A visit to Hong Kong promises the ultimate blissful assault to the senses. From the moment you step off the MTR into the heady, sticky air at Central, it begins. The busy streets buzzing with crowds, the opulent ultra-luxury hotels, the shiny shopping malls, the overcrowded markets and cosy tea houses; the energy in Hong Kong is palpable and the possibilities for visitors, endless. Whether you are spending a week here or simply making a Hong Kong stopover, we tell you what to see, where to shop, stay and how to work off all that delicious food while you are on the island.
Arriving in Hong Kong
The Airport Express from Hong Kong Airport stands out as one of the easiest ways to get to and from an airport, anywhere in the world. It’s fast, clean and convenient and you can even check in for your flight (including your baggage) before you head back to the airport for departure (giving you a little extra time at the shopping centre for some last-minute carry-on buys). Adult tickets are about HK$110 (one-way).
A taxi (grab a red one from outside the arrivals hall) from the airport will set you back about HKD370 ($AUD60). We have caught taxis to and from the airport and the Airport Express is still our preference.
Make sure you grab an Octopus Card at an MTR station to use during your stay, regardless of how you arrive. The card isn’t just a transport ticket, you can also use it to purchase items in vending machines, convenient stores and the like, which will save you carrying a lot of cash, particularly if you are just in town for a short stay.
What to See and Do in Hong Kong
The Big Buddha
The iconic Big Buddha is on Lantau Island. Formally named Tian Tan Buddha, the statue took 12 years to complete and sits high on the mountain at Ngong Ping. Take the MTR to Tung Chung and then jump in the Ngong Ping Cable Car which will give you great views over the valley. There are 268 steps to the statue, so make sure you are wearing comfortable walking shoes and try to get to the site early to beat the crowds.
If you’re in town with the kids, Disneyland is bound to be a hit. Be mindful of the weather thought; Hong Kong can be very humid so make sure you and the family stay hydrated. Also, located on Lantau Island, take the MTR, connecting through Sunny Bay Station to the Disneyland Resort Line. Avoid the lines at the park by pre-purchasing tickets at Hong Kong Disneyland Ticket Express at the MTR Hong Kong Station.
Check Out the Local Music Scene
The live music scene in Hong Kong is thriving. It’s a great way to hang out with the locals and listen to emerging artists. The gigs themselves are often held in a mix of trendy, hipster or dive-bar locations too, which is a unique way to experience the city. For punk, hard-core and metal lovers, check out Unite Asia’s gig guide for Hong Kong. Focal Fair is a venue in Causeway Bay showcasing Indie acts, Orange Peel Music Lounge is a great venue to catch some original music, as does The Wanch; a fun, relaxed cosy bar where local musicians like to jam. Foxglove is the spot for some sophisticated cocktails and smooth jazz. A lot of the 5 star hotels offer lounge sets in their lobby bars too. Simply ask the concierge who and when they are playing.
Hire a Junk Boat
If you’re travelling with a group of family or friends, hiring a junk boat is a lovely way to spend the day and see new parts of Hong Kong from the water. Boats range from traditional Chinese junk boats to yachts worthy of a hip hop music video, with something to suit most budgets and tastes. Book your boat and pick a catering or drinks package and then sit back, cruise, swim and enjoy the sights.
Experience Victoria Harbour on a Ferry
The Star Ferry is a super popular tourist attraction and a must-do for a stay in Hong Kong. The ferries were traditionally used to take passengers from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon. Now, the replica boats take you on an hour-long tour pushing off from Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier and passing Tsim Sha Tsui, Central and Wan Chai. Sit out on the deck for the best view. Pre-purchase tickets online or buy them with cash at wharf. The Aqua Luna ferry sunset cruise is a lovely date night experience. A traditional Chinese junk boat will take you around the harbour for 45 minutes. Watch the city skyline illuminate from the water with a cocktail in hand. Buy tickets online.
Shop ‘Til You Drop in Shenzhen
If you have a little more time and you are serious about shopping, taking a day trip to Shenzhen in mainland China will be an adventure. Shenzhen is full of even better bargains than you’ll find in Hong Kong, which is the reason Hong Kong locals head over on the weekends to shop too. You may need to plan this prior to leaving home though as you need a visa for entry and don’t forget your passport when you head over too. Some nationalities can buy Shenzhen visas on arrival (US and UK citizens cannot) but better to be prepared before you board the plane at home. From Hong Kong, book a shuttle (which could cut your border processing time) or simply take the MTR towards Lo Wu Station where you will walk to the immigration line.
Luohu Commerical City is the obvious first stop as it is just inside the border and has an endless number of stores. Of course, there is much more to see in Shenzhen than the shops, but you’ll have to plan your day efficiently to cover more than the malls.
Take a Day Trip to Macau
With Macau so close to Hong Kong it’s a shame not to take a day trip over if your schedule permits. Simply catch the ferry across from the Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal. Tickets start at HKD132, each way. For those looking for an even more memorable experience, why not head over in a helicopter? It’s not the cheapest commute (about HKD 4300 each way), but it will certainly be A Bond-worthy way to arrive at the casino capital. Don’t forget to carry your passport and check your country’s visa requirements before you start your journey.
Once you’re in Macau, walk over to the old town to learn a little about the history of Macau and see the Guia Fortress and St Paul’s Cathedral before you hit any of the casino floors. Adrenalin junkies should allow time to head to the Macau tower and take on the world’s highest bungy jump.
Where to Eat in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is a foodie’s dream town. From traditional tea houses to Michelin star fine dining and where to find the most photogenic dumplings, read our Local’s Foodie Guide to Hong Kong.
Where to Stay in Hong Kong
Four Seasons is just a few minutes walk from the International Financial Centre, where the MTR Airport Express drops you off. The stunning 5 star hotel flanks the famous Victoria Harbour so you can take in the view from the comfort of your room or peruse the Kowloon skyline while cooling off in the rooftop pool. Make sure you splurge and book in to one of the restaurants during your stay. The food is incredible.
Butterfly on Wellington is a nice, clean and modern 4 star boutique hotel close to SoHo, Landmark, IFC, Central MTR and ten minutes to the Airport Express Hong Kong Station.
Where to Shop in Hong Kong
For the die-hard shopper, put on your comfortable shoes, hydrate and head to Causeway Bay. The list of brand names is endless from GAP to Zara and H&M. You could shop the whole day away in Causeway Bay. It is overflowing with people and full of everything from department stores to tiny local pop-up style boutiques with plenty of places to stop in for a break and a bite to eat. Fashion Walk is a good place to check out the latest Asian fashions and Time Square is a popular place to find most labels from the more affordable (Marks and Spencer) to the high-end (Gucci, Chanel, Bottega Veneta).
If you are short on time, walk Queen’s Road in Central for basics and quick fast fashion bargains from internationals like Top Shop, Zara, Abercrombie & Fitch to name a few.
Head to the IFC (International Financial Centre) for all the usual designer suspects. This shopping centre is a very beautiful place to shop and a great last stop if you need to pick up some last-minute gifts before you jump on the Airport Express for your flight home.
If you’ve got expensive taste go straight to Landmark and shop the high-end labels to your heart’s content. Conveniently located in Central, you can even stop in for a window shop while shopping the nearby streets.
If large, shiny shopping malls aren’t your thing, head to SoHo (south of Hollywood Road). The area is known for its gorgeous boutiques selling one-off artisanal goods from jewellery to homewares, vintage fashion and those showcasing pieces from emerging designers. Wander around the SoHo shops in the afternoon and stick around for an early evening drink or dinner at one of the trendy local bars or restaurants.
A visit to the Stanley Market is more than just a shopping expedition; it’s a fun day out of the city. Aim to get to the market early (most stalls should be open by 10am) before the heat and crowds hit. We love the market itself and have bought artwork, luggage, gifts and clothing on our several trips out. We never go home empty-handed. When you are finished bargain hunting, wander the esplanade to find brunch or lunch and if you have more time take a walk along the coast. It’s a great spot outside of the busy city to get a very different perspective on Hong Kong.
A taxi (or Uber) is the fastest and most comfortable way to get to the market. It will take around 45 minutes and will cost about HKD140 from Central, each way (ask to take the tunnel to get there faster). A local bus is a cheaper and definitely more entertaining way to wind the curves to Stanley Market. Bus number 260 underneath Exchange Square is the most direct bus with the least stops.
Ladies Market and the Jade Market
A one kilometre stretch of brightly colours stalls filled with trinkets, souvenirs and daily staples, the Ladies Market in Tung Choi Street, Kowloon is as much a tourist site as it is a place to shop. Take the MTR across Mong Kok Station in Kowloon and walk Nelson Street. You will soon come to the markets. This is the perfect spot to buy little gifts for friends and family back home and also to practice your haggling skills. Make sure you stop in at Canton Road known as Jade Street while you are in Kowloon to check out some of the beautiful jade pieces. Jade jewellery also makes a lovely, inexpensive present to take home.
How to Stay Active in Hong Kong
The Peak hike is popular with locals and visitors alike. As you weave your way up the hill, in and out of skyscrapers and trees to the top, you are teased with glimpses of the buildings and bay below. But it’s when you reach the famous peak that you truly appreciate those climbs. Grab a coffee or a cool drink and take some photos peeking above the skyline. For those who have mobility issues or aren’t physically fit can simply jump in the tram instead; it’s an adventure in itself. Take on the peak first thing in the morning to get ahead of the humidity.
Hong Kong’s answer to Soul Cycle, XYZ is the go-to fitness trend of the moment. So far, there are ultra modern studios in Central and Causeway Bay. Reserve a bike and hit the neon lit studio for an intense 50-minute sweat session.
Chains like Pure Fitness and Fitness First have gyms around Hong Kong where you’ll find everything you would expect from cardio and free weights spaces, weights machines and group fitness classes. If you are a Fitness First member at home, make sure you grab your international passport before you leave for complimentary access during your stay.
CrossFit, Functional and HIIT
CrossFit 852 offers drop in sessions for HKD250 each if you’re missing your WOD at home. F45 has also well and truly making its mark in Hong Kong with a number of studios and one soon set to open in Central, which will likely suit visitors. HIT45 in Central and The HIT Room in Discovery Bay are two of the many studios offering HIIT workouts to help you burn off those dumplings before you even remember you ate them.
Don’t let the humidity fool you, Hong Kong is a hiking and trail running town. Getting out of the urban jungle and up into the real jungle covered hills is a beautiful way to see the Hong Kong beyond the busy shopping centres and roof tops bars. A list of hikes can be found here.
A special thanks to Jodie and Tiffany for their local knowledge that helped make this a truly authentic guide.