Kota Kinabalu, also known as KK is a coastal city on the Malaysian part of the island of Sabah. It is the main Malaysian city on this island and a particularly popular tourist destination for its hiking trails, unique and diverse rainforest, and spectacular beaches. It’s also the home of the beautiful Mount Kinabalu. KK has an international airport, which means coming from anywhere in Malaysia, and even neighboring countries in Southeast Asia is relatively easy. Attractions and the best things to do in Kota Kinabalu include water activities, discovering wildlife, and learning about its culture and history.
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Where to Stay in Kota Kinabalu
There are heaps of places to stay in Kota Kinabalu, from hotels to beach resorts, backpacker hostels to workation locations. Here’s our picks for where to stay in Kota Kinabalu.
Stay at the Hotel Grandis Kota Kinabalu
This is a great location close to the Jesselton Point ferries (perfect if you’re heading over to Labuan Island). The Grandis Hotel gets great reviews and has both a 24-hour reception and a swimming pool. Breakfasts here come highly recommended, the staff are friendly and it’s an excellent place to stay. You can check rates and availability here.
Stay at the Hotel Gaia 95 Kota Kinabalu
This is a great budget hotel in Kota Kinabalu. There’s WiFi everywhere, luggage storage available and a car park, so it’s great if you’re self-driving in Borneo. It is a fantastic hotel location in KK for walking and seeing all the sights downtown and gets great reviews. Reserve a room here.
Stay at the Hotel 7 Suria Kota Kinabalu
The rooms at the Hotel 7 Suria in Kota Kinabalu are spacious and some have fabulous views out to the ocean. There are some fabulous facilities here, especially for the price and the Hotel Suria 7 is in a great location, you’re perfectly positioned for the night market, the Sunday market and the KK waterfront. You’ll want to reserve this one early.
The Top Things to do in Kota Kinabalu
The city of Kota Kinabalu might be relatively small but it doesn’t mean the activities to do here are limited. This Malaysian’ Borneo port town offers you water activities, interesting historical spots to check out and mosques to visit. I’d also recommend exploring the markets, and getting close to wildlife and nature. It’s pretty easy to spend a few days or even an entire week here if you factor in some amazing day trips from Kota Kinabalu.
Take a Tour of Kota Kinabalu
If you are short on time or prefer to get the local knowledge, then book a tour that features the most popular tourist spots in Kota Kinabalu. From the incredible City Mosque, Tun Mustapha, Sabah State Museum, UMS Aquarium, Signal Hill Observation Deck, and more. You’ll also save on time and transportation costs to and from different attractions and parking fees because, this KK city tour includes an English-speaking guide, as well as pickup and drops off at your hotel. This is a convenient, educational and time-efficient way to explore Kota Kinabalu. This is a great option to explore Kota Kinabalu city.
Not only is this KK’s main city park, but the Kota Kinabalu City Park also has a monument that commemorates both the British Soldiers who defended Sabah during World War I and the International Armed Forces who defended the island of Sabah during World War II. You can find it right downtown, between Jalan Tun Razak and Jalan Tugu.
- Address of Kota Kinabalu City Park: Jalan Tun Razak, Pusat Bandar Kota Kinabalu, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
See the Atkinson Clock Tower
Located just a short 8-minute walk northeast from the City Park, you will find the Atkinson Clock Tower which was built in 1905, when Kota Kinabalu was known as Jesselton. It was named after Francis George Atkinson, who was Jesselton’s District Officer. Atkinson died at the age of 28 in 1902, after a heart attack and malaria.
It is the oldest structure on the whole island of Sabah surviving from the British Colonia times. This clock tower in Kota Kinabalu is one of the only three structures that survived World War II. It sits right on a small hill giving a great view of the city.
- Address of Atkinson Tower: Kota Kinabalu, 88400 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Go to the Green Connection Aquarium
Heading back to the city center, the Green Connection Aquarium is a 10-minute drive east of the City Park. If you are traveling with young children and plan to take them on a boat trip to do some snorkeling, heading to this aquarium first is a great idea. It’s a great educational visit and you’ll get to learn about different species, 1,200 in fact, and enjoy hands-on exhibits.
- Address of Green Connection Aquarium: 2, Jalan Tuaran, Likas, 88450 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Green Connection Aquarium: every day from10 AM to 6 PM
- Entry Fees for Green Connection Aquarium: RM6 ($1.37)for children and RM12 ($2.73) for adults
Visit Kota Kinabalu City Mosque/Masjid Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu
Standing on a peninsula, Masjid Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu is also known as the City Mosque and it is not only a popular religious site but also a popular tourist attraction in KK. The mosque, which is the largest in Kota Kinabalu can hold 12,000 people! The Masjid Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu is an awesome location for sunset, and when matched with the grandeur of its architecture, the mosque is a must-see in Kota Kinabalu.
You can enter inside, but it’s required to cover your head, shoulders, and down to your legs. You can find the Kota Kinabalu City Mosque by heading north from downtown. KK’s city mosque is about a 10-minute walk from the harbor in Kota Kinabalu.
- Address of Masjid Bandaraya Kota Kinabalun: Jalan Pasir, Jalan Teluk Likas, Kampung Likas, 88400 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Masjid Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu: It’s open every day from 5 AM – 10 PM
- Entry Fees for Masjid Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu: RM5 to walk around the area, an extra RM5 to enter the Mosque
Take a ride on the Borneo Railway
Ride one of the oldest trains and railways in Southeast Asia and head to the southwest side of KK’s main city center. The lines here date from 1896 when the railway was used to move tobacco around Sabah. The Borneo Railway train travels 36 miles (56 km) which takes about 5-hours, leaving at 9 AM. The service is now mostly used for tourism purposes, however, the train ride is completely operational that includes food services, visiting and stopping for photo ops and sightseeing, plus there’s also a crew ready to assist you during the trip. The tourist route goes from Tanjung Aru to Tenom, although you can also use it to go to the market town of Beaufort.
If you take the Borneo Tourist Train, you should be back at the Kota Kinabalu station at 2 PM, although it’s recommended to keep your schedule clear for the afternoon as mechanical issues or other delays do occur can mean a late return downtown.
- Address of Borneo Railway: Jalan Utama Sutera Harbour 88100, 88100, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Borneo Railway: 8.30 AM to 5 PM
- Entry Fees for Borneo Railway: RM400 and up ($91) depending on other services inclusions
Visit Tanjung Aru Beach, Kota Kinabalu
Tanjung Aru Beach is the most popular beach in Kota Kinabalu and can be found south of the Borneo Railway. It’s not surprising how popular this beach is because it is the best place to see the sunset and at the same time have access to food stalls and drinks. In the afternoon, it is a popular area for the locals to go on a long walk along the shoreline. During the weekend, it can get really busy.
About a 10-minute drive or 40-minute walk from Tanjung Aru Beach is the spectacular State Mosque. The mosque has a minaret that reaches 215 feet (65.5 meters) and is modeled on mosques in both Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. This massive religious building can accommodate up to 5,000 people. It was built in 1975 and is currently open to anyone as long as they follow the dress codes.
- Address of State Mosque: Jln Tunku Abdul Rahman, 88100 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Take in the views at Signal Hill Observatory Platform
Heading right back downtown is a beautiful spot to view Kota Kinabalu from above. It’s the highest point in Kota Kinabalu. You’re going to need to climb a few steps to reach the top and enjoy the panoramic view, but it’s worth it. If you don’t want to or cannot access the stairs, you can still take wander around and enjoy the scenery and the sunset. There are great views from here of the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park islands.
There is also a small shop here to buy food, drinks, and ice cream. If you plan to come early in the morning or in the evening, you might want to bring a lightweight jacket or pullover as it can get chilly from the wind.
- Address of Signal Hill: 78, Jalan Asrama, signal hills, 88400 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Signal Hill: 8 AM until midnight
- Entry Fees for Signal Hill: Free
Explore Lok Kawi Wildlife Park
If you don’t have time to head over to Sandakan and the Kinabatangan River area, then you should come here. The Lok Kawi Wildlife Park is about a 25-minute drive south of Kota Kinabalu International Airport and the park offers guided jungle trekking where you can see wild animals, and various plants, and learn about the Sabah Region forests. It’s a great place to see monkeys, sun bears, hornbills, otters, and gibbons. It’s also a great place to learn about rehabilitation too, as many of the animals in the park are rescued. You can read more about Sun bears here.
- Address of Lok Kawi Wildlife Park: Lok kawi Putatan, 88200 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Lok Kawi Wildlife Park: 9.30 AM – 1 PM then again from 2 PM – 4.30 PM, daily
- Entry Fees for Lok Kawi Wildlife Park: RM6 ($1.37)for children and RM12 ($2.73) for adults, fees for trekking are different
Go diving and snorkeling in Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park
Just like any other beach town or city in Malaysia, water activities such as diving and snorkeling are a must in Kota Kinabalu. This area features stunning and colorful corals and diverse fishes, the water is so clear you shouldn’t have a problem spotting them. You can even snorkel right from the beaches. The best place to go snorkeling in Kota Kinabalu is the Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park. A visit to the marine park is one of the top reasons to come to Kota Kinabalu.
There are five islands there where you can also enjoy boating and swimming. Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park is located 5 miles (8 km) east of Kota Kinabalu. You can book a boat tour which includes visiting the island and other activities or you can simply go to Jesselton Point Ferry and purchase a ticket to the island.
The five islands that make up the marine park are Sulug, Gaya, Manukan, Sapi, and Mamutik. Sulug is the quietest and Gaya is most renowned for nightlife.
Visit the Sabah State Museum
The State Museum of Sabah showcases archeological artifacts of Sabah and Islamic civilization. The museum is situated about an 18-minute walk from Sabah State Mosque. One of the most popular displays is the massive skeleton of a whale. The museum also showcases ceramics and educational information about the different indigenous tribes and the natural history of Sabah. There’s a great section here with models of local houses.
- Address of Sabah State Museum: Jalan Muzium, 88300 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Sabah State Museum: 9 AM to 5 PM from Monday to Sunday
- Entry Fees for Sabah State Museum: RM2 to RM15 ($0.5 to $3.5)
Visit the Monsopiad Heritage Village from Kota Kinabalu
A short distance outside the city, you can learn about the history of Sabah before colonialism by visiting the Mosopiad Heritage Village. It showcases Sabah’s culture, traditional clothing, and artifacts, and there’s also a cultural dance. You can even try out local dishes and get a tour from a very knowledgeable local guide. This is of the best attractions in Kota Kinabalu for its cultural value.
The village is named after a famous Kadazan warrior from about 300 years ago. The legends say that Monsopiad killed 42 attackers who were attempting to invade the village. One of the more gruesome exhibits you can see here is the Monsopiad Hall of Skulls, which contains, yes, you’ve guessed it, 42 skulls.
- Address of Monsopiad Heritage Village: Kampung Kuai Kandazon, Jalan Putatan Ramayah, 89507 Penampang, Sabah, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Monsopiad Heritage Village: 9 AM to 4 PM
- Entry Fees for Monsopiad Heritage Village: RM25 ($5.69) for locals, RM55 ($12.53) for foreigners, and children under 6 are free of entry
If you have been to Pulau Labuan (our guide is here), you probably have visited a water village. The Stilt Villages are similar to that one. A stilt village or water village is where houses are built on top of the water and are kept held by stilts.
Kota Kinabalu’s stilt villages are actually home to many Filipinos, the Philippines is not far from Sabah. These villages are home to Bajau and Suluk people who tend to be Sea Gypsies and native to the Philippines, although some residents here have families who were said to arrive in Sabah in the 15th century, it is known for illegal immigrants. Although they are living in Malaysia illegally, the two countries have yet to find a solution for the villagers.
The Stilt Villages don’t really show on the map, however, simply ask a taxi driver and they should be able to drive you there. Remember to ask permission before taking any photos or videos, especially with children to avoid offending the residents. You can also visit the stilt villages as part of an organized tour.
Dine and Drink at KK Waterfront
A perfect way to end a day of exploring Kota Kinabalu is a visit to the KK Waterfront, one of the best spots for sunset in Kota Kinabalu. This strip is lined with restaurants and bars offering wide choices of cuisines and is also suitable regardless of your budget. There are also some good bars in Chinatown, but if it’s a view that you want, then a visit to the Kota Kinabalu Waterfront is where you want to be.
I recommend you walk around first and see which place you want to sit. Arrive early especially if you want to catch the sunset. At the weekend, it can get busy and hard to get a table.
- Address of KK Waterfront: Kota Kinabalu, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of KK Waterfront: depends on the restaurant
Eat Seafood in Kota Kinabalu
For foodies, you HAVE to head out and try one of the seafood restaurants in Kota Kinabalu. Most of Kota Kinabalu’s seafood spots can be found downtown, near the waterfront, or along Jalan Singgah Mata 2. The most popular one is Welcome Seafood Restaurant but the best is Fatt KEe Seafood Restaurant. Seafood is usually priced by weight, so bear that in mind when you’re ordering (and paying!) The Seafood Night market is fabulous too.
Located in the heart of Chinatown, the Jalan Gaya is taken over with food stalls and shops selling various items; from food, clothing, and handicrafts, to souvenirs. The market dates back about 100 years. Make sure to bargain your way around and compare prices first.
- Address of Sunday Market: Gaya Street, Pusat Bandar Kota Kinabalu, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Sunday Market: 6 am until about 1 pm
This area is a fantastic stop when you are about to leave Kota Kinabalu. It’s also known as the Filipino Market. There are many interesting and very affordable souvenirs to choose from. You will be able to find your usual souvenir items, as well as carvings and pearl items. But you’re really here for the food, as, this market is also a brilliant place to try out local dishes and snacks; including dried fruit, fermented fish, and small and quick snacks. Remember to bargain as the prices, especially for tourists usually start high.
- Address of Kota Kinabalu Handicraft Market: Jalan Tun Fuad Stephen, Pusat Bandar Kota Kinabalu, 88000 Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Kota Kinabalu Handicraft Market: 8 AM – 10 PM
Things to do near Kota Kinabalu
There are already so many activities to enjoy and places to explore in Kota Kinabalu downtown, but it’s also a great place to base yourself. So here are some of the best things to do near Kota Kinabalu, before you return to your hotel for the night!
Located 2-hours from Kota Kinabalu, this botanical garden is worth a visit especially if you love being around nature, learning about different plants, and trees, and even seeing some birds. It sits right at the foot of Mount Kinabalu Mountain. You can walk around the garden in about 30-minutes depending on your speed. You can park right near the entrance.
- Address of Taman Botani: Kinabalu Park, 89300 Ranau, Sabah, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Taman Botani: 7.30 AM to 4.30 AM every day
- Entry Fees for Taman Botani: RM5 ($1.14) or RM15 ($3.41) which includes a parking fee
Visit the Sabah Tea Garden/Ladang Tea Sabah
For tea lovers, a visit to this out-of-the-city destination is worth your time. It’s about 74.5 miles (120 km) or 2 hours drive from KK. They serve really great tea, and desserts, and offer an amazing view. There are some information boards and posters about the area, however, there are no tours about the tea plantation or educational tours about the teas from Sabah.
- Address of Ladang Tea Sabah: KM 17, Jalan Ranau/Sandakan Kampung Nalapak, Beg berkunci, No.2, 89309 Ranau, Sabah, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Ladang Tea Sabah: 7 AM to 8 PM daily
See the World’s Largest Flower from Kota Kinabalu.
This flower is one of the strangest and rarest in the world. It weighs up to 22 pounds (10 kilos!) and is only found in Sumatra, Java, Peninsular Malaysia, Borneo, and the Philippines. The Rafflesia flower isn’t a flower, but a parasite that lives on a type of vine. Rafflesia flowers only bloom for between 3 and 5 days and at the end of their blooming, they smell like rotten meat. Rafflesia blooms between November and April. If you’re here in Sabah during that time, ask at your hotel and check signs around the city, it tends to be publicized when there is a Rafflesia in bloom.
The best place to have a chance of seeing Rafflesia is at the Rafflesia Information Center, about 2 hours from Kota Kinabalu. The center is only open from 8 am until 3 pm Monday to Saturday and it’s in Tambunan. You can either take a car, or taxi or get on a bus from Merdeka Field in Kota Kinabalu to Tambunan. Just tell the driver where you’re going and he’ll stop there.
- Address of Rafflesia Information Center: Rafflesia Information Centre, Tambunan, Sabah, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Rafflesia Information Center: 8 am to 3 pm Monday to Saturday
Map of Things to do in Kota Kinabalu
You can also see the Kota Kinabalu map of things to do here.
Day Trips from Kota Kinabalu
While you’re making KK your base in this part of Sabah, there are some fabulous places to explore just a little further afield, these are longer trips and you will need the full day from Kota Kinabalu to enjoy them. Most of these day excursions from Kota Kinabalu feature outdoor activities and the natural landscape that Sabah is very (rightfully) proud of.
Klias Wetland Mangrove Forest Reserve is located about a 90-minute drive south of Kota Kinabalu and it makes for a perfect day trip from Kota Kinabalu.
We all know that Borneo has one of the most diverse forests and wildlife in the world. And coming to this Mangrove Forest Reserve is an amazing way to see it. A safari cruise to the Klias Wetland Forest is one of the best things to do in Kota Kinabalu. To see the reserve properly is an entire day’s adventure. You’ll want to start with hiking to spot monkeys that can only be found in this region, include a boat cruise, and take some lunch featuring local dishes. The easiest way to see the Klias Wetland Mangrove Forest Reserve is on a trip from Kota Kinabalu, as for the perfect experience you’ll be driving back in the dark. As there’s a surprise here. You get to see the famous Sabah fireflies and they’re amazing (we also saw them in Mulu). At the end of the day, it’s a great thing to do here to enjoy the sunset and then see the unique fireflies lighting up the entire mangrove. If all of that isn’t enough, then signing up for white water rafting is also an option where you will have great fun on a 9.2 miles (15 km) long stretch of the river. Check out these options for visiting the Klias Wetland Reserve.
Or if you want to see the fireflies, then this is magical
- Address of Klias Wetland Mangrove Forest Reserve: Klias River Cruise, Kampong Kota Klias, 89800 Beaufort, Sabah, Malaysia
Have an Island Away Day from Kota Kinabalu
Going to a coastal town means island hopping and finding the best beaches in the area. Apart from Tunku Abdul Rahman Park, there are other islands to explore such as Dinawan Island and Sepanggar Island. You should be able to book an island hopping tour that will visit popular islands and other spots for snorkeling and diving. Dinawan Island is just an hour from the city and is a world away. There’s kayaking, snorkeling, and paddle boarding available (and on this tour all equipment is provided). Come and chill out on Dinawan Island, a perfect trip for the day from Kota Kinabalu.
Now, this is the biggy! Mount Kinabalu is just 2-hours from Kota Kinabalu. , this mountain is 13,435-foot (4,094 m) tall and is rich in flora, fauna, and orangutans. It’s a nature preserve and managed by the local government.
During the rainy season (June to August), it’s not possible to summit the mountain, so plan carefully. There are accommodations throughout the trail and the hike is advised to be done in 2 or more days depending on your physical fitness. It might also require a day to acclimatize yourself. Outside of the climbing season, you can hike lower altitudes on the mountain and even have camping experiences. You can check what is possible in terms of hiking Mount Kinabalu during your visit to Sabah here.
Go to Poring Hot Springs
Poring Hot Spring is a 3-hours away from Kota Kinabalu and is situated just past Mount Kinabalu Mountain. An outdoor pool with mineral-rich hot spring water. Apart from enjoying the fresh and warm spring from the mountain, you can also enjoy a canopy walk, butterfly house, unique flowers and plants, and even water slides. A perfect place to visit after climbing the mountain.
The water here comes from a series of springs and contains high levels of sulfur, which is said to have medicinal properties (plus the water helps with aching muscles too). The pools actually date from when the Japanese occupied during World War II.
As well as the hot springs there are also canopy walkways and waterfalls to visit here. You may even get a chance to see the world’s largest flower, the Rafflesia here.
- Address of Poring Hot Springs: 89300 Ranau, Sabah, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Poring Hot Springs: 8 AM to 3 PM daily
- Entry Fees for Poring Hot Springs: depends on which attraction you want to do, price ranges from RM5 ($1) and up
Go White Water Rafting near Kota Kinabalu
There are two main places to go white-water rafting near Kota Kinabalu. The prettiest is the Kiulu River, about an hour from Kota Kinabalu, in Tamparuli. Or if you want something more challenging, then you’ll find Grade 3 and Grade 4 rapids at the Padas River, which is 2 hours from Kota Kinabalu.
At Kiulu River, there are activities even for children, however, the place is closed during typhoon season for safety reasons. Apart from white rafting, you can also go camping and hike around the area.
- Address of White Rafting at Kiulu River: Kiulu Town, 89250, 89250 Tamparuli, Sabah, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of White Rafting at Kiulu River: 8.30 AM to 6 PM
Explore the islands of Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park
Tunku Abdul Rahman Marine Park offers more than a snorkeling and diving spot. There are other things to do here through exploring the islands that make up the marine park which include Pulau Gaya, Pulau Sapi, Pulau Manuka, Pulau Sulug, and Pilau Mamutik.
In these areas, you can find eco-resorts, golden sand beaches, fine white sand beaches, sea urchins, monitor lizards, and monkeys. For serenity, head to Pulau Sulug. Spending an entire day here will not be wasted.
Sandakan is on the other side of Sabah, in fact, the exact opposite side. It is about 6-hours away (or a 50-minute flight), and so the only way to visit Sandakan on a day trip from Kota Kinabalu is to fly. (But if that’s all the time you have, I seriously recommend it). Many of the places you can visit from Sandakan include tours and trips where your local guides will pick you up at Sandakan airport and take you back for your return flight! Travel distance aside, Sandakan is home to incredible caves and the endangered proboscis monkeys, and it is pretty much the gateway to Sabah’s diverse nature and wildlife animals. If you’re looking to visit the Sepilok Orangutan Center, you should get to Sandakan first. Our guide to Sandakan is here – and you can explore further into the Kinabatangan River area here.
Visit Sepilok Orangutan Centre in Sabah
I’m taking a bit of a leap here, but I’m guessing that one of the reasons that you’re in Sabah is to see the glorious Orangutans. And this means that you’re truly going to have to leave Kota Kinabalu. So this is no longer part of things to do in Kota Kinabalu but it must be added to your itinerary. Sabah is the home of many wild orangutans. This also means that there are people taking advantage of them and harming them. This is why the work that Sepilok Orangutan Center does is a fantastic and important job for these animals. There’s more about the Sepilok Orangutan Center here, but briefly.
At this orangutan rehab center, orangutans who are injured or found abandoned or orphaned are nursed to health before being released to the wild. It is an amazing place to visit. But please do watch out and keep your belongings close because some orangutans can be naughty and might steal your possessions. Don’t get too close to them (remember you are in their living space, this isn’t a zoo) as well to avoid startling the apes and causing any distress or hostility.
- Address of Sepilok Orangutan Centre: Sabah Wildlife Department, W.D.T. 200, Sandakan, Jalan Sepilok, Sepilok, 90000 Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia
- Opening Hours of Sepilok Orangutan Centre: Every day, 9 Am to 11.30 AM then again from 2 Pm to 4 PM
- Entry Fees for Sepilok Orangutan Centre: RM 5 ($1) toRM30 ($6.83), RM10 $2.28) for camera fee
You can also see Orangutan from Kuching, Sarawak, at the Semenggoh Orangutan Rehab Center, our guide to visiting is here.
How to Get Around Kota Kinabalu
Getting around Kota Kinabalu is pretty easy. Here are your options for transiting in and around KK.
Getting around Kota Kinabalu in local buses.
Taking the bus is the cheapest way to travel around Kota Kinabalu and for short distances outside of the city. But it’s also the slowest since these are local buses and they will stop a lot of times, plus of course, they don’t always take you right to your destination.
Getting around Kota Kinabalu in Taxis
You can also use the regular taxis which are usually parked right next to hotels, malls, and bus terminals. It can cost more, but if you are traveling with other people, this can be affordable and faster as well. On the other hand, you can use ride-hailing apps so you can see the cost first and the driver can pick and drop you off door-to-door.
Using Boats around Kota Kinabalu
Kota Kinabalu is one of the largest ports in Sabah, not only the boat can be taken for long-distance trips, but you can also take them to get from one island to another.
Self-driving or riding around Kota Kinabalu
Another choice would be to rent a car. If you have a valid international driver’s license, it should also be valid in Kota Kinabalu, just remember that you drive on the left here. And finally, renting a bike is also a choice (both push bike and motorbike/scooter).
If you need to rent a car in Malaysia we recommend Discover Cars for car hire. You can search, compare and save up to 70%, with no hidden fees and free cancellation, it’s the perfect option! Get a price for a rental car in Malaysia here.
Where is Kota Kinabalu
Kota Kinabalu is in the northwest of Borneo Island, in the Sabah region. It’s 174 miles (280 km) north of Brunei and 105.6 miles (170 km) from Pulau Labuan. The other major population center in Sabah is Sandakan and it is nearly 7 hours (332km/206 miles) from Kota Kinabalu to Sandakan.
How to get to Kota Kinabalu
From Kuala Lumpur, you have to take a 2-hours and 40-minute direct flight. Check flight times to Kota Kinabalu from Kuala Lumpur here.
If you’re coming to Kota Kinabalu from KL, then our guide to Malaysia’s capital city is here.
From Pulau Labuan, it’s a 35-minute flight or a 2-hour and 30-minute ferry ride. (You can book a flight here.) Or if you want to book a ferry ticket, then head to Jesselton Point Ferry Terminal to get your ticket. It will cost RM24 ($5.46) to RM48 ($10.92) depending on the seat class and if you are a Malaysian or a foreigner. I advise booking at least one day in advance, as the tickets DO sell out (it happened to us!)
From Sandakan, get on a bus that will take you straight to Kota Kinabalu. The cost is RM43 ($9.78) and takes about a 6-hour drive. Unfortunately, the bus station where you will be dropped off is still out of the main city center. You have to take another minibus or a taxi to reach downtown. The bus ride is bumpy and can be uncomfortable, but you can also take a direct flight which is only a 50-minute ride. You can check bus and flight times and ticket prices for Sandakan to Kota Kinabalue here.
You can also fly from Sandakan to Kota Kinabalu. It’s about a 50 minute flight.
There’s more on how to go from Kota Kinabalu and what your options are in our guide here.
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Final Words on The Best Things to do in Kota Kinabalu
Kota Kinabalu is easy to get to and a great first stop on Malaysian Borneo. While it’s probably not the first choice, Kota Kinabalu is an amazing destination to visit while you are exploring Malaysia or Southeast Asia. It’s a little off the beaten path, which means you can enjoy the beach, do snorkeling, and other attractions without being surrounded by big crowds.
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