Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Itineraries for Your Trip to Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu locals share their perfect days.
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1 Day in Kota Kinabalu for First Timers

Curated by Jen PengJen is a Tahoe-based writer who loves traveling, food, and adventures. She has written about food and drink for the likes of Mashed, Tasting Table, and Getaway Reno/Tahoe. Jen spent 20 years living in China and Hong Kong, and has traveled to more than 75 countries. When she’s not out exploring the world or the great outdoors, you can find her curled up with a good book.

Kota Kinabalu may be synonymous with its mountainous namesake, but there’s so much more to the capital of Sabah, Borneo. The city’s close proximity to beaches, islands, wildlife, and culture means that there’s plenty to see and do. Here’s how to make the most of one day in KK.


Get an early start and head to Kota Kinabalu City Mosque to catch the sunrise and see the building reflected in the pond below. After refueling with a local breakfast, head to Likas Bay Lagoon and Signal Hill Observation Deck to get your bearings. 

Then, tick off Atkinson Clock Tower, Sabah State Museum and Heritage Village, Pu Toh Tze Temple, and the 30-story Menara Tun Mustapha. Shoppers should make a point to stop at one of the many markets in town, such as Central Market. For a hassle-free experience, opt for a sightseeing tour designed with first-time visitors in mind.


Spend the afternoon on a tour of a cultural village outside of town. The most popular is Mari Mari Cultural Village, an open-air museum where you can learn more about the different traditional groups in Sabah, which include the Dusun, Rungus, and Lundayeh people. Here, you can visit a traditional longhouse to try local delicacies and see cultural demonstrations such as fire starting, blowpipe making, and target shooting. 

Another option is to visit the Monsopiad Cultural Village, where you can tour their House of Skulls, replete with headhunting trophies. Tours typically include round-trip transfers from Kota Kinabalu.


The sunsets in Kota Kinabalu are sublime, and are best viewed from Tanjung Aru Beach. For the ultimate experience, charter a luxury yacht or catamaran. or enjoy a sunset or dinner cruise, complete with a firefly show or live entertainment. Otherwise, feast on fresh seafood along the Kota Kinabalu Waterfront, which is also a great place to grab some pre- and post-dinner drinks. 

Alternatively, enjoy dinner while watching a cultural show or dance performance. Finally, go shopping and pick up all your souvenirs at one of the night markets in town, such as the nightly Filipino Night Market or the Sinsuran Night Market.

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