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Things to do in Hong Kong – a First Timer’s Travel Guide

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Hong Kong had been on our travel list for a very long time and after spending a week exploring the city, we were not disappointed. In fact, we wish we had booked a longer stay as we didn’t get to see everything on our list!

This captivating city is a fascinating mix of east and west, with an incredible food scene. We have compiled everything we did over the week into this blog to inspire anyone visiting Hong Kong for the first time.

Things to do in Hong Kong:

Take the tram up to Victoria Peak

Escape the hustle of Hong Kong and take the tram up Victoria Peak to marvel at incredible views of the bay, either by day or night. It is possible to walk up to the peak but as we had an iVenture Card which included this as part of the package (combined with the fact we were only in Hong Kong for a short period), the tram was the best way for us to ascend.

Note that during peak periods such as just after the night time light show, the queue for the tram can be over an hours wait!

Things to do in Hong Kong - a First Timer's Travel Guide Blog Post
View from the peak. Bag by MiaTui

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. We also opted to grab a coffee and snack from Pacific Coffee right next to where the tram arrives, as the views seemed the best of any food and drink outlets there (as did the prices). 

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

Ride the Star 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 the upper deck from $2.70 HKD (around 25p) to get a better glimpse of the skyscrapers whilst sailing across the harbour.

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

Watch the Symphony of Lights

This nightly ‘multimedia’ light show (every evening from 8pm) has been taking place across the harbour since 2004 (although whether it has been updated since then is debatable as it does feel a little dated now). If you are ‘vertically challenged or want to avoid getting stuck behind metre-long selfie sticks and tripods (trust us on this!), make sure you get there early to secure your spot.

The best place to trip the light fantastic is immediately in front of the clock tower, on the southern shore of Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon – although once you’ve seen it, you probably won’t need to again.

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

Visit Man Mo Temple

Built in 1847, this serene temple pays tribute to the God of Literature (‘Man’) and the God of War (Mo’), and became a Grade I listed building in 2009 (why so long?) and is now preserved as a ‘Declared Monument’ – it also the largest ‘Man Mo’ temple in Hong Kong.

We visited one mid-week afternoon and it was surprisingly quiet and easy to photograph – the smoking red incense coils were very atmospheric.  Randomly, the night before we visited, we saw it feature in the Jackie Chan movie ‘The Protector’ (the temple is much better in real life!)

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

Explore Mong Kok’s markets

Marvel at a multitude of market stalls amongst this crowded Kowloon outpost – even if you aren’t a shopper (we didn’t buy anything here), it is worth paying this area a visit to see what is available, from goldfish stalls to jade, through to watches and retro toys.

The main markets to explore are:

  • Fa Yuen Street Market – eclectic, almost flea-market in style
  • The Ladies Market – clothes and jewellery
  • 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

Note that some of the stall-holders aren’t keen to be photographed so do make sure you ask permission before you start snapping away (or else risk a broom to your ear).

Things to do in Hong Kong - a First Timer's Travel Guide Blog Post
Ladies Market
Things to do in Hong Kong - a First Timer's Travel Guide blog
Temple Street Market
Things to do in Hong Kong - a First Timer's Travel Guide blog
Goldfish Market

Eat a cheap Michelin star meal at Tim Ho Wan

One of the cheapest and most delicious meals we had in Hong Kong was at the chain restaurant Tim Ho Wan (we ate here 3 times). The branch in the Sham Shui Po neighbourhood where we were staying has been awarded a Michelin star (although I’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.

P.S. The baked bun with BBQ pork is AMAZING, and you would be insane not to order this dish!

Ride the Cable Car to Lantau Island and visit the Big Buddha

I like ‘Big Buddha’, I cannot lie (apologies to anyone below the age of 30). Lantau Island is approx 30 kilometres away from the mainland but easily reachable since the introduction of the cable car in 2006 (take the MRT to Tung Chung station to reach the ticket office).

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.

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

Upon arrival, you will walk through various tourist activities (Virtual Reality and 4 dimensional games seem all the rage here – how very 1990’s!) before climbing up 268 steps to view the 34 metre high Tian Tan Buddha statue (informally known as the Big Buddha), erected back in 1993 (and taking 12 years to build).

The nearby Po Lin Monastery is also worth a visit – and if you are hungry after climbing all those stairs, there are several vegetarian restaurants in operation run by the local people and monks.

Eat like a local in Sham Shui Po

Sham Shui Po is a vibrant and up-and-coming working class neighbourhood, famous for it’s multiple electronics stores and a fantastic food scene. We booked a room at the YHA hostel here and loved staying in this really authentic local area.

If like me you absolutely love trying new cuisines then I would highly recommend booking yourself onto a food tour in Sham Shui Po. I enjoyed a morning culinary experience with Hong Kong Foodie, where a local guide took a small group to decades-old small mom and pop eateries in the neighbourhood. We got to try 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 4 hours and you’ll also learn a bit about the history and culture of the Sham Shui Po.

Tip: Book your food tour at the start of your trip so that if you like any of the places you visit, you can then return to them again!

Tasting local dishes on a Hong Kong Foodie tour

Ride the ding ding

Once you’ve ticked off the Star Ferry, the other trusted and traditional form of transport you need to try on the island are the ‘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).

Fares are ridiculously cheap ($2.6HKD or 25p) but as you have to pay your fee by dropping coins into a slot by the driver at the front as you depart, make sure you have the right change (or as close to as possible) before getting on.

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

Although the trams are quite limited in terms of where they go (the tramway runs on Hong Kong Island between Kennedy Town and Shau Kei Wan), it is great fun to sit at the front of the top deck and soak in the sights of the city) plus we found the ‘ding dings’ the best way to get back from the Happy Valley racetrack after the Wednesday night races (see below).

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

Search for street art in Soho

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.

Ride the world’s longest escalator

Reputedly the longest covered outdoor escalator in the world (are there any other contenders?), this is a fun and free way to see a different side of Hong Kong, as you ascend 800m (on a 130m elevation) on the belt up several sections (you can jump off along the way as there are lots of restaurants and areas to explore).

The most entertaining part was watching the Deliveroo drivers use it to deliver fast-food. When we visited, parts of the escalator were closed for refurbishment (so it gives us a good excuse to return again another year for the full ‘escalator experience’).

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

Take the ferry over to Macau, China

If you have a spare day in your schedule then I would recommend heading over to Macau in China for the day (the ferry ride there is only 1 hour away). 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. A day should be enough if you leave Hong Kong very early in the morning, but if you want more time to explore then consider an overnight stay.

Read our blog post about our day trip to Macau >

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

Spend a night at the Happy Valley Racecourse

Our visit to Honkers (luckily) coincided with one of the ‘Happy Wednesday’ evenings held at the Happy Valley racetrack – an evening of horse-racing and lots of entertainment and bar / drinks offers. The night we visited was ‘Japanese’ themed so there were lots of Japanese food stalls as well as the usual fare like hotdogs and McDonalds (all of the Maccas meal deals names were horse-raced themed, something I’d not seen anywhere else before).

Entry is only $1 (10p) so even if horse-racing isn’t your thing, go to soak up the atmosphere and illuminated cityscape, grab a beer, enjoy the entertainment before getting a Ding Ding back to the harbour.

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

Hiking in Hong Kong

There are so many great walks in Hong Kong whether you are a beginner or an experienced hiker. Some of the best include Dragon’s Back, Po Toi Island, Razor’s Edge Ridge and Wan Chai Green trail.


Purchase an iVenture card

If you are planning on seeing a lot in the city then you should check out the activities and attractions the Hong Kong iVenture card has to offer to save yourself some money! The pass includes free entry onto the famous Victoria Peak tram, the Lantau Island cable car, hop-on hop-off buses, the sky100 observation deck and many more.

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

I used the 3 day pass during my stay which covered attractions in both Hong Kong and nearby Macau. My best advice from using this pass is to plan your days/itinerary well to maximise it’s benefits to the fullest – you are not able to just rock up to the front desk to get in – for example, the Victoria Peak tram requires you to go to a travel agency 10 minutes away to pick up the ticket and is open from 9am-7pm.

If you make sure you read the small print of each attraction carefully then this pass is a really great purchase.


Getting around Hong Kong

Purchasing an Octopus Card is essential when you arrive in Hong Kong. The Octopus card is a contactless pay-as-you-go smartcard and a convenient way to pay to get around on public transport (MRT, Tram and Bus networks) – plus the MTR fares using Octopus are usually cheaper than buying a single journey ticket.

You can also use the card as a payment method in many retail and fastfood outlets. The card comes with a refundable deposit of HK$50, which will be returned to you together with the remaining value when you return it. You can prepurchase one for pick up at the airport when you arrive to use on the Airport Express train.

Another different way to get around the city is by purchasing a Big Bus pass for the open top sightseeing buses. We used the Deluxe Ticket which enabled us to use the hop-on hop-off bus pass for two days over three different routes, plus included many added extras: a samphan boat ride, a 1 hour harbour boat tour, 2 star ferry return tickets, Victoria Peak Tram or sky100 Observation deck and a night time tour.

Things to do in Hong Kong - a First Timer's Travel Guide blog
Exploring Kowloon on the Big Bus 

Hong Kong accommodation

Accommodation in Hong Kong is not cheap at all. We were travelling on a rather tight budget, so after much research we decided to book a private room at the YHA in the vibrant district of Sham Shui Po. We chose this hostel as it had many excellent reviews and good nearby transport links. We were really happy with our stay here and loved the local area.

Budget

Some other hostel accommodations that come highly rated include:

Mojo Nomad Aberdeen Harbour /Rainbow Lodge HK / Hop Inn on Mody

Mid range

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

Hotel Stage / Madera Hong Kong / Royal Plaza Hotel

Treat yourself!

Alternatively if you are looking for something more special then treat yourself to a stay at one of these beautiful hotels in Hong Kong:

The Ritz Carlton / Four Seasons Hong Kong / Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong


Pocket WIFI rental in Hong Kong

Having a pocket wifi device was super handy during our trip. We pre-ordered one online with KK Day and collected/dropped off the device at Hong Kong’s international airport. The rental cost was pretty cheap at only £2.60 per day, and we were both able to connect our phones to it. 

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

Other Asia blog posts


Disclosure: The iVenture Card, 360 cable car passes and Big Bus passes were gifted, but as always, opinions are all our own.​

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