This post contains a detailed guide on both traveling from Butterworth to the historic town of Georgetown in Penang and traveling in the other direction, from Penang to Butterworth. At the end you will find links to guides to traveling from Penang to the islands of Langkawi and Pangkor, to Hat Yai in Thailand or to Kuala Lumpur.
The island of Penang is just over a narrow stretch of water from Butterworth on the mainland. While it is connected by a road bridge, unless to have a vehicle with you, your best option is going to be the ferry from Butterworth to Penang.
The Ferry From Butterworth To Georgetown
The first ferry of the day leaves Butterworth at 5:20am. The last ferry of the day departs Butterworth at 0040 hours, that is forty minutes past midnight.
At the time of writing (September 2015) there is a lot of construction going on around this area of Butterworth. The specific path between the ferry terminal, the Butterworth bus terminal and the Butterworth train station is likely to vary over time but it is usually well signed with helpful pictures and arrows to follow. All three locations are very close to one another.
When you arrive at Butterworth follow the signs to the ferry port. The ferry from Butterworth to Penang costs 1.20 MYR. You will need to have coins to put in the coin operated turnstile. There is a little window where a person can give you change but you want to at least have a small note to avoid receiving a big handful of coins.
On both the Penang and the Butterworth side is a waiting area with seating. Grab yourself a seat and relax while you wait for your ferry to Georgetown to arrive.
When a ferry arrives people will disembark. Once everyone is off the gate between the waiting area and the ferry will be opened and you can walk on board.
On the ferry boats there are snacks and toilets available. The trip is only about 15 minutes but facilities are available if you need them. Sit back and enjoy the scenic ride.
When the Butterworth to Penang ferry arrives at Georgetown the process is essentially the same. People currently on the ferry disembark, then the gate to the waiting area is opened and people get on the ferry. Simple enough. A lot of people use the ferry to commute back and forth between Penang and Butterworth so the whole process is cheap and fast.
Here is the location of the Georgetown ferry port. This is a google map so you can scroll around, zoom etc. The ferry port is right near the historic heart of Georgetown.
If you are staying in the old area of Georgetown chances are that your accommodation will be close enough that you can just walk from the Georgetown ferry terminal. Pretty much directly in front of you when you walk out of the ferry terminal is an elevated walkway to let you cross the busy road with relative ease.
If you are not staying in historic Georgetown you can catch a taxi or bus. Buses in Penang are extremely good. The bus schedule can be unpredictable (every 20 minutes my foot, I have been standing here for half an hour!) but the buses themselves are modern, air-conditioned, and mostly have free wifi.
Ferry Penang to Butterworth
The first ferry leaves Georgetown at 5:40am. The last ferry of the day leaves Georgetown at 1am.
What if you are headed in the other direction and want to catch the ferry from Georgetown to Butterworth. Fear not! The ferry to Butterworth is an even simpler proposition.
If you are arriving at the Georgetown ferry terminal looking to catch the ferry over to Butterworth, look for the covered walkway lined with shop stalls and make your way up the ramp to a waiting area. The entrance is a bit non-obvious from the street but look for a covered walkway with people hanging around.
The ferry from Penang to Butterworth is actually free so there is nothing to pay going in this direction.
You will rapidly be carried to Butterworth over on the mainland. From the Butterworth ferry terminal it is a short walk to the Butterworth train station and the Butterworth bus terminal. Just follow the signs.
Where to go from here
Ok, so you are at either Penang or nearby Butterworth. Where next?
From Penang there is a ferry that can take you to the island of Langkawi. How to get from Penang to Langkawi
Alternatively if you fancy a more rustic island experience you can catch a bus to Pangkor island. We wrote a guide on getting from Pulau Pangkor to Penang but the steps should work in reverse. How to get from Penang to Pulau Pangkor
From Butterworth you can go south to Kuala Lumpur. Beyond KL is Singapore. Beyond being major attractions in their own right both cities are major hubs for airlines in the region. You can get flights from either Kuala Lumpur or Singapore to just about anywhere in the world. Click here to read how to get from Butterworth to KL
Alternatively, you can go north from Butterworth or Penang to Thailand. The southern-most hub in Thailand is the town of Hat Yai. Further north are the beautiful Thai islands, Bangkok and more. Click here to read how to get from Butterworth to Hat Yai