Hong Kong had been on my bucket list for a while, but then again, that bucket list is huge. I wasn’t even planning on going any time soon, but 3 days after signing up for Scott’s Cheap Flights, I found a round trip ticket to Hong Kong from LAX for $350.
Immediately after booking a ticket, I realized I didn’t really know of many things to do in Hong Kong. Most of what I knew about the city was temples, Kung Fu, and great food. It took a lot for me to cut down this Hong Kong bucket list since there are so many options. You may not fit all of these things into your Hong Kong visit, but it will definitely help build your Hong Kong itinerary.
CULTURAL / HISTORICAL
Temples and Monasteries
Temples are on pretty much everyone’s Hong Kong bucketlist. If you’re visiting Hong Kong from anywhere in the western world, any of these temples will be the cause of some serious culture shock. The architecture is like nothing in the Western world at these spiritual temples and monastaries.
Five must-see temples in Hong Kong are Wong Tai Sin, Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, Man Mo, Lam Tsuen Tin Hau, and Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin.
The Big Buddha
Technically, yes this is visiting a temple like I just wrote about. I still think it is worth mentioning by iteself. The Big Buddha, aka Tian Tan Buddha, is located at Ngong Ping, Lantau Island. It’s less than an hour drive from the center of Hong Kong. To reah the giant Buddha statue, you have ascend 268 steps…or use the winding road if you’re not feeling up to the climb. Once at the top of the platform, you’ll have some amazing panoramic views of Lantau Island. This is a nice escape from the craziness of Honk Kong’s dense population.
Incense Wishes at the Temples
You might notice around Hong Kong there is a lot of incense burning. When you go to some of the temples, that intensifies a bit. Worshippers believe that burning incenses are a way to attract attention from the gods or that it is food for spirits that have passed. Taoists often make a wish when they burn their incense, as to the tourists visiting. Lookout for incense for sale and you too can make a wish.
Lan Tsuen Wishing Tree
More wishes! The “wishing trees” near the Tin Hau Temple bring loads of visitors to Fong Ma Po Village. Villagers would traditionally write their wishes on a piece of paper that would be tied to an orange. They’d toss the orange in the tree hoping it would get stuck. According to legend, the higher the wish letter landed in the tree, the more likely the wish would come true. Unfortunately a few years ago someone damaged the tree so some new rules are in effect which means no launching real oranges up there.
Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb
This one is for the history buffs. This ancient tomb was discovered in 1955 when the city was leveling a hill slope. The tomb is believed to have been built during the Eastern Han dynasty (AD 25-220) This isn’t a building that houses any major historical moments, that we know of, but it is worth seeing if you want to peer into a place that people stood 2,000 years ago. You cannot enter the room, but you can see it through glass protecting it. It is in the middle of the city so it is easy to get to.
Address: 41 Tonkin St, Sham Shui Po, Hong Kong
Free Thai Chi
Head to a park early in the morning and you’ll see plenty of people practicing Thai Chi. This martial art has been practiced for centuries and is a big part of Hong Kong culture. It is a great meditative exercise with lots of the same benefits of yoga. If you’ve ever wanted to give it a try, this would be the ultimate time to take a class. The Hong Kong Tourism Board used to offer free classes, but now you’ll have to find someone for it. There are plenty of affordable options available. An easy place to find some would be Airbnb Experiences.
Kung Fu Class
If Thai Chi is a little too soft for you, then Kung Fu is another option for martial arts fans. Shaolin may be the center of Kung Fu in northern China, but Hong Kong has to be the southern equivalent. Some of the biggest Kung Fu stars came from Hong Kong including Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, and Donnie Yen. Bruce Lee fans would be excited to know that you can take a lesson in Wing Chun from Master Sam Lau. Lau is a first generation student of Grandmaster Yip Man who was Bruce Lee’s mentor.
This is another, very touristy, but add thing to do in Hong Kong for your list. When I think of the junk boats in Hong Kong, my imagination goes to the traditional sampans with their big red-sails. There are only a few of those in operation now, but the “junk boat” term pretty much encompasses any charter boat rides in the bay. You can rent a full boat or get a solo ticket. I recommend packing some food and snacks for the budget friendly options as some of these can get pricey quick. Another great option is a dinner cruise so you can see the Symphony of Lights.
Sky100 Hong Kong Observation Deck
This is likely going to give you the best views in Hong Kong. Head up to the 100th floor of the International Commerce Centre on a high speed elevator. You’ll get a full 360 degree view of Hong Kong Island, Victoria Harbour, Kowloon Peninsula, and Tai Mo shan. If you’re a big spender, you can go up a little higher in the building and stay at the Ritz Carlton. That is currently the highest (not tallest) hotel in the world.
Views from The Peak – Take the Tram
Sky100 will get you an amazing 360 degree view from within Hong Kong, but you can’t get a much better view OF Hong Kong than you would from Victoria Peak. The Peak is the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island so getting up there would be a crazy hike if you’re in for that. I would recommend taking the Peak Tram though. This railway has been working since 1888. If you can, try to time your trip to Victoria Peak with the sun going down. Seeing the city light up is an experience you wouldn’t want to miss.
Star Ferry to Kowloon
This is definitely for those of you that want a boat ride in the harbor, but don’t want to pay the crazy prices for a junk boat. The Star Ferry Company has been taking passengers across the harbor since 1888. It has become one of the top tourist destinations and still a commonly used by locals. It’s under $15USD for a round trip ride during the day and only about $27USD for a night ride where you get to see the Symphony of Lights.
If possible try to plan your trip for when there is a Hong Kong a fireworks celebration. This is a city that knows how to put on an explosive show. The three biggest annual fireworks shows in Hong Kong are Chinese New Near, National Day, and New Year’s Eve. Most of the fireworks shows happen in the Harbour so make sure you get a great viewing spot on either Hong Kong Island or Kowloon side as early as possible. Some of the best viewing spots are Avenue of the Stars, Sky100, The Peak, and Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade.
Movie Filming Locations
Traveling film buffs will be happy to know that some great scenes in cinematic history were filmed in Hong Kong. The International Finance Center Tower 2 was used in The Dark Knight. Enter the Dragon filmed all around Hong Kong, namely in Tsing Shan monastery and Aberdeen Harbour. Internal Affairs (the inspiration for The Departed) filmed at Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastary.
Avenue/Garden of the Stars
This isn’t exactly the Hollywood Boulevard Walk of Fame. Unless you’re a huge fan of Asian cinema, you’re most likely just going to notice the Bruce Lee statue and the hand prints of Jackie Chan. Anyone with a passion for film should stop by for a history lesson on Hong Kong’s film industry. Even if you don’t have any interest in that, this is still a great location for a perfect view of the Symphony of Lights.
Cheapest Michelin Star Food in the World
Ever wanted to eat at a Michelin Star Restaurant, but don’t want to get stuck with the high bill? Tim Ho Wan is one of, if not the cheapest Michelin Star Restaurants in the world. The most expensive dish is about $3.75. If you somehow only eat dim sum once during your Hong Kong visit, save it for Tim Ho Wan. There are currently 39 locations across 9 countries in Asia and a new location in NYC. The original “hole in the wall” restaurant is in Mongkok if you want to get the most authentic experience.
Drink Pantyhose Milk Tea
Yes, pantyhose. But no, they don’t actually use pantyhose. While the British ruled over Hong Kong in the 20th century, they just couldn’t help but force their afternoon tea on Hong Kongers. English afternoon tea is made with milk and sugar, but fresh milk isn’t that easy to come by in Hong Kong. Instead, they use condensed or evaporated milk. The black tea, or mixture of black teas in fancier shops, is strained through a cloth filter that resembles pantyhose. Whatever the name, it’s a delicious cup of tea that locals love and you should try out.
Street Food and Dai Pai Dongs
You don’t really have to make a plan for this. The street food in Hong Kong is so apparent that you won’t have a chance to miss it. The options may become overwhelming and you’ll certainly get a chance to try some adventurous food options. The majority of the food is really inexpensive so feel free to sample as much as you want. There are some unique foods that you’ll likely never see again. Some foods to look out for are the egg waffles, grilled squid tentacles, curry fish balls, pineapple buns, steamed dumplings, and basically any meat on a stick.
You can easily find the Dai Pai Dong (food stalls) all over the city. Some of the most popular locations you should try are Temple Street Night Market (Mongkok), Graham Street (Central), or Fa Yuen Street (Mongkok).
Floating Restaurant – Jumbo Kingdom
Super touristy, but totally worth it. Hong Kong has two floating restaurants known as Jumbo Kingdom and Tai Pak. They are decorated in the style of an ancient Imperial place. You’ll see plenty of dragons, pagodas, and red/gold decorations. While being a total tourist spot, this has been a stop for many famous people including Queen Elizabeth II, Tom Cruise, and David Bowie. These meals are pretty expensive, so hopefully you’ve been saving money by eating cheap street food. If you’re looking to make a real experience out of it, try the Nighttime City Lights Dinner. It is an 8-course meal close to $100 per person that also includes hotel pickup, and a guided tour of Temple Street Night Market.
Dinner in the Dark
Sorry millennials, you can’t Instagram your food at Alchemy in the Dark. This is a restaurant where you are sitting in complete darkness. No I don’t mean the type of place where it’s dim to make you look prettier for your date. I mean pitch black. This means that you’ll have less distractions during your meal so you’re forced to converse with the person you came with. You also end up being able to focus more on your food with the delicious tastes and perfectly planned textures. I’ve mentioned mindful eating before, but this almost forces it. Plates are also about $500 per person, so you really should try to enjoy every last bite of the food here.
After visiting Hong Kong, one thing you won’t want to leave behind is all of the amazing food. One way to bring it back with you is to take a travel cooking class while you are there. Most Hong Kong cooking classes you’ll find will teach you how to make dumplings or wontons, but you’ll find plenty of other Cantonese or international options if you look enough. If you have the time, it might be interesting for you to take a cooking class that adds a market tour as well. Airbnb Experiences has some good options. Check out my Airbnb discounts to see how to save some money on those experiences.
This is not for the faint of heart. I think it is important to really immerse yourself into the new cultures you are visiting. This includes trying foods that you might only find there and that are way outside the norm of what you’ve ever tried. Traditional Chinese medicine believes snake meat to be a “yang” food. Yang foods have a quality to them that warm the body for various medicinal purposes. This is opposed to the “yin” foods that have cooling properties. So if it’s a chilly night in Hong Kong, give some snake soup, aka se wong, a shot.
The main city areas of Hong Kong are so densely populated and busy that it might be a smart decision to escape into nature. There are so many gorgeous hikes you can take into the mountainous islands in and around Hong Kong. These hikes can take you to breathtaking views, isolated beaches, and parts of nature you’ve only dreamed about. The most popular hike would probably be Dragon’s Back Ridge since it is an easy, yet scenic hike.
Monkey Hill / Kam Shan Country Park
Technically this is another hike. You can get to this area without really having to hike into the hills though. There are multiple monkey colonies around Hong Kong, but Kam Shan Country Park is home to about 1800 macaque monkeys. You can head up to the park to see them in their natural habitat and also moving into the city area. Don’t do anything stupid here. Do not feed the monkeys (it’s illegal). Don’t hike into the forest alone. If you want to witness this, I highly recommend finding a local that knows their way around. The monkeys are unpredictable so this could get dangerous quickly.
A lot of people seem to forget that Hong Kong is made up of a group of island and that they are in the warm Southeast Asia water. There is so much coastline and changing terrain that each of the beaches has a distinct personality. There are some soft sanded beaches for laying out. Then here are beaches with big waves for surfing. You can find hidden beaches in the middle of island hikes and you can find other beaches for boozing on a boardwalk.
You can go fishing pretty much anywhere with a body of water. Squid fishing is a little more rare. Squidding season in Hong Kong runs from April to October. You can sign up for a fishing trip through local charter boats. Squids only come out at night though, so be prepared to go on a late night excursion or overnight fishing trip.
Macau is just an hour ferry ride from Hong Kong and totally worth doing at least a day trip to. Macau had been a Portuguese colony for about 400 years like Hong Kong was with England. This day trip would give you a version of the culture created from a mix of Portuguese and Chinese customs. If you’re all cultured out from Hong Kong, Macau might be fun for casino lovers. Macau is a bigger casino city than Las Vegas. 4 of the 5 largest casinos in the world are located in Macau.
Shenzhen is located at the northern border of Hong Kong. It’s fairly easy to get to by ferry or metro, but there will likely be a bit of a hold up going through customs. Shenzhen is a part of Mainland China so Americans will need to get a 5-day visa. Once in Shenzhen you’ll find out how far you can take your money. It won’t be hard to find some knock off designer products in the markets. If you’re in the mood to be pampered, definitely check out Queen’s Spa. You could get lost in there for days and come out barely spending any money.
Hong Kong Disneyland
HK Disneyland has had a tough time keeping attendance rates up over the years, but that’s great for anyone who wants to visit! Disney is currently adding A LOT to the park so it is more than a half day trip that it used to be. You could probably get through the entire park in a day. There are currently 7 lands: Main Street USA, Adventureland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Toy Story Land, Grizzly Gulch, and Mystic Point. Coming in the next few years will be a brand new castle, Frozen Land, and Marvel Land.
Ocean Park Hong Kong
Somehow this small “country” has managed to fit two full sized theme parks. This theme is aquatic and conservation so you’ll find plenty of water based rides and even animals at the park. Ocean Park Hong Kong is split into two parks. The Waterfont level is mainly shows, animals (including pandas), and tamer rides. Take the cable car or express train over the mountain to the Summit Level. This is where you’ll find additional attractions, but more of the thrill rides. You’ll find adrenaline pumping rides named things like Hair Raiser and Raging River. The entire park covers more than 3 times the acreage of Disneyland.
Happy Wednesday at Happy Valley Racetrack
You don’t need to be a fan of horse racing to have a good time at either of the two world class racetracks in Hong Kong. The tracks are a big part of Hong Kong culture. The locals fill Happy Valley racetrack on Wednesday nights during racing season. Huge bets are made and the place gets electric with excitement. If you just want to eat and drink you can hang back by the beer garden where there is sure to be people partying. There are different themed parties throughout the racing season thrown by the track.
Lan Kwai Fong Night Life
You can definitely find bars and clubs around the city, but Lan Kwai Fong is the beating heart of Hong Kong nightlife. This is one small L shaped street that has over 100 bars spilling out into the neighboring streets. If you can’t find a bar or club in the Hong Kong party central, then there is no proper bar for you. The tight streets keep it crowded and the energy up. Even if you’re not out partying, the people watching here is next to none.
I’m not sure how many times I can mention the views of Hong Kong in this things to do list, but it’s for good reason. Another great way to take advantage of these views is visiting a rooftop bar. Luckily plenty of these bars popped up over the last few years. There are even some incredible rooftop pool bars you can spend your days at.
Red Light District
No judgements here.
OTHER THINGS TO DO
Speeding Mini Bus
The Hong Kong public transit system is one of the best in the world for large cities. That being said, sometimes you need to get somewhere quickly. Hop on one of the minibuses in town and hold on for your life. The mini bus drivers treat every ride like they are auditioning for The Fast and the Furious. This ride is sure to make even the biggest adrenaline junkie white knuckle their ride.
Before you head to Hong Kong, make sure you check for any major festivals in the city during your stay. You don’t want to accidentally plan a day trip to Macau or a hike in the mountains when there is a parade in the streets. Some of the festivals and events you’ll definitely want to witness are Chinese New Year, the Cheung Chau Bun Fest, Dragon Boat Festival, National Day, and Christmas/NYE celebrations.
Escape to a Park
The energy of Hong Kong can often get a bit overwhelming. If you don’t have time for a hike or a beach day, definitely head down to one of the city parks. Each is a beautiful relaxing oasis in the middle of Hong Kong’s hustle and bustle. Hong Kong Park and Nan Lian Garden are the two you should try and see.
For anyone immature snickering at this boulder, I did as well. This is a giant phallic shaped rock above Bowen Road that sees a lot of visitors. Lovers Rock (Yan Yuen Sek) is an example of one of the older traditions or superstitions that still stands in Hong Kong. It is believed that those who worship Lover’s Stone will have happy marriages and increased fertility. So maybe I wouldn’t recommend it after a crazy night out in Lan Kwai Fong.
I’m definitely not a believer in this myself, but the fortune tellers in Hong Kong feel more authentic than the typical Miss Cleo psychics everywhere else. Fortune telling has traditionally been done around temples, but an easy way to find your fortune is outside Tin Hau Temple on Temple Street. There will be plenty of options for how your fortune is told from Chinese astrology and palm reading to fortune telling by bird.
Casual Jog through the City
A quick way to see any city would be to get some exercise running through the neighborhoods. This guy below looks to be having a great time.