Hong Kong is known the world over as a glamorous city and a top choice for luxury shopping. But this city-state is steeped in culture and history, and has a lot more to offer than mouth-watering dim sum and an impressive skyline. Hong Kong has an energy about it that is hard to describe. In the city center, millions of people are crammed into a very small space that somehow seems to function flawlessly. Around every corner is something new and unique, whether it’s an ancient temple, a shop selling the latest electronic gadget, or a man taking his bird in a cage for a walk. Hong Kong has another side as well, where you’ll find forest-covered mountains, hiking trails, beautiful beaches, islands, and traditional fishing villages.
As a Special Administrative Region of China, Hong Kong presents an interesting study in the influences of ancient Chinese culture, as well as its own attitudes and history, independent from that of mainland China. Hong Kong is one of the most impressive cities in the world, certainly, but there’s much more here than meets the eye. Find out what to see and do and discover the best places to visit with our list of top attractions in Hong Kong.
1. Star Ferry, Hong Kong
Hong Kong’s famous Star Ferry, with roots dating back to 1880, costs only a few Hong Kong Dollars to ride, making it one of the best deals in all of Hong Kong. Victoria Harbour is a hive of activity, and ships of all shapes and sizes chug, zip, or wallow past as the expert captains of the Star Ferries somehow avoid collisions. As you travel the main route from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, or more specifically, Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) to Central, it’s hard not to be struck by the dense towers of Hong Kong Island, backed by green mountains rising up before you. The breeze off the water is exceptionally refreshing, and the wide-open spaces are a perfect antidote to the tight confines of the city.
Don’t worry about scheduling a time to ride the ferry, they leave every few minutes all day long and later into the evening, so it’s always easy to get a great seat in the front or along the rail. The return trip from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui is also just as impressive. If you time it right in the evening, you can catch the full splendor of the A Symphony of Lights show. The 360-degree spectacle of laser beams striking the skyscrapers on either side of the harbor is one of the city’s free attractions and one of the most popular things to do at night in Hong Kong.
2. Skyline, Hong Kong
Hong Kong has one of the most impressive and recognizable skylines in the world. The dense collection of skyscrapers, both on the island of Hong Kong and in Kowloon, combined with the surrounding mountains and harbor set this city apart. In the harbor, traditional red-sailed Chinese junk boats and the historic Star Ferry contrast sharply with the backdrop of modern high-rises. At night, the skyline changes character completely as the sky darkens and the city lights fill the scene. Two of the best places in Hong Kong to see the skyline are from the top of Victoria Peak or from the Kowloon waterfront (along the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade near the clock tower), not far from the Star Ferry dock, where benches line the waterfront and look across to Hong Kong. The latter location is the best place to watch the nightly A Symphony of Lights laser and light show set to music.
3. Victoria Peak (The Peak), Hong Kong
You haven’t seen the best of Hong Kong until you’ve taken in the skyline from Victoria Peak, more commonly known as The Peak. Ride the tram to the top of this scenic viewpoint to see the skyscrapers, bustling city, harbor, and surrounding islands. The tram station is located near the entrance to Hong Kong Park by the Murray building. At the top of the tram are the Peak Tower and Peak Galleria, with shops, restaurants, and an observation deck. Most of The Peak is covered by a large park with lush greenery, nature trails, and more beautiful lookouts with views over the thriving metropolis below. A trail also leads down from The Peak to the city below, following a mix of trails through the forest and sections of road here and there. It can be a bit confusing finding your way. See our article on Hong Kong hiking trails for more details.
Evening is a great time to visit The Peak, when you can see the spectacular skyline lit against the night sky. This is one of the best views in Hong Kong at night. If the tram line is long, or you want to go directly from your hotel, you can also take a taxi to the top.
4. Big Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha Statue), Hong Kong
The 34-meter-high “Big Buddha” sits above Lantau Island’s Po Lin monastery, which was a fairly secluded place until the statue was built in 1993. This is one of the largest Buddha statues of its kind in the world and took 12 years to complete. The size is astounding, both up close and seen from a distance. The setting here is also incredible, surrounded by the green forest and views out over the ocean and islands. Although you can take a bus, the best way to reach the Buddha is via the scenic Ngong Ping cable car, which takes you on a 5.7-kilometer, 25-minute ride over forest, water, and mountains. The ride terminates at the small tourist-focused Ngong Ping Village, which you’ll have to walk through before reaching the monastery and Big Buddha.
Once through the village, a huge set of stairs leads up to the base, but don’t be daunted. The walk up goes quickly, and the views from the base of the statue are well worth the effort. You can access the cable car from the MTR Tung Chung Station. Some people combine a trip to the Big Buddha with a stop at Tai O fishing village, 20 minutes away by bus, but still on Lantau Island. You can also pick up a Hong Kong Travel Pass Combo: MTR Pass, Ngong Ping Cable Car, and Big Buddha Tour, which will give you a one- to three-day MTR Pass (metro), round-trip cable car ride, and a guided tour of the Big Buddha. This is a good deal if you are planning on getting around by MTR during your stay in Hong Kong.
5. Wong Tai Sin Temple, Hong Kong
The Wong Tai Sin Temple is one of the newest in Hong Kong and also one of the most interesting. Located in Kowloon, the original temple was a private structure built in 1920. It was later replaced with a newer building in 1968, which is what visitors see today. The temple was built to honor the Taoist god Wong Tai Sin, whom locals regard as the bringer of good luck in horse-racing and a healer of illnesses. A festival is held at the temple in Wong Tai Sin’s name each fall.
The temple complex is made up of several buildings, including the Hall of Three Saints, the Good Wish Garden, and another hall dedicated to Confucius and his 72 disciples. Expect to see fortune-tellers in the large hall, as well as joss sticks and other offerings that visitors can use. It is customary for guests to leave a small donation toward the temple’s maintenance.
6. Repulse Bay and The Beaches, Hong Kong
Not everyone thinks of beaches when they think of Hong Kong, but you don’t have to go far to find some incredible soft-sand beach. The beach at Repulse Bay is the most popular in all of Hong Kong, with beautiful views and a great place for swimming, although it’s very non touristy. A day spent here is complemented with the luxury and style typical of Hong Kong itself. The street running along the oceanfront and overlooking the wide beach is lined with trendy restaurants and shops. Amalfitana is fun place to enjoy a pizza, with casual open-air dining looking over the beach.
Another nearby spot for a day at the beach is Big Wave Bay. Here, the water rolls in relatively gently to a large U-shaped cove with a splendid beach. This is a much more relaxed and casual atmosphere than at Repulse Bay. A popular outing is to walk part of the famous Dragon’s Back hike to Big Wave Bay and dip in the ocean for a swim. At the back of the beach, barbecues are often serving up seafood and other tasty treats. Buses and taxis are available to take you back to the city. Also worth checking out is scenic Shek O Beach. It’s easily accessible via public transit. For more details see our article on the best beaches in Hong Kong
7. Temple Street Night Market, Hong Kong
A stroll through the Temple Street Night Market is another one of those all-important things to do while you’re in Hong Kong. Located in Kowloon, this is the place to go to taste eclectic foods and to shop for bargains on everything from clothing and trinkets to electronics and household goods. Vendors sell gadgets of every shape and size, as well as jade jewelry and traditional Chinese crafts. The market gets going around 6pm, but vendors are often slow to get set up, so it’s best not to arrive too early. This is the best market for tourists in Hong Kong, but you can find a number of interesting street markets. See our article on Hong Kong street markets to learn about markets to explore by day. The MTR stop for the Temple Street Night Mark is Jordan Station, Exit A.
8. Disneyland, Hong Kong
Hong Kong Disneyland is located on Lantau Island. Here, you’ll find a wonderful world filled with fun and fantasy populated with the cast and characters from Disney movies. The park is divided into seven lands: Adventureland; Fantasyland; Toy Story Land; Tomorrowland; Grizzly Gulch; Mystic Point; and Main Street, U.S.A. Performances happen throughout the day in the various lands and feature everything from parades to musicals, right through to evening fireworks over the castle. Also on offer are a wide array of adventures, ranging from Jungle cruises to a trip to Tarzan’s Treehouse, as well as water-based fun at Liki Tiki.
You can reach this site on the MTR Disneyland Line, Disneyland Station. If you want to save yourself some time and hassle, pick up a Hong Kong Disneyland Admission with Transport. This comes with hotel pickup, general admission ticket, and an MTR pass to either Hong Kong or Kowloon to get you back at the end of the day.
9. Ocean Park, Hong Kong
As theme parks go, this one covers all the thrills you can handle in a day — a walk through old Hong Kong, roller coasters, a Grand Aquarium, and a look at rare and exotic wildlife. Ocean Park boasts a huge aquarium dome and offers a look at thousands of fish from 400 species, a Reef Tunnel, and a chance to get hands-on with sea stars and sea cucumbers. Above the sea, guests can partake in a Giant Panda Adventure, where they’ll see giant pandas, red pandas, and the endangered Chinese Giant Salamander. There are also special programs focused on the North and South Poles. Fun rides include the Mine Train, Raging River, Hair Raiser, and the Eagle. To reach Ocean Park, take the MTR South Island Line to Ocean Park Station.
10. Dragon’s Back Hike, Hong Kong
If you’ve had enough of the tight confines of Hong Kong and are ready for a little exercise, try escaping to the Dragon’s Back Hike. Hong Kong’s most popular hiking trail, this hike offers spectacular views out over the ocean, Big Wave Bay, Mount Collinson, Stanley, and Shek O. It’s a pleasant change from the buzz of the big city to hear birds singing, the sound of small waterfalls, and the leaves rattling in the ocean breeze.
The hike is relatively easy but be sure to start at Section 8 (bus stop To Tei Wan). From here, the walk takes you up a short distance and then is predominantly downhill with rolling sections to Big Wave Bay. Once you’ve reached Big Wave Bay, you have the option of catching a taxi or mini bus to nearby Shek O. Both areas have fantastic beaches for swimming, and Shek O has a variety of restaurants serving good seafood. Don’t forget to bring plenty of water and your bathing suit and towel on this hike. A swim to cool down followed by a fruit smoothie or ice-cream at the end of the hike is heavenly.