meat and fish as well as other everyday items. Even if you’re not interested in shopping, it’s still a great hub, where you can watch local people go about their everyday business and take photos of all the colourful produce.

Gaya Street Sunday Market

Gaya Street has long being a central business area of the city, with its famous market being no exception. Every Sunday the street closes to make way for a line of stalls, shaded by colourful umbrellas and the leafy trees above. Here, you can shop for anything from antiques and handicrafts to fruits and flowers, and is considered one of the top places to go in KK on a weekend.

Pillars of Sabah

The Pillars of Sabah are all that remains of the old Land & Survey building after a fire burnt it down in 1992. What rose from the ashes is a community street art project. The original Pillars of Sabah, each post was painted by a local artist and told the story of an important person in Sabah’s history. More recently the exhibition has been changed and now each pillar focuses on an animal that’s now endangered in Sabah.

There are so many more things to do in Kota Kinabalu, than what’s in the list above, but it should be enough to get you started on exploring this awesome city! Have you visited Kota Kinabalu before? If so, add your recommendations in the comments!

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