Although truly in a league of its own among world’s best destinations, Hong Kong is one of those places that travellers either find brilliant or a little short of awesome. I’ve heard more than my fair share complaints from fellow wayfarers who’ve felt more than a little overwhelmed by the chaos of the Chinese quasi-city-state and let it sour the experience.
In many ways I’d have to (somewhat) agree with them. On my first trip to Hong Kong, a short 36-hour layover on route to Bali, I simply loved the place. I couldn’t get enough and couldn’t wait to return!
Fast-forward almost 10 years, and my initial second impression wasn’t quite as favourable. Fortunately, I’d banked on spending a full week, and after the preliminary shock of the crowds of Kowloon wore off—apparently I’d been too sheltered by less-populated places lately—I started to feel the magic once again.
(And I’m confident that I can help you find it, too.)
Want to get started exploring? Follow along with this Hong Kong travel guide for ideas on when to visit, what to see & do, where to stay, and how to get around!
When to visit Hong Kong
With its southernly location in East Asia off the coast of China, Hong Kong sees daytime average temperatures that range between 16-17ºC in the coolest winters to a scorching-hot 29ºC in the summer, making it a year-round travel destination.
Well, at least for the most part.
Despite the warm temperatures, certain times of the year are best avoided in Hong Kong. The summer months between June and August, for example, are generally hot, sticky & quite uncomfortable with a dash of rainfall that can damper the travel experience. Even September can be quite nasty with the tail-end of typhoon season petering off.
Overall, the best time to go to Hong Kong is in the spring and fall, particularly April, October and November. April sees far fewer showers than the shoulder season May with warm temperatures hovering in the mid-20s. October & November are even drier while still keeping up with the warmth.
What to do in Hong Kong
Never underestimate a city like Hong Kong. Whether your itinerary dabbles in tasting Cantonese delights at street markets, filling your luggage with the latest fashions or finding respite among the chaos in the quieter fringes of the city-state, there’s a little something to please every taste here.
Want to get started on planning what to do? Here are a few of the best places to visit in Hong Kong:
- Victoria Peak: If you’ve only got time for visiting one attraction in HK, make it Victoria Peak. This small mountain, hugging Central and overlooking Victoria Harbour, presents the most legendary view of the Hong Kong skyline to onlookers. Even if scaling to the top on the world-famous Peak Tram is the most popular way of getting up, those with less patience for lines and little energy to spare should strap on their hiking shoes and crawl up the trail for an unforgettable experience!
- Temple Street Night Market: As the sun begins to drop, the streets of Kowloon explore with excitement. There’s perhaps no more famous venue for nighttime delight on the peninsula than Temple Street Night Market. Here you’ll encounter everything from cheap souvenirs to fashion accessories. The main reason to come here though is the food. Follow your nose to the open-air food vendors hidden behind the clothing & souvenir stands for a Cantonese snack your tastebuds will crave.
- Big Buddha: When you need to escape the city, there’s no better way than heading over to Lantau Island to check out the Big Buddha. Hop aboard Ngong Ping 360, a cable car whisking you above the mountainous terrain of Lantau towards Hong Kong’s most famous Buddhist monument. Besides letting the enormous 34-metre-high Buddha statue and sea views mesmerize you, be sure to visit the nearby Po Lin Monastery for an intimate look into Hong Kong spiritual scene.
- Tai O: While on Lantau Island, don’t miss an opportunity to catch Hong Kong’s more subdued seafaring past on display at the small fishing village of Tai O. Featuring a colourful array of traditional waterfront houses on stilts, this tight Tanka community offers a rare glimpse of Hong Kong that’s in total contrast to endless bustle of Kowloon or Central.
What to eat in Hong Kong
There’s no visiting Hong Kong without taking a good hard look at the food scene. Without a doubt, Hong Kong is one of the world’s truly great food cities. Much of the fare you’ll munch on in Chinatowns throughout the world—whether its in Montreal, San Fransisco or New York—takes its taste cues from this small peninsular city-state.
Much of Hong Kong’s distinctive flavour profile draws inspiration from the Cantonese cuisine of nearby Guangdong Province. As a melting pot of Chinese & Asian cultures and a former British stronghold, however, the city fuses flavours from all around, incorporating tastes from cuisines as diverse as Shanghainese & Hakka to Korean & Japanese.
Not sure what to eat in Hong Kong? Here’s a quick overview of some favourites:
- Dim sum: By far the most famous and far-reaching food in Hong Kong is dim sum, a delightful array of bite-sized food portions (most commonly dumplings) served in steam basket at all times of these day. Wherever you go in the city, you’re bound to encounter a restaurant well-versed in these little dudes. For the best value, try Tim Ho Wan, the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurants, or Yan Toh Heen in the InterContinental Hong Kong for a more upscale dim sum experience.
- Wonton noodle soup: Another Hong Kong speciality that serves up a nest of thin noodles topped with shrimp wonton in a flavourful broth. Get a taste of some of the best at Mak’s Noodle in Central, one of Hong Kong’s most famous noodle soup joints.
- Char siu: Not just one of the best foods in Hong Kong but in all of China, this BBQ pork delight is sweet, succulent, and juicy enough to make tears come to your eyes. For some of the best in the ctiy try the classic Joy Hing or the fine dining Mott32.
Where to stay in Hong Kong
Although it’s nowhere near as spread out as other East Asian cities like Tokyo or Seoul, choosing where to stay in Hong Kong is necessarily easy either. There’s a massive selection of varying quality here, running between some of the dingiest budget accommodations you’ll find anywhere on earth to the finest 5-star hotels you’ll ever lay your eyes upon.
Where you’ll want to stay will depend as much on your budget as on your mood. Among the most popular neighbourhoods in Hong Kong are:
- Tsim Sha Tsui: A prestigious neighbourhood at the tip of Kowloon featuring an array of accommodations swinging between the hole-in-the-wall dives within the infamous Chungking Mansion to top luxury hotels like The Peninsula Hong Kong. The area teems with great sightseeing opportunities and a whole barrage of excellent restaurants & nightlife, making it, overall, one of the best places to stay in the city.
- Central: The main accommodations hub of Hong Kong Island, Central is the city’s main business district and the accommodations scene shows it. The market swells in the mid-range and luxury segments and has relatively little to offer in terms of budget accommodations. With several of Hong Kong’s best restaurants, coolest places to visit (like Victoria Peak), great nightlife, and a less shady reputation & feel than Kowloon, Central is a fantastic choice.
- Wan Chai: Another neighbourhood in Hong Kong Island, Wan Chai offers a mix of modern and traditional with the business-forward district of Central butting up against it. A superb selection of mid-range & luxury hotels and a convenient central location, makes Wan Chai another great choice.
- Causeway Bay: Shopaholics will love staying in the Causeway Bay, one of Hong Kong’s premier shopping & eating destinations. Even with a slightly more upscale focus here, you’ll still get glimpses of Hong Kong at its more traditional.
Transportation in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is served by Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) located on the man-made island of Chek Lap Kok off the coast of Lantau.
Several major airlines fly into Hong Kong including local airlines Air Hong Kong, Cathay Pacific, and Hong Kong Airlines, as well as international airlines like China Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Singapore Airlines, and Thai Airways.
Like so many Asian cities, public transportation in Hong Kong is extremely efficient and easy-to-navigate. With the exception of hitting up the MTR during rush hour (just trust me on this one: don’t do it unless you have to!), getting around the city is a relatively painless affair.
MTR: By far, my favourite way of getting around any city is the subway, and Hong Kong is no exception. A total of 11 rail lines (10 heavy, 1 light) run throughout HK, zipping travellers along to practically any place worth checking out—even as far as mainland China! Depending on the distance, MTR fares range between HK$3.6 to $52.6.
Buses: If you’re looking to leave the city centre areas (to Lantau Island or the New Territories, for example), you’ll likely need to get somewhat acquainted with the bus system. It’s a tad more confusing, but by following the right routes, and getting a little help from drivers (some of whom might actually speak some English unlike in other East Asian cities), you should be able to find your way no problem.
Ferries: With Hong Kong’s seaside location, there are several ferries that ply the routes between Kowloon, Hong Kong Island and the Outlying Islands. No ferry route in the territory though is more famous than the Star Ferry. Puttering across Victoria Harbour between Tsim Sha Tsui and Central for over a century, this famous ferry boat offers one of the city’s best sightseeing opportunities, providing an unforgettable harbour cruise with spectacular views for less than the cost of a Starbucks coffee.