Kota Kinabalu, Sabah: 15 Top Things to do

The sprawling city of Kota Kinabalu is the capital of Sabah state in Malaysia. Located in the north-western part of Borneo island, it is a perfect mix of exotic sights and tourist attractions. 

Sabah’s Crowning Glory- Some Quick Facts

Popularly known as KK, the city of Kota Kinabalu is a famous stopover point for tourists planning a Sabah/Borneo holiday. However, for those who plan to stay on for a few days, there are various sightseeing options to consider.  

Take your time soaking up the colors of the city. The hustle and bustle of business blocks, the plethora of hues around the Central Market as well as the Handicraft market are a treat for the eyes. Shopaholics might just never want to leave!

The equatorial climate makes it hot and humid throughout the year. The months of January to April are relatively dry and cool, making it the best time to visit Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. 

Wondering about the popular languages in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah? Malay, some Chinese dialects and Tamil are commonly spoken. English is widely understood which makes it a comfortable scenario for travelers.

How to get to Kota Kinabalu

Flights to Kota Kinabalu

The Kota Kinabalu International Airport is about 7 km outside the main town. A high network of incoming and outbound flights makes it one of the busiest ones in Malaysia. KK’s popularity as a tourist destination can largely be credited to it being a hop over destination for various international flights. 

Flights from Bali, Manila, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, and various other locations around the globe are available. 

Moving around Kota Kinabalu

Being absolutely walkable, getting around on foot is a convenient option to explore KK. With so much to check out within the boundaries of the city, this is also the best way to get around. It allows you to do the sightseeing and at your own pace too. 

However, if walking is not a convenient option,  a fleet of mini-buses circulate the city multiple times a day. Hop on to one and check out the wonders that this Malaysian city has to offer. 

Check out the eating options

So, yes, we’re eventually moving down to our list of interesting places in Kota Kinabalu Sabah. But before we do that, here’s a quick brief on the wonderful eating options available for tourists.

 Seafood, of course, rules prime in the city. The freshness of the flavors and the ethnic cooking styles offered by various seafood restaurants are highly appreciated by the visitors.

Hawker food joints are also major tourist attractions in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. The famous Night Market is a food lover’s dream.

Things to do and places to visit at Kota Kinabalu

The list of interesting places in KK is endless. For the purpose of the article, we’ve tried to cut it down to 15 for the moment. The following should definitely be on your “to do” list. 

Check out the Atkinson Clock Tower

The structure was built in the memory of Francis George Atkinson who was the former District Officer of the city. Constructed in 1902, it stands tall and proud. It is one of the most popular landmarks in the city. 


The uphill walk to the tower offers magnificent city views on the way. The simple yet historic construction surrounded by lush green scenic views is a major attraction for the tourists. 

Interesting Fact: The tower is one of the oldest standing structures in Malaysia and has been a witness to World War II. 

Wetland River Cruise

While you’re in Kota Kinabalu, plan a short day trip to the Klias River that flows outside the city. The river runs through the Klias Wetland Mangrove Forest Reserve. Cruises run through the wetland areas offering you some picture perfect moments to capture. 

The cruise is a biodiversity experience that’s hard to forget. The wide range of flora and fauna showing up in complete glamour is a treat for the eyes. 

Interesting Fact: The Klias River cruise is the best way to spot the endemic proboscis monkeys!

Trekking to Mount Kinabalu

Mount Kinabalu is the key destination point for most travelers planning a stay in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. 

Located outside the city, this sacred mountain with a height of around 13,000 feet above the sea level offers breathtaking views. It stands right in the middle of the Kinabalu National Park. Along with being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the mountain is home to a diverse ecosystem of native Malaysian flora and fauna. 



Various trekking trails are available for those interested in climbing up to the summit point. While the trek isn’t exactly easy, the views from the top are totally worth the effort. A holiday in Kota Kinabalu is almost incomplete without visiting the majestic mountain that it’s named after!

Interesting Fact: the total number of plant species found on Mount Kinabalu is much more than those found in the continent of North America and Europe combined.

Visit the Handicraft Market

So as an answer to your questions on “what to buy in Kota Kinabalu Sabah”, we’d like to recommend a visit to the Kota Kinabalu Handicraft Market. Put up right along the waterfront, the market is absolutely the best place to be for shopaholics. 

For those looking for holiday souvenirs, a wide range of local items are available to choose from. Local handmade accessories, arts and crafts, textiles as well as precious pearls are just some of the items at the display. 

Interesting Fact: Bargaining is an acceptable trend here which makes it a shoppers paradise. 

White Water Rafting

The rivers around Kota Kinabalu with their wild rapids are great for those seeking an adrenaline rush. White water rafting is a popular activity for both the locals as well as the tourists. 


For a milder experience, you could choose between the Kiulu River in Tamparuli which is a one hour drive from the city. The other option is to drive down to the Padas River which offers rapids up to Grade 4. 

Interesting Fact: The Kiulu River is a part of the Tagal system. According to it, fishing is not an allowed activity in the river. 

Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Head out towards the north-eastern side of Sabah and you’ll reach the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre. Borneo has been home to the Orangutans. However, with the rapid drop in their population, they have been categorized as critically endangered species

The rehabilitation center is a part of the 40 sq.km Kabili Sepilok Forest Reserve. Treating injured animals, or bringing up orphaned little ones until they are fit to be returned to the forest is a part of the rehabilitation program. Come, be an audience to their joyful play and you’ll realize the crucial part that the centre is playing here. 

Interesting Fact: Orangutans are the largest mammals that inhabit trees. They were once found all through Southeast Asia but are now found only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo. 

Borneo Railway Ride

If traveling to the beautiful coastline of Sabah is on your plan, taking a train ride is the best way to do so. Borneo railway history dates back to 1896. 

You can start your journey at Tanjung Aru to the coastal region of Tenom. Visiting the neighboring city of Beaufort is also a good option. Sit by the window and catch some breathtaking glimpses of the thick leafy rainforests and the quiet village life around. 

Interesting Fact: When built, the railway was actually intended for the transport of tobacco from the interior to the coast for export.

Plan an evening on the Tanjung Aru Beach

Watching the sun setting across the ocean is always relaxing, right? Come down to the popular beach of Tanjung Aru. While the place may not really be for swimmers, it is a great option for those who just want to take a leisurely walk. 

The beach has a good number of bars and food stalls for those who want to try out some local delicacies. 

Interesting Fact: The beach’s name comes from the Aru (Casuarina) trees which grow abundantly on the coast. 

Visit the Kinabalu National Park and the Lok Kawi Wildlife Park

The Kinabalu National Park is simply heaven for nature lovers. It is also Malaysia’s first World Heritage site. Being home to a massive variety of flora and fauna, the park offers some picturesque landscapes. 


The majestic Mount Kinabalu sitting right in the center of the park is the main tourist attraction. 

Various adventure activities like rock climbing, paragliding, canopy walks, etc are available for visitors. 

The Lok Kawi Wildlife Park is a short distance outside Kota Kinabalu. For those who miss out going to the Kinabalu National Park, this is a great place to observe the local wildlife. Rich with wildlife like deer and tigers, the area is also a natural habitat for Sabah orangutans. 

Interesting Facts: Mount Kinabalu is only around 10-35 years old and is still growing by around 5mm each year! It is one of the youngest mountains in the world. 

Kota Kinabalu City Mosque and the State Mosque

While visitors are often confused between the two, they are actually two separate mosques. 

The former is the largest mosque of the city and attracts tourists for its beauty. Sitting on stilts over the lagoon waters, Kota Kinabalu City Mosque with its gold dome is a sight to behold. 

City Mosque, Kota Kinabalu

The State Mosque is located in Kota Kinabalu suburbs. The minaret and the dome-shaped central building is an architectural delight. 

Interesting Facts: The Kota Kinabalu City mosque can accommodate 12,000 visitors at once. 

A short trip to Monsopiad Cultural Village

A short drive of around 30 minutes from the city center will bring you to the Monsopiad village. Built in the memory of a Kadazan warrior, the village offers glimpses of the traditions of Sabah. 

The village history, as well as the lifestyle of some indigenous Sabah groups, is learning that will stay with you. 

Other cultural villages like the Mari Mari cultural village and the Borneo cultural village should also be checked out.

Interesting Fact: Monsopiad, the Kadazan warrior from the village used to cut the skulls of robbers and kept them as trophies!

Visit the Sabah Tea Gardens

The beautiful tea gardens outside Sabah are a visual treat. They are also a great place to plan a day picnic. 

However, you’d need to schedule around half a day if you plan to keep the Sabah Tea Gardens on your checklist. Located at a two-hour drive from Kota Kinabalu, it is a favorite with tea lovers. The region is famous for its delicious aromatic tea. And when you’re out there, you can just relax with a soothing cup while also learning about the tea-making process. 

Interesting Fact: Sabah tea gardens are the only organic tea gardens in Borneo. 

Sea Kayaking

The Tanjung Aru Beach offers sea kayaking for tourists. Various operators are available to give you a guided tour of the open sea and some small islands on the way.

Snorkeling is also a favorite activity with tourists. 

Interesting Fact: you can get breathtaking views of Manukan and Mamutik islands while sea kayaking here. 

Sabah State Museum

Taking back some historical facts about Kota Kinabalu, Sabah cannot be left out.

The complex hosts two different museums- the Sabah Art Gallery Museum and the Science and Technology Museum. A short day trip to the Sabah Museum is hence worth the time spent.

Interesting Fact: The design of the building is inspired by the Rungus Longhouse architecture.

Poring Hot Spring Baths

What better way to end your Kota Kinabalu, Sabah holiday than to soak up in some hot water spring pools? The Poring Hot Springs with their rich sulfur water are known to have great medicinal properties. That is just what you need to soothe those aching muscles after a trip full of fun and adventure. Right?


Interesting Facts: Along with the hot bath pools, there is also an icy plunge pool. Visitors like to take alternating dips between the two. 

Kota Kinabalu is a perfect balance of adventure, fun, and tranquility. With multiple tourist locations and activities to do, days spent in KK will be a memorable part of your holidays. Pristine beaches, islands, mountains, lush green rainforests, endangered animal species make it a complete travel package.  There is something of interest for every traveler. 

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