Twenty years on from its transition back to Chinese rule, Hong Kong continues to attract visitors from around the world who are looking for a slice of dynamic big city life. Jennifer Johnston checks in with suggestions for ten top things to do...
Over a century and a half, the fusion of East and West under British control created a fascinating legacy, and while Hong Kong did preserve its own cultural traditions, they certainly have a western flavour.
Hong Kong is also one of the most densely populated cities in the world. With 7.4 million inhabitants squeezed into 1,100 square kilometres (40% of which is green space and only used for recreational activities), you would expect the streets and subways to be chokingly crowded. However, everyone moves about in an orderly and polite fashion.
A 24-minute journey on the Airport Express train will deliver you to Central on Hong Kong Island, where you can connect with a multitude of cosmopolitan choices. The biggest dilemma you’ll face will be what to choose!
Here are ten top things to do in Hong Kong.
1. Head to the Peak for the stunning views
The best vistas of Hong Kong’s harbour are to be found at the top of Victoria Peak. At 552 metres above sea level, the Peak is the highest point on Hong Kong Island. To reach the summit, take the popular Peak Tram — Asia’s oldest funicular railway, which was built in 1888. If the thought of the creaking, very steep ride to the top doesn’t appeal, you can take a taxi or bus — or walk up the Old Peak Road.
2. Explore the Mid-Levels neighbourhood
Halfway up Victoria Peak, and perched above Hong Kong’s business heart, is an intriguing area called Mid-Levels. Established prior to the arrival of the motor vehicle, Mid-Levels’ streets are narrow, but people and cars somehow manage to coexist harmoniously. Exploring the back streets will introduce you to traditional places of worship like the Man Mo Temple. Built by wealthy Chinese merchants in 1847 during the Qing dynasty, this is actually a complex of three temples. The major one is a tribute to the god of Literature (Man) and god of Martial Arts (Mo). Head for Hollywood Road, where the sweet smell of incense will lead you to the temple.
3. Take a stroll along Hollywood Road
Constructed in 1844, Hollywood Road is one of Hong Kong’s oldest thoroughfares. Here, foreign merchants and sailors plied their merchandise brought over from mainland China. The road stretches from Sheung Wan through Soho, past Lan Kwai Fong, and into the heart of Central. It remains close to its historic retail roots, and is still home to a mix of shops selling everything from expensive antiques to Chinese knickknacks.
Parallel to Hollywood Road, and heading north into Lascar Row Street, you’ll discover Upper Lascar Row Street — commonly known as Cat Street. This 200-metre-long pedestrian-only lane is filled with shops selling Chinese curios. Hollywood Road is also home to a number of art galleries (including the excellent Zee Stone Gallery) and the Asia Art Archive — an independent, not-for-profit arts resource centre and library, which is open to the public.
4. Get arty at PMQ
Located on the slope on Aberdeen Street in Central, PMQ is a hub for Hong Kong’s creative industries. It’s housed in the refurbished Police Married Quarters, which was built in 1951 to house local police officers and their wives. It was declared a heritage site in 2000, and reopened with a new lease of life in 2014 as home to over 100 small galleries and design stores. Here you’ll find everything from fashion and stationery, to children’s clothing, jewellery and kitchen accessories. The merchandise is of higher quality than that found in the markets.
To refuel, there are a couple of bakeries and restaurants — including Aberdeen Street Social on the lower ground floor. There’s a beautifully designed open space on the 4th level where you can sit and enjoy some serenity in the heart of Soho (while utilising the free Wi-Fi!).
5. Revel in the colourful street art
As you’re wandering through Soho, along Hollywood Road or down the steep steps of Ladder Street, keep an eye out for colourful street art. There are beautiful pieces to be found in many of the side-streets. HK Walls provides information about the artists, and holds an annual street art festival at the end of March (during Hong Kong Arts Month).
No visit to Hong King is complete until you’ve taken a ride on the iconic Star Ferry — which carries passengers across Victoria Harbour between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. The journey takes just ten minutes and is one of the best and cheapest ways to view the fabulous Hong Kong skyline. As the vessel pulls into the terminal the ferry workers toss a hemp rope, which is caught by a billhook in the same way it’s been done since 1888. While today’s electric-diesel vessels succeeded the original steamboats, traditional sampans go even further back in history — and they continue to cross the harbour today!
7. Take a tram
There’s something special about viewing the streets of Hong Kong from the upper floor of a double-decker tram. Remember: tram etiquette is to enter via the back and exit via the front.
8. See the Symphony of Lights
The Symphony of Lights is a spectacular nightly display of lasers and lights that illuminates buildings on both sides of the harbour. The city is the stage and you can watch the show from anywhere near the waterfront, but the best views are from Kowloon. Take the Star Ferry from Central across to Kowloon and walk along the Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade. The Sheraton Hotel’s top floor bar offers a stunning view. The show begins at 8pm and runs for exactly 10 minutes.
9. Indulge in a foot massage
Chinese-style foot massages (‘footies’) are popular with Hong Kong residents and visitors alike. Opt for a late night footie if your feet need a little pampering after a long day of trudging the Hong Kong pavement. The strong hands of your masseuse will melt away the tension — and not always tenderly! Try Happy Foot in Central and Wan Chai.
10. Shop ’til you drop at the markets
Hong Kong’s many markets are popular with visitors, but the quality of the merchandise is often questionable. Use your bargaining skills! In Central, try the lanes that run off Queen’s Road. The best is Li Yuen St East, which offers handbags, kids’ clothing, shoes and pashminas.
Stanley Market is touristy, but lots of fun. It’s accessible by bus from Central. You’ll see the crowds walking towards the undercover market area — a maze of shops selling handbags, shoes, clothing, sports wear (such as rugby and soccer jerseys), linen and souvenirs.
Over in Kowloon, Ladies’ Market on Tung Choi Street is crammed with stalls (and is not only for ladies), while the Temple Street Night Markets — running from Man Ming Lane to Nanking Stand — are very lively. Shop for sunglasses, bags, shirts, shoes, and mah-jong sets, while snacking on tasty treats from the food stalls.
The Jade Market in Kowloon looks like a decrepit tin shed from the outside, but inside there are hundreds of stalls. Be prepared to get the hard sell from vendors!
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of ten top things to do in Hong Kong? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Jennifer Johnston is a Brisbane-based freelance writer and blogger inspired by travel, health and wellbeing. She juggles pursuing her passion for writing with raising three rowdy young men, a dog and a couple of goldfish. Jennifer has explored much of the United Kingdom, Europe, the United States (including Hawaii), Canada, New Zealand, Egypt, Israel, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Japan and Fiji. When she’s not writing, you may find Jennifer hiking in some distant part of the world.