Travel tips every first-time Hong Kong visitor needs to know

Make the most of your days in the territory with our insider knowledge
Star Ferry
By Time Out editors |
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Hong Kong is a melting pot of cultures and a truly global city. An international hub, we’ve got one of the world’s most iconic skylines, a ton of tourist attractions plus beaches and country parks right on our doorstep. And with 8 million people living on top of each other, there’s a whole load crammed into this tiny territory. To help you find your way around town, without stepping on anyone’s toes, here are 20 top tips to help you make the most of our fabulous SAR. By Sam Sinha

Travel tips for first-time visitors

1
Octopus card

Get an Octopus card

The prepaid Octopus card is handy for paying for all types of public transport, be it MTR, buses, ferries or trams. That’s not all though – you can also use it at many shops and fast-food restaurants and even vending machines, so be sure to keep it topped up if you want to tap-and-pay your way around town. There’s even talk of the Octopus card being introduced as a payment method in taxis, which would make it even more convenient than it already is.

2
Hong Kong 100 dollar

Tipping

Tipping is not a big deal in Hong Kong as it is in the US for example, where waiters will chase you down the street for leaving a piddling 15 percent. Restaurants generally slap on a 10 percent service charge but this is made explicit on the menu. If the service was particularly good, you can add a little more but this is not expected. Taxi drivers don’t expect tips but if the fare comes out to an awkward number, round up to the nearest dollar and they won’t complain!

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3
Taxi

Get into a taxi before telling the driver where you’re going

Taxi drivers in Hong Kong can be a temperamental bunch. Sometimes they won’t want to take you to where you need to go, especially if it's on the opposite side of the harbour. However, if you get in and shut the door before telling the driver your destination, it’s much harder for them to say no.

4
Star Ferry
Attractions, Ships and boats

Star Ferry

icon-location-pin Tsim Sha Tsui

The Star Ferry is the fastest and cheapest way to travel between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. With piers in Tsim Sha Tsui, Central and Wan Chai, it takes less than ten minutes to cross between the two shores. The sea breeze and relaxing pace of the journey are recommendations enough but the Star Ferry also offers once of the best views of the iconic Hong Kong skyline, providing front row seats to the sights of Victoria Harbour. Cameras at the ready!

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5
Hong Kong Science Museum
Museums

Free museum entry on Wednesdays

Save a few bucks by taking in some culture on a Wednesday – when many of the best museums offer free entry. Participants include the Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, Hong Kong Museum of History, Hong Kong Racing Museum, Hong Kong Space Museum and the Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum.

6
Oktoberfest at King Ludwig Beerhall

Take advantage of happy hours

Our city has some mighty fine bars, but imported beers, wines and spirits, coupled with soaring rents, mean drinking out can get expensive. One way to get around this is to find happy hours and free-flow deals. Usually available early evening during the week but sometimes even at peak hours, these boozy deals will get you happily hammered for a fraction of the price.

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7
Oktoberfest at King Ludwig Beerhall
Bars and pubs

Take advantage of happy hours

Our city has some mighty fine bars, but imported beers, wines and spirits, coupled with soaring rents, mean drinking out can get expensive. One way to get around this is to find happy hours and free-flow deals. Usually available early evening during the week but sometimes even at peak hours, these boozy deals will get you happily hammered for a fraction of the price.

8
Lan Kwai Fong

Check out the nightlife beyond LKF

While we’re on the subject of expensive drinks, let’s talk about Lan Kwai Fong. The city’s most notorious party street is full of overpriced bars blaring out techno versions of Bruno Mars songs. Our tip is to try some of the better bars in nearby Soho or Sheung Wan. If you still want to experience the infamous LKF atmosphere, grab a can from “Club 7-Eleven” and join the throngs out in the street.

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9
Asking for directions

Learn a few Canto phrases

Cantonese and English are the official languages of Hong Kong and while most people speak English, it’s worth learning a few Canto phrases so you can greet locals their way. There are nine tones in Cantonese, which makes it extremely tricky to master, but it’s polite to give it your best shot and it might make people more willing to help you out when you go up to them for directions. Two basic phrases to help you get started: “hello” is pronounced nay ho and “good morning” is pronounced jo san.

10
Foot massage sign

Beware of massage signs with a smiley face

There are thousands of spas and reflexology centres in the city offering soothing massages at very reasonable rates. Be warned though, in certain areas – especially Wan Chai and Mong Kok – the masseurs may offer (ahem) extra services. Apocryphally, a smiley face inside a foot on the store’s neon sign denotes a naughty parlour, so avoid these just in case you don’t end up with a surprise during your rubdown.

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Ready to get around the city?

Things to do

Public transportation in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is well known for having one of the most sophisticated and efficient transport systems in the world, and a whopping 90 percent of daily journeys are carried out on public transport. The options are plentiful and affordable, from the historic trams running along Hong Kong Island to the citywide double-decker buses and much-loved MTR – all you need is an Octopus card. 

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