We always thought we’d visit Hong Kong on a stopover to somewhere else and spend couple of days there. But the more we looked into Hong Kong as a destination, it became clear to us that this city was no stopover place. Hong Kong has so much to see and do that it totally deserves a trip of its own!
We actually went there Nov 16′, but I have only now gotten around to editing the million photos I took there (This city is so photogenic!).. So it’s worth checking if the info I’m giving is still accurate when it come to restaurants and things though I did do some checks and seems all is still there. 🙂
Where to stay
Now one thing to know about Hong Kong is that it’s an eeeeexpensive city. You already get a feel for this when you’re looking for hotels. As we were staying there for two weeks we didn’t want to crash our entire budget on a hotel room that we were unlikely to spend huge amounts of time in. So we opted to go a little further into Kowloon. The hotels we had were really nice, can’t fault them at all! The trade off for space and price is that they are some distances away from where you are most likely to want to visit. As we were staying such a long time this wasn’t an issue for us and actually wanted to experience a few different types of hotels.
Our “budget” option was Dorsett in Kwun Tong. This was pretty far from Hong Kong island the main sights, but we found it really interesting. We were really surrounded by locals with not many tourists in sight. Though it’s some distance, the journey is still doable with the MTR transit system that takes you pretty much where you want to go cheaply.
These were the views from our hotel room
Our second hotel was Pentahotel in Kowloon. A lot closer to many places worth visiting and actually just a short walk from Nan Lian gardens. We highly recommend this hotel, it had a beautiful decor and if you are sick of dim sum they make amazing pizzas with reasonable prices.
Our third hotel was really far out. New Territories out! We thought it would be nice to spend couple of days at the end of the holiday on a beach and with a name like Hotel Gold Coast we were sold. Now this is not something you associate with Hong Kong, but it’s totally possible if you go a bit further out. Our hotel was really just a local bus ride away, but it really is like a different world compared to hustle bustle of the downtown of Kowloon and Hong Kong island. We really enjoyed ourselves relaxing a few days walking along the beach front, reading books by the pool and exploring the area.
Here is a picture from our balcony of a beautiful sunset. I’m a sucker for pink sky!
Things to do in Hong Kong
I have listed these based on areas, hope it helps with orientation!
Hong Kong island
Explore Soho and around
Soho area is the Kool Kat of Hong Kong. The area roughly between Aberdeen Street and Wellington Street and is home to countless bars, restaurants, galleries, boutiques and antique shops.
You can easily spend loads of time (and money!) wandering around here, grabbing a bite to eat and shopping. My favourite find was a small shop that sold handmade soft toy lucky dragons.
Take a ride in Central Mid Level escalators
This part of Hong Kong is pretty hilly so they have installed escalators that can take you pretty far up, that’s over 800m of escalators! They are divided into several bits so you can either travel all the way up for 20 mins or choose to hop off. There are some really nice bars and restaurants along the way too and it’s quite fun to people watch whilst on the escalator especially in the evening.
Take a ride on a crickety ol’ Ding Ding
There are 1920’s narrow little trams going along the Hong Kong island. They are wonderfully crickety and creeky and therefore atmospheric and worth taking a ride in. You can get tours and stuff for 95 HKD (£10), but we just hopped on one for single ticket at only 2.3 HKD (£0.22) and went all the way to the end. We then stopped for a drink in a bar and caught one back via Happy Valley. It was raining that day, so it was perfect activity. Make the effort and climb to the top deck for better views.
You can see more details here.
Admire the views from the top of Victoria Peak
This is the classic number one thing to do in Hong Kong. And we can see why. The views from Victoria Peak are breathtaking! We had some bad weather at the beginning of our holiday and the visibility was pretty poor. Once the clouds cleared away we made our way to the peak. Of course everyone else had the same idea! The queues can get really long best of times, so be prepared to wait for the tram unless you want to invest in advance tickets.
We aimed to see the views around sunset, but due to the long queue we saw twilight and dark. The jerky tram is definitely an experience – it’s old, feels rickety and goes at a really steep angle really slowly. Ours was also crammed full of people ( I think I had half a butt cheek on a bench). Once at the top you can make your way through the shopping arcade onto the viewing platform. And it’s busy. You need to be patient if you want to get to ledge for the best views and photos.
It can also get a little claustrophobic there, so be warned. But it’s all worth it to see the views over Hong Kong island, Kowloon and beyond.
As “fun” as the tram was going up we decided to skip it going down despite having return tickets. The buses seemed really busy too so we actually decided to walk down. This was a bit of an experience for the calves, ha! Similarly as you get sea legs, I think you can get going-down-the-hill-legs! I remember thinking that I don’t remember what it feels like to walk on straight bit of road! The road snakes past some tall housing buildings and we thought it was interesting how these tall skyscrapers were built on a hill like they were.
Get a foot massage after a long day of walking
As is normally the case with city holidays you end up walking a lot. After having walked down the Victoria Peak my calves were pretty much done for and I enticed Mr Harlow to join me for a foot massage (didn’t want to go alone!) in one of the many places there are in Hong Kong. We ended up in a place on Hollywood Road and it was just what we needed to keep our feet going. In a city where everything is so pricey this is one thing that isn’t! For around 150 HKD (£15) you can get 45 minute foot massage in a no frills place.
Hong Kong Park and Edward Youde Aviary
Very near the financial district is Hong Kong Park. Small bit of greenery in the middle of the urban jungle.
What we really enjoyed was Edward Youde Aviary. It’s basically a huge aviary where you have walkways at tree hight.
It has been constructed well in the sense that you don’t feel like you are inside what is essentially a big cage. There are so many birds that you are guaranteed to see some at close range. The whole thing is free to enter.
More details here.
I know this next recommendation is a little weird one. But if you are a fan of popcorn like me then make sure you try Garrett’s popcorn! It’s from Chicago, so not strictly your typical Chinese fair (hell it has nothing to do with China apart from the fact they have outlets there). You can’t get it in Europe, so grab your chance when in Asia!
More details here.
We found a really fun noodle place on Wellington Street called Noodle Lah! They have really good food at reasonable prices so definitely recommend stopping there for lunch.
They actually have a few restaurants dotted around HK, you can see them here.
Take the classic Star Ferry between Kowloon and Hong Kong island
Taking the Star Ferry is the best way to cross the strait between Kowloon Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier and Hong Kong island on Pier 7.
It’s only a short ferry ride, but the wind on your face and the views in either direction are definitely worth it. It feels really nostalgic on board, just be sure to go on the top deck for best views. It costs next to nothing, only 2.70 HKD (£0.26) on weekdays and a dollar more at weekends so go crazy! 🙂
Stop for a nightly light show in Kowloon
Every night at 8pm there is a light show where several of the buildings on Hong Kong island get lit up to the sound of music (no, not the musical, but other music!). Best views are from Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon.
There is even a little platform built there where they also blast out the said music. If you want the best spot you need to get there well ahead of time even on a weekday in November, but if you’re not that fussed, you can still see it well enough despite not being right by the water.
The Star Ferries look so beautiful in the dark too!
Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery
We visited this beautiful spot twice. We originally went there on a rainy day and walked around with umbrellas. It’s such a beautiful garden and nunnery! It feels a lot bigger than it is. It’s peaceful and calm and the rain actually seemed to add to it somehow.
As we stayed around the corner in Pentahotel Kowloon so we decided to visit it again on a sunny day. And we actually preferred it on a rainy day! The colours seemed more vivid and the rain brought more of a peaceful vibe to the place. So if you are in Hong Kong when it’s raining don’t shy away from visiting this beautiful spot.
Visit one of the many markets in Kowloon
We visited perhaps the most famous market “Ladies Market” in Kowloon. There is so many to choose from.
I must admit though that we didn’t really buy many things despite the huge selection. Instead we did a bit of people watching and soaked up the atmosphere. We usually get one souvenir from each country we visit so chose one from the market for this trip – a little lucky cat that sits on our shelf in dining area.
Get some Michelin starred nosh
As we were in Hong Kong for two weeks we keep the budget down by eating fairly cheaply each night. Luckily for us the world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurant Tim Ho Wan – Sham Shui Po is in Mong Kok in Kowloon, so we had to check it out. It was a busy there despite it being a rainy Tuesday evening. The decor is not exactly fancy schmanzy, it was bright lights and plastic chairs all the way and it has a service to match it..
You get given a slip of paper and pen to mark which dishes you want and the prices did not disappoint. Each dish cost between 20-30 HKD (£2-3) each and whilst I kept my cool and went for three dishes (have the pork buns, they are a-mazing!) my darling hubby got a bit greedy and ordered 7! He was sweating by the end of it as you can imagine. Pork smelling sweat. Nice! 😀
Lantau island is definitely that island that broke most of my old ideas what Hong Kong is about. I always thought Hong Kong was just pure city life with not an inch of greenery to be seen and that all the attractions and sights were mainly buildings or viewpoints of buildings. Lantau island changes that.
Admire the views from Ngong Ping 360 cable car
Another place where the queues get long and it might be worth looking into advance tickets. But again, it’s all so worth it!
There are two types of cabins you can get, standard and crystal, where the bottom of the cabin is glass. They also try to sell tickets with all sorts of “experiences” thrown in, but they felt very touristy to us and we went for the standard ticket, one way and no frills. The cable car journey to the top takes just under half and hour and along the way you soar through some magnificent views.
More details here.
Visit the big Tian Tan Buddha statue
The end station for the cable car is right near Po Lin Monastery and Tian Tan Buddha.
They are both worth having a look and you get another set of lovely views from climbing up the stairs to the big Buddha.
Further around there is a commercial “village” where you can get souvenirs and a bite to eat. All are free to visit.
Stop at a random beach
We had a plan to come down from the Buddha via different route and took a local bus. We saw on the map that the route went past some lovely beaches and as we were riding along and felt that we were near one, we just got off the bus and headed down towards a beach.
We caught a beautiful sunset on this deserted bit of beach (I think it was Upper Cheung Sha beach) and I really recommend exploring the Lantau Island beaches! We then just walked back to the bus stop and carried on towards a ferry terminal where we caught a ferry to Hong Kong island.
Lantau has many beautiful beaches and we also visited Discovery Bay as they were hosting a craft market one Sunday when we were there. You can grab a ferry there from Hong Kong island and spend some time discovering various shops, restaurants and the beach called Tai Bak. It’s an upmarket area and mainly residential, but if you want to get away from the hustle and bustle then this is the place to head to.
Have a blast at Disneyland
Hong Kong Disneyland is located on Lantau Island and the easiest way to get there is to take the MTR transit system. It has its own stop, so pretty easy to get there and back. I loved that even the MTR train is Disneyfied!
Hong Kong’s Disneyland is the smallest of them all and it kind of looks like someone has shrunk the Princess Castle compared to the others Disneylands.
The vibe of the park is also different to the others we have visited in Paris and Florida. Don’t expect any big rides, they are all pretty tame. Hyperspace Mountain will give you a slower ride than the plain old Space Mountain. I guess it’s just not what the visitors are looking for in there.
What you should expect though? An incredible light parade at the end of the night, this is what they do well. Make sure you catch it from start to finish!
It’s also fascinating to see that there are other characters in the Disney franchise that we had never even heard of! Also there is definitely more adults who take the spirit of Disney *ahem* quite seriously. This was also fun to see and little different to Paris and Florida.
As the park is smaller it’s actually nice and easy to navigate in a day. You feel like you get to see everything you want without feeling like you need to rush. Apparently it gets busy at the weekends, so try to time your visit on a weekday if you can, to minimise queuing times for attractions. You should not need two days, unless you need to queue for the rides or want to see e-v-e-r-y show going. Of all the shows we would recommend going to learn how to draw a character at Animation Academy. We went to a lesson in Chinese, but it made next to no difference as were able to follow along. A bit geeky I guess. 🙂
Best rides? I would say don’t miss Mystic Manor. I thought it was the best one as it has totally different type of concept and it’s very immersive. It’s suitable for kids too.
Other noteworthy ones to mention are The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – though this one is totally designed for children, but it was just really sweet. I also enjoyed going around Tarzan’s treehouse.
I love Space Mountain so HK’s Hyperspace Mountain was a little bit of a lame duck compared to its bigger brother. It’s definitely more about the atmosphere and shows in this park, so if you orientate yourself this way, you’ll have an awesome time. 🙂
By the time we got to our Gold Coast destination I was all waaaalked out. We had a few chilled out days in this beach resort type of place just laying by the pool, reading and enjoying some walks on the beach and around the marina. So I can’t really say where in the New Territories you should visit apart from Gold Coast if you want to take it easy for a few days. 🙂
Out of all the fancy restaurants clustered in the marina we enjoyed Ebeneezer’s Kebab and Pizza the most! Fancy huh? We grabbed a seat outside and enjoyed some kebabs. It’s a chain so you can find these dotted around HK and if you’re on a budget and don’t fancy a dim sum then it’s a really good find.
More details here.
Macau is only 90 mins away from Hong Kong on a catamaran. There are lots of departures 24 hours a day, so it’s very accessible from Hong Kong. Macau is another special administrative region in China where you don’t need a visa with most passports. But instead of having been under British rule it was under Portuguese and here the roots really show in the architecture where they have not rushed to tear down so many old buildings. In fact they have built new things on reclaimed land and pretty much left the old Macau as is.
The end result is that the reclaimed land is sandwiched between old areas of Macau, which is quite funny. And what they have built on this reclaimed land is casinos. Lots and lots of glittery, razzle dazzle, pulling all the stops type of casinos.
Geographically Macau is a lot smaller than Hong Kong and we spent three days there, which was actually a good amount of time to see the city, but not feel like you had to rush around.
Where to stay
Macau was also surprisingly expensive for hotels. The casinos are of course 5* with 5* luxuries and prices to match too. When we were searching we actually couldn’t find many good budget options. We ended up in Best Western Hotel Sun Sun. It was pretty good location for one part of the old town and taxis are cheap for the rest of it. The bus network is also apparently pretty extensive, but we only took a bus from the hotel to the catamaran terminal, which was quite handy. The hotel was nice enough and a good budget option if you are not planning to stay there long periods of time.
Another thing to check when booking a hotel is that there are cheaper and nicer options out there when you search for Macau, but they are actually in “proper” China, which means you need a visa to go there. This can really hike up the price if you are not planning to go there otherwise, so make sure you check the actual location of the hotel before committing.
Things to do in Macau
Old town of Macau
We really loved exploring the old parts of Macau. It was such a contrast to Hong Kong, but also the casino land. It was such a strange mix of mediterranean meets orient, we have never seen anything like it. We were really happy to just wander around the various streets, stop to eat and admire the buildings and various temples. Head for Largo di Senado and ruins of St. Paul’s and around.
Fortaleza do Monte Fort
Right next to ruins of St. Paul’s is this old fort and it’s worth a look in.
We wandered around and the interesting viewpoints were definitely seen with old cannons pointing towards the newly built casinos looming in the background. You are a bit higher here, so you get good vistas. All are free to visit.
Taipa village is another example of beautiful old Portuguese architecture in Macau. It’s full of shops, restaurants, bakeries and temples and it’s a good place to wander around. It has retained a really nice and relaxed feel and we spent half a day wandering around there and as the afternoon became the evening we then walked across to the casino area, which is very nearby.
The Land of Casinos
Macau is the only place in China where gambling is legal and this little region turns more money in gambling than Las Vegas! But we can’t say we’re much of gamblers.. We tried our hand in a slot machine of some sort, but really didn’t understand what the aim of the game was with all instructions being in Chinese.. After losing the little we had invested in, we gave up and enjoyed the atmosphere and surroundings instead. 😀
Good news is that these casinos are spectacles themselves and gambling isn’t the only entertainment drawing you in. Each casino in Macau has a very distinct personality and style and we ended going around all the big ones.
Each lobby has made an effort to give you a Grand Entrance with capital letters! Our favourites were the fountain/light/music display outside Wynn Palace
Fortune Diamond show at Galaxy Casino
walking around in fake Venice at Casino Venetian
or fake Paris in the one of the newest Casinos Parisian.
None of these cost anything and we had a great night just going from place to another. Who says you can’t enjoy 5* entertainment with a 3* budget? 🙂
Koi Kei bakery
This bakery chain seemed to be an institution in Macau! There are few dotted around the city and you can recognise them a mile away for the sheer fact they are so busy! We of course had to go in and see what the fuss was about. Koi Kei Bakeries sell Chinese delicacies that you probably want to give a miss, but also a huge variety of cookies and biscuits.
You can try them before you buy, the flavours are so good and to top it off they are packaged beautifully. We – along with everyone else – bought massive bags of different things to eat ourselves and bring home as little presents too. Our favourite find was sweet biscuits laced with pork! Sounds gross, but they were so good. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it! 🙂
We are so glad we took two weeks to get to know this city! Hong Kong was surprising us at every turn and the choices how you want to spend your days are truly endless and it’s hard to pick favourites places! It was also really interesting to be able to visit Macau as well with its own history and architecture.
Let me know if you have any questions in the comments 🙂