Boasting more vertiginous skyscrapers per square meter than any other city on earth, Hong Kong, with its more than 7 million inhabitants and mind-boggling 50 million yearly visitors, is one of the most exhilarating cities in the world. Revered as a shopping mecca for decades, Hong Kong is nowadays mostly coveted as an exceptional foodie destination and a very enticing cultural hub. With its complex and far-reaching history, Hong Kong boasts an eclectic mix of cultures, ethnicities and religions, making it one of the most interesting and diverse cities in Asia.
What’s most surprising to first-time visitors, however, is that Hong Kong is actually an immensely green city, one surrounded and drenched in gorgeous nature. Behind the glistening façade and sea of people in its most central business district, you’ll discover a laid-back land comprising more than 200 islands, most uninhabited and accessible only by boat or kayak. So spend a few days here shopping, feasting and sightseeing and don’t be afraid to jump on ferries and explore the outer islands as well.
The discoveries, in Hong Kong, are far-reaching and unforgettable.
Overview of Hong Kong
A formidable trading port for centuries, Hong Kong boasts an identity all of its own and has grown into one of the most influential financial centres on the planet. A very healthy expat population grants Honkers, as it’s known to locals, a very unique East-meets-West kinda feel and in certain quarters you’ll be left wondering if you’ve somehow magically been transported to another continent. Yet you’ll never really forget where you are, not with all the temples, hawker stands, burning incense and insane number of waving fortune cats all over the place.
A captivating and addictive travel destination, Hong Kong offers a near endless array of attractions and activities, which is the primary reason this rates as one of the most re-visited cities in Asia. With its affordability, convenient location (ideal for a stopover to Europe and beyond) and so much to see and do, you could visit a dozen times and still not see and do it all.
Hong Kong’s Most Popular Tourist Areas
Hong Kong Island
The epicentre of the city, Hong Kong Island is the preferred accommodation base for most foreign tourists and home of famous Victoria Peak, the exciting nightlife hubs of Lan Kwai Fong and Wanchai, the Central Business District and the unique offerings of up-market Mid-Levels. With its well-developed waterfront, immense array of hotels and all the skyscrapers your eyes can feast on, Hong Kong Island is an ideal place to stay if you’re only
planning a getaway of a few days. With the sheer multitude of world-class restaurants, great markets and glitzy malls found here, you may be hard pressed to ever step on a ferry and explore further…but you really should! This may be the most glamorous side of Hong Kong but, in many ways, it isn’t the most diverse.
The more characteristic of the main Hong Kong islands, Kowloon offers a glimpse into a bygone era, one which manages to still coexist with the flashy side of this amazing city. Here, you’ll experience a much more Chinese atmosphere although recent gentrification efforts means this area is changing fast. Budget and mid-range travellers will find more options here, with a flurry of dining and accommodation options offering something for everyone. Even if you choose not to stay here, however, do take the ferry across from Hong Kong Island and explore on foot, discovering interesting local markets and stores, before taking the ferry back just after sunset. The views of the main island from Kowloon’s Tsim Sha Tsui Harbour are simply breathtaking.
Home of the city’s international airport and the ever-popular Hong Kong Disneyland, Lantau is the island everyone steps foot on, first and foremost. With an impressive swath of wilderness and a host of attractions, including the impressive bronze Tian Tan Buddha statue, Po Lin Monastery, Ngong Ping cable car, Lantau is home to traditional stilt villages, rural towns, gorgeous uncrowded beaches and a mountainous interior that’s revered among hiking circles. If you wish for a quieter place to stay when visiting Hong Kong, Lantau is an excellent choice: ferries to Downtown are frequent, fast and inexpensive. Moreover, a lovely waterfront dining strip, in Discovery Bay, ensures you’ll still have plenty of dining and drinking choices at the end of your day.
If staying in Lantau, you can go from quiet suburban life to frenzied hive of activity in less than half an hour.
Hong Kong’s Best Highlights
Make sure you pack comfortable walking shoes when visiting Hong Kong as the best experiences are to be found simply meandering the streets of its most alluring quarters, visiting temples and stopping by markets, watching Hong Kong life roll by.
Here are the best highlights you shouldn’t miss:
The highest peak on Hong Kong Island is the city’s favoured viewpoint and, when the weather cooperates and grants clear skies, the views are out of this world. At 428 metres in
elevation, Victoria Peak’s Sky Terrace grants sweeping views across the harbour. Take the historic tram to reach the peak and, if you’re feeling energetic, take a walk back to Downtown via the well-marked trail, past stunning villas and public parks offering startling views and idyllic stops, especially at the Botanical Gardens in Mid-Levels.
The prime waterfront strip in town separates Kowloon from Hong Kong Island and is wonderful for an evening stroll, with the illuminated skyline and accompanying Symphony of Lights (at 8pm, every night) offering a visual feast like no other. Head here during the day to retrace the steps of the city’s illustrious cinematography by walking the Avenue of Stars, brimming with statues and
Temple Street Night Markets
If you only have time (or the aptitude) to take in one outdoor market in Hong Kong, make sure it’s the one at Temple Street. Loud, busy, colourful and impossible to resist, Kowloon’s main retail strip is the most happening part of town, every single night.
Hong Kong literally bursts at the seams with fantastic markets and although Temple Street may rate as the best ‘night’ market, you’ll still find plenty to scour during the day. From the Jade Market to the Flower Market, the Ladies Market and even the Bird Market, this shopper’s paradise boasts a market for every taste, budget and baggage allowance. No matter what you think you want to buy, or gawk at, it’s worth checking out all of these incredible markets for sheer visual feasting value alone.
Hong Kong Island’s premier seaside strip belies its name in a multitude of ways. The most central beach suburb in the city offers sunbathing, swimming, shopping and dining options galore.
Tia Tan Buddha
The imposing Buddha statue on Lantau Island is reason enough to stay on Lantau itself, except for the fact that the most rewarding way to reach it is via the startling cable-car which departs from Hong Kong Island! A ride on the Ngong Ping 360 is a must on a sunny day with clear skies and offers fantastic and all-encompassing views of Hong Kong’s marvellous harbours. Arriving in a plateau high up on Lantau Island, you’ll have access to the ‘traditional’ Buddhist village of Ngong Ping, the Po Lin Monastery and the awe-inspiring Giant Buddha, reached via a walk up 250-oodd stairs. Head here of an early afternoon and you can soak up startling sunset views on the cable-car ride back to Hong Kong Island.
Night-time skyline viewing
Discovering the best spot for night-time skyline views is arguably the favoured past-time of all who visit and, luckily, the options are numerous. Aside the above-mentioned Victoria Peak and Ngong Ping cable car, you’ll find an eye-popping Sky100 deck in the tallest building in the city (the ICC) and can soak up stellar views from the Star Ferry which crosses Victoria Harbour. Or, better still, combine your photo-op with a refreshing sundowner and meal in one of the city’s best high-rise bars and restaurants.
Lan Kwai Fong
With the highest concentration of trendy bars and restaurants in town, Lan Kwai Fong boasts the honour of being Hong Kong’s premier nightlife mecca. A place that never truly sleeps, this hood attracts local expats like moths to flame and here you’ll find an array of Western bars and international eateries.
‘Hong Kong Story’ at the Museum of History
Hong Kong has enjoyed a riveting evolution through the centuries, growing from humble fishing port to international powerhouse thanks to its immensely coveted geographical position. Over the years, it has been influenced by an array of cultures, both Western and Eastern, creating a unique identity that is unmatched anywhere in the world. Although the city’s major sights and tastes will undoubtedly kidnap you for the entirety of your stay, we recommend you do set some time aside to learn more about the history of this fascinating place. Our favourite museum is the recently rebranded Hong Kong Museum of History, with its incredible Hong Kong Story exhibition allowing you to walk through the city’s natural, economic and cultural evolution in a single visit of a couple of hours. The exhibitions runs across two floors and is exceptionally well laid out and organised, from prehistoric times right up to the 1997 handover back to China. If you only have time to visit one museum…make it this one!
Shopping in Hong Kong isn’t nearly as ‘cheap’ as it was 20 or so years ago…but it’s still a lot of fun! The crazy malls for which the city became world famous still attract plenty of shopaholics. The most popular malls nowadays are Kowloon’s Harbour City, the centrally-located Pacific Palace and IFC Mall, and the super swish strip of boutiques along Nathan Road.
Delectable foodie delights
If there’s one aspect of Hong Kong that entices visitors to come back, time and again, it would have to be its renowned mouth-watering cuisine. This is, without a doubt, the most exciting culinary city in all of Asia! Dim sum lunch buffets, hotpot institutions, Michelin-starred dumpling restaurants and innumerable hawker stalls will delight the taste buds of anyone with an affinity for Asian food of exceptional quality. Food is such an intrinsic part of Hong Kong’s culture that you’ll find it impossible to walk a whole city block without encountering a steaming pyramid of dim sum bamboo baskets outside a local eatery. So take advantage of the offerings and feast away, like the locals do, all day long.
Best Time to Travel to Hong Kong
Given its subtropical climate and intense population density, Hong Kong can be challenging when visited in its hottest, muggiest and smoggiest months in the northern summer. For optimal enjoyment – and the ideal temps to facilitate extensive walking – visit in autumn, between Septembers and mid-December.
An exhilarating city to explore in depth and a fantastic stopover in Asia, Hong Kong is absolutely unmissable, either of its own accord or combined with adventures in China.
At GetAboutAsia, we are your Asia travel experts and offer hassle-free guided itineraries designed with your specific interests in mind. Contact us to discover how easy and affordable a Hong Kong experience can be.
Author: Laura Pattara
“After spending years taking short vacations in Asia, Laura finally managed her dream, travelling extensively through Central Asia, China and Southeast Asia on a 3-year-long overlanding adventure that she describes as “SIMPLY EPIC”. Following in the footsteps of ancient traders, Laura meandered along the famed Silk Road through the Stans, delighted her tastebuds for 8000km across China (no mean feat) visited an insane number of temples in Southeast Asia, all the while snorkelling, diving and beach-bumming along the way. Tickled pink by history and culture, Laura loves off-the-beaten-path destinations in Asia and anything that isn’t gift-wrapped for tourists”