Hong Kong claims to be a "world city" and true to its' complex history of British colonial rule, Chinese heritage and current role as a major financial centre of China it offers a wide range of experiences for the visitor.
The first thing to understand about Hong Kong is that despite the classic skyline photographs we have all seen, and continue to take, there is a lot more to Hong Kong than just the city. It is at the same time the location of the most densely populated place in the world, the district of Mongkok, and also the region with a higher percentage of country parks than any other.
5 things to do in Hong Kong
1. See the views of the city and the harbour
Yes, I did say that the city skyline isn't the only thing that Hong Kong has to offer, but it is one of them, and a very photogenic one at that. Which is why you see it at the top of most articles about Hong Kong or on the covers of Hong Kong guidebooks. The layout of the city with the Victoria Harbour in the middle makes for some fantastic views in both directions.
There are many places to see the view, which is most impressive at night when the lights are on, but also worth seeing in the day provided the air is clear.
Your top spots for the view at:
Victoria Peak - It's the classic view, and you get to enjoy the historic "Peak Tram" funicular ride to the top. However don't try to take the tram up unless you can arrive at the lower terminal by 8 am, after that the queues become massive and spoil your experience. Take the public bus 15 to the top of the Peak instead, it also has great views along the way. Or a Taxi or Uber works great for this as the trip is really quite short, just very windy. While the best views are from the paid viewing platform on the Peak Tower you can get extremely similar views for free from the nearby Lion's Pavilion or simply by walking on the footpath to the west side of the Peak Tower, you'll walk past the historic Tramway building and a few moments later will have a great view all for free!
The Tsim Sha Tsui promenade - Get the view from the other side of the harbour for another classic view. Walk east along the seafront from the Star Ferry Pier and enjoy the views from this wide pedestrian walkway.
The Wheel - Despite the fact that it isn't particularly high a ride on this harbour-front Ferris wheel is well worth the very low fee of about US$2.50. Find it on the Hong Kong Central waterfront beside public Pier #9, it is a great stop on the way to or from the Star Ferry, more on that below.
The Hong Kong Monetary Authority Exhibition - What? Did I put this in the wrong section? No, there is a little useful trick to this obscure exhibition space. The exhibition is located on the 55th floor of the International Finance Centre II - that giant building on Hong Kong island just beside The Wheel, and which it towers over. As this is a secure office block there is ID card access and normal people can't go into the building unless they work there. But if you go to the reception and say you want to go to the Exhibition you'll get a visitors pass and not only get to see the small, but interesting, exhibition about Hong Kong currency, but have fantastic views over the harbour as well, all for free!
2. Shop in street markets
Hong Kong has a reputation as a "shopping paradise". Some of that is false, for example, the prices of electronics and fashion items are not particularly cheaper than the USA or Europe, but the range available does make up for it. You might enjoy the giant malls and arcades, check out IFC Mall in Central, Pacific Place in Admiralty and K11 in TST for upmarket choices, or Dragon Centre in Sham Shui Po and Metro Plaza in Kwai Fong for out of the way selections where the locals shop. But to get some unique experience try the street markets.
Stanley Market - Located on the south side of Hong Kong island it is a little hard to get at, taking a Green Minibus #40 from Causeway Bay is a popular choice, though a taxi will work as well of course. Once there enjoy browsing the clothes, souvenirs, paintings and toys on offer in the market. This market is quite focused on tourists. Also don't miss walking through to the other side of the market where there are many al fresco dining choices, and a path to the historic colonial Murray Building.
Ladies Market - Located in the busy Mongkok district you'll be surrounded by skyscrapers while walking along this road where street vendors offer every kind of clothing and accessory you can imagine. Things here are cheap and cheerful, don't expect genuine brand products but if you are happy with look-alikes then you will enjoy this shopping experience. Take the MTR to Mongkok Station.
Temple Street Night Market - While the goods on offer in the market here in Jordan district are similar to Ladies market the experience goes way later into the night, closing around midnight, and has great dining choices as well. Try the famous Spicy Crab from one of the street restaurants, then walk the entire length of the street to the Tin Hau Temple itself. Nearby you'll find booths housing fortune tellers, and just across the road local amateur singers perform late in the evening. Take the MTR to Jordan Station to get there.
3. Eat thing
Food. Always food. Hong Kong people love to snack, to eat, to try different things, to sit sipping tea and eating at any time of the day or night. Even I am amazed at the things it is possible to eat here at 3 am in the morning. Even if you don't want to eat with the owls you can find plenty of choices during normal hours.
Dim sum - Yes it is on every list of things to eat in Hong Kong, but there is a perfectly good reason for this. It is both central to Hong Kong life, very tasty, and a great way to sample things. While very slightly similar to Spanish Tapas in their presentation there is nothing elsewhere in the world that comes close to this in terms of common use. The whole idea is to enjoy lots of small differently-flavoured items, so you can never be tired of dim sum. For a traditional dim-sum experience that is authentic yet tourist-friendly try the Maxim's Palace restaurant on the 2nd floor of the City Hall building on Hong Kong island. You sit at tables and little carts carrying different dishes are wheeled between the tables. Point and nod to choose what you want, your bill is totalled up on a paper card at your total as you select things. Maxim's Palace hosts plenty of tourists so language won't be an issue. But get there early! If you can reach the restaurant by 11 am you'll get a table for lunch. Another great choice for the traditional approach to dim sum is Metropol Restaurant on the 4/F, United Centre in Admiralty. This one is hidden in a boring office block and is not so well known by tourists as City Hall but as they are located in a business district they are used to non-Chinese people eating there. On Kowloon side choose either from Wu Kong Shanghai Restaurant, 27-33 Nathan Road which is highly traditional or for a modern take, but just as tasty, then try YUM CHA in Granville Road where the dim sum have funny shapes like cartoon characters, but taste just as good. After lunch there stroll along Granville road to see the trendy boutiques, then cross over Chatham Road on the footbridge and go into the Hong Kong History Museum. It not only is a nice cool place on a hot day but you can also learn a lot more about Hong Kong here.
Cantonese dishes - Hong Kong was originally part of the Chinese province of Canton and still has a style of cooking that isn't found in other parts of the country. There are Michelin starred Cantonese restaurants like T’ang Court at the Langham in TST, but if your budget doesn't stretch to that then don't worry. Try Jade Garden Chinese Restaurant in Star House next to the TST Star Ferry terminal for a local style Cantonese restaurant. Really in Hong Kong every street has a Cantonese restaurant, often labelled "seafood restaurants" but serving other dishes as well. Dishes you should try include the "daily soup" if they have one (if they don't, then don't bother with anything else), Choi Sum vegetable with Beef, Steamed Fish with Ginger and Spring onion, Beef With Oyster Sauce, Sweet and Sour Pork (a bit of a cliche this one, but still tasty), and Steamed Prawns which you have to peel with your fingers and dip into chili soy sauce. All served with plain steamed rice and washed down with plenty of Chinese tea or the local Tsingtao beer.
Hong Kong cafe food - The blending of English ingredients and Chinese tastes has created a unique style of cafe food that is commonly eaten for breakfast and lunch. You'll see bowls of noodles, fried chicken wings and ham sandwiches serviced beside strong milk tea and "French toast" that resembles nothing ever seen in France but is tasty and filling all the same. For the full experience make a visit to the Mido Cafe which is located just next to Temple Street Night Market and has a decor that hasn't changed in 50 years. Order the "YUANYANG TEA" which is coffee mixed with milk tea, yes really!
International favourites - Hong Kong is full of people from all over the world, and they bring their food with them. Japanese, Korean and British restaurants are found everywhere. Take some time to wander the streets around "SOHO" on Hong Kong island, you'll find the Central and Mid-levels Escalator a good way to get there, and try everything from Italian to Indian cuisine with plenty of surprises in between.
4. Hike and walk
Hong Kong is a place of countryside. Don't think so? Try looking at a google map satellite view and zoom out, it is mostly green! The majority of the area of Hong Kong is covered in light sub-tropical forest, and there is no shortage of hiking and walking trails to choose from. Whether you want a country walk, one that you can take the kids on, or something which you'll need your hiking boots for, there are plenty of choices here.
The Circular Walk - You decided to visit Victoria Peak? Great, then while you are there, why not walk around it? It is a peak after all, and with the topmost part off-limits (it is covered in communications towers) you can spend a quiet hour walking around instead of going up. It is a 3.5km walk on paved paths with occasional benches and gardens along the way, some of the path passes expensive residential buildings while other parts present fantastic views over the South China Sea. Signs along the way point out particularly impressive examples of both Hong Kong and imported trees, birds and other wildlife. This walk is very child-friendly, even if you have a baby in a pram it will be fine, you might want to have plenty of mosquito repellent with you though, this is a subtropical forest after all even if it is just a few meters away from a major city! Start outside the Peak Tower building and go to the small path on the left of the tower as you face it, going between the tower and the colonial Tramways building with the red door.
The Dragon's Back - This very popular hike going along a ridge on Hong Kong island giving great views over the sea on both sides. Due to the distance from the city, you'll need a whole day to enjoy this adventure. Allow time to spend relaxing on the beach at Tai Long Wan which is at the end of the trail, you may even get to see some of the local surfers showing off their moves as this is a popular bay for the sport. The name even literally translates as "Big Wave Bay"! Take the MTR to Shau Kei Wan Station and from the bus terminal there take bus 9 to To Tei Wan and follow the signs.
The Lantau Trail - The Island of Lantau is the largest of the 283 islands of Hong Kong, and crams in an amazing array of different things. From the International Aiport at Chep Lap Kok, to Hong Kong Disneyland, to the traditional fishing village of Tai O they are all so different yet all on the same island. In and amongst all of these is the Lantau Trail. The 70km route is divided into a series of 12 sections of varying difficulty, they are partially paved and have good route marking and signboards at functions so you (probably) can't get lost. There are still very challenging parts here and there so do take it seriously and have appropriate footwear, some food and water reserves and mobile phones that work in HK. Try taking the path from the village of Mui Wo, you can reach it via ferry from Central Pier #6 on Hong Kong Island, which will take you along Pak Kung Au, then over Lantau Peak to Ngong Ping. You'll be rewarded for your 5 hours or so of hiking with a visit to the Big Buddha at Po Lin Monastery, the largest outdoor reclining Buddha statue in the world. And you'll have got there under your own steam rather than taking the cable car ride up from Tung Chung. Alternatively, reverse the route and walk downhill! The MTR can take you from anywhere in the city to Tung Chung, then take the cable car to the top and visit the monastery. After topping up with some authentic Buddhist vegetarian food at the restaurant there then take the Lantau Trail downwards to Mui Wo. It isn't all downhill, but at least the last part is and as the Mui Wo village comes into view you can look forward to a refreshing drink at the China Bear pub overlooking the sea as you wait for your ferry to arrive and the trip back to town.
5. Take boats and ferries
Hong Kong is a port city, and being located in the mouth of the Pearl River it is a place of water and islands. There are 283 islands in Hong Kong and they are mostly uninhabited, and those that are host to people are very few. The major islands you can visit are Hong Kong Islands, there where the main business district and many attractions are located, Lantau Island, which you can't avoid as that is where the Airport is, Lamma Island which is popular for its seafood restaurants for tourists, Cheung Chau where locals go to enjoy to enjoy seafood, beaches and a rural atmosphere and Peng Chau which is very quiet but has temples that people like to visit.
The islands are all connected by various boats and ferries, and a few by tunnels and bridges. If you want to experience a different view of Hong Kong then you absolutely must spend some time at sea. How long and how far you go depends on how much time you have to spend.
Here are some suggestions.
The Star Ferry - This is an absolute no-brainer as a must-do. Yes, you can take an MTR train via a tunnel to cross the harbour, but why when it is just as fast, cheaper and much more interesting to take the ferry. Sometimes called the cheapest harbour cruise in the world the boat still serves locals as a common form of public transport between Hong Kong island and Kowloon peninsula. Reclamation in the last few years has moved the pier away from the business district, but it is still only 10 minutes walk. It is a walk worth taking as the elevated pedestrian bridge gives great views of the Wheel and things along the harbour. Take the ferry from Central Pier #8. You can choose the lower or upper deck which is slightly more expensive. I recommend you go on the lower deck as it puts you nearer to the water, lets you take those night-time-reflection-on-water shots, have a peek into the engine room or see the sailors up close as they throw ropes to the pier. At less than US$0.50 a ride it is a great value!
Try timing your trip so you are at sea exactly at 8 PM when the buildings on both sides of the harbour flash together in the "Symphony of Lights".
Cheung Chau Ferry - From pier #5 in Central you can take either a 35 minute "fast ferry" or a 55-minute ordinary ferry to the fishing village island of Cheung Chau. The best choice here is to take the upper or "Delux" deck on the ordinary ferry, which allows you access to the open observation deck at the back of the ferry and great views across the harbour and the Pearl River delta. Make sure you hold on to your ticket that you get from the turnstile if you have an octopus card, or from the ticket office if you are paying cash. You'll need to show the ticket on board. Once on the island walk through the village to see the beach, go north to visit the historic Pak Tai temple and just wander through the backstreets to get the feel of old Hong Kong. A walk to the southwestern end of the island lets you see the "Pirate Cave" which is just a hole in the ground but is surrounded by great views and interesting paths bordered by fascinating weathered rocks. Check the tides and if they are low then follow signs for the Reclining Rock, the path takes a loop around some interesting rock paths and sandy bays. You'll need good shoes, preferably waterproof as there is a short section of climbing involved, some of which may be wet depending on the tide, child-friendly but not pram friendly.
Macau by Hydrofoil - Ever been to a Chinese ex-Portugues colony? Ever ridden a hydrofoil ferry? If the answer to either of those is "no" then take this chance to fix that. The enclave of Macau is only an hour ride away from Hong Kong on one of the amazing Hydrofoil boats that seem to 'fly" above the water. Book a ticket for a TurboJET Premier ride to ensure you get to ride on this type of ferry rather than the more conventional but still impressive, catamarans. Once you get there spend a few hours or an overnight trip before returning. Highlights are eating quasi-Portuguese food, the view from the old lighthouse at the Fortress of Guia, the ruins of St Paul's and the Macau Museum.
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