Hong Kong is a city that has it all! Bustling urban markets, beautiful temples, lush wilderness, easily-accessible beaches, and great food. When planning a visit to Hong Kong, I recommend incorporating a little of everything into your itinerary.
This will not only keep you from getting overwhelmed by the densely-populated urban areas, but will show you all that Hong Kong has to offer and what makes it such an incredible city.
1) Take Peak Tram to Victoria Peak
One of the best spots to find those iconic views of the Hong Kong and Kowloon skylines is on Victoria Peak. Though you can get to the lookout area by bus or by hiking, taking the Peak Tram is a unique experience. Operating for over 100 years, this funicular railway climbs 396 m (~1,300 ft) above sea level to reach its terminus in ~10 minutes.
Once you arrive at the upper terminus, go up one level then turn left to exit the Peak Galleria at the doors by Pacific Coffee. Turn left to walk along Findlay Road to the Lions Pavilion which is great spot to take photos.
If you'd like to climb to the top of Victoria Peak, head back towards the mall and turn left up Mount Austin Rd. It's a steep climb, but at the top you'll find Victoria Peak Garden - a peaceful oasis - as well as beautiful views of the South China Sea and Lamma Island.
Getting there: To get to the lower Peak Tram terminus, take the MTR to Central station, exit K then follow signs towards the Peak Tram. Arriving early will help you avoid long queues, but be prepared to wait especially on weekends. I recommend taking a bus down from Victoria Peak to avoid tram queues for the return journey.
Pro Tips: 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.
2) Visit Man Mo Temple
Located in the heart of Central's Soho district, Man Mo Temple is one of the oldest temples in Hong Kong. Built in the mid-1800s, this temple is a Hong Kong Declared Monument dedicated to the Civil God “Man” and the Martial God “Mo”. Worshippers still visit the Man Mo Temple to pray or seek blessings from these and other gods worshipped in the temple.
Getting there: Take the Central Mid-Levels Escalators up to Hollywood Road. Turn left and walk until you reach the temple. Or, you can take the MTR to Sheung Wan (exit A2) and walk up Hillier St through Sheung Wan. Cross Queen's Rd W, then head up a bunch of stairs, following signs to Man Mo Temple.
3) Ride the Ngong Ping Cable Car to Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery
The Tian Tan Buddha, or Big Buddha, is a relatively new but iconic Hong Kong landmark located on Lantau Island. Sitting atop the peak of Mount Muk Yue, this Buddha is the second largest outdoor bronze seated Buddha (34 m tall). Climb ~300 steps to reach the base of the Buddha and you'll have beautiful views of the South China Sea and can visit the exhibition hall which contains a relic of the Buddha.
Across from the Big Buddha is the Po Lin Monastery, a world-renowned Buddhist monastery with beautiful architecture. Though the Big Buddha was only completed in 1993, the monastery has been around since the early 1900s.
Part of the fun of visiting the Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery is the journey to get there - taking the Ngong Ping Cable Car. (Though if you do not arrive early, it won't be as enjoyable due to long queues.) The cable car ride takes ~25 minutes and you glide over the mountains of Lantau Island. If you get the car with the glass bottom, you can even watch the hikers below who are no doubt wondering what they got themselves into!
Getting there: Take the MTR to the Tung Chung MTR station and follow signs towards the cable car entrance.
4) Visit the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden
Nestled in northern Kowloon's Diamond Hill neighborhood, the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden offer a peaceful respite from the city. When you arrive in Diamond Hill, head towards the Nan Lian Garden. This garden is designed in the style of the Tang Dynasty. Follow the loop path around the garden, stopping in the exhibit halls and rock garden along the way.
You'll see a pond in the center of the garden with a tea house, plus a vegetarian restaurant. The restaurant is open limited hours and usually has a wait so it's best to arrive early if you'd like to eat here.
As you walk around the garden, you'll see a set of stairs leading up to a bridge which you'll use to reach the Chi Lin Nunnery. Established in 1934 as a retreat for Buddhist nuns, the Chi Lin Nunnery was rebuilt in the 1990s in the Tang Dynasty style. It is made completely of wood with no nails used in its construction. You'll learn more about this style in the exhibit hall in the Nan Lian Garden.
Getting there: Take the MTR to Diamond Hill, exit C2 and walk left (up the hill). Follow signs towards Nan Lian Garden which will lead you across the street and into the garden.
Looking for another peaceful temple? Visit the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery!
5) Shop at the Ladies Market
Though you'll find markets scattered around Hong Kong, the Ladies Market is one of the most well-known. Situated in the most densely populated neighborhood in Hong Kong - Mong Kok - shopping here is a sensory-overload. This bustling market is filled with trinkets, clothes, and lots of knock-off designer products. It's interesting to wander through it and it's a good place to find some cheap souvenirs.
Getting there: Take the MTR to Mong Kok station, exit B3. Turn left when you exit and walk up to Mong Kok Road. Head 1 block right over to Tung Choi Street which is where the market is.
6) Discover Dim Sum
Hong Kong is famous for dim sum - a Chinese small plates experience - and has a ton of small restaurants scattered around the city with yummy dishes to try. Some of the things you'll find on the menu are dumplings, steamed buns, meat dishes, rice bowls, cakes, etc. The meal is accompanied by Chinese tea which is usually served as soon as you sit down at your table.
When you sit down, you'll receive a paper to check off which dishes you'd like to order. Choose a few items then hand the paper to your server. They'll bring out your dishes as they're ready - steaming hot! My greatest challenge is always not burning my mouth in my eagerness to try all the food!
Find my favorite dim sum restaurants in this article on Where to Eat in Hong Kong!
7) Take a Hike
Though it may be best known for its densely-populated urban areas, the vast majority of Hong Kong's land is covered in beautiful greenery. So what better way to explore that beauty than to take a hike?
With trails scattered throughout Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, the outlying islands, and New Territories, the hardest part is deciding where to hike. You can choose from well-maintained paths just steps from Central Hong Kong Island or the more rugged and remote trails up in New Territories. Just be prepared for whichever type you choose and bring plenty of water!
If you're visiting for a short time, here are a couple hikes to consider:
Find more incredible Hong Kong hikes on the Hiking Guides page!
8) Ferry to an Outlying Island
Another excellent way to escape the buzz of the city is to hop on a ferry and sail to one of Hong Kong's outlying islands. Ferries depart regularly from the piers in Central heading to smaller islands which offer a laid-back vibe, beaches, and hiking trails - perfect for a day trip!
For day trip ideas and tips on how to get there, check out these posts:
9) Drink Local Craft Beer
It may surprise you but Hong Kong has a burgeoning craft beer scene. If you love craft beer as much as I do - you should be sure to check it out while you're visiting! As the industry grows, more bars featuring craft beer have been popping up. Stop by one of them if you need a break from sightseeing. They're an excellent place to rest and drink some locally-brewed beer.
Looking for a pint of craft beer? Stop by one of the 16 Best Bars for Craft Beer in Hong Kong!
10) Cross Victoria Harbour on the Star Ferry
Operating since the late 1800s, the Star Ferry is a cheap and scenic way of crossing the harbor between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. It's an iconic experience which only takes approximately 10 minutes! With harbour breezes and excellent views of both the Kowloon and Hong Kong skylines as you cross, what's not to like?
Getting there: Catch the Star Ferry at Central pier 7. You can use your Octopus card to board or purchase a separate ticket. Either way, I recommend choosing the upper deck for the ride.
11) Stroll the TST Promenade
After your trip across Victoria Harbour, head toward the Hong Kong Clock Tower and the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade. Here you'll find excellent views of the skyline on Hong Kong Island. Get there in late afternoon and you can watch the sun set behind the island and see the lights gradually begin to come on.
Getting there: Either take the Star Ferry across from Central or take the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui, exit L6. Then walk towards the large clock tower in the direction of the harbour.
12) Ride the Tram on Hong Kong Island
Since 1904, the tram or ding ding has transported passengers from east-west across northern Hong Kong Island. The tram runs from Kennedy Town to Shau Kei Wan and passes through the Central business district, shopping areas and residential neighborhoods.
Riding it is a great way to sight-see in addition to getting from one place to another. It's not a quick mode of transportation though. It will take almost 2 hours to ride the entire length, but at only HK $2.60 no matter how far you go, it's a bargain!
Getting there: The tram runs along the same route as the MTR's Island Line so get off anywhere between Kennedy Town and Shau Kei Wan to find a tram stop.
13) Explore Tai Kwun - Centre for Heritage and Arts
Situated in the restored Central Police Station compound, Tai Kwun - Centre for Heritage and Arts opened to the public in 2018 after a 10-year revitalization project. The original structures of the compound date back to the mid-1800s and the site includes three Declared Monuments – the former Central Police Station, Central Magistracy, and Victoria Prison.
Walking around the compound, notice the variety of architectural styles and art works, explore former jail cells, and peruse the boutique shops. Sometimes you'll find activities happening in the courtyard such as fashion shows or cultural performances.
Getting there: Take the Central Mid-Levels Escalators up until you see a path leading off to the left of the walkway into one of the lovely Tai Kwun brick buildings.
14) Wander Sai Ying Pun's Dried Seafood Market
When you start to smell it, you'll know you've reached it - Sai Ying Pun's dried seafood market. Not a market, per se, but rather a road lined with individual shops selling loads of dried seafood - a common ingredient in Chinese cuisine. If you walk through Sai Ying Pun on Des Voeux Rd, you'll see a huge variety of dried seafood.
During the day, this area is teeming with activity - workers pushing carts here and there and people stopping abruptly to look at things they'd like to purchase. Stay alert as you walk through this area to avoid colliding with someone!
Getting there: Take the MTR to Sai Ying Pun station, exit A2, onto Des Voeux Rd. Though you'll find plenty of dried seafood shops on Des Voeux, turn right out of the station and walk towards Ko Shing St. This side street is less crowded and has an interesting assortment of products for sale. Plus, there are lots of adorable (and fat) shop cats!
15) Check out the Murals on ARTLANE
Hong Kong has a vibrant street art scene with murals in random places all over the city. One that I discovered recently - ARTLANE in Sai Ying Pun - is a must visit for anyone who loves street art. Located on a couple alleys between Des Voeux Rd W and Queen's Rd W, you'll find several large works completed by various local and international artists as part of an urban art project around the theme 'Art & Music of SOHO'.
Getting there: Take the MTR to Sai Ying Pun, exit B3. The murals are primarily on Ki Ling Lane and Chung Ching Street. You'll see them as soon as you exit the MTR.
16) Chill on a Beach
Being surrounded by the South China Sea, Hong Kong has a ton of beaches where you can spend the day relaxing in the sun.
If you're looking for an escape from the city or need to cool off, it's the perfect activity. It's also a great option if you're on a budget since the beaches are all free and open to the public.
Buy a picnic lunch and some beer at the grocery store and you'll have a cheap meal in a beautiful setting!
Ready to Explore?
I hope I've given you some good ideas for your next trip to Hong Kong!