Tuck into a typical local breakfast at a cha chaan teng
Meaning “tea restaurant” in Cantonese, these are casual and affordable eateries that serve a menu of classic westernised Hong Kong dishes such as macaroni in tomato soup and pork chop buns. Be sure to try their signature ying yang – a beverage that combines milky tea and coffee.
Ride the Central-Mid-Levels escalator and try dim sum
After breakfast, explore the streets of SoHo. This neighbourhood in the Central district is home to more than 200 cool boutique shops, trendy eateries, upscale bars and art galleries. While you’re here, ride up the Central-Mid-Levels escalator – an 800-metre-long (2,624 feet) escalator that connects the business district of Central with the Mid-Levels residential district higher up on the hilly terrain.
For lunch, indulge in a spot of dim sum. The cuisine that probably best represents Hong Kong, dim sum refers to small bite-size morsels – dumplings and other savoury or sweet Chinese dishes – usually taken with a pot of tea in the early part of the day. One of the best-loved dim sum establishments in the city is Dim Sum Square, which serves delectable classics such as barbecue pork buns and crystal shrimp dumplings.
Discover traditional temples and contemporary local design
Begin your afternoon with a stroll on Tai Ping Shan Street. Meaning “Mountain of Peace” in Cantonese, this street was once home to gambling and opium dens, and was the area hardest hit by Hong Kong’s 1894 bubonic plague epidemic. Today, it’s a laid-back, bohemian hub with a number of small design-focused fashion, ceramics and homeware shops, art galleries and cafés. Close by on Hollywood Road is Man Mo Temple, one of Hong Kong’s oldest and most famous temples, where parents often come to ask Man Mo – the god of literature – to help their children with their studies. Nestled amid a hill of modern skyscrapers, the ancient temple is an intriguing (and Instagrammable) sight.
To get a taste of local design, head over to nearby PMQ. A historic building that was formerly the Central School – Hong Kong’s very first government school – and later the Police Married Headquarters (PMQ), which provided government subsidised housing to Hong Kong’s junior police officers and their families, PMQ was restored and reborn in 2014 as a creative lifestyle destination. Now you’ll find local designers showcasing their work across the site’s many studios and retail spaces, along with a number of well-known restaurants and cafés. Enjoy a meal or a drink at Sohofama or Cafe Life, and peruse the vibrant markets that take place on certain weekends of the year.
Take a tram tour
Now it’s time to experience a transport icon. The double-decker tram, commonly known as the “ding-ding” in reference to its distinctive ring that warns pedestrians of its approach, is the cheapest and greenest – though also the slowest – mode of transport on Hong Kong Island. However, it’s also a wonderful way to see the cityscapes as you travel from one destination to the next. Get the most out of your tram ride with a one-hour audio-guided TramOramic Tour on a 1920s-style open top tram. The tour starts at the Western Market Terminus in Sheung Wan and ends in Causeway Bay.
Indulge your inner shopaholic in Causeway Bay and dine on the water
One of the spots that best captures the “bright lights, big city” vibe of Hong Kong is Times Square in Causeway Bay. This mega mall is where you’ll often see the most elaborate Chinese New Year, Christmas or other festive decorations. The mall and the streets surrounding it are packed with luxury international brand retailers, sports boutiques, as well as small local shops. If you’re looking for some retail therapy, Times Square is a must-visit shopping destination.
For dinner, try some sumptuous local seafood in an unusual dining environment. Hong Kong often has to brace itself for typhoons – powerful tropical cyclones. Typhoon shelters are bays or coves along the coast with a narrow opening to the sea, where local fishers take shelter during the tropical storms. To get a taste of the life of a fisher, book a table at Shun Kee Typhoon Shelter, where you can enjoy a dinner of fresh Cantonese-style seafood onboard a sampan (a Chinese wooden boat) floating on the bay.
Party in Lan Kwai Fong
End your first day in the city with a night out in Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong’s liveliest nightlife hotspot. Kick back and people-watch over cocktails at Insomnia, or boogie the night away on Play nightclub’s 8,000-square-foot (743-square-metre) dance floor.
Get your caffeine fix before taking on Victoria Peak
First stop: breakfast at Elephant Grounds. This café in the Mid-Levels is a good spot to fuel up with a healthy breakfast and a cup of coffee to kick-start the day. Breakfast items include yoghurt granola parfaits and eggs any way you like with avocado, quinoa and sourdough toast. If you’re in the mood for something sweet, go for the peanut butter banana toast.
Admiring the stunning vista from Victoria Peak should undoubtedly be high on your list of things to do in Hong Kong. At 552m high (1,811ft), Victoria Peak is the highest hill on Hong Kong Island, and one of the best spots to enjoy panoramic views of the city. Among the most popular and memorable ways to get to the peak is via the Peak Tram. One of the oldest funicular railways in the world, this tram ascends to 396m (1,299ft) above sea level. In an optical illusion, as you travel uphill, the high-rises to your right appear to tilt forward towards the peak. Once you’re at Victoria Peak, scope out the views from Sky Terrace 428 – the 360-degree viewing platform in the architectural icon, the Peak Tower – and learn about the funicular’s history at the Peak Tram Historical Gallery.
Now make your way to Kowloon on the Star Ferry. From Central Pier 7, this romantic, old-fashioned ferryboat will take you from Hong Kong Island across Victoria Harbour to Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier in Kowloon.
Enjoy a moment of peace at the Chi Lin Nunnery
Get your afternoon off to a tranquil start with a walk and lunch at Chi Lin Nunnery. This majestic Buddhist temple complex in Diamond Hill is built of cedar wood in the style of traditional Tang Dynasty architecture and is presently the world’s largest handmade wooden building. Opposite the nunnery is the Nan Lian Garden, a beautifully manicured garden where you can have a relaxing stroll before stopping at the popular Chi Lin vegetarian restaurant to enjoy a lunch of tasty Buddhist vegetarian dishes. To get to Chi Lin Nunnery, you can either take a taxi or a train from Tsim Tsa Tsui MTR station to Diamond Hill MTR station.
Scope out bargains and street art in Sham Shui Po
Full of old buildings packed tightly together, the nearby Kowloon neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po has a gritty but intriguing down-to-earth vibe and is a great place to hunt down bargains, including electronics, computer gadgets, children’s toys, vintage coins or old vinyl records. Explore the flea market stalls and shops on Apulia Street, and you’ll find everything from cheap earphones to second-hand television remote controls. Look out for the Man Fung Building – a residential building on Tai Nan Street covered entirely with a mural by Madrid-based street artist Okuda San Miguel titled Rainbow Thief.
Marvel at the world’s largest permanent light and sound show, and then hit a night market
At 8pm every night, the city puts on a 10-minute multimedia laser show called A Symphony of Lights, where the iconic high-rise towers around Victoria Harbour on both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon flash their laser beams, LED screens and searchlights to create an audiovisual light show. An excellent way to enjoy the show is on Aqualuna’s Symphony of Lights Dinner & Cruise, where you can watch both sides of the show from an old-fashioned Hong Kong junk boat cruising along the harbour, then have dinner at a Sichuan restaurant. The Aqualuna junk departs from Tsim Sha Tsui Pier 1.
No trip to Hong Kong would be complete without a trip to a night market. The largest and busiest night market in Hong Kong, Temple Street in the Jordan area of Kowloon is the place to go for open-air street stalls selling snacks, fake Gucci bags, watches, household items, shoes and jade jewellery, all at extremely affordable prices. Here you will also find fortune tellers, who will read your palm for a fee.
Wind down with a nightcap on Knutsford Terrace
A strip in Tsim Tsa Tsui that’s home to lively al fresco bars, Knutsford Terrace is a good place to have a nightcap before calling it a night. If you still have a little energy left in you, Joe’s Billiard & Bar is a perfect spot for a game of pool, and perhaps a glass of wine or a Bailey’s before bed.
This article is an updated version of a story created by Jianne Soriano.