There is no shortage of exciting things to do and places to see in Hong Kong. One way to see the city is by public transportation. Taking public transportation is not only a very cheap way of sightseeing, but it also gives you an intimate perspective of the city and the daily lives of its people. The list below highlights some of the most intimate ways to discover the culture and the landscape of the city, with a few fun and breathtaking attractions along the way.
Take the Peak Tram to Victoria Peak
Sightseeing by Public Transportation #1
One of the best ways to explore Hong Kong is actually by taking very low-cost public transportations. In fact, there are at least 3 of these routes. The first one is to take the Peak Tram to Victoria Peak. (Note that this is the Peak Tram, not the other “ding ding” tram discussed below.)
The website here will give you very clear directions how to get there. Once you get to the Peak, you will disembark at the Peak Tower, which is a very cool-looking building – the type that you think you’ll only see in the movies (see picture below.)
The Peak Tower is a tourist attraction in itself. It is a large dining, shopping, and entertainment complex where you can spend as much or as little time and money as you like.
The view from The Peak is panoramic and on a clear day, it is spectacular. Unfortunately, as you can see from the pictures below, it was a bit hazy the day I was there so the view of the distant Kowloon and New Territories was not clear.
There is a path where you can circle The Peak and it will give you a 360-degree view of teh island. The walk is easy and flat and takes about an hour on a moderate pace. I highly recommend that you walk that path if you are able and if the weather permits.
Hong Kong Tramways
Sightseeing by Public Transportation #2
So, I talk about the Peak Tram above being a great sightseeing trip by public transportation. Now I am going to tell you about the second very cheap public transportation that gives you the best sightseeing experience almost for free.
This is the tram, operated by the Hong Kong Tramways. They are called “ding ding” by the locals because of the sound of the double-bell “ding ding” used by the trams to warn and alert pedestrians and other vehicles (instead of a horn).
The tram takes you from the far west of the island (Kennedy Town) to its far east (Shau Kei Wan). You are essentially getting a tour along the entire north coast of the island. Their website here gives you all the details, schedules, and fares. You will rub elbows with lots of locals, see the sights and hear the sounds of local life across the various districts along the way, and in a way, see, feel, and understand their way of life.
Tip #1: Do not board any tram that goes to Happy Valley, unless you know where you are going to and what you are doing, as this deviates from the main route and can cause you to get lost.
Tip #2: Avoid taking it during the workday rush hours: 7 – 10am and 4 – 7pm. Believe me, it’s no fun at all.
Tip #3: Get on to the upper deck!
Sightseeing by Public Transportation #3
Although there are three cross-harbor tunnels and a vast network of buses and MTR (subway) trains connect Hong Kong Island with the Kowloon, the Star Ferry is still the most direct (and sometimes maybe even the fastest) way to go between the Central District or Wanchai and Tsim Tsa Tsui.
For some tourists, the Star Ferry can also be like a cheap harbor cruise. For the fare equivalent to less than one US dollar, you can cross the World-famous Victoria harbor and enjoy the skyline of both the Island and the Peninsula. The view is absolutely spectacular and make sure you do this both during the day and at night to see the best of both worlds.
For the best enjoyment, avoid the weekday rush hours and purchase a ticket for the upper deck.
Symphony of Lights
Magical Laser Extravaganza
As you will continue to discover from this page, many of the best things to do or places to go in Hong Kong are absolutely free! For example, the Symphony of Lights!
The Symphony of Lights is almost like the signature of this vibrant city. It is a spectacular lightshow like nowhere else on Earth. It takes the perfect coordination of numerous laser lights mounted on 47 buildings on both sides of the harbor plus the synchronization of the music performed by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra to make the approximately 15-minute show possible.
The video preview above provided by the Hong Kong Tourism Commission gives you a nice preview of this extravaganza.
Best of all, it is free. The best vantage point is at the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront outside the Cultural Centre and the Avenue of Stars, where the music is broadcast from. The show can also be seen in many places on the Island, even at the Peak, but you will not be able to hear the music there.
The show starts nightly at 8pm.
Tsim Tsa Tsui Promenade
Some of the Best Things to Do are Free
If you are going to take the Star Ferry as I recommend that you do, plan a trip to the Tsim Tsa Tsui Promenade either before or after your ferry ride.
It is amazing that some of the best tours of the city are completely free! It starts right where you disembark from the Star Ferry where you see the iconic colonial-era bell tower. It stretches over about one mile to Hung Hom. You will walk along the Avenue of Stars and pass by the Hong Kong Space Museum and the Hong Kong Museum of Art.
Photographers will fall in love with this opportunity to take pictures of the stunning Victoria Harbor and the skyline of the city’s soaring skyscrapers. Or if you are not into photography, just soak in every bit of the breathtaking view.
In case you don’t know, this is also the prime piece of real estate to watch the nightly Symphony of Lights extravaganza.
A Multi-Dimensional Amusement Park
Don’t let the name Ocean Park mislead you into thinking that you’ll only be touring aquariums, visiting sea animals, and watching dolphin shows. Yes, you will see all that, but there is a ton more to do in this exciting and bustling theme park.
You will be riding cable cars with stunning views, strolling through expedition trails, and discovering the history of Hong Kong.
For those who are adventurous, there are many thrill rides, roller coasters, as well as a water ride. There are plenty of fun-filled activities for kids as well, such as bumper cars and carousels. Be prepared to spend an entire day there.
For the easiest access, take the MTR South Island Line to the Ocean Park station.
Ngong Ping 360
A Culturally Themed Destination with A Scenic Cable Car Ride
Ngong Ping 360 is a destination on Lantau Island (the same island where the airport is located) which houses the famous 112-foot tall Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery. It is also home to the culturally themed Ngong Ping Village which is a massive dining, shopping, and entertainment complex.
There are many ways to get to Ngong Ping 360, but for the first time visitor, there is only one way, and that is to go there by cable car.
Take the MTR to the Tung Chung station and the cable car station is just a short walk away. The 25-minute and 3.5-mile ride is considered one of the most scenic in the World. On the way to Ngong Ping 360, you get to see the entire Hong Kong International airport from high above. If you get lucky, you might even get up close and personal to approaching aircrafts.
Hong Kong Museum of History
Galleries of Rich History and Culture
While there are literally numerous things to do in bustling city known as the Pearl of the Orient, there is probably only one way to explore and truly understand its history, culture, and people.
The Hong Kong Museum of History feels almost like a journey through a time machine. It takes you back to the days when the small, isolated island was an obsolete and small fisherman’s village. It guides you through almost a century of changes and metamorphosis that transform this once obscure city into one of the most important financial centers in the World.
You will also discover the many facets of the cultures and people of Hong Kong. Traditional marriages as well as religious ceremonies are well documented. Some exhibits highlight the transformation of local industries, fashions, movies, theatres, and ways of life. One of my most favorite areas is where they showcase the traditional Chinese operas, which is a centerpiece of Chinese culture.
Visit Stanley Beach and Stanley Market
Your visit to Stanley has three destinations within the destination. One of the best things to do in Hong Kong in summer is to go to the beach. And here you are, in one of the most beautiful beaches on the southern shores of the island. The sands are fluffy and white, and it is safe to swim.
The Stanley Market is adjacent to the beach, and it is an open-air market that is a tourists’ favorite. Here you can find good bargains on both Eastern and Western merchandise, as well as clothing, jewelry, and souvenirs.
The Murray House is a Victorian-era building originally erected in the Central District. In the early 2000’s it was moved to Stanley and is now a dining and entertainment complex. It remains as one of the few colonial landmarks that are still standing in the city’s post-colonial days.
Enjoy a Dim Sum Meal (Yum Cha)
A Meal with a Cultural Experience
Eating dim sum, or as the locals say – yum cha – is more than just a meal. Translated literally as to drink tea, it is more like a tradition and culture for the people of Hong Kong.
Families and friends gather around the table to sip tea and enjoy small dishes of food known as dim sum – translated literally to mean point to the heart. Whether it’s a formal event, a celebration, or just to catch up with each other, yum cha is where local communities share their life stories.
The small dishes of food typically include a wide variety of dumplings, buns, egg rolls, rice noodle rolls, etc. Delicacies include spareribs and chicken feet. Sponge cakes and egg tarts are my favorite desserts.
Tim Ho Wan was at one time the cheapest Michelin starred restaurant in the World. It is known for its delicious dim sums at low to moderate prices.
Visit my Places to Eat page for more good dim sum restaurants as well as other exciting dining options.
Indulge in a Traditional Afternoon Tea
A British Indulgence that still Remains
Hong Kong has been a British colony for over 150 years. During that period, every British culture and custom has been deeply ingrained in its colonial culture. Even after 1997, when the city was reverted to Chinese rule, many British indulgences remain just as popular. One of them, of course, is the afternoon tea.
You can get traditional afternoon tea usually in luxurious hotels, as well as many tea rooms and cafes. It is a great cultural experience that lets you discover one of the few remaining remnants of the city’s colonial days.
Read my blog article to learn more about the origin of afternoon tea.
Lan Kwai Fong
Nightlife and Club Scene
Lan Kwai Fong is one of the nightlife hot spots in this vibrant city that never sleeps. It is home to almost 100 restaurants, bars, and clubs that span a wide spectrum. There are fine dining restaurants and trendy bars as well as local pubs and dive bars.
Many bars and clubs open late into the night. It is legal in Hong Kong for bars to open 24 hours. You can go there for a drink or two or indulge into the wee hours of the night. And whatever happens in Lan Kwai Fong stays in Lan Kwai Fong.
It’s a Small World Afterall
I will recommend this visit only to those who have never been to a Disneyland theme park or there is not a Disneyland in their country where they can easily go to.
If you have already been to Disneyland in Southern California or Disney World in Florida, don’t bother going.
That said, the Hong Kong Disneyland is an intimate and charming home to the Disney theme and characters, and with an Asian flavor. But it is also one of the smallest one among its peers.
I actually find the atmosphere a lot friendlier and more comfortable than its US counterparts. Service is superb everywhere you go, reflecting the culture of Asian hospitality. Moreover, visiting Disneyland in an Asian country could also be a cultural experience in itself. To make it a better deal, admissions cost less than half of the current US prices.