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Hong Kong 3 days itinerary – the perfect Hong Kong layover

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Hong Kong should be high on your hit-list for travel in 2021. A modern mecca of high-rise buildings complimented by traditional temples with a hotch-potch of hawker centres and street food finds make this one our favourite destinations in South East Asia. This 3 day Hong Kong itinerary takes in Hong Kong Island itself, the excitement of Kowloon plus Lantau Island, complete with charming coastal and mountain views (plus one of the biggest Buddha statues you’ll ever see).

Here is why you should head on over to Hong Kong, even if only for several days as part of a stopover:

Hong Kong 3 days itinerary - the perfect Hong Kong layover

Skip to the Hong Kong 3 days itinerary >


Quick guide to the two Hong Kong districts

Hong Kong is made up of several islands, but the two main neighbourhoods to stay in and explore are Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Hong Kong Island is the more expensive part of the city with upscale shopping, the financial district and some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world. Kowloon is an older neighbourhood with more authentic traditional Chinese buildings, cheaper accommodation and markets.


Hong Kong itinerary – when is the best time to visit Hong Kong?

Hong Kong is pretty much an all year-round destination with autumn considered the best time of year to visit.

Autumn (September to November)
Moderate temperatures and low humidity, with few rainy days.

Winter (December to February)
The weather is comfortably cool with clear skies and hardly any rain. Days are sunny but evenings tend to be quite chilly.

Spring (March to May)
Weather is starting to get a little warmer and it can get a little humid. Half the days of the month see spring showers.

Summer (June to August)
Summer is probably the least favourable time of year to visit with intense but tolerable heat. Hong Kong’s famous typhoons can also make their appearance during this time of the year.


Hong Kong transport

Purchasing an Octopus Card is essential when you arrive in Hong Kong. The Octopus card is a contactless pay as you go smart card and a convenient way to pay to get around the city on public transport (MTR, bus, ferry, coach, and tram). Pre-order your Octopus Card with Klook and collect at the airport when you arrive so you can use it straight away on the Airport Express train. You can also use the card as a payment method in many retail and fast food outlets.

Subway (MTR)

Hong Kong’s subway system is generally considered to be one of the best in the world, and is super easy to use as the signs, announcements and calls are all in English. There are 11 different subway lines connecting Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, plus attractions such as Hong Kong Disneyland. Download the MTR app to plan your journey.

Trams

The iconic double decker ‘ding ding’ trams (so-called because of the noise the trams make when you signal them to stop by pulling on a cord or pressing a buzzer) are ridiculously cheap to use. Fares are $2.6HKD (25p) and run along Hong Kong Island between Shau Kei Wan and Kennedy Town.

Hong Kong 3 days itinerary - the perfect Hong Kong layover
Ding Ding tram

Ferry

No trip to Hong Kong is complete without going for a trip across the harbour on a Star Ferry. Starting from only $2.20 HKD (around 20p) for a one-way trip, it has to be one of the most beautiful, yet cheap ferry trips you’ll ever do whilst on your travels. If you are feeling flush, you can treat yourself to a ride on the upper deck for $2.70 HKD (around 25p) to get a better glimpse of the skyscrapers whilst sailing across the harbour.

Hong Kong 3 days itinerary - the perfect Hong Kong layover
Star Ferry

Where to stay on your Hong Kong layover

Accommodation can be fairly expensive in Hong Kong so be prepared to pay a little more than you would like to for a decent room. There are usually lots of super cheap rooms available in the hotels and hostels located inside the Chungking Mansions building, but we’ve heard some awful stories from other travellers about their stays there, so our advice is don’t!

Budget hostels

Hostels that come highly rated include:

YHA Mei Ho House
This was our favourite hostel to stay at in Hong Kong. Located in the vibrant district of Sham Shui Po, Mei Ho House is a Grade II historic building with large private rooms, courtyard, garden, cafe, mini store, laundry and free breakfast.

Mojo Nomad Aberdeen Harbour 
Highly rated hostel set in a high-rise building overlooking the picturesque Aberdeen Harbour with private rooms / dorms, bar and co-working spaces.

Rainbow Lodge HK 
Hostel with dorm rooms in a central location within walking distance of the Avenue of Stars and the Star Ferry Pier.

Hop Inn on Mody
Highly rated award winning hostel nestled among 5 star hotels with both private rooms and dorms and communal spaces.

Mid range

If you are looking for something mid range then these hotels are in excellent locations with great reviews:

Hotel Stage 
Modern hotel with city views located a 5 minute walk from Temple Street Night Market and a 3 mInute walk from the MRT.

Madera Hong Kong 
Luxurious boutique hotel in the heart of Kowloon with a fitness centre and a 270-degree viewpoint Horizonte Lounge.

Royal Plaza Hotel
Hotel located in Mongkok atop the Mong Kok East MTR Station, with buffet restaurant, gym, outdoor swimming pool, hot tubs and sauna and direct access to MOKO shopping mall.

Treat yourself!

Alternatively if you are looking for something more special then splurge on one of these beautiful hotels in Hong Kong:

The Ritz Carlton 
Sky-high luxurious rooms offering panoramic views of Victoria Harbour. Facilities include the highest bar in the world and 5 restaurants including 2 Michelin Star.

Four Seasons Hong Kong 
Rooms and suites with floor-to-ceiling windows offering panoramic views of Victoria Harbour, Victoria Peak and Kowloon, and home to 2 Michelin award-winning restaurants.

Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong
Elegant rooms overlooking Victoria Harbour with 8 dining options including Michelin Star restaurant Mandarin Grill+Bar, and a spa and fitness centre.


Pocket WIFI rental in Hong Kong

Having a pocket WIFI device was super handy during our trip. You can pre-order one online and collect/drop off the device at Hong Kong’s international airport. The rental cost was pretty cheap at around £2.60 per day, and we were both able to connect our phones to it. 


Hong Kong 3 days layover itinerary

Hong Kong 3 day itinerary Day 1: Hong Kong Island

For the first day of the Hong Kong 3 days itinerary, we recommend exploring the sights and streets on Hong Kong Island. Highlights include:

Man Mo Temple
One of Hong Kong’s oldest temples is an excellent example of Qing dynasty architecture, with an atmospheric and traditional interior, plus hundreds of smoking incense spirals overhead.

Hong Kong 3 days itinerary - the perfect Hong Kong layover
Man Mo Temple

BOOK IT: Hello Hong Kong Walking Tour >


Cat Street Market
Famous street with a busy antique and junk market located on Upper Lascar Row.

Central Mid-levels Escalators
This walkway system is the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator system used to transport commuters through Hong Kong’s hilly terrain. The entire ride from bottom to top takes about 20 minutes, and travels downwards from 6-10am and upwards from 10am-midnight.

Hong Kong 3 days itinerary - the perfect Hong Kong layover
Central Mid-levels Escalators

Dai pai dongs
Eating at a dai pai dong is a quintessential Hong Kong food experience. They are open air street food stalls/restaurants that used to be popular in Hong Kong, but only 25 of them now exist in the city. Check out Sing Heung Yuen, which is famous for it’s signature tomato noodle soup and crispy buns with lemon and honey.

Tsim Chai Kee
This famous Hong Kong style wonton noodle shop only serves noodles and sides and was one of our favourite places we ate at on our last trip here. This small casual restaurant is super popular so be prepared to queue during peak hours.

Tsim Chai Kee

PMQ
Boutique shopping space in a grade III listed building where old residential units have been converted into small independent shops, design studios, fashion stores, cafés, restaurants and tea houses.

Street art
If you are a fan of street art then head over to the small lanes in Hong Kong’s SoHo neighbourhood to seek out some of the city’s quirkiest murals and graffiti. There are a few companies that arrange walking tours – Klook has a Central Street Art & “Eat Pray Art” half day tour if you want to learn more about the techniques and the stories behind the pieces of artwork.

Hong Kong 3 days itinerary - the perfect Hong Kong layover
SoHo street art

Victoria Peak for sunset

Head up to the top of Victoria Peak around mid-late afternoon in time for sunset. The views of Hong Kong’s skyline are incredible and the most iconic way to reach the top is by taking the famous tram (journey time: 7 minutes, cost 37HKD). Lines to board the tram are normally very long (sometimes up to 2 hours wait), so be prepared to queue for a while to board or pre-book a skip the line ticket with Klook. Alternatively visit Victoria Peak first thing in the morning when the queues are smaller (trams start at 7am).

Hong Kong 3 days itinerary - the perfect Hong Kong layover
View from Victoria Peak at night

If you don’t want to take the tram then you can also take bus number 15 all the way to the top from the Exchange Square Central Bus Terminus (buses start at 10am). The journey takes 45 minutes and roads are very windy roads, so it might not be a good option for people who suffer from motion sickness.

Whilst at the top, you can visit the official viewing deck but we found the free viewpoint from Lion’s Pavilion was just as good, and if you turn right once you reach the peak and walk for 10 minutes there is also another excellent viewing spot. Note: if the weather isn’t looking too great then you might want to reschedule your trip for a less cloudy day as the views will be a bit disappointing! The Victoria Peak webcam is quite handy to see what it’s looking like weather wise up there!

Symphony of Lights – 8pm

After the sun sets, head back down the hill and cross over the harbour on the Star Ferry to the southern shore of Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon in time for the 15 minute Symphony of Lights show at 8pm. This nightly ‘multimedia’ show lights up the skyscrapers on either side of Victoria Harbour light up whilst orchestral music plays.

Things to do in Hong Kong - a First Timer's Travel Guide Blog Post

Junk Boat

Alternatively you can watch the Symphony of Lights show aboard an iconic traditional Chinese junk boat in Victoria Harbour. The trip starts at 7.30pm so allow plenty of time to get there (queues to descend Victoria Peak by tram can be very long). BOOK IT: Symphony of Lights Chinese Cruise Tour with Drink >

Things to do in Hong Kong - a First Timer's Travel Guide Blog Post

Dinner and drinks

End the evening with a meal at one of Hong Kong’s Michelin star restaurants or a drink at a rooftop bar. The Ozone Bar at the Ritz Carlton Hotel is the highest bar in the world (located on the 118th floor) with unobstructed and incredible views (but VERY pricey drinks). Ozone is open Thursday – Sunday with a strict dress code.

If you are looking for some good nightlife neighbourhoods then SoHo has a variety of bars and restaurants, while Lan Kwai Fong is the go to place for late night bars and night clubs.

If you are on a budget then sorry to say, Hong Kong is one of the most expensive cities in the world to buy alcohol in a bar! We would recommend getting your beers from one of the several cheap 7-Eleven convenience stores dotted around town and drinking them by the river. Many restaurants in town also offer all you can eat menus for around 110 HKD if you are looking for a cheap and filling meal.


Hong Kong itinerary day 2: Kowloon

For the second day of the Hong Kong 3 days itinerary, we recommend exploring the sights of Kowloon. The attractions are a bit more spread out than Hong Kong island but there are very good MTR metro connections.

Sham Shui Po food tour

We recommend starting the day with a morning food tour in the interesting local neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po in old Kowloon (this is where we stayed on our last visit). We booked a tour with Hong Kong Foodie, and got to taste traditional dishes in various spots around town including a bustling breakfast cafe, dessert place, dumpling house, bakery and an award-winning family-run noodle restaurant (where Anthony Bourdain once visited). The food tour lasts around 3 hours and you’ll also learn a bit about the history and culture of Sham Shui Po.

Sham Shui Po
Foods we tried on the food tour

After the food tour finishes spend the afternoon and evening exploring some of the sights of Kowloon. Here are some attraction suggestions:

Choi Hung Estate
This public housing estate is super popular with Instagrammers who all flock to take identical photos of the rainbow-coloured homes for their feed. It is one of the oldest and most famous public housing estates and houses over 18,000 people. The basketball courts on the roof of the car park is apparently the best spot to take photos.

Choi Hung Estate – Image by Unsplash

Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden
Chi Lin Nunnery is a large Buddhist temple complex located in Diamond Hill next to the pretty and tranquil Nan Lian Garden. The garden showcases traditional Chinese landscaping techniques and includes a golden Pavilion, koi-filled ponds, waterfalls and ornamental rocks. Both are free to enter, and there is a vegetarian restaurant and tea house onsite.

MongKok daytime markets
Marvel at a multitude of market stalls amongst this crowded Kowloon outpost – even if you aren’t a shopper, it is worth paying this area a visit to experience local life and enjoy some of the best street food in Hong Kong. The main markets to explore are:

  • Fa Yuen Street Market – eclectic, almost flea-market in style
  • The Ladies Market – clothes and accessories
  • Goldfish Market – no prizes for guessing what they sell here
  • Flower Market Road – the go to place for all your seasonal flower needs
  • Bird Market – hundreds of small caged birds (best to avoid if you don’t like to see captive birds)
  • Shanghai Street – kitchen equipment and domestic gear galore
Things to do in Hong Kong - a First Timer's Travel Guide blog
Goldfish Market

Nathan Road
Known as the Golden Mile, this noisy and busy 2 mile neon lit stretch links Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront to Sham Shui Po and is filled with malls, temples, hotels, offices and dim sum restaurants. The more upmarket shopping can be found on nearby Canton Road. Be wary of the fakes in the electronic department stores though.

Chungking Mansions
Located at 36–44 Nathan Road, this huge 15-floor concrete building is made up of 5 blocks housing a maze of independent budget hotels and shops, and was the subject of the film Chungking Express in 1994. It is said to be the best place in the city to get affordable Indian and African food, cheap (but dodgy) electronics and currency exchange, but definitely not the best place to stay overnight due to it’s seedy reputation.

Harbour City shopping mall
This is one of the largest malls in Hong Kong and has over 450 shops, 50 restaurants, two cinemas, three hotels and a luxurious private club.

Kowloon Park
One of the biggest public parks in Hong Kong with more than 13 square hectares of grounds. Attractions include a bird lake and aviary (with pink flamingos!), indoor and outdoor swimming pool and Chinese gardens.

Temple Street night market
In the evening head over to Temple Street Market which is the largest market in Hong Kong. The markets runs from 5pm-11pm and sells a variety of goods including clothes, bags, shoes, watches, DVDs, home furnishings and souvenirs.

BOOK IT: Good Evening Kowloon Walking Tour and Ladies Market & Temple Street Night Market Tour

Things to do in Hong Kong - a First Timer's Travel Guide Blog Post
Temple Street night market

Hong Kong itinerary day 3: Lantau Island

Lantau Island

For the final day of the Hong Kong 3 days itinerary, we recommend heading to the epic Lantau Island! This is the largest island in Hong Kong and possibly the most beautiful. Attractions on Lantau Island include the Tian Tin Big Buddha at Ngong Ping monastery, the 360 cable car (which is also the best way to get to the monastery), Po Lin monastery and Tai O fishing village.

Lantau Island is approx 30 kilometres away from the mainland but easily reachable since the introduction of the cable car in 2006. To get to the cable car station take the MRT to Tung Chung station. We highly recommend booking your cable car ticket online in advance to avoid the long queues at the ticket office. BOOK IT: Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car Ticket >

Things to do in Hong Kong - a First Timer's Travel Guide blog

The cable car station can be very busy with tour groups so we would recommend paying a little extra to skip the line and become a ‘VIP’. There are also two different types of cabin (we went for the ‘crystal cabin’ which had a transparent floor). The journey is stunning, swooping over hills and harbours with the added bonus being you can see the newly opened bridge to Macau.

Day trip to Macau

Alternatively if you do not want to visit Lantau Island, you could spend the third day of your 3 day Hong Kong itinerary visiting Macau in China for the day. The high speed ferry ride to Macau is 1 hour, and the city is a mix of the historic (the old town is a UNESCO listed site) juxtaposed against the glitz and glamour of China’s very own Las Vegas. Read more about our day trip to Macau >

BOOK IT: Macau Sightseeing Day Tour 

Things to do in Hong Kong - a First Timer's Travel Guide blog

Dinner at Tim Ho Wan

End the final day of your Hong Kong itinerary with a meal at the famous chain restaurant Tim Ho Wan for a cheap and delicious dim sum meal. There are two branches in Kowloon, but the one located in the Sham Shui Po neighbourhood is said to have been awarded a Michelin star (although we’ve heard the rating system is a little corrupt!).

Around 6 – 7 dim sum dishes should be enough food for 2 people and will only set you back around $16 USD. You MUST order the baked BBQ pork buns – they are incredible and we still dream about them to this day.

BOOK IT: Traditional Dim Sum set meal at Tim Ho Wan in Sham Shui Po >


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