Hong Kong is one of the most exciting cities I’ve ever been to.
Forget everything you think you know about bustling metropolises, this is a city that’s so much more its towering skyscrapers and slick suits. Hong Kong is a symphony of senses, a clash of cultures, and a destination that throbs with an energy that’s equal parts frenetic and fascinating. And I haven’t even started talking about its food scene yet.
I’m fortunate to have a close friend who lives in Hong Kong, and I’ve spent the past decade regularly flying out to see her. Together, we’ve summited mountains, devoured dim sum, met with temple fortune-tellers, and uncovered the city’s very best beaches.
My Hong Kong is about discovering city’s lesser-known gems. It’s about bargaining for jade trinkets in Stanley Market, feeling the cool mist of the Dragon’s Back hike dampening my face, and sipping local craft beers with strangers in Soho’s hidden rooftop bars. It’s about the quiet moments in ancient temples, the unexpected bursts of laughter shared with locals over steaming bowls of noodles, and the feeling of belonging despite being miles away from home.
That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the main tourist attractions of Hong Kong. I can’t get enough of the views from the iconic Victoria Peak, for example, and I’ve climbed up to the Tian Tan Buddha more times than I can count. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of riding the city’s Star Ferry.
In this article, I’m going to be focusing on it all, sharing the absolute must-sees, as well as my favourite little-known-by-foreigners activities. I’ll introduce you to the most vibrant neighbourhoods, where incense smoke mingles with the scent of sizzling street food. Dust off your walking shoes, pack your sense of adventure, and get ready to fall head over heels for the inimitable rhythm of this neon-drenched city.
These are the best things to do in Hong Kong.
Ride the Star Ferry
The immense Hong Kong skyline is a breathtaking sight. But rather than gawk up at the towering skyscrapers from land, capture it on a bright green ferry. The Star Ferry has been operating along the beautiful Victoria Harbour since the late 19th century and remains one of the best things to do in Hong Kong.
The inexpensive experience and takes you out into the harbor, one bustling with maritime activity. The word busy doesn’t quite capture the atmosphere, as boats, ships and tankers share the water. But life on Victoria Harbour is nonetheless refreshing as the cool breeze laps through your hair, a lovely cure to time spent in the dense city core.
Star Ferry’s main route runs from Kowloon to Hong Kong. As you peer towards the island, prepare to be struck by the sheer size of the lush mountains soaring behind the elegant towers. Take the ferry towards the city at night to see the mesmerizing Symphony of Lights.
Summit Victoria Peak
Known simply as the Peak by locals, the mountain soars to 1600 feet (490m) above Hong Kong, providing equally breathtaking vistas as her namesake’s harbor. The famous city is predominantly flat, and from the viewpoint you’ll have it laid out in front of you in spectacular fashion.
But first, you must reach the summit. There are several ways to complete this task, some more arduous than others. Depending on the time you have (and your willingness to walk), you may want to complete the trek up the mountain. The path is paved and cuts through the Central district for 1.6 miles (2.6km) to the edge of Victoria Peak.
It will take around an hour to complete. But as you’ll soon see, Hong Kong’s stifling heat may force a change of plans. There are multiple buses that will take you to the summit, but for the most scenic views, take the funicular Peak Tram, that’s been running since 1888.
Explore the Hong Kong Museum of History
With the camera now stocked with epic photos to begin your trip, it’s time to embark on some insightful fun at the Hong Kong Museum of History. There are two major aspects to this museum that make it a memorable time, the first being its chronology.
The museum begins by taking you on a thousand year journey to the earliest settlements, where you can learn about the foundations of Hong Kong. You’re then whisked along the timeline with exceptional detail. One of the spectacular exhibits is an amazing recreation of an arcade street in the Central District from back in the 1880s. You’ll also spot a full-size replica of a junk, while short but enthralling movies keep you hooked.
The second part of the Hong Kong Museum of History is the poignant way the curators take ownership of their story. It’s plain to see there’s no outside influence, that what you’ll witness is the history of Hong Kong. Take it or leave it.
Visit Wong Tai Sin Temple
In Kowloon, the Wong Sai Tin Temple was one of the more recent additions to Hong Kong’s list of spiritual sites. The first iteration of this temple was developed at the beginning of the 20th century, however, it was entirely replaced by a new temple in 1968.
The temple celebrates Wong Tai Sin, a revered Taoist god who is thought to bring good luck and help heal the sick. Visitors can explore the colorful grounds, home to many sites such as the beautiful Good Wish Garden and the Hall of Three Saints. The centerpiece, however, is an expansive hall that honors Confucius along with his dozens of disciples. As you wander inside, you will pass several fortune-tellers alongside rows of joss sticks and incense candles emitting a powerful aroma throughout the hall.
In September, the temple hosts the Mid-Autumn Festival in honor of Wong Tai Sin’s birthday. A celebration that involves lighting large swaths of lanterns and releasing them from the temple grounds.
Wander the Temple Street Night Market
After visiting the temple in Kowloon, stick around for one of the city’s most vibrant night markets. The Temple Street Night Market is the place to experience a hive of activity after dark. Wander by the stalls selling a whole range of trinkets, local fashion and even the odd piece of electronics. You know, if you ever needed to replace your phone charger.
Alongside your regular market souvenirs, you’ll discover a beautiful selection of traditional handmade crafts. As well as a range of jade jewelry that sparkles under the market’s neon lights. But of course, no market would be complete without its share of street food. The Temple Street Night Market is home to some of the best cheap eats in the city, where you can indulge in the best of Hong Kong cuisine while barely spending a penny.
The market opens at 6pm, but the atmosphere can sometimes be slow to pick up. Wait at least an hour, as this is one of those rare places you want to experience with a horde of other people.
Go on a Food Tour
Hong Kong is a paradise for foodies. It’s colonial history, Chinese connection and staunch individuality all combine to create an incredible food scene. The magnitude of which will make it hard to try it all during your time here. But that doesn’t mean we won’t give it a go.
Through the city’s thousands of restaurants, you’ll find cuisine from all over the world. Where else could you try mouthwatering dim sum before taking part in a traditional English tea? But that’s the landscape of the Hong Kong food scene. It can be whatever you want it to be. If that just sounds overwhelming, then skip the international eats and focus purely on the local delicacies. The top dishes in Hong Kong cuisine and beloved by locals include Wind Sand Chicken, Pheonix Talons (chicken feet) and shrimp dumplings. Wash it all down with a unique milk-tea and enjoy some pineapple bread for dessert.
To get the lay of the land, join this private food tour, wander through the Kowloon, Sheung Wan, or Sham Shui districts, eating your way around the most delicious markets, local eateries and street food stalls. You’ll sample 6-8 dishes on your tour.
Experience Colonial Hong Kong
In the Opium War of the 1830s, Britain invaded China. One of its first major moves was to occupy Hong Kong. A few years later, in 1841, the city state officially became a British colony. It would stay that way for the better part of 150 years.
Hong Kong has become a modern metropolis in every sense of the world. The city is at the forefront of international business and its teeming with 21st century architecture. Perhaps then, the most intriguing part of the city is the old pastel-hued colonial buildings.
Before the British, Hong Kong was a collection of small fishing villages. However, the newcomers had other ideas. Under colonial rule, the island was developed at a rapid pace and many of the historic buildings remain today. On Hong Kong Island, you’ll see numerous examples, including multiple churches, the embellished facades at HSBC, along with the government buildings. All of which lay in direct contrast to the rest of the city.
Take in the best sites while learning all about Hong Kong’s colonial past on this 2-hour walking tour.
Take a Trip to Tai O
On neighboring Lantau Island, the small fishing village of Tai O presents life as it was long before the Opium War. On the island’s west end, you couldn’t be further removed from the modern day hustle and bustle of Hong Kong. The quiet streets showcase a traditional way of life, the perfect complement to your tour of colonial architecture.
In Tai O, many of the local homes are built of stilts that rise out of the waterways. In front of each home is a small dinghy, the primary form of transport from home to local markets. Although popular with tourists, it remains a poignant and peaceful experience.
Here, it’s common for locals to offer rides along the tidal flats and see the village from their perspective. Afterwards, head to the local market, where you’ll be able to try some fresh catch long before it makes its way to the big city.
Aside from experiencing the fishing side of life, slightly inland you’ll discover a lovely community and some of the best street food going around. Some of the must try treats included salted fish and the Tai O Husband. The latter is a pizza roll of shrimp and pork.
Climb Up to Big Buddha
Just outside of Tai O, on Lantau Island, is one of the biggest statues of Buddha on earth. The statue was completed in 1993 after 12 painstaking years of construction. High above the Po Lin Temple, Big Buddha stands at 111 feet tall (34m). In what was once a remote part of the island, the huge addition has completely changed the tourist’s path.
You can spot the Tian Tan Buddha Statue from an astounding distance. The only source of scale is the nearby forest, which is completely dwarfed by the monument. But when standing beneath Big Buddha, that’s when you truly understand the magnitude of it and how Tian Tan is an immense feat of engineering.
The best way to arrive at the landmark is via the Ngong Ping cable car. A scenic 25-minute ride takes you high above the forest and across the mountains before dropping you off at Ngong Ping village. The small town focuses heavily on tourism, somewhat diminishing the experience, however it will quickly be forgotten as you walk up an enormous staircase to the bottom of Big Buddha.
Have a Beach Day
Hong Kong can be such a hectic place to be that you’ll sometimes forget to take time to relax. For some rest and recreation, why not spend a day at the beach? Beach days and Hong Kong might not sound like two things that go together, but it’s actually one of the best ways to experience the city like a local.
The top choice among residents is Repulse Bay, a place that isn’t the slightest bit repulsive. On its golden sand, you can enjoy splendid views and calm swimming among nobody but locals, as few travelers are willing to say goodbye to the captivating action of downtown.
While the city is full of opulence and big money, there is an air of luxury to the streets around Repulse Beach. Beyond the sand, you’ll find an extravagant beachfront boulevard home to up-scale restaurants and trendy boutiques. Kick back and enjoy some delicious eats on a spacious patio that overlooks the bay.
Complete Dragon’s Back Hike
Another popular beach to visit is Big Wave Bay. Here, beachgoers have the opportunity to trek along a section of the Dragon’s Back, one of the top hikes in Hong Kong. But if you’re someone who likes to strap on the hiking boots and complete a trail, then why not do the whole thing?
Dragon’s Back is a 5.6 miles (3.5km) moderate trail that conveniently begins at the Tei Wan bus top. Dragon’s Back trail guides you through Shek O Country Park and is a 2.5 hour journey. Along the way, the trail showcases the best of Hong Kong’s nature. Thanks to a series of rolling mountains, forests and tropical beaches that will change how you see the city state.
The majority of the trek is downhill as you make your way towards Big Wave Bay. After capturing wondrous views of the beach, you’ll have the chance to recuperate on its sandy shores or make the short trip to Shek O, a town that’s known for its fresh seafood.
Check Out the Symphony of Lights
Every night, when the clock strikes 8, the Hong Kong skyline lights up for a spectacular show. Since beginning in 2004, the Symphony of Lights has gone onto become one of the top light shows on earth.
Unless you’ve time your trip on the Green Ferry perfectly, we recommend arriving early at the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade. From your spot on Victoria Harbour, you’ll have a great vantage point, with panoramic views of Hong Kong Island and the soaring Victoria Peak.
Grab some snacks and maybe even some hot cocoa, sit back and enjoy the show. There are over 40 buildings that take part in the nightly event. The symphony aims to take you on a unique journey that showcases the spirit, diversity and energy of Hong Kong. All up, there are five scenes, with the final act an incredible synchronized display of kaleidoscopic patterns.
Shop and Eat in Tsim Sha Tsui
Before or after the captivating Symphony of Lights, take the time to explore Tsim Sha Tsui, an exciting shopping and entertainment district. Running along the harbor front, Tsim Sha Tsui is the heart of the youthful Kowloon.
As the newer side of Hong Kong, Kowloon combines a wide range of international culture and modern amenities. It showcases how the city is often seen on the world stage, a cosmopolitan city and a thriving commercial hub.
The district’s main street is Nathan Road. Here, you’ll find rows of trendy restaurants serving anything from hearty kebabs to traditional eats. Between the restaurants are independent fashion outlets and several malls. For high-end shopping, make your way down Canton Road.
Other major attractions in the area include the iconic Clock Tower and the Hong Kong Space Museum. Aside from it being a hub of food and great shopping, Tsim Sha Tsui is one of the best places to base yourself throughout your Hong Kong experience.
Go Out On the town
Already hectic during the day, Hong Kong comes to life after dark as students and young professionals trade their daily tasks for a never ending nightlife. Under the bright lights of the city’s skyscrapers, locals, expats and travelers band together to create a pulsating experience that will leave your head throbbing in the morning.
Hong Kong is renowned for being compact, and you’ll soon discover that the best nightlife is even more concentrated. The main hub of bars and clubs can be found in Lan Kwai Fong, within the Central district. Lan Kwai Fong is a cobblestone street that forms an L through the city and is lined with over 100 clubs, bars and restaurants. If you ever wanted to do a pub crawl through Hong Kong, then this is where you should start and where you’ll likely finish.
For cheap drinks, sports pubs and live music, jump on the metro to Wan Chai. But for something high-end, head to Soho or Kowloon where you’ll find a selection of luxurious rooftop bars.
Relax in Hong Kong Park
Just blocks away from the revelry on Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong Park is where you should go to rest the head and enjoy some fresh air. In a city that never slows down, it’s nice to know that such a tranquil place exists. Spread along the foothills of Victoria Peak, you’ll find ample walking paths leading you alongside ponds and through forests to peaceful gardens.
Visitors will find room to hang with their traveling crew, while solo adventurers can grab some shade, read a book or watch the world go by. If the hangover is subsiding, then you’ll be up to experiencing one of the highlights of Hong Kong Park, its aviary. An outdoor area that’s shrouded in clear netting, the aviary is home to over 80 bird species. The elevated path takes you high into the canopy, where you’ll stand alongside the birds that are chirping away on the branches.
Explore the Chi Lin Nunnery
Another way to seek some peace and quiet in Hong Kong is to visit the Chi Lin Nunnery. Also one of the city’s most unique attractions, the Buddhist monastery was originally built in the 1930s. However, to honor the style and designs of the Tang Dynasty, Chi Lin was rebuilt from scratch using nothing but wood and not a single nail.
The Chi Lin Nunnery that you see today first opened in 1998. The complex draws you in from the moment you enter Sam Mun. Its entrance is a series of three gates that represent “skillful means”, wisdom and compassion. Continue on until you gaze upon gorgeous lotus ponds, bougainvillea and bonsai tea plants.
Before long, you’ll reach the Hall of Celestial Kings, where you’ll find a statue of Buddha and several deities. The silent nuns preserve the tranquility as they deliver offerings to Buddha before chanting out of sight.
Take in the Views at Sky100
Hong Kong is home to several amazing viewpoints, including the harbor and the peak. But to complete the experience, make your way to the tallest building in the city. Sky100 is an observation deck that offers 360-degree views of the skyline, Kowloon, the harbor and surrounding mountains.
The building itself has 118 stories and is found in the heart of Hong Kong. Its central location makes it the perfect spot to lay your eyes on the entire city as you stand 1,300 feet (393m) above sea level. Make the journey during the day to see the lush green mountains and the busy harbor. Or visit at night to look down upon a city lit up like a star-filled sky.
To make the most of the experience, combine your ticket with a dining package at Cafe 100. Enjoy VIP access to the viewpoint before toasting to your travels over a glass of champagne and some delightful treats.
Kayak in the Geopark
After capturing the sights of one of the world’s grand cities, venture back into nature at the Global Geopark. Within the protected area, travelers will have a chance to explore Lai Chi Wo, a 400-year-old Hakka walled village. The village is the best preserved example in Hong Kong.
Hakka walled villages began to appear in the 17th century. They are communal-style structures that are designed to make it easier for the community to defend themselves from attack. In Lai Chi Wo, you’ll find over 200 homes, temples and squares lined with ancient banyan trees. Venturing out of Lai Chi Wo, you’ll discover the city’s most diverse wetlands. Where you can gaze upon mangroves with laced buttress roots and thick vines that could transport you across the landscape.
To experience more of Hong Kong’s Global Geopark, sign up for this kayaking adventure. Alongside your guide, you’ll paddle into vast open waters of the Sai Kung Volcanic Rock Region. Float under natural arches and explore caves, before relaxing on remote beaches.
Go to the Races
Unlike the nearby gambling capital of the world, Macau, there’s only one way to win or lose big in Hong Kong and that’s at Happy Valley Racecourse. Alongside colonial buildings, horse racing is the most poignant reminder of the old British rule. But while the Brits have long gone, horse racing remains one of the top pastime for locals.
Wednesday races are held every week between September and July at Happy Valley. City residents take advantage of almost year-round event with fantastic weekly crowds creating as much fun off the track as there is on it. In front of the skyline that never ceases to amaze, enjoy the cheap admission with great food and drink options to make a night of it.
Races begin just after 7pm with the night coming to a close at 11pm. While you should always take care of your travel budget, join the locals in indulging in a bet or two. Who knows, you may walk away with some extra spending money.
Be a Kid at Hong Kong Disneyland
With so many cultural experiences to be had in Hong Kong, take the time to unleash your inner-kid and visit Disneyland. On Lantau Island, you can make your way to the enthralling theme park on the metro. After the brief trip, take a deep breath and ready yourself to experience the “happiest place on earth”.
Hong Kong Disneyland comprises seven sections, with a lot of similarities to other iterations around the world. You’ll find all the classic from Main Street U.S.A. and Toy Story Land to Grizzly Gulch and Adventureland. As you wonder around, don’t be surprised if you run into spontaneous parades and musicals on your way between each heart-pumping ride.
Some of the best rides include It’s a Small World, the Iron Man Experience and the Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway. At the end of your memorable day, stick around for the nightly fireworks that lights up Disneyland.
Eat All Night at Chungking Mansions
The entrance to the mansions may leave a lot to be desired, but that will soon be forgotten as you surround yourself with endless aisles of food. The extensive building complex is home to immigrants from all over the world, a place that has shed its dodgy reputation to become a one stop shop for authentic local and international cuisine.
In Kowloon, Chungking Mansions is teeming with dozens of food stalls set up by newcomers to the city. Using recipes from the four corners of the globe, you can literally eat your way around the world.
Add in a variety of market stalls to shop for random trinkets and a hostel full of backpackers, it’s easy to see how your night at Chungking Mansions will go.
Embark on a day trip to Macau
It’s hard to imagine that a city like Macau is so close to Hong Kong. A city with a rich past, Portuguese colonialism and now a gambling mecca. It’s easy to arrive on the shores of Macau, with several ferries departing Hong Kong each day. Better yet, why not cross the longest sea-crossing bridge in the world?
You won’t find a shortage of things to do in the city state. It’s enchanting old architecture could keep you busy for days on end, as you venture to the ruins of St. Paul’s Cathedral and see the amazing facades surrounding Senado Square.
But in recent years, Macau has become known as the “Las Vegas of the East”, and for good reason. Here you’ll find endless entertainment, from the dancing fountains at Wynn Palace (just like the Bellagio) to the world’s highest bungee jump at the Macau Tower. Macau is also the gambling capital of the world, with over 70% of its GDP coming from casinos. So are you feeling lucky?
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