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Top 10 things to do in Hong Kong | Insight Guides Blog

Top 10 things to do in Hong Kong

The best things to do in Hong Kong vary from the exciting to the mysterious and glamorous. Here’s how to truly experience its vibrant, intoxicating atmosphere
Star Ferry on its way. Photo: Shutterstock
Star Ferry on its way. Photo: Shutterstock

1. Explore Man Mo Temple

Located on the Hollywood Road, Man Mo Temple is one of the island’s oldest, dating from the 1840s. Visitors are confronted by a dense pall of smoke from the joss sticks and incense coils hanging from the ceiling (these will burn for up to a month). The gold-plated sedan chairs on the left side of the temple were once used for transporting the statues of the temple’s gods in religious processions. The statues in the main shrine represent Man Cheong, god of literature, and Mo Tai, god of war and righteousness. Worshippers continue their rituals unperturbed by visitors. To the right of the main hall a fortune teller dispenses advice. Wander the temple for yourself (and see into your future) on Insight Guides' Hong Kong Deluxe holiday

2. Experience Hong Kong’s traditions

The border between Central and Sheung Wan is roughly drawn at Aberdeen Street, west of which is one of Hong Kong’s oldest neighbourhoods where narrow streets hide a collection of traditional shops. Opposite the Macau Ferry Terminal you’ll find Western Market, a former wet market built in 1906, now home to gift shops, a café, and fabric stalls. For an interesting glimpse of small and family-owned shops walk up and down Jervois Street, Bonham Strand, Mercer, Hillier and Cleverly streets. Man Wa Lane is dedicated to craftsmen making traditional Chinese seals or chops, and elsewhere, in between modern grocers, printers, florists and cafés, are old-style tea, noodle and rice merchants, shops selling bamboo steamers and clay-pots for casseroles, or Chinese-style sweets, nuts and snacks, plus an astounding amount of dried seafood, herbs and medicine.

West of Sheung Wan Fong, an open piazza constantly bustling with shoppers and deliveries, the trade in items used in traditional Chinese medicine and cuisine begins to dominate. Wing Lok Street, Bonham Strand West and Ko Shing Street in particular are home to shops trading in birds’ nests, dried abalone, dried herbs, roots and fungi, ginseng and, disturbingly, shark’s fin.

3. Discover dramatic scenery in the New Territories

The New Territories can be explored via buses and the MTR network, including an overland Light Rail Transit (LRT) system connecting towns and estates in the west. Route maps at stops and stations are bilingual and the Octopus card makes it simple. Green New Territories taxis are also an option. The HKTB’s Land Between and Heritage tours are good ways to cover a lot of ground in a short time. Alternatively, Insight Guides' Island Insights holiday includes a morning tour with a stop at the nearby wetlands park. 

Remote areas of the New Territories and sections of Lantau Island are happy sighting grounds for birdwatchers. Hundreds of species have been recorded, from everyday egrets and funny-faced cockatoos to mynahs and pelicans. The Sai Kung Peninsula Nature Preserve has many hiking trails for the nature lover. As civilisation encroaches, wild animals and their habitats are threatened, but there are a few thousand monkeys living in the hills around the Kowloon reservoir and you still come across barking deer, wild pigs, porcupines, civets and scaly anteaters. In the wilderness you may also stumble upon a banded krait, a cobra, or some other fearsome snake. Though sightings are common, bitings are rare.

Giant Buddha at Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island Getting up-close to the Giant Buddha at Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island is a must. Photo: Shutterstock

4. Marvel at Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island

Lantau’s most famous site is the world’s tallest seated bronze statue of Buddha, the 22m (73ft) Tian Tan Buddha. The ‘Big Buddha’ can be reached by bus from Mui Wo (No. 2) or if the weather is calm and fine, the Ngong Ping 360 cable car, can be boarded near Tung Chung MTR and bus station for breathtaking views over Lantau. On clear days, views on the 25-minute journey across Lantau are dramatic, and the fearless can travel in a cabin with a glass floor. The journey ends at the beautiful village of Ngong Ping, with new but attractive Ming Dynasty-style buildings, Chinese teashops and two multimedia theatres telling the story of Buddha. If you want to escape the crowds, follow the Wisdom Trail around Ngong Ping or the steep trail to Lantau Peak (934m/3,064ft), Hong Kong’s second-highest mountain. Nearby is Po Lin Monastery and the rewarding walk up 268 steps to the Tian Tan Buddha statue and glorious views. The monastery is strictly vegetarian and visitors are warned not to bring any meat with them.

5. Island hop to Cheung Chau

Some 10km (6 miles) west of Hong Kong lies the small, crowded island of Cheung Chau W (around 2.5 sq km/1 sq mile in size). More than 25,000 people live here, many of them fishermen, but there is also an expat community, attracted by the laid-back Mediterranean ambience. Cheung Chau becomes the centre of Hong Kong life once a year, usually in May, during the Bun Festival, a folklore extravaganza. For the rest of the year, life here goes on at its accustomed pace: rickety machines chugging in two-man factories, children in school uniforms being ferried home to houseboats and elderly fishermen stirring shrimp paste.

By way of formal attractions, Pak Tai Temple, built in 1783, has some fine carvings and a great iron sword said to be 600 years old. Pak Tai means ‘Ruler of the North’ and he is usually represented in a sitting position, with his feet resting on a tortoise and a snake. The statue is credited with saving the village from a plague in the 18th century. From the main township of Cheung Chau it’s possible to walk via the harbour road (15 minutes) or the scenic Peak Road (45 minutes) to the village of San Wai, which has a temple dedicated to Tin Hau, goddess of the sea and protectress of fisherfolk. You can also take a kai do, or water taxi from the pier next to the ferry pier.

The Praya, the promenade in front of the ferry pier, is a good place to observe the junks and fishing boats in the harbour. There are also several open-air restaurants where you can enjoy fresh seafood. At the other side of the island, at the end of Tung Wan Road, is the popular Tung Wan Beach. Further along the headland is Kwun Yam Wan beach, where you can hire boards from the windsurfing centre.

6. Shop until you drop

Hong Kong loves shopping, so if you do too, you’re going to love Hong Kong. And even if you aren’t in thrall to the lure of the shopping gods, you will still enjoy the city’s colourful markets and appreciate the efficiency of its air-conditioned malls (especially on a hot day, or the contrast and convenience of luxury brands’ gigantic flagship stores a stone’s throw from market stalls and alleyways selling cut-price seconds and knick-knacks. Perpetual browsers will find plenty of fascinating side streets to explore, too many to mention here, and determined bargain hunters will always be rewarded.

Major shopping areas are Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon, especially around Canton and Nathan roads; Central and Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island; Wan Chai and Mong Kok markets for bargains rather than quality; and the Hollywood Road area for antiques.

Look for Hong Kong’s own Lane Crawford, a very upmarket store with branches at Pacific Place, IFC Mall and Harbour City; mid-range Wing On, one of the oldest in Hong Kong; the UK’s Harvey Nichols in The Landmark and Marks & Spencer branches; and the Japanese stores, Sogo and Seibu. Malls. Hong Kong is full of giant malls dedicated to shop- ping, eating and entertainment. Harbour City, just west of the Star Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui, is one of the largest; Elements, above Kowloon MTR, is vast but quieter than most; IFC Mall and The Landmark in Central have major designer brands; Pacific Place in Admiralty has a mix of luxury and mid-range brands; and Times Square in Causeway Bay has 16 floors of spending opportunities.

Insight Guides' suggested itineraries to Hong Kong include plenty of time for shopping: review our holidays and select your favourite here

Sky scrapers in Hong KongWandering through the impressive modern architecture is another unmissable thing to do in Hong Kong. Photo: Shutterstock

7. Take the Star Ferry…

No matter how many tunnels and transit systems speed up cross-harbour traffic, nothing beats a ride on the Star Ferry from Kowloon to Central District on Hong Kong Island across Victoria Harbour. As the green-and-white double-decker boats get ready to leave the pier, bells ring, the gangplank is raised and deckhands man the hawsers. On the seven-minute crossing, the ferry weaves its way through an obstacle course of large and small craft, while the soaring skyline of Hong Kong Island draws nearer.

Thanks to land reclamation, the Star Ferry piers are closer together than ever. On ‘Hong Kong-side’, the Edwardian-style Central Pier at Pier 7 1 was opened in 2006 close to the Airport Express Hong Kong Station and the International Finance Centre, which includes the Four Seasons Hotel, the IFC Mall and Two IFC, at 420m (1,378ft), Hong Kong’s second tallest building,

8. … Then wander among glittering skyscrapers

Walkways and foot-bridges connect all the main buildings in Central. From the IFC, you can walk under cover as far as historic Battery Path in Central, Pacific Place in Admiralty or Western Market in Sheung Wan, or connect with one of Hong Kong’s everyday curiosities, the 800m (2,625ft) long outdoor Central Mid-Levels Escalator.

IFC Mall connects with Exchange Square, home to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. A few minutes east along the walkway is the General Post Office, which has philately displays. Across the road is 52-storey Jardine House, with porthole-shaped windows, and to the left is an underground walkway that takes you to Statue Square. On the east side of the square is one of the few colonial buildings left in the business district, the former Supreme Court (1912).

From Statue Square and Chater Garden, look skywards for some contrasting modern architectural landmarks. Most famous is the striking 70-storey I.M. Pei-designed Bank of China Tower, not beloved by the people of Hong Kong – its triangular prisms and sharp angles violate the principles of feng shui and its radio masts stick up like an insect’s antennae. The rival HSBC Hong Kong headquarters building is by Norman Foster; built on a ‘coat-hanger frame’, its floors hang rather than ascend. From inside the vast atrium you can view the whole structure as well as the mechanical workings of the building. Two bronze lions, Stephen and Sitt (nicknamed for early HSBC Shanghai managers) cast in 1935 guard the entrance, enhancing the bank’s feng shui.

9. Ride the tram up Victoria Peak

The most exhilarating way up Victoria Peak (552m/ 1,713ft) is by funicular. The Peak Tram 7 starts its scenic climb across the street and around the corner from the American Consulate in Garden Road and makes its way, sometimes at a very steep incline, to the upper terminus located at 398m (1,305ft), travelling past fancy apartment blocks, bamboo stands and jungle flowers. The Peak Tram, originally steam-powered, was built to speed the wealthy taipans to their mountainside retreats. Before that, sedan chairs and rickshaws were the only way up. Since the tram’s inauguration in 1888 it has stopped running only for typhoons and World War II.

The modern 120-passenger cars make the journey in around eight minutes. However, on sunny weekends and public holidays you may have to brave a queue at the lower terminal. The upper terminus opens into the lower levels of The Peak Tower, a distinctive wok-shaped building, packed with shops and plenty of dining options. Entertainment includes interactive games at the EA Experience, a Madame Tussauds wax museum and a magnificent viewing terrace, with a 360-degree panorama of Hong Kong.

Follow the Peak Circle Walk along Lugard and Harlech roads for impressive views of Hong Kong, the coastline and the islands in 45 minutes. The view is especially stunning at night. If you’re up to a climb, take the Governor’s Walk, which winds up to the attractive Victoria Peak Gardens. They used to belong to the governor’s mountain lodge, but the building was demolished by the Japanese during the war.

Experience the impossible angles of the tram's ascent on Insight Guides' Hong Kong in a nutshell holiday.

Don't miss climbing Victoria Peak on the Peak Tram.Don't miss climbing Victoria Peak on the Peak Tram. Photo: Shutterstock

10. Attempt the steep climb to Man Fat Tze

Sha Tin is a good stopping point before or after venturing into the New Territories countryside. Its biggest attraction is the Monastery of 10,000 Buddhas t, also known as Man Fat Tze, set on a hillside above the main Sha Tin New Town. Follow the signposts from Sha Tin MTR Station, along Pai Tau Street to the start of a 500-step climb to the monastery.

Regiments of small gilt statues of Buddha (12,800 of them) line the walls of the altar room. The monastery was founded in 1957 by Yuet Kai, who died in 1965 at the age of 87. He had predicted that his body would not decompose if he were buried behind the temple in a crouching position. True enough, when his body was exhumed eight months later, it was still in good condition. His corpse was covered in gold leaf and placed in a building on the second level. You can climb to the top of the nine-storey pagoda for panoramic views.

From the monastery you can see Lion’s Rock (495m/ 1,600ft), shaped like a lion lying in wait, a small rock Seafood selection
formation known as Amah at Sai Kung (Mother) Rock, which is actually a pile of several rocks that resemble a woman with a baby in a sling on her back. Legend has it that a local woman climbed the hill every day to watch for her husband returning from across the sea; one day the wife and her child were turned to stone as a permanent symbol of her enduring faith. Lion Rock Country Park y, the 5.57 sq km (2 sq miles) of forested hills between Sha Tin and Kowloon can be explored by hiking along either stage 5 of the Maclehose Trail or stage 5 of the slightly easier Wilson Trail.

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