Top Hong Kong Attractions: The Must See
As you might guess from the name, The Peak is the high point on Hong Island. And as you’d probably surmise, it offers the best views of the city – stretching from the skyscrapers and towers of the city centre to the mountains in the New Territories. It’s accessible by the Peak Tram, which passes the city’s buildings at a dizzying incline as it travels up to 1,300 feet above sea level. To get the best possible views at the top, we suggest you head to the viewing platforms at the anvil-shaped Peak Tower. Or if you fancy a hike, take a round around the 3.5km Peak Circle Walk, where you’ll get an astonishing bird’s-eye view of the metropolis below.
Tian Tan Buddha – or as it’s better known, the Big Buddha – is Hong Kong’s most recognisable and iconic landmark. It was 12 years in the making: 34 metres high, and accessible to visitors by a gruelling 268-step route up to its seat. Needless to say, be prepared for aching legs by the time you’re at the top. Just beside the Buddha is Po Lin Monastery, a wondrous, incense-filled sanctum that ranks among Buddhism’s most importart institutions. And if that slog gives you an appetite, head to the neighbouring Ngong Ping Village for a traditional Buddhist vegetarian meal.
Lan Kwai Fong – or LKF for short– is party central. Basically, it’s where you need to be on a Friday and Saturday night if you’re in search of fun. You’ll find over 90 restaurants and bars packed into the district – from upscale spots like Dragon-i (for the 'global glitterati') to pubs like Hong Kong Brewery that are a bit more rough-and-ready. Get ready to party hard with tourists, expats and locals alike in the city’s hedonism HQ.
Man Mo Temple is a mid-nineteenth-century, Grade I-listed historical building and declared national monument on Hollywood Road. It’s surrounded by antique stores that are common in the area. The temple is mostly dedicated to Man Cheong, the god of literature, and Mo Tai, the god of war, a pair of deities often worshipped by students about to take Imperial China’s civil service exams. With its clouds of intense and introspective calm, it makes for a haven from all the downtown hubbub outside.
There was a time when Hong Kong’s filmic output was only bested by Hollywood and Bollywood, and while it’s a less prodigious beast these days, the city’s film industry still once produced illustrious names like Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Jet Li, the Shaw Brothers, John Woo and Wong Kar-wai. Avenue of Stars pays tribute to these figures and many others who have helped burnish Hong Kong’s cinematic legacy. Selfie opportunities come with sculptures of these actors and actresses along waterfront, plus you can check out their handprints on all the plaques. Plus, there’s themed exhibitions where you can learn more about the Hong Kong film industry’s history in more detail. Currently closed for repair works until the end of 2018.
It’s a sad fact that night markets are relatively rare in Hong Kong – certainly when compared to Bangkok or Taiwan. This is why Temple Street is such a popular spot once the sun goes down. It’s then that the numerous stalls pop up, the wares appeare and the tourists flock to purchase those ‘I ❤ HK’ t-shirts, knock-off watches and the rest. The locals, by contrast, tend to come to consult the fortune-tellers.
Sorry Disneyland: Hong Kong’s original theme park is also its most beloved. You’ll find Ocean Park on the south side of Hong Kong Island. Make sure you take a peek at the two resident giant pandas, Ying Ying and Le Le, then catch a lift on the cable car over the cliffs, and on to the hair-raising rollercoasters, other attractions and an array of marine animals and exotic birds. Oh, and if you’re in Hong Kong during Halloween, Ocean Park is also incredibly popular for its month-long – and genuinely rather spooky – Halloween attractions.
Horseracing is incredibly popular in Hong Kong – chiefly because it’s the only sport that its inhabitants legally bet upon. If you head to the Happy Valley Racecourse each Wednesday during race reason (usually July to September), that’s when you’ll encounter the most trackside fun. A real party vibe takes up, so do be sure to get involved: have an ice-cold beer, and have a flutter on your nag of choice.
A less-than-five-minute journey from shore to shore, the Star Ferry is the swiftest and cheapest way to travel between Tsim Sha Tsui and Central or Wan Chai. Despite its short length, the journey still feels leisurely, helped in no small part by the cooling breeze. And you’ll also get some truly spectacular views of Hong Kong’s skyline – essentially front-row seats to Victoria Harbour. Cameras at the ready people – city vistas don't get much better than this.
If The Peak offers the best panoramic views of Hong Kong, then sky100 at the International Commerce Centre (ICC) comes a close second. The clue’s all in the name, really: an indoor observation deck sits on the hundredth floor of the ICC skyscraper (don't worry – you won't have to climb stairs all the way to the top). From there, 360-degree views of the entire Hong Kong territory abound. Day or night, clear skies or glittering lights, you’ll be met with jaw-dropping vistas. If all of that sightseeing works up a thirst, then head up to floor 118, where you'll discover the spectacularly chic and totally illuminated Ozone. Owned by the Ritz Carlton, it's a magical rooftop bar where innovative cocktails are joined by delectable Asian tapas. Our pick? The HK Skyline – it is Ozone's signature cocktail, after all.
Day trips and tours
There is much to see and do on Hong Kong’s largest island: it’s filled with famous attractions, historic buildings and popular theme parks. Lantau Island is home to Tian Tan Buddha, the nearby village of Ngong Ping, the historic fishing village in Tai O, as well as Hong Kong Disneyland. Assorted day trips will take you around the island, with options that come with tickets to the Big Buddha cable car and boat rides in Tai O.
Another SAR – special administation region – just over sixty kilometres west of Hong Kong, Macau is more than worth a day trip away. Filled with everything from Unesco Heritage sites to luxe casinos, Macau is a haven for both tourists Hongkongers who want a convenient holiday. Aside from historic monuments and five-star hotels, Macau is home to many mega-clubs like Pacha and Cubic, as well as excellent coffee shops scattered through the cobbled streets.
Just on the other side of Hong Kong’s border with mainland China, Shenzhen was historically a inconsequential little town until it became China’s first Special Economic Zone in 1979. Now, having developed in economic parallel with Hong Kong, it was a population of over 10 million, and is a booming Asian metropolis. If you do plan to take a daytrip here, make sure you check out areas like the OCAT art neighbourhood.
Before its Qing government handed control of Hong Kong to the British, Ghaughzhou (formerly Canton) was China’s main trading hub. Based further up the Pearl River, the completion of the Guanghzou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong Express Rail link in summer 2018 should make journeying to the city a highly appealing prospect for tourists in Hong Kong – the journey is expected to come in at less than an hour.
Bus tours: they’re a great way to absorb a city’s assorted sights, but without too much hassle. You don’t need to pace around on foot or haggle with a taxi driver – and there’s actually plenty of bus tours to choose from in Hong Kong. Some last five hours, some last half a day; some include visits to Lantau Island and Tai O, some are completely private and personalisable. If you’re pushed for time and want to do things to your particular beat, we suggest the Big Bus Hong Kong Hop-On Hop-Off Tour. But’s plenty to choose from. Click on the link, and take your pick.
Not for nothing is Hong Kong widely known as Asia’s food paradise. It’s home to many fantastic Cantonese restaurants, as well as cusines from across the globe. And if you fancy getting stuck in, join a food walking tour. If you fancy a jaunt through Central Sheung Wan, a four-hour food tour will give you the opportunity to tuck into famous local dishes including wontons, roast meat and egg tarts at assorted spots in these neighbourhoods. Another food tour to try out is the small-group island food tour and join fellow foodies as you make stops at five famous eateries chowing down dim sum and local milk tea. Informative... and delicious!
Sightseeing from an airborne vehicle – now that’s a really unique experience. You can depart from either The Peninsula Hong Kong in Tsim Sha Tsui, or the Wanchai Heliport next to the Convention Centre, and then take to the skies for a mile-high view of Hong Kong.
An evening cruise around Hong Kong’s world-famous harbour is a chance to really appreciate its iconic skyline. As night falls, and the city’s lights twinkle on, a magical atmosphere unfolds. There’s plenty of different cruises to choose from: a straightforward harbour cruise, a dinner cruise, a sunset cruise with dinner options at the Jumbo Floating Restaurant, Victoria Peak and Lei Yue Mun Seafood Village, a cruise to catch the Symphony of Lights, an afternoon sightseeing tour with dinner cruise, as well as a New Year’s Eve fireworks dinner cruise. Don’t say you’re not spoilt for choice!
Change it up from a bus tour and explore Hong Kong Island by ferry and sampan. The Hong Kong Star Ferry has been in operation more than a century and is still the fastest and cheapest way to travel between Tsim Sha Tsui and HK Island. Not to mention, brilliant views of the iconic skyline. Join Hong Kong Shore Excursion for a unique full-day city sightseeing tour and explore town on a mix of ferry, sampan and tram with stops in Aberdeen fishing village, Stanley and Mong Kok Ladies Market.
Built on the manmade island of Chek Lap Kok, Hong Kong International Airport opened in 1998 after the closure of the city’s previous international airport, Kai Tak, in Kowloon, and has become one of the busiest airports in the world. Over 100 airlines operate flights from the airport, which go out to over 180 cities across the world.
Top Hong Kong Attractions: Historic
There are 431 leading up to 10,000 Buddhas Monastery. They’re lined with life-size, gilded Buddha statues, each entirely distinct from the next. At the top, at the complex itself (also known as Man Fat Sze), another 12,000 golden statues will great you, as well as pavilions and a pagoda. Oh, and the panorama of Sha Tin and its mountainous surrounds. In a nutshell: it’s all very, very scenic and Insta-worthy. See also: 10 Buddhas to look out for at the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery.
This public park is so leafy and tranquil it looks like an illustration from the page of a Tang Dynasty artwork. As you make your way around senere waters and rocks, you’ll head toward Zi Wu Bridge (an unmissable red colour) and the gorgeous, gold Pavilion of Absolute Perfection. Not far away from the garden is Chi Lin Nunnery – and vegetarian restaurants worthy of a visit, if you find yourself peckish.
This cathedral is the oldest Anglican church in Hong Kong. It sits on Government Hill, and overlooks the financial district. Constructed in an English Gothic architectural style in the shape of a cross, it houses the seat of the Archbishop of Hong Kong. St John’s Cathedral has quite an unusual history – it was briefly turned into a club during the Japanese occupation of WW2, and many of its stained glass windows were removed. If you’re in Hong Kong at Christmas, the midnight service is highly popular. Queue up from 9pm to be sure of a seat.
Tai O is one of the very last traditional fishing villages in Hong Kong. Its home to the Tanka people, who have built their homes on stilts in the waters just off Lantau Island. They make a living by selling things like dried seafood and traditional Chinese snacks to tourists at their markets, as well as running boat tours through the narrow waterways of the village.
The University of Hong Kong – or HKU as students and locals call it – was founded in 1911, which makes it the city’s oldest university. It’s also of very high regard across the entire world. Located on a hillside in Pok Fu Lam, it’s mostly made up of colonial-style buildings and, much like Oxbridge colleges, are very popular photo spots for newlyweds and tourists. The campus includes the University Museum and Art Gallery, which houses Chinese artefacts and contemporary art, which also happens to be the oldest museum in Hong Kong.
This monastery houses the world’s largest bronze statue of Guan Yin, the goddess of mercy (also known as Kwun Yum in Cantonese). It’s quite the sight: 76 metres tall, and twice the size of Big Buddha on Lantau Island. The 500,000 square foot Tsz Shan Monastery took 12 years to fully complete, and is designed in a style that echoes that of the Tang Dynasty. In the Buddhist compound, there are several grand halls, a Bodhi tree, sweeping gardens and what’s called a ‘brilliance pond’. But do bear in mind there’s a strict limit on how many visitors can come here each day. Booking online in advance is essential.
Right in the middle of the chaotic urban sprawl of Hong Kong is this tranquil green have. Victoria Park is a veritable oasis where you can play bowls or tennis, go swimming in the lake, or just relax after a shopping spree at one of the numerous malls in Causeway Bay. Early risers should go along to see senior citizens doing tai chi in shaded corners. After dark, by contrast, the park transforms into a buzzing night market during Chinese New Year and gets decorated with glowing lanterns for Mid-Autumn Festival.
Wong Tai Sin Temple provides a home for three religions: Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. It’s the go-to site of worship for major events in the calendar like Buddha’s birthday, and is a popular visitors’ spot due to its exquisitely decorated buildings. The historic temple is also known for its supposedly accurate fortune-telling via kau cim, where worshippers shake a bamboo cylinder containing various fortune sticks until one falls out.
Dr Sun Yat-sen devoted his entire life to abolishing China’s imperial system and establishing a more democratic Republic of China. The statesman had close ties with Hong Kong, having received his education and devised his plans here. The museum (which has a $10 entry free) details his life and Hong Kong’s role in the creation of modern, democratic China.
Top Hong Kong Attractions: Art and Culture
The Fringe Club is a well-known hub for independent art performances, stand-up gigs, exhibitions and other quirky, offbeat events. It offers an open platform: anyone with the creative nous can put on a show here. Built in 1892 in a former cold-storage factory, the famed red-and-white brick building is now one of the most vibrant art spaces in Hong Kong. The Fringe Club has presented nearly 30 festivals, thousands of art shows and over 8,000 stage performances. Located beside Lan Kwai Fong, the rooftop garden bar is an excellent escape from all the hustle and bustle, and the perfect spot to enjoy some nibbles and a drink or two.
Hong Kong’s only arthouse cinema, Broadway Cinemathèque is where you should head if you want to catch some international cinema. It hosts a diverse range of festivals each year, among them the Asian Film Festival, Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and the Korean Film Festival. Broadway Cinemathèque also offers retrospective programmes delving into the oeuvres of legendary filmmakers like François Truffaut, Yamada Yoji and Krzysztof Kieślowski. The neighbouring Kubrick café and bookstore is a great spot to grab a drink or a new novel (English and Chinese titles available) if you arrive early before a showing. If all that isn’t enough to tempt you to the area, just five-minutes’ walk away is the famous Temple Street Night Market.
One of the big-hitters when it comes to Hong Kong’s cultural scene, the Centre and its adjacent historic clock tower are tourist favourites for snapping photos of Victoria Harbour. Built in 1989, the curved and concave shaped building boasts a programme that’s jam-packed with international touring theatre shows, world-class concerts, opera and performances. The acoustics in the Concert Hall are often praised for elevating any musical performances thanks to its wooden panels and ceiling. The trademark beige bricks of the Cultural Centre also make a popular background for wedding photoshoots.
In the run-up to the eventual grand opening of M+ in 2019 – which is set to be Hong Kong’s pioneering contemporary art museum – M+ Pavilion opened in 2016 to serve as a stopgap. Inside the sleek, reflective architecture are a host of themed exhibitions, plus independent shows put on my local creatives. The showcases provide a curious insight into what to expect at what should hopefully turn out to be one of the top art institutions in Asia.
The transformation of the former Police Married Quarters into a centre for all things creative and design-based is one of the largest, most ambitious conservation projects in Hong Kong’s recent history. Over 100 creative enterprises can be found at PMQ, where former residential units have been converted into boutiques and design studios selling handmade products like jewellery and homeware. Pop-up stores from international designers are also plentiful at PMQ and the regular night markets are particularly popular among design enthusiasts.
The Hong Kong Visual Arts Centre is an open art space that focuses on art education and exchange. Located in Hong Kong Park in Central, the venue has been revamped from a century-old historic building, which formerly served as married quarters for British army officers, into a modern hub of creativity. The centre houses a number of studios accommodating a wide array of disciplines, from ceramics to printmaking, and offers a range of art training programmes to the public while also providing space for artists to experiment and create.
The Hong Kong Museum of Art was established in 1962 as part of City Hall, and now is home to over 16,000 works in its pink-tiled, multi-purpose space. It not only boasts one of the largest local art collections in the city, but is also packed with paintings, calligraphic works and antiques from the Chinese mainland. The museum also regularly hosts and presents themed shows that attract reputable names from overseas, whilst also promoting local artists. Once you’re done here, head to the Hong Kong Space Museum for an adventure that’s worlds away. Currently closed for refurbishment until 2019.
Top Hong Kong Attractions: Family-Friendly
Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden spreads over 148 hectares of land on the northern slopes of Tai Mo Shan, Hong Kong’s highest mountain. The farm was originally established to aid poor farmers in the New Territories but has since metamorphosised into a nature conservation centre. Wander around the vegetable gardens and greenhouses, and learn about fascinating organic growth methods. It’s perfect for those trying to transition into a more sustainable living at home. Visit exotics animals like flamingos, deer and, if you’re lucky, the occasional porcupines and pangolins in the area surrounding the farm.
The very first Disneyland to open in China is located on Lantau Island. The park consists of seven themed areas, which include Main Street USA, Fantasyland and Toy Story Land. It all varies from fun amusement rides to electrifying parades, and you’re likely to see all your favourite Disneyland characters here. It all makes for the perfect day out for families – and make sure you stay for the dazzling fireworks!
Not only does this fabulous museum have a range of stunning permanent exhibits, but it also plays host to daily interactive science demos like molecular gastronomy and robotics. Highlights here include the world of mirrors, a food science area the 22-metre-high ‘energy machine’ that produces some pretty astonishing audio-visual effects as it demonstrates various types of energy. All terrific fun.
You certainly won’t miss this enormous egg-shaped dome on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront. The theatre dome accounts for half of the Hong Kong Space Museum, along with the Hall of Space Science and the Hall of Astronomy. Visitors can watch documentary screenings under the curved ceiling of the planetarium. And if you head over to the main museum, you’ll discover plenty of action and gadgetry for space and science enthusiasts. Exhibitions halls are currently closed for renovation until the end of 2017.
This 61-hectare wetland reserve and ecotourism park is home to a diverse range of wetland plants and animals, from mangroves to rare species of birds. Promoting the importance of wildlife and nature conservation, the Wetland Park is great for birdwatchers who are keen to spot migrations – and for families to enjoy a fun, informative day out.
The biggest celebrities and famous personalities are forever immortalised in wax at Asia’s first Madame Tussauds. More than 100 wax figures are featured at the museum, a third of which are renowned Asian superstars like Hong Kong’s very own Andy Lau and Jackie Chan. Meet the royal family, strike a pose with David Beckham and get up close to historical figures like Gandhi and, uh, bizarrely, Hitler.
Looking for a chill daytrip of Hong Kong Island? Lamma is the answer. There’s no other location in Hong Kong where you’ll discover such a blend of traditional Chinese fishing village life alongside a multicultural, multinational community. Lamma is known for its bohemian vibes and being a popular haunt for both expats and tourists. The outlying island is a straightfoward 30 to 45 minute ferry ride from either Aberdeen or Central. See the iconic three-prong power station from a distance – it almost spoils the view from Power Station Beach, but not quite. The restaurants on Lamma offer some of the freshest seafood in Hong Kong and are generally reasonably priced to boot. If you’re feeling active, you can rent a bike and cycle around to enjoy the gorgeous views of the surrounding waters.
If you find yourself walking underneath Tsing Ma Bridge, you might be surprised to discover what is, by all accounts, the world’s first full-size replica of Noah’s Ark. It’s a Christian theme park – yep, you read that correctly – and first opened in 2009. It boasts 67 pairs of life-sized animal sculptures, a 4D cinema, an eight-metre giant swing and, if you want to hang around longer than a day, hotel accommodation on the topmost floor of the ark itself. The park is a fun family activity and an educational experience to boot.
There are countless bargains – plus some pretty outlandish souvenirs – to be found at this lovely seaside market. If you’re hungry afterwards, head to one of the numerous waterfront restaurants to be found here, like Boathouse or the high-end cuisine on offer at Stanley Plaza. Make a detour to colonial Murray House while you’re there, a popular photo op for Hongkongers.
Literally meaning Big Hat Mountain, Tai Mo Shan stands 957m tall, the highest peak in Hong Kong. While the city has no shortage of great hiking trails, varying in difficulties and length, Tai Mo Shan is definitely one of the tougher hikes to tackle but it’s worth all the trouble. Make your way up the grassy slopes to reach the summit where the lookout provides stunning panoramic views of the northern and western New Territories, and sometimes even neighbouring Shenzhen on a really clear day. The view up there during sunrise is also incomparable. You’re bound to pass a waterfall on your way up, including the famous 35m-tall Ng Tung Chai Waterfalls. It can get pretty cold up the mountain, so come prepared if you decide to tackle Tai Mo Shan.