For a visitor, the city of Hong Kong can be broken down into Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, the former being the hotspot of local city life, including popular hangout district of Mong Kok. It is chock full of pedestrians and where many of the famous street markets like Temple Street Market can be found. The latter on the other hand, is the glitzy dizzying metropolis of modern day Hong Kong, where businessmen and women clad in the smartest suits fill the streets, and is where you’re likely to find more upscale restaurants and cosy cafes.
Outside of the main areas within the city, there are plenty of other places and experiences to be found, especially since the government has made strides in shedding a spotlight on the outlying islands, which can be easily done as day trips.
Beyond that, apart from the urban city rush, it’s incredibly easy to take time out to head to quieter, more natural settings, which seem like a complete world away from the bustling city life.
But yet, Hong Kong isn’t all that big, and with easy-to-use and efficient public transport links, all this is completely doable even without any knowledge of Chinese characters or the Cantonese dialect.
Of course, for visitors more used to Southeast Asian prices, a budget for Hong Kong might stretch to quite a fair bit more than what one is used to, but dive in and there’s a whole world to explore within Hong Kong.
This guide is a break down of the different areas of interest, with a focus on Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.
Hong Kong Island
Day 1: Central
Central is modern day Hong Kong personified.
Home to Soho and Lan Kwai Fong, Central boasts many after-work activities, from shopping in mega malls to having a drink in a cosy bar or a dance in the thriving nightlife scene, or enjoying some of the best food in Hong Kong in famous establishments.
There are plenty of street murals to be found in Hong Kong, but some of the most renowned ones can be found in Central.
Head to Hollywood Road for a colourful mural of townhouses and Peel Street for a portrait of a woman laughing on a pink backdrop with a floral headdress on.
PMQ is a shopping mall home to hundreds of locally-grown young entrepreneurs with creative talents, and is where you’ll find artisan and handmade products. The building PMQ however, has quite the history behind it. As the first government school in Hong Kong, the building then became the former Hollywood Road Police Married Quarters for married junior police officers after the Second World War. Now of course, PMQ is a site to support the local creative industries, and there are events and pop ups happening from time to time in the courtyard on the ground floor.
If you’d like to get a cultural fix, Central is home to Hong Kong’s most famous temple by the name of Man Mo Temple. It’s a Taoist temple which has a lavish interior and is famous for the rows of hanging incense spirals overhead in the middle of the temple grounds where light filters in.
If you’re looking for a good night out in Hong Kong, it’d be hard to be disappointed in Hong Kong.
Many foreigners congregate in Lan Kwai Fong, Hong Kong’s most famous party spot, which truly comes alive when night falls.
Of course, expect prices to match the atmosphere thanks to the crowd that it attracts, and truth be told, you’d be hard pressed to find many locals here on their own, and is definitely one of those places more catered to an international audience.
As mentioned, Central is also home to some fantastic food, including popular dim sum joints like Dim Sum Square, beautiful and cosy cafes like Kaffeine, great ramen shacks like Butao, storied and delicious bowls of Cantonese noodles at Mak’s Noodle and Tsim Chai Kee, popular gastropubs like The Cottage Gastropub and takeaway joints like La Rôtisserie if you’re craving for something more casual and different.
Day 2: The Peak, Causeway Bay and Quarry Bay Monster Building
The image most people have of Hong Kong includes the iconic city skyline, of which you’ll get the best views of from Victoria Peak, or The Peak.
Many take The Peak Tram up from Central, which has turned into a must-do in many an itinerary.
There are, however, many other ways to get to The Peak for a fraction of the price, including hiking up yourself or getting on Bus 15 that will take you right to the top.
You could head to the observatory deck at The Peak Mall for an unobstructed view of the surrounding view, but many other locals will tell you to head to Lugard Road Lookout instead, which is a stretch of road just by the side of The Peak Mall and leads to some truly stunning views from the boardwalk without putting a single dent on your wallet.
Come dusk, the various lookouts all along the path are popular with the young and old, families and groups of friends, singles and couples, travellers just passing through and residents of the harbour city, and is a wonderful place to watch the sun set on Hong Kong.
Another place with busy squares, many mega malls and departmental stores is the pedestrian heavy Causeway Bay.
There are so many malls here it seems impossible to see them all, but the most famous landmark of them all might be the towering multi-storey complex of SOGO Causeway Bay with an unmistakeable presence on the main road of Hennessy Road.
With a multi-directional flow and wide space for crossing, Causeway Bay reminded me a little of Shibuya in Tokyo.
Nicknamed Monster Building, a “little” Hollywood flick by the name of Transformers turned the humble estates of Montane Mansions into one of the most photographed spots of Hong Kong.
Located at Quarry Bay, Montane Mansions is perhaps the most visual representation of the densely populated housing blocks Hong Kong has become famous for.
It has become so popular that residents and building management have put up signs asking for tourists to stop taking photographs, which of course largely goes unheeded.
Be respectful though, and bear in mind the windows of the flats you’re looking at are windows into actual homes of people.
One of the best experiences in Hong Kong Island is riding on the local trams, affectionately dubbed the “ding-dings,” are double decker trams running the East to West periphery of Hong Kong Island, and costs a fixed fare of HKD2.60 which is cheap as chips.
Taking the train from the Eastern terminus of Kennedy Town to the Western terminus of Sheung Kei Wan, the landscape changes drastically from the residential to the commercial, and you can get some fantastic views from the top deck.
Beyond that, another historic thing to do that’s unique and inexpensive is to take the Star Ferry that shuttles from Central in Hong Kong Island to Tsim Sha Tsui on the opposite side of the channel to Kowloon.
Mind, the beautiful boat in the picture below is actually a junk boat, and many companies offer the chance to hire your own junk, and with a group of friends and/or family in tow, the cost of which might not be as exorbitant as you might think.
Day 3: Tsim Sha Tsui
Dubbed as TST in the local vernacular, Tsim Sha Tsui is the busy waterfront that has also become a mainstay on Hong Kong Instagram feeds, where you’ll always find loads of people strolling along the waterfront.
At the time of writing, The Stars Avenue is currently closed for renovation, but take in the interesting architectural landmarks like the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, or hop into a museum like the Hong Kong Space Museum.
Enjoy high tea at the opulent setting of The Peninsula Hotel, or a tipple or two at the rooftop bar at the top of The Ritz-Carlton at Ozone Bar on the 118th floor.
Those who have been regular patrons of Ozone from the beginning will tell you it’s too overcrowded now, and service standards have dropped, but if nothing else, no one can take away the fact that it still boasts one of the most jaw dropping views of the city scape.
Chungking Mansions is not really a recommended place of interest per se, but it is in the area and is home to many immigrant communities who have set up shop and restaurants, and you’ll find many communities from around the region and beyond here with more services catered to them than you would find anyone else, and that in itself I found incredibly unique and interesting in Hong Kong. Many backpacker hostels can also be found in this building, though if you choose to stay here, choose wisely as some rooms might be a little lacking.
Day 4: Yau Ma Tei, Jordan & Mong Kok
Walking along the main artery of Nathan Road, it’ll bring you to the bustling streets of Yau Ma Tei and Mong Kok, away from the sparkling buildings and fancy hotels of Tsim Sha Tsui.
Here’s also where you’ll find the heart of Hong Kong’s famous street markets, where you’ll be expected to bargain to get the best bang for your buck.
Take your pick between Jade Market, Temple Street Night Market and Ladies Market, where you’ll find all sorts of knick-knacks, from apparel to jewellery to books.
Most sell similar things, and many guidebooks have made a case for the art of bargaining here.
But the best thing to do in these districts, really, is to just get lost in the streets.
This is where the locals come to hang out.
This is where groups of friends gather for a hearty meal.
This is where you’ll really get the sense of local life and community.
There are so many fantastic eateries it’s almost impossible to list them all, but you’ll find Mak Man Kee Noodle Shop, YOKOZUNA, Mr. Wongs and Dim Dim Sum raking in the queues.
If all else fails, follow the locals and go to crowded places and you’ll likely not be disappointed by whatever choice you make.
Day 5: Prince Edward, Choi Hung Estate
Another market popular in Hong Kong is located further up north along Nathan Road at Prince Edward, namely the Flower Market.
Here, the fragrant aroma of different flowers as well as the beautifully arranged bouquets of colours waft onto the streets and line the roads.
Many shops here just selling plants, flowers, terrariums, and your gardening needs are all located in this one compound made up of several streets, and it’s incredible to take it all in.
Break for a moment and grab dim sum at the popular eatery of One Dim Sum which also usually has queues in front of it’s doors, but it moves relatively quickly and the multi-lingual menu complete with pictures makes it easy for visitors to pick out items from the menu. The queue moves relatively fast while you do so too.
And then we have Choi Hung Estate, which like the Monster Building at Quarry Bay, has become one of the most photographed spots in all of Hong Kong.
And just like Montane Mansions, is actually a functional living and residential estate that has gained incredible popularity, to the point that on a Saturday morning, there were hundreds of Instagrammers, and not a single person playing basketball at the multiple basketball courts.
I had mixed feelings after visiting Montane Mansions and Choi Hung Estate for various reasons (mostly that areas of recreation for residents have been completely taken over), so I’ll leave this part of the itinerary open-ended.
Day 6 & Beyond
Of course, the above is not all Hong Kong has to offer, but in a nutshell, those are the most popular places to head to in Hong Kong city.
Plenty of itinerary options branch out from here, including hiking Lion Rock for fantastic urban views, or Dragon’s Back and relaxing at Shek O Beach at the end, or even heading to Lantau Island and taking a day trip out to the traditional fishing village of Tai O, taking a cable car up and seeing the Big Buddha.
Not enough? How about getting a group of friends and renting a boat out to sail on the channel to the outlying islands for a day?
Or taking a traditional Chinese junk anyway?
Your options don’t stop at Hong Kong either.
Plenty of visitors combine their trip to Hong Kong with day trips to the Vegas of the Orient by the name of Macau, a former Portuguese colony with influences still found today.
Entering mainland China is possible too, with many transport links, particularly to the city of Shenzhen, which yes, can be done in a day too.
And of course, the much talked about Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge which is the longest sea crossing in the world, linking mainland China with Hong Kong and Macau.
Hong Kong also boasts the Disneyland theme park, if you can get used to your favourite Disney characters from childhood speaking and performing in Cantonese. Personally, I think this Disneyland is a little smaller in scale and geared more towards the young (and young at heart), making it fantastic for the entire family. But if more thrill-seeking amusement parks and rides are what you’re looking for, Ocean Park might be a better bet.