SabahBah’s Free Things to Do in Kota Kinabalu is a list of activities around the city that will cost you nothing *.
Most of the free activities on our list are within walking distance of the city. However, we love walking and think everything is within walking distance if you have enough time.
* Therefore “nothing” excludes whatever you’ll spend on transport to get there.
Let’s see, in no particular order, what there is to do in Kota Kinabalu that’s free.
1. Nano Jungle Trek in the City
At the back of the city, behind Gaya Street’s Jesselton Hotel where Signal Hill meets the road, lies the Garden Hotel and just to the left of it is a set of stairs that leads into the jungle. These mysterious stairs are the start of a nano jungle trek.
Why go there: If you’re not doing any other jungle trekking while in KK, the nano jungle trek is a perfect, bite-sized experience. 7 minutes of authentic jungle fun, with heightened humidity, squawking birds, captivating Borneo bugs and, if you’re lucky, a troop or two of macaques. The nano jungle trek is also the shortest route from the city to the next free thing to do in Kota Kinabalu, the Signal Hill Observation Deck.
How to get there: If you’re in the city, cross the road behind Jesselton Hotel and walk towards the hill.
2. Signal Hill Observation Deck
Taking advantage of Kota Kinabalu’s raised backdrop, the observation deck is perched on nearly the highest point of the road leading over Signal Hill.
Why go there:Signal Hill Observation Deck is a humble feature offering sweeping vistas that include the central city area, Likas Bay, the TAR Park’s 5 islands – plus Sepangar island, and the South China Sea as far as the horizon stretches. At the observation deck you’ll find a little café, toilets and beautiful views. Possibly also plenty of traffic, depending on when you go.
Although you can only see the sun set behind the real horizon at certain times of the year when it doesn’t disappear behind Gaya Island first, sunsets are always a visual feast from the Signal Hill Observation Deck.
How to get there: Stroll up from Padang Merdeka by keeping left along the shady, jungle canopy covered road, or take the stairs next to Atkinson’s Clock Tower and turn left for a slightly shorter path, or take the stairs of the nano jungle trek mentioned above for the shortest walk.
3. Sunsets, Sunsets & More Sunsets
You might think that if you’ve seen one sunset, you’ve seen them all, but that means you haven’t seen a Sabah sunset.
Why go there: Majestic, spectacular, astonishing, awesome, breathtaking and all the other adjectives we use frivolously, apply as originally intended to the natural cacophony of colour that explodes in the Sabah sky most evenings.
From the beach, a hotel rooftop, the side of a hill, a cocktail bar or the balcony of your apartment, when the conditions are right you’re in for a treat as the sun sets and the Sabah sky responds in waves of cascading hues. Here in Sabah no 2 sunsets are ever the same, so it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
How to get there: Face west after 5:30pm. You’re there.
4. Central Fruit, Veg & Fish Market
Located in the centre of prime real estate on the Kota Kinabalu waterfront, the Central Market is arguably Kota Kinabalu’s biggest gathering of fruit, vegetable and meat traders.
Why go there: A sensory safari, the Central Market has so much to see, hear, touch and smell that even if you intend on buying nothing, you should visit just for the experience. Fruits and vegetables, colourful and often unknown to foreign visitors, cover most of the main hall. Towards the back the fruit and veg make space for walls of eggs, chicken, pork and perhaps a more exotic meat or two. Out towards the back near the water’s edge is the wet market where all manner of sea creatures, fresh from the ocean, wait in limbo, destined for the plates of seafood lovers around the city.
Don’t pinch your nose, it’s all part of the experience. Go now, before they get moved to make way for development.
How to get there: Central to the city, it’s walking distances from most places. 3 mins from the Hyatt or Le Meridien Hotel.
5. Sembulan River Park
Around the corner from the State Mosque lies one end of the Sembulan River Park.
Why go there: The Sembulan River Park is a beautification project on the banks of the Sembulan “river” that brings a touch of tidy to an otherwise dilapidated neighborhood. The project starts next to the State Mosque complex and snakes along the river towards the Karamunsing Flyover. It incorporats urban landscaping, well-lit areas and soothing spaces along the way.
A particularly beautiful part of the project runs behind the 1Malaysia building immediately next to the State Mosque complex, getting grittier the closer it gets to the Sembulan side of things.
How to get there: Take any of the orange buses from in front of Marina Court and get off at the Karamunsing Flyover for RM1 from the city centre. A taxi from the city centre to the Karamunsing Flyer from town should (but probably won’t) cost RM10.
6. Asia City Handicraft Alley
Kota Kinabalu is full of “Sabah Products”, which are often mass produced and often not even from Sabah.
Why go there: What makes the Asia city Handicraft Alley worth a visit is that you can see Sabah handicraft actually hand crafted right in front of your eyes. You may see more unique craft in this alley than you would at most of the markets.
And if you’re spending some time in Sabah and feel like buying something after all, you can have beaded bracelets or other souvenirs customised with a unique message at prices more competitive than in formal shops.
How to get there: The Handicraft Alley is across the road from Centre Point Shopping Centre and runs the length of the Asia City mall.