12 Hours in Hong Kong: How to Hit the Highlights

February 26, 2019


Hong Kong is a major international hub with hundreds of flights passing through it daily, many passengers on their way to another destination. The next time you’re passing through Hong Kong, why not add a long layover to your trip? You might wonder, how much can you really see in 12 hours in Hong Kong? 

With Hong Kong’s efficient public transportation options and compact size, you can see many of its main attractions in a short period of time. Join me as I walk you through a day of sightseeing and eating, covering many highlights of central Hong Kong.

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First Steps in Hong Kong

Before you leave Hong Kong International Airport:

  • Get cash out of an ATM – Hong Kong’s public transportation system operates on cash as do many local restaurants. It’s always good to have cash on-hand.
  • Purchase an Octopus card – This card is used to pay for public transportation and can be used to purchase items at convenience stores, restaurants, etc. 

For more information on these steps and transportation options in Hong Kong, check out my post '3 Important Steps for Arriving in Hong Kong'.

Getting to Hong Kong Island

To get downtown, take the Airport Express train to Hong Kong station (~30 minutes). You can pay for the Airport Express using Octopus (HK $110 one-way; HK $190 same-day round-trip). To save money, I usually purchase a mobile ticket on Klook.com (HK $76 one way; HK $136 round-trip). 

Once you arrive at Hong Kong Station, follow signs for Central Station MTR (Hong Kong's metro system), walking underground for several minutes. Then, take Exit K to leave the station and begin the tour.  

Click for tips on using the MTR in this Guide to Using Public Transportation in Hong Kong.

The Tour

Since your flight could arrive at any time, for the purpose of this tour, I’ll assume that you’re starting out in the morning - fresh(ish) and fully-caffeinated. If you're not starting the tour in the morning, you may need to switch up the order due to the opening hours of the sites. 

Walking Tour Maps

To help you navigate the city, I've included some maps. Click on each map to open the walking routes on Google maps. 

Statue Square to Peak Tram

Google map image of walking route from statue square to peak tram

Peak Tower to Victoria Peak Pavilion

Google map image of walk from Peak Tower to Victoria Peak Pavilion and Garden

Pedder St. to Dim Sum Square

Google map walking tour through Soho Hong Kong

Star Ferry to Kowloon Public Pier

Google map showing how to get to Star Ferry and Kowloon public pier

Statue Square

You'll begin the tour at Statue Square. This pedestrian square contains one of Hong Kong’s Declared Monuments - the Old Supreme Court Building, now the Court of Final Appeal of Hong Kong. This historic building offers a glimpse of Hong Kong’s architecture during early British rule. 

Statue Square Hong Kong Highlights

Old Supreme Court Building

I enjoy the contrast between it and the modern HSBC and Bank of China buildings looming behind it. Stroll through the park for a few minutes then head across the street and under the HSBC building.

St. John’s Cathedral

The next stop is St. John’s Cathedral - another Declared Monument of Hong Kong. The Cathedral Church of John the Evangelist was completed in 1849. It is one of the oldest surviving Western ecclesiastical building in Hong Kong. 

St. Johns Church Hong Kong

Go inside to admire the beautiful stained glass windows and tiled floors. I also really enjoy the painted blue ceiling. 

St. Johns Church interior

Victoria Peak Tram

Once you're finished, cross Garden Road to the Peak Tram, a funicular railway which climbs straight up the side of Victoria Peak. The Peak Tram gets quite crowded during the day with long queues, especially on weekends so arrive early.

I recommend taking the tram up to the peak then taking a bus back down to avoid waiting in another long queue to come back down.

Adult Fares: HK $32 (one-way); HK $45 (round-trip).

red tram for Victoria Peak

Peak Tram arriving at station - you can see how many people want to get on!

Tip:  Use your Octopus card to pay for your ride instead of buying a separate ticket. This should allow you to skip the part of the line to buy a ticket. When it’s really crowded and you have to wait across the street, you cannot skip that part of the line. Once you’re in the line on the same side of the street as the ticket booth, ask an attendant working the line whether you need to stand in line if you’re paying by Octopus. Usually they'll let you go through.

There are also many combo ticket options available which allow you to skip the line. They are more expensive and, in my opinion, probably not worth the extra money.

Victoria Peak

When you arrive at the Victoria Peak Upper Tram terminus (and escape the gift shop), exit the mall by going up one floor on the escalator and turning right towards Pacific Coffee. Once outside, turn left to walk along Findlay Road towards the Lion's Pavilion to admire the magnificent views of the Hong Kong and Kowloon skylines below. 

From this vantage point, you can really see how dense some neighborhoods are. However, you can also see the mountains and greenery surrounding the city where Hongkongers often go to escape on weekends.

View from Victoria Peak Hong Kong Highlight

If you’re up for a bit of a hike, walk up to Victoria Peak Garden and Pavilion (~1.3 km). From here, you’ll be able to see the southwestern side of Hong Kong Island, Lamma Island, as well as stunning views of South China Sea. 

view of Lamma Island from peak on cloudy day

On a clear day, you can see Lamma Island and other outer lying islands.

Have more time in Hong Kong? Check out my post 'Easy Day Trip from Hong Kong: Lamma Island'.

Bus to Central Hong Kong - Pedder Street

When you’re finished exploring, head to the bus terminal located across from the Peak Tower. Hop on the no. 15 bus to Central, swipe your Octopus card at the front (fare: HK $10.30), then try to snag the front seats upstairs for the best views. I like the bus because you get a tour of some of the neighborhoods in Hong Kong on your ride back to Central.

Depending on traffic, the bus ride will take ~30 minutes. The stops are announced and shown on the monitor at the front of the bus. Listen for the Pedder Street stop and push one of the ‘stop’ buttons located on the handrails to request the stop.

Pottinger Street

When you exit the bus, follow the map to Pottinger Street or “Stone Slab Street” which is translated from the Chinese name. This steep street was paved with stone slab steps to make it easier to walk on and has drains on the sides to allow rainwater to flow down. Walk up this street for 2 blocks until you reach Wellington Street.

Pottinger Street Central Hong Kong

Stone Slab Street

Lunchtime

As you stroll down Wellington, you'll notice many places to stop and grab a bite to eat. I recommend Mak’s Noodle, a well-known, traditional wonton noodle shop that has been around for generations.

My favorites at Mak’s are 1) wonton and dumpling soup and 2) beef brisket and wonton noodle soup.

wonton noodle soup with spoon

Wonton Noodle Soup

beef brisket and noodles in soup

Beef Brisket Noodle Soup

Other spots I like on Wellington are:

  • Wang Fu – Beijing-style noodles and dumplings.
  • Butao Ramen - I love the Green King which is infused with olive oil and basil leaves and topped with Parmesan cheese. Sounds weird, but it's delicious!
  • BEP Vietnamese Kitchen - You can't go wrong with a tasty bowl of pho. 

Next, get your coffee fix next door at Cupping Room. Or, perhaps try some Taiwanese bubble tea at one of the shops (TenRen's Tea or Sharetea) on Cochrane Street.

For more ideas on where to eat in Hong Kong, check out this post with 22 restaurant suggestions!

 Mid-Levels Escalators

After caffeinating, continue your tour by climbing up the stairs to get on the Central Mid-Levels Escalators – the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator system.

Since many people literally live “up the hill” from the Central Business District, it's a commuter's dream. It either speeds up their commute by enabling them to walk faster or allows them to stand still playing games on their phones.

Mid-Levels Escalators Central Hong Kong

The escalators are one of my favorite things in Hong Kong. Commuter or no, during hot summer days when just standing outside melts me into a pool of sweat, it's nice not to have to walk up that hill!

As with the MTR, be sure to stand on the right side of the escalators since people will want to walk past you on the left side.

Tai Kwun - Centre for Heritage and Arts

After ascending two travelators, you'll get to Tai Kwun - Centre for Heritage and Arts, situated in the restored Central Police Station compound.

Opened to the public in summer 2018 after a 10-year revitalization project, the original structures of the compound date back to the mid-1800s. The site includes three Declared Monuments – the former Central Police Station, Central Magistracy, and Victoria Prison.

Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts Hong Kong

Police Headquarters Block in Tai Kwun

Admire the historical buildings around the Parade Ground, then head up the stairs to the jail cells. Be sure to check out the jail cell exhibition which gives a brief overview of prisoner life at the compound.

Pro Tip: Tai Kwun has various programs and exhibitions throughout the year. To find out what's happening when you'll be in Hong Kong, check the Tai Kwun website

Then head up to the prison yard where contemporary buildings and artwork are juxtaposed with the historical compound.

Hollywood Road Antique Shops and Art Galleries

After visiting Tai Kwun, exit and walk down towards Hollywood Road. Hollywood Road is the second oldest street in Hong Kong and is lined with antique shops, art galleries, and other boutique stores. Wander down it and stop to shop as you like! 

Man Mo Temple

After several blocks on Hollywood Road, you’ll reach Man Mo Temple, one of the oldest temples in Hong Kong and another Declared Monument.

Man Mo temple Hong Kong

The temple was built in the mid-1800s and dedicated to the Civil God “Man” and the Martial God “Mo”. People still visit the Man Mo Temple to pray or seek blessings from these and other gods worshipped in the temple.

Man Mo Temple Interior Hong Kong

The incense in this temple can be overpowering, so if strong scents bother you, you might need to be quick about your visit. The temple closes at 6:00 pm so be sure to arrive before then if you wish to go inside.

Upper Lascar Row (Cat Street)

If you’re looking for souvenirs, head down the stairs across from Man Mo Temple to Upper Lascar Row or Cat Street market.

Here you'll find a variety of items from antiques to cheap jade bracelets and other trinkets. Finish up your shopping and continue down the stairs to Queen’s Road. 

Cat Street Central Hong Kong Highlights

Dim Sum

You cannot visit Hong Kong without having dim sum and Dim Sum Square is one of my favorites. To get there, follow the map and wind your way through the narrow streets of Sheung Wan neighborhood.

I love their crispy pork buns which have a sweet, crispy topping and a savory, delicious BBQ pork filling. Their golden spongy cake (a Hong Kong specialty) is also really tasty here - slightly sweeter than others I've had.

crispy BBQ pork buns held with chopsticks

Our favorite - crispy BBQ pork buns

dim sum with rice rolls, bun, dumplings and cake in hong kong

Dim sum feast - 2 types of steamed rice rolls, Shrimp Crystal Dumplings, Golden Spongy Cake, Crispy BBQ pork buns

Tram Ride on Des Veoux Road

After filling your belly with delicious dim sum, head towards Des Voeux Road and hop on a tram (also called ding ding for the sound the bell makes) heading east. Since 1904, the ding ding has been transporting passengers around Hong Kong Island. 

If you have time, riding the tram is a cheap (HK $2.60) and easy way to experience the city. It saves you from having to worry about running into people on the sidewalks as you gawk at the sights! Even though it's slower ride than the MTR, I still hop on it whenever I get the chance.

Tram in Hong Kong

Ride for a couple of stops until you’re back at Pedder Street, scan your Octopus card as you disembark, then follow signs towards the Central Ferry Piers.

Star Ferry

At the piers, use your Octopus card to get on the Star Ferry (Central Pier no. 7) and choose the upper deck (HK $2.70 - HK $3.70). Operating since the late 1800s, the Star Ferry is a cheap and scenic way of crossing the harbor between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon and takes approximately 10 minutes. 

Star Ferry with Hong Kong Skyline

Star Ferry crossing Victoria Harbour

Tsim Sha Tsui

Once you disembark, head towards the Clock Tower and the Kowloon Public Pier. Along the pier, you’ll be able to enjoy sweeping views of the Hong Kong skyline.

By 6:30pm or so, all of the buildings should be lit up and you’ll be able to capture those iconic Hong Kong skyline lights.

Hong Kong night skyline

Farewell to Hong Kong

If you're only on a short layover in Hong Kong, it's probably around time for you to be heading back to the airport.

To get back to the airport, hop on the Star Ferry to cross the harbor again and walk back along the elevated walkway that you used to get to the ferry. Instead of heading back into town, enter the tall IFC building on your right. This mall/office building/hotel sits atop Hong Kong Station. Once inside, follow signs for the Airport Express and back to the airport you go!

Planning a Trip to Hong Kong

If you are staying in Hong Kong beyond a short layover (which I highly recommend!), then you should explore some of the outlying islands and other neighborhoods beyond Hong Kong Island and TST.

In fact, one of the best things about Hong Kong is the accessibility of beautiful nature and country parks so close to the urban core. 

Helpful Articles for a Visit to Hong Kong

Use these overview articles to help you start planning for your trip to Hong Kong:

Start Searching for a Place to Stay in Hong Kong

Trying to find the perfect hotel in Hong Kong or to get idea of what to budget for accommodations? Use the map below to start your search! Filter by your individual preferences and input your travel dates to see what places are available and what their nightly rates are. 

This map shows both hotels and VRBO (vacation rental by owner) accommodations. Click on a property in which you're interested to go to either Booking.com or VRBO to read reviews and to book your stay.

Final Thoughts

Hong Kong has a wealth of beauty to see whether you have a short layover or plan to spend a few days. Hopefully this article has given you a taste of what you can see in Hong Kong in 12 hours and maybe convinces you stay stay longer!

Happy travels! 


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