Hong Kong (in Cantonese meaning Fragrant Harbour) is a Special Administrative Region ( SAR) of the People’s Republic of China. Hong Kong is a big city of over 7.3million people. It is spread across the mainland and a number of islands. For that reason it can be quite overwhelming to organise a visit so this guide aims to help make your first trip to Hong Kong as enjoyable as possible.
The main part of the city includes the district of Kowloon on the mainland with suburbs including Tsim Sha Tsui, closest to the harbour and full of less expensive accommodation, Mong Kok, a shopping district and Kowloon City which includes the electronics district, famous Nathan Road and Kowloon Tsai Park with an incredible swimming pool.
The other half of the city is on Hong Kong Island which is the site of the original British settlement and the main focus for many tourists. Most of Hong Kong’s highest skyscrapers and the financial centre can be found here. Overall, Hong Kong Island is more modern and wealthy and less dirty than the other areas of Hong Kong. The Peak is the tallest point on the island, with the best views and highest real estate values in the world.
When to go
Personally I don’t think there is a bad time to visit Hong Kong although people will tell you October to early December is the best time to visit. June to August can be hot and rainy and typhoons tend to occur in September.
What to do
Regularly scheduled ferries link the China Ferry Terminal in Kowloon and/or the Hong Kong–Macau Ferry Terminal on Hong Kong Island with a string of outer islands and towns and cities on the Pearl River Delta, including Macau. Trips take two to three hours.
- Ride the Star Ferry to immerse yourself in the beautiful views of Victoria Harbor. It’s such a busy harbour and it’s quite amazing watching the wheels of commerce that are deeply connected to it each day.
Hong Kong is a melting pot of East and West, tradition and modernity. It offers countless things to do and see. It really is a fascinating city!
- Take the famous century-old tram up to Victoria Peak, and survey the towering city skyline from above. The Tram was Hong Kong’s first mechanised mode of transport and opened in 1888. The remarkably steep 1.7km track from Central up to Victoria Peak is worth at least one trip despite the comparatively steep price return tickets must be purchased in advance). The Peak Tram is likely to be crowded at night when the view of the city’s skyline is magic, as well as on public holidays. If large numbers of Mainland Chinese are in a tour group, then it will slow proceedings down considerably and they will likely try to push in front of you or knock your children over – it may be worth trying another time if that’s the case. Waiting times can be 60-90 minutes
- Visit historical temples, like Man Mo Temple and Po Lin Monastery.
- Enjoy a dim sum feast of dumplings, buns, noodles, and more.
- Shop at a luxury mall or in a bustling street market. There is a LOT !
- Disneyland Park; This is a magical kingdom filled with beauty, excitement, and Disney characters. It is a good place for family tours.
- Victoria Harbour; This is home to the world’s most beautiful skyline. The Symphony of Lights is amazing and one of the reasons I try to stay in a hotel on Kowloon with great views of the light show that happens at 8pm every evening.
- Repulse Bay: With clean water and a white sandy beach, this is an ideal place for relaxation.
- Markets – the Ladies Market, Flower Market and Night Market are all in Kowloon and are all popular. There a lot of chinese junk but it’s still worth a look on your first visit and there is some good street food to be found. Stanley Market on the Island is more upmarket and home to some local artists and craftsmen but it is fairly small and can be done in about an hour. It’s always lovely to visit Stanley so just pop into the market whilst there and enjoy lunch of drinks overlooking the water.
- Nightlife. There is no shortage of bars and restaurants and nightclubs in Hong Kong, in fact it is home to some of the best in the world ! Soho is a busy entertainment precinct on the Island that has some fabulous bars and restaurants favoured by ex-pats. In Kowloon there are many incredible rooftop bars. Some of the best in the city include;
- At the iconic Peninsula Hotel you will find the Phillipe Starke designed Felix, on the 28th floor.There are two distinct drinking areas: the enclosed Wine Bar and the American Bar which has incredible views of the Island.
- The Ritz Carlton reception is on the 103rd floor of the International Commerce Centre, the tallest building in Hong Kong. Ozone bar on the 118th floor is the world’s highest bar, and is literally stunning.
- The pubs of Lan Kwai on the Island often see people spilling out onto the road and it becomes one big street party.
TO READ ABOUT SOME GREAT DAY TRIPS FOR YOUR FIRST TRIP TO HONG KONG CLICK HERE
Hong Kong is small and crowded, and public transport is the only practical way to move people. The ultramodern Mass Transit Railway (MTR) is the quickest way to get to most urban destinations. The bus system is extensive and as efficient as the traffic allows, but it can be bewildering for short-term travellers. Ferries are fast and economical and throw in spectacular harbour views at no extra cost. Trams serve the purpose if you’re not in a hurry.
The Octopus Card ( is a prepaid contactless debit card that can be used to pay for almost all kinds of public transport (except taxis and some red minibuses), as well as for paying in convenience stores, supermarkets, many restaurant especially chains such as McDonald’s, vending machines, museums, roadside parking and some car parks, any many more.
Getting an Octopus Card is highly recommended unless you choose to travel the city only by taxi. As one of the successful pioneers of contactless smart card in the world, the card brings much conveniences as the alternative to cash in Hong Kong and reduce the hassles on coins. Slightly discounted fare is offered for MTR rides, and you can enjoy specified discounts on various transport (mostly discounts on interchange trips or sectional fares). The card is particularly useful when taking buses as you need to pay for exact fare and no change will be given.
Octopus cards can be purchased and refunded at the Customer Service Centres at all MTR stations (including the Airport station), the Citybus customer service centre at Airport bus terminus, and the New World First Bus customer service centre at Admiralty East bus terminus. Basic Octopus cards for adult cost $150 for $100 in credit plus a $50 refundable deposit, while a card for children/elders costs $70 with $20 credit. Upon refunding the card, a $9 service charge applies if the card is returned for a refund within 90 days (free of charge afterwards) and all the remaining credit and deposit will be refunded. The maximum value an Octopus card can carry is $1,000, but you can only refund the card if the remaining credit is less than $500. The validity of the card is 1000 days after the last top-up, and can be re-activated at MTR stations.
Operated by Hong Kong Tramways, the narrow double-decker city trams (sometimes known in Cantonese as “ding ding”) trundling along the northern coast of Hong Kong Island have provided cheap transport for over a century. It’s a great and cheap way to sightsee. Things to know;
- Trams are slower and bumpier than other modes of transport, and they are not air-conditioned.
- The fare is a flat $2.3 and the exact change and Octopus cards are accepted.
- For an excursion lasting 1 hour, board at the Kennedy Town Terminus and get a good seat on the upper deck. As the tram travels eastward, you will have an elevated view of Hong Kong Island and its different flavours, from bustling Hong Kong street life to its glitzy financial and shopping districts and, finally, a taste of suburban tranquility.
- Passengers board at the rear and the fare is paid upon getting off at the front of the tram. Passing through a crowded tram can be very difficult during peak times.
Hong Kong has an incredible vibe and energy that puts it above all other Asian cities. As you travel around you get for the incredible amount of industry and commerce occurring around you yet there is still a deep spiritual connection, a palatable tie with the colonial heritage and an overwhelming appetite for fun, innovation and indulgence. The food is incredible, its relatively clean and safe and the natural topography means there is a huge amount of choice and diversity for all visitors.
Have a great time exploring this amazing city – i bet your first trip to Hong Kong will not be your last!
ps. Its been a while since I was a first timer so if I’ve forgotten something places drop a note in the comments below !