The Essential Hong Kong
by Kelly McGuire
Pearl of the Orient and a former jewel in the British crown, Hong Kong has long been known as a shopper’s paradise and is a popular destination with tourists the world over. Towering skyscrapers, Aladdin’s caves of fashionable trinkets, delicious dim sum, fun attractions for the kids, Hong Kong has a little something for everyone.
Whether you’re flying in for the weekend or are planning a longer stay, make your stay a memorable one by checking out some of the attractions and activities listed in this guide.
Grab the Tram to Victoria Peak.
No visit to Hong Kong will be complete without a visit to Victoria Peak. The best way to get up to the Peak is by taking the highly popular Peak Tram. The Tram dates back to 1888 and is Hong Kong’s most popular attraction. Victoria Peak itself offers plenty of photo opportunities of Central’s jungle of skyscrapers set against Victoria Harbour. Visitors should be aware that Hong Kong Island is often enshrouded by fog so visibility cannot always be guaranteed. At the Peak, visitors can grab a quick bite to eat at any of the several restaurants and cafes next to the upper terminus or admire the newly-refurbished Peak Tower. The Tower, which is due to reopen in summer 2006, will be home to several restaurants, a branch of Madame Tussauds and a viewing platform which will offer visitors spectacular 360 degree views of the territory.
Opening Hours: The Peak Tram departs every 15 minutes from 7am - midnight.
Admission Fee: Adult: HK$20 (single) or HK$30 (return), Child (3-11): HK$6 (single) or HK$9 (return).
Getting There: To get to the Peak Tram terminus, take bus 15C from the Star Ferry Pier in Central. These leave every 10 to 20 minutes and cost HK$3.20.
Further Information: thepeak.com.hk
Admire the Crystal Jungle.
Whenever you think of Hong Kong, you can imagine a panoramic view of towering skyscrapers and neon-lit company logos. Walking around Central, visitors can admire some of the world’s tallest buildings and marvel at the variety of modern architecture this territory has to offer. Do not miss out on the space-age design of the Lippo Centre near the Admiralty MTR station and the towering majesty of 2 International Finance Centre, the fifth tallest building in the world, near the Star Ferry Pier in Central. Fantastic views of Hong Kong Island’s crystal jungle can be seen from Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon or Victoria Peak. Make sure to have plenty of room on your camera to take photos of Hong Kong’s famous night skyline.
Venture to the Po Lin Monastery.
One of Hong Kong’s most famous landmarks is the giant Tian Tan Buddha statue at the Po Lin Monastery on the Ngong Ping plateau on Lantau Island. While the monastery dates back to 1927, the Tian Tan Buddha was completed only in December 1993 and is the world’s tallest outdoor seated bronze Buddha. There’s plenty to see at Po Lin and visitors will enjoy admiring the scenic views of Lantau’s mountainous terrain as well as exploring the nearby tea garden. A cable car between Tung Chung and Ngong Ping is also set to open in 2006. Getting to and from Po Lin will take several hours so be sure to set aside a full day to make the most of your visit. Since it is a religious site, visitors should make every effort to dress decently (avoid flip-flops and low-cut tops) and are forbidden from bringing any meat or alcohol into the grounds.
Opening Hours: Open daily from 10am to 6pm.
Admission Fee: HK$28 (includes a free vegetarian lunch)
Getting There: Take a ferry to Mui Wo (Silvermine Bay) from the Central Pier on Hong Kong Island and then take bus 2 to Po Lin. Alternatively, take the MTR to Tung Chung and take bus 23.
Pay Homage to the Gods at Man Mo Temple.
Source: Kelly McGuire
Tucked away from Central’s bustling crowds, the attractive Man Mo Temple near Hollywood Road in Hong Kong Island’s Sheung Wan district is certainly worth a visit. The temple was built in 1891 and is one of the oldest temples in Hong Kong, dedicated to the God of Literature (Man) and the God of War (Mo). The alluring scent of incense attracts hundreds of visitors a day and tourists will mingle with locals paying homage to their gods. Visitors should refrain from talking too loudly or touching objects of religious value.
Opening Hours: Daily from 6am – 6pm.
Admission Fee: Free
Getting There: Take the MTR to Central, exit at Exit D1 and take the Soho mid-level escalator to Hollywood Road.
Source: Nancie Castro
Shopping in Stanley Market.
While there is certainly no shortage of shops in Hong Kong, visitors wanting cheap quality goods or the chance to hone their bargaining skills should make their way to Stanley Market on the south side of Hong Kong Island. Stanley is one of the oldest fishing villages in Hong Kong and can be reached easily by bus. Many dismiss Stanley Market as nothing but a tourist trap but this Aladdin’s cave of treasures has something for everyone: Maoist memorabilia, a wide selection of men’s, women’s and children’s clothing, traditional Chinese garb and mountains of cheap souvenirs. Anyone wanting a quick break from haggling can grab a quick bite to eat at any of the nearby restaurants and cafes, take a stroll by the sea or wander over to Murray House, a restored colonial building which dates back to 1846 and was moved brick for brick from its original site in Central to Stanley in 1998.
Opening Hours: Daily from 9am – 7pm.
Getting There: Take bus 6, 6A, 6X, 66 or 260 from the Exchange Square bus station in Central, or take the MTR to Chai Wan and take 16M minibus from there.
Further Information: http://www.hk-stanley-market.com
Take a Trip Through Temple Street Market.
The Temple Street Night Market in Yau Ma Tei is another popular destination with shoppers. Its merchandise is mostly aimed at men but there are plenty of other inexpensive goods available, including Chinese scroll paintings and endless supplies of handbags, table mats and cushion covers. Visitors can even consult a fortune teller or mingle with locals at any of the many eateries and food stalls around the market. There are also numerous DVD stores in the area but do be aware that some of the DVDs on sale may be pirated.
Opening Hours: Daily from 4pm – midnight.
Getting There: Take the MTR to Jordan, turn right on Jordan Road and right again onto Temple Street.
Be a Mall-Rat in Hong Kong.
Although the street markets are popular shopping venues for tourists, there are a number of huge shopping malls to explore around Hong Kong. Harbour City along Canton Road in Kowloon is Hong Kong’s largest mall, boasting over 700 stores and several food courts. Another worthy mention goes to Pacific Place, near the Admiralty MTR station, which houses high-end retailers such as Dolce & Gabbana and Versace. If you’re into electronics, the Times Square mall in Causeway Bay has two full floors devoted to all the latest gadgets and gizmos. Last but not least, the IFC Mall in Central is an attractive complex by the harbour with dozens of midrange stores and some great restaurants.
Hunting for Antiques on Hollywood Road.
Source: Kelly McGuire
If you’re hunting for Asian antiquities or interesting souvenirs for your friends, Hollywood Road near the Man Mo Temple in Central should be your first port of call. Here you will find a wide variety of antiques and curios, ranging from Chinese porcelain to Tibetan prayer wheels. Always make sure you haggle over the prices and shop around before parting with your money.
Getting There: Take the MTR to Central, exit at Exit D1 and take the Soho mid-level escalator to Hollywood Road.
Explore the Hong Kong Museum of History.
Source: Kelly McGuire
If you’re tired of shopping and fancy something a little more cultural, head over to the Hong Kong Museum of History on 100 Chatham Road in Tsim Sha Tsui East to learn more about Hong Kong’s past. The museum features collections on the archaeology, culture and natural history of the territory and there are a number of live shows and short films to watch. Visitors can climb aboard a junk or tram, wander around recreations of traditional teahouses and stores or glance at photographs and memorabilia from a bygone era.
Opening Hours: Mon, Wed – Sat : 10am – 6pm, Sun and public holidays : 10am – 7pm, closed on Tues.
Admission Fee: Adult : HK$10, Child (3-11) : HK$5, free on Wednesdays.
Getting There: A short walk from the Tsim Sha Tsui and Jordan MTR stations, or take bus 5A, 5 or 8 from the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier.
Further Information: http://hk.history.museum/
Take a Ride on a Sampan.
Source: Nancie Castro
If you want to see a different side to Hong Kong, make your way over to Aberdeen on the south of Hong Kong Island. There, you can take a ride on a sampan, a flat-bottomed Chinese boat, and get an insight into the lives of the Tanka people. Known as the ‘boat people’ of Hong Kong, the Tanka make their living as fishermen and many still live on boats stationed in Aberdeen’s harbour. The trip will take you past the opulent Jumbo Floating Restaurant, Hong Kong’s famous floating restaurant, and into the boat people’s backyard. The stark contrast of these dilapidated boats against the background of high-rise apartments is a humbling experience but one that should not be passed up if you have the time to spare.
Admission Fee: Approx. HK$50 per person.
Getting There: Take bus 7 from the Star Ferry Pier bus terminal or 70 from the Exchange Square bus station in Central.
Mingle with the Stars.
Source: Kelly McGuire
While you won’t get the chance to meet any famous faces in the flesh, the Avenue of Stars along the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade is Hong Kong’s answer to Sunset Boulevard. Fans of Hong Kong cinema will enjoy looking for the names of the stars. Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Michelle Yeoh all have plaques on the Avenue and visitors will have the chance to have their photo taken with the newly erected statue of kung-fu legend Bruce Lee.
Getting There: Take the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui and follow the signs from there.
Further Information: http://www.avenueofstars.com.hk
Admire the Works at the Hong Kong Museum of Art.
Culture vultures need look no further than the Hong Kong Museum of Art housed in a rather unattractive pink building complex along Salisbury Road in Tsim Sha Tsui. The museum boasts a collection of several thousand pieces, mostly scroll paintings and calligraphies, and a visit to the museum is a must for anyone who’s fascinated by Chinese traditional art.
Opening Hours: Open daily from 10am – 6pm, closed on Thursdays.
Admission Fee: HK$10, free admission on Wednesdays.
Getting There: The museum is within walking distance of the Tsim Sha Tsui ferry piers and MTR station.
Further information: http://hk.art.museum
Escape to Lantau Island.
If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, Lantau Island offers great opportunities for hiking and sleeping fishing villages to explore. The island is home to numerous national parks and hiking trails, the most famous of which is the hiking trail to Sunset Peak, Hong Kong’s third highest peak. If you want something a little more relaxing, you can visit Tai O, a scenic fishing village on the northwest of the island. Tai O is a popular destination for tourists wanting to escape the hectic city scene and is a great place to sample some of the fresh seafood on offer and admire its traditional stilt houses.
Getting There: Take the MTR to Tung Chung and then take bus 11 from there. To explore the rest of Lantau Island, take the an Outlying Islands Ferry to Mui Wo from Pier 6 in Central.
Take a Stroll in Hong Kong Park.
Hong Kong Park is an oasis of peace and tranquillity in the midst of a bustling city centre. It is not uncommon to see businessmen kick off their shoes and indulge in a few minutes of tai chi. Featuring a small tai chi garden, large aviary, small waterfalls and ponds brimming with playful goldfish, a stroll in Hong Kong Park will sooth your mind and revitalise you in time to attack those malls and markets once more.
Soak in the Sun at Repulse Bay.
Source: Masato Itoh
Contrary to its name, Repulse Bay is one of Hong Kong’s most beautiful beaches and a fantastic getaway from the heat of the city. Located on the south side of Hong Kong Island, Repulse Bay is a popular destination for tourists and locals at the weekends and is packed during the summer months. There are also several restaurants to choose from and visitors to the bay can visit the nearby Kwun Yam shrine or take a stroll across Longevity Bridge.
Getting There: Take bus 6, 6A, 6X, 66 or 260 from the Exchange Square bus station in Central.
ESSENTIAL KIDS’ ATTRACTIONS
Ogle the Octopi at Ocean Park.
Ocean Park near Aberdeen is part oceanarium, part theme park and is bound to be a hit with kids. You can catch a dolphin show, marvel at creatures of the deep, get your adrenaline rushing on some of the park’s thrilling rollercoasters and catch a glimpse of the park’s famed giant pandas, An An and Jia Jia. Ocean Park is a great alternative to the expensive Disneyland theme park and a fun day out for all the family.
Opening Hours: Daily 10am – 6pm.
Admission Fee: Adult: HK$185, Child (3-11): HK$93, Children under 3: free.
Getting There: Take the 629 Citybus near the Star Ferry Pier in Central or the buses near Admiralty MTR Exit B.
Further Information: http://www.oceanpark.com.hk
Explore the Final Frontier at the Hong Kong Space Museum.
For an educational and entertaining experience, visit the Hong Kong Space Museum on Salisbury Road. Kids can let their imaginations run wild as they marvel at the exhibits on show, which include models of rocket-ships, telescopes and meteorites. In addition, IMAX films and Sky shows are on offer at the museum’s Stanley Ho Space Theatre, one of the world’s largest planetariums. These films last around 40 minutes and are available in English and Cantonese.
Opening hours: Mon, Wed – Fri: 1pm-9pm; Sat, Sun and public holidays: 10am – 9pm. Closed on Tues.
Admission Fee: Exhibition Halls: HK$10, Omnimax/Sky Shows: HK$24-32.
Getting There: The museum is a short walk away from the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR and Star Ferry Pier.
Further Information: http://hk.space.museum
A Day Out at Disneyland.
If you’re travelling with children, it won’t be long before they will pester you into taking them to the Hong Kong Disneyland Resort. Like its counterpart in the States or Paris, there are several themed lands to explore, Main Street USA, Fantasyland, Adventureland and Tomorrowland, all hosting their own themed rides and attractions. Families wanting to spend more than one day at the park can book a room at either of the park’s two hotels, the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel and the Hollywood Hotel. Visitors can buy tickets to the park at the park entrance, the Disneyland Ticket Express on the Tung Chung Line concourse at Hong Kong MTR station or online.
Opening Hours: Seasonal (check the website for details)
Admission Fee: Adults: HK$295/350, Children (3-11): HK$210/$250, free admission for children under 3
Getting There: Take the Tung Chung MTR Line to Sunny Bay and change there for the Disneyland Resort Line.
Further Information: http://www.hongkongdisneyland.com
Dine on Dim Sum.
Source: Hong Kong Tourism Board
Sample some of the best Cantonese cuisine and order some dim sum, a selection of light snacks which include shrimp dumplings (har gau) and barbecued pork (char siu) as well as an assortment of steamed Cantonese pastries and buns, all served in small bamboo baskets. Dim sum can be ordered at any Cantonese restaurant. Just look for the sign for dim sum and you’ll be in for a real treat. For anyone who’s willing to splash out a little, they can combine their dim sum experience with a visit to the famous floating restaurant Jumbo in Aberdeen, or, alternatively, check out the Dong restaurant at the Miramar Hotel on Nathan Road for some of the best Cantonese dishes in town.
Afternoon Tea at the Peninsula.
Recommended by Lonely Planet as one of the best experiences in town, afternoon tea in the lobby of the luxurious Peninsula Hotel on Salisbury Road is a must. Dating back from the colonial era, this afternoon tea – complete with cucumber sandwiches – is renowned the world over and visitors can sip their tea while listening to a live string quartet. Due to its popularity, you may have to queue for a table and visitors should note that the dress code is smart casual so put away your flip-flops for the day!
Opening Hours: Daily from 2pm – 7pm.
Admission Fee: HK$180-220.
Getting There: The Peninsula is a few minutes walk from the Tsim Sha Tsui ferry piers and MRT station.
Further Information: http://hongkong.peninsula.com
Wining and Dining in Soho.
For some of the best restaurants in Hong Kong, head over to Soho, Hong Kong Island’s well-known entertainment district. Here you will find a wide range of cuisines on offer, from Thai curry houses to Japanese sushi bars, from French bistros to Italian trattorias. If you’re yearning for some kimchi or aching for a good peppered steak, you’ll be able to find something to tempt your appetite in Soho.
Getting There: The Soho district is within walking distance from the Central MTR station and in the direction of Hollywood Road.
Further Information: http://old.foodbyweb.com.hk/index.php?distID=2
Place Your Bet at the Happy Valley Racecourse.
Gambling is a popular pastime for people in Hong Kong and the Happy Valley Racecourse on Hong Kong Island is one of the territory’s prime gambling spots. For a fun night out, make your way over to the racecourse and place a bet or two. The night-time atmosphere is electric and you might even strike it lucky!
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday: 10am – 5pm (until 12:30am on race days), closed on Mondays.
Admission Fee: HK$10.
Getting There: The racecourse can be reached by a 20 minute walk from the Causeway Bay MTR station or taking the No.1 bus from Admiralty.
Further Information: http://www.happyvalleyracecourse.com
Hanging at the Hard Rock Café.
If you’re looking for somewhere where you can grab a quick bite, down a few beers and catch some of the best live music in Hong Kong, then look no further than the Hard Rock Café on Canton Road. Popular with tourists and expats alike, it is a great place to hang out with your friends or partner and maybe even share your travel stories with fellow visitors.
Opening Hours: Sunday to Thursday: 11am – 1am, Fridays and Saturdays: 11am – 3am.
Getting There: Take the MRT to Tsim Sha Tsui, go down Haiphong Road and turn right at Canton Road.
Hit the Club Scene in Hong Kong.
Among other things, Hong Kong is renowned for its nightlife and multitude of bars and clubs. There is bound to be a club or bar to suit anyone’s taste. Lan Kwai Fong in Central and the seedier Wan Chai District are two of the best known clubbing areas in Hong Kong and are frequented by locals, expats and visitors. Most clubs have an entrance charge and drinks can be very expensive so make sure you take plenty of money with you. Some clubs also have a strict dress-code so it’s a good idea to find these things out before planning an evening out.
Further Information: http://www.hkclubbing.com
MORE TO SEE & DO
While this guide has listed most of the must sees and do’s of Hong Kong, there’s far more to explore in and around Hong Kong if you have the time. The former Portuguese colony of Macao is only an hour away from Hong Kong by ferry. This small territory is renowned for its casinos and Portuguese architecture. Ferries to Macao depart from the Macao Ferry Pier in Sheung Wan (Hong Kong Island) and the China Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui and cost between HK$140 and HK$175.
For anyone wanting to indulge in some more shopping and explore a little of the Chinese mainland, why not take a day trip to nearby Shenzhen? Most hotels offer tour packages to Shenzhen and will even take care of the visa arrangements for you. These tours start at HK$630 and will take you to some of the finest attractions the city has to offer.
Depending on the time of your visit, you may have a chance to see Hong Kong at its finest. Anyone visiting Hong Kong in the lead-up to Christmas will be dazzled by the beautifully decorated malls and shopping streets, the perfect time to visit if you’re travelling with children. Chinese festivals, such as Chinese New Year and the Dragon Boat Festival, are lively and colourful and are excellent opportunities to experience Chinese culture firsthand. Most Chinese festivals are based on the lunar calendar so it is worth checking which dates these fall on prior to your visit and be sure to book your accommodation well in advance to avoid disappointment.