We could have listed way more, because this city has it all. It´s not just about shopping and stuffing your face with Cantonese cuisine (although we mention those things too). Don’t believe us? Here’s 25 reasons why we know what we’re talking about.
Drink in the view
How can you not go up one of those glittering skyscrapers that make Hong Kong´s skyline one of the most famous in the world? You can take in the magnificent views of Victoria Harbour while sipping on fantastic cocktails, as many of these places host top-notch mixologists. Ozone is probably the most noted one here, where a speedy lift takes you 118 floors up the Ritz Carlton for a jaw-dropping sight from Kowloon. Over in Central, CÉ LA VI sits in a prime spot in Lan Kwai Fong with a rooftop garden that puts you among Hong Kong Island´s noted towers. There’s also many choice spots for dining, and we´ve gone ahead and written them up for you here.
Get a custom suit made
Savvy travellers know that Hong Kong is one of the top cities to get a quality suit that won’t break the bank, and one of the better-known tailors in the city is Empire Tailors. The bespoke service you get from Empire isn’t like those in-and-out places, as their intricate process takes a minimum of four days. And it’s not just suits for men that they´re expert at – they also make impressive women´s apparel. You´ll see when you try on your tailored suit that they take care when making your garment, from the fabric selection to the custom fit. When it’s ready for pick up, take your stylish self out on the town in your new threads for a swanky bottomless brunch or a chic afternoon tea (see below)…you’ll definitely get noticed.
Binge on a boozy brunch
Hong Kongers love a boozy brunch. There are countless options to indulge in this favourite past-time where one can gorge on a fine spread of brunch fare with bubbly to boot. Glass after glass of Champagne and a myriad of food options, from classic western picks where you can get all the eggs you want, to appealing Asian dim sum brunches, are available all over the city in various luxe, al fresco, sky-high or family settings. Our extensive boozy brunch guide lists the best of the bunch.
Wheel Good Time
You’ve no doubt seen it perched by the water, so it’s about time you went for a ride on the Hong Kong Observation Wheel. The Wheel is the perfect vantage point to take in views of both sides of Victoria Harbour from a spacious gondola (fits up to eight people) and tickets are super affordable – $20 for adults, $10 for children aged 3–11 years, seniors aged 65+ and visitors with disabilities, or free for children under 3. At a height of 60 m, see spectacular views of Hong Kong Island and Tsim Sha Tsui during the 15-minute ride, day or night. If you’re into an evening outing, go at around 8.00pm to catch the famous Symphony of Lights show with the whole family. There’s also lots to see and do at the many attractions at the AIA Vitality Park: get fit at a free outdoor health class like yoga, dance, cross fit and more in the backdrop of the Wheel, or check out an exciting concert, sports tournament or F&B festival. Don’t forget to take a fun spin on the classic carousel, featuring hand-painted horses and carriages that all ages will love.
Go for a drop of afternoon tea
The British left behind a lot here, which is clear to see from the English place names and architecture around the city. This is also true with their tradition of afternoon tea, in which one gathers for a quaint midday affair of scones and other baked sweets, plus dainty savouries, all lovingly presented on pretty tiered stands. The Lobby at The Peninsula offers a beautifully traditional afternoon tea experience, complete with string music playing in the background of its gorgeous setting. But this being Hong Kong, afternoon tea also comes with an Asian touch, like Above & Beyond at Hotel Icon’s Cantonese tea set, or if you fancy tea done the Scandinavian or Japanese way, we´ve also got it.
Dim sum and them some
No visit to Hong Kong is complete without sampling the dim sum. It’s a delicious cultural experience where you can feed your senses: your tastebuds delight with each bite of savoury and sweet morsels, and your eyes get a treat from the sometimes manic atmosphere of workers pushing carts with baskets of dim sum to eager diners. You can’t leave without trying the beloved baked BBQ pork buns, nor the gooey custard ones. Places like Tim Ho Wan, known for being the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, do both well, and for something on the fancier end with a modern twist, check out Duddell´s. If you want to go where the locals go, Maxim´s Palace City Hall is a well-known haunt. While in the city, don´t forget to sample other HK food favourites like egg waffles, milk tea and pineapple buns.
Shopaholics stop here
It´s true – Hong Kong is a shopping mecca. Everyone from Gucci-draped society women to market bargain hunters love coming here and walking away with loads of stuff. You can easily spend a day in one of the many giant malls scattered across the city that are lined with top brand names, plus cinemas, restaurants and even ice rinks (Elements, Festival Walk and Harbour City are the most popular ones). Head to Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon for luxury goods at Hermès and Chanel, or go across the water to Causeway Bay and brave the crowded pavement as countless others get their shopping on. For something a bit different, a visit to one of the city´s markets is a must, as in these busy outdoor stalls you can browse and buy day and night for everything from antiques to flowers.
Another special Hong Kong experience is taking in the varied cuisine, especially when you’re bobbing up and down on the water. You can literally do this in a sampan, a small swaying boat, like at Shun Kee Typhoon Shelter seafood restaurant in Causeway Bay. It’s by no means fancy, but the signature crab adorned with a mountain of chilli and fried garlic is a culinary experience that everyone should try before leaving. Over in Aberdeen, known for its floating village and seafood restaurants in the harbour, there´s Jumbo Kingdom, a floating palace with shimmering lights and tasty Chinese seafood dishes. Lamma Rainbow is a laid-back open-air affair on the Sok Kwu Wan waterfront on Lamma Island. A free ferry from Central or Tsim Sha Tsui piers takes you over for a casual feast of seafood or their award-winning sweet and sour pork.
Ride a junk
They´re called junks, but they´re nice to look at and even better to sail in. The classic red-sailed wooden boat that you´ve seen in postcards still exists, although now it shuttles tourists around. One of the last remaining Chinese junk boats, Aqualuna, sails Victoria Harbour, and is the perfect way to take in the glittering water and skyline of the city. Island Junks has a fleet of Chinese teak junks equipped to carry up to 50 passengers around various parts of Hong Kong through charter packages and tours, or sign up for a dinner cruise or view the nightly Kowloon spectacle of lights on a Symphony of Lights cruise.
Public transport adventures
After a few days here you will inevitably compare Hong Kong´s transport options to those of your city´s – in a good way. There are so many ways to get around, and none will bankrupt you. The cheapest and most cheerful by far is riding the tram, or the ding ding. These iconic double deckers go slow, and that’s just fine for parking yourself by the window on the top deck and gawking at the sights below. Hop on the Star Ferry for another unique local experience, sailing between the islands among the skyscrapers (even better at night when they´re all lit up). Brave the twists and turns that the mini buses make as they rip around the city; you´ll definitely have a story to tell after riding one of these around. Finally, take the subway to China. Really – the MTR from Hung Hom station takes you all the way to Shenzhen – and all over Hong Kong in clean, fast, air-conditioned comfort (okay, maybe it’s not as comfy in rush hour).
Hit the beach
One thing that often surprises people when they visit is that Hong Kong is not just the concrete jungle they thought it was. We also have glorious beaches, and you don´t have to venture far out of the city for a dip and a relax on the sand, like at Repulse Bay. If you´re looking for a more secluded spot, you can have that too in Lantau at Cheung Sha beach or Shek O´s Big Wave Bay, where as you can guess by the name, you can surf up a storm.
Take a Peak
It’s one of the more typically touristy things to do on this list, but a trip to the Peak is a must, along with a ride up on the steep Peak tram. There’s often a queue to board, but once you´re on it´s the quickest and most scenic way to get to the top: at 552 metres above sea level, the Peak is the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island. When you stand on the Sky Terrace 428 viewing platform and take in the amazing 360-degree panoramic view across Hong Kong, you´ll be glad you waited in line.
Some spiritual time
Step away from the bustling malls and loud street food stalls for some respite at one of the city’s impressive temples. Perhaps the most popular is the Wong Tai Sin Temple in Kowloon. Spanning 18,000 square metres, you can spend hours here observing the sacred space dedicated to Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. Man Mo Temple, the oldest in Hong Kong, was built in 1847 and is so named as it honours Man, the god of literature, and Mo, the god of war. In New Territories, Sha Tin’s Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is a delight for its actually more than 13,000 buddhas housed within. Each one is different in size and expression and made from a variety of materials.
Behold the Big Buddha
Visiting the mighty bronze Tian Tian Buddha aka The Big Buddha will take up your day as it’s located over in Lantau Island at the remote Po Lin Monastery. It’s a worthwhile trek if you have a few days in Hong Kong, because it really should be seen in real life. The big guy cost a whopping 60 million HKD to construct and sits 26.4 metres atop a lotus throne looking over the Chinese people. Getting there is an adventure in itself aboard the Ngong Ping Cable Car, which takes around 25 minutes and offers marvellous views of the surrounding lush mountains.
Take the longest escalator ride on earth
The Mid-Levels escalator in Central is a collection of sorts of escalators, footbridges and walkways, and is the longest outdoor covered escalator system in the world. It measures more than 800 metres in distance, at an elevation of 135 metres, taking you through the streets of a steep hillside. You will find some people like to walk up, so please remember the etiquette here is to stand on the right and walk left. But standing lets you glimpse into the buildings you glide past, and even the odd resident having breakfast in their flat. SOHO and Lan Kwai Fong are in the area for dining and partying, so take due care when going up and down after a few drinks.
Visit a city in itself – Chungking Mansions
Some people may steer you away from coming here, but don’t worry (although we wouldn’t recommend staying in a room here unless you´re a fan of really budget lodging). A walk around the jam-packed building that is billed as its own city by some on Kowloon´s famed Nathan Road is an experience you won’t soon forget. Here is a melting pot of Hong Kong´s varied cultures, in particular South Asians, Middle Easterners and Africans, who run and frequent the guesthouses, clothing shops and foreign exchange booths that make up this chaotic place. A good excuse to go besides the people watching is the cheap but good curry that locals of all backgrounds come here for.
Coffee with cuddly creatures
If you don’t mind a bit of whiskers with your cuppa, or the sound of rabbits gnawing on carrots in your midst, then you’ll be at home at one of Hong Kong’s animal cafes. At Rabbitland Cafe watch bunnies with names like Mimi and Momo scurry about in three rabbit pens as you munch on fries and sandwiches. Same deal at Mr and Mrs Cat Cafe and Ondogdog Cafe, where coffee and dessert are on the menu, along with interaction with furry friends.
Take the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade
The waterfront along East Tsim Sha Tsui is famed for being the vantage point of the nightly Symphony of Lights laser and light show. It’s free to watch and is worth a look, as while you wait for the show to start, you can have a nice stroll along the water with many stops for photo ops with Hong Kong’s son Bruce Lee (there’s always people clamouring for a shot with the statue), the Avenue of Stars, and the colonial clock tower by the former railway stop.
Make it a museum day
It can rain in Hong Kong, no matter what time of year, so if perchance your travels fall on a wet day, what better time than to hit up one of the museums? Hong Kong Space Museum, Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum and Hong Kong Museum of History are some of the top picks, and kids will especially enjoy the Hong Kong Science Museum.
Happy day at the races
Even if you haven’t a clue about horse racing, do go to Happy Valley for the Happy Valley Racecourse. It’s always a good time, whether you just sit back to people (and horse) watch, or get in on the fun and do some friendly betting. Beer is always flowing here, with greasy treats to match.
Hong Kong has plenty for families to do, and one of the big ticket items is a day at a massive amusement park. But here we have pandas! Ocean Park has the cute animals along with a slew of rides, entertainment and food, Noah’s Ark, featuring a full-size replica of Noah’s Ark, offers varied exhibits and activities, and Hong Kong Disneyland needs no explanation. Mickey and Minnie are here, although Minnie sometimes sports a cheongsam.
For an escape after a hectic day in Causeway Bay, or if you’re carrying around a hangover from the previous night’s shenanigans in Lan Kwai Fong, our city has plenty of green spaces to take in. Yes indeed, among the concrete structures and rows of taxis are some beautiful green locales like Victoria Park and Kowloon Park. Even in busy Central you’ll find one: Hong Kong Park.
Tea and tradition
Hong Kongers love their tea, but not just to sip. Tea houses also celebrate the culture and tradition of tea, and you can spend a lovely afternoon learning about different types of tea while drinking some heavenly brews. Go for a traditional experience at LockCha Tea House or Ying Kee Tea House (it has more than 130 years of history), or sample a modern cup at MingCha.
Chow down at a Cooked Food Centre
Another quintessential HK thing to try is a meal at a cooked food centre. Anthony Bourdain did it when he was here and he lapped it up. You will too if you don’t mind plastic chairs, clanging cutlery and loud chatter. They’re flip flop-friendly kind of places, and the food is pleasing and affordable. Locals love it, and many will even help you out when ordering. Notable ones are Java Road Cooked Food Centre, Kowloon City Cooked Food Centre, Tai Po Hui Market and Cooked Food Centre, and Queen Street Cooked Food Market.
Do and see tai chi
Early birds will undoubtedly encounter locals engaging in some tai chi at one of the city’s parks, and it is quite a mesmerizing sight to witness. Watching the slow, calm movements of this ancient Chinese fitness and martial art form is a wonderful way to pass a morning. Better yet, join in. Novices can take a class offered by the local government. Sadly, they used to be free, but the price is still decent.
Nancy Matos is a lifestyle and culture writer from Vancouver, Canada currently based in Hong Kong and London. She has done everything on this list, bar the animal cafes (allergies).