Hong Kong ranks #1 in the world for the number of skyscrapers (317, if you’re wondering!). As a former colony of the British Empire, English is widely spoken here, which makes Hong Kong a brilliant destination for first-time visitors to Asia. Expats there have called it “Asia Lite” due to the ease of assimilation. Don’t be mistaken, there are many unique and exotic cultural experiences to be had in Hong Kong.
But if the thought of traveling to Asia intimidates you because of the language barrier, reconsider Hong Kong as a destination. You also won’t find the stringent visa requirements like neighboring China, either. Check the latest requirements in advance, but Australian, US and Canadian passport holders do not need a visa for visits of 30 days or less. You’ll receive a slip at customs upon arrival and simply need to present that slip at immigration upon your departure.
Another reason to consider Hong Kong is the ease of access. Hong Kong International Airport is the world’s third-busiest airport by international passenger traffic. Despite it’s size and volume of passenger’s Hong Kong’s airport is super efficient and easy to maneuver. There’s also no shortage of shopping in Hong Kong airport, from Hello Kitty keychains to luxury leather goods. Be sure to arrive early for your departing flight so you can take advantage of duty-free shopping.
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Lantau Island is the largest of Hong Kong’s 261 islands, and contains many attractions for visitors to the city. For starters, Hong Kong International Airport is located on Lantau Island, along with many hotels. On Lantau, you’ll also find Hong Kong Disneyland, Tian Tan Buddha, Po Lin Monastery and Ngong Ping 360.
You can also book a cruise to spot the endangered Chinese pink dolphins, which roam the waters near Hong Kong. (Please do your research to ensure the tour operator operates in an ethical way that doesn’t harm the dolphins!) If your visit to Hong Kong is short, such as a long layover, you may see many things without even leaving Lantau Island!
Hong Kong Disneyland
Located on Lantau Island, and serviced by the MTR train, Hong Kong Disneyland is Asia’s 2nd Disney theme park. All attractions are narrated in English, Cantonese and Mandarin, so you won’t need to worry about a language barrier.
Ngong Ping 360, Tian Tan Buddha and Po Lin Monastery
These 3 attractions are grouped together as they go hand in hand. Ngong Ping 360 is a cable car and a cultural themed village at the foot of Tian Tan Buddha (Big Buddha.) Your journey begins at the Tung Chung MTR station, where you’ll purchase a ticket for the cable car (best to do this ahead of time, or arrive as soon as they open – later in the day you’ll find long lines to buy tickets!).
You can also choose to upgrade to a glass-bottom cable car to enhance your view as you ascend the mountain. At the top, you’ll stroll through the small village containing shops and restaurants before arriving at the base of the Big Buddha. (Buses are also available as an alternative to the cable car.) The Tian Tan Buddha is the largest outdoor, seated bronze Buddha in the world. The Buddha sits on a pedestal above many stairs, which you should climb.
Additionally, there is a museum in the base of the Buddha, which can be visited for an additional charge. You will also pass the Po Lin Monastery on your way up to the Buddha. Before joining a cable car back to Hong Kong, spend a few minutes strolling around the monastery.
As a major port city, Hong Kong must be seen from the water to fully appreciate it’s history. The Star Ferry line has been carrying passengers from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon and back, since 1888. The Star Ferry’s Harbor tour will show you all of the harbor-side attractions of Hong Kong. You might also want to consider a night-time cruise to see the city night lights come to life.
Aside from a water-view, an aerial view of the city is equally coveted. Known locally as “The Peak”, Victoria Peak is the highest point on Hong Kong Island, and is one of the most visited spots by tourists in Hong Kong. Much like Ngong Ping 360, there are many ways to visit the Peak, depending on your budget and independence.
The Peak tram is Asia’s oldest funicular and is the quickest and most scenic way to reach the summit. At the top, you’ll find additional options such as the Sky Terrace, which can be accessed with a ticket you can purchase in conjunction with the tram ticket.
Macau is known as the “Vegas of China.” Yes, it’s part of China, but easily accessible from Hong Kong by a 1-hour ferry ride, and lighter visa requirements (if any, based on your nationality) than mainland China. In Macau, you’ll find an interesting blend of Cantonese and Portuguese cuisine, Vegas-style hotels and casinos, as well as duty-free shopping.
(The Chinese city of Shenzhen is another easy day trip from Hong Kong, where you can shop for knock-offs or visit some of the quirky attractions like Windows of the World, an amusement park.)
A Day at the Beach
That’s right, Hong Kong has beaches! Over 50 swimmable beaches, as a matter of fact. As a nation of islands, there are many beaches to suit any style – from family-friendly to surfing hot-spots. The seaside village of Stanley makes an excellent day trip for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city streets of Hong Kong.
You’ll find casual cafes and market stalls selling clothing, ornaments and souvenirs. Repulse Bay is another popular beach, serviced by several buses from the city. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can hike to, and camp on, Tai Long Wan beach. From the nearest bus stop, the hike to this beach takes about 90 minutes.
Hong Kong is also famous for many street markets. There are night markets, ladies markets, food markets, and even a goldfish market! Street food in Hong Kong is legendary, so you should definitely plan on trying some. If you’re not comfortable sampling street food, you might consider a food tour where a guide can help you with the selections.
Dim Sum is a Chinese-style cuisine that must be tried when you visit Hong Kong. There are many options for dim sum in Hong Kong, from traditional teahouses to Michelin-starred restaurants. Dim Sum consists of small bite-sized portions of food, often served from a rolling cart where you point out what you want. You will be able to choose several items, sampling sweet to savory. As this is often a brunch option, some places may only serve dim sum on the weekends, so do your research.
Hike the Dragon’s Back
The Dragon’s Back trail is a ridge within Shek O Country Park and was once named the best urban hiking trail by TIME Asia. In total, the Dragon’s Back is also called Section 8 of the much longer Hong Kong trail. In about 2 hours the Dragon’s Back takes you to Shek O Peak, and ends at Big Wave Way Beach.
Happy Valley Racecourse
Happy Valley Racecourse is one of the most famous racetracks in the world. Races usually take place on Wednesday nights and the arena also features a museum and various exhibits.
A holdover from the days of British colonialism, high tea can be found throughout Hong Kong, at many 5-star hotels such as the Peninsula or the Intercontinental. There are plenty of options for every taste and budget, so do a bit of searching ahead of time to find the best high tea for you. (As an added bonus, many of the posh hotels also come with incredible views of the Hong Kong skyline!)
Enjoying a drink on a rooftop deck isn’t exclusive to Hong Kong, but is highly recommended to get the full glory of the Hong Kong skyline at night! Many posh bars will charge a cover, or have a minimum bill requirement to enjoy the view from their terraces. Of course, you may want to choose a hotel with a rooftop bar so you’re early a.m. commute is a short one!
Yes, escalators. Not just any escalators, this is the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator system and is used by commuters to navigate Hong Kong’s hilly terrain. The system contains around 1 mile of escalators and moving sidewalks. The escalators are free, but run only in one direction, depending on the time of day.
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