China for beginners? The ultimate meeting point between East and West? The world’s skyscraper capital? Asia’s World City? Hong Kong has been called all of these things, and most of them are well deserved. But where do you start when it’s time to explore Hong Kong for yourself? Some would have you spend most of your free time eating and shopping, and they have a point, since both are national pastimes in Hong Kong. But there’s much more to see and experience in the city of “One country, two systems,” while on Asia tours.
Since Hong Kong is such a popular stopover on an Asia vacation, you’re likely to have a day or two here to spend at leisure. Here are four top notch itineraries for getting the most out of the city, and its neighbour, Macau.
Classic Hong Kong: Skyscrapers and Street Food
This day out in Asia’s World City begins at the foot of its most famous railway, the Victoria Peak Tram. Arrive early to minimize your wait, and ride to the Peak for sweeping views over the city’s skyscrapers. When you return to street level in Central, explore picturesque Hong Kong Park, including its Tai Chi garden and impressive aviary. Strange as it might sound, duck by the HSBC Headquarters building for a fascinating insight into feng shui at its most financial. Then for some contrast, go on to the atmospheric Man Mo Temple, devoted to the God of Literature.
No doubt you’ve worked up an appetite, so spend the afternoon going face down in Hong Kong’s best street food on a Hong Kong for Foodies tour. This is a terrific way to learn about the history of Central and the Sheung Wan district, while sampling delicacies from shops and restaurants that have thrived here for generations. You’ll graze throughout the afternoon, so don’t count on having a big dinner.
In the evening, explore the trendy bars of Central, or catch the Star Ferry over to Kowloon Public Pier for the nightly Symphony of Lights.
Kowloon: The ‘Real’ Hong Kong
While Central can feel dominated by bankers and expats, many long-time Hong Kongers live around the Kowloon Peninsula, including in Mong Kok, the world’s most densely populated neighbourhood. Start with a morning walk in Kowloon Park where you can watch the locals at morning Tai Chi. Then stroll down to the waterfront, where the Avenue of Stars pays tribute to Hong Kong’s long cinematic history, with the superb backdrop of the city’s harbour and skyscrapers. Then swing by either the Hong Kong Museum of History or the Hong Kong Science Museum, depending on where your interests lie.
Zip up to Mong Kok for lunch and maybe a little shopping at the Ladies Market or Flower Market. Then catch the metro to Wong Tai Sin and ask for a blessing (or fortune telling) at Sik Sik Yuen Temple. Roam the beautiful temple gardens, then if you still have time and energy, pop over to the Chi Lin Nunnery to see another side of spiritual life in Hong Kong while on Asia tours.
The evening is a shopaholic’s dream in Kowloon. Hit the Temple Street Night Market to bargain for souvenirs, clothing, and much more, enjoying delicious street food and maybe a little Cantonese opera along the way. Double back to the markets of Mong Kok if you want to keep going, or down to the waterfront if you’ve not yet seen the Symphony of Lights.
Sweeping Views and Traditional Villages on Lantau Island
Lantau Island is probably the first part of Hong Kong you’ll see, since it’s home to the city’s airport. The island boasts quite the contrast of modern tourism sheen and traditional living. Start with the 360 degree view over Lantau on the Ngong Ping 360 cable car. Enjoy the sheer kitsch of Ngong Ping village, pay your respects to the enormous Tian Tan Buddha, and explore the Po Lin Monastery, where you can also enjoy a delicious vegetarian lunch.
In the afternoon, catch the bus to Tai O Fishing Village for a glimpse of traditional Lantau. This is the oldest fishing village in Hong Kong, and weaving your way through the merchants, sampling the wares and tucking into local snacks is a terrific fusion of street food and history. Consider booking a guided afternoon tour of Lantau. Most of these take you on a guided tour of the village, and offer some insight into the wider history of Lantau before taking you back to the MRT. If you’re going it alone, be sure to purchase a return ticket for the cable car and be back in plenty of time for the last departure. It’s a long bus or cab ride back!
The MRT line returns you to either Kowloon or Central for an evening at your leisure. Hit up a karaoke bar if you want to partake in Hong Kong’s favourite night-time pastime.
Macau: Asia’s Most Unique City Break
In the age of exploration, Portugal spread its influence far and wide. Until 1999, Macau was one of the oldest European colonies in Asia, dating back to the 16th century. A heavy Portuguese influence can still be felt today, immortalized in the city’s tiled streets, signage, and its famous egg tarts. Catch an early ferry from Hong Kong (booking can be a surprisingly bureaucratic process, so keep your passport on you throughout), and head for Macau’s most famous icon, the Ruins of St Paul’s. Ascend the Monte Fort for great views of the garish, but eye-catching Casino Lisboa. Then dive into Macau’s Old Town before the throng of tourists and shoppers arrives in the afternoon.
After lunch (and a few egg tarts), you have a choice of sightseeing, depending on which side of Macau interests you most. For some spiritual insights (or to bask in unabashed beauty), head to the A-Ma Temple. If you’d rather explore more of the former colony’s history, climb to the Guia Lighthouse and its adjacent Military Tunnels, or cab it to Taipa Village to see Macau from a different angle.
Catching the last ferry of the night gives you enough time to bask in the opulence of one of Macau’s massive casinos. Love it or hate it, the gaming industry has become an essential part of modern Macau’s identity and economy, and turned it into an incredibly popular destination with Chinese tourists. Even if Macau lacks the easy-going party vibe of Las Vegas, it’s worth exploring one of the gigantic recreations of Sin City’s casinos such as the Venetian, MGM, the Sands, or Macau’s own original, Casino Lisboa.