Free things to do in Hong Kong
It’s not exactly a Broadway or West End show, but just maybe Liar’s League is something more intimate and better. The international live fiction event features actors reading original stories submitted by anyone with a novelist’s itch to scratch. Think the best kind of radio play but live and up close. Both writers and actors are required, so if you’ve got a story to tell or love impersonating the lives of others, start submitting your applications now.
Ocean Park’s free birthday admission is a well-known boon in the city. Simply head down on your birthday and present your ID to skip the $385 admission charge and get yourself in for nothing. If Artic foxes and giant pandas aren’t your thing, the Abyss ride drops thrill seekers 200ft faster than free-fall and the Hair Raiser roller coaster hits speeds of up to 4.0G.
And Ocean Park isn’t the only attraction looking to take the edge off getting one year older. Madame Tussauds has brought back its Hong Kong residents birthday promotion until the end of the year. If your b-day has already passed, grab a friend who has one later in the year and take advantage of the 50 percent discount permitted for three friends.
Unlike the traditional museums, Trick Eye is a unique 3D immersive experience that is packed with optical illusions, inviting visitors to take pictures that play tricks with the mind. There are five themed areas inside the attraction including a secret garden, Hong Kong icons and art masterpieces. It's also free entry to any Hong Kong residents on their birthday.
People who complain about Hong Kong’s live music scene simply aren't looking hard enough. Not when there are so many decent free gig to be had. The Wanch has been open for almost 30 years and its constant stream of free shows is one big reason why. Whether it's Tatsuya Yamaguchi's regular acoustic sessions or appearances from local indie bands like Teenage Riot or Bamboo Star, there’s almost always something worth seeing.
For those more inclined to jazz, Lan Kwai Fong’s Peel Fresco hosts regular open jam sessions and appearances from the likes of quintet The Wong Way Down that have no cover charge. Just buy a drink or two to support these institutions and keep the music free.
Hong Kong just loves to treat birthday stars. Book a table at Mira’s Whisk restaurant and quote 'Whisk birthday celebration' to gain a complimentary glass of sparkling for you and an unlimited number of friends, plus you get a free birthday cake.
The prestigious five-star hotel the Peninsula offers the celebrant a complimentary set dinner in The Lobby if dining with a group of four or more. ID must be shown, but the dinner can be booked the entire month the birthday takes place. Why not hit both the Mira and the Peninsula for a double treat?
Laughs are free too in Hong Kong. Takeout Comedy hosts a regular open mic night every Tuesday and entrance is gratis for those willing to perform ($50 otherwise).
If your budget doesn’t stretch to the latest 3D movie with vibrating seat extra, there are startling movies you can see for free. The Mexican consulate’s Cineclub Mexico showcases the country's cinema every last Thursday of the month at its site in Causeway Bay. There’s even free popcorn and Mexican snacks on occasion. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.
This one’s a feast for the eyes and a free workout all in one. The 431 steps leading up to the monastery are lined with life-sized, gold-painted Buddha statues, each entertainingly unique. Once you reach the complex, also known as Man Fat Sze, you’ll be dazzled by 12,000 more gilded statues, as well as gorgeous pavilions and a crimson pagoda – not to mention the Instagram-worthy panorama of Sha Tin and its mountainous surrounds.
Ever wanted a peek into the inner workings of the Hong Kong executive? Well, Government House doesn’t exactly provide that but it’s an architectural delight all the same. Built in 1854, the neo-classical mansion has faint Asian influences, including its terracotta roof and central tower, relics of the 1942-5 Japanese occupation of the city. The house isn’t open all year round but keep your eyes peeled online for the next open day announcement in October. It’s worth it for the chance to explore the building’s sumptuous ballroom and ornamental garden.
Built in 1960, this former courthouse was the centre of Kowloon’s legal activity for almost half a century and a prime example of the stripped classicism of mid-20th century civic architecture. Featuring high-ceilinged courtrooms, ornamental balustrades and marble wall finishes, it still evokes the judicial grandeur of its glory days. The building currently serves as the Hong Kong branch of the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) and regular guided tours of the building are available to the public for free (online booking required).
Delve into Hong Kong’s earliest history with this heritage trail showcasing the culture and legacy of the Tang clan, a group that settled in the New Territories as early as the 12th century. The ancient temples and ancestral halls are a refreshing contrast to modern-day Hong Kong. Also along this relaxed walking route sits the Old Ping Shan Police Station, a graceful colonial structure built in 1899 that serves as the trail’s visitor centre and exhibition hall.
The only surviving remnant of Hong Kong’s oldest public housing project and the recipient of a Unesco honourable mention last year, Mei Ho House is a vital piece of local history and architecture built after a fire in 1954 left 58,000 homeless. Nowadays, in addition to being a functioning youth hostel, Mei Ho House is also a museum dedicated to the history of public housing in the area. The estate’s single floor wet market is one of Hong Kong’s most authentic and well worth a gander before plans to redevelop it gain traction.
Once a thriving fishing town with several thousand residents, Hongkongers once flocked to Ma Wan for the seafood restaurants if offered. Unfortunately, the construction of a gated luxury apartment complex saw the relocation - both voluntary and forced - of long-term residents. Their old community now lies empty, a ghost town. Abandoned houses, restaurants and other community facilities make for an eerie and unique sight unlike any other in Hong Kong. Hop back in time and see Ma Wan before it too gets redeveloped.
Running out of luck this year? The banyan trees in Lam Tsuen in Fong Ma Po Village might just do the trick for you. Traditionally, villagers would write their wishes on joss paper, tie it to an orange and throw them into the trees. Legend has it that the higher the wish lands, the better the chances are for your wishes to come true. Remember to pick up a lottery ticket on your way home.
Located between the Shan Pui and Kam Tin rivers, the Nam Sang Wai wetlands are home to countless flora and fauna. A green dream, the area is the perfect place for anyone looking to reconnect with nature. There are corridors of eucalyptus trees, spots to watch migrating birds, fields of reeds, otters in the ponds and much more. Bring along homemade food and enjoy a rustic picnic. In recent years, there have been bids for property development in the area, so take the chance to see the picturesque views before the developers come knocking again.
Can’t afford a gym membership? Take on the Dragon’s Back, one of the easiest hikes in Hong Kong, for a decent workout. The trail takes you past spectacular views of Tai Tam Harbour, Tai Long Wan and Stanley as well as Shek O’s beautiful panoramic sceneries from 284m above the sea. The trail ends at Big Wave Bay Beach where you can relax and dip your feet in the sand. Or hit the water and work off some more calories. You could start from Shek O or from Tai Tei Wan.
Want a perfect date spot that doesn’t hurt your bank balance? We highly recommend Ha Pak Nai for couples seeking a romantic sunset that doesn’t involve a sweat dripping, mood ruining hike up Lantau’s Sunset Peak. Picture perfect, Ha Pak Nai is a shallow beach in the far northwest New Territories surrounded by mangroves where you can watch the sun go down over the shimmering water.
An underappreciated gem, the city’sfilm archive is free to enter and showcases and preserves everything from kung-fu movies to traditional Cantonese dramas. The resource centre is the main draw, housing more than 400,000 pieces of film-related material that can be read and viewed. Film fans who can stretch to $30 a ticket should check out the archive’s current exhibition, on until August 28, Merry-Go-Movies: Star Kids of HK Cinema in the 50s and 60s, a mix of classic Cantonese and Mandarin films featuring some of Hong Kong’s favourite child stars. Perfect for budding auteurs and young Chow Yun-fats and Anita Muis alike.
Explore Sheung Yiu Village, a former fortified Hakka settlement that’s now a cultural and historic monument in one, filled with galleries and rich in local history. Known for its lime kiln that brought wealth to its inhabitants, this village-turned-museum offers an insight into the daily life of a Hakka villager’s rural lifestyle. If that’s not enough to justify the journey to the area, take in the surrounding Sai Kung Country Park.
Too hard up for one of the city’s more glamorous museums? Get in touch with Hong Kong’s heritage while paying nada at the Heritage Discovery Centre. Located in scenic Kowloon Park, gain a better understanding of our city’s history though various galleries, a library, activity rooms and colonial structures like the historic Whitfield Barracks.
Find solace in the urban jungle that is Central at one of the world’s oldest botanical gardens and keep your wallet in your pocket while you’re at it. The gardens are filled with more than 1,000 species of plants and guided tours in Cantonese take place from 10.30am to 12.30pm every Sunday, also free of charge.
It's hard to miss the egg-shaped dome on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, which makes up part of The Hong Kong Space Museum. Visitors can enjoy documentary screenings under the curved ceiling of the planetarium. Head over to the main museum and discover plenty of action and gadgetry for space and science lovers, completely free of charge.
Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware Flagstaff House, located in Hong Kong Park, was built in the 1840s and was formerly the office and residence of the commander of the British Forces in Hong Kong. It became the Museum of Tea Ware in 1984 and houses exhibitions, demonstrations, tea gatherings and lectures that promote China’s tea drinking culture.
This dinky museum is in the declared monument that used to be the Tai Po railway station and exhibits artefacts from Hong Kong’s long rail history. There’s also a full-size model of an electric train compartment at the museum and railway tracks to explore.
Tucked away in Ma Tau Kok’s sleepy 13 Streets neighbourhood, Cattle Depot Artist’s Village is one of Hong Kong’s most precious artistic hubs. Notable for its colonial era red brick buildings, the site was formerly a quarantine base and slaughterhouse before it was renovated and converted into a local art community in 2001, well ahead of similar projects like PMQ. Always free to enter, the village is home to approximately 20 art organisations, arguably none more prominent than Videotage, a Unesco-listed media art organisation that focuses on new media. Visit for the historic architecture, stay for the art.
Celebrating its 20th anniversary, Para Site is one of the most longstanding independent art institutions in Asia and continues to build on its success with countless free showcases for both emerging and established contemporary artists. Home to one of this summer’s best exhibitions, don’t miss There Has Been, And May Be Again. On until display until August 21, the show explores the emotional and social anxiety in China following the Tiananmen Massacre and the failure of the student movement in 1989.
Sham Shui Po may be most famous for its knick-knack stalls and giant electronics market, but local gallery Things That Can Happen is about art, not commodities. In Things, exhibitions and projects by contemporary local and international artists are located in an apartment that functions as the gallery. A unique space in the city, following a recent renovation, Things is expected to offer an even more welcoming art space for visitors to hit up around the weekend.
An offshoot of the larger Mills Heritage Conservation Project, Mill6 is one of the city’s best non-profit art institutions. The Mills Gallery holds artist-in-residence programmes, heritage projects and exhibitions by world-renowned artists. Until August, Mill6 is holding two projects across Tsuen Wan, introducing the rich history of Hong Kong’s textile industry.
Take a ride on the popular Sha Tin to Tai Po route and take in the stunning scenery, passing the UFO-esque Hong Kong Science Park and ending at the Tai Po Waterfront Park. Most bike rentals start at around $30 and will let you pick up the bike in Sha Tin and drop it off the other end.
In the quaint fishing village of Tai O, you can hop on a 30-minute boat tour for a bargainous $25. The vessel takes you through the village to marvel at the stilted houses that have been dubbed the 'Venice of Hong Kong' and you may even spot a few pink dolphins if you’re lucky.
Forget expensive hotel pool passes. Hong Kong’s public pools cost just $17 on weekdays and $19 at weekends. The outdoor ones are especially awesome, our favourite being the Sai Kung outdoor pools that feature a pool for exercising swimmers, as well as a leisure pool and a fun kid’s pool with slides.
Discover more things to do in Hong Kong
Whether you’re a first-time traveller looking for the best Hong Kong hotels or a seasoned vet of Lamma Island and LKF, these are the essential things to see, do, eat and drink while you’re in town. From the most picturesque hiking trails in Hong Kong to the city’s best museums, here’s a roundup of the very best experiences in our city.