As the first destination I ever visited in this part of the globe, I was pretty excited to set foot in Hong Kong. I had only heard good things about the “fragrant harbour”, how it was a more civilised – not to say slightly westernised – version of China with a slight British twist to it. Hong Kong is also Cathay Pacific’s main Asia hub making it easy for us North Americans to use it as the gateway to Asia and also to plan an extended layover. My first experience in the archipelago was short-lived —not for a deficit in things to do, but rather because I was on my way to Cambodia and Vietnam— but it was enough to entice me to return many, many times.
Here’s what I did as a first-timer in Hong Kong.
The Best Things to Do in Hong Kong
Classic tourist attraction but an essential one nonetheless. Riding the dizzyingly upright tram is an experience in its own right; the view from atop Victoria Peak is another one entirely, as the panorama can change quite drastically depending on the smog levels —a legitimate concern in these muggy, stuffy parts as you can tell from the horrible photo above— and the weather. Some days you can see all the way to Sai Kung, while on others you can barely glimpse at the silhouette of skyscrapers the central district.
Eat All of the Dim Sum
It if looks like eating what as the heart of my trip, that’s because it was. Finding hole-in-the-wall, blink-and-you’ll-miss it restaurants quickly became one of my favourite things to do in Hong Kong and over the course of two short days I was able to sample a few.
- The Monogamous Chinese (59 Caine Rd, right next to the escalators)
- Tim Ho Wan, the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world (9-11 Fuk Wing St)
- DimDimSum Dim Sum (26-28 Man Wui St)
- Ah Chun Shandong Dumpling (60 Lai Chi Kok Rd)
- Din Tai Fung (Silvercord, 30 Canton Rd)
- Wang Fu (65 Wellington St)
- Tsim Chai Kee Noodle Shop (98 Wellington St)
- Dragon Restaurant (12 Queen Victoria St)
- Dim Sum Square (27 Hillier St)
- Budaoweng Hotpot Cuisine (iSQUARE, 63 Nathan Rd)
Hit the Themed Street Markets
It seems as though Hong Kong has a street market for absolutely everything. The concept of grouping similar shops and businesses in a single area originates from South China and one look at Hong Kong’s streets suffices to understand that the tradition is still very much alive nowadays. The tourism board alone recognises at least 20 distinctive street markets and I’d bet there are at least double that amount scattered all over the archipelago. I was able to visit:
- Ladies Market
- Goldfish Market (Sounds weird, but in Hongkongese culture, it’s not; in fact, it’s usually regarded as good luck to have a goldfish in the house)
- Flower Market
- Bird Garden Market (Yes, that’s a thing. Back in the day, people used to take the cages and their birds out “for a walk”; many restaurants had special hooks to accommodate cages)
- Antiques Market
Take the Ferry Across the Harbour
If you have a little time on your hands, skip the subway and catch the star ferry using your Octopus Card between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon for some of the best and most inexpensive scenes in the city. Again, smog levels make a big difference in how clear the skyline is going to be but riding the ferry and watching the maritime traffic go by is quite fun regardless.
Ride a Double-Decker Tram
If you thought double-decker bus in England were fun, boy, wait until you hear about double-decker trams in Hong Kong. Granted, they are quite possibly the slowest way to get around town — at this point walking would be faster — but if your feet need a rest, hop in, tap your Octopus Card and enjoy the lengthy ride. Most tram cars are adorably vintage in style and offer unparalleled photographic opportunities of the bustling, energetic central district and its glistening skyscrapers.
Visit Man Mo Temple
Erected as a tribute to the Chinese God of Literature (Man) and the God of War (Mo), the Man Mo Temples of Hong Kong (there are several; however, the one in Sheung Wan is the largest, oldest and most attractive from a tourist perspective) are still frequently visited by scholars seeking to improve their grades and progress in their studies. The temple, one of the most highly rated cultural things to do in Hong Kong, is extensively ornamented and has a soothing albeit strong incense smell that would almost have visitors forget about the bustle of Hong Kong once they cross the doorstep.
Go on a Food Tour
You guys know me by now so this is not going to surprise you in the least bit: one of the main reasons I was so excited was because everyone kept telling me about the scrumptious food scene there. But without any bearings, neither geographically nor culinary, I knew I had to join a food tour to learn more about Hong Kong cuisine. Over the course of 3.5 hours, my guide Yammy (almost too close to a pun to be true) took me all over Sheung Wan district, pointing at both quirks and historical landmarks along the way and passionately explaining the long-standing tradition of dim sum and Hongkongese cuisine.
Admittedly, Stanley is not exactly on the beaten track of Hong Kong; on paper, it’s an isolated hamlet located all the way on the backside of Hong Kong Island and getting there takes close to an hour. In reality, though, what awaits is an idyllic beach with a colourful promenade lined with pubs and restaurants. There is also a modest but worthwhile market close to the bus stop.
Why not make a day trip out of it? The lengthy bus ride to Stanley takes visitors along the dramatic coastline and right by places like Repulse Bay, Ocean Park and stunning, towering housing developments that could only ever be built in Hong Kong.
More Things to Do in Hong Kong
- Swim in the sea at Shek O Beach
- Take a daytime or nighttime walking tour
- Relax at the Nan Lian Garden
- Day trip to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery
- Admire the Giant Buddha on Lantau Island
- Hike the Dragon’s Back
- Go to Disneyland
- Ride the Central to Mid-Levels escalator
- Gamble away in Macau
- Take a cooking class with Mrs Wan