OK, so I should admit right now that Hong Kong is my favourite place on earth! I first visited a few years ago as part of a multi-city break trip and the second my feet touched down, I was hooked! It’s a heady bustling atmosphere 24/7 but you can always find a spot to chill out and the sheer diversity (often overused noun but so true on this occasion) of things to see, places to go and stuff to do is almost overwhelming. If you’re stopping by on a short stop I’ve tried to list the five sights that you could fit into a 24 hour layover, without even getting to temples, towers, trams, Star Ferry, markets, light shows, outlying islands, cultural villages…. Phew the list goes on (calls for another post later!)
Take the tram up to Victoria Peak
Victoria Peak has been a favourite destination in Hong Kong since the early 19th century when affluent locals and the English colonials made their (large and expensive) homes here. The 1811 foot (552 m) mountain is accessed by the 120-year old Peak tram from the Central district, by double decker bus or a taxi ride. The view of the city is spectacular any time of day (smog excepted), but sun down makes for a truly magical view. Stay on until after dark because “The City of Lights” really brings the skyscape to life and the view is extraordinary. Whilst waiting for nightfall you can shop at the small unique shops in Peak Tower and Peak Galleria, enjoy a meal, snack or coffee at one of the restaurants or even while away a few hours at Madame Tussauds on the peak. Victoria Peak garden was the Governor’s summer residence and makes for a peaceful and cool break from the city.
Explore Kowloon on foot
Kowloon was, until fairly recently, a vast urban slum full of illegal and immoral businesses. Then in 1995 Kowloon was fully restored, literally by tearing down whole neighbourhoods and building new high-rise tower block accommodation, parkland and the famous shopping malls. The Chinese-style gardens at Kowloon City Park provide a peaceful area to grab a quick bite to eat and take a rest from shopping.
Nathan Road is the main road running through the heart of Kowloon, with many famous sights along the way. I prefer to explore Kowloon on foot as you get right into the midst of the action, although MTR stations are frequent and cheap, so use these to ‘hop’ between destinations. Heading up Nathan Road, you’ll be tempted (only for a moment) by the many watch/suit/jewellery salespeople – don’t catch their eye and you’ll be OK! You’ll pass by infamous Chungking Mansions, the multicultural, mighty-cheap tower block that even after 40 years of use still houses around 4,000 people. I had a great curry here one night but will never be able to find the same place when I go back!
Kowloon is a shoppers’ paradise with bargains to be had at the many factory outlets and department stores. The malls are awash with designer clothing, electronics, computer accessories, jewelry and other wares at very good prices. It’s worth noting that a lot of the western brands are also here; Topshop, H&M, Ikea, HMV and if the exchange rate is favourable, the shopping can be much cheaper than back home.
There are also plenty of restaurants throughout Kowloon ranging from traditional noodle shops selling steaming noodle broth for about one dollar to high end Cantonese haute cuisine. The malls and high streets tend to feature most of the chains that we recognise in the west (Starbucks, McDonalds etc) but excellent dim sum, Cantonese, Japanese and even Indian cuisine can be found throughout the peninsula. At night, the area becomes a kaleidoscope of colour as it hosts its side of the Symphony of Lights nightly lightshow.
Take a trip on restored junk, Duk Ling
The ideal way to take a break from the hubbub of the city and chill out is a cruise in an authentic junk along the waterline. You can book tickets for the carefully restored Chinese junk, Duk Ling and cruise the South China Sea watching the Hong Kong Island and Tsim Sha Tsui waterfronts pass by. Duk Ling is an authentic representation of the junks that used to sail here 150 years ago, along with the opium traders of the day. The video above shows just a short section of the HK waterline and it’s also worth noting that Duk Ling is also a certified wedding venue – a truly unique wedding destination!
Make a stop at the Hong Kong History Museum
Hong Kong really seems to have the museum system sorted; visitors can buy a weekly pass for 30 USD, so great if you are staying for a few days. However for a 24 hour stop if I had to recommend just one museum, it would be the Hong Kong Museum of History, 100 Chatham Road South in Tsim Sha Tsui. This is the most fascinating museum in HK (trust me, I was there in typhoon weather so had plenty of time to kill at several museums) and shows history spanning from pre-historic times to the present. I’m not into history at all, but found the displays and info-bites really interesting and informative. It’s especially fascinating to see how the British influenced, shaped and ruled Hong Kong.
Next door you can visit the Science Museum which is a little dated but still informative or travel a little further up the road to the Art Museum. The Space museum is a fully functioning planetarium that is curiously egg-shaped and considered a landmark in Hong Kong.
Meet the animals at the Hong Kong Zoo and Botanical Gardens
The Zoo and Botanical gardens in the Central District of Hong Kong near Victoria Peak opened in 1871 and features over 1,000 plant species and many different species of animals, birds and reptiles over some 5.6 hectares. One of the oldest zoos in the world, the site is now home to various mammals including Bornean Orang-utan, Golden Lion Tamarin and Siamang. There are also various species of birds and reptiles. This spot is great for kids and adults alike and feels like a walk in a garden where a gorilla exhibit pops out from the scenery.