Although just 1,114 square kilometres (four times smaller than Tokyo and nine times smaller than Los Angeles), Hong Kong packs a lot of punch within the 250+ islands that make up the territory. From fishing villages that appear as if they’ve been frozen in time to night markets full of streets upon streets of trinkets, and grand museums to one of the most awesome giant Buddha statues in the world, it’s impossible to fully grasp the mingling of cultures and history that has made the city of Hong Kong what it is today in just one trip. However, we’ve put together a list of some of the essential Hong Kong attractions you must see to give you the best idea of just what it’s all about.
Tian Tan Buddha
The Tian Tan Buddha is the largest outdoor seated bronze Buddha statue in the world, towering 112 ft over Lantau Island. Getting to the ‘Big Buddha’ itself is a lovely part of the day trip, with a leisurely 25-minute gondola ride over Lantau North Country Park and a walk through Ngong Ping Village which has boutique shops and restaurants modelled to look like a traditional Hong Kong village. Once you’ve climbed the 268 steps to the statue, take in the incredible views of scenery and visit the halls situated in the base of Buddha’s altar to see relics of the Gautama Buddha and shop for souvenirs. The nearby Po Lin Monastery, which was responsible for the building of the Big Buddha over 12 years, is occupied by Buddhist monks and is also open to the public.
How to get there: Go out from Tung Chung MTR station Exit B. Walk about 10 minutes to the Ngong Ping 360 cable car which takes you to Ngong Ping Village, and then walk another 10 minutes to the Tian Tan Buddha.
Newly opened in 2021, M+ Museum is the city’s landmark museum of visual culture. The architects behind the building which has become a permanent part of the Kowloon skyline designed it to look like an upside-down T. Exhibitions highlighting 20th and 21st century film, architecture, physical artworks, and all manner of moving images from around the world are housed in the bottom section, while green spaces and dining are housed in the upper section. The upper portion of the facade doubles as a gigantic LED display which displays moving artworks and promotions across Victoria Harbour. M+ Museum is located in West Kowloon Cultural District, where you can visit West Kowloon Art Park or the Hong Kong Palace Museum while you’re at it.
How to get there: Go out from Kowloon MTR station Exit B and walk about five minutes to West Kowloon Cultural District.
Ocean Park is the city’s beloved amusement park with thrill rides, oceanarium displays, animal attractions, and Water World, the largest water park in Hong Kong. The longest-standing theme park and major tourist attraction in Hong Kong is uniquely spread across a mountainside, with the rides set above the entrance of the park and accessible via a cable car or underground train ride. Must-see attractions include Old Hong Kong Street, Amazing Asian Animals with giant pandas, red pandas, and Asian otters; Polar Adventure with penguins, walruses, and seals, and the aptly named Hair Raiser rollercoaster. If you happen to visit in October, Ocean Park holds what is regarded as the biggest Halloween event in Asia throughout the entire month with a haunted house, shows, and themed rides.
How to get there: Go out from Ocean Park MTR station Exit B and walk one minute to Ocean Park.
Fa Yuen Street Market
All in the name of shopping! Hong Kong is lauded as a mecca for shopping not only luxury goods but also ‘cheap’ treasures of Chinese artifacts, jade, designer brand replicas, cute knick-knacks, accessories, and cost-effective tech. The best Hong Kong tourist spot for finding all these and more is Fa Yuen Street.
Stalls within inches of each other are set up along the entire 1 km pedestrian-only street. What makes this such a popular tourist attraction in Hong Kong is not only the plethora and range of items you can shop for, but the fact that the stores behind the stalls have endless numbers of restaurants, street food, and clothing stores which locals also frequent. The street market bustles from day to night, but things really rev up from the afternoon on. The nearby Sneaker Street, Goldfish Street, and Flower Market are also popular Hong Kong attractions.
How to get there: Go out from Mong Kok MTR station Exit B3. Walk two minutes to Fa Yuen Street.
Also known as “Stone Slabs Street” in Cantonese (sek baan gaai) for its iconic uneven granite steps, Pottinger Street is the perfect place to get a feel for the liveliness of Central district. Built on a steep slope smack in the middle of the central business district, this is where people to go to shop for costumes, party decorations, gag gifts, cheap clothes, and hair accessories. The street is famous for being named after the first governer of Hong Kong and also being the boundary street between where Hong Kong locals and westerners lived during colonial times in the 19th century. It’s especially striking to visit ifc or Landmark, among the most upscale shopping malls in the city, after you visit Pottinger Street for a sense of just how intermingled the old and new are here.
How to get there: Go out from Central MTR station Exit B and walk two minutes to Pottinger Street.
Avenue of Stars
Hong Kong’s own Walk of Fame honours the city’s history of filmmaking, with statues of legendary martial artist and actor Bruce Lee, Hong Kong sweetheart Anita Mui, local cartoon character McDull, and the 20-metre Film Awards statue which portrays a woman holding a pearl. The signature and handprints of director John Woo can also be viewed here. The Avenue of Stars set on the Tsim Sha Tsui harbourfront is also the most iconic viewpoint to see the city skyline.
Each night at 8pm, the glittering skyscrapers of Hong Kong Island light up with the 10-minute-long light and sound ‘Symphony of Light’ show. To make the most of the trip, you can pop into the Hong Kong Museum of Art, Hong Kong Space Museum, or Hong Kong Cultural Centre just steps away. (Tip: Museums have free entry on Wednesdays!)
How to get there: Go out from Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station Exit E. Walk past K11 MUSEA towards the harbourfront. Or take the ferry from Central (pier 7) or Wan Chai to the Star Ferry Pier and start walking along the harbourfront.
Tsz Shan Monastery
You might be wondering, why are we mentioning another Buddhist monastery? While the ethereal, white 249ft tall statue of the Mother Goddess of Hong Kong, Guan Yin, is dazzling, the connecting Chinese Buddhist monastery is also a focus here. The sprawling, peaceful grounds of Tsz Shan Monastery are a picture of zen, set further away from public transportation links than most Buddhist temples in Hong Kong and so less occupied by crowds. With various grand courtyards, numerous hidden away spots for contemplation, and a beautiful design mingling pure white marble, African wood, and nature, this is one of the essential famous places in Hong Kong to appreciate the rich tapestry of Buddhist belief in the city. Visits are by appointment only, which can be done through the website.
How to get there: Go out from Tai Po Market MTR station Exit B. Take minibus 20B, 20C, 20T, or NR532, with walking times from the final bus stop to the monastery ranging from 0 to 15 minutes. (Check here for more details about bus routes.)
Victoria Peak, generally simply called The Peak, is the tallest hill on Hong Kong Island and undoubtedly the most famous place in Hong Kong to see the lights of the city that never sleeps. From 1,811 ft up, you get the grandest views of Victoria Harbour and even outlying islands. From long ago in Hong Kong’s history as a British colony, The Peak was occupied by well-off European expats who preferred the cooler temperatures up on the mountain and the panoramic views of the colony.
Today, there are two shopping centres at The Peak: Peak Tower and Peak Galleria, as well as numerous restaurants and a Madame Tussauds wax museum. There’s an observation deck at the top of the Peak Tower that costs HK$75 to enter, but you can also see similar views from the lower decks free of charge.
How to get there: Go out from Hong Kong MTR station Exit B1. From Exchange Square, take bus 15 or X15 to the Peak Galleria. You can also reach The Peak by hiking about one hour or taking the historic Peak Tram from Central.
Tai O Fishing Village
Among the earliest human inhabitants of the harbour that is Hong Kong were communities who fished for a living, as well as ethnic groups that lived their entire lives on boats (read our guide to sampan boats to learn more about these groups). These people slowly came to become land dwellers in villages focused in fishing areas.
Meaning “large inlet” in Cantonese, Tai O is one of these historic villages, and it’s become such a famous Hong Kong attraction because of the houses on stilts called pang uk that can’t be found anywhere else in the city. Here, in a place some people call the ‘Hong Kong Venice’, some people still live on metal and wood houses built on top of wood stilts above the water, where occupants could step out directly onto their boats. Tai O is known for its famous salted fish (the village contains many salt marshes) and for the boat excursions to see pink dolphins.
How to get there: Go out from Tung Chung MTR station Exit A and take bus 11 to Tung Chung Town Centre. Or take the ferry from Central to Mui Wo (pier 6) and then catch bus 1 to the village.
Lan Kwai Fong
Hong Kong is considered a city that never sleeps for a couple of reasons: shops and restaurants generally open until late into the night, it’s common to see residents roaming the streets or exercising even at 9pm, and the nightlife is among the best in Asia. Lan Kwai Fong is at the centre of all of this as Hong Kong’s bar district. Especially on Fridays and weekend nights, this area in Central absolutely comes to life with young people crawling the streets of pubs, cocktail lounges, and nightclubs, with crowds commonly spilling out onto the sidewalk and street when they can’t fit inside the venue. During Halloween, the Rugby Sevens, and New Year’s Eve, this is the famous place in Hong Kong to go to enjoy the holiday atmosphere.
How to get there: Go out from Central MTR station exit D2 and walk three minutes uphill to Lan Kwai Fong.
Header image credits: Hong Kong Tourism Board