Whether Hong Kong is a part of China is confusing to many tourists. It’s understandable to wonder this, as the answer is not a simple yes or no. Up until 1997, it was actually governed by the United Kingdom. While undoubtedly Chinese in terms of culture and language, Hong Kong operates independently. Citizens need a passport to visit mainland China and vice versa. Hong Kong has its own laws, currency, flag, and unique fusion of influences.
One thing is for sure, and it’s that Hong Kong is a vibrant and exciting place to travel to. Many people may assume it’s an expensive place to visit as a tourist, but that’s definitely not the case. Read through this budget travel guide for Hong Kong to learn how to have a rich and authentic experience that won’t scare your bank account.
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The Best Time to Visit Hong Kong
October to mid-December is the best time to visit Hong Kong if you want a good mix of affordable prices, temperate weather and average-sized crowds. If you can handle high humidity and a bit of rainfall, May and June are also good months to visit Hong Kong on a budget. There are no significant events on during this period, so flights and hotels are at their cheapest.
Try to avoid visiting during the first week of October. Hong Kong’s National Day is on the first of the month, meaning all the locals are out celebrating. July to November is also peak typhoon season, so a trip during these months will require a flexible schedule. Also be aware that January to March is the high season for festivals. There’s not only Chinese New Year, but the Hong Kong International Film Festival and the Hong Kong Arts Festival draw a lot of crowds too.
Budget Things to do in Hong Kong
There are a lot of things to do in Hong Kong that don’t involve shopping centres or a day at Disneyland. Though there are many Hong Kong tourist attractions to check out, I’m sure you want to know about the most affordable things to see and do. You’ll be pleased to discover how many activities are free or cost less than a cup of coffee!
Sik Sik Yuen Wong Tai Sin Temple is vibrant and well-known shrine you’ll want to explore. Dedicated to the Great Immortal Wong, the famous temple brings together Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism. The temple, which is located in the New Kowloon area, takes up over 18,000 square metres. At this site, you’ll find the picturesque Good Wish Garden, as well as the Nine-Dragon Wall and the Three Saints Hall.
If you’re seeking spiritual guidance, you can even have your fortune told! This works through a ritual called kau cim. Worshippers light and offer a stick of incense, kneel in front of the altar and pray or make a wish. They then shake a bamboo container full of fortune sticks until one stick falls out. From there, the stick is exchanged for a numbered piece of paper and later interpreted by a soothsayer nearby. If this seems a little too complicated for you, you can also opt for a palm reading instead.
For a look into Hong Kong’s alternative art scene, take a trip to Cattle Depot Artist Village in Kowloon. The 20 or so art spaces can be found in this quirky and industrial former abattoir. Luckily, everything here is free to look at. You’ll see various paintings and abstract sculptures, many of which are deemed controversial within Chinese society.
If you want a break away from the city streets, make your way to the tranquil Kowloon Park. Explore the hedge maze or just sit and relax by the water fountain. There also happens to be a stunning pink and white mosque in the area, one of only five in the entire city. For those interested in learning about Hong Kong’s past, the Hong Kong Museum of History and the Hong Kong Science Museum are a short walk away. Entry costs 10 to 20 Hong Kong Dollars (HKD) each.
There are a few attractions that are saved just for night time. Get to the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade for the Symphony of Lights, a light show that begins every night at eight p.m. across both sides of the Victoria Harbour. The Clock Tower is also beautiful to see when lit up in the dark. Of course, there are also the night markets. Temple Street is the largest of them all, and the perfect place to visit for a real Hong Kong market experience.
Vendors sell the usual clothing, antiques, jewellery and souvenirs, and begin setting up at around five o’clock. This bustling street bazaar is excellent for a wander so you can visit whether you have the budget for shopping or not. Try some local street snacks while you’re there, like pineapple buns, egg tarts and curry fish balls. Simply browsing the stalls will give your legs a workout, as the market spans over a kilometre. When your feet have had enough, you can head back to your accommodation via the nearby Jordan MTR station.
Places to Visit in Hong Kong on a Budget
Many Hong Kong attractions are located on the gorgeously luscious Lantau Island. The island is connected to the central part of Hong Kong via a bridge, so it’s easy to access. Here you’ll find Po Lin, aka the Precious Lotus. It’s one of the most important monasteries in Hong Kong, known for its beauty and elegance. It’s a favourite spot for locals to pray, worship and offer incense. Explore the colourful Great Hall and marvel at the elaborate column carvings. While you’re here, you can also have an affordable Buddhist vegetarian meal at the canteen. Close by is the Wisdom Path, a trail of 38 wooden monuments. Each monument has inscriptions from the Heart Sutra, and even if you can’t read Chinese, it’s a peaceful walk nonetheless.
Near the monastery is the Tian Tan Buddha statue, also known as the Big Buddha. It is without a doubt one of the best places to visit in Hong Kong. Walk up 260 steps, and you’ll reach this grand bronze statue sitting 34 metres high. Six smaller figures are surrounding the Buddha, referred to as the Offerings of the Six Devas. Each statue represents one of the requirements for achieving nirvana. These are charity, morality, patience, zeal, meditation and wisdom. There are absolutely stunning views from the platforms here. From the top, you can take in the surrounding nature and the South China Sea. Depending on the level of smog during your visit, you may be able to see the rugged hills too.
Victoria Peak is the ultimate Hong Kong sightseeing spot, as it is the highest point in the city. Atop the 550 metre mountain is an observation deck where you can check out a 360-degree view of the city. You can reach the summit by catching the Peak Tram, which takes only seven minutes.
Not only is this tram the most direct route, but it also provides the most breathtaking views going up. It can get hectic as it serves many residents, so don’t be in a rush. Return tickets cost 52 HKD for adults. While that might seem expensive, it’s actually just under 7 USD. Children, seniors and concession holders can get a return ticket for more than half the cost. For little extra money, you can buy joint tickets that grant access to the Sky Terrace.
Where to Stay in Hong Kong on a Budget
There are a few areas to consider when deciding where to stay in Hong Kong. Mong Kok is the perfect place to find budget accommodation (and cheap street food), while Causeway Bay is ideal for families looking for constant entertainment. Tsim Sha Tsui is also a popular area for first-time visitors due to its central location. Here are a couple of cheap hotels in Hong Kong you may want to look into for your next visit. We have also written an extensive guide on Where to stay in Hong Kong.
The New Euro Asia Guest House is a no-frills place to stay for anyone on a budget. Located in the convenient Tsim Sha Tsui area, the guest house is only 300 metres from Harbour City and surrounded by many cultural attractions. Single, double, triple and family rooms are all available. While the rooms are simple, you have everything you need in an unbeatable location. Although it’s in a bustling area, the soundproofing ensures you’ll get a good night’s sleep.
Hotel MK is the place to stay if you’re seeking a modern and luxurious feel without the hefty price tag. The hotel is recently renovated and has a chic, industrial vibe. There’s an outdoor terrace, and many of the rooms show off beautiful city views. If you’re not sold yet, there’s complimentary coffee every morning in the lobby! It’s definitely a relaxed place to stay in contrast to the lively Mong Kok area. You’ll be right by popular markets, and only a 350 metre walk from the MTR station.
If you want a truly unique stay, why not sleep in a capsule? L’étoile de Mer (French for the Star of the Sea) is an impeccably clean and modern hotel with self-service facilities. While the capsules themselves offer you complete privacy, you can meet other travellers in the large shared kitchen. It’s likely that you’ll also spend some time here marvelling at the harbour views from the window. The beautifully designed shared bathroom also comes with all the free amenities you could ever need during your stay. There are even massage chairs to enjoy. This boutique hotel is only a minute walk from the Causeway Bay MTR station so you can explore the rest of Hong Kong with ease.
How to get around Hong Kong on a Budget
The Octopus Card will be your best friend while in Hong Kong. These prepaid tap-and-go cards allow you to travel on public transport without using cash. A few MTR stations have already been mentioned so you may have guessed that the train is the most convenient way to get around. As a traveller, you can quickly pick up one of these cards ‘on-loan’ at the Airport Express station. When you return to the airport at the end of your trip, you can hand it back over. The journey between the airport and Hong Kong station takes an average of 24 minutes. You’ll be able to receive a refund for any money remaining on the card, and it’s likely there’ll be some left over, as train fares here are very cheap. In addition to catching MTR trains, buses, ferries and trams, you can also use your Octopus Card to pay at convenience stores and supermarkets.
Cheap Tours to do in Hong Kong
Some of the best tours in Hong Kong are run independently by locals eager to teach you about their home. These tours are a must if you really want to understand this place from a resident’s perspective. Proud Hong Kongers will share stories with you over delicious and affordable food at places most tourists don’t know about. Whether you’re solo, travelling with your family, or even on a romantic getaway, all private tours can be personalised. It’s a fun way to make a local friend and gain some real insights into Hong Kong.
Of course, there is always the more affordable option of a group tour. There are walking tours of Hong Kong and Kowloon where you can pay at the end what you think the experience is worth. Not only will you see the major attractions, but you’ll learn how Hong Kong operates. The recommended tip per “free” tour is 100 HKD per person. An evening cruise on Victoria Harbour run by Aqua Luna will cost you between 195 and 220 HKD per adult. In the daytime, a harbour discovery tour is only 160 HKD. Century Holiday also runs reasonably priced day tours to Lantau Island and Macau.
Now you know what to do in Hong Kong, when to visit, which places to see, and how to get around. Since you don’t need to overspend to have a memorable experience, you can book your next trip with peace of mind.
Recommend budget tours in Hong Kong:
- Lantau Island and Giant Buddha Day Trip from Hong Kong
- Hong Kong Sunset Cruise plus Dinner at the Jumbo Floating Restaurant
- Macau Day Trip from Hong Kong
- Hong Kong Shore Excursion: Full-Day City Sightseeing Tour
- Big Bus Hong Kong Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
- Symphony of Lights Hong Kong Harbor Night Cruise
- Hong Kong Food Tour: Central and Sheung Wan Districts
- Hong Kong Markets Small-Group Walking Tour
- Hong Kong Disneyland Admission E-Ticket
- The Dragon’s Back Hiking Tour
Want to learn how to travel on a Budget? Check out our dedicated “Budget Conscious Travel Guide”
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