From Victoria's Peak to dim sum dinners and visits to outlying islands like Lantau and Cheung Chau, here's a list of the best things to do and see while you are visiting Hong Kong.
It’s not long after the wheels have hit the tarmac that Hong Kong’s fast-paced energy becomes palpable. The city welcomes newcomers with rushing metro trains and crops of skyscrapers that seem to spring up by the minute. To get your bearings, it’s important to understand the geography: Hong Kong is split into two major areas—Hong Kong Island to the south, and the Kowloon Peninsula up north—with Victoria Harbour running through the middle. On either side, a mesmerizing collection of high-rises lures photographers and architecture lovers from all over the world. While compact, the city of 7.3 million delivers an immense breadth of experiences. With any luck, you’ll savor tea and dim sum on a daily basis, drink cold beers in a colonial building, trek to The Peak and get pleasantly lost in a fishing village on Peng Chau Island. You’d need a lifetime to do everything, but this list of 20 must-do Hong Kong experiences should provide a comprehensive introduction to this endlessly fascinating city.
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Hike up to Victoria Peak
Hong Kong’s iconic Victoria Peak is the quintessential postcard image of Hong Kong—and on a clear day, you’ll find excellent views of Kowloon and the outlying islands. Opened in 1888, The Peak Tram is the most popular way to reach the mountaintop, but just because it’s popular doesn’t mean you have to do it. Persistent crowds and queues tend to put a damper on the experience. For a more scenic ascent, follow the Morning Trail along Hatton Road, which will take you to the top of the mountain in about 45 minutes. Once there, follow the Circle Walk to savor panoramic views of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and the South China Sea in the distance. Afterward, take the tram back down the hill—a much more enjoyable ride.
Related: Fodor’s Hong Kong Travel Guide
INSIDER TIPThe Morning Trail is crowded on weekends with families out for a stroll. If visiting on a Saturday or Sunday, aim to start hiking by 10 am. If it’s too humid for a hike, a taxi to the top provides scenic views and air-conditioning.
Float on a Traditional Junk Boat
There are few skylines in the world that rival Hong Kong’s. For the best views of the imposing towers, which light up during the nightly Symphony of Lights show, book a harbor tour on a traditional junk boat. These iconic boats—with their curved sails and graceful teak-wood hulls—were once ubiquitous in China and primarily used for fishing, trade and ocean exploration. Today, there is only a handful left, but travelers can experience a bit of history aboard the Aqua Luna or Aqua Luna II. The handcrafted ships provide 45-minute loops around the harbor all day long. Better yet, there’s a bar onboard with the first alcoholic drink free.
INSIDER TIPIf you get a choice between the two boats, Aqua Luna II is slightly more spacious than its predecessor, featuring a large upstairs terrace, as well as stylish lounge chairs and private nooks for couples.
Devour Dim Sim
You haven’t really “done” Hong Kong until you’ve had dim sum. Every weekend, families and friends alike gather around a banquet table for tea, dim sum and conversation. In the middle, a Lazy Susan is piled high with bamboo steamer baskets full of dumplings, tofu, chicken feet, and rice noodle rolls makes the rounds, with the last bite always offered to the eldest at the table. The best places to indulge? Maxim’s Palace is popular for its regal decor and traditional cart-style service, but be prepared to queue. For something more low-key, try the addictive barbecue pork buns at Tim Ho Wan, or sit down at a hole-in-the-wall eatery such as Chau Kee, in the Sai Ying Pun district. There are also plenty of upscale dim sum eateries, including Mott 32, Man Wah at the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, and famous Lung King Heen at the Four Seasons.
INSIDER TIPMany travelers opt for jasmine tea, but earthy pu’er is meant to aid digestion. Ask for “bo-lay” and give this dark, fermented tea a try.
Explore the Sai Kung Peninsula
With 7.3 million people and counting, Hong Kong is a small city by Asian standards. But those millions are packed tightly in the dense urban area, and about 40% of Hong Kong remains undeveloped. In a half hour in almost any direction, travelers can find themselves hiking up a mountain, lazing on the beach or exploring a rustic outlying island. One of the most beloved corners of Hong Kong is Sai Kung. Dubbed Hong Kong’s “green lung,” this pristine peninsula is home to a quaint fishing village, miles of hiking trails, postcard-worthy beaches and even cool lava formations in the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark.
INSIDER TIPSai Kung is a favorite weekend hangout for city dwellers, so avoid the weekends if you’re looking for a peaceful day out.
Enjoy a Posh Afternoon Tea
Hong Kong was a British colony for 156 years, so it’s no surprise that the tradition of afternoon tea is firmly entrenched. The most lavish spreads can be found at the city’s colonial-era hotels, such as The Peninsula Hong Kong, in Tsim Sha Tsui, and the Clipper Lounge at Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong in Central. These addresses stay true to classic British traditions, with tiered trays of finger sandwiches, pastries, and gorgeous silver tea sets. In addition to the old-world favorites, a few contemporary numbers have popped up as well, including a creative menu by Nobu at InterContinental Hong Kong and a gin-infused experience at Dr. Fern’s Gin Parlour—a speakeasy in the basement of the Landmark shopping mall.
Related: Hong Kong’s Best Boutique Hotels
INSIDER TIPYou can only make a reservation for tea at The Peninsula if you are a guest. So get there early—or book a room just to skip the line. No judgment here.
Visit Ancient Chinese Temples
Many people assume the history of Hong Kong begins when the British founded the territory in 1842. But the area has been inhabited since the Stone Age and, later, was part of the Eastern Han Dynasty as early as AD25. During the 12th to 15th centuries, many temples were built to honor the gods. One of the most famous is Tin Hau Temple at Joss House Bay on the eastern side of the Kowloon peninsula, built in 1266 to honor the goddess of the sea. More accessible, and firmly on the tourist trail, is Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan. Built in 1847, this green-roofed temple honors the gods of literature and war and, unsurprisingly, many students pray here before exams. Just up the hill, on Tai Ping Shan, a few smaller hole-in-the-wall temples pump out incense and ceremonies all day without the tourists. Throughout the urban area, tiny shrines and temples pop up everywhere—a reminder that Hong Kong is indeed a spiritual place, despite the big-city vibes.
Related: 10 Hidden Experiences in Hong Kong
INSIDER TIPWhen visiting temples, be sure to avoid standing or stepping on the door threshold (a raised piece of timber), which is intended to keep evil spirits out.
Drink Local Craft Beer
Rewind to 2012 and the only beers to be found in Hong Kong were Carlsberg, Tsingtao, and Peroni. Today? There are more than a dozen craft breweries operating across the city, pouring everything from Young Master Ales’ funky Cha Chaan Teng Gose—a slightly sour, slightly salty brew—to Moonzen Brewery’s Yama Sichuan Porter. But if you’re keen to try a broader sampling, head to bars such as 65 Peel, which is dedicated to local beers; Second Draft, helmed by Young Master; or Craft Brew and Co., with multiple locations around town. Several breweries offer visits and tours to curious tipplers, including Young Master, Moonzen, The Yardley Brothers, and Kowloon Bay Brewery.
Hang out at the Beach
Navigating the dense city streets, it’s easy to forget that Hong Kong is surrounded by water. Dozens of beaches line the island’s southern side, where charming villages such as Shek O and Stanley transport travelers to a more laid-back lifestyle. The outlying islands offer their own sandy spots and beaches, such as Pui O Beach on Lantau Island, as does the northeastern district of Sai Kung. Up in this protected country park, the city’s most beautiful stretches, along Tai Long Way Bay via the MacLehose Trail, are only accessible by boat or hiking. If visiting the beautiful beaches around Tai Long Wan, be sure to pack extra water and snacks—there’s very little out this way, aside from camping sites and a few feral cows.
Drink Milk Tea at a Cha Chaan Teng Diner
The city might be full of polished, trendy restaurants, but a search for an authentic experience will likely bring you to a no-frills cha chaan teng diner. These little cafes sprung up during a period of rapid globalization after World War II. Manufacturing started taking off in Hong Kong, and workers needed a fast and affordable place to lunch. Today, historic cha chaan tengs such as Mido Cafe, in Yau Ma Tei, and Hoi An in Sheung Wan, offer a peek into the past. The menus are full of must-try local favorites, such as milk teas (usually bitter black tea, mixed with condensed milk), scrambled egg toast, and pineapple buns (a tasty pastry with a crown of baked sugar).
Get a Foot Massage
Massages are an integral part of traditional Chinese wellness philosophies, which is why you’ll find a massage parlor on every corner. Prices range dramatically, running anywhere from $15 at a hole-in-the-wall spot to $150 at a posh hotel spa. Most Chinese foot massages draw from the tradition of acupressure, where therapists push on pressure points that are believed to correspond to your organs and restore balance in the body. Popular spots like Happy Foot and Halite offer no-frills experiences. For an upgraded experience try Ten Feet Tall in Central or splurge on a technical Shanghainese pedicure at the Mandarin Barber, which will leave you feeling like you’re walking on air.
Shop Indie Designers
While the shopping scene in Hong Kong has long been dominated by luxury fashion chains, such as Chanel, Longchamp and Louis Vuitton, there’s been a surge in the creative industries over the past decade. In neighborhoods such as Tai Ping Shan, little boutiques line the walkways, full of indie finds. Likewise, inside PMQ—the recently renovated Police Married Headquarters—the maze-like compound is full of workshops and tiny stores, all from local artists and designers. For more high-end gear, the leafy Star Street enclave hosts boutiques from Monocle, Kapok (a homegrown Hong Kong accessories brand) and Japanese label 45R. While you’re at PMQ, stop for lunch at Sohofama for fresh takes on Chinese cuisine, or enjoy a few drinks on the open-air terrace at Aberdeen Street Social.
Visit the Outlying Islands
If you have a free day in Hong Kong, a visit to one of the 260-some outlying islands is a great way to spend it. These traditional fishing villages feel a world away from Central’s sparkly skyscrapers and luxury fashion malls. Some larger than others, each island has its own personality and local culture. Having trouble choosing? We’d recommend a stroll around tiny Peng Chau, a seafood dinner on Cheung Chau, or a hike along the eastern coast of Lantau for green views and fresh air.
INSIDER TIPFor an easy entry-level hike on Lantau with breathtaking views, start in Discovery Bay and walk to Mui Wo for roughly three hours. You’ll pass by the mountaintop Trappist Haven Monastery and finish in the tiny town. A quick taxi ride and you can sip beers on the beach at Mavericks surf cafe as a reward.
Ride the Star Ferry
Hong Kong’s beloved Star Ferry is practically an emblem of the city. Originally introduced in the late 1800s, these white and green boats ply the harbor all day long. At just about 25 cents a ride, the 10-minute route from Hong Kong Island to Tsim Sha Tsui is the most pleasant way to cross the harbor, especially on a clear day when you can see the tops of the skyscrapers and out to the islands.
INSIDER TIPAt the ferry pier, head upstairs to sit on the upper deck, which is less crowded and always air-conditioned.
Take a Walk Through a Chinese Park
When the British settled Hong Kong in 1841, they planted a flag along Possession Street, near Hollywood Road. At that time, the harbor nearly reached Queen’s Road (just below) and this would have been prime waterfront property. Today, after many rounds of reclamation, Hollywood Road is landlocked. But there’s still a commemorative Chinese Park, aptly named Hollywood Park, with beautiful pavilions, and a turtle pond. Elsewhere, Hong Kong Park draws nature lovers for its (manmade) waterfalls, ponds, aviary and nature trails. Or, to truly get away from it all, head across the water to Diamond Hill’s Chi Lin Nunnery. It’s a surprisingly peaceful experience, featuring bonsai trees, a series of wooden temple halls, and total silence.
Sip Cocktails With a View
One great thing about skyscrapers? Rooftop bars. The city has no shortage of panoramic spots to soak up the view—Ce La Vi in Central provides a stylish atmosphere, live music and a killer happy hour. Likewise, Wooloomooloo in Wan Chai showcases disarming harbor vistas, and Sugar bar, farther east in Quarry Bay, provides another perspective of the harbor. And of course, if you must check off the old bucket list, Ozone at the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong—one of the highest bars in the world on the 118th floor—never fails to draw a crowd.
INSIDER TIPRooftop bars are wildly popular in Hong Kong, so be sure to make reservations whenever possible.
Go Searching for Speakeasies
Thanks to its myriad commercial buildings and multi-purpose addresses, Hong Kong bars reside in the most unexpected places. In the case of Foxglove, you’ll have to pass through an umbrella shop before lounging in this retro-chic jazz bar. Up in SoHo, off historic Pottinger Street, J Boroski specializes in custom cocktails—it’s down a dark alleyway, behind a set of heavy wooden doors. Then there’s Japanese cocktail spot B.A.R. Executive, in a commercial building in Causeway Bay, and Mizunara: The Library in Wan Chai—a wood-paneled oasis in the heart of a commercial building.
INSIDER TIPSpeakeasies usually have limited seating. As such, reservations are highly recommended.
Gallery Hop on Hollywood Road
As one of the oldest streets in Hong Kong, Hollywood Road has become synonymous with culture and history. Appropriate then, that the street houses the city’s most prestigious art galleries and antique shops, from Wattis Fine Art to Opera Gallery, Connoisseur Art Gallery, Cat Street Gallery, the Asia Art Archive and Contemporary by Angela Li anchoring the western edge. Whether you’re interested in contemporary calligraphy or avant-garde sculptures, Ming Dynasty vases or silk tapestries, a wander around this artsy district is sure to educate and inspire.
INSIDER TIPMost galleries serve complimentary wine in the evenings, so time your visit accordingly.
Eat Freshly Baked Egg Tarts
The egg tart is a curious amalgamation of cultures—it’s a little bit British, a little Portuguese, and a little Chinese for good measure. The Hong Kong version, unlike a flaky pastel de nata, is usually made with a shortbread crust and an egg custard that’s a little wobbly when freshly baked. Famous egg tart specialist Tai Cheong Bakery, in Central, is easy enough to find thanks to a line out the door. But if you’re craving a second round, make your way to Honolulu Coffee Shop in Wan Chai where a flaky, buttery pastry and jiggly egg yolk custard will brighten your day.
Place Bets at Happy Valley Racecourse
Skyscrapers towering above, bright stadium lights, beer halls and hundreds of people mingling—this is an average Wednesday at Hong Kong’s Happy Valley Racecourse. Built during the colonial period, the races began in 1846. For travelers, it’s more of a social outing, though there are more than a few hard-core gamblers placing bets throughout the night. On a beautiful night, it’s worth going for the views alone, though it’s always fun to try your luck on a sprinting stallion.
Wander Around the Street Markets
Walk through Mong Kok on a weekend and it’s quickly apparent that life in Hong Kong happens on the streets. While the Temple Street Night Market doesn’t offer much in the way of worthwhile shopping, it’s a great place to dine thanks to a string of outdoor dai pai dong cafes. It’s also worth visiting the colorful tropical birds in the Yuen Po Bird Garden in Prince Edward, north of Tsim Sha Tsui, the adjacent Flower Market, and Wan Chai’s traditional indoor wet market. And if you’re looking for souvenirs that you might actually want to buy, head to the Cat Street Market in Sheung Wan. This lane is peppered with antique shops and a few hawker stalls. A patient excursion will reward you with vintage posters, Chinese pottery, and even a jewelry box or two.
INSIDER TIPIn addition to the more traditional markets, a series of contemporary food-fueled markets have popped up in the past few years, including the Tong Chong Street Market on Sundays in Quarry Bay.