There are so many reasons to visit Hong Kong. This little Special Administrative Region of China punches well above its weight in unique and unmissable things to do and is perfect for a short stopover break or a longer stay.
Visiting Hong Kong is a real east-meets-west experience. It’s a place of juxtaposition. From traditional food to five-star restaurants; kitschy laneway markets to high end shopping malls, the saying ‘something for everyone’ has never applied more to a place than to Hong Kong.
There are far more reasons to visit Hong Kong than just the twenty I’ve highlighted here, but this list will give you a little taste of everything this mother of a destination has to offer. There’s little wonder that I keep coming back to Hong Kong – I’ve even taken my parents here on a trip for their 60th birthday.
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Where to stay in Hong Kong?
Before we get into all the amazing reasons to visit Hong Kong, you might feel daunted by the choice of where to stay. It’s ok, though. Hong Kong has something for everyone and that stands absolutely true for accommodation as well as things to do.
You can choose to stay on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong or the Hong Kong Island side. My preference would be Kowloon as then you’re walking distance from the yummy street food around Nathan Road. The Hong Kong Island side does have some beautiful hotels with great harbour views, though.
Hong Kong Island Side
1. Take the Peak Tram to Victoria Peak
We’re starting this list of reasons to visit Hong Kong with what is most definitely the most popular tourist activity – but for good reason. The views from Victoria Peak looking down over the harbour that forms Hong Kong’s lifeblood are breathtaking and the near-vertical Peak Tram journey to the top of the Victoria Peak Lookout is thrilling.
When first seeing the tram, you’ll notice it looks like an old red rattler, hardly capable of making it around the corner than making it up to the top of the incredibly steep Victoria Peak. When on board, sitting almost vertically as the tramcar shakes its way to its destination it is quite remarkable.
Watching Hong Kong’s magical skyline get further and further away has never been more exhilarating. And the view from the top? Well, see for yourself – you won’t regret it.
Lines here can get very long, so definitely try to arrive early in the morning to avoid lengthy wait times. Better yet, book your tickets for the Peak Tram and the Sky Terrace in advance.
2. Check out the unique architecture of the HSBC Building
Easily lost in the Hong Kong skyline against so many other taller skyscrapers, the HSBC building might be a bank, but it was also once the most expensive building in the world.
Built almost inside out, the structural elements of the building are visible to the eye (think Centre Pompidou in Paris, but in Skyscraper form). Underneath the structure is an awesome atrium with the history of the HSBC buildings in Hong Kong, and standing guard are two bronze lions still riddled with bullet and shrapnel holes from World War 2.
3. Ride the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car
One of the most amazing sights in Hong Kong is the stretches of cable moving suspended carriages from island to island on the Ngong Ping 360 Cableway. Every time my little pod arrives at what looks like it should surely be the last stop on the journey, there is another stretch of cable for us to traverse.
The cable car gives amazing views of the architectural wonder that is the Hong Kong Airport as well as views along the well-trodden Wisdom Path below.
When the Tian Tan Buddha of Lantau Island finally comes into view, it’s awe-inspiring.
There can be quite a wait for the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car, so definitely book in advance if you’re able to.
4. Experience life in Tai O Fishing Village
One of the best reasons to visit Hong Kong is the variety. Where else can you go from incredible modernity, to a quaint rural fishing village in such a short distance?
Taking a rickety public bus from the Ngong Ping Village on Lantau Island feels like a trip back to the old days and on arrival in Tai O, it’s hard to remember that this is the same small region that the Hong Kong City metropolis presides over.
Tiny wooden houses perch on stilts, looking like they are at risk of toppling into the water at any moment as street vendors serve up steaming hot cuttlefish for 6HKD.
The best way to see Tai O Fishing Village is as part of a day trip with the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car and the Tian Tan Buddha. From the Buddha, a public bus runs from the carpark to Tai O Fishing Village.
5. See the coloured houses in Wan Chai
Perfectly Instagrammable, these coloured houses are nestled on the streets of the Wan Chai district of Hong Kong and are part of the Hong Kong Heritage Trail.
They’re some of the few remaining old tenement buildings of Hong Kong and though the Blue House is arguably the most famous, it’s the sight of all the colours in a row that makes the best photo.
6. Hike the 268 steps to see the Tian Tan Buddha
There’s something very special about this giant bronze seated Buddha that is hard to put a finger on.
Even for an atheist like me, the sight of the Buddha perched on high and looking down at the people inspires and amazes. The serenity on the Buddha’s face gives a sense of calm and the views of Lantau Island after making the pilgrimage up the steep steps to get to the Buddha are more than worth the effort exerted to get up there.
7. Ride the iconic Star Ferry
Hong Kong’s original and cheapest way of crossing the harbour still runs every ten minutes or so, chugging its way across from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island and back again.
Operating since 1888 and costing less than $3.50 HKD, this little ferry ride gives a unique view of Victoria Harbour and a nice little history lesson all at once.
8. Grab a drink with a view at Aqua Spirit
At the more expensive end of a Hong Kong visit is a trip to Aqua Spirit with enormous glass windows overlooking the inky dark waters of Victoria Harbour. Here is the best spot to watch the harbour light show – although to be honest, the light show itself is not all that impressive.
What is impressive, though, is the sparkling Hong Kong skyline taken in with Aqua Spirit’s fancy and unique cocktails.
9. Go on a Kowloon Food Safari
Y’all know I’m a super fan of Urban Adventures, and I always try to do one in whatever city I’m exploring.
In Hong Kong, my pick of the different tours is the totally awesome Kowloon Food Safari, where we wander the markets, buying from street vendors.
My faves: the egg tart, wonton noodles and a warming ginger soup dessert with black sesame balls for sweetness. I wrote a whole big post for the Urban Adventures blog that you can read here.
10. View Victorian-era Heritage 1881
A step back into the days of the British occupation of Hong Kong is possible at the 1881 Heritage where a Victorian era complex has been beautifully preserved and is now a high end commercial centre. At Christmas time, the Heritage 1881 is lit up and covered in decorations which makes it even more magical at night.
11. Experience an open-air view at Hotel Madera Rooftop Bar
For a cheaper, lesser known spot to take in the skyline and drink cocktails the Horizonte Lounge at the Hotel Madera offers an open-air option and far fewer crowds than some of the other more famous bars.
The cocktails are basic and there’s no mixology magic like at Aqua Spirit, but they are half the price and the views are to die for.
12. Relax in Hong Kong Park
The Central Park equivalent in Hong Kong gives you greenery to boot with glimpses of the concrete jungle of the city. There’s a huge bird aviary with exotic birds flitting around and it’s possible to walk amongst the canopies whilst you observe. There’s also a pond of tiny terrapins sitting pretty in the midst of the park that clamber over the rocks to gain their patch of sun for a fleeting moment.
It’s a green, lush and relaxing escape from all the madness of the city.
13. Wan Chai Market
On the Hong Kong Heritage Trail, there’s the Wan Chai market in its new location in the Zenith building. In the days of Japanese occupation, the market was used to house corpses.
Now, it’s back to serving up fresh produce to the locals.
14. Explore Taoism at Man Mo Temple
Watery eyes and a strong smell of incense is how travellers know they’re nearing the Man Mo Temple. From the outside, this Taoist temple may not look like much, but on the inside, it is full of incense coils lining the roof and locals stopping in to worship and leave offerings.
Be warned, the incense is so strong it can make your eyes water!
15. Get floral at the Mong Kok Flower Market
The Mong Kok Flower Market was my mother’s pick and I probably would have missed it had it not been for her. The brightly coloured flowers and pristine greenery being sold here quickly wins a weary traveller over and we wandered amongst the dusty pink orchids, marvelling at how well they looked.
It’s definitely a super-photogenic area and there’s plenty of markets in surrounding streets, so its perfect for strolling around.
16. Experience the wackiness of the Goldfish Market
It’s a sad, but remarkable sight to see little plastic bags hanging in abundance on shop fronts containing fish waiting to be taken home by a pet enthusiast.
Fish are a sign of luck in Hong Kong, so these little fellas are usually snapped up within the day and taken home to ornament the homes of local residents.
17. Sample yummy goodness at the Kowloon Fruit Market
Fruit doesn’t sound that exciting, but quite seriously, the Kowloon fruit market has the most diverse and healthy collection of fruits I have ever encountered. From simple apples and bananas to custard apples and dragonfruit, a walk through this market will show you types of fruits that you’ve never seen before!
18. Experience Michelin Guide Recommended Mak’s Noodle
Michelin Guide Recommended Mak’s Noodle in Kowloon serves up cheap and cheerful wonton noodles in a very low-fi setting. Speed is of the essence here and whilst you enjoy your meal, watch the locals rush in and out after grabbing a quick bite. The kitchen is totally visible and shoe-box sized and the food is fast and fresh.
19. Taste Hong Kong’s incredible street food
Hankering for something exotic? The street food around every corner of Hong Kong has got you covered. From fish balls to snake soup, dried fruits to BBQ pork, this little SAR of China has culinary delights just waiting for you to try. Ask the street vendors for recommendations, and don’t be afraid to try something a little different!
20. Take in Victoria Harbour
Walking the length of the Harbour from Kowloon is a little tricky right at the moment due to some major construction, but it’s still beautiful down by the waters’ edge, watching Hong Kong’s many ships and barges come and go.
Try and spot the traditional Chinese junk boats with their red sails as they pass by.
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