The 20 definitive things to do in Hong Kong
Hong Kong, an international financial hub and banking center is more than just suits. This city, small in area, huge in population and things to do is worth more than a layover, but if your time is limited, there are a few things you just have to see and do. The city can be explored easily on foot and most attractions aren’t far from the center of the city. Don’t let the map fool you though, due to the city being built on a steep hill, some walks can be strenuous. It’s good to have a few options for breaks along the way.
Most of the year the city is either hot or sweltering with high humidity. Combine this with the steep hills and crowds and for most activities, you’ll want to get an early start before the sun starts blaring. To work off some of that food and drink, you will really want to get out early to find any options that don’t involve buckets of sweat and navigating crowds. Bring plenty of water too, even for light walks.
This stunning city that rises vertically from the water is best seen from either way up above or down below to fully appreciate the height of the skyscrapers. The allure of Hong Kong is the combination of natural beauty around the bay and the lush greenery of the surrounding hills and the futuristic monoliths of glass rising from the ground. At some point though, to truly appreciate the city, you need to head out of it to the verdant scenes around it. Visiting the religious sites in and around the city will also let you appreciate the tradition and culture of this modern city that is constantly reshaping itself, while holding on to that tradition.
These are the best ways to make the most of a visit to Hong Kong and appreciate all it has to offer.
Touristy things to see and do in and around Hong Kong
- Ride the tram to Victoria Peak. At the top you’ll find the best view of Hong Kong, the bay, and on clear days, up into China. For the best view you’ll need to pay for a ticket to the panorama at the top of the shopping center, but it’s totally worth it for the stunning views. The ride itself is fun too due to the steep climb and peaks of the city through the trees.
- Take in the view from Victoria Peak. Enjoy the unobstructed view over the entirety of Hong Kong from the immense glass skyscrapers reaching toward the heavens down to the ferries and cargo ships moving along the bay.
- Stop in for some high end shopping at the International Finance Center. Down by the bay before boarding the ferry, stop in at this upscale shopping center to do some window shopping. At least you’ll enjoy the international shopping perks and get some cool air while you take a break from the sauna outside.
- Take the Star Ferry across the harbor. For less than a dollar, the views you get from this historic boat while you head across the bay are more than worth it. The old wooden ships provide a unique peek into history while providing a nice cool way of traversing the harbor under the shadows of the immense skyscrapers. Sure you could take the metro across, but what fun is that?
- Explore Hong Kong’s past at the Man Mo Temple. From outside, Hong Kong may not appear an especially spiritual place as money appears to be the driving force. But head inside this beautifully colored temple and you’ll be transported back in time to Hong Kong’s spiritual past. The sheer symmetry and number of lanterns inside will make your head spin.
- Ride the longest outdoor escalators in the world, the Central Mid Level Escalators. Like any good escalator, these take you from one level to the next for shopping. Unlike most escalators, they run outside and are incredibly lengthy. If after a long day of exploring the city, you need a little break to stand still but still want to keep moving, hit these up.
- Take the Metro to Lantau Island. A nice air conditioned metro ride across the city and onto the nearby Lantau Island where you can find several nature parks and miles of shoreline. On the ride out you’ll get a different view of the city, but the best reason to take it is to…
- Ride the cable car up to the Tian Tan Buddha. This immense sitting Buddha looks out over the island and the bay and is visible for miles around. Take the steps up to the top for incredible views of the forest around, the mountains, and the water. Stop and take a few moments to enjoy the peace which comes so rarely in today’s fast paced life. Then hurry up because there’s still tons to do!
Active things to work off the food and drink in Hong Kong
- Run the Luggard Road Trail Loop. Once at the top of Victoria Peak, which you can either take the tram to or run up if you are insane, take this well shaded loop around the peak for great views. The trees will keep you somewhat cool, but get up there early to avoid crowds on the narrow path and before the temperature gets high.
- Hike or run down to the Botanical Gardens. From Victoria Peak, the road down makes for a nice downhill trot. It does get fairly steep so bring good shoes and be careful on your knees. At the bottom is the excellent Botanical Gardens which even has a small zoo, all free to the public. Check out the plants in the greenhouse and take a gander at the birds, monkeys, and reptiles at the zoo.
- Jog along the Avenue of Stars waterfront. Along the waterfront on the Kowloon side of the harbor is a flat promenade that isn’t super long, but makes for a nice scenic view. The breeze from the water helps with the heat as well though the sun off the promenade can be scorching.
- Lose yourself and then find yourself again along the Wisdom Path. Behind the big Buddha, you’ll find this short loop through the hills called the path of wisdom. When a buddhist monk tells you to take the walk of wisdom, you just do it. Walk along the wooden plinths here, each with a different saying from Buddha except for one left blank to represent the wisdom we have not yet gained. While exploring this path, we happened upon a wizened old man who explained the sayings to us as we headed out. When we turned back moments later, he was gone, leaving no trace. Was he the spirit of Buddha? No one can say for sure.
Incredible food you have to try in Hong Kong
- The squid ink spicy ramen at Batao Ramen. Heat, humidity, and spicy squid ink can be a dangerous combination. It’s worth daring the risks for the awesome black ramen at this traditional feeling ramen joint. Grab a stool at the ramen bar and a light beer to help tame the heat. You’re going to want this bad boy extra spicy.
- Yakitori at Yardbird. This fairly small but two level Yakitori house can have quite the wait, so grab a seat at a nearby bar while you wait. Once inside, order every yakitori item on the menu. You know you have the right amount when you have enough skewers to build a fire watch tower for your local park. Don’t shy away from the strange skewers either like hearts, skin, or livers. If a visit to Hong Kong isn’t the right time to explore new foods, there is no right time.
- The cheapest Michelin star meal on Earth at dim sum palace Tim Ho Wan. It can be hard to know what to order here so either point at things other tables have that look good or do the shy awkward thing we normally do which is to pretend to be confident while ordering random things. The squid eyes you get will still be delicious so don’t worry. You mostly want anything that comes in a wicker basket here.
- An Egg Tart at Tai Cheong Bakery. This place can be hard to find among the narrow alleyways of Hong Kong’s market district. Between the t shirt stalls and ones that just sell solar powered waving cats – I’m definitely in the wrong profession – this bakery doesn’t stand out well. It took us about 30 minutes to find it, and only when we gave up did we chance upon it. The sugary sweet egg tarts here are famous for a reason and make the destination worthwhile.
The best places to get a drink in Hong Kong
- Grab some craft beer at Tipping Point Brewery. Ostensibly Central Hong Kong’s only microbrewery, Tipping Point has the brew kettles to prove it. Sample from the half dozen or so brews on tap at the small bar or get some food at the restaurant upstairs. Try the Pale Ale, it’s the perfect hot, humid day refresher.
- Discover a hole through the earth that takes you to London at The Globe. You’ll feel like a true British expat here with the incredible beer selection and opened up British pub vibe. From Bass to Smithwicks it’s the place to get a proper pint. There are even a ton of American craft brews on tap too and the food is pretty tasty too.
- Drink along the water at the Beer Bay. For a nice drink with the sun setting, head to this little shed near the ferry terminal. The place isn’t much, but it’s the best place to get a drink along the water and enjoy the relaxing journey of ferries across the harbor as you sip from a bottle on steps along the water. There is no better way to relax after a long day exploring town.
Where to stay in Hong Kong
- At the top of the world at the Ovolo Hotel. Every building in Hong Kong feels a mile high and 8 feet wide, but you will never feel it more than when looking out of the window of your room here. The rooms are tiny, barely bigger than the footprint of the bed, but clean, comfy, and a bit hip. You won’t be spending much time there anyway, but it helps to have a nice vibe. The best parts are the great location, close to many of the sights in the heart of the city, the free breakfast at the attached cafe which is pretty good and has a wide selection, and a happy hour get together daily for the guests where you can meet your fellow travelers with some wine. You may only be in town for a day, but it’s nice to feel like a local.
Hong Kong is most often visited as either a stopover or a business trip destination, but there’s plenty of reason to visit on vacation too. From the awesome food culture to the incredible sights and scenery of the bustling metropolis, you’ll never run short of things to see and do. A visit is always worth it regardless of time of year. You don’t have to be stuck inside the whole time, so get out and see the city. It’s a small enough city to see on foot and easy to get up high above. Get out there and try it.