2 days for the famous highlights of Hong Kong

Nature
The wow factor for nature - does it show nature at its best? Doesn't need to be the wilder-beast migration or diving with hundreds of hammerheads. Rather make you pause as you realise just how awesome the natural world can be
4
Culture
How much does this experience showcase some of the better and finer things that us humans can offer? Sure, it can be ancient ruins and renaissance churches, but it can also be festivals or soaking up some of the great modern cities of the world
9
Fun factor/activity
Very simple - was it fun? This is usually linked in with doing some kind of activity - i mean, walking along some cliffs is nice, but paragliding from them, now that is fun. Its a vastly underrated factor in a truly great experience
6
Avoid the crowds
Big tour groups and being surrounded by loud fellow tourists can sap the life out of even the greatest of travel experiences. This score is to reflect just how much you can avoid this. But. . . The score also takes into account if the crowds actually add to the experience, such as with a party town or a bustling food market
2
World famous
How world famous is the experience?
10
unique
How hard is it to have a similar experience in other places round the world?
9
Overall Score
The highest score of nature or culture, + fun factor, + avoid the crowds, + the highest score of world famous or unique. Then turned into a score out of 100. More details at the bottom of the page
67 *What the scores mean and where do they come from
continent
Asia
country
Hong Kong
Length of time
1-2 days
Rough cost
Obviously people have different tastes, so this will depend on those tastes, but this is a rough idea of price of the whole experience based on 2 people able to split the accommodation costs and excluding travel there and back
$ 350
Time of year visited
April
Primary Tags
Click on any of the tags to see all travel experiences with the same tag
RANKING
How this travel experience ranks compared to all the other experiences on this site
141st/334 This travel experience's ranking compared to all the other experiences on this site
Top 40% SUMMARY RATING: Superb

Summary

Hong Kong is a great place to visit either as a destination on its own, or, as many people do, as a nice 2 day stop over between flights.  I’ve lived in Hong Kong for 8 years, so . . . I’m biased . . . but also leaves me well placed to give you tips on how to have the best experience

For this review, I’m focusing on 10 classic highlights of Hong Kong and can give some tips that will improve your experience.  But my biggest tip overall is that Hong Kong is not just skyscrapers and neon signs – more than 3/4 of HK is undeveloped, 40% is national parks and a mini tropical paradise if you just jump on a ferry or take a short taxi ride.  For some ideas that will give you an even better HK experience, see the travel entry for 2 days hidden highlights of Hong Kong – you maybe surprised at just how world-class an experience you can get from these little islands

highlights

1. Taking the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour.  Got to do it - world class views of one of the most famous cities in the world.  Doesn't really matter which direction you go and very easy to reach either starting point from the MTR (subway) or just a taxi.  Just jump on and take in the view

2. Looking out over Hong Kong from Victoria Peak (aka The Peak).  Again, world class views of the the city

3. Eating Dim Sum / Yum Cha. The wonderful local HK cuisine that is the perfect way to share a meal

4. Wandering through the Temple Street Night Market. Tourist central, but fun

5. Making a trip to Lantau Island to see the Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha

6. Take the world's longest outdoor escalator from Queens Road up through Soho. Best restaurants and bars in HK and just wander around the impossibly steep streets

7. If you're in HK for a Wednesday, you absolutely must go to the horse races in Happy Valley. It's not like races you'll have seen anywhere else in the world

8. Take one of the trams aka "Dink Dinks" and just watch the city go by

9. Visit the South Side of the island - the walk from Repulse Bay to Deep Water Bay has gorgeous views all the way along the water and you can end up on the beaches at either end for some food (I'd recommend Coconuts at Deep Water Bay)

10. Restaurant buildings - a skyscraper with only restaurants in it. See the Restaurant Menu rather than Food Menu!

Travel Tips

1. Taking the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour.  Got to do it – world class views of one of the most famous cities in the world.  Doesn’t really matter which direction you go and very easy to reach either starting point from the MTR (subway) or just a taxi.  Just jump on and take in the view

TIP – when you reach the Kowloon side, you can wander along the Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade, but the view is no better than the ferry and it will also be crazy busy.  Instead, head up to one of the top floor bars and restaurants within 5mins walk.  Hutong in 1 Peking Road is a great restaurant with amazing views.  But my main tip is to head to EyeBar in iSquare – it’s 30 floors up, has outside unrestricted views of the harbour and I’d say it is the best view in HK.  You can’t book the outside area, but just get there before 5pm and you should be fine to get a spot outside

TIP – don’t head over just to take the Star Ferry on its own.  Make sure to incorporate the trip with some of the other things to do nearby.  For example, take the tram into Central for lunch at City Hall, take the Star Ferry over to TST, wander the Ladies Market and then finish off with a drink at EyeBar

 

2. Looking out over Hong Kong from Victoria Peak (aka The Peak).  Again, world class views of the the city
TIP – do not take the tram.  It’s cool, but the queues make it less worth it (you could be waiting for hours).  Instead, just take a taxi or bus – it’ll be cheaper, no queue, and gives you a view of both the harbour and the south side of the island

TIP – don’t stay at the Peak Lookout – yes it has great views, but it will also be rammed and just not that pleasant with all the tour groups.  Instead walk the loop around Luggard Road which starts and finishes at the Peak and is very easy to follow (either on google maps or just the maps on the route as you walk).  It has better views than the peak, way way quieter, allows you to see more sides of HK, and lets you take in a bit of nature along the way – there is a hanging Indian Rubber Tree around half way around which is very cool.  Total distance is 3.5km and flat the whole way (bear in mind as well that in summer, it should be a few degrees cooler on the Peak, plus with a nicer breeze than down in the city)

TIP – the main Peak building is just a shopping mall and unnecessarily overpriced.  The Peak Lookout Cafe nearby is far nicer and has a gorgeous outside area in the back that looks over parts of the south side of the island

 

3. Eating Dim Sum / Yum Cha.  The wonderful local HK cuisine

TIP – there are heaps of places to visit, but I’d suggest Maxims Palace in City Hall.  It’s super central and is one of the only places left that does trolley service.  It can be a little hard to understand the menu, so just point at whatever comes round on the trolleys – you won’t be the only one!  It can be a long wait at lunch time, so make sure to arrive before 1130am for lunch.  Or, download the Gulu app which allows you to put your name down and tell how long you’ll have to wait

 

4. Wandering through the Temple Street Night Market.  Tourist central, but fun

TIP – if on the lookout for some great fakes (handbags, watches, whatever) head instead to the Ladies Market, which is very close to the Temple Street Night Market.  Temple Street Night Market is about the (average) food. Ladies Market is about the fakes

 

5. Making a trip to Lantau Island to see the Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha

TIP – you’ll want to take the cable car from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping (where the Big Buddha is at the top of the mountain).  Views are good and a lot easier than trying to sort a taxi in Tung Chung as Lantau island only has limited taxis (the blue ones).  But it is a lot easier to get taxis / buses back, which may add a bit of variety (and save cost).  The queues at the cable car can be brutal, so make sure to reserve a ticket before you arrive, which will cut your wait time by half

TIP – when there, most people only check out the Buddha, visit the Monastery and generally wander through the weird half theme park that is Ngong Ping.  Make sure to also walk along the Ngong Ping Fun Walk round the back to the Wisdom Path, which is a nice walk and with a slightly unusual prayer monument of stone slabs at the back

 

 

So, they are the 5 classic things to do in Hong Kong, and you should probably make sure you check them out in your first trip to HK.  But, I would also highly recommend the following:

6. Take the world’s longest outdoor escalator from Queens Road up through Soho.  The escalator is fun as you move through 800m / 2,600ft (135m / 440ft vertical) and get to look through people’s windows.  But it is also where the best restaurants and bars are in HK.  Make your way up (the escalator goes downhill till 10am and then uphill for the rest of the day), keep an eye out for a place to grab a drink / bite to eat that takes your fancy and then just wander off around this super fun area with its impossibly steep streets

 

7. If you’re in HK for a Wednesday, you absolutely must go to the races in Happy Valley.  It’s not like races you will have been anywhere else in the world.  Why?  Firstly, the location is super central so very easy to get to (either get a taxi or MTR to Causeway Bay station); secondly the setting is unique with skyscrapers surrounding the entire track; thirdly it is only HK$12 (US$2) entry, so people pop in just for 1 / 2 drinks; finally it has a buzz about it that you won’t find anywhere else – bear in mind that these events happen nearly EVERY WEEK and are full.  Great thing to do if your timings work (see https://racing.hkjc.com/racing/information/english/Racing/Fixture.aspx for the schedule)

 

8. Take the tram and just watch the city go by.  You’ll see the “dink dinks” slowly snaking through the skyscrapers on HK island.  Don’t need to worry where you get on and off as they follow the MTR lines so easy to get to and from, and only cost HK$2.60 / 30 US cents.  Fun to start on one side of the island and make your way to the other (Kennedy Town on the west, Chai Wan on the east).  Just try to avoid rush hour as will be busy and very . . . very  . . . slow

 

9.  Visit the South Side of the island.  The North side of HK Island is the famous bit – towering skyscrapers, Victoria Habour, famous views etc etc.  The South side is more chilled out and where the (richer) tend to live.  The most typically visited spot is Stanley, an old fishing village that now has a thriving market.  It will give you a more relaxed vibe and show you a different side to HK.  If already on the south side, I would also really recommend the walk from Repulse Bay to Deep Water Bay.  The views are gorgeous all the way along the water and you can end up on the beaches at either end for some food (I’d recommend Coconuts at Deep Water Bay)

 

10.  Restaurant buildings.  In a place as built up as HK, having ground floor spots is seriously limited.  So, you find a lot of restaurants tend to group in one tall building.  The idea is that you walk in, take the lift and look at the menu of restaurants.  It’s good fun just going from one floor to the next, poking your nose out to have a look at the place and then moving on to the next.  Not unique to HK (Japan tends to do similar) but nonetheless fun.  Best ones to give a go: Stanley 11 on Stanley Street in Central; California Tower on D’Aguilar Street in Central; Cubus on Hoi Ping Road in Causeway Bay

 

 

Broader tips:

  • First things first – The Protests  Whilst you will have seen Hong Kong in the press a lot the past years, mainly with it looking like it’s on fire, HK is not in the slightest bit dangerous.  In fact, it will almost certainly be safer than where you are coming from.  The protests were politically focused with no danger to visitors, and are now over.  A National Security Law was introduced in 2020 that effectively banned all protests.  The new law is immensely sad for many people living in HK who thought HK could be something different to mainland China, but day-to-day life hasn’t materially changed and the experience of visiting certainly hasn’t.  Sack off HK because you aren’t passing through / have other plans.  Don’t rule it out based on fears of safety
  • Where to stay This completely depends on what you’re looking for and how much you’re prepared to spend.  HK covers all options.  Just 2 tips.  1. HK is a pretty small place.  The key attractions of the harbour, Peak, Markets etc are all within around 30mins subway ride of each other, so you won’t completely screw yourself if a bit out the way.  That being said, for convenience, I’d suggest, on the island staying within the range of Sheung Wan (in the west) and Causeway Bay (in the East) on the Island Line MTR and, for Kowloon, anywhere around Tsim Sha Tsui or Jordan MTR stations. 2. I would in particular recommend staying somewhere in the Soho area, just because the vibe is so much fun, super close to all the highlights and with wonderful variety of restaurants nearby
  • Island / Dark Side.  You’ll hear a lot of the expats in HK (known locally as Gwei Los – white ghosts  . . . in a kind of nice way) refer to Kowloon as the dark side.  This is basically anything not on the main island or any of the other islands – so, anything on the mainland – and plays into the joke that typically expats only venture between Soho, Wan Chai and the airport.  Plenty of nice places on the dark side to stay and of course many of HK’s highlights
  • Getting around.  Very very easy.  Just get an Octopus Card, which can be used on all public transport and allows you to refund whatever you don’t spend.  MTR (subway) and ferries are very easy to navigate and taxis are everywhere.  Two points on taxis – 1. There are 3 colours.  Red is for the Island and Kowloon (where you will be spending 99% of your time); Green is for the New Territories (basically all the stuff north of the busiest bits of HK); and Blue (only on Lantau Island).  Just stick with the reds.  2. The red taxis will basically take you anywhere, but they are very particular about whether you will be planning to cross Victoria Harbour or not.  Most taxi ranks will make it clear if they are crossing the harbour or not; and if you are flagging a taxi down and want to cross the harbour do a wavy sign with your hands.  Don’t get grumpy with them if they refuse to take you across the harbour – it’s a well known local way of doing things.  Plus they’ll most likely just shout back at you in Cantonese.  Uber is also widely used
  • Eating There are thousands of restaurants in Hong Kong and the relentless competition keeps the standards high.  Biggest tip is to avoid the super touristy areas (you’ll just get overcharged and be surrounded by fellow tourists) and try Soho (basically everything within a few blocks of the escalator and between Wellington Street and Caine Road) and the restaurant buildings I’ve mentioned in #10 above
  • Drinking.  You’ll pretty much find bars everywhere in HK, but the main areas are:
    • Lan Kwai Fung.  Party central and, well, very central.  Basically the area around D’Aguillar Street
    • Wan Chai.  Traditionally known as the seedy end of town and synonymous with hooker bars.  Don’t let that put you off – many of the places are still great fun whether you are looking for ladies of the night or not.  Try Amazonia first for live music and atmosphere
    • Soho – I’ve mentioned it a few times.  Has heaps of bars as well as restaurants
    • Knutsford Terrace on the Kowloon side.  You’ll see far more local HKers here, but still very accommodating for tourists
  • Books – its always great to know a little bit about a place before you visit.  To add a bit of fun to the learning, I highly recommend Taipan by James Clevell.  Historical fiction telling the story of the founding of HK, the various Treaties of Nanking that made HK so important and just generally a great read

Experiences nearby

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Score Detail

Background - how many times have you asked someone what a travel experience was like and the response was "amazing" or "awesome"?  That response is nice to know, but it makes it hard to differentiate that experience compared to others.  That is exactly what these scores are trying to do - differentiate the experience by giving a score out of 10 based on 6 categories and then giving an overall experience score

This overall experience score is calculated by:  take the highest of the "Culture" or "Nature" score (1-10) + "Fun factor" (1-10) + "Avoiding the crowds" (1-10) + highest of the "Unique" or "World Famous score" (1-10).  Then convert into a score out of 100

Extra detail - the logic being that I find all of the 6 individual scores important, but I don't want to mark an experience down just because it doesn't cover both "Culture" and "Nature", or because it isn't both "World Famous" and "Unique".  Take the examples of Safari in The Serengeti and walking through Rome - they both appeal at opposite ends of the nature / culture spectrum, and you can have a fantastic time without needing to appeal to both sides.  So, their overall scores aren't penalized for their lack of one or the other, and I've done the same for "World Famous" vs "Unique".  But . . . I do think that the "Fun factor" of an experience is important, irrelevant of other factors, and so is "Avoiding the Crowds" (or where there are crowds that add to the experience).  So, both of these scores are standalone