There is truly no modern city more beautiful and exciting than Hong Kong. Learn what sights can’t be missed!
I first went to Hong Kong for business 20 years ago and fell in love with this city and its people immediately. As a first point of entry into Asia, I loved the fact that everything works. Signage is in English as well as Cantonese and Mandarin. I couldn't wait to introduce Cathy and my friends to this special place.
Hong Kong is surprisingly easy to navigate and is full of friendly people who are so proud of “Asia’s world city” that they will go out of their way to help you find what you are looking for.
There is truly no modern city more beautiful and exciting than Hong Kong: its skyline is a vertical playground of steel and glass skyscrapers, a rainbow of neon lights silhouetted against towering green mountain peaks. Cutting through the centre is Victoria Harbour, crisscrossed with tiny wooden sampans, busy commuter ferries and container-laden super-ships, a daily reminder of Hong Kong’s rich seafaring heritage. West of the scene lies the shimmering South China Sea, sweeping out into the far distance past inky outlying islands–remnants of the city’s previous life as a backwater fishing village less than a century ago.
Visitors will find everything they could possibly want from a city break at their fingertips–great architecture, fantastic food, excellent shopping and banging nightlife. Be sure to sleep on the flight over: you’ll need all the energy you can muster to check off all the sights.
No matter where you choose to stay, head early to Victoria Peak, the viewpoint where you get those astonishing mountain, harbour and skyscraper forest views. It’s Hong Kong’s number one attraction and – blue skies permitting – where you should start your day. The most popular way to reach the top is on the 130-year-old Peak Tram, which costs HK$52 return or HK$37 one-way.
However, the only way to beat the crowds is to get there for its opening at 7am – otherwise, you’re looking at a one- to two-hour wait. If the queue for the Peak Tram is unbearably long, take City Bus 15 from Central Harbour Pier 5 instead. It’s not quite as impressive as the tram, but it does have sensational views of the city and the harbour.
Loop the summit, snap those selfies and then walk one hour back downhill via the leafy and generally empty Central Green Trail. Refuel with a dim sum lunch at the atmospheric Luk Yu Tea House. Be sure to order the steamed fried prawn toast, beef balls with tangerine skin, roast duck and chestnut pie, and a pot of jasmine tea.
Post-feasting, walk five-minutes to Tai Kwun, Hong Kong’s beautiful arts and heritage centre in a former police station and prison. Spend a couple of hours exploring its galleries, interactive displays, rotating exhibitions and ‘contemplation’ cells. It’s advisable to book a pass and time slot online beforehand.
Stop for a refresher on the verandah at the fabulous Madame Fu, which occupies the top floors of the Barrack’s Block and has gorgeous views of the complex’s rooftops framed between skyscrapers.
Next, walk along Hollywood Road to Man Mo Temple, one of the oldest and most photogenic temples in Hong Kong, built to honour the gods of literature and war. Admission is free!
Afterwards, head downhill along Cat Street (known for its knock-off antiques, Chinese curios and trinkets) and into the higgledy-piggledy streets of Sheung Wan, where you can jump on one of Hong Kong’s double-decker trams affectionately known as Ding Dings (after its chiming bell), and sway back through the concrete and glass city centre.
At 8pm the city has its laser light show, which I prefer to watch from the Kowloon side of the harbour.
There are many places to watch the show, including AQUA restaurant, the Intercontinental Hotel, or for the luxe experience we like to head to Felix at the Peninsula Hotel. It’s a very James Bond-like experience, but the food and service are well worth the price tag.
Head to the Bus terminal at Central station and take bus 6 or 6X to Stanley market.
You will be best served to buy an octopus card for bus travel and can get one at any MTR station or Watsons stores. Ride the double decker bus and sit upstairs in front if you can for the views, as it takes about 55 min to reach the other side of Hong Kong Island.
Walk the market and explore the beaches in the area, before grabbing a simple pub lunch at the Pickled Pelican.
The British style Pickled Pelican Pub offers a range of worldwide draughts, local craft beers, wines, cocktails and spirits. It’s a one-of-a-kind spot to have a drink and gaze at the breathtaking view of Stanley Bay.
The Star Ferry is one of the world’s finest forms of public transport, shuttling commuters across Victoria Harbour for the last century. Grab a seat on the upper deck and ride back over to Kowloon.
Once you get off the ferry head to Tsim Sha Tsui (TST ) MTR.
Time to shop, shop, shop! Take the MTR metro to Mong Kok, one of the most densely populated corners of the world and home to mile-long Ladies Market (Tung Choi Street, Mong Kok), where you’ll find everything from ‘I heart Hong Kong’ T-shirts to silk pyjamas and painted fans, to handbags (leather, silk, faux and fake), Hello Kitty cuddly toys and unicorn hair extensions. Bargaining is expected here and canny hagglers should be able to knock 25 to 50 per cent off the initial asking price.
From here, you can either hop back on the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui or walk down neon-drenched Nathan Road, hitting all the tax-free shopping malls until you reach the old Clock Tower, which graces the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront.
Start your evening in style at Ozone, one of the highest bars in the world, in the Ritz-Carlton hotel. Although it’s more popular as a nightspot, the best time to visit is at sunset, when it’s less noisy; you can sit in comfort watching the sun sinking into the South China Sea, turning the harbour to molten bronze and burnishing the city gold.
Then I have two recommendations:
On the Kowloon side, a short stroll from Harbour City in the Star House is Jade Garden.
We love the traditional foods here and all menus have pictures if you are uncertain what they mean.
Alternatively, take the star ferry back to Central and a short taxi ride to Din Tai Fung for a fabulous farewell dinner of xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), garlic freshwater shrimp, and Sichuan noodles with pork in sesame and peanut sauce. The dumplings at Din Tai Fung are legendary!
Where to Stay
Since Day 1 we have stayed at The Marco Polo Hong Kong hotel on the Continental Club floor. Frances Leung and her team will take care of all your needs and the service is exceptional. I always make sure to book a Harbour view room.
FRANCES LEUNG | Continental Club Manager
Marco Polo Hongkong Hotel
No. 3 Canton Road, Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong
D +852 21133122 email@example.com marcopolohotels.com
If you prefer real luxury living, try the Madarin Oriental.
The Mandarin Oriental has been at the heart of Hong Kong, both socially and geographically, since 1963. With its faultless service, fantastic location, effervescent atmosphere, superb spa and some of the most gorgeous dining rooms in Asia, it channels the city’s glamorous past and present like no other.
When to Go
Traditionally, the best time to visit Hong Kong has always been the cooler, dry season from October to January, when the winds change direction and come from the north. Nowadays, unfortunately, they’re also bringing down pollution from mainland China; there are days when you literally can’t see across the harbour.
In the summer, the winds are south westerlies and, unless there’s a typhoon off the coast, the air is much clearer. That’s when your pin-sharp, postcard photos are taken. Hong Kong’s summers are also when lots of expats leave and the city feels unexpectedly spacious, but they are exceedingly humid and getting hotter. If you can bear the heat of July and August and don’t mind torrential downpours, however, it’s an excellent time to find hotel bargains and see those stunning sunsets.
Be aware of China’s major holidays or ‘golden weeks’: Lunar New Year, the first week of May and the first week of October. Tourist attractions will be extra crowded at these times.
Know Before You Go
Currency: Hong Kong dollar which, since 1983, has been pegged to the US dollar at a rate of US$1 = HK$7.8
Dialing code: 00 852
Time difference: Hong Kong is eight hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time and seven hours ahead of British Summer Time
Flight time: about 12 hours from London (about 13 hours going back)
About 13 hrs from North America west coast (and 11 going back)
Hong Kong’s weather can be volatile. Keep an eye on the Observatory’s excellent website, which tracks typhoons and rainstorms. Bring warm layers for all seasons. Hong Kong may be subtropical but it gets chilly in January and February, and the air-conditioning in malls and restaurants is freezing in summer.
After 1997, Hong Kong officially became a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the People’s Republic of China. British and North American passport holders can stay in the SAR for 90 days without a visa but are not allowed to work. If, however, you’re planning to cross the border into the rest of China (apart from Macau, the other SAR), you must have a visa. China has a visa office in Hong Kong. Check details here.
Local laws, Etiquette and Tips
• Smoking is banned in all public places, which includes beaches and parks.
• Tipping isn’t a huge deal in Hong Kong – in taxis, for example, you can just round up the fare – except in restaurants, where it’s customary to add a further five per cent to the bill. ‘Service charges’, scandalously, tend not to go to servers.
• When planning trips on ferries or to popular sights, it’s worth checking the Hong Kong Government Gazette to try and avoid travelling on public holidays.
• Even if you’re not on business, there’s probably going to be an occasion when someone will produce a name card. Receive it with both hands, read it and treat it respectfully. In the same way, when you’re handing over a credit card, it’s polite to use both hands.
• Be aware of the concept of ‘face’. Don’t persist, for example, in asking directions from someone who is clearly not at ease with English. And try not to ask questions (e.g., “Is this the way to the Star Ferry?”) which can be answered by ‘Yes’ or ‘No’. People wishing to save face will say ‘yes’, whether or not that’s right.
Aviation fans take note!
Head to West Main Toys at 5/F, I Do Centre, 749A Nathan Road, Prince Edward, Kowloon, Hong Kong. This is die cast model airplane heave!
Most importantly, take in the sights, smells, and busy life that Hong Kong exudes. I miss it badly during the pandemic and hope to return soon!
For Andrew, travel is so much more than just learning history or taking photos. Rather, the value of travel is witnessing a lifestyle, bonding with locals, and gaining rich cultural experiences. That’s why he founded the Luxury Wanderer; a place to share itineraries, offer advice, swap stories, and foster a like-minded community of curious travellers.