As the second-largest growing city in Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru really is the up and coming place to visit in Southeast Asia! Full to the brim of historical and architectural wonders, as well as some beautiful tranquil spaces dotted around, there’s something here for everyone!
With a population of around half a million, Johor Bahru is just the right size to be bustling and exciting without being overwhelming. It’s the best place to visit in Malaysia to be able to both explore and relax!
With so much on offer, it can be quite overwhelming when trying to decide where to stay in Johor Bahru.
But with our easy, step-by-step guide, you’ll find the best areas to stay in Johor Bahru to meet your interests and budget!
Without further ado, here’s our guide to where to stay in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia.
Quick Tips: Where to Stay in Kota Kinabalu
- Where to stay in Kota Kinabalu for your first time: Karamunsing
- Where to stay in Kota Kinabalu on a budget: Likas
- Where to stay in Kota Kinabalu for nightlife: Waterfront
- Coolest place to stay in Kota Kinabalu: Dongongan
- Where to stay in Kota Kinabalu for families: Tanjong Aru
- Take a boat trip out to the stunning Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park
- If you love beautiful, ornate buildings, look no further than Sabah State Mosque.
- Head out to Sutera Harbour Marina and Golf Club if you love outdoor activities!
Table of Contents
- Where to Stay in Kota Kinabalu
- Kota Kinabalu Neighborhood Guide
- Kota Kinabalu’s Top 5 Neighborhoods to Stay In
- #1 Karamunsing – Best Place to Stay in Kota Kinabalu for Your First Time
- #2 Likas – Best Place to Stay in Kota Kinabalu on a Budget
- #3 Waterfront – Best Place to Stay In Kota Kinabalu for Nightlife
- #4 Dongongan – Coolest Place to Stay in Kota Kinabalu
- #5 Tanjong Aru – Best Place to Stay in Kota Kinabalu For Families
Looking for a specific stay? These are our highest recommendations for places to stay in Kota Kinabalu …
Best Hostel in Kota Kinabalu: Faloe Hostel
This is a comfortable, homely hostel with loads of great features! Its rating is through the roof, and you can see why! Free all-day breakfast, laundry services, Netflix, a shared kitchen and free hugs – this really is a lovely community of friendly staff and amazing facilities!View on HostelWorld
Best Airbnb in Kota Kinabalu: Laxzone’s Condominium
This stay is designer-decorated and beautifully stylish. You’ll be the envy of your friends as you stretch out onto your sunlounger, cocktail in hand, watching the sunset!
There are outstanding views from the rooms across the city and is easily accessible to the Waterfront and Karamunsing neighbourhoods!View on Airbnb
Best Hotel in Kota Kinabalu: The Magellan Sutera Resort
This amazing hotel has everything you could want and more! Exquisite dining experiences, outdoor pools and a spa will all add up to make your stay relaxing and luxurious!
You’ll still be close to the essence of Kota Kinabalu though- you’re just a short drive from the city centre. You’ll be close to nature too – the hotel has its own private beach!View on Booking.com
Quick Summary: The Best Places to Stay in Kota Kinabalu
|Check Top HostelCheck Top AirbnbCheck Top Hotel|
|Check Top AirbnbCheck Top Hotel|
|Check Top HostelCheck Top AirbnbCheck Top Hotel|
|Check Top HostelCheck Top AirbnbCheck Top Hotel|
|Check Top HostelCheck Top AirbnbCheck Top Hotel|
With so much history, culture and scenery to enjoy, Kota Kinabalu is one the best places to visit in Malaysia!
Kota Kinabalu’s Top 5 Neighborhoods to Stay In
The capital of the state of Sabah on the island of Borneo is this idyllic holiday location and a fantastic place in Malaysia stay on vacation. Whether you’re backpacking your way around Southeast Asia, looking for some cultural enlightenment or simply want a relaxing getaway, this is the place for you!
Situated on the coast, with access to some amazing islands, like the Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park, there’s a whole host of areas to explore and sights to see! The city is bustling for those of you who enjoy action-packed urban getaways, but it’s surrounded by some stunning mountains and tranquil hidden treasures if you’d prefer a more relaxed stay.
Over the centuries, Kota Kinabalu has been occupied by the Japanese, the British and the Chinese, and has inhabitant from fascinating tribes too. This means there’s a whole host of culture and history to take in, and there’s plenty of ways to do it!
If you’re more of a studier, there are a whole host of museums and art galleries to visit and the best spot for this is Lakis. Lakis is also a super cheap area so if you’re trying to save the dollars, this is the best place to stay in Kota Kinabalu for you. The most central neighbourhood is Karamunsing, and this is where you’ll have the best access to boat trips out onto the ocean, as well as some great historical landmarks.
Greenspaces are in abundance in this fabulous city, so if you want to get active, this is the best place to stay for you. Kota Kinabalu has beautiful parks scattered right across it, but the highest concentration can be found in Dongongan. It’s an area just outside the city centre, but with great access to the mountainous national parks surrounding it!
Getting around Kota Kinabalu is super easy! The roads themselves are great quality if you prefer to make your own way around, but the public transport has evolved with the city’s growing tourist attractions! Regular bus services are the go-to here, and there’s stops around every corner taking you to all corners of the city.
Trains will take you to surrounding areas a little further afield on the Sabah State Railway. Travelling long-distance to and from other major destinations in Malaysia isn’t an issue – Kota Kinabalu International Airport is the main hub for Malaysian Airlines and is the country’s second-busiest airports. Kota Kinabalu also has a really busy port, taking you to nearby islands!
Historical landmarks, access to the coastline and museums are what characterise Karamunsing. It’s the most central neighbourhood where you can walk to everything you could need.
You’ll find out everything there is to know about the immediate city centre, as well as having the opportunity to explore further afield by boat!
Things to See and Do in Karamunsing
– If you love beautiful, ornate buildings, look no further than Sabah State Mosque. It’s huge, brightly coloured domes are amazing and it has some adorable tiny trees outside it!
– Take a boat trip out to the stunning Tunku Abdul Rahman National Park. It’s a group of 5 islands which are exquisite paradises, most of which have eco-parks for you explore. They also have the world-famous stilt villages on them from migrants who have settled there!
– To learn all you could want to know about this district of Borneo, head to the Sabah Museum. It contains an ethnobotanical garden, a zoo and a heritage village! Covering archaeology, history and culture, this museum has everything packed inside it for you to truly understand Kota Kinabalu!
– Head out to Sutera Harbour Marina and Golf Club if you love outdoor activities! There’s loads of boating activities available and the opportunity to play on one of Borneo’s most pristine golf courses!
Best Hostel in Karamunsing: Dimple Life Hostel
Just a 10-minute drive from the Airport is this gorgeous hostel. The communal area is the perfect place to make new friends and the atmosphere is really chilled out – great after you’ve been exploring all day!
There’s’ a shared bathroom and the rooms are traditional dormitory-style. There’s access to a swimming pool and gym near the property for you to really unwind!View on HostelWorld
Best Airbnb in Karamunsing: Riverson Soho Suite – Sunset Seaview
This stay is stylish, spacious and swish – with a modern twist overlooking an ancient landscape from huge windows! There’s a balcony where you can enjoy a morning coffee or a sunset cocktail.
Because of the huge windows, the kitchen and living room will flood with natural light every day making it the perfect place to return to after a day of adventures!View on Airbnb
Best Hotel in Karamunsing: The Pacific Sutera Hotel
Just a five-minute walk from the harbour is this idyllic hotel. Complete with an outdoor pool, restaurant and gym, you’ll want for nothing during your stay here.
Each room is contemporary and spacious, with great views across the sea or the city. There’s internet access so you can stay connected and even a night club attached if you want to dance the night away!View on Booking.com
It may be the cheaper side of town, but there’s so much on offer in Likas! Getting off the beaten path and closer to nature is one of the best ways to save money when travelling Malaysia.
Try some local cooking, learn about the local species of birds and marine life or go for the ultimate hike in Kinabalu Park! This is the best place to stay in Kota Kinabalu if you want to combine the urban with the natural on your trip!
Things to See and Do in Likas
– Are you an architecture lover? Then head out to take a look at the Tun Mustapha Tower – a huge glass structure held up my steel stilts!
– If you’re a nature lover, look no further than the Kota Kinabalu Wetland Centre. This is one of the only remaining areas of the region still covered in Mangrove Forest, where you’ll find some fascinating native species of birds to discover!
– If you enjoy cooking, why not take part in a Traditional Borneo Cooking Class. It starts in a local market in Tamparuli, showing you how to make three dishes with key local ingredients!
– If you want to get in touch with nature, take a trip out of the city to the Kiansom Waterfall – a beautiful, tranquil space!
– Want to get some exercise? Take a trip out to Kinabalu Park – an amazing national park and UNESCO World Heritage site. You can climb mountains and follow trails, all the while taking in incredible views of this outstanding region!
– The Green Connection is an aquarium and scientific discovery museum- the perfect place to expand your marine biological knowledge!
Best Airbnb in Likas: KK Sea View Suites
This stylish space will feel like a home away from home – and for a fraction of the price! It’s large, so can accommodate a reasonably big group of travellers and with a kitchen and dining space like this, you’ll have the means to share in loads of group time together.
With sea views and a relaxing atmosphere, this is an offer you simply cannot resist!View on Airbnb
Best Budget Hotel in Likas: Joyful B&B
This gorgeous little B&B is definitely what it says on the tin! Quaint rooms, quirky décor and friendly staff will make your stay relaxing and cheery!
There’s free Wi-Fi and free parking, as well as lovely communal areas to make new friends!View on Booking.com
Best Hotel in Likas: KK Vacation Home
Offering an outdoor swimming pool, a tennis court and free parking, this hotel might be on the cheap side but only on the bill! There’s still loads on offer in this simple, yet sophisticated apartment!
There’s an airport shuttle service and even a children’s playground if you want to have some fun!View on Booking.com
The Waterfront is definitely the place to be at night in Kota Kinabalu! There are amazing bars and nightclubs right Kota Kinabalu’s seafront overlooking the beautiful ocean and islands on the horizon.
It’s not just great at night though, there’s plenty to explore in the day too! Whether it’s the historical landmarks or shopping malls, there’s something for everyone on the Waterfront!
Things to See and Do in Waterfront
– If you want to find the perfect souvenir from your travels, head over to the Oceanus Waterfront Mall! It’s so big you might get lost in it!
– To get some heritage, head to Merdeka Square, which historically used to hold sporting events and specials ceremonies!
– The Atkinson Clock Tower was built at the turn of the 20th century in memory of the district’s first officer who died of Malaria. It now stands as a beautiful monument representing the colonial past of this great city.
– If you want a gorgeous view across the city and the sea, head to the Signal Hill Observatory Tower- particularly beautiful at sunset!
– If you enjoy street art, take a look at the Pillars of Sabah! They’re an arrangement of stacks all painted in different bright colours – great for a pic!
– Famed for its nightlife, the Waterfront has plenty of nightclubs and bars to choose from! Some of our favourites are the MYNT Club, Euphoria Club and BED, all of which are on the Waterfront so you can see the sunset while enjoying a cocktail!
Best Hostel in Waterfront: Homy Seafront Hostel
This hostel is what it says in the name – homely! It’s contemporary at the heart of the city, with all the amenities you could hope for to make your stay relaxing and stress-free!
There’s even breakfast included – welcome I’m sure if you have a sore head after a night out on the Waterfront!View on HostelWorld
Best Airbnb in Waterfront: P3 Ultimate Luxury Studio
This is the ultimate luxury! With contemporary décor, stunning views over the city and access to an eternity pool overlooking the sea, this is the perfect place to unwind!
It’s one of the larger apartments in this block, allowing you to host friends for drinks before heading out into town!View on Airbnb
Best Hotel in Waterfront: Le Meridien Kota Kinabalu
With stunning views across the seafront, contemporary amenities and stylish finish on the décor, Le Meridien is the best place to stay on The Waterfront!
There’s a rooftop bar, which is the perfect place to start your night on the town! It’s also a great base after your day of exploring, with spacious and relaxing rooms.View on Booking.com
Dongongan is a little out of the city, but is the best place to stay in Kota Kinabalu if you want to discover its hidden treasures!
If one of your reasons for visiting Malaysia is to get in touch with its exquisite nature. There’s plenty of opportunity to get outdoors in this area, so if that’s your thing, look nowhere else!
Things to See and Do in Dongongan
– If you’re into your hiking and outdoor activities, then take a day trip out to the Crocker Range National Park. There’s loads of peaks and trails for you to try and master, or just simply take in the breath-taking scenery!
– If you want to find a peaceful green space, head to Tun Fuad Stephens Park. There’s a jogging path right through loads of species of trees and shrubs, as well as a manmade lake!
– Perhaps the coolest place to visit in Kota Kinabalu is its Monsopiad Heritage Village! It’s a traditional village replicating the life and times of the Kadazandusun people. It’s the only one of its kind in the area and is the perfect way to step into the past and truly understand one of Malaysia’s richest cultural heritages!
– Are you an animal lover? Look no further than a day trip to Lok Kawi Wildlife Park! There’s some amazing native Malaysia species to get up close and personal with!
– Love your fluffy friends? Then head out to Kuai Rabbits Garden! It’s the best place to meet some cuddly cuties as well as take in the beautiful countryside.
Best Hostel in Dongongan: Audrey Capsule Hostel
For a sci-fi, futuristic vibe, this is the perfect place for you! With sleeping capsules and simple décor, this is a charming hostel that will cater for all your needs! It has a restaurant, linens provided and free parking!View on Booking.com
Best Airbnb in Dongongan: KK Condo Near Airport
This is a trendy twist on authentic Malaysian décor. There’s plenty of room, loads of lovely natural light and easy access to all areas of this neighbourhood!
It’s comfortable and there’s plenty of room for you to invite friends around for a meal after a long day of exploring!View on Airbnb
Best Hotel in Dongongan: Oyo 371 Grand Eastern Hotel
Stylish and spacious, this hotel is also really convenient, with great transport links both in and out of the city. It’s relatively cheap too, so you can save your money up for all of the fantastic activities Dongongan has to offer!View on Booking.com
Taking the kids on a break? Look no further than Tanjong Aru! A very safe and family-friendly area of Malaysia, Tanjong Aru is famous for sunsets, fantastic beaches and golf resorts, it’s the perfect place to unwind and relax.
Whether you’re into history, leisurely walks or interesting transport – there’s something for all the family to enjoy in Tanjong Aru!
Things to See and Do in Tanjong Aru
– Perdana Park is a park found in Tanjong Aru and is definitely worth a visit! There’s a running track, wheelchair ramps so that everyone can enjoy the amazing musical fountain!
– For the best view of the region, take a trip on the Sabah State Railway! It’s the only rail transport system operating on the nearby island of Borneo and is a truly unique way to see the surrounding neighbourhoods!
– If you enjoy war history, head to the Petagas War Memoral, which is dedicated to the Second World War victims in Sabah.
– For some unreal sunsets and beautiful sandy strolls, head straight to Tanjung Aru beach. It’s the best beach in Kota Kinabalu to relax and unwind!
– Prince Phillip Park is one of the oldest parks in Sabah and has plenty to offer all the family! There’s a skate park at one end and some delicious food stalls all the way down the beach!
Best Hostel in Tanjong Aru: Dock Inn
This is a hostel full of character and fun! With a 24/7 reception, gorgeous social lounge and all the modern amenities you could hope for, this is convenient and homely hostel!
With a nautical theme, you’ll feel part of the landscape during your stay here!View on HostelWorld
Best Airbnb in Tanjong Aru: Hidden Gem Gallery Inspired Rustic Studio Apartment
Considered by Airbnb as a unique stay is this gorgeous and truly fascinating studio apartment. If you’re looking for something a little different in your stay, look no further than here!
With quirky décor, a fully functional kitchen to cook those family meals, and plenty of space for the kids to play – what more could you want?View on Airbnb
Best Hotel in Tanjong Aru: Shangri-La’s Tanjung Aru Resort & Spa
If you want to treat your family to a holiday like no other, book your stay now at the Shangri-La! The pinnacle of luxury and relaxation, you’ll be able to eat some Borneo delicacies with a beautiful view across the ocean.
There’s pools, a spa, a hot tub, a gym – you’ll not want to leave once you’ve arrived here!View on Booking.com
Final Thoughts on Where to Stay in Kota Kinabalu
Amazing culture, fantastic scenery and idyllic beaches – Kota Kinabalu has so much to offer to travellers of all types! It comes as no surprise that Kota Kinabalu is the perfect place to visit for all ages!
To recap: Karamunsing is the best place to stay in Kota Kinabalu for your first time. You’ll be able to learn all about the city’s amazing history and culture!
To recap: Kota Kinabalu’s most luxurious hotel is definitely the Magellan Sutera Resort. Modern, luxurious and comfortable!
If you are travelling on a budget, then the best place to stay in Kota Kinabalu is Faloe Hostel! A unique stay without the cost!
Have we missed anything? Let us know in the comments below! Otherwise, enjoy your travels!
Don’t forget to sort your travel insurance! We’ve put together a roundup of the best travel insurance for backpackers – check it out here, or if you’re low on time, get a quote from World Nomads now, our favourite travel insurance provider.
Getting an estimate from World Nomads is simple – just click the button or image below, fill out the necessary info, and you’re on your way!
Do you own an awesome hostel, hotel or apartment? Want to be featured in our list? Email [email protected] to find out how.
Yay for transparency! Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you book your accommodation through the site, The Broke Backpacker will earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Your support helps me keep the site going.
Need More Inspiration?
- Where to Stay in Langkawi
- Coolest Neighborhoods in George Town
- Where to Stay in Johor Bahru
- Best Areas and Accommodation in Kuching
Like this post? PIN ME!!!
Writer and Editor, Ana Pereira is a California native, inspired by Earth exploration and introspection. Recently, she spent several months exploring Africa and South Asia. She spends most of her “down-time” out in the wilderness, climbing, hiking, and beyond, and is feverishly passionate about travel and health.