10 Reasons to Visit Hong Kong

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.

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A Guide to Hong Kong: 10 Things to Do in Hong Kong

Get lost

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Admire temples

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).

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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.

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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.

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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

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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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A Night at The Upper House, Hong Kong

On a recent trip to Asia, I spent two weekends in Hong Kong. On the first weekend, I stayed in a reasonable hotel in the Wan Chai district (found via Booking.com). In between weekends, I traveled to Japan to meet a friend from the States, and explore Tokyo and Kyoto. At the end of our time in Japan, my friend surprised me by announcing he’d be joining me for the last weekend in Hong Kong.

Already excited to have a friend to explore a part of Asia that was quickly becoming one of my favorite places, I was over the moon when he told me he’d booked The Upper House for our stay.

A quick note: I don’t ever stay in luxury hotels. One of the reasons I’m able to travel so much is because I opt for more affordable lodging options, like Airbnb. I’m fortunate to have a friend who was interested in staying at this property- it’s an experience I won’t soon forget.

The Upper House was a true dream. It’s located within Hong Kong’s luxury shopping complex, Pacific Place on Hong Kong Island.

No detail is overlooked at The Upper House. It didn’t even feel like we were staying at a hotel, it felt like we were in someone’s posh home.

Even the check-in process at TUH is designed to feel different from a typical hotel. After a paperless check-in, guests are provided with a ‘guest experience team’, who are there for every need during their stay.

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Oozing tranquil, neutral vibes, we found it difficult to leave TUH to explore the city.

Our room had a minimalistic look without feeling barren. Hong Kong isn’t known for roomy interiors, but our studio at TUH was the size of an apartment. The bed was among the comfiest I’ve ever slept on, the sofa was perfect for lounging, and the enormous windows were breathtaking. We could see part of the city and harbor, as well as the lush mountainside from our room.

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As we explored more of our room, we realized whatever we needed was within reach.

The complimentary maxi bar was stocked with tons of beverages- coconut water, apple juice, still and sparkling waters, soda and beer, as well as a bunch of sweet and salty snacks. Wine and champagne were stocked in the bar, but an extra cost to enjoy.

And, the lights and temperature were on streamlined response systems. I loved we could control the lighting in the entire studio from our bedside table- there was even a ‘night mode’ with low floor lighting.

By far though, my favorite part of the room was the deep soaking tub, and provided bath salts and oils. Relaxing in the tub while watching a movie on the adjacent screen and drinking a glass of wine was the perfect way to unwind after a day in the city streets.

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Like our room, the gym had everything we could have needed- plenty of cardio machines, weight machines, free weights and other workout tools (balls, bands, mats)- not to mention the same stunning panoramic views.

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You can order room service from the in-room televisions, but not venturing up to Cafe Grey Deluxe would be a mistake. Like the rest of the hotel, the grand cafe is beautifully designed, and overlooks Victoria Harbour. We enjoyed perfect cocktails here both nights we stayed at TUH, the ultimate nightcap.

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I loved Hong Kong so much I know I’ll be back someday. And, even if I don’t return to TUH to stay, I will pop by for a drink. It’s a stunning property worthy of being recognized as one of the best hotels in the world.

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Hong Kong Day Trip: Lantau Island

When I first started planning for my trip to Asia, I was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of suggestions people shared with me. One thing that kept popping up for Hong Kong was a day trip to Lantau Island.

When people think of Hong Kong, they think of high rises, densely populated streets, lots of noise and constant energy. Lantau Island’s lush greenery is a nice reprieve from that.

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.

If you’re in Hong Kong for more than two days, I’d definitely recommend spending part of one of them on Lantau Island. If you go early, you can be back in the city in time for a late lunch, and avoid crowds at the same time.

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Where is Lantau Island?

Hong Kong is made up of over 230 islands, along with a part attached to mainland China called Kowloon. The largest island, Lantau, is where you’ll find the airport, Tian Tan Buddha and Hong Kong Disneyland.

Disneyland would be reason enough to head to Lantau Island (#DisneyFan), but when I was in HK, I didn’t have time for Disneyland. Instead, I headed to Lantau Island to check out Tian Tan Buddha and Tai O Fishing village.

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.

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What to do on Lantau Island

Tian Tan Buddha

A 112 foot bronze statue atop a hill is the main reason people head to Lantau Island.

It’s almost 270 steps to the top, but once you’re there, you’ll be treated to beautiful views of the mountains and sea. Underneath the Buddha, you’ll find a small museum about Buddha’s life and his path to enlightenment.

Although only constructed in 1993, the site draws interest from visitors all over Asia. While both the Buddha and monastery are tourist attractions, it’s important to remember they’re also religious sites.

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Po Lin Monastery

This is the Buddhist monastery that owns and operates the Tian Tan Buddha. It’s located at the base of the Buddha, and free to visit. The temples are beautiful, and colorful.

There’s also a well known vegetarian restaurant inside the monastery. I just grabbed a few snacks, but really enjoyed the sesame balls and red bean paste bun.

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Tai O Village

Tai O is one of Hong Kong’s few surviving fishing villages, and currently part fishing village, part tourist destination. Once home to the Tanka people, Tai O used to be an important fishing port. Now, Tai O is famous for its stilt houses on the waterfront.

You can catch bus 21 here from Ngong Ping Village, it’s about a ~20 minute trip. We did so, and then took bus 11 from Tai O back to the Tung Chung MTR station (~40 minutes).

When you get off the bus in Tai O, the first thing you’ll see are locals trying to sell you boat tours, with the promise of seeing pink dolphins. We didn’t do one of the tours, opting to explore the village on foot.

Tai O is the kind of place that’s best to come without a set agenda- we wandered down the side streets, through markets, in and out of the stilted house lanes. As you’re wandering, you’ll see salt fish and smell shrimp paste (aka fermenting fish) at every turn.

In total, I think we spent just over an hour here- plenty of time to get a feel for the village without committing too much time from our day.

I wanted to visit because I’d heard Tai O is the kind of place that’s best to visit sooner rather than later. Like the rest of Hong Kong, it’s easy to imagine this area decades from now being commercialized, with stacked high rises.

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How to get to Lantau Island

From Hong Kong Island, it’s about a ~45 minute ride on the MTR to get to Tung Chung station.

Assuming you take the MTR, you’ll exist the Tung Chung station. To get to Tian Tan Buddha, you can take the Ngong Ping 360 cable car ($~24 round trip), or bus 23 ($~4 round trip).

Ngong Ping Village is a small area at the base of the Tian Tan Buddha, meant to be a receiving area for the cable cars. Pre-warning: It’s very commercialized- there’s a Starbucks and Subway.

When I visited Lantau Island, the Ngong Ping cable car was down for maintenance, so we had to take the bus. The cable car is 25 minutes each way, and the bus takes about ~40 minutes.

To take the buses on Lantau Island, you’ll need exact HKD, or a pre-loaded Octopus card. I bought an Octopus card on my first day in Hong Kong, because I knew I’d be using public transit throughout my trip.

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On My Next Trip

Much like Hong Kong, Lantau Island is home to a lot of great hiking trails. You can hike up to and around the Big Buddha, but it’s not easy. I’ve heard it’s a rugged, multi-hour journey.

Another option, the Lantau Trail brings you on a loop around the island, 43 miles in total, and is a great way to see more of nature if only for a few miles.

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Where to Eat & Drink in Hong Kong

Hong Kong: Dense, populated, colorful, energetic. It’s city meets jungle. Everyone told me I’d like Hong Kong, but I wasn’t prepared to love it so much.

Hong Kong is made up of over 230 islands, along with a part attached to mainland China called Kowloon. We stayed on Hong Kong Island, which is where the majority of my recos are focused.

There are plenty of things to do, and great places to eat/drink in Kowloon, but we preferred the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong Island.

Four days in Hong Kong wasn’t nearly enough time for everything I wanted to do and see, but just another reason to head back for another holiday.

Where to Eat

  • Hoo Lee Fook (Hong Kong Island, Central District): I’d heard this was one of the hardest restaurants to book in HK, but decided to try my luck one night. There was a 30 minute wait, which I passed with a drink at a nearby bar. It ended up being well worth the wait, living up to the motto, ‘Good fortune for your mouth’. The shrimp fried rice, twice cooked green beans and fried cauliflower were incredible- such inventive Chinese flavors. I didn’t try them, but I’ve heard the short ribs are phenom
  • Yardbird (Hong Kong Island, Central District): Hands down my favorite meal in HK. The whisky menu is ace, and although they’re known for their yakitori, the whole menu is stellar. Every bite we ate seemed better than the last- the pickles, sweet corn tempura, crispy brussels sprouts, rice cakes (!), sweet potato, and KFC (Korean fried cauliflower) are all worthy of recommending
  • Dim Sum:
    • Yum Cha (Kowloon, Tsim Sha Tsui): Cute, tasty dim sum. I ordered the hot custard buns, matcha buns and pineapple birds. Hot custard buns FTW. Make a reservation to avoid waiting for a table
    • Mott 32 (Hong Kong Island, Central District): Another favorite place in HK, great dim sum. Make a reservation before you come, and reserve a duck if that’s your thing
    • Dim Sum Square (Hong Kong Island, Central District): Really great custard buns. Good dim sum at an affordable price
  • Tai Cheong Bakery (Hong Kong Island, Central District): Best egg tarts in HK- light, crumbly and creamy
  • Mana! Fast Slow Food (Hong Kong Island, Central District): Delicious healthy food. Loved this so much, I came twice during my time in HK. Fan of the green juice and falafel vegetable wraps
  • Mammy Pancake (Kowloon, Tsim Sha Tsui): Egg waffles are a big thing in HK- perfect street snack. This place was my fav, dug the sweet potato and mocha flavors
  • Oodies Foodies (Hong Kong Island, Central District): More egg waffles, this time with ice cream #HeartEyes
  • Temple Street Night Market (Kowloon): Great place to souvenir shop. There are tons of restaurants off the markets side streets. On a nice night, you’ll see a bunch of people eating outside- pick a place with a lot of people lingering and dig in

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Where to Grab a Drink

  • 65 Peel (Hong Kong Island, Central District): Great selection of beers, perfect for people watching as you sip your cold one in the street. Nearby 99 Bottles is another great beer spot
  • Ozone (Kowloon, West Harbour): Atop the Ritz-Carlton, drinks aren’t cheap at the world’s highest open air bar, but the view makes them worth it. In addition to killer views, it helped the cocktails were really good
  • Sevva (Hong Kong Island, Central District): Rooftop bars abound in HK, and the view from this one was one of my favorites. Chill atmosphere, plenty of space to sit and relax. Drinks were, no surprise, overpriced for the quality. Ce La Vi is another nearby rooftop with a slightly different view- more focused on the mountains- and the vibe is a bit busier
  • Cafe Grey Deluxe (Hong Kong Island, Central District): We stayed at the Upper House, so coming here twice for a nightcap was easy on our way back to our room. But, even if you’re not staying at TUH, the view here and perfectly crafted cocktails ensure its place on my list
  • Mak Mak (Hong Kong Island, Central District): Reviewed for being an awesome Thai restaurant, we came here for drinks one night. We didn’t try the food, but the Mak Thai we had (served in a lightbulb) was just the right mix of sweet fruit flavor and rum
  • Maison Libanaise (Hong Kong Island, Central District): Middle eastern food looked great, be we came here for the rooftop frose special
  • Duddell’s (Hong kong Island, Central District): Really great cocktails on a lush rooftop. We didn’t eat here, but with two Michelin stars, it’s understandable why the Sunday boozy champagne dim sum brunch is said to be the stuff dreams are made of
  • Dusk till Dawn and Amazonia (Hong Kong Island, Wanchai): Live music and a good crowd. Awesome nightlife in HK

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Where to Have Coffee

  • The Coffee Academics (Multiple locations, Hong Kong Island): We visited the location in Wanchai, and the one in Central District. Great breakfast spot with a good flat white
  • Cupping Room (Hong Kong Island, Central District): Good cold brew
  • Steam Cafe (Hong Kong Island, Sheung Wan): Few things are better than cute latte art. V. into the panda the barista drew on my drink
  • Elephant Grounds (Hong Kong Island, Central District): New to the coffee scene in HK. The giant lattes are good, but I was more interested in the gooey grilled cheese and Thai iced tea
  • Lock Cha Tea House: If you don’t drink coffee, but are into afternoon tea, this is your place. And, if you’re vegetarian like me, you’ll love the dim sum here 🙂

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Have you been to Hong Kong? Did you have any favorite places to grab a bite or enjoy a drink? 

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#TravelCrush: Hong Kong

Being a true Type A personality, I’m already planning my 30th birthday trip even though it’s a year and a half away.

Thailand has been on my travel list for as long as I can remember, so I’m excited to finally be planning a trip to a country I’ve heard such incredible things about. As part of my trip to Thailand, I’m flying in and out of Hong Kong.

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Not only is making a connection there more affordable, but Hong Kong is a vibrant diverse city that’s worthy of a visit in its own right.

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With an impressive skyline and captivating culture, friends of mine who have traveled to Hong Kong rave about how many things there are to see and do there. Crowded, fast-paced and a mix of high-rise meets jungle, the city is a beautiful chaotic blend.

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Passion Passport says it best-

Underneath the glass and steel of Hong Kong’s commercial persona is a dynamic cultural landscape where its Chinese roots, colonial connections, and the contributions of its home-grown talent become intertwined. Here, you’re just as likely to find yourself applauding at Asia’s top film festival as joining in dawn taichi or reading the couplets of a local poet to the drumbeat of a dragon boat.

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Photo credits: Cover / 1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5