If you need a break from the daily grind, here’s in on a little secret — an up-and-coming long weekend getaway destination filled with food and adventure.

Mount Kinabalu - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Obviously, most travellers fly to Kota Kinabalu just to climb the mountain — I mean, why not, it is home to the tallest mountain in Malaysia. But leaving without taking the time to see the city is such a waste! They’re missing out on good food, local sights and fun day trips — like snorkelling with sharks or catching some of the best sunsets in the world!

Even if you’re not much of a hiker, here are 20 things to eat-see-do in this long weekend gem of a destination, just a 2.5 hours flight from Singapore (daily direct flights are available via Scoot!)

Kota Kinabalu City Centre. View from Signal Hill - Sabah Guide

Things to Do in Kota Kinabalu

It might surprise you to learn that there’s plenty of things to do in Kota Kinabalu — from sightseeing, wildlife adventures and shopping. Its prime location also makes the city a great base for fun day trips, several of which are less than a 2-hour drive away!

1) Snorkel or Dive at Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park

Snorkelling at Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Sabah is surrounded by seas teeming with rich marine life — and a snorkelling or diving day tour is a great way to see it. Just 3km from Kota Kinabalu is Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, a protected national park comprising five islands. We went on a half-day snorkelling tour, which includes three stops for snorkelling as well as lunch.

iving at Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park Hawksbill Turtle - Sabah Itinerary

The first stop was at Mamutik, which had the best water visibility of the day. Our guide had a picture chart of marine life commonly found in the national park, making it easier to identify what we spotted! We saw several marine creatures, including a hawksbill turtle, blacktip reef shark and a reef octopus in the 50 minutes we were out at sea.

Snorkelling at Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park Sulug Island - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

We had two more sessions after that, at Sulug Island and Gaya Island (the largest of the five)! Despite the less than ideal conditions as we arrived in January (rainy season), we still managed to see a lot of fish and starfish and overall had a great snorkelling experience.

*Pro-tip: February and March is whale shark season — these gentle giants typically grow up to 12m in length! Our guide managed to see eight whale sharks last season 🤯

Cost: ~S$67/pax
Tour timing:
8:45AM – 4PM
Meeting point:
Jesselton Point Jetty (Google Maps)

2) Check out the City Mosque

City Mosque Drone Shot - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

City Mosque is Kota Kinabalu’s largest mosque, accommodating up to 12,000 people at a time! The mosque is surrounded by a man-made lagoon which gives the illusion that the structure is floating — hence its nickname “floating mosque”. It costs RM5 to walk around the mosque’s perimeter and take photos; tickets can be purchased beside the entrance gate.

For those planning to enter the mosque, you’ll have to pay an additional RM10. It is a place of worship after all, so do wear modest clothing. Note that females must wear a hijab to enter — rental is included in the entry fee.

Entrance fee: RM5 (~S$1.40) for exterior, RM10 (~S$2.90) to enter
Opening hours:
8AM – 12PM, 2PM – 3:30PM, 4PM – 5:30PM (Mon – Sun), Closed on Fri
How to get there:
13min Grab ride from Gaya Street (Google Maps)

3) Explore Gaya Street

Gaya Street Sabah - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Gaya Street is the heart of Kota Kinabalu, located at the city centre and lined with plenty of food options. It was originally called Bond Street during the British colonial era.

Gaya Street Sunday Market - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Gaya Street truly comes to life during the weekends! On Sundays, the entire stretch is closed off for its weekly Gaya Street Sunday Market from 6AM – 1PM. You can find fruits, snacks, footwear, local crafts and more on sale as well as street artists and buskers. There’s also the Api-Api Night Food Market which happens every Friday and Saturday night from 6PM – 12AM.

Opening hours: 24 hours
How to get there: 6min walk from Todak Waterfront (Google Maps)

4) Spot Proboscis Monkeys on a Wildlife Tour

Kilas Wetland Proboscis Monkeys Male - Best Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Proboscis monkeys are primates with unique pendulous noses (for males) which can only be found in Borneo. They’re sadly endangered, so a good way to see them while you still can is by going on a wildlife safari tour at Klias Wetland!

Kilas Wetland Proboscis Monkeys Boat Safari - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Proboscis monkeys are shy creatures, typically perched way up high on the treetops. It’s recommended to bring binoculars, or rent a pair for RM10 at the waiting area near the jetty. Wildlife sightings aren’t guaranteed — the animals are wild, after all — but we managed to see three groups of monkeys during our 1.5hrs out on the water.

*Pro-tip: Lookout for specks of orange in the trees and stay quiet to avoid scaring the monkeys away!

During the tour, we also spotted several long tailed macaques and swiftlets.


Cost: ~S$85/pax incl. dinner
Tour timing:
2PM – 10PM
Meeting point:
Hotel pickup at Kota Kinabalu city (2hr drive to Klias Wetland)

5) Hunt for Murals in the City Centre

Wisma Sabah Building Mural - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

The street art scene in Kota Kinabalu is a growing one, with several buildings decked out in colourful murals. Like this prominent artwork on Wisma Sabah by one of Malaysia’s most famous street artists, Kenji Chai! Kenji is a born-and-bred Sabahan and has painted murals all over the world in cities like New York, Beijing, Tokyo and even Singapore.

Hyatt Regency Mural of Mt Kinabalu - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Opposite Todak Waterfront is a stretch of vibrant murals along Hyatt Regency’s exterior. These 16 murals were done in collaboration with local artists to celebrate the hotel’s 40th anniversary in 2019, and highlights bits of Kota Kinabalu’s heritage. One of our favourites is this mural of Mount Kinabalu — here’s a shot of Timothy climbing the mountain. 😉

Opening hours: 24 hours
How to get there: All the murals above are located within a 10min walk from Gaya Street (Google Maps)

6) Snap Photos at Todak Waterfront

Todak Waterfront I Love KK - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Todak Waterfront is another central community space in Kota Kinabalu, looking out to Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. There’s a huge “I Love KK” sign — you can’t say you’ve been to Kota Kinabalu without posing in front of it! The sunsets here are gorgeous when the weather is good, with vibrant shades of pinks and orange colouring the sky.

Opening hours: 24 hours
How to get there:
8min walk from Gaya Street (Google Maps)

7) Visit the Handicraft Market and Night Food Market

Tourist Walking Through Handicraft Market - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

A short walk from Todak Waterfront is the Handicraft Market. Here you’ll find rows and rows of shops selling t-shirts, handmade bags, magnets and keychains — it’s the best place to grab some souvenirs!

Handicraft Market Tourist Buying Pearls - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

This place also sells loads of affordable pearl jewellery — earrings, necklaces and bracelets. Sabah lies next to the ocean, after all! They make great gifts and we ended up buying two pairs of pearl earrings for RM100.

*Pro-tip: Bargaining is welcome and almost expected.

Handicraft Market
Opening hours: 8AM – 10PM
How to get there:
7min walk from Todak Waterfront (Google Maps)

Kota Kinabalu Food Night Market - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Right beside the Handicraft Market lies a Food Night Market, where there’s tons of seafood eateries selling mostly zi-char style dishes like grilled fish, squid and chicken wings.

Food Night Market
Opening hours: 5:30PM – 11:30PM
How to get there:
1min walk from the Handicraft Market (Google Maps)

8) Stand Up Paddle at Tanjung Aru 

Sunset at Tanjung Aru Beach - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

A 15-minute drive from the city centre lies Kota Kinabalu’s most famous beach, Tanjung Aru Beach. It’s known to have some of the best sunsets in the world, which means it gets really crowded in the evening.

Stand Up Paddling at Tanjung Aru Beach - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Here’s a hack to enjoy golden hour without jostling among the crowds — a stand up paddle tour! After a quick lesson, you’ll paddle out as a group along the coast to a sand bar which offers a more exclusive viewing point of the sunset in front of Tanjung Aru Beach. It’s not too tiring and is a nice way to end the day.

Cost: ~S$28.40/pax (min. 2pax) — both sunrise and sunset tours are available
Tour timings:
5:30AM – 8:30AM, 4:30PM – 6:30PM
How to get there:
15min Grab ride to (Google Maps)

9) White Water Rafting at Kiulu River

Amazing Borneo River Rafting at Kiulu River - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Photo credit: Amazing Borneo

There are plenty of fun outdoor activities in Sabah, besides climbing Mount Kinabalu. Like going white water rafting along the Kiulu River! This river offers grade one and two rapids, suitable even for first-timers.

Amazing Borneo River Rafting at Kiulu River Day Trip - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Photo credit: Amazing Borneo

After a safety briefing, you’ll be taken to the start of the 7km-long route. This rafting adventure takes roughly 1.5 hours to complete, depending on the condition of the rapids. Don’t worry about not knowing what to do — you’ll be accompanied by a guide throughout!

Cost: From ~S$59/pax (age limit 5 to 65 years old), incl. lunch
Tour timings:
8:30AM – 1:30PM, 11:15AM – 6PM
How to get there:
Hotel pickup in Kota Kinabalu City (1.5hr drive to Kiulu River)

10) Treat Yourself to a Spa Day at Kama’A Spa

Kama A Rejuvenation and Wellbeing Spa Star City - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Photo credit: Kama’a Rejuvenation & Wellbeing Spa

The best way to wind down after a long day of exploring? Enjoying a well-earned massage. Kama’A Rejuvenation and Wellbeing Spa is one of the top-rated spas in Kota Kinabalu. It’s located in the same mall as Welcome Seafood’s largest outlet — so you can visit before or after dinner.

Kama A Rejuvenation and Wellbeing Spa Star City Foot Massage - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Photo credit: Kama’a Rejuvenation & Wellbeing Spa

The place is nice and clean, with a decent range of massage and spa treatments to choose from. We opted for a 60-minute foot reflexology (RM78), which was perfect after a day of snorkelling.

Cost: From RM78 (~S$21.90) for a 1hr massage
Opening hours:
10AM – 10PM (reservations are recommended)
How to get there:
8min Grab ride from Gaya Street (Google Maps)

Things to Eat in Kota Kinabalu

The food scene in Kota Kinabalu is an exciting one. It’s one of the best parts about visiting Sabah! There’s so much delicious local food that’s affordable; most coffee shop meals cost less than S$5. And because food is such an important part of the city’s culture, you’ll be able to find food stops open at almost all hours. You could have supper at 1AM and breakfast a few hours later at 6AM — trust us, something will be open.

11) Welcome Seafood

Welcome Seafood ZhiChar Dinner - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Welcome Seafood is a household name in Kota Kinabalu — it’s the city’s most famous seafood restaurant! I’ve been there several times myself, and I’d return again. There are three outlets in the city, but we went to Asia City. It’s the largest branch, occupying several units of the mall’s ground floor.

Welcome Seafood Chili Crab - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

To order, you’ll need to go up to a big signboard menu and point out what you want. The staff will estimate the portion based on your group size and we ordered six dishes for our group of two. We had chilli crab (RM33), soft shell crab (RM33), scallops (RM22.50), geoduck clams (RM26), tiger prawns (RM66) and kailan (RM15) — with our bill totalling RM207 (~S$59).

Welcome Seafood Soft Shell Crab - Kota Kinabalu Guide

My favourite dish was the chilli crab (S$3 per crab, what a steal!) while Timothy raved about the soft shell crab.

Cost: ~S$30/pax
Opening hours:
12PM – 11:30PM
How to get there:
Multiple outlets — Asia City’s branch is a 6min Grab ride from the city centre (Google Maps)

12) Seng Hing Coffee Shop

Seng Hing Coffee Shop Sabah Tuaran Mee - Sabah Food Guide

Seng Hing Coffee Shop is another foodie haunt serving up hearty breakfast and lunch. Try their Tuaran mee (fried handmade egg noodles, from RM13) which is typically served with char siew, veggies and egg roll slices. This dish originates from Tuaran town in West Sabah and is a favourite among locals.

Seng Hing Coffee Shop Fried FIsh Breakfast - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

The Tuaran mee here is fried with lihing (a local rice wine) which makes the dish more fragrant. We also ordered a serving of fried fish slices (from RM16) which came coated in a yummy garlic and dark sauce. 😋

Cost: ~S$4 for a meal and drink — cash only
Opening hours:
7AM – 4PM
How to get there:
10min walk from Gaya Street (Google Maps)

13) Woo! Cafe

Woo! Cafe - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Woo! Cafe is a two-storey joint hidden behind a really unassuming exterior. You’ll probably miss it if you weren’t looking — the sign is on the ceiling. The inside presents a stark contrast; bright and open, with modern furnishings.

Woo! Cafe Modern Brunch Restaurant - Kota Kinabalu Food Guide

We were pretty surprised to find this gem of a cafe just a short walk from Gaya Street. The menu had over 20 drinks — a series of matchas, hojichas, teas and coffees. We had a tough time deciding what to get but eventually settled on an iced strawberry rose latte (RM17) and rose lemonade (RM15) which were both refreshing.

Woo! Cafe Modern Brunch - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Timo ordered the Loaded (RM27) which is packed with all the good stuff — spicy scrambled eggs with beef, cheddar, mozzarella, onion rings and topped with a truffle potato ball. I got the Hell’o’ eggs shakshuka (RM29) which includes kimchi, oyster mushrooms, eggplant, parmesan and mozzarella, with garlic bread and pita.

Woo Cafe Menu - Kota Kinabalu Guide

The portions were massive and the quality of food is pretty good; we’d return the next time we visit Kota Kinabalu.

Cost: ~S$13/pax
Opening hours:
10AM – 4PM (Mon), 8AM – 5PM (Tue – Thu), 9AM – 9PM (Fri – Sun)
How to get there:
6min walk from Gaya Street (Google Maps)

14) Kah Hiong Ngiu Chap

Kah Hiong Ngiu Chap Beef Noodles - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Ngiu Chap (or Ngau Chap) is another popular dish in Sabah. It’s like Singapore’s kway chap, but mixed beef parts are used instead of pork.

There are quite a few famous ngiu chap spots in Kota Kinabalu, but none more well-known than Kah Hiong Ngiu Chap. A standard Ngiu Chap Mee (RM12.40) includes beef balls, slices, tripe and stew meat — but you can add on other parts like intestines and liver. For those who aren’t too keen on beef parts, there’s other options like beef ball mee (RM12.40) and sliced meat mee (RM12.40).

Kah Hiong Ngiu Chap Beef Noodles Breakfast - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Choose between bee hoon or kway teow noodles (or a mix!). The broth is rich and overall, it’s a satisfying and affordable meal.

Cost: RM12.40/bowl (~S$3.50) — cash only
Opening hours:
7AM – 8PM
How to get there:
Multiple outlets in Kota Kinabalu. The outlet at Kolam Centre is the nearest to Gaya Street and is a 14min Grab ride away (Google Maps)

15) Yee Fung Laksa

Gaya Street Yee Fung Laksa Large - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

For a hearty, value-for-money lunch — head to Yee Fung Laksa! This family business is located along Gaya Street and has been serving yummy curry laksa since 1984.

Yee Fung Laksa at Gaya Street - Sabah Food Guide

We got the regular laksa (RM10) and the yee fung laksa king (RM20). The regular portion actually had a decent portion of noodles which was filling enough — the main difference between the two options is the size of the prawns. Other popular dishes here include claypot chicken rice and ngau chap. For drinks we ordered teh tarik and ice lemon tea (RM3.50 each).

Cost: From RM10/bowl (~S$2.80) — cash only
Opening hours:
6:30AM – 5PM (Thu – Mon), Closed on Tue – Wed
How to get there:
4min walk from Atkinson Clock Tower (Google Maps)

16) October Coffee Gaya

October Coffee Gaya Specialty Coffee Cafe - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

October Coffee Gaya is a specialty coffee cafe along Lorong Dewan (or Australia Lane). The interior features a lot of wood, with a second floor nook overlooking the main floor — kinda like a cosy treehouse. It’s a nice place to chill in between sightseeing!

October Coffee Gaya Girl Enjoying Coffee - Sabah Food Guide

We ordered a hot green tea latte (RM10), ice spanish latte (RM13) and a banana cream toast (RM10.50). The toast itself wasn’t fantastic, but with three scoops of ice cream and fruits as toppings for just S$3, we couldn’t complain.

Cost: From RM10/drink (~S$2.80)
Opening hours:
9AM – 11PM
How to get there:
6min walk from Gaya Street (Google Maps)

17) Jia Siang Coffee Shop

Kedai Kopi Jia Siang Sang Nyuk Mee - What to eat in Kota Kinabalu

If you’re ever in need of food recommendations, ask the local taxi drivers. That’s how I first heard of Jia Siang Coffee Shop.

It’s famous for sang nyuk mee, a pork noodle dish which originated in Tawau, Sabah. You can have this dish two ways — with the noodles in soup, or with the noodles and soup separate (kon lou mee). The latter is more popular, with the noodles cooked in dark soy sauce and pork oil. 😋 There’s a generous serving of pork balls and pork slices in the soup.

Jia Siang Coffee Shop Supper - Kota Kinabalu Food

Enjoy it with their homemade chilli sauce, which they also sell in jars at the counter. For sides, try the fried eggplant stuffed with meat (RM12) and pork belly (RM25). This coffee shop opens till 2AM, making it a popular supper spot too!

Cost: From RM12/bowl (~S$3.40)
Opening hours:
9AM – 2AM
How to get there:
18min Grab ride from Gaya Street (Google Maps)

18) Sin Kee Bak Kut Teh

Sin Kee Bak Kut Teh Restaurant Gaya Street - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Bak kut teh is one of those dishes you don’t get sick of and there’s a few popular restaurants near Gaya Street.

We went to Sin Kee Bak Kut Teh for dinner where we had one soup bak kut teh and one dry bak kut teh, plus pickled veggies and enoki mushrooms for sides. Sadly, they ran out of you tiao when we got there around 7:30PM.

Sin Kee Bak Kut Teh Tourist Having Dinner - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

The staff was really friendly, explaining to us the best way to enjoy the bak kut teh. Eat the dry option with a garlic and soy sauce combination, while the soup one goes best with garlic, soy sauce and dark sauce. Both options were tasty, but we liked the dry one more!

Sin Kee Bak Kut Teh Dry - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Cost: ~RM30/pax (~S$8.50) — cash only
Opening hours:
12PM – 9:30PM
How to get there:
3min walk from Gaya Street (Google Maps)

19) Mamasita Mexican Restaurant & Tapas Bar

Mamasita Bar and Restaurant Exterior - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

The night doesn’t have to end right after dinner. Pay a visit to Mamasita Mexican Restaurant and Tapas Bar instead! Their menu covers all the Mexican classics — tacos, quesadillas, burritos, the works! We went there just for drinks and ordered some signature cocktails — an El Paloma (RM30) and Mamasita Signature Sangria (RM30).

Mamasita Bar and Restaurant Live Performances - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

The decor and atmosphere makes it a nice place to chill with friends. There’s also live music every night from 8:30PM – 11:30PM, featuring various local artists.

Cost: From RM30/drink (~S$8.50)
Opening hours:
12PM – 12AM
How to get there:
6min from Gaya Street (Google Maps)

20) Yen Ai Desserts

Yen Ai Desserts - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Yen Ai Dessert has been serving tasty desserts since 1988. They specialise in herbal teas and desserts with various health benefits like detoxifying and immunity boosting!

Yen Ai Desserts Grass Jelly - Kota Kinabalu Guide

The menu here is extensive — there are over 100 items available and we had a really tough time choosing. Some of their bestsellers include sweet longan soup with egg, as well as beancurd skin with gingko nut. It was a hot day, so we went with cooling desserts like grass jelly with lime (RM10.90), lychee iced lemon tea (RM9.50) and crushed ice sea coconut (RM9.50).

Cost: From RM9.50/dessert (~S$2.70)
Opening hours:
10AM – 10PM (Closed on Sun)
How to get there:
There are two outlets — Bornion Centre (9min Grab ride from Gaya Street) and Lintas Plaza (13min Grab ride from Gaya Street)

How to get to Kota Kinabalu

Traveller on Scoot Plane - Weekend Getaway to Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu is just a 2.5-hour direct flight away, so it’s really easy to plan a weekend getaway there — even if it’s a spontaneous last-minute trip! Scoot offers affordable daily flights to Kota Kinabalu (one-way fare from S$83*) from Singapore! Taxes included, terms and travel periods apply.

*Accurate as of date of publication. Check Scoot’s website for the latest fares and schedule!

Girl stowing luggage in airplane cabin - Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Plus, Scoot includes 10kg of carry-on baggage allowance. That’s 3kg more than most airlines! Having more carry-on allowance means you can even travel without check-in luggage if you’re just going for a short trip.

Proboscis Monkey Tour Klias River Tourist Taking Photos - Sabah Guide

When I was a kid, I’d travel to Kota Kinabalu to visit my extended family. But most of my visits were short and limited to the same few activities — meals with relatives, and trips to see Mount Kinabalu.

Rediscovering the city again as an adult made me realise what most travellers and I have been missing on. There’s tons of good food, a good mix of activities, local sights and fun day trips! I can now confidently say you’ll need at least three days for a first trip to Kota Kinabalu, but we’d recommend four to five days if you plan to experience some day trips.

So if you need a break from the daily grind, consider a long weekend getaway to this destination just a 2.5 hour flight away!

Read also: Climbing Mount Kinabalu — A Beginner-Friendly Guide to Scaling One of SEA’s Tallest Mountains Over 4,000m

Any gems to share in Kota Kinabalu? Share with us in the comments!

This post is brought to you by Scoot and Sabah Tourism Board.

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