Updated: Jun 17, 2020
Hong Kong is vibrant and full of wonder, even in the rainy season. I love tripping along the streets and finding new haunts. This time we stumbled apon a golden pagoda with a tea house in the middle of a koi pond and couldn't have been blessed with a better time.
“A New York minute is a Hong Kong second” is a saying you’ll hear from expats who live in this thrilling, idiosyncratic city of 7 million residents, and it’s not hard to see why. Hong Kong teems with energy from the moment you arrive, and it never lets up. Shopping is on the list, as are dim sum, sightseeing, and the latest, hippest crop of restaurants and bars. Landmarks and skylines need to be photographed, there are countless street markets to explore or get lost in, and ferries and boat rides are waiting. Needless to say, it’s impossible to do everything, but there are some experiences that simply shouldn’t be missed. Whether you’re visiting Hong Kong for the first time or the tenth, here are 20 things you absolutely can’t miss.
See the view from Victoria Peak
If there’s only one thing you must do in Hong Kong, it’s to take in the famous view from Victoria Peak, arguably the city’s most famous attraction. Rising 1,805 feet above sea level, the summit affords breathtaking views of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, Victoria Harbour, and, on very clear days, Kowloon’s eight mountains. There are several ways to reach the top, but the classic method is a seven-minute ride on the Peak Tram, the world’s steepest funicular railway. There’s an ongoing argument about whether the view is better during the day or at night—see both if you have the time and decide for yourself.
Charter a junk boat
A popular weekend activity for locals is to escape the city center by renting a “junk,” a term which used to apply to Chinese fishing boats but now refers to any motorized water vessel designed for leisure. But just because you’re a visitor doesn’t mean you can’t partake in this tradition. Castelo Concepts offers seven-hour rides, including food and open bar, for up to fourteen adults (approximately $1,260), while Traway’s eight-hour charters are less than half that price (their website is in Chinese, but if you call them, you can arrange something in English). Another option is to consult with your hotel concierge for the best rates. No matter what, riding a junk is a wonderful way to enjoy the water and see some places off the beaten path.
Ride the Star Ferry
The Star Ferry, which transports 20 million riders across Victoria Harbour every year, has been around since 1888 and shows no signs of disappearing anytime soon. Even though the MTR, Hong Kong’s public transportation system, is one of the best in the world and a more efficient way to travel between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, you don’t want to miss a ride on the ferry. For a nominal fee, you’ll be treated to one of the most scenic boat rides in the world, allowing you to simultaneously gaze at the skylines on both sides of the water. If you’re riding it for the views alone (as opposed to trying to get from point A to point B), go at night and feel free to disembark and immediately hop on another ferry going back to your starting point.
Gaze upon the Big Buddha
West of the city center lies the mountainous terrain of Lantau Island, home of the Tian Tan Buddha, a 202-ton statue of the deity. Commonly referred to as the “Big Buddha,” the massive bronze statue is the main attraction here, but there are some other touristy attractions nearby that you can skip. The best way to get to the Big Buddha is to hop on the Ngong Ping 360 gondola, which offers impressive views of North Lantau Country Park, Hong Kong International Airport, the South China Sea, and the surrounding countryside.
Relax in the park
Hong Kongers like to escape to beaches, small islands, and the countryside to unwind, but that doesn’t mean there’s no green space in the city center for visitors to enjoy. Offering respite from the frenetic streets of Central, Hong Kong Park offers a sprawling mix of rock gardens and leafy pathways, making it a popular place for locals to practice tai chi or read in a secluded spot. On the edge of Causeway Bay, beautifully landscaped Victoria Park is the largest urban green space on Hong Kong Island, and it has recreational facilities for soccer, basketball, swimming, lawn bowling, and tennis. Perhaps the prettiest escape in the city is Nan Lian Garden, a 35,000-square-meter retreat designed in Tang Dynasty style, with traditional Chinese architecture and landscaping. All three parks are easily accessible via public transportation.