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A Budget Traveler's Guide to Hong Kong

Picture of Sally Gao
Updated: 6 May 2017

Hong Kong is not a cheap city, but exploring this Asian metropolis on a budget is definitely feasible. Here are some pointers to help cost-conscious travelers experience Hong Kong’s food, culture, and natural beauty without breaking the bank.

Where to stay

Most of the city’s hotels are clustered around tourist hotspots like Tsim Sha Tsui, Central, and Wan Chai. Staying near Central is guaranteed to be expensive; you’re more likely to stumble upon decent budget hotels or hostels in Wan Chai or Tsim Sha Tsui.

For cheaper-than-average accommodation, you should also consider districts such as Jordan and Mong Kok, which lie directly north of Tsim Sha Tsui, as well as Fortress Hill and North Point, which are slightly east of Causeway Bay. All of these neighborhoods offer easy access to the city center via public transportation. Low-cost options include the YesInn Hostel (various locations including Causeway Bay, Yau Ma Tei, and Fortress Hill), Homy Inn (North Point), and Legend Guest House (Tsim Sha Tsui).

Airbnb can be a great alternative to a hostel. Districts such as Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun have historic charm, with plenty of restaurants and cafés, and are just a train stop or two away from Central.

Where to eat

Eating on the cheap in Hong Kong is easy if you know what to look for. To sample some delicious, sizzling local street food, head to Kowloon, where you’ll find street hawkers in districts like Tsim Sha Tsui, Mong Kok and Yau Ma Tei selling delicacies like curry fish balls, egg waffles, meat skewers, stinky tofu and more.

You can’t come to Hong Kong without eating at a cha chaan teng, a type of cheap diner that offers an eclectic array of local comfort foods, including breakfast, noodles, snacks, fried rice and desserts. The Australia Dairy Company, Kum Wah Cafe, and Matchbox Cafe are some of the most famous cha chaan teng restaurants in town.

Restaurants specializing in Cantonese-style roast meats, or siu mei, are another way to get a tasty, low-cost meal — try Kam’s Roast Goose or Joy Hing BBQ Shop. You can also find a cheap and delicious bowl of noodles at famous family-run joints like Wing Kee Noodle, Mak’s Noodle, and the Shanghai Hong Kong Noodle Shop.

Lastly, how could we forget about dim sum? Hong Kong is home to the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant — dim sum specialist Tim Ho Wan, which has multiple locations across the city.

What to do and see

Symphony of Lights: Stroll down Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade to enjoy a stunning panorama of Hong Kong’s iconic harbor and skyline. The promenade offers an excellent vantage point for the Symphony of Lights, which is put on by the Hong Kong Tourism Board every night at 8pm. Hailed by the Guinness World Records as the world’s largest permanent sound and light show, it’s a stunning spectacle that takes place on the waterfront, accompanied by live narration and music.

Tian Tian Buddha: This 112-ft statue of a seated Buddha with his right hand raised in a gesture of blessing is an impressive sight to behold, and is one of Hong Kong’s most popular attractions. A trip to the Big Buddha (as it’s often called) and the adjacent Po Lin Monastery is completely free.

Victoria Peak: If you want to survey the city from the top of Victoria Peak, skip the Sky Terrace at the Peak Tower; instead, head over to the Peak Galleria just across the road. The building has an observation deck where you can marvel at the view free of charge.

Museums: Be sure to take advantage of Hong Kong’s many free museums, including the Flagstaff Museum of Tea Ware, Hong Kong Railway Museum, Hong Kong Heritage Museum, Hong Kong Museum of History, Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence and Dr Sun Yat-sen Museum.

The Hong Kong Science Museum offers free admission to those with a valid student ID, and free admission to everybody on Wednesdays.

(Note: “Free admission” applies to permanent exhibitions; some special exhibitions may require you to purchase a ticket.)

Markets: Hong Kong’s lively outdoor street markets draw locals and tourists alike. The Ladies Market and the Temple Street Night Market are the most well-known — you’ll find everything from cheap jewelry, trinkets, and souvenirs to fake designer bags and watches, as well as a range of tantalizing street food stalls. For some even more exotic sights, be sure to check out the Bird Market and the Goldfish Market.

Hiking: Hong Kong isn’t just an urban jungle — its many hiking trails will take you through rural villages, bucolic scenery and stunning coastal vistas. One of the best beginner trails is the Dragon’s Back, a 8.5 km route that takes you to the top of Shek O Peak, 284 meters above sea level, and ends in front of the gently lapping waters of Big Wave Bay Beach.

Temples and Churches: Chinese temples such as Wong Tai Sin Temple, Man Mo Temple and Chi Lin Nunnery are well worth visiting for their beautiful traditional architecture, and also afford a chance to observe local Buddhist and Taoist worship.

Because of its history as a British colony, Hong Kong is also home to many magnificent ecclesiastical buildings, such as St John’s Cathedral, an Anglican church built in the Gothic style in 1849.

How to get around

Hong Kong’s public transportation system is clean, efficient, and affordable. One of the first things you should do after arrival is to get an Octopus Card, a stored value card that saves you from having to fiddle with spare change and ticket machines every time you use public transport.

The subway system is known as the MTR. It’s fast and reliable and can take you almost anywhere in the city, with the exception of remote and rural areas, which are reachable by public buses.

Alternatives to the MTR include the tram and the ferry. The tramway covers most of northern Hong Kong Island; at HK$2.30 per ride, it’s the city’s cheapest form of public transportation. However, it’s much slower than the MTR, so only use it for relatively short journeys. Meanwhile, the Star Ferry is used for harbor crossings, which are very scenic and considered an attraction in themselves.