A bustling, high-rise metropolis, Hong Kong is often cited as one of the best cities in the world. And I have to agree with that statement. There is so much to see and do in this Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China, not to mention that the city has some of the best restaurants and bars that are just crying out to be visited.
Such a busy city can be overwhelming and as Hong Kong is often a place that people visit for only a few days, it is difficult to know where to start when planning a visit.
I’ve put together a comprehensive guide of what to see, do and eat on a first trip to Hong Kong, with lots of useful tips. It doesn’t include absolutely everything, as you’ll never be able to see and do all Hong Kong has to offer unless you’re there for a couple of weeks!
A trip to Hong Kong wouldn’t be complete without a quick trip across to Macau, so I’ve included all the information you’ll need for a day there!
Flights to Hong Kong are frequent from all around the world. From the UK, you can fly directly or with one stop on an airline such as Emirates or Qatar Airways, which breaks up what is a long journey.
I flew with Hainan Airlines, China’s top airline, and would highly recommend them for international flights. They received a top rating from Skytrax recently, and I found their product to be almost as good as the top Middle Eastern carriers!
Getting from the airport to the city
There are many options when travelling from the airport. Taxi is the most expensive as always but there are several train and bus options, depending on whereabouts in Hong Kong you’ll be staying.
I took the bus after looking up the best route to my hotel on Google Maps and I’d recommend doing that. It’s cheap, straightforward and there are even luggage racks at the front of the bus for you to store your suitcase or backpack.
Public transport is great in Hong Kong, particularly the underground metro, which is cheap, straightforward to use and heavily air conditioned (much needed for people like me not used to humidity!).
If you’re going to use public transport a few times during your trip, I’d recommend that you get an Octopus card. It’s similar to an Oyster card that you get in London, you buy it for a small fee, top it up and off you go, swiping in and out for each journey.
I purchased mine from a convenience store in a metro station. Journeys cost around 30-50p, depending on distance.
Uber operates in Hong Kong and is really reasonably priced. Traffic can get quite bad but it’s an easy way to get around in off-peak times.
Where to stay
There are plenty of accommodation options in Hong Kong, from budget hostels, to boutique hotels to luxury big-name chains.
You will need to choose whether to stay on Hong Kong island or in Kowloon, which are separated by water. Kowloon is on the mainland; Hong Kong island tends to be more expensive to stay in.
Staying in either is fine, Hong Kong is so well connected by public transport that you can get around really easily.
I stayed at the Pentahotel in Kowloon, which I would highly recommend. It’s reasonably priced for Hong Kong, has great rooms, a pretty location and a generally cool vibe.
I also stayed at Ovolo Southside on Hong Kong island, which was also pretty great. It was pricier and is on a relatively busy road but it’s super cool hotel in an old warehouse. You get a free minibar and snacks, plus they have an incredible rooftop bar! It’s also really close to a metro station and not far from Central.
If you’re looking for budget accommodation, a word of warning is to stay away from Chungking Mansions. It’s full of budget places to stay but has a terrible reputation and is super seedy.
Two Monkeys Travel Group has some great hostel suggestions that you can check out.
What to see and do in Kowloon and Lantau Island
Watch the Symphony of Lights
The Symphony of Lights light and sound show is a great way to kick off your time in Hong Kong.
It happens at 8pm every evening and sees many buildings in Victoria lit up. Head to Tsim Sha Tsui promenade for great views of the show.
Visit Wong Tai Sin temple
Full name Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin, this temple is home to three religions; Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism.
It’s well worth making the trip, the temple is really beautiful and I loved the fact that it’s such a peaceful spot surrounded by high rise buildings.
Explore the markets
Kowloon is home to some amazing markets, head there to buy all manner of things. Ladies Market and Temple Street Night Market are the two most popular.
Take a trip to the Hong Kong History Museum
Hong Kong has an interesting history and this museum is a great place to learn more about it. Opening hours are quite short; 10am-6pm, and it’s closed on Tuesdays.
Ride the Star Ferry
A trip to Hong Kong isn’t complete without riding on the Star Ferry, which costs around 30p each way. It’s a short trip between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island but offers amazing views of the skyline, even on a miserable day.
Take a trip to the Big Buddha
Also known as the Tian Tan Buddha, this is a must-see on Lantau Island. Built in 1993, you’ve no doubt seen photos of this magnificent statue that faces north looking over the Chinese people. Head there on the Ngong Ping 360 cable car for amazing views.
Relive your childhood at Disneyland
You may not necessarily associate Hong Kong with Mickey Mouse, but there is indeed a Disneyland on Lantau Island!
What to see and do on Hong Kong Island
Take in the views from Victoria Peak
Heading up to Victoria Peak is probably the most popular thing for tourists to do in Hong Kong, and it’s easy to see why! Even on an extremely rainy and windy day (ahead of a typhoon), it’s an amazing sight.
You can hike up but most people take the ancient funicular up to the top and pay for entrance to the Sky Terrace.
The views over Hong Kong are incredible but as you’d expect. I headed up there just before sunset, and whilst it was busy, it wasn’t packed.
Ride the Mid- Level Escalators
Hong Kong is extremely mountainous, and even within the city, it’s very steep. To make life easier for commuters heading down to central Hong Kong from the Mid-Levels, the world’s longest outdoor escalator system in the world was installed in 1993.
It operates from 6am- 12am, running downwards until 10.30am and then back upwards for the remainder of the day.
It’s now become a tourist attraction given it’s uniqueness and it’s a great way to explore the Mid-Levels, including getting up to Man Mo temple (see below).
Visit Man Mo temple
Man Mo temple is one of Hong Kong’s oldest and is dedicated to the gods of literature. It’s small but so atmospheric, well worth a visit.
Stroll through Hong Kong Park
There’s no other way to describe Hong Park than as an oasis in the middle of a hectic city. It’s literally surrounded by huge high-rise buildings!
It’s situated in Central and is a beautiful spot to wander through or to spend some time relaxing. There’s even a nice restaurant and bar if you fancy dining al fresco in a lovely setting.
Relax at a spa
If you’ve travelled in Asia before, particularly in the South East, you’ll know it’s renowned for its cheap massages and great value spas.
Hong Kong is quite a lot more expensive but still really reasonable compared to prices in most Western countries.
I’d recommend Foot Station spa on Lockhart Road for a relaxing foot massage, you’ll certainly need it after all the walking you’ll do in the city.
Eating and drinking
Hong Kong is home to some of the best food in the world, from small holes in the wall to luxury restaurants.
You’ll eat so well in the city; there is something for every budget and taste. Here are a few things you may want to eat and drink, with some specific recommendations.
You can’t go to Hong Kong without eating Dim Sum, a style of Chinese cuisine prepared as bite sized portions of foods such as dumplings.
My number one food recommendation for Hong Kong, Tim Ho Wan offers delicious Michelin-starred dim sum for super cheap prices. The pork buns are incredible, as is the steamed egg cake.
There are a number of restaurants. I’d suggest trying one of the branches in Kowloon and avoiding the one in Hong Kong Central Station, as it gets super busy and they’ll be queues.
Not a restaurant specific recommendation but one for a type of food. Roast goose is really popular in Hong Kong and can be found at many places across the city.
Kam’s Roost Goose is popular and affordable. Yung Kee is also a great choice, although on the pricey side. Their roast pork is also extremely delicious.
You’ll find egg waffle stands all around the city and they make a great snack. The top-rated place (and I can support this- delicious) is Lee Keung Kee North Point, and it has various locations around the city.
As you’d probably expect, Hong Kong has some great tea. There are numerous cafes and kiosks dotted around the country where you can grab a delicious iced coffee to cool down as you explore.
Catching a ferry is the easiest and cheapest way to get from Hong Kong to Macau. There are a couple of companies that run ferries- Turbo Jet and Cotai Water Jet.
I travelled with Turbo Jet after booking cheap tickets in advance via Klook (more information at the end of this post).
The journey takes around an hour and will drop you off at the Outer Harbour.
The casinos in Macau run buses between the ferry terminals and casinos for free. Jump on one at the harbour to get you to the city or to the Cotai Strip.
Once you’re in the main area, you’ll find that everything is pretty walkable.
If you need to travel further afield around the city, you can take advantage of the buses that run between different casinos owned by the same company.
Things to see, do and eat
This is not for everyone but especially if you’ve never been to Las Vegas (like me), it is so interesting to walk around the casinos. There’s a Venetian, Parisian and even one shaped like a giant pineapple!
Ruins of St. Paul’s
The ruins of St Paul’s church are one of Macau’s most famous landmarks. Head there early on in the day, as it gets extremely busy.
Located in the central area of Macau peninsula, Senado Square is listed as a world heritage site. It’s a lovely area filled with old Portuguese style buildings.
St. Dominic’s Church
St Dominic’s Church is a striking yellow and green 16th century Baroque-style building, nearby Senado Square.
Wander the side streets
Don’t just stick to the main tourist sides, there are lots of cute side streets with gorgeous colonial style buildings, alongside those with a Chinese influence. Wander and take it all in.
A Ma temple
Away from the historical centre, A Ma is the oldest temple in Macau. It’s beautiful and although crowded, a very spiritual and atmospheric place.
The walk down to the temple is enjoyable in itself, with some gorgeous colourful buildings and bright street art along the way.
Eat an egg tart
A trip to Macau isn’t complete without trying a traditional egg tart. They are similar to a Portuguese Pastel de Nata, and are incredibly delicious.
Lord Stow’s is the most famous place for them but there are many bakeries serving them all around the city.
Relax in a trendy café
Somewhat unexpectedly, Macau had some really cool hipster style cafes away from the historical centre, offering delicious food, good coffee and quirky drinks.
After a few hours of exploring, sit down and relax in one whilst people watching.
Terra Coffee House and Padre are two great choices. Try the refreshing iced coffee at Terra, or the delicious fresh blueberry juice at Padre.
Experience the world’s highest bungee jump
If adrenaline s your thing, head to Macau Tower, home to the world’s highest bungee jump at 233 metres.
It’s pricey at around £353 per jump, but it’s pretty cool to be able to say you’ve done it! Let me know if you’re braver than me and take the leap (excuse the pun!).
Other useful information
I came across Klook whilst researching for my trip and was so glad I did.
You can book a lot of the things you’ll do in Hong Kong beforehand, for a much cheaper price than if you were to pay on the day.
I booked my ferries to Macau, my peak tram and Sky terrace ticket on the app before my trip. I also bought a local sim card which I picked up at the airport, a god send for getting around easily.
Unlike mainland China, you’ll be able to access all the websites you would at home.
Hong Kong and Macau have different currencies but you can use Hong Kong Dollars in Macau.
However, you’ll get change in Macau currency, which you can’t use in Hong Kong. Be sure to use up all your Macau money before you head back to Hong Kong.
Have you been to Hong Kong or Macau, or are you planning to? Let me know if you have any other tips or recommendations!