The rise of Johor Bahru as a premier tourist destination has been slow going, but it may finally be upon us. The capital of the state of Johor is now one of the fastest-growing cities in Malaysia, thanks to the Iskandar development project spearheaded by the government in 2006.
Home to several historical attractions, religious sites and cultural landmarks, Johor Bahru is also set to become a major financial, commercial, and tourist hub, and even now, there are plenty of options for people seeking family-friendly entertainment in the city.
Below are some of our top suggestions on how to make the most of a weekend here.
Visit some of Johor Bahru’s finest museums
Immersing yourself in the rich and diverse culture of the Johor Bahruans is easy; many Johor Bahru tour packages focus on showcasing the city’s vibrant history, and as such, they include stops at some of JB’s most beloved and popular museums.
Marvel at the Royal Abu Bakar Museum, formerly the Grand Palace of the Sultanate of Johor. Built in 1866 by Sultan Abu Bakar, it is a stunning example of beautiful Renaissance revival architecture that reflects its former occupant’s high-born tastes. Over 60,000 artifacts are on display, further illustrating the opulent lifestyle of the royal family. The museum sits on 53 hectares of gorgeously landscaped palace grounds, and admission to the gardens is free, so it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re ever in the area.
Another museum worth a visit is the Johor Bahru Chinese Heritage Museum, which is dedicated to preserving some of the city’s most prized relics from its past as a predominantly Chinese state. Migrants from all over China started coming to Johor Bahru as early as the 14th century, bringing their skills and knowledge with them.
Unlike other areas where the Chinese community is formed by a majority of people from a single province in China, settlers in Johor Bahru came from all over: Cantonese, Hainanese, Hakka, Hokkien and Teochew immigrants were all welcomed by then-ruler Temenggong Ibrahim. He encouraged them to cultivate pepper, gambier and pineapple in the area, and these crops ultimately contributed to the growth and prosperity of the state.
The legacy of the Chinese migrant farmers continues to endure today, as Johor is still the major producer of pineapples in the entire country. Information at the museum is available in Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese, and English, and the exhibitions shouldn’t take longer than a couple of hours to peruse. It makes for a great quick educational stop, especially if you have children along.
Explore exciting theme parks
Johor Bahru’s main attraction is undoubtedly the Legoland Malaysia Resort, where “everything is awesome.” Opened in 2012, the 76-acre resort features both a theme park and a water park, an indoor aquarium called Sea Life Malaysia, as well as a Lego-themed hotel. It features over 70 rides and attractions, including the world’s first virtual reality roller coaster, The Great Lego Race VR Coaster. The waterpark, on the other hand, features over 20 exciting slides for a guaranteed splashing good time. There are dedicated play and build areas for the kiddies in both the theme and water parks, numerous restaurants for a quick bite between adventures, and souvenir shops so that you can take the awesomeness home with you. Book your tickets online for hassle-free entry.
Adventure is also in the name of Austin Heights Water & Adventure Park—literally! This other popular amusement park in Johor Bahru is divided into three zones, namely the water park, the adventure park, and the sports & leisure park—all of which promise a “splash-tacular” good time for the whole family.
The water park features 11 different slides and attractions, including a wave pool and a lazy river for laidback lounging under the sun. You’ll also find the longest indoor suspension rope obstacle course in Malaysia at the adventure park, featuring 51 challenges that are spread out over 7 different course routes. Finally, the sports & leisure park houses a synthetic ice rink, a trampoline gym and play area, and a go-kart course.
Savor Johor Bahru’s best bites
Many weekenders come to Johor Bahru just for the cafés, where some of the city’s most delicious dishes are served against trendy, Instagram-worthy backdrops. Of course, the coffee isn’t anything to sneeze at, either. Flowers in the Window is one of the city’s standouts, serving excellent healthy organic food and artisan breads and pastries amidst a backdrop made to look like someone’s overgrown secret garden. The interiors are laden with a wild assortment of plants and flowers that lend a sense of mystery and magic to the place. Visit them at Jalan Trus, and don’t forget to pick up one of their herb and spice infused drinks.
Another Johor Bahru institution is Mok Mok Brunch & Bistro, a restaurant and café inspired by the coffee culture of Melbourne. The bright and airy interiors are the perfect spot to “enjoy the mokment” as they say here. The menu features items made with produce from FOLO Farm and created with their farm-to-table philosophy in mind. You’ll definitely want the Kumo Ultimo, cream cheese souffle pancakes topped with fresh fruit of your choice, flavoured mousse, nuts and ice cream. For a savoury option, try one of the rice bowls. Our favorite is the Gyutan bowl made with grilled beef tongue that has been marinated in a special sauce and served over pearl rice.
The easiest way to get to JB from Kuala Lumpur is via domestic flights, which cuts travel time to 45 minutes. Due to limited flight availability, you’ll have to book at least a day before. Johor Bahru is also accessible by bus. Several bus lines have direct routes to and from the city, and the journey shouldn’t last longer than 4 to 5 hours. Tickets can be purchased online, or at the station.