Packed with nature reserves, bustling markets, dai pai dongs and teetering tower blocks, Hong Kong is as fast-paced as it is diverse. Whether you’re visiting for a few days or a few weeks, don’t let a day go to waste by making time for any of these 20 must-visit attractions.
Home to more than 7 million people, 260 islands and more skyscrapers than any other city on the planet, Hong Kong is an immense destination in every sense of the word. But don’t be overwhelmed, as it’s also an incredibly easy city to navigate. Meander your way between river cruises, ancient monasteries, quiet fishing villages and futuristic light shows, and end a day of exploring with a cocktail and a bird’s-eye view.
While it may not be the fastest way to cross Victoria Harbour (that award goes to the incredibly convenient MTR), the famous Star Ferry wins the award for most scenic. The Star Ferry has been making the 10-minute crossing since 1880 and offers incredible views of the famous skyline. To make it extra special, take a ferry into Central at sunset or 8pm for A Symphony of Lights, a light and sound show.
Most markets in Hong Kong close when the sun goes down, but that’s when Temple Street comes alive. The wares here are standard, but the Temple Street Night Market is about more than haggling. Grab a plastic stool at one of the dai pai dong restaurants and tuck into the freshest seafood available (the chilli crab is a must-try). Later, stop by the fortune tellers on your way out for a glimpse into your future.
The views from Victoria Peak are legendary for good reason. You can take a bus or a taxi to the top of the mountain, but the Peak Tram is far more fun. Buy a fast-track combo package to skip the ever-present queue, and you’ll be enjoying stunning views in no time. For the more adventurous, the Morning Trail offers a lovely, though strenuous, hike to the top.
Head to the Kowloon side of Victoria Harbour around 8pm every evening to catch A Symphony of Lights, a dazzling show. Recognised by Guinness World Records as the largest permanent light and sound show, it’s one of the most popular attractions in Hong Kong. Grab a drink at Eyebar in Tsim Sha Tsui for an unparalleled vantage point and cocktail, or book a cruise for front-row views from the water of Victoria Harbour.
Don’t let the facade of this temple fool you. Tucked into Sheung Wan’s Hollywood Road, the interior is one of the most striking in the city. Dedicated to Man Cheong (the god of literature) and Mo Tai (the god of war), the elegant Man Mo Temple is often populated by students cramming for their exams. Step inside and be humbled by the hundreds of smoking spires of incense. Photos are allowed, but please be respectful.
A shopper’s paradise, Hong Kong is bursting with markets, each offering something unique. Mong Kok’s Ladies’ Market has over 100 stalls selling almost everything, from souvenirs to knock-off watches and cheap clothing. A visit to the Jade Market in Jordan will reward you with affordable pearl and jade jewellery, though you’d be wise to do some research before going. You can’t leave Hong Kong without a wander through Cat Street; it has the best selection of curios and antiques.
Tian Tan Buddha – better known as the Big Buddha – is one of Hong Kong’s biggest attractions. Standing 34 metres (112 feet) high above the Po Lin Monastery, the enormous statue brings a steady stream of visitors to this quiet corner of Lantau Island. Book a glass-bottom Ngong Ping cable car for the ride up and take in stunning 360-degree views over the mountains below. You might even meet a friendly cow or two while you’re visiting – they roam wild across the island.
The Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is one of Hong Kong’s must-visit attractions, but the name is a little misleading. It’s not technically a monastery (because no monks live here), and it’s home to far more than 10,000 Buddhas. Sitting high in the Sha Tin countryside, this is one of the quirkiest religious sites around. The 430-step stairway to the top is flanked by countless golden Buddha statues, each with a unique pose and expression.
Nathan Road – nicknamed the Golden Mile – is the spine of Kowloon, linking the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront to Sham Shui Po in the north via 3.6 kilometres (2.2 miles) of malls, temples, eateries and jostling crowds. High-end shoppers will find Hong Kong’s glitziest boutiques on nearby Canton Road.
No trip to Hong Kong would be complete without a boozy night in Lan Kwai Fong. This small loop of streets in the Central district contains almost 100 bars, trendy restaurants and debaucherous clubs. Jelly syringe shots are ubiquitous here, and women can often drink for free on Thursday nights. SoHo, Wan Chai and Knutsford Terrace are other top spots for a night out.
Over on the Kowloon side of the harbour, this golden sculpture is one of Hong Kong’s most recognisable landmarks. Sitting outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre on the Wan Chai waterfront, the perpetually blooming flower marks the site where this territory was handed over to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in 1997.
The Magic Kingdom opened in 2005, bringing Mickey and his gang to Lantau Island. Unleash your inner child on classic Disneyland favourites such as Space Mountain and It’s a Small World, and prepare for some new attractions. Expansions in 2020 mean a bigger castle and the opening of a Frozen-themed section called Frozen Land, with two new rides to explore.
Since the British converted some of Hong Kong Island swampland into a racecourse in 1845, Happy Valley has been one of the world’s most legendary horse-racing venues. Races take place on Wednesday nights, and practically all of Hong Kong comes out to play. It has music, live entertainment and beer by the pitcher, so come ready to party (and leave the kids at home). Race season generally runs from September to June.
Three decades before Disneyland came to town, Ocean Park was Hong Kong’s original amusement park. Sitting on the south side of Hong Kong Island, it combines roller coasters with exotic wildlife. Marvel at the aquarium and meet the resident pandas Ying Ying and Le Le before testing the laws of physics on the Whirly Bird and the Hair Raiser, a roller coaster with incredible views.
With parts rebuilt as recently as 1968, this large temple complex features ornate structures such as the Three Saints Hall, the Good Wish Garden and Confucian Hall. This Kowloon temple is dedicated to the Taoist god Wong Tai Sin, who is believed to bring good luck to horse racing – so pop in before the Wednesday races at Happy Valley.
Leave the city behind with a quick 20-minute ferry ride to Lamma Island. Known for its seafood restaurants and relaxed atmosphere, a day exploring Lamma is the perfect way to unwind. Wander through twisting streets, and pop into the quirky shops before setting off to one of the pristine beaches. A quick hike will take you to secluded Shek Pai Wan Beach, where you can embrace idyllic island life for a few hours. Lantau, Sai Kung, Cheung Chau and Grass Island are also worth exploring.
After years of renovations costing billions of Hong Kong dollars, the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts is open. Give yourself an afternoon to explore everything this renovated prison and former police headquarters has to offer. It’s home to boutiques, restaurants, bars, art exhibitions and museums. Grab a swanky dinner at The Chinese Library or a drink at the opulent Dragonfly, a bar by Ashley Sutton. The rooftop is a great place to relax in the evening.
Hong Kong has no shortage of great beaches. Repulse Bay and Big Wave Bay are easy to get to but are often crowded. For something more secluded, head to Tai Long Wan in Sai Kung. It comprises four beaches, and you can hike or hire a boat to get here. Ham Tin Beach is the only one with basic amenities, such as toilets and tent rentals, but all of the beaches are beautiful. Definitely bring water.
Hanging out at rooftop bars is basically a sport in Hong Kong. The most famous of all is OZONE. Located on the 118th floor of The Ritz-Carlton, it’s among the highest bars in the world (the highest if you don’t count At.mosphere, the restaurant-lounge in Dubai’s Burj Khalifa), and when the sky is clear, it offers unparalleled vistas of Hong Kong. Prices are steep, but it’s worth it for the vantage point. Dress to impress to avoid falling foul of the strict entry policy.
If you splurge on one thing while you’re in town, make it an afternoon tea at The Peninsula. This colonial-era hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui is one of the city’s most famous, and its Classic Afternoon Tea is the stuff of legend. Served daily in The Lobby alongside a live string band, it’s a favourite of Hong Kong’s elite. You can rub elbows with the crème de la crème of the city over clotted cream and scones – no Rolls-Royce or black card required.