Hong Kong is the most visited city in the world, and it’s easy to see why; with traditional temples, that iconic skyline, amazing hiking trails, secluded parks, superb museums and not one, but two horse racing tracks! There’s so much to see and do – no wonder I’ve been 6 times… so far.
Admire the Hong Kong Island Skyline
Hong Kong officially has the best skyline in the world and the best way to take it all in is over in Kowloon. Each night at 8pm locals and travellers alike convene in Tsim Sha Tsui to watch the iconic Symphony of Lights show. Best spots to watch the extravaganza is the promenade along the Avenue of Stars, Golden Bauhinia Square or onboard a boat in the harbour. The synchronised light and laser show is set to music and the key buildings put on a dazzling display on both the island and in Kowloon. Watch as IFC2 (second tallest building in Hong Kong), Bank of China Tower, City Hall and Bank of America come to life. In all 45 buildings take part each night in what is the biggest light show in the world!
Get high at the International Commerce Centre
When the ICC (International Commerce Centre) opened in 2010 it became the sixth tallest structure on earth. The 118 storey mega skyscraper towers over the harbour at 484 meters (1,588 feet tall). The majority of the building is devoted to office space, although there is also a luxury Ritz-Carlton hotel, restaurant and observation deck at the top. In fact this is the highest restaurant in the world. And if your budget doesn’t run to fine dining, head to the sky100 Hong Kong Observation Deck instead, where you can experience 360 degree panoramic views over Victoria Harbour and Hong Kong Island.
Ride the trams for an unforgettable experience
I love the familiar tell-tale metallic trundle that signals the presence of the ubiquitous Hong Kong island trams. Hop on at the back for a real old school journey, which has been running for over 100 years. Plying their trade along the tracks that run from Kennedy Town (in the west) right through to Shau Kei Wan (in the east), these little marvels cover the majority of the main sights on the island. Running from 6am to midnight and costing just 2.30 HKD (30 cents/85 pence) however long the journey, this is the most authentic way to explore the island!
Hike the Dragon’s Back
Don’t forget to pack your hiking boots as HK offers deserted beaches, mysterious woods, volcanic landscapes and a dragon’s back. This urban trail starts the Shek O Road (Shau Kei Wan MTR station) and follow the route over the Wan Cham Shan peak, Shek O Peak and Shek O Country Park before ending at Tai Long Wan. In total the moderate route is 8.5km long and will take around 6 hours to complete. The route is exposed so pack plenty of suncream and water – there are no shops along the route!
Admire the view from The Peak
Yes it’s the most popular tourist spot on the island and for good reason! The views out over the island, harbour, Tsim Sha Tsui and even the green hills of the New Territories are simply breathtaking, unless you happen to get caught in the fog (as happened to me 4 times out of 6!) Travel up Victoria Peak on the peak tram, which has been running for over 100 years. Marvel at the engineering which sees the tram glide along at awe-inspiring gradients. Hop up onto the Sky Terrace 428 for the best view, or head out onto the main observation deck. Other viewing points include the Lugard Road Lookout and also the Lions View Point Pavilion.
Chill out at the multitude of city parks
For a large buzzing metropolis, Hong Kong also has a multitude of urban green spaces. Biggest and most well-known of these are Victoria Park and Kowloon Park. But the real adventure starts when you hop on the MTR just to see where it takes you. Hop off in a local neighbourhood, especially up in the New Territories, and you’ll find local temples, parks, restaurants and shops. At Diamond Hill is the little gem of a park; Nan Lian Garden which together with the Chi Lin Nunnery, forms a beautiful public park. The ornate Tang dynasty style nunnery temple was built in 1934 and contains Buddhist relics set amongst lotus pods.
My favourite city park is the old Kowloon Walled City Park which is steeped in history. The site was fortified and utilised by imperial officials, until Hong Kong fell under British rule in 1898. Then the park became a lawless slum where the exiled Qing officials and soldiers lived. All the stone was removed in the Second World War II to build the old international Kai Tak Airport. After the war the park was a hotbed of criminal activity and drug taking was rife, until the authorities intercepted and redeveloped the slums in 1994 to create the modern park we see today. Former Hong Kong Governor Christopher Patten opened the site. Wander around and lose yourself in the history.
Celebrate the Chinese New Year in Hong Kong
Nothing beats Hong Kong when there’s a festival in town! And the biggest is the Spring Festival, Mid-Autumn festival and of course Chinese New Year. The lunar holiday falls each January/February time and involves much merriment, fireworks, street parties and special events.
Get to know Victoria Harbour
The best way to soak up the atmosphere is onboard a boat on the busiest stretch of water in the world; Victoria Harbour. Join a cruise onboard an authentically restored local junk and admire the views of both Hong Kong Island and Tsim Sha Tsui. Or opt for a journey across the harbour on one of the famous green Star Ferries which have been running since 1898. Make sure you get a seat on the top deck for the best views. Prices are dirt cheap and I have been known to travel to one side, just to turn around and travel right back again – it’s that good!
If you love rugby, you’ll love the Hong Kong Sevens
Calling all rugby fans: the Hong Kong Sevens Series is the place to be! March 2014 turns itself over to all things rugby, from the Beach 5s Rugby Tournament, Kowloon RugbyFest and Women’s Sevens, there’s something happening each day. Culminating in the main event; the Sevens Tournament from 28 to 30 March 2014.
Spend a day on Lantau Island
Hong Kong is surrounded by smaller islands which are well connected by the frequent ferries. And the largest is Lantau Island which has enough sights and activities to fill a day trip. Take the cable car up the Ngong Ping Plateau to witness the monks that reside at the Po Lin Monastery where you can also dine with them. Then climb the steps to admire the beautiful Tian Tan Buddha, aka Big Buddha, which is resplendent in bronze at 111 feet (34 meters) tall, especially at sunset. On Lantau you can also browse the traditional Tai O Village, ride aboard a traditional junk and taste the delicious local Cantonese cuisine.
Experience the local Ocean Park themepark
I love Ocean Park, mainly for one reason; the four giant pandas that live here. Get up close to them in their enclosures or for a special treat, opt to become an honorary panda keeper for a few hours. Opened in 1977, the parks spans 42 acres (17 hectares) and has twenty themepark rides including four rollercoasters. This is a great place to spend a day, with or without kids.
Soak up the local museums (especially on a wet day)
On my last trip to Hong Kong it rained for three days solid during a typhoon – but no worry, the local museums more than entertained me (and I’m not a huge museum-type person). In fact, Hong Kong really seems to have the museum system sussed; visitors can buy a Museum Weekly Pass for just 30 USD (3.86 USD/2.55 GBP) which is an incredible price! The best museum, in my opinion, is the Hong Kong Museum of History which is located on 100 Chatham Road South in Tsim Sha Tsui. It details the history of the territory, spanning from pre-historic times right through to the present. It’s interesting to see how British rule influenced and shaped Hong Kong.
Wednesdays are also FREE days, where admission costs nothing. Participating museums include the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, Science Museum (a little dated but interesting), Museum of Coastal Defence (fantastic with a fascinating insight into the opium wars), Museum of Art and the Dr Sun Yat Sen Museum.
Lose a few hours (and HKD) at the Happy Valley Racecourse
In the main tourist area of Causeway Bay is the deceptively named Happy Valle racecourse (not so happy if you lose!) The two main horse racing tracks (along with Sha Tin Racecourse in the New Territories) offers legal gambling and the racegoers really go to town! Pay to enter on the gate, grab a race card, study the form and pick your horse. It’s a great night at the track which is surrounded by high rises. It’s also worth noting that gambling via a bookmaker is illegal.
Discover Hong Kong’s ancient Temples
One thing Hong Kong does particularly well is traditional and ancient monuments, the pinnacle of this being the myriad of temples that dot the island. Often sitting alongside ultra-modern offices, shops and towerblocks, the temples offer a musky atmosphere and a glimpse into traditional day to day life. The best way to discover the island’s temples is by tram, with at least seven key temples along the route; the most famous example is the Man Mo Temple at Sheung Wan – you’ll spot the clouds of deeply fragranced incense from the street! From there explore the Pak Tai Temple and Hung Shing Temple in Wan Chai, Tin Hau Temple at Causeway Bay, Tin Hau Temple and Tam Kung Temple in Shau Kei Wan and finally the Lin Fa Kung Temple, Tai Hang.
Check out Hong Kong Disneyland
Opened in 2005, the Hong Kong Disneyland has grown rapidly to cover 68 acres. Built based on key feng shui principles, Disneyland combines Chinese with the traditional big-themepark activities. There are seven themed lands including Toy Story Land, Grizzly Gulch and the new Mystic Point rainforest.
Pick up a bargain at the local street markets
Across the UK, homewares shops specialising in oriental and Chinese goods has really taken off. But did you know that you can find similar items at the various street markets across Hong Kong for a fraction of the price? Cat Street market of ideal for picking up antiques, Cheung Sha Wan Road is good for fashion and Stanley Market is a local institution! You’ll find every type of market across HK; Bird garden, Flower Market and even Goldfish Market. The official tourism board website has more details on the best street markets and shopping streets.
Wander historic Stanley
Take a local bus over to Stanley town on the southern tip of Hong Kong Island. The culture of Stanley is totally different to the rest of Hong Kong; its laidback and more low key. You’ll find peaceful beaches, undulating hills and hidden coves. Yes there is a distinctly western atmosphere which is replicated in the local restaurants and cafes. The main highlight is the traditional Stanley Market which is popular with locals, expats and tourists. Buy well-known brand-name clothes, jewellery, home furnishings and oriental souvenirs.
Take a ferry trip over to Macau
Cross the Pearl River estuary over to the island of Macau, which is the second SAR (Special Administrative Region) of China, along with Hong Kong. A former |Portuguese colony, the one hour ferry trip offers rich colonial-era architecture alongside Macanese sights. Although Macau is probably best known as the biggest gambling and casino destination in the world (yes it’s bigger than Las Vegas!), it has plenty of history and culture going on. It’s also home to the largest casino complex in the world. Wander the 16th century St. Lawrence’s Church, admire the ruins of the cathedral of Sao Paulo and hang out in the fabulously ornate Largo do Senado square.
Explore the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery
Head up into the New Territories for the best religious building in Hon Kong (in my opinion), the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. Leave the MTR at Sha Tin; the climb is a little arduous, up 300 or so steps, but well worth the reward. Dotted around the grounds are some 13,000 individual statues of Buddha and as it’s off the main tourist trail, tends to be pretty quiet too. The video below shows the route to the Pai Tau Village, which is somewhat hidden. Fast forward to 7:12 and you’ll see the start of the trail which is lined with golden Buddha statues all the way up!
Discover authentic Cheung Chau Island
And finally on my top 20 amazing things to do in Hong is the quaint outlying island of Cheung Chau. Best known as the destination for the annual Bun Festival, the island also has some heritage sights, interesting temples, authentic seafood restaurants, old fashioned back streets and good quality beaches too. Try windsurfing on Tung Wan Beach where the Hong Kong Olympic gold medallist hails from.