Hong Kong is known worldwide as a glamorous city and a top choice for luxury shopping. But this city-state is steeped in culture and history and has much more to offer than delectable dim sum and an impressive skyline. Hong Kong has an energy that is difficult to describe. In the city center, millions of people are crammed into a very small space that somehow seems to function flawlessly. Around every corner is something new and unique, be it an old temple, a shop selling the latest electronic gadget, or a man taking his bird in a cage for a walk. Hong Kong also has another side, where you will find forest-covered mountains, hiking trails, beautiful beaches, islands and traditional fishing villages.
As a special administrative region of China, Hong Kong presents an interesting study of the influences of ancient Chinese culture, as well as its own attitude and history, independent of that of mainland China. Hong Kong is certainly one of the most impressive cities in the world, but there is much more here than meets the eye. Find out what to see and do and discover the best places to visit with our list of top Hong Kong attractions.
1. Star Ferry
Hong Kong’s famous Star Ferry, with roots dating back to 1880, costs just a few Hong Kong Dollars to drive, making it one of the best deals in all of Hong Kong. Victoria Harbor is a hive of activity, and ships of all shapes and sizes chug, zip or wobble by while the Star Ferries’ expert captains somehow avoid collisions. As you travel the main route from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, or more specifically Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) to Central, it’s hard not to be hit by the dense towers of Hong Kong Island backed by green mountains rising up in front of you. The wind from the water is exceptionally refreshing and the wide open spaces are a perfect antidote to the tight city walls.
Don’t worry about planning a time to travel by ferry, they leave every few minutes all day and later in the evening so it’s always easy to get a great seat in front of or along the train. The return journey from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui is equally impressive. If you do it right at night, you can see the full splendor of the A Symphony of Lights show. The 360-degree spectacle of laser beams hitting the skyscrapers on either side of the harbor is one of the city’s free attractions and one of the most popular things to do at night in Hong Kong.
2. Hong Kong skyline
Hong Kong has one of the most impressive and recognizable skylines in the world. The dense collection of skyscrapers, both on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon, combined with the surrounding mountains and harbor, sets this city apart. In the harbor, traditional red-sailing Chinese junk boats and the historic Star Ferry contrast sharply with the backdrop of modern high-rise buildings. At night, the skyline changes completely in character as the sky darkens and the city lights fill the scene. Two of the best spots in Hong Kong to see the skyline are from the top of Victoria Peak or from Kowloon’s waterfront (along the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade at the Clock Tower), not far from the Star Ferry Dock, where banks line the waterfront stand and look at Hong Kong. The latter location is the best place to watch the nightly A Symphony of Lights laser and light show to music.
3. Victoria Peak (The Peak)
You have only seen the best of Hong Kong after seeing the skyline of Victoria Peak, better known as The Peak, in the skyline. Ride the tram to the top of this scenic vantage point to see the skyscrapers, bustling city, harbor and surrounding islands. The tram station is located at the entrance of Hong Kong Park near the Murray building. At the top of the tram are the Peak Tower and Peak Galleria, with shops, restaurants and an observation deck. Most of The Peak is covered in a large park with lush greenery, nature trails and nicer lookouts overlooking the thriving metropolis below. A path also leads from The Peak to the town below, along a mix of trails through the forest and sections of the road here and there. Finding your way around can be a bit confusing.
The evening is a great time to visit The Peak, when you can see the spectacular skyline illuminated against the night sky. This is one of the best views in Hong Kong at night. If the tram line is long, or if you want to go directly from your hotel, you can also take a taxi to the top.
4. Big Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha statue)
The 34-meter-high “Big Buddha” is located above the Po Lin Monastery of Lantau, a quite remote place until the statue was built in 1993. This is one of the largest Buddha statues of its kind in the world and took 12 years to complete. The format is astonishing, seen both up close and from a distance. The setting here is also incredible, surrounded by the green forest and views of the ocean and islands. Although you can take a bus, the best way to reach the Buddha is via the scenic Ngong Ping Cable Car, which will take you a 5.7-kilometer, 25-minute ride over forest, water and mountains. The ride ends in the small, tourist-oriented Ngong Ping Village, which you must walk through before reaching the monastery and the Big Buddha.
Once through the village, a huge staircase leads to the base, but don’t be put off. The walk up is fast and the view from the base of the statue is worth it. You can access the funicular from MTR Tung Chung Station. Some people combine a trip to the Big Buddha with a stop in the fishing village of Tai O, a 20-minute bus ride away, but still on Lantau Island. You can also pick up a Hong Kong Travel Pass combination: MTR Pass, Ngong Ping Cable Car and Big Buddha Tour, which gives you a one to three day MTR (metro) pass, a round-trip cable car rides, and a guided tour of the Big Buddha. This is a good deal if you plan to travel around with MTR during your stay in Hong Kong.
5. 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. Later it was replaced with a newer building in 1968, what visitors see today. The temple was built in honor of the Taoist god Wong Tai Sin, who is considered by locals to be the source of happiness in horse racing and a healer of diseases. Every fall, a festival is held in the temple in the name of Wong Tai Sin.
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 main hall, as well as joss sticks and other offerings for visitors to take advantage of. It is common for guests to leave a small donation for the maintenance of the temple.
6. Repulse Bay and the Beaches
Not everyone thinks of beaches when they think of Hong Kong, but you don’t have to go far to find an incredibly soft sandy beach. Repulse Bay beach is the most popular in all of Hong Kong, with great views and a great place to swim, although not touristy. A day spent here is complemented by the luxury and style that characterizes Hong Kong itself. The street that runs along the ocean and overlooks the wide beach is full of trendy restaurants and shops. Amalfitana is a fun place to enjoy a pizza, with casual al fresco dining overlooking the beach.
Another place nearby for a day at the beach is Big Wave Bay. Here the water rolls relatively gently to a large U-shaped bay with a beautiful beach. This is a much more relaxed and casual atmosphere than Repulse Bay. A popular outing is to hike part of the famous Dragon’s Back hike to Big Wave Bay and take a dip in the ocean for a swim. At the back of the beach, barbecues often serve seafood and other tasty treats. Buses and taxis are available to take you back to the city. The scenic Shek O Beach is also worth a visit. It is easily accessible by public transport. For more information, see our article on Hong Kong’s best beaches.