12 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Hong Kong
Hong Kong is known the world over as a glamorous financial hub, and a choice city for luxury shopping. But this city-state is steeped in culture and history, and has a lot more to offer than mouth-watering dim sum and an impressive skyline. Hong Kong has an energy about it that is hard to describe. Millions of people are crammed into a very small space that somehow seems to function flawlessly. Around every corner is something new and unique, whether it's an ancient temple, a shop selling the latest electronic gadget, or a man taking his bird in a cage for a walk.
As a Special Administrative Region of China, Hong Kong presents an interesting study in the influences of ancient Chinese culture as well as its own attitudes and history, independent from that of mainland China. A visit to Hong Kong can include sweeping views of land, sea, and architecture, wonderful beaches, great hikes, and traditional fishing villages with a slower pace of life. Hong Kong is one of the most impressive cities in the world, certainly, but there's much more to the country than meets the eye.
See also: Where to Stay in Hong Kong
1 Star Ferry
Hong Kong's famous Star Ferry, with roots dating back to 1880, costs only a few Hong Kong Dollars to ride, making it one of the best deals in all of Hong Kong. Victoria Harbour is a hive of activity, and ships of all shapes and sizes chug, zip, or wallow past as the expert captains of the Star Ferries somehow avoid collisions. As you travel the main route from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central, it's hard not to be struck by the dense towers of Hong Kong Island backed by green mountains rising up before you. The breeze off the water is exceptionally refreshing, and the wide-open spaces are a perfect antidote to the tight confines of the city. Don't worry about scheduling a time to ride the ferry, they leave every few minutes all day long and later into the evening, so it's always easy to get a great seat in the front or along the rail. The return trip from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui is also just as impressive, with the buildings seemingly constructed right atop one another. If you time it right in the evening, you can catch the full splendor of the nightly laser show. The 360-degree spectacle of laser beams striking the skyscrapers on either side of the harbor is worth sticking around to see.
2 Victoria Peak
You haven't seen Hong Kong until you've taken in the skyline from Victoria Peak. Ride the tram to the top of this scenic viewpoint to see the skyscrapers, bustling city, and surrounding islands (you can catch the tram at the Murray Building, behind the Hilton Hotel). Spend an hour or two wandering around the park area, taking in the lush greenery contrasted with the thriving urban center below. Evening is a great time to visit The Peak, as the area is known, when you can see the spectacular skyline lit against the night sky. If there is one must-see attraction in all of Hong Kong, this one is it.
3 Victoria Central Business District
Wander through the Victoria Central Business District and you'll get a feel for why Hong Kong is one of the great international financial hubs in the world. You may see a few colonial buildings in this neighborhood, but old has largely given way to the new, with skyscrapers rising around you at every turn. When you're not marveling at these modern wonders of mankind, you can visit the nearby Zoological and Botanical Gardens or the famous Bank of China skyscraper, which was at one time the highest building in Hong Kong and is still one of the tallest in the world. The Man Mo Temple, one of the largest and oldest Chinese temples on Hong Kong Island, is also in Victoria.
4 Wong Tai Sin Temple
The Wong Tai Sin Temple is one of the newest in Hong Kong and also one of the most interesting. Located in Kowloon, the original temple was a private structure built in 1920. It was later replaced with a newer building in 1968, which is what visitors see today. The temple was built to honor the Taoist god Wong Tai Sin, whom locals regard as the bringer of good luck in horse-racing and a healer of illnesses. A festival is held at the temple in Wong Tai Sin's name each fall. The temple complex is made up of several buildings, including the Hall of Three Saints, the Good Wish Garden, and another hall dedicated to Confucius and his 72 disciples. Expect to see fortune-tellers in the large hall, as well as joss sticks and other offerings that visitors can use. It is customary for guests to leave a small donation toward the temple's maintenance.
5 Tsim Sha Tsui
Tsim Sha Tsui is a shopping and entertainment hub at the southern point of Kowloon, and is not to be missed if you're looking for a real taste of what Hong Kong has to offer. The Tsim Sha Tsui district is a melting pot of culture and commerce that speaks to the heart of Hong Kong. Nathan Road is the main artery running through the area, where you'll find lots of great restaurants, boutiques, and other unique vendors. If you're looking for the world-class luxury Hong Kong promises, you can find high-end retailers on nearby Canton Road. At the southern end of the neighborhood, you'll find the former Kowloon-Canton Railway Clock Tower, a Hong Kong landmark. The Tsim Sha Tsui Cultural Complex is the premier cultural center in the country and includes tourist attractions such as the Hong Kong Space Museum and the Hong Kong Museum of Art.
6 Avenue of Stars
While in Tsim Sha Tsui, be sure to visit the Avenue of Stars, a promenade where the city pays homage to some of Hong Kong's best known film stars, such as martial arts great Bruce Lee. The promenade opened in 2004 and runs along the waterfront of Tsim Sha Tsui. It features stars dedicated to Chinese performers, similar to the Walk of Fame in Hollywood. The Avenue of the Stars is just one part of the much longer waterfront promenade, which is a popular place for walking, jogging, and hanging out, particularly since it is one of the few open spaces in the area. The promenade also makes a great spot to watch the Symphony of Light show across the harbor in the evenings. Be sure to find a place where you can hear the music that accompanies the show.
7 Ocean Park
As theme parks go, this one covers all the thrills you can handle in a day - a walk through old Hong Kong, roller coasters, a Grand Aquarium, and a look at rare and exotic wildlife. Ocean Park boasts the largest aquarium dome in the world, spanning 5.5 meters in diameter. The aquarium experience includes a look at thousands of fish from 400 species, a Reef Tunnel, and a chance to get hands-on with sea stars and sea cucumbers. Above the sea, guests can partake in a Giant Panda Adventure, where they'll see giant pandas, red pandas, and the endangered Chinese Giant Salamander. There are also special programs focused on the North and South Poles. Fun rides include the Mine Train, Raging River, and Space Wheel. Ocean Park is rivalled only by Hong Kong's other popular theme park: Disneyland.
8 Repulse Bay and the Beaches
Hong Kong isn't exactly synonymous with beach vacations, but who doesn't like a little sun and sand between bouts of sightseeing? The beach at Repulse Bay is the most popular in the country, and a day spent here is complemented with the luxury and style typical of Hong Kong itself. Visitors are treated to a look at traditional Chinese architecture at the Hong Kong Life Saving Society clubhouse, while The Repulse Bay shows off its colonial influences. The latter reflects its past as a high-end hotel, but today offers great dining and shopping selections.
Another nearby spot for a day at the beach is Big Wave Bay. Here, the water rolls in relatively gently to a large U-shaped cove. A popular outing is to walk part of the famous Dragon's Back hike to Big Wave Bay and have a swim. Buses and taxis are available to take you back to the city. For a day at the beach and a great meal, be sure to check out Shek O Beach. It's easily accessible via public transit.
9 Big Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha Statue)
This 34-meter-high "Big Buddha" sits atop Lantau Island's Po Lin monastery, which was a fairly secluded place until the statue was built in 1993. This Buddha is believed to be the largest free-standing statue of its kind in the world and took 12 years to complete. Early risers can climb Lantau Peak first thing in the morning, under the guidance of a monk, and watch the sun rise over the monastery and surrounding sea and islands. Hong Kong's only tea plantations can be found to the south of the monastery, and the beautiful Shek Pik reservoir is also on Lantau Island.
10 Tai O Fishing Village
A visit to Tai O village offers an experience you won't find anywhere else in Hong Kong. A far cry from the shining city, crowded markets, and theme parks, Tai O is home to people who live a quieter, more traditional way of life. The Tanka people who live in Tai O, found on Lantau Island, build their homes on stilts over tidal flats and are a community of fisherfolk. Villagers offer boat rides around the village, after which you can visit the local markets and sample some of the fresh seafood. Occasional sightings of the endangered pink dolphin occur in the nearby waters.
11 Temple Street Night Market
Another must-visit in Kowloon, the Temple Street Night Market is the last night market in Hong Kong. This is the place to go for eclectic foods, goods, and characters. Vendors sell everything from electronics and clothes to jade jewelry and traditional Chinese crafts. When you need a break from shopping, you can sit with a fortune teller or hear traditional Cantonese opera sung outside the Tin Hua Temple, where performers range from amateur to professional level and treat guests to the country's musical culture.
12 Dragon's Back Hike
If you've had enough of the tight confines of Hong Kong and are ready for a little exercise, try escaping to the Dragon's Back Hike. This popular trail offers spectacular views out over the ocean, Big Wave Bay, Mount Collinson, Stanley, and Shek O. It's a pleasant change from the buzz of the big city to hear birdsong, the sound of small waterfalls, and the leaves rattling in the ocean breeze. The hike is relatively easy but be sure to start at Section 8 (bus stop To Tei Wan). From here, the walk takes you up a short distance and then is predominantly downhill with rolling sections to Big Wave Bay. At this location, you can catch a taxi or mini bus to Shek O. Both areas are fantastic swimming spots, with beautiful beaches, and Shek O has a variety of restaurants serving good food. Don't forget to bring plenty of water and your bathing suit and towel. A swim to cool down followed by a fruit smoothie or ice cream at the end of the hike is heavenly.
Where to Stay in Hong Kong for Sightseeing
When selecting a place to stay in Hong Kong, you will need to decide whether you want to base yourself in Kowloon, or across Victoria Harbour on Hong Kong Island. Both areas offer a wide range of hotels, from budget right through to luxury. Attractions are spread across both areas, but Hong Kong Island has a greater proportion of the most popular sites and more outdoor dining and entertainment options. Kowloon is home to the most popular markets and also has the best nighttime views of the city lights. Below is a list of top-rated hotels in convenient locations:
- Luxury Hotels: Standing proudly and historically near the Kowloon waterfront, The Peninsula Hong Kong offers elegant rooms, old-world charm, and exceptional service. High Tea is offered each day from 2-6pm. Another well-positioned hotel, one block from the water on the Kowloon side, is The Langham. This is a smaller property, but well-appointed, with top-end service and a Michelin three-star restaurant. On Hong Kong Island, connected to the Pacific Place shopping mall, is the Conrad Hong Kong. This hotel has outstanding views over the harbor, or to the mountains behind, and features a large outdoor pool and breakfast served al fresco, if you choose.
- Mid-Range Hotels: On the Kowloon side and handy to the Temple Street Night Market is the Eaton Hong Kong, with an outdoor rooftop pool. For those not requiring a pool, just across the street, the well-regarded Nathan Hotel has slightly cheaper rates. On Hong Kong Island, the 99 Bonham All Suite Hotel is a good option for those looking for rooms with a small kitchen.
- Budget Hotels: Right in the center of the action in the Tsim Sha Tsui area of Kowloon is the Maple Leaf Guest House. Over on Hong Kong Island and featuring an outdoor pool is the Bishop Lei International House. This hotel is near the top of the Mid-Levels escalator, but still very convenient for dining and sightseeing. For a small room in the middle of all the action on Hong Kong Island, the Mini Hotel Central can't be beat.