Hong Kong is an incredibly diverse, fascinating, and even paradoxical place. As rural as it is urban, and with as many temples as it has skyscrapers, Hong Kong – which is actually made up of over 200 islands – is a unique blend of Western and Eastern cultures. No wonder then, that it’s very hard to decide the things to do in Hong Kong from the myriad of possibilities.
The distinctive character of Hong Kong is perhaps best encapsulated by its impressive collection of world records and achievements. For example, it consumes more than triple the annual global average amount of tea; has the world’s most affordable Michelin star dishes, at less that $2; oversaw the sale of the most expensive bottle of wine ever ($232,692); uses Feng Shui to dictate the appearance of and positioning of many of its building; and is home to the world’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show, “A Symphony of Lights”.
But with so much to see and do, we’ve listed the top ten things to do in Hong Kong that no visitor can afford to miss.
1. Hong Kong Open Top Bus Tour
There are lots of tour operators working in Hong Kong, but to really experience the city we recommend taking one of the open top bus tours. Since the city is so expansive, a bus tour is the perfect way to see, hear, and smell everything that Hong Kong has to offer. A good tour will take you past some of the city’s most beautiful temples, busiest shopping districts, best traditional open-air markets, and most jaw-dropping panoramic viewing points.
Interesting Fact: Hong Kong has the most skyscrapers of any city in the world, with 8,000 buildings of 14 floors or above.
2. Dragon’s Back Hike
Named by Time Magazine as Asia’s best urban trail, the famous Dragon’s Back trail takes those who walk it through cool bamboo groves and up and over the undulating peaks that link Shek O Peak to Wan Cham Shan. From the hilltop viewing platform at the summit of Shek O Peak, amongst the kite flyers and paragliders, you’ll be able to enjoy panoramic views of Shek O, Tai Long Wan, and even Tung Lung Island.
Interesting Fact: The Dragon’s Back hike gets its name from the strange appearance of the path, which resembles the jagged backbone of a dragon.
3. Victoria Peak
Just like a beautiful painting, one of the most breath-taking ways to view Hong Kong is from afar; without a shadow of doubt, the best place to do this is from Victoria Peak. Looking down on the city from this famous vantage point really puts into perspective just how splendid and improbable Hong Kong’s skyline really is. If you don’t believe us, just google it.
Interesting Fact: Alexander Finley Smith was the first to propose a railway to the top of Victoria Peak. His aim was to bring customers to his hotel, located at the summit. Unfortunately the hotel was destroyed in a fire in 1938, though the railway has survived till the present day.
4. Macau Island Excursion
A bit of a cheat, since Macau isn’t actually a part of Hong Kong, but a cheat we’re choosing to ignore, since those in the region really can’t afford to miss out on what Macau offers: the Na Tcha Temple, the Ruins of St. Paul, the Old City Wall, Mount Fortress, and the remarkable Macau Tower. There are numerous vendors offering day trip from Hong Kong to Macau, so getting there shouldn’t be too hard.
Interesting Fact: Macau has the highest population density of any place in the world, but also boasts the second highest life expectancy.
5. Lantau Island
Lantau Island is the largest island in Hong Kong, and is home to the city’s famous stilt houses, the Po Lin Monastery and its vegetarian restaurant, the Ngong Ping 5.7 km-long cable car journey, Tung Chung Fort, the Trappist Haven Monastery and, of course, Hong Kong Disneyland. With all this, and so much more, trip to Lantau Island is one not to miss.
Interesting Fact: Nong Ping’s Giant Buddha statue is a whopping 26 metres tall, making it one of the largest Buddha statues in the world.
6. Lin Heung Tea House
Hong Kong is, in many ways, one of the most modern cities in the world. But something of the city’s exciting history and mysterious aura is kept very much alive at the Lin Heung Tea House, where it’s perpetually 1920. The decades-old parlour, located in Hong Kong’s central district, offers some of the most delicious traditional culinary treats and delicacies.
Interesting Fact: Lin Heung Tea House first opened in 1926, and has barely changed in appearance since that time.
7. Temple Street Night Market
Temple Street comes alive at night, when the traders set out their wares, the street-food vendors begin cooking, and Chinese opera troupes and fortune tellers begin to come out of the woodwork. A favourite location for Hollywood directors, the Temple Street Night Market epitomises Hong Kong’s rough-and-ready ghetto reputation.
Interesting Fact: Temple Street is home to many traditional Chinese medicine clinics. But those who run them are not called doctors, and instead prefer the term “masters”.
8. Star Ferry
Journey across Hong Hong’s iconic harbour on the Star Ferry and you’ll see shipping vessels of all shapes and sizes, absorb huge views of the Hong Kong coastline, and enjoy something that has, for centuries, been at the very heart of Hong Kong life – the smell, noise, and movement of the ocean.
Interesting Fact: The Star Ferry Company was established in 1888 and operated with a single vessel, The Morning Star. Today the Star Ferry Company owns 12 diesel and electric powered vessels, and some have the capacity to hold 750 passengers.
9. Charter a Junk
A junk, or motorised pleasure vessel, can be hired relatively cheaply in Hong Kong. If you’re going with a large group of friends, splitting the cost of a chartered boat can be a great and affordable way to see the place as it has appeared to hundreds of thousands of fishermen and pirates before you. If you’re lucky, and you ask the captain nicely, you may even get to view “A Symphony of Lights” from the water.
Interesting Fact: Junk boats are symbolic of Hong Kong’s maritime history, so much so that the Hong Kong Tourist board uses one as their logo.
10. Roof of the IFC Mall
The rooftop to the IFC, a central Hong Kong waterfront mall, houses many high-end bars and restaurants. But the comfortable sofas, tables, and armchairs that occupy the “no-man’s land” between the bars and eateries are free for anyone to use, meaning that you can enjoy the incredible views the IPC offers even when you’re not hungry or when you’re at the end of your trip and running low on cash.
Interesting Fact: In 2003, the Financial Times, HSBC, and Cathay Pacific put an advert on the IFC that stretched over more than 50 storeys.
Of course, there are many great attractions that we didn’t have the space to include on our list. But we feel as though these ten activities and sites will give anyone visiting Hong Kong are real glimpse of what the city is like, and a whole host of great memories.