Free Things to do in Kota Kinabalu Sabah

Kota Kinabalu Free Things To Do

You may wonder if there are any free things to do in Kota Kinabalu and let me tell you - Yes there are! So you are in luck if you plan to visit this amazing city in North Borneo.

While most travelers visiting Sabah for the first time would most likely visit Kota Kinabalu or KK in short, many interesting places are located in and around the city here.

Popular places include going to Mount Kinabalu Park, Desa Farm, Padas River for Water Rafting or even the Klias Wetlands River Cruise, there are in fact many free things that you can do here as most of those places require a half-day tour.

Free Things to do in Kota Kinabalu

Let us start the ball rolling based on your free and easy stay in KK for first-timers or even for those that may have been here before, this information could be a little extra help in your travels around Kota Kinabalu city.

You can also put in the names of the places mentioned below into Google Maps and it will direct you to these popular places. 

Gaya Sunday Market in Kota Kinabalu
Gaya Sunday Market in Kota Kinabalu
1. Exploring Gaya Street 

While Gaya Street is one of the most popular spots to explore on foot, there are numerous shops that date back many years giving visitors that nostalgic feeling.

All sorts of business can be found here from traditional barbers, grocery shops, goldsmiths, traditional coffee shops and modern restaurants and cafes apart from the general convenience stores and banks here.

As there are many hotels found around here, a beautiful heritage hotel is also located here called the Jesselton Hotel which hosts some amazing history too.

For the tourist, the Sabah Tourism Board's office is housed in one of the old colonial buildings here too. 

However, the best time to explore Gaya Street is on Sunday when they have the Gaya Street Sunday Market which starts as early as 6.00 am till about noon.

Loads of traders fill up the main street selling all sorts of wares, clothes, flowers, food, souvenirs, and even pets. I would highly recommend visiting Gaya Street on a Sunday Morning.

After exploring, give one of the old coffee shops a try, especially the coffee and dim sum or noodles. 

Kota Kinabalu Filipino Market
Souvenirs inside the Kota Kinabalu Handicraft Market
2. Visit the Kota Kinabalu Handicraft Market

Formerly known as the Filipino Market, this is hands down one of the most visited places in KK by anyone who travels here.

The Kota Kinabalu Handicraft Market offers visitors a very unique experience, unlike other commercial markets, this place is filled with all sorts of nick-knacks and more importantly, the famous Sabah Pearls.

Rows and rows of stall create a maze to explore where at each turn, you will discover something related to Sabah. 

It's free to walk around inside unless you buy something and the recommended time to visit here in before lunchtime.

For the first time visitor, you can visit anytime in the day but late in the afternoons, it can get pretty hot and humid inside here. 

Just next door is also the KK Fruit Market and also the Salt Fish Market, all of which are equally interesting to visit.

Plus if you are up for getting some dried seafood, this is the mother of all places and don't forget to bargain. 

Kota Kinabalu Waterfront
The Kota Kinabalu Waterfront in the evening - Photo Melissa/Sabah Tourism
3. Explore the KK Waterfront

One of the most popular places in Kota Kinabalu is the KK Waterfront and this is your destination for leisure, food, entertainment and also to catch that amazing KK Sunset.

Here, rows of seafood restaurants, bars, and pubs line the waterfront offering outdoor seating while catching the beautiful sea views. 

The new KK Waterfront 2 has also recently opened where you can find the Oceanus Mall, various clubs, bistros, cafes and also the newly opened Hard Rock Cafe Kota Kinabalu. (Which opened on 1st April 2015).

One can easily spend a good 1 to 2 hours walking around the KK Waterfront and it is recommended to come here just before sunset at 5.30 pm. Note the sun sets around 6.00 pm in Sabah. 

Kota Kinabalu Esplanade
One of the many beautiful sunsets in Kota Kinabalu
4. Sunset Watching at the KK Esplanade

Part of the KK Waterfront, the KK Esplanade is a very popular place for photographers and sunset watchers.

Visitors and even locals flock here every evening to catch the beautiful KK Sunsets which never fails (unless it rains).

While here, you can also spot numerous landmarks like the Marlin Fish Roundabout and other marine fish structures placed around the esplanade area. 

The main part of the KK Esplanade is the wooden lookout deck where you can see fishing boats and water taxis trawl up and down while Gaya Island is in the front of you which is absolutely free and costs nothing.

This place is also highly recommended for anyone who wants a nice photograph of the overall view here.

A prominent landmark to catch the sunset at Kota Kinabalu is just near the Hyatt Regency Hotel or Wisma Merdeka Shopping Mall. 

Signal Hill Observatory Platform Sabah
View of Kota Kinabalu from Signal Hill
5. Visit Signal Hill Observatory Platform

For anyone wanting spectacular views of Kota Kinabalu city or a beautiful photograph of the cityscape, this is the place to see it.

A short 10 to 15-minute trek or walk up to Signal Hill from KK city will land you at the Signal Hill Observatory Platform where you can see the entire view of KK city plus the islands of the T.A.R Marine Park in the distance. 

This location is also a great place to visit in the day or in the evening. There is no fee here unless of course, you take a taxi up there which will cost you about RM10 to RM15 one way.

The entrance to walk up here is from Padang Merdeka field, at the back of Gaya Street and bring a bottle of water. 

Atkinsons Clock Tower Kota Kinabalu
View of Atkinson's Tower from across the street
6. Visit Atkinsons Tower

Atkinson's Clock Tower is Sabah's oldest standing structure and located at the back of Gaya Street in town.

This beautiful clock tower was built back in 1905 and amazingly without any nails - only wood. Now, it stands at a proud 15 meters (50 Feet) high on the foot of the hill here.

This attraction is great for history buffs and also photographic moments. You simply need to cross Jalan KK Bypass road to get to the Atkinsons Tower and there is no charge at all here.

This is also part of the Heritage Walk in Kota Kinabalu which is also recommended to experience. 

KK Night Market Sabah
The Kota Kinabalu Night Market - Photo from
7. Indulge at the KK Night Market

Another free attraction in Kota Kinabalu is the KK Night Market which actually starts in the evenings before sundown.

Here, you will find more of a local set up offering a myriad of seafood stalls and fresh produce. One section offers various barbecued seafood with choices of really huge prawns, crabs, fish, squid, and the works.

Other food stalls here offer local noodles and mix rice dishes where you can take-away or dine there. For those with a weak stomach, just visit-and-observe. Note the food here can be a little pricey for some. 

Night Market Kota Kinabalu
Some of the unique items sold at the market
The other section sees traders selling all sorts of fresh produce, fruits, meats, and seafood. Most of the seafood is freshly caught and sold there.

The fruits are quite amazing to see and even try while the vegetables will surely keep you amazed with the unique varieties offered here, some never before seen as the one in the photo above.

The KK Night Market is located just behind the Handicraft Market and is about the size of a football field. Great place to explore on foot during the evenings and nights. 

Imago Mall Kota Kinabalu
The latest mall - Imago KK Shopping Mall
8. Shop at the Shopping Malls in KK

Nothing beats cooling down in one of the shopping malls in Kota Kinabalu as they can be found all over the city.

Yups, travel, and shopping go hand in hand therefore, this is one of the best free things to do in Kota Kinabalu - exploring some of the shopping malls for souvenirs and many other items.

At the many malls in KK, you can find some unique shops selling local Sabahan products, handicrafts, attire and more while at the supermarkets, you can find the famous Sabah Tea and many other Sabahan foods.

To date, there are quite a number of new malls opened in Kota Kinabalu, namely Imago Shopping Mall near KK Times Square and also Oceanus Shopping Mall where the Hard Rock Cafe KK is located.

These two malls are the latest which are on par with many international malls and carry a number of local and international brands. 

Borneo Art Gallery in Kota Kinabalu
The Borneo Art Gallery in Kota Kinabalu
9. Visit the Borneo Art Gallery

Only if you love art, this is one place to check out and it is totally free. The Borneo Art Gallery is located on the 2nd floor of the Asia City Complex next to the Cititel Express KK Hotel.

At the gallery, you can see the collection here that showcases some of Sabah's best artists. Also included are paintings by neighboring Indonesia and the Philippines, and all the art here is for sale.

The admission is free and the Borneo Art Gallery is open from 9.00 am to 9.00 pm Monday through Saturday, and 9.00 am to 3.00 pm on Sunday and Public Holidays.

Again, this art gallery is recommended for anyone who loves art and paintings. 

KadaiKu Handicraft Shop
Items inside KadaiKu in KK
10. Visit the KadaiKu Handicraft Shop

The best place in Kota Kinabalu city to see authentic traditional Sabahan handicraft is at Kadaiku Handicraft Store.

This outlet boasts of an extensive collection of ethnic Sabahan handicrafts and also beautiful local souvenirs.

For the kids, there are soft toy collections of the various primates like the unique Proboscis Monkey and the Man of the Forest otherwise known as the Orangutan.

Other products here include tapestries, jewelry, apparel, traditional musical instruments, hats, and even food and beverage products. 

KadaiKu opening hours;
Monday to Friday: 8.00 am to 5.00 pm 
Saturday and Public holidays: 9.00 am to 4.00 pm

KadaiKu Address
Lot 5, Ground Floor,
Block L Sinsuran Complex,
88000 Kota Kinabalu

Signal Hill View
View of Kota Kinabalu city from Signal Hill
The list above provides you with free access to these places around KK city, therefore, they are all within walking distances so you need not take a taxi.

I hope you enjoy this information provided and you can also check out my other list of Free Things to do in Kuala Lumpur KL if you are visiting the capital city of Malaysia. 

I would also like to highlight that most lists of things to do in Sabah that you read are created by people who have just covered the usual general places.

They usually include Kinabalu Park, Padas River, Mari Mari Cultural Village and so on as these are the general touristic places that cost money to go to, and are not free at all.


If you liked this article, please share this on your social media networks or email it to a friend who may be visiting Sabah.

This article and list were fully compiled by David Hogan Jr of MalaysiaAsia based on actually visiting all these places to create this list of free things to do in Kota Kinabalu Sabah. 

Malaysia Asia

Blogging since 2007, but writing online since 1997. I belong to the 1st generation of worldwide bloggers, which is of course old-school. Since 2008, I created Malaysia Asia and this travel, flood, gadget and lifestyle blog has won numerous physical awards from tourism boards around Malaysia. (Not those online awards). After 12 years of blogging, I have semi-retired and now blog about things I like, do product reviews and enjoy life. My work has been featured in Lonely Planet, CNN Travel, Yahoo Travel, Wall Street Journal, and many other international publications. Find out more about me and thank you.


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