A GUIDE TO HONG KONG
When people think of Hong Kong, they think of high rises, densely populated streets, lots of noise and constant energy. It’s city meets jungle.
There are only a handful of places in the world that feel like home, places I could live. Before this trip, those places had been Austin, London and Amsterdam for a while with no other serious contenders for the list. After two weekends in Hong Kong though, I was ready to add HK to the list.
Hong Kong is made up of over 230 islands, along with a part attached to mainland China called Kowloon. I spent most of my time on Hong Kong Island, but managed to do a bit of exploring in Lantau Island and in Kowloon.
With only two weekends in Hong Kong, there were many things I didn’t have time to get to, but whether you’re only in Hong Kong for a few days, or planning a longer visit, there’s no shortage of awesome ways to experience the city.
A Guide to Hong Kong: 10 Things to Do in Hong Kong
Stastically, Hong Kong is one of the safest cities in the world. Neighborhoods are also compact, and pretty easy to wander. More often than not, I found myself taking detours en route to a destination to check out a side street or something that looked interesting.
One of my favorite areas to peruse was Soho in Hong Kong Island- it felt like classic ‘Hong Kong’ to me. The world’s largest outdoor escalator is in this area- take it to the top and then work your way down the winding streets.
Eat, eat, eat
Being a global city, you’ll find cuisines from all over the world. My favorite meal in Hong Kong was yakitori at Yardbird, but definitely make time for dim sum too. Egg waffles, egg tarts and street food are also must-do’s during your visit. I’ve rounded up my favorite eats in this post.
Drink on a rooftop
Rooftop culture is huge in Hong Kong, rivalling only New York in my book. Ozone and Sevva were two of my favorite rooftops for their great cocktails and phenomenal views. As jaw-dropping as the views from up high are, there’s also something to be said for kicking back with a cold one at one of Hong Kong’s many street bars- 65 Peels was ace for people watching while waiting for a table to open up at nearby Hoo Lee Fook.
Explore the markets
Hong Kong was my first visit to Asia, so visiting night markets like the one at Temple Street in Kowloon was a must for me. If you’ve been to other markets in Asia, this may not be as high on your list, but it was a fun experience for me. As with the nearby Ladies Market, the Temple Street Night Market is full of trinkets and street food. If you’re hungry while visiting one of the markets and can’t decide on a spot, just trust the locals- pick any spot there are people lingering and dig in.
Take a day trip to Lantau Island
I enjoyed a day trip to Lantau, but it’s not for everyone. In actuality, I spent little over a half day at Lantau Island, which left plenty of time to head back to the city and explore Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.
Lantau is the largest island in HK, and possibly the easiest to get to from the city. To put it in perspective, it’s almost twice the size of Hong Kong Island, but at much lower population density.
I really enjoyed visiting Tian Tian Buddha, the monastery and fishing village (Tai O), in part, because it was my first time in Asia, but also because I like seeing the different elements of a place and enjoyed the break from the city.
Go for a hike
When I visited Hong Kong in May, it was 80+ degrees Fahrenheit every day and extremely humid. My first weekend there, it rained off and on each day as well. That said, hiking was a bit out of the question.
On my next trip though, it’ll be at the top of my list. I love the thought of walking down a trail and in moments, being submersed in mountains. Such a nice contrast to the city chaos.
I’ve heard Dragon’s Back is a good hike, as well as the Lantau Trail.
Sail the harbor
A complete impulse decision, we decided to hop on a harbor cruise one afternoon. It ended up being one of my favorite activities from the trip.
Needing a break from the hot streets, we boarded the Aqua Luna, a Chinese junk boat, and kicked back in deck chairs for a few laps around the harbor. It’s hop on/off if you want, making four stops in total, but we just stayed on for the entirety of our trip and then went back to exploring Hong Kong Island.
Tickets were £15, so if you’re just looking for an easy, cheap way to cross the harbor or get out on the water, I’d check out the Star Ferry instead.
Get a bird’s eye view of the city
Sure, Victoria Peak is touristy, but the views are unreal. When we went on a gorgeous Sunday morning, the lines for the tram up to the peak were already crazy long at 8:30 am. We opted to take a taxi up (~£7 total), and then the tram back down (there’s rarely a line to take the tram down).
There are also a bunch of hiking trails near the peak- we didn’t have time for them, but hiking down or up seems like a great way to spend a morning.
With over 600 temples in Hong Kong, you’ll have no problem finding one (or several) to visit. Man Mo Temple in Soho, dedicated to the gods of literature, is beautiful- loved the incense coils hanging from the ceiling. I’ve also heard the Wong Tai Sin Temple, built with Feng Shui elements, is lovely (and lucky).
Kick back with live music
Lan Kwai Fung (LFK) and Wan Chai are two of Hong Kong’s big nightlife districts, both located on Hong Kong Island.
I thought Lan Kwai Fung was more uni/college-esque. Fun, but a very typical ‘party’ scene. Wan Chai, however, had a few good bars with live music (loved Dusk till Dawn and Bar Amazonia)- both would be great places to end the night.
Bonus Reco: Take a day trip to Macau
When I visited Hong Kong, I knew I wanted to find time to check out Macau, another autonomous region of China.
We’d planned on spending a day in Macau, but we ended up spending the morning lounging around our hotel (The Upper House), and wanted to be back in time for dinner in Hong Kong Island, so we only ended up spending about ~4 hours in Macau (sans ferry ride).
That meant we didn’t have time to visit the Coti side, but felt like the trip was still worth it to explore a new place.
Macau, located on the south coast of China, is most known for its casinos.
It’s one of the oldest European colonies in the Orient. While Hong Kong was a British colony, Macau belonged to the Portuguese. In 1557, Macau was rented to Portugal by the Chinese empire as a trading port. As the last remaining European colony in Asia, sovereignty over Macau was transferred back to China in 1999.
Today, Macau is the only place in the world where you’ll find signs written in both Chinese and Portuguese.
Macau is split into two main sections- Taipa is the part with casinos, and the Peninsula is the old part of Macau.
We spent our time in Macau in the Peninsula admiring the Portuguese architecture blended with European and Chinese influence. It felt like we were in Portugal, even though Macau belongs to China.
A Guide to Hong Kong: Extra Know Before You Go Info
- Language: Chinese and English are both official languages. Just about everyone we met spoke at least conversational English. Only a few times we had to communicate via Google Translate, or asking for directional help via Google Maps
- Currency: HKD: Hong Kong Dollar. Currently, the exchange rate is set at 1 HDK to 0.13 USD
- Getting there: You’ll need to fly into Hong Kong International airport. We chose to take the Airport Express to Hong Kong station on Hong Kong Island. Each way, the shuttle costs ~$10 USD and takes about a half hour each way
- Getting around: We bought Octopus cards and took the subway for the most part- incredibly easy to navigate. A few times, we took taxis because we wanted to see/do so much, and each ride was incredible cheap (less than £4-5 for a 15-20 minute ride)
- Money exchange: Some places took card, but quite a few still asked HKD- especially for small purchases or street food fare
- Packing essentials:
- An umbrella or light rain jacket- the weather can be unpredictable
- If you’re visiting from the US, you’ll need to bring the same type of 3-prong converter you’d need for the UK
- Where to stay: There are a lot of places that fit all budget ranges on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. From luxury options like The Upper House to mid-tier and budget options easily found on Booking.com, there’s no shortage of places to stay. Both weekends in Hong Kong, I stayed on Hong Kong Island, and really enjoyed being so central to most of the activities I wanted to check out
- Wifi: I rented a TEP device, but it’s my understanding hotels and most restaurants/cafes offer free wifi
Have you ever been to Hong Kong? If so, what would you add to this guide to Hong Kong for a first time visitor?
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