Hong Kong. Its name inspires visions of a chaotic, unkam-packed city with soaring skyscrapers, thick smog, endless noodle stands, big finance, and wild nights out. It’s one of my top five favorite cities in the world, and I relish any chance to visit. The fast pace creates a sense of permanent change, and the crowds, multiculturalism, and food keep me continuously coming back. Oh, the food! I could sit bent over a noodle bowl all day long!
Hong Kong is a busy city of eight million inhabitants with one of the biggest hub airports in the world. It can be overwhelming for many visitors, especially those not used to crowded places. And, with so much to do here, one can scratch one’s head about where to start in order get the most out of the trip.
This four-day itinerary will help you organize your trip, steer you off the beaten path, and show you why Hong Kong is one of the most on-the-go cities in the world.
The Hong Kong Museum of History — In order to understand a place, you must first understand its past. This museum lets you do just that. It provides an excellent overview of Hong Kong’s long and complex past. There are exhibits relating to the archaeology, social history, ethnography, and natural history of the region. It’s big, so allow about 2–4 hours for your visit. Admission is free on Wednesdays, and there is an audio tour available for HKD $10.
Walk through Kowloon Park
Head to Kowloon Island’s gigantic park that features a swimming pool, a fitness center, little ponds where you can watch ducks and other swimming birds, a Chinese garden, an aviary, and plenty of rest areas where you can relax to escape the oppressive Hong Kong heat. It’s one of the best places to people-watch in the city.
The street markets in Mong Kok
This area of Hong Kong has the largest and busiest markets in which to soak up the frenetic atmosphere, sights, and sounds of Hong Kong. The crowds and sellers really exemplify Hong Kong’s on-the-move essence. The two best markets for inexpensive souvenirs are the Ladies Market (bargain clothing, accessories, and souvenirs) and the Temple Street Night Market (flea market).
Tsim Sha Tsui Waterfront — Stroll along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront and take in the breathtaking skyline view of Hong Kong Island. While you’re here, make sure to visit the Avenue of Stars, Hong Kong’s answer to the Hollywood “Walk of Fame,” where you can see the stars of Chinese and Western film alike. There are shops, restaurants, and, at night, a large outdoor market serving traditional Cantonese food alongside knockoffs and souvenirs. Come ready to haggle.
Take the Star Ferry
The best way to get across the harbor from Kowloon Island to Hong Kong Island is via the Star Ferry, which showcases a fantastic view of the city skyline for only HKD $2.20. It’s one of my favorite activities.
Ride 360 Ngong Ping
This cable car runs a little over 3.5 miles, from Tung Chung across the bay toward the airport and then onward to Lantau Island, where you can visit the Po Lin Monastery. The cable car gives you a panoramic view of the whole airport, harbor, and city before it travels through the surrounding mountains. The ride lasts about 25 minutes. Lantau Island is a bit touristy, but the ride and monastery provide worthwhile views of the city and little islands that dot Hong Kong.
Take a food tour — After the morning on the cable car and enjoying a killer view of Hong Kong, spend lunchtime taking a food tour. Hong Kong is a food-filled city, and you’ll find a diverse range from around the world. Without help, you’ll never find all the hidden local favorites. The following three companies offer the best value tours:
Rent a junk boat
Junk boats — those classic boats with the large sail you see in any movie about Hong Kong — a fun way to sail around the harbor on full-day and half-day trips. You can rent a boat with a large group of friends (15 or so people) or join a group trip. Here are some recommended companies that offer affordable tours:
- Jaspas Junks
- Island Junks
- Saffron Cruises
- Hong Kong Junks
Walk the Ping Shan Heritage Trail
Located in the New Territories (the city’s less visited northern district), this trail will lead you past some of the most important ancient sights of the Tang clan: the walled Hakka village of Tsang Tai Uk, the Fu Shin Street Traditional Bazaar, Che Kung Temple, Man Mo Temple, and the Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
Another option is the Lung Yeuk Tau Heritage Trail. It begins at the Taoist temple complex of Fung Ying Seen Koon and passes the walled villages of Ma Wat Wai and Lo Wai before ending at the 18th-century Tang Chung Ling Ancestral Hall.
This part of Hong Kong is often skipped by tourists, and the trails, meandering through the city’s more rural region, are quiet and a welcome break from the giant metropolis of the downtown area.
Hong Kong Heritage Museum
This museum showcases the city’s history and love of art. There’s a large exhibit about the New Territories and an opera house for performances. It fills in some of the blanks left from the Hong Kong History Museum and gives you a look at the artistic culture of the city. It’s also located near the beautiful Sha Tin Park and Shing Mun River, making the surrounding area just as interesting as the museum!
Che Kung Temple — Just down the road from the Heritage Museum, this temple is dedicated to Che Kung, a general during the Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279) in ancient China. The temple complex here is always filled with people, so be prepared for crowds. The traditional architecture and intricate sculptures make this worth visiting after you see the Heritage Museum.
The Peak Tram
This tram takes you to the top of the Peak, Hong Kong Island’s largest mountain, at 1,700 feet. You ride a funicular to the top where you enjoy spectacular 180-degree views of the skyscrapers of Victoria Harbor, Kowloon, and the surrounding hills. It’s the best view of the city.
Hong Kong Museum of Art — This museum is a fascinating and intriguing place that exhibits Chinese ceramics, terra cotta, rhinoceros horns, and Chinese paintings, as well as contemporary art produced by Hong Kong artists. It’s part art museum, part Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
Experience the nightlife at Lan Kwai Fong
LKF is the main nightlife and party area in Hong Kong and is filled with tons of bars, clubs, sheesha (water pipes), and cheap drinks. Nights out here are wild — the street is always crowded, people get very drunk, and shots get handed out like candy. It’s rowdy, but if you want to see Hong Kong’s wilder side, this is the place to do it.
Other Suggested Activities
- Day trip to Macau — The gambling mecca of Macau is a short boat ride away. For HKD $150, the 60-75–minute boat ride from Hong Kong’s ferry terminal will take you to this former Portuguese colony, where you can wander gigantic modern casinos, stroll historic streets lined with Portuguese-inspired houses, and dine on egg tarts, a famous local specialty.
- Take a cooking class — Hong Kong is full of food. Why not learn how to cook some of it? This Hong Kong expat website has a list of 20 schools.
- Go hiking — Hong Kong may be a densely packed city, but there is also scenic hiking in the outer mountains and islands. There are a lot of trails (especially in the undeveloped parts of the New Territories). This link to the Hong Kong tourism board lists all the trails.
- Visit Disneyland and Ocean Park — If you’re on a family trip, or if you’re a backpacker in touch with your inner child, head to Disneyland or Ocean Park for a fun-filled day. Hang out with Mickey Mouse and shake hands with sea creatures. You can see Giant Pandas at Ocean Park, which justifies the whole visit.
In a city of eight million people, there are countless things to see and do. One could fill weeks exploring Hong Kong’s many islands, markets, restaurants, sights, and nightlife. Though impossible to condense a city so vast into a four-day itinerary, this list can help you experience the most Hong Kong has to offer in a short period of time.