As self proclaimed city enthusiasts Hong Kong was an incredible place. We were struck by the fast pace, tall buildings, and unique history. From upscale restaurants to knock off electronics markets this city has something for everyone.
Here is our Top 10 list of things to do, see, and eat to make the most of your time in Hong Kong.
We’ve waxed poetic about the PMQ before but it is worth a top spot in our guide. This former housing complex has been revitalized into a cool, sophisticated center for up and coming local artists to showcase their skills. The adjoined five story buildings are now home to cafes, art shops, clothing stores, and even eyewear. It’s definitely worth stoping in to pick up a few souvenirs that you wont find anywhere else. Better yet, if you have extra time you can take a jewelry making or cooking class in the center as well.
This suggestion is a bit cliche, but seeing the Symphony of Lights an absolute must do in Hong Kong. The light show lasts about 15 minutes and goes every night at 8pm and is visible from anywhere on the waterfront. We took a junk (boat) tour for a fully immersive experience, but it’s not necessary.
If you want to stay land based, we recommend hanging out on the Kowloon side for the best view. When we were boarding the boat we even saw a yoga class setting up which would have been a fun way to enjoy the spectacle while getting some exercise, if that’s your sort of thing.
One of the coolest things about being in a city with such an incredible skyline is that it looks impressive from below and above. Victoria Peak is arguably the city’s best look out spot. The area was formerly inhabited by the mostly British elite members of society and while their mansions remain, some as modified apartments and some as abandoned buildings, now the quiet area belongs to the few locals who live there because most tourists simply take the trolly up, check out the view from the visitor center, and then head back down. We recommend going a different route.
First we recommend taking one of the double decker city bus at least one way. We took the 15 bus from Central Station to the peak which took about an hour. The twisty-turny road is not for the faint of heart but the changing scenery around each corner make it worth it. If you can, grab a seat near the front of the top floor for the best view.
Second, we highly recommend taking the time to walk around the entire peak. There is a nice paved walking path lined with benches so you can stop and take in the iconic harbor view, or the south facing, lesser seen, side of the city. We spent a few hours taking pictures, exploring some of the abandoned houses, and even showing off our moves on the exercise equipment set along the path.
4. Sample Local Food
One of the fun things about the unique history of Hong Kong is the way it’s food reflects it’s blended culture. The city has everything from fine dining to street food but we want to highlight the delicious snacks. We particularly loved the dried fruit, sweet and savory egg tarts, and a Hong Kong favorite, coffee milk tea, which is exactly as it sounds and is surprisingly delicious.
Hong Kong is known for its abundant high end shopping but no trip to the city would be complete without visiting the markets. The Ladies Market in particular (which is by no means for ladies only) was one of the biggest market we’ve ever been to. Stretching down several city blocks, the options seem endless. Much of the merchandise is souvenirs and knock offs but walking through was an experience in itself.
A quick warning though, the market is in the Mongkok neighborhood, which is crowded with a capital C. The market itself and most of the surrounding streets were packed with tourists and locals. It’s easy to get lost so make a plan of where and when to meet up with your travel partners in case you get separated in the sea of white tents.
6. Have One of Everything at Maxim’s Palace
This dim sum restaurant is huge, busy and a little gimicky but absolutely a must do while in Hong Kong.
It lives up to all the classic dim sum standards with 20 or so waitresses circling the restaurant pushing cart advertising the 4-5 dishes they carry. Its up to you to flag down the carts you’re interested in they pass but if theres something you really want, you can run your plate over to them if you’re brave (we saw many locals doing this but we were too timid to try it.) They mark your choices on a tab on your table so you can focus on the delicious dish coming your way instead of worrying about keeping track of the total.
Part of the fun is being able to try a wide variety of dishes. We ended up ordering a wide variety of buns, spring rolls, dumplings, soup, and even dessert. Surprisingly, they even had an abundance of vegetarian options.
We went on a Sunday at lunch time so it was crowded and we had to wait to be seated. If you can, try to go on a weekday. No matter when you go though, you’ll leave here stuffed, happy, and probably ready for a nap.
Hong Kong has a fabulous metro system that runs regularly and is easy to navigate. We only took one taxi our entire time there and we wouldn’t have needed to if our flight had landed earlier in the day. By all means, public transit is the way to go in this city. But no public transit trip would be complete if you stuck to the underground. To get the complete experience you have to try the alternatives- namely the Ding Dings and the ferry.
The double decker trolley cars, affectionately called Ding Dings by locals, are by no means the most efficient or comfortable way to travel through the city. They are quite slow and often crowded, but they give you a view of the chaotic streets that you really can’t get any other way. We found them especially fun later at night as we breezed through the bustling and brightly lit city.
We also talked about how fun it is to take the ferry in this post but it’s worth mentioning again. At just 5 or so minutes, crossing the harbor by boat doesn’t give you a long view of the city, but does give you a glimpse at just how busy and heavily used the waterway between the mainland really is.
8. Hang with Ex Pats on Staunton Street
If you find yourself at the PMQ in the evening and want continue exploring the up and coming side of Hong Kong, then this is your street. The area is English speaking friendly but not necessarily touristy, catering more to the finance crowd and other posh expats.
We indulged in sliders and tempura fries at Little Bao then bar hopped our way up the street. As the night wore on the area got particularly crowded (true to Hong Kong style), with people spilling out into the street giving the night a fun festive atmosphere for a random Friday night.
We came to this temple with a tour, but it is highly worth a visit. According to our tour guide Man is the god of knowledge and Mo is the god of martial arts, so you come to this temple when you need help fighting off bullies and getting good scores on tests (can you tell he was recently out of high school?)
The temple is also known for its heavy incense which gives it an eerie quality as you walk through the heavy smoke. You are also invited to ring a gong as you enter which adds to the mystical vibe and makes Man Mo a reverent but not at all somber place.
Admittedly the Big Buddha on Lantau Island is a pretty touristy spot and not necessarily one we would usually recommend but in this case we do think its worth taking a morning to visit for two reasons.
First, the cable car ride on the way there and back is stunning. The 20 minute ride takes you over water and mountains, providing incredible views of the city and scenery below. You can even take one with a glass bottom for an ultimate 360 degree experience.
Second, the Tin Tan Buddha, also known as the Big Buddha is impressively big. From below he towers majestically over the surrounding mountains, monastery, and villages. After climbing five stories or so you’re greeted with a beautiful view and a cool breeze. Be sure to check out the room under his seat for a brief art display of the Buddha’s life. The site also houses a relic holding ashes of the Buddha himself, which requires paying an entry fee to see.
As a side note- while the Big Buddha is cool to see, we wouldn’t recommend visiting Tai O, the small, poor, fishing village that is often billed as a second stop on the island. We found it overly touristy and somewhat exploitative of the locals.
Have we convinced you to visit Hong Kong? Let us know if you try any of our recommendations in the comments!