What to see in Hong Kong: A district-by-district travel guide
Hong Kong is an incredible city! Hong Kong is vast and loud. Hong Kong is hectic, but also has many calmer, greener areas. But most of all, Hong Kong is full of sights. Hong Kong can quickly become overwhelming for visitors with its different districts and islands.
What do you absolutely have to see when you’re in Hong Kong?
How do you get to the sights? And which sights don’t live up to the hype?
We had the same questions the first time we visited, so we decided to write this comprehensive guide on what to see and do in Hong Kong to give you a hand planning your trip.
We’ll be presenting all of the city’s highlights sorted by district, including information on how to get to each sight.
At the end of the post, we’ll be sharing our personal travel tips for Hong Kong.
You can use the table of contents for easy navigation or just read the guide from top to bottom.
Getting to know Hong Kong: The districts
Before we turn to the individual sights and highlights, let’s take a quick look at the map. It’s definitely helpful to get an idea of the basic layout of this huge metropolis.
Hong Kong is divided into three major districts: Kowloon in the north and Hong Kong Island in the south are the most important districts where travelers generally spend most of their time.
They are connected by ferries, several bridges, and the subway. The third Hong Kong district is called New Territories.
It comprises the area north of Kowloon and most of Hong Kong’s islands. These include Lantau Island in southwestern Hong Kong, which also has some interesting sights.
What to see on Hong Kong Island
Hong Kong Island has the most sights in Hong Kong to offer, so let’s start there.
Victoria Peak is definitely one of the main attractions in Hong Kong, and visitors almost invariably make the journey up the 552-meter mountain on Hong Kong Island for an amazing view of the city’s skyline.
The view sure is beautiful, but that also means the peak is perpetually swarming with tourists. If you want to beat the crowds, then you’ll have to get there in the early hours of the morning.
It fills up quickly during the day and gets the most crowded at sunset. But of course that’s when the view is the most impressive: First you can take photos in the soft glow of the evening, and then a few minutes later, Hong Kong’s lights go on, offering some great shots of the illuminated skyline.
There’s a viewing platform on Victoria Peak that you can visit for 50 HKD (5.50 euros). The view up there is really great, but it’s also packed. And everyone wants to take a selfie.
If you head to the right of the building, you’ll find similarly good scenic points that don’t cost a thing and are much less crowded.
How to get to Victoria Peak
Many visitors choose to take the Peak Tram to the summit. Waiting times for the famous funicular that went into service in 1888 are often at least one hour or more, which is why we don’t recommend it.
You’ll still have to wait, but at least you get to skip the line at the ticket counter. It costs 45 HKD (about 5 euros) round-trip or 32 HKD (about 3.50 euros) one-way.
For more information on the Octopus Card, check the section on public transport toward the end of this post. Taking a taxi is definitely quicker – expect to pay 5 to 6 euros each way.
Or you can take the bus, numbers 15 or 15 B, for about 1 euro. Not 15 C though! That one terminates at the lower Peak Tram station. There’s a long line for the return journey, too.
We’d recommend walking down the well-signposted Old Peak Road instead. It’s only a 20-minute hike and offers some gorgeous views along the way.
Central Mid-Levels Escalator
The Central Mid-Levels Escalator is a system of escalators spanning a total height of 135 meters over a length of 800 meters that connects the Central and Mid-Levels districts.
It’s considered the longest covered outdoor escalator system in the world. The escalators run downhill between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., and then after 20-minute wait while they reverse direction, they run uphill for the rest of the day from 10:20 a.m. to midnight.
The entire trip takes about 20 minutes, but it’s always worth getting off and exploring the surrounding roads.
SoHo: The trendy hot spot on Hong Kong Island
The area around the Central Mid-Levels Escalator is known as SoHo and we really liked it there. We could have spent hours strolling around the streets.
There are great designer shops, trinkets and antiques, amazing restaurants, and some really impressive street art. In the evening, the area turns into a nightlife district.
Of course it isn’t cheap, but it’s very trendy and cosmopolitan. If you love antiques shops, you should definitely check out Hollywood Street and Cat Street.
Fun fact: Why is it called Cat Street? In the 1920s, it developed as a market for second-hand goods and antiques, which in turn attracted thieves looking to hawk their wares. The thieves became known as ‘rats’, and so the people who bought from them were dubbed ‘cats’. And that’s how the street got its name. Fascinating, right?
Man Mo Temple
The Man Mo Temple is the oldest temple in Hong Kong, and also the most beautiful as far as we’re concerned. Built in 1847, the temple is an oasis of tranquility amongst all the high-rise buildings.
Unfortunately, the air inside is hard to breathe due to the smoke from hundreds of incense coils being burned in the temple. It doesn’t smell so good, but looks phenomenal.
Man Mo Temple opens daily from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
What to see in Kowloon
Kowloon is often referred to as the old Hong Kong, and indeed there are some areas where time seems to have stood still, while a just few streets further along you’ll see shiny shopping malls with all the trappings of modernity.
Symphony of Lights
The Symphony of Lights takes place every evening at 8 p.m. sharp. The buildings of the skyline on Hong Kong Island are animated with a light show and the whole thing is accompanied by music.
You can watch the spectacle and listen to the music from the opposite side of Victoria Harbour in Kowloon. The most popular place for this is the harbor promenade in Tsim Sha Tsui.
If you’re watching from another location, you can tune in to the accompanying music and narration on 103.4 FM or by dialing 35‑665‑665. But don’t expect too much from the light show.
Many visitors come to see the Symphony of Lights with huge expectations and are disappointed that it isn’t all that spectacular after all. But the skyline at night definitely makes for some great photos, with or without a light show.
Boat trip between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island
A boat trip between the two most famous parts of Hong Kong is an absolute must. The cheapest way is by ferry, which costs the equivalent of just around 30 cents.
The ferries run regularly in both directions and the journey takes about 10 minutes. If you want to stay on the water for a little longer, you can take a 90-minute boat tour on a very photogenic Chinese junk.
The trip costs about 22 euros including drinks on board. You can book tickets for the tour online here.
Avenue of Stars
Hong Kong is the Hollywood of Asia, and so just like Los Angeles, it has its own Walk of Fame. It’s known as the Avenue of Stars and is dedicated to film stars from Asia.
It features stars, hand prints, and even some statues of famous figures such as Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. However, the Avenue of Stars is currently closed for renovation work until early 2019.
Kowloon Park is a huge green area amidst the high-rises of Kowloon and a lovely oasis of calm where you can catch a breath from big-city life.
Hong Kong as a whole is actually surprisingly green. We kept happening upon parks and green areas where we wouldn’t have expected them.
Markets in Kowloon
Kowloon is first and foremost a paradise for fans of shopping. While the major fashion chains have their stores along Nathan Road, the real market life takes place in the smaller streets of Kowloon.
Entire streets are dedicated to certain products. For instance, there’s the Ladies’ Market, which specializes in clothing and cosmetics, the Flower Market, the Sneakers Market, and the Temple Street Night Market which mainly sells souvenirs for tourists.
Here’s an overview of the different markets and shopping streets:
- Ladies’ Market – Tung Choi Street – clothing, cosmetics, accessories.
- Temple Street Night Market – Temple Street – souvenirs and all kinds of cheap goods from China.
- Goldfish Market – Tung Choi Street North – fish and other animals.
- Flower Market – Flower Market Road – flowers.
- Jade Market – Kansu Street / Battery Street – jade jewelry and charms.
- Sneakers Street – Fa Yuen Street – shoes.
- Electronics Street – Apliu Street – all kinds of electronic devices.
What to see on Lantau Island
Lantau Island is the largest of Hong Kong’s islands and is endowed with some essential sights. Also, Hong Kong International Airport is located on a small artificially extended island off the shore of Lantau Island.
Big Buddha | Tian Tan Buddha
The Tian Tan Buddha, often simply called Big Buddha, is the most important sight on Lantau and one of the highlights in Hong Kong.
The 34-meter-high bronze statue is one of the largest of its kind and is located on a small hill that can be climbed via a total of 286 steps.
At the foot of the hill is the Po Lin Monastery, which is also well worth a visit. Access to the Buddha and the monastery is free. The only attraction that charges admission is the exhibition inside the statue.
The Buddha is open to visitors every day from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
How to get to the Big Buddha
You should plan a lot of time to see the Buddha, because the journey there is relatively long. First you have to go to Lantau Island, where you can go by subway (stop at Tung Chung) or by bus.
From there, you can either take the cable car or the much cheaper bus. Bus number 23 takes about 45 minutes to get from the subway station Tung Chung up to the Buddha. You’ll find detailed information on the cable car in the section after next, as it’s an attraction in its own right.
We really liked the Wisdom Path. Only about 15 minutes walk from the Big Buddha, only few visitors find their way here.
The others probably just aren’t wise enough. Along the Wisdom Path are 38 large wooden stelae engraved with Chinese characters.
Together, they form one of the most important Buddhist and Confucian prayers. We walked once down the whole length of the path, but we aren’t sure if we found wisdom along the way.
Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car
The most scenic way to get to the Big Buddha is by taking the Ngong Ping Cable Car.
It’ll take you sky high for about 20 minutes where you can enjoy stunning views of the landscape and Hong Kong Airport.
The Ngong Ping cable car is one of the absolute tourism highlights in Hong Kong, so brace yourself for huge crowds.
Our tip: You should definitely buy tickets in advance on the Ngong Ping website. You’ll save 10% on the ticket price and can skip the line at the ticket counter.
Even so, you’ll still have to wait in line to get on the cable car. We had to wait for just over half an hour. You get to choose between the normal gondolas and the so-called Crystal Cabins with a glass floor.
We definitely recommend the Crystal Cabins, because the ride is really something special. And it’s even doable if you have a fear of heights.
In our opinion, the cable car isn’t an absolute must, but it’s a nice experience. If you just want to see the Buddha, taking the bus is much cheaper and generally faster, too.
Hong Kong Disneyland
We haven’t been to Disneyland ourselves, but this wouldn’t be a post about Hong Kong’s sights and attractions without at least an honorable mention.
The park is the smallest of the 5 Disneylands in the world, but still welcomes close to 8 million visitors a year.
Our tip: Your best bet is to buy tickets in advance online: Disney Land Hongkong tickets. It’s a bit cheaper and you won’t have to stand in line at the ticket booth – and you’ll be doing enough of that inside the park as it is.
What to see in the New Territories
The New Territories north of Kowloon have very few sights to offer. It’s mostly just residential areas. But there’s one major exception:
10,000 Buddhas Monastery
The 10,000 Buddhas Monastery is no doubt one of the most extraordinary sights in Hong Kong. The ascent to the monastery leads up a steep stairway lined with very unconventional Buddha statues. And each statue is unique.
Some have very funny facial expressions and poses. At the top, there are several temple halls that contain thousands of small Buddha figures.
Unfortunately, taking pictures inside the buildings is forbidden, which is why we can only show you photos of the Buddha statues on the stairs.
The temple opens daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is free of charge.
Hiking in Hong Kong
To be honest, we didn’t really think of Hong Kong as a hiking destination, but we were pleasantly surprised. Hong Kong is very hilly, which is why the flatter urban area makes such an uber-efficient use of space with exceptionally tall and narrow buildings.
Surrounding them are many green and undeveloped areas that provide some great hiking routes. In our opinion, you don’t necessarily have to go hiking in Hong Kong if you only have a few days to spare.
But if you’re there for longer, or if it’s your second or third visit, it makes for a great change of pace.
We went for a hike on the Dragon’s Back. The tour is one of the most popular hiking trails in Hong Kong and offers some great views.
If you’ve had enough of the hectic hustle and bustle in the streets of Hong Kong, then a hike on the Dragon’s Back is the perfect counterbalance.
It’s amazing how quickly you can get out of the city and find yourself surrounded by nature all of a sudden. Hiking the Dragon’s Back isn’t particularly demanding. The ascent takes about 30 minutes, and then the trail continues for another 1.5 hours along the ridge.
Once you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with an excellent view. On one side, you can see the skyscrapers of the nearby city jutting out between the green hills. The other side offers great views of the sea and the surrounding fishing villages.
How to get to the Dragon’s Back
First, take the subway to Shau Kei Wan. From there, you need to take a shared taxi. If you have any trouble finding them, just ask around, someone should be able to point you in the right direction.
Alternatively, you can take the bus number 9 going to Shek O and get off at To Tei Wan, Shek O Road. The hiking trail itself is well-signposted, so you can’t really get lost.
We visited the Dragon’s Back as part of a guided hike. Our enthusiastic hiking guide Stephanie has been living in Hong Kong for many years and told us a great deal about life in the metropolis. We highly recommend this tour.
You can book the hike on the Dragon’s Back here: Hike on the Dragon’s Back.
More hiking routes in Hong Kong
The Dragon’s Back may be the most popular hiking trail in Hong Kong, but of course there are a lot more. The MacLehose Trail is another exciting route.
It’s about 100 kilometers long and leads through the New Territories, offering countless opportunities for day trips miles away from the tourist crowds. Or you could head out to Lamma Island in the south of Hong Kong.
The small island is a great place for hiking far away from the city and is also famous for its excellent seafood restaurants.
Guided tours of Hong Kong
Hong Kong is easy to explore on your own. At first, the city might seem a bit overwhelming, but it didn’t take us long to find our bearings.
Nevertheless, Hong Kong is one of the cities where it’s really interesting to look behind the curtains. That’s why we recommend taking a guided tour.
There are several exciting guided tours through Hong Kong – from classic city tours to very special themed tours – and we want to present a few below.
Classic city tours through Hong Kong
Hongkong Heritage Tour: This classic city tour in a small group is a good introduction to Hong Kong. The affable guide will introduce you to some of the most important sights in Hong Kong in a good three hours.
TramOramic Tour: The one-hour ride on the open-top double-decker tram is also a good introduction to Hong Kong, and it’s very affordable at only 11 euros.
Private tour through Hong Kong: On this tour, you’ll have the guide just to yourself for a whole day. We like these private tours the best, because that way you can set your own itinerary and discover much more of the city than you would on a group tour.
Special city tours through Hong Kong
Kowloon Markets Tour: This tour will take you through some of the most exciting markets in Kowloon. It’ll give you lots of insider information about the markets and you’ll be treated to a fascinating look behind the scenes.
Food tours through Hong Kong:
Hong Kong is a paradise for food lovers. A food tour gives you the opportunity to discover Hong Kong’s cuisine and taste several specialties in various restaurants.
Our tip: We took the Sham Shui Po Foodie Tour and sampled some very tasty dishes. This tour is great because it doesn’t just teach you about the country’s cuisine, but also provides a great deal of insight into the everyday lives of Hongkongers. Another very popular tour is the Half Day Food Tour by Foot, which combines cuisine with culture.
Hong Kong travel tips
This section features our essential travel tips for Hong Kong.
How to get from the airport to the city center
Hong Kong Airport is located in the southwest on an island off the shore of Lantau Island. There are several options to get to the city from Hong Kong Airport. The fastest is the Airport Express.
The train runs every 10 to 12 minutes and goes to Hong Kong Station on Hong Kong Island via Kowloon Station in about half an hour. The journey costs 115 HKD (about 13 euros) to Hong Kong Station or 105 HKD to Kowloon Station.
Depending on where you’re staying, it might be cheaper to take the bus into town. There are almost 40 different buses running from the airport. They’re cheaper than than Airport Express, and if you find a bus that goes directly to your hotel, it might also be quicker overall.
An overview of all the routes is available here. If in doubt, inquire at your hotel which bus to take.
There are also taxis waiting for arriving passengers just outside the terminal. The red taxis will take you to Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. A trip to Kowloon costs about 250 to 300 HKF (about 30 euros), or 350 to 400 HKD (about 40 euros) to Hong Kong Island.
The most convenient way is by private transfer. A driver will be at the airport waiting for you with a sign and will take you directly to your hotel.
This luxury costs about 100 euros and can be booked online here.
Public transport in Hong Kong
The public transportation network in Hong Kong is very well developed. There’s nowhere in the city where you can’t at least catch a bus. Buses are the most common means of transport in Hong Kong.
The large London-style double-decker buses are all over the city. There are also minibuses that run on less frequented routes. The double-decker trams chugging through the streets of Hong Kong Island are a real eye-catcher.
Things get a bit more modern when you go underground. There are a total of 7 subway lines connecting the most important areas in Hong Kong. The subway in Hong Kong is known as the MTR.
Buses and trains are extremely cheap in Hong Kong. You pay for all trips with the Octopus Card, a prepaid contactless smart card that you just have to hold against the card reader before and/or after each trip.
In theory, you could also buy a single for each trip or pay with exact change on the tram or bus. But that’s so much more inconvenient.
The Octopus Card is available directly at the airport or at all MTR Service Points. The card costs 150 HKD, which includes 100 HKD in credit and a 50 HKD deposit. You can top up your Octopus Card at the ticket machines in all the subway stations.
It’s worth topping up a bit extra so you don’t keep having to use the machines. You’ll be refunded the balance and the deposit when you return the card at the end of your stay.
The Octopus Card is also useful for paying at many small supermarkets, vending machines, and some attractions (e.g. the viewing platform on Victoria Peak).
How much does public transport in Hong Kong cost?
Buses have fixed rates that are posted at the respective stop. Most trips cost between 0.50 and 1 euro. Our most expensive trip cost just under 2 euros, and that was for a 40-minute ride to Lantau Island.
When boarding a bus, you pay by holding your Octopus Card onto the card reader next to the driver. Trams are even cheaper. A journey only costs 2.30 HKD (approx. 0.25 euros), no matter how long you stay on.
In trams, you get on at the back and off at the front, and only hold your Octopus Card onto the reader when you leave the tram. In the subway, you have to use your Octopus Card at the turnstiles when entering and leaving the station.
Credit will be deducted from your card depending on the length of the journey. We were charged about 1 euro per journey on average. It only gets more expensive when you go very long distances.
Taking the ferry is also extremely cheap and rarely costs more than 50 cents. At most ferry terminals, you pay before getting on the ferry, but at some you pay afterwards. Apparently it just isn’t standardized.
Taking a taxi in Hong Kong
Taking a taxi in Hong Kong is very cheap and often much faster than using public transport, especially if you’d have to change a few times.
Taxi meters start at 24 HKD (about 2.70 euros), which includes the first 2 kilometers. Each additional kilometer costs 8 HKD (just under 1 euro), or 6 HKD once the fare exceeds 83.50 HKD.
You get charged in 200-meter increments. Baggage transported in the trunk costs an extra 6 HKD (0.70 cents) per item. We were generally very happy with the taxi service in Hong Kong.
Where to stay in Hong Kong
The most popular districts for accommodation are Central on Hong Kong Island and Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon. Hotel prices in Hong Kong are generally very high.
We’ve written a detailed post where we tell you which area is the best place to stay and which hotels we recommend.
Even more things to see in Hong Kong?
This post should give you an overview of Hong Kong’s highlights and most popular sights. If you want to take a deeper dive into the city and are looking for sights that aren’t quite as mainstream, then check out our other post Hong Kong off the beaten path – 10 insider tips.
Which of Hong Kong’s sights is your favorite? Can you think of a sight that’s missing in our post that we absolutely have to include? When are you going to Hong Kong or have you already been? Please let us know in the comments below!