Whether you’re an expat or a local, having visitors in Hong Kong is always an exciting – if not somewhat overwhelming – experience given the vast amount of activities on offer in our intense and action-packed city. So to help you out, we thought we’d cut through the tour guide clichés (think the Big Buddha and The Peak) and suggest our favourite things to do with guests, which have proven to be a big hit over the years. Enjoy!
1. Visit a Temple
We’ll start with some culture. Hong Kong is blessed with beautiful Buddhist temples adorned with bronze Buddhas, swirling incense, and quite often blissfully tranquil gardens. For the more laid-back visitor who appreciates some zen time, this is an ideal place to experience authentic Hong Kong culture away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Among our favourites are the impressive Wong Tai Sin (Sik Sik Yuen Temple), where devout worshippers flock to pay their respects, have their prayers answered, and fortunes told through “gifted” beings and a practice known as kau cim, where wooden sticks inscribed with oracles are shaken in a bamboo cup. Even if you’re not religious or superstitious, this temple is well worth a visit for its beautiful architecture and cultural significance. The Good Wish Garden is a particular highlight and sure to win over visitors with its ornate pagodas, exotic plants, and mesmerising koi carp ponds.
Only a short walk away (or one MTR stop) from Wong Tai Sin is Chi Lin Nunnery, which boasts traditional Tang Dynasty architecture and the connecting Nan Lian Garden with its beautiful water features, trees, rocks, wooden structures, and charming Song Cha Xie tea house offering refreshing brews and tasty toasted sandwiches.
For a totally unique temple experience, head to Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery nestled in the Po Fook Hill mountains in Sha Tin. Composed of one main temple hall, a nine-storey pagoda, and several shrines, halls, and pavillions spread over two levels on the mountainside, this is truly a sight to behold. The most memorable aspect, however, is undoubtedly the outrageous life-size golden Buddhas which pave the pathway leading up to the monastery. Striking all sorts of bizarre poses, these make for some pretty hilarious photos and make the 400-step climb to the top far more bearable.
But if that all sounds a little too crazy, then take it down a notch and visit the conveniently located Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan. This picturesque tribute to the God of Literature (Man) and the God of War (Mo) was built in 1847 and remains the largest Man Mo temple in Hong Kong. It’s well worth a visit if only to stand in tranquility under its giant hanging incense coil and observe the ceramic figurines, granite and wood carvings, and stunning murals on display.
Wong Tai Sin Temple, 2 Chuk Yuen Village, Wong Tai Sin
Chi Lin Nunnery & Nan Lian Garden, 5 Chi Lin Drive, Diamond Hill, Kowloon
Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, 220 Pai Tau Village, Sha Tin, New Territories
Man Mo Temple, 124-126 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Island
2. Haggle in the Market
You don’t have to be a shopaholic to get a kick out of bagging a bargain, and with so many bustling markets to choose from in Hong Kong, you’re never far from your next purchase. Whether you’re on the lookout for fun electronic gadgets, a cute pair of sandals, or even a pet goldfish (ok, maybe not one to take home on the plane) you’re sure to find it in Hong Kong. If you don’t mind the crowds and want to haggle hard, then head to Ladies Market in Mong Kok and scoop up some of the cheap clothes, accessories, and souvenirs on offer along one kilometre of stalls. Don’t let the name fool you though, there’s plenty for men and children to enjoy too with goodies such as watches, toys, home furnishings, and trinkets also up for grabs.
For great atmosphere and tasty traditional street food, pop across to Temple Street Night Market where you can buy pretty much everything under the sun and tuck into some amazing dai pai dong fodder. Our favourite is undoubtedly Spicy Crab, situated at the end of the market, which despite the lazy service and the fact that they always seem to bring the rice at the end of the meal, is a must do for visitors. There are fewer things more satisfying that sipping on an ice cold Yansing beer and getting your fingers sticky in a bowl of garlic prawns as you watch the world go by. While you’re there, make sure to check out the row of fortune tellers and pop-up karaoke booths at the far end of the market. Be warned though, you might want to bring a pair of earplugs as the sound of tone-deaf canto pop wailing from the mic can be a little hard to handle.
For a classier market experience, head to the ever-so-slightly posh Stanley Market on the south of Hong Kong Island. A huge selection of brand-name clothing items, accessories, gadgets, paintings, and home furnishings are yours for the taking – although be warned, stall holders are less open to haggling here. After your shopping spree, enjoy a leisurely stroll along the waterfront where a nice selection of bars and restaurants will entice you with their menu boards.
If your guests aren’t bothered about shopping and just want to soak up some local atmosphere, then Yuen Po Street Bird Garden is a good choice. Songbirds are popular pets in Hong Kong and owners like nothing better than to take them for walks everyday, so it’s pretty special to experience this fading aspect of traditional culture. For a more colourful experience, the Goldfish Market in Mong Kok displays bags of aquatic beauties of all shapes, sizes, and colour which are sold to locals to bring good luck to their homes. Look out for the amphibians and reptiles crawling about too, as well as the completely over-the-top saltwater aquariums on sale.
Ladies Market, Tung Choi Street, Mong Kok, Kowloon
Temple Street Night Market, Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei, Kowloon
Stanley Market, 6 Stanley Market Road, Stanley
Yuen Po Street Bird Garden, 222-224 Prince Edward Rd W, Prince Edward
Goldfish Market, Tung Choi Street North, Mong Kok, Kowloon
Read more! Check out more of Hong Kong’s popular markets
3. Stuff your Face with Dim Sum
Translated literally as “touch your heart,” dim sum has remained a much-loved cuisine in our food-obsessed city, and while we could recommend a bunch of restaurants to enjoy these little delights, there’s really one one that wins our hearts – and stomachs – every single time. Originating in Taiwan, Din Tai Fung is an Aladdin’s cave of delicious dumplings and other gorgeous dishes served in steamer baskets and on small plates. The restaurant specialises in xiao long bao and we have yet to find a more reasonably priced and consistently tasty one than here – although the spicy ones at Dim Sum Library are pretty good too. With four outlets dotted around Hong Kong, you’re never far away from the heavenly har gow, char siu baau, turnip cakes, and more on offer on the menu. If you have more than one guest in town, then this is a must do dining experience during their stay in Hong Kong.
Din Tai Fung, click here for various locations
4. Take a Hike
Well, you have to work off that dim sum somehow. Despite being one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Hong Kong is also packed with lush countryside, rolling hills, and breathtaking coastal scenery. Our great city is home to 300km of hiking trails, many of which are only a short 30-minute ride from Central, and ideal for showing off the city to your guests. For a fairly gentle hike, we recommend the popular Dragon’s Back route, which is one of the eight sections of the 50km Hong Kong Trail. Voted the world’s best urban trek and usually the first undertaken by newbies, this is ideal for adults, kids, and even the elderly who head to the trail to lap up the stunning views of Shek O Beach down below. Check out more hiking routes.
More seasoned hikers visiting the city might enjoy tackling a section of the MacLehose Trail, Hong Kong’s longest hiking route, which traverses through the New Territories and Kowloon bringing coastlines, parks, rugged peaks, valleys, and even the odd glimpse of rural living. There are 10 sections in total, ranging from 5km to 16km in length, so you can pick a route depending on your fitness level and desire to break a sweat. For a totally unique experience, you might want to consider taking your guests on a scenic night hike where they can experience the twinkling city lights from a totally different perspective. One of the most popular routes is Wan Chai to the Central Ferry Piers via The Peak, which takes between 2.5 and 3 hours to complete and offers some pretty unforgettable views.
Read more! Check out the 4 Best Night Hikes on Hong Kong Island
5. Have Afternoon Tea
Afternoon tea is something of an iconic tradition in Hong Kong, and it’s not hard to see why. There’s nothing quite like whiling away the afternoon with your loved ones over a lovely cup of tea in luxury surroundings with great views, and thankfully we’re not short on options in this city. For the ultimate colonial experience, hop on the iconic Star Ferry and head over to the iconic Peninsula hotel and delve into a tower of savoury, sweet, creamy delights, and tangy teas as the sweet music of a live string quartet plays in the background. Switch the tea for a glass or two of bubbly if you’re feeling cheeky.
Alternatively, relax in the elegant Lobby Lounge of the Island Shangri-La and enjoy the view of the hotel’s tropical gardens and ancient Banyan Tree as you sip on your cuppa. You can even take teatime to dazzling new heights at Café Gray Deluxe where you can enjoy stunning views of Victoria Harbour. Tradition never tasted so good! Check out more amazing afternoon tea spots here.
The Peninsula, Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, (+852) 2696 6772
Island Shangri-La, 6/F Island Shangri-La, Pacific Place, Supreme Court Road, Central, (+852) 2877 3838
Café Gray Deluxe, Level 49, The Upper House, Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Admiralty, (+852) 3968 1106
6. Go Island Hopping
Some of Hong Kong’s best kept secrets are found in its outlying islands, which are just a short ferry ride away from the bustling city. Among the most cherished are Lamma Island, known for its sandy beaches, hiking trails, fresh seafood, and totally chilled bohemian vibe. A day spent here is sure to bring your stress levels down, especially when you can relax with a chilled beer on the popular Lo So Shing Beach, browse the hippie-style shops in Yung Shue Wan village, and dine at one of the numerous cafes and restaurants along the way. With ferries running every 20 to 30 minutes from Central Pier 4, this is a pretty tempting option for a day trip.
For a more rustic, local experience, take your guests to charming Cheung Chau, a small fishing community which boasts beautiful temples and beaches, delicious seafood restaurants, and the chance to hire a bike and cycle around the island. The Cheung Chau Family Walk and Mini Great Wall Trail (not so “great” to be honest) provide a lovely, scenic experience, and if your visitors are into water sports, they can hire kayaks, paddle boards, and windsurfers from the Cheung Chau Windsurfing Centre for around $80 to $150 per hour. Only a 40-minute ferry ride from Central Pier 5, this is well worth a visit.
If you want to go big, then Lantau has plenty to offer in the form of sandy beaches, mountainous trails, a big bronze Buddha, and houses on stilts, to name a few. You’ll need to reserve more than just one day in your diary to tackle this getaway though. And while the Big Buddha and remote Po Lin Monastery are considered “must do’s” in every guide book, there is so much more to this diverse island. Lantau is blessed with some of the cleanest and most scenic beaches in Hong Kong, such as the super chilled Pui O Beach, Cheung Sha, and Palm Beach. While you’re exploring these hot spots, keep an eye out for the sizeable water buffalo population who are known to enjoy a spot of sunbathing on the beach and a lazy stroll along the main road.
Read more! Explore our Island Series guides
7. Visit Tai O Fishing Village
One of the most interesting things to do on Lantau is visit Tai O Fishing Village, one of the last remaining villages of its kind in Hong Kong. Located in the Western coast of the island, this humble setting is full of charm with its quaint collection of houses on stilts and rows upon rows of traditional, dried seafood shops which can bring surprising results – hanging shark or pufferfish anyone? This enchanting world is a photographer’s paradise, with plenty of opportunity to capture traditional life set against the towering mountains. You can easily while away a couple of hours exploring this fascinating village, whether you’re strolling around the market or hopping aboard one of the small boats that offer to take you around the harbour and stilt houses for a close-up view. If you’re keen to extend your visit, then you can check into the picturesque, colonial style Heritage Hotel, and treat yourself to a staycation.
Tai O Fishing Village, Lantau Island
8. Place Your Bets at the Races
Happy Valley Racecourse is the place to be on Wednesday nights in Hong Kong – apart from July and August when it’s too hot for the horses. With a basic admission fee of just $10, this is a popular mid-week hangout for both locals and expats, and feels more like a party than a sporting event on most occasions. Whether or not you are a horse racing enthusiast or the gambling kind, you will get just as much of a thrill out of lapping up the buzzing atmosphere, sipping on a nice cold pint, and mingling in the crowds, pretending like you’re aware of what’s happening on the track. There are several themed events throughout the year, with Oktoberfest stealing the limelight with outrageous costumes, lives music, and German beers and snacks. But even on a standard “Happy Wednesday”, it’s a fun night for all to enjoy – and definitely more laid-back than Royal Ascot or the Melbourne Cup!
Happy Valley Racecourse, Wong Nai Chung Road, Happy Valley
9. Visit a Museum
Whether you’re guest is a history buff, a Bruce Lee fan, or mad about science, they are sure to find something that floats their boat at one of the city’s fifty-odd museums. Topping the list of our personal favourites right now is the Hong Kong Science Museum, largely due to its incredible Eternal Life: Exploring Ancient Egypt exhibition which runs until October 18, 2017. Another favourite is the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, which despite being quite far away in Sha Tin, is well worth venturing to for its impressive Bruce Lee: Kung Fu – Art – Life exhibition which displays over 800 artifacts from the life of the Legendary Dragon. Less on the cultural side, and more for entertainment value, is the tongue-in-cheek Trick Eye Museum perched atop The Peak Galleria shopping mall. Here you can create your own hilarious optical illusion 3D photos among five different zones including ‘Secret Garden’, ‘Great Adventures’, and ‘Neverland’. You’re never short of action here as you escape the jaws of a killer white shark, learn the art of levitation with the Big Buddha, jump across a pit of molten larva, and lose you head all in one afternoon.
Hong Kong Science Museum, 2 Science Museum Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui East, (+852) 2732 3232
Hong Kong Heritage Museum, 1 Man Lam Rd, Sha Tin, (+852) 2180 8188
Trick Eye Museum, Shop 1, 3/F, The Peak Galleria, 118 Peak Road, The Peak, (+852) 2813 1686
Read more! Check out these 5 Niche Museums in Hong Kong
10. Drink on a Rooftop
One of the best things about visiting Hong Kong is being able to sip on a cocktail (or three) at one of the city’s many amazing rooftop bars. There are several that always prove to be popular with guests, including Wooloomooloo with its jaw-dropping views and comfy lounge seating in the heart of Wan Chai, Sevva with its sophisticated outdoor restaurant terrace, and the glamorous CÉ LA VI Sky Deck which offers a stunning 360-degree view of the Hong Kong skyline and some funky DJ beats. With happy hours available at many of the city’s popular rooftop bars, there’s plenty to smile about as visitors marvel at the wonderful views and the novelty factor of getting tipsy atop a towering skyscraper. Check out more of our favourite bars under the stars.
Wooloomooloo, 31/F & Rooftop The Hennessy, 256 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, (+852) 2893 6960
Sevva, 25/F Prince’s Building, 10 Chater Road, Central, (+852) 2537 1388
CÉ LA VI, 25/F California Tower, 32 D’Aguilar Street, Central, (+852) 3700 2300