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The Best Things To Do In Phnom Penh


Modified: December 27, 2023

by Geneva Foy



Phnom Penh, the vibrant capital city of Cambodia, is a fascinating destination that blends rich history, cultural heritage, and modern development. Nestled along the banks of the mighty Mekong River, this city offers a plethora of experiences for travelers to enjoy. From exploring ancient temples and royal palaces to delving into the dark history of the Khmer Rouge regime, Phnom Penh has something for everyone.


With its bustling markets, bustling streets, and beautiful colonial architecture, Phnom Penh provides a sensory overload that will captivate visitors. The city offers a unique blend of traditional Cambodian charm and cosmopolitan energy, making it an ideal destination for both history enthusiasts and urban explorers.


As you dive into the vibrant streets of Phnom Penh, you’ll be greeted by friendly locals, tantalizing street food stalls, and a thriving nightlife scene. Whether you’re interested in immersing yourself in the country’s rich cultural heritage or simply enjoying the pulsating energy of the city, Phnom Penh has it all.


In this article, we will explore the top things to do in Phnom Penh, ensuring that you make the most of your visit to this captivating city. From iconic landmarks to hidden gems, we’ll guide you through the must-see attractions and unforgettable experiences that Phnom Penh has to offer. So, let’s get started on this exciting journey through the heart of Cambodia!


Explore the Royal Palace

The Royal Palace is a magnificent complex that serves as the official residence of the King of Cambodia. It is a stunning architectural masterpiece and a symbol of the grandeur of the Cambodian monarchy.


As you step into the Royal Palace, you’ll be immediately awe-struck by the intricate craftsmanship and the dazzling golden spires that rise into the sky. The complex is home to several buildings, each with its own unique charm and purpose. One of the highlights is the Silver Pagoda, also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. This sacred place houses a mesmerizing 17th-century Emerald Buddha statue made of Baccarat crystal.


While exploring the Royal Palace, you’ll also have the opportunity to wander through well-manicured gardens adorned with beautiful statues, reflecting pools, and lush greenery. The intricate details and the tranquil ambiance make it a perfect place to find solace and appreciate the beauty of Cambodian culture and architecture.


Don’t forget to visit the Throne Hall, which is used for official ceremonies and state functions. Adorned with ornate decorations and elegant artwork, it is a true testament to the grandeur of the Cambodian monarchy.


It’s important to note that the Royal Palace is still a functioning royal residence, so some areas may be restricted to the public. Make sure to dress respectfully, with covered shoulders and knees, and follow any guidelines provided by the staff.


Exploring the Royal Palace is an absolute must when visiting Phnom Penh. Whether you’re a history buff, an architecture enthusiast, or simply someone looking for a serene escape, this iconic landmark offers a glimpse into the regal past of Cambodia and leaves a lasting impression.


Visit the National Museum of Cambodia

If you’re interested in delving deeper into Cambodia’s rich history and heritage, a visit to the National Museum of Cambodia is a must. Located in Phnom Penh, this museum is home to an impressive collection of Khmer art and artifacts.


The National Museum, also known as the Musée National, showcases the country’s cultural treasures, spanning over 1,000 years of history. As you enter the museum, you’ll be greeted by a grandiose courtyard filled with ancient stone sculptures and serene gardens, setting the stage for an enchanting journey into the past.


Inside the museum, you’ll find an extensive collection of artifacts, including stone carvings, statues, ceramics, and delicate gold jewelry. The exhibits are arranged chronologically, so you can trace the evolution of Khmer art and learn about the various artistic styles and influences throughout different periods.


One of the museum’s most iconic pieces is the statue of the “Leper King,” which was discovered in the ancient city of Angkor. The intricate detailing and the mysterious expression of the statue make it a fascinating piece to observe and ponder.


Throughout your visit, you can also take advantage of the museum’s audio guides, which provide in-depth explanations of the exhibits and offer invaluable insights into Cambodian history and culture.


What sets the National Museum apart is its commitment to preserving and showcasing Cambodia’s heritage. By visiting the museum, you not only get to appreciate the beauty of the artworks but also contribute to the conservation efforts.


Whether you’re an art lover, a history enthusiast, or simply curious about Cambodia’s rich cultural heritage, a visit to the National Museum of Cambodia will leave you with a deeper understanding and appreciation for this captivating country.


Take a Stroll Along the Riverside

One of the best ways to soak up the vibrant atmosphere of Phnom Penh is by taking a leisurely stroll along the Riverside. Located along the banks of the Tonle Sap and Mekong Rivers, this bustling promenade offers stunning views and a myriad of activities.


As you walk along the Riverside, you’ll be greeted by a mix of locals, tourists, and street vendors, creating a lively and bustling atmosphere. The riverside is a popular gathering spot for both locals and tourists alike, especially during the evening when the sun sets and the riverside promenade comes alive with music, food stalls, and entertainment.


As you wander further along, you’ll have the chance to explore various parks, gardens, and public spaces that line the riverside. These areas offer a respite from the hustle and bustle of the city, providing a tranquil oasis where you can relax and enjoy the scenic beauty.


While walking along the Riverside, you’ll also come across several iconic landmarks, such as the Royal Palace and the Independence Monument. These architectural gems add to the charm and character of the riverside, creating a picturesque backdrop for your stroll.


One of the highlights of the Riverside is the opportunity to dine at one of the many open-air restaurants and cafes that dot the promenade. Here, you can indulge in delicious Khmer cuisine, sip on a refreshing drink, and take in the breathtaking views of the rivers merging into each other.


Whether you’re enjoying a leisurely walk, savoring local delicacies, or simply people-watching, strolling along the Riverside is a quintessential Phnom Penh experience. It offers a glimpse into the daily life of the city and allows you to immerse yourself in the vibrant energy and charm of the Cambodian capital.


Discover the Killing Fields

While Phnom Penh is a city of beauty and vibrancy, it is also a place that carries the weight of a dark and tragic history. One of the most important historical sites to visit in Phnom Penh is the Killing Fields, also known as Choeung Ek. This somber and poignant location bears witness to the atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge regime in the late 1970s.


Located just outside the city, the Killing Fields were once an execution site and burial ground for thousands of victims of the Khmer Rouge. Today, it stands as a memorial to honor and remember those who lost their lives during this horrific period of Cambodia’s past.


As you explore the Killing Fields, you’ll walk along a marked path that takes you to various points of interest, each marked with informational plaques. These plaques provide insights into the events that occurred at each site, allowing visitors to understand the magnitude of the tragedy.


The most haunting feature of the Killing Fields is the Buddhist stupa, which stands as a memorial and houses the skeletal remains of the victims. The stupa serves as a reminder of the atrocities and serves as a place of reflection and remembrance.


Visiting the Killing Fields is a deeply emotional and somber experience. It offers a sobering reminder of the dark chapters in Cambodia’s history and allows visitors to pay their respects to those who lost their lives. It serves as a stark contrast to the lively streets of Phnom Penh, highlighting the resilience and strength of the Cambodian people.


While the visit to the Killing Fields can be emotionally challenging, it is an important journey to undertake to gain a deeper understanding of Cambodia’s past and the resilience of its people. It serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of honoring and preserving the memory of those who have suffered and ensuring that such atrocities are never repeated.


Explore the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum

Continuing on the path of understanding Cambodia’s dark history, a visit to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is an essential experience in Phnom Penh. Formerly the notorious Security Prison 21 (S-21), this museum stands as a harrowing reminder of the atrocities committed during the Khmer Rouge regime.


Located in a former high school building, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum offers a chilling insight into the torture and cruelty inflicted upon Cambodian people during the Khmer Rouge era. As you explore the museum, you’ll come face to face with the stark realities of this period through photographs, documents, and preserved rooms.


The museum holds immense historical significance as it was once an interrogation center where countless innocent individuals were tortured and held captive. The walls of the rooms still bear the scars of the past, with interrogation tools and makeshift cells providing a haunting glimpse into the horrors endured by prisoners.


Walking through the museum, you’ll learn about the stories of the victims, their personal experiences, and the various methods of torture employed by the Khmer Rouge. The exhibits are thoughtfully curated, providing a powerful and emotional journey through this dark period of Cambodian history.


While the experience at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is undoubtedly somber and heart-wrenching, it serves as a crucial reminder of the importance of understanding the past to prevent similar atrocities in the future. It honors the memory of the victims and educates visitors about the resilience and strength of the Cambodian people.


By visiting the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, you not only pay tribute to the lives lost but also contribute to the preservation of their stories and ensure that the world never forgets the horrors of the past. It is a powerful and necessary experience that will leave a lasting impact on anyone who visits.


Shop at the Central Market

If you’re looking for a vibrant and bustling shopping experience in Phnom Penh, look no further than the Central Market. Located in a beautiful Art Deco building, this iconic market is a shopper’s paradise and a hub of activity.


As you enter the Central Market, you’ll be greeted by a plethora of stalls selling a wide array of items, from traditional handicrafts and souvenirs to clothing, electronics, and jewelry. The market is a treasure trove of unique finds, making it the perfect place to browse and haggle for a bargain.


One of the highlights of shopping at the Central Market is the opportunity to immerse yourself in the local culture and interact with friendly vendors. Take the time to chat with them, learn about the products they are selling, and perhaps even pick up a few Khmer phrases along the way.


In addition to the diverse range of products, the Central Market building itself is worth visiting. The distinct yellow color and the architectural style add to the charm of the market. Inside, you’ll find a large central dome with a clock tower, which serves as a landmark and gathering point.


When you need a break from shopping, head to one of the many food stalls and restaurants located in and around the market. Indulge in local delicacies, such as Khmer noodles or grilled meats, and savor the flavors of Cambodia.


Whether you’re looking for souvenirs to bring back home, trendy clothes, or simply want to immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere of a traditional market, a visit to the Central Market is a must. It’s a quintessential Phnom Penh experience that provides an authentic glimpse into the daily life of the city and offers a unique shopping adventure.


Visit Wat Phnom

Perched on a hill at the heart of Phnom Penh, Wat Phnom is a tranquil and sacred site that holds great significance in Cambodian history and spirituality. This iconic temple, dating back to the 14th century, is not only a place of worship but also a popular destination for locals and tourists alike.


As you climb the stairs leading to the entrance of Wat Phnom, you’ll be greeted by lush gardens, intricate statues, and the peaceful sounds of chanting monks. The temple is a beautiful fusion of Khmer and Buddhist architectural styles, adorned with vibrant colors and elaborate carvings.


Inside the temple, you’ll find a central shrine housing a sacred Buddha statue. Devotees come here to make offerings, light incense, and pray for good fortune and blessings. The serene ambiance and the smell of incense create a peaceful atmosphere, perfect for contemplation and reflection.


Adjacent to the temple, you’ll discover a small park area with lush greenery and benches. This is a popular spot for locals to relax, meditate, or enjoy a picnic with family and friends. Take a moment to soak in the tranquility and admire the panoramic views of the city from the top of the hill.


Wat Phnom is not just a place of spirituality but also an important historical landmark. According to legend, the founding of Phnom Penh began with a wealthy widow, Penh, who discovered four Buddha statues floating in the nearby river and chose this hill as the site to build a temple, giving the city its name.


Visiting Wat Phnom provides a glimpse into the spiritual beliefs and traditions of the Cambodian people. It offers a serene escape from the bustling streets of Phnom Penh and the opportunity to connect with the local culture and traditions.


Whether you’re seeking spiritual solace, historical insights, or picturesque views, a visit to Wat Phnom is a must-do when in Phnom Penh. It’s a place where ancient legends meet contemporary devotion, leaving a lasting impression on all who venture to this sacred hilltop temple.


Explore the Russian Market

If you’re a shopaholic or simply want to experience the vibrant local market scene in Phnom Penh, a visit to the Russian Market is a must. Located in the Toul Tom Poung neighborhood, this bustling market offers a plethora of shopping opportunities and a glimpse into everyday Cambodian life.


The Russian Market, also known as Psar Tuol Tom Poung, is a maze of narrow alleyways filled with countless stalls selling everything from clothing and accessories to handicrafts, antiques, and souvenirs. You’ll find a wide range of products, from traditional Cambodian textiles (such as silk scarves and sarongs) to unique jewelry, artwork, and trinkets.


What sets the Russian Market apart is its ability to cater to all tastes and budgets. Whether you’re looking for genuine Cambodian handicrafts or cheap knockoff items, this market offers a diverse range of options. However, it’s important to practice your bargaining skills as haggling is commonplace in this bustling marketplace.


As you navigate through the labyrinth of stalls, you’ll also come across local food vendors and small eateries offering a variety of delicious street food. Take a break from shopping and indulge in some authentic Cambodian cuisine, such as delicious noodle dishes, fresh tropical fruits, or barbecued meats.


Visiting the Russian Market not only allows you to shop till you drop but also provides an opportunity to interact with friendly locals and immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere. As you explore the market, you’ll witness the bustling activity, hear the haggling between buyers and sellers, and experience the vibrant energy of the local community.


From unique souvenirs to fashionable clothing and traditional crafts, the Russian Market offers a shopping experience that is distinctly Cambodian. It’s the perfect place to find that one-of-a-kind item to remind you of your time in Phnom Penh or pick up gifts for loved ones back home.


Whether you’re an avid shopper, a culture enthusiast, or simply want to experience the local market scene, a visit to the Russian Market is a must-do when in Phnom Penh. Soak up the lively atmosphere, discover hidden gems, and indulge in a true Cambodian shopping adventure.


Take a Boat Tour on the Mekong River

Embarking on a boat tour along the mighty Mekong River is an unforgettable experience that allows you to witness the natural beauty and cultural significance of this iconic waterway. As the lifeblood of Southeast Asia, the Mekong River holds great importance in the region’s history and provides a stunning backdrop for exploration.


From Phnom Penh, you can hop on a boat and venture along the Mekong River, immersing yourself in the serene scenery and the daily life of riverside communities. As you glide along the water, you’ll witness the ever-changing landscapes, picturesque fishing villages, and lush greenery that line the riverbanks.


One of the highlights of a Mekong River boat tour is the opportunity to visit floating markets. These bustling markets are filled with colorful boats and vendors selling an array of fresh produce, seafood, and handicrafts. It’s a unique spectacle, providing a glimpse into the vibrant river culture and the local trade that takes place on the water.


Throughout the journey, you’ll also have the chance to stop at riverside temples and villages, interacting with locals and learning about their traditional way of life. Whether it’s observing the making of traditional crafts or engaging in a friendly conversation with villagers, these encounters offer a deeper understanding of the region’s cultural heritage.


Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the abundant wildlife that inhabits the Mekong River. From playful river dolphins to colorful bird species, the river is teeming with fascinating creatures that add to the enchantment of the journey.


Taking a boat tour on the Mekong River allows you to escape the busy streets of Phnom Penh and immerse yourself in the tranquility and natural beauty of the surroundings. It’s an opportunity to unwind, appreciate the simplicity of life along the river, and create lasting memories.


Whether you opt for a short excursion or a multi-day adventure, a boat tour on the Mekong River offers a unique perspective on Cambodia’s landscapes and cultural heritage. So, hop aboard, let the gentle currents guide you, and embrace the serenity and awe-inspiring beauty of the Mekong River.


Enjoy the Nightlife in Phnom Penh

When the sun sets over Phnom Penh, the city comes alive with a vibrant and exciting nightlife scene. From trendy rooftop bars to pulsating nightclubs and traditional music performances, there are plenty of options to explore and enjoy after dark.


One of the best ways to experience the nightlife in Phnom Penh is to head to the riverside area. Here, you’ll find a variety of bars and restaurants with stunning views of the promenade and the beautifully lit Phnom Penh skyline. Sip on a cool cocktail, indulge in delicious cuisine, and soak up the lively atmosphere as you watch the city come alive.


If you’re a music lover, Phnom Penh offers a range of live music venues featuring local and international talent. From jazz and blues to rock and reggae, there’s something to suit all musical tastes. Enjoy a night of energetic performances, dancing, and lively crowds, creating memories that will last a lifetime.


For those seeking a more laid-back experience, Phnom Penh has a variety of cozy cafes and rooftop lounges where you can unwind and enjoy a relaxed evening. Savor a cup of freshly brewed coffee or indulge in some delicious desserts while taking in the city lights from above.


No visit to Phnom Penh’s nightlife scene is complete without experiencing a traditional Cambodian dance performance. Several venues in the city offer nightly shows featuring graceful dancers adorned in elaborate costumes. Be mesmerized by the intricate movements and enchanting music as you witness the beauty of Cambodian culture come to life.


It’s important to keep in mind that while Phnom Penh offers a vibrant nightlife, it’s always essential to exercise caution and make responsible choices. Be aware of your surroundings, take care of your belongings, and follow any safety guidelines provided by the establishments you visit.


Phnom Penh’s nightlife scene offers something for everyone, whether you’re looking for a wild night of dancing or a relaxed evening of live music and cultural performances. Embrace the energy and diversity of the city’s after-dark offerings, creating unforgettable memories during your time in Phnom Penh.



Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia, is a destination that seamlessly blends history, culture, and modernity. From exploring palaces and museums that bear witness to Cambodia’s past to indulging in the vibrant nightlife and lively markets, this city has something to offer for every type of traveler.


Through this comprehensive guide, we’ve uncovered the top things to do in Phnom Penh, ensuring an unforgettable experience. From the awe-inspiring Royal Palace to the somber reminders of the Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, these historical sites provide a deep understanding of Cambodia’s past and the resilience of its people.


We’ve also explored the vibrant markets like the Central Market and the Russian Market, immersing ourselves in the vibrant atmosphere and unique shopping opportunities that showcase Cambodia’s craftsmanship and culture.


Taking a boat tour on the Mekong River allows visitors to witness the natural beauty and cultural significance of this iconic waterway, while the nightlife scene in Phnom Penh offers an exciting array of options, from rooftop bars to live music venues and traditional performances.


Phnom Penh is a city that captivates with its rich history, cultural heritage, and modern charm. It’s a city of contrasts, where ancient traditions coexist with contemporary energy, and where the resilience of a nation is celebrated.


Whether you’re exploring historical landmarks, shopping in bustling markets, or immersing yourself in the vibrant nightlife, Phnom Penh promises an adventure like no other. So, pack your bags, embark on a journey, and uncover the wonders that await you in this captivating Cambodian capital.