Let me introduce you to one of the most magnificent megapolices in the world, Hong Kong! A real melting pot of the East and West where Chinese language interconnects with English while British traditions are modified by oriental influences. See the 20 must-see places and experiences below, but I must note that this is not even close to a full guide to Hong Kong.
1. Victoria Harbour
Victoria Harbour, once called ‘Hong Kong harbour’ and then renamed after Queen Victoria, is probably one of the main tourist attractions of Hong Kong. It lies between the Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong Island, and a few small islands also lie within it – you can see it from the Victoria Peak if you prefer the views from above, or Tsim Sha Tsui promenade which is also one of the best spots for watching A Symphony of Lights over the harbour (I’m talking about those attractions separately below).
2. Hong Kong junk boat
There are a few ways to cross the Victoria Harbour, and the most stand-out one is probably taking a Hong Kong junk boat ride. What is a junk boat, you might ask? This is a traditional in shape but motorised boat with a red sail, you’ve probably seen it on many photos of Hong Kong already. You can still spot the original junk boats in the museums of Hong Kong (see below).
Our ride was with Aqua Lune (we booked well in advance). It started on one of the piers on Tsim Sha Tsui, lasted about 45 minutes, and the skyline of both sides of Victoria harbour as well as the opportunity to watch A Symphony of Lights from the best spots, well worthed the time and money. Some boat cruises also offer food experience.
3. Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower
Tsim Sha Tsui Clock Tower is a 44 metre high landmark dating back to the first part of the 20th century. It is hard to miss if you’re taking stroll along the Victoria Harbour! This clock tower belonged to Kowloon station, part of Kowloon–Canton Railway, which was relocated later.
4. Avenue of Stars
If you’re strolling along the Victoria Harbour on the Kowloon side, you’d probably pass through the Avenue of stars, a close relative of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It honours over the 100 of Honk Kong movie industry professionals – and they left their handprints and signatures on the promenade. Many of them were sadly unknown to me but the names of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan are probably familiar to any ear.
5. Wong Tai Sin Temple
Wong Tai Sin Temple is a huge and beautiful temple in Hong Kong erected in 1921 and dedicated to Great Immortal Wong. As the legend says, the Taoist priests were directed to this location by Master Wong Tai Sin through the planchette writing as “this place, a symbol of the wings of phoenix, is blessed and it is the most appropriate place to set up a temple to propagate religious doctrines.”
This place is quite unique because it combines three religious traditions: there are Buddhist and Confucian worshipping halls too apart from Taoist ones. Another interesting thing about it is that there are several buildings representing five elements from fung shui tradition and the Zodiac collection showcasing 12 zodiac animal signs.
But among the locals it’s most known for the fortune-telling stalls. Of course, I had to try those too 🙂
6. Victoria Peak
The Peak is the highest hill of the Hong Kong Island reaching up to 552 metres and is definitely worth a visit especially considering that you can combine it with a ride on a historic tram called (surprise!) The Peak Tram. Currently the Peak tram is undergoing an upgrade, check their website for the updates.
You arrive at the mini-shopping centre with cafes and Wax Museum on the roof of which there is a middle-sized observational desk with telescopes. We made our trip during the daylight but I presume that it would be an awesome experience in the dusk or at dawn too.
7. Star Ferry
The easiest (and probably the cheapest) way to travel between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island is the 142-year old Star Ferry, and on top of it it’s also an important attraction too! It consists of two decks and provides you with beautiful views of both sides of Victoria Harbour. Sadly, the rumours appear that Star Ferry might not make it after the protest period, pandemic and now the war-related crisis affected the number of tourists visiting Hong Kong – but let’s hope for the better.
8. Big Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha Statue)
Are you ready to travel around Hong Kong a bit? Then Lantau Island and Po Lin Monastery with Tian Tan Buddha Statue, or simply the Big Buddha built in 1993, one of the most impressive landmarks you can see in this area. The Ngong Ping Village that lies on your way to the Big Buddha is also nice though extremely touristy place with souvenirs and some food.
Big Buddha is a 34 metre tall bronze statue made of over 200 pieces symbolising the unity of man and nature being surrounded by a magnificent landscape (to get to the viewing point you have to climb up a huge staircase which was about to be renovated in 2022)
Po Lin monastery facing the Big Buddha was founded in 1906 and acquired its name in 1924, and its architecture is just astonishing – especially Main Shrine Hall of Buddha and the Mountain gait that lead to it.
9. Ngong Ping 360
To get to Tian Tan Buddha Statue you have to take the Ngong Ping 360 cable car from Tung Chung up to the Ngong Ping Village (it takes about 25 mins) which is a pretty amazing attraction by itself! It’s 5,7km long in total and with the gondolas having the glass floor it’s even more exciting. I spend the whole time admiring the scenery and watching for the Big Buddha to appear from the far away floating in the sea of green tree tops.
10. Man Mo temple
Man Mo Temple on Hollywood road is one of the most visited temples in Hong Kong. It’s dedicated to the King Emperor Man, the Civil God (or sometimes called literature god) and Holy King Emperor Kwan, the Martial God. Although the temple is said to be over 150 years old, the exact date of its foundation is unclear and usually it is said to be dated to 1847 as states the inscription on its brass bell.
The interior of Man Mo Temple is really vibrant and filled with spiral incense – visiting it won’t require much time but really is worth it.
11. The Longest Escalator in the World
Although I was extremely excited to visit the Central–Mid-Levels escalator, the Longest walkway system in the world covering almost 800 metres and dating back to 1993, it was closed for restoration during our visit (I enclose the official map of it for you to get an idea how huge it is!) This only means that I have to go back one day, right?
12. Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware
If you’re interested in a history of tea and pottery, the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware in Hong Kong Park is a place for you. You can explore the history of the Chinese tea drinking tradition, seals collection as well as the temporary exhibitions. The collection resides in the former residence of the Commander of British forces in Hong Kong constructed in 1846. We didn’t leave barehanded and acquired a tea pet, a must for every tea lover who cherishes the traditions: ours was a black swan figurine that changes colour when it is splashed over with hot water of the right temperature.
13. Hong Kong Park
The Hong Kong Park is a nice green area in the Central which should not be missed if you get tired of modern architecture! There are ponds, an aviary, a greenhouse and many other attractions to see, and generally it’s just a perfect space to relax en plain air.
14. Hong Kong trams
You’ve probably seen Hong Kong trams even if you’ve never been to this city because these doubledeckers became a very well recognisable symbol of Hong Kong. They were introduced in 1912 (single-decker line opened in 1904) and were always extremely popular. The tram stops are said to have a shape as if they were double-storey too to facilitate the evacuation of the passengers during the emergency. In line with the London Oyster card, the local one is called an Octopus card.
Probably the best way to see the trams is around the North Point, for instance the Chun Yeung Street when you can add the markets on Chun Yeung street and Marble Road to your list too. Tip: if you’re looking for more photogenic spots, head to Choi Hung Estate for their famous views over a housing estate!
15. Yuen Po Street Bird Garden
If you’d like to see more markets in Hong Kong, head to Yuen Po Street, and you’ll find there a very traditional bird market with Chinese hwamei, oriental white-eyes, thrushes, mynas, white rumped shamas and other species! It was opened on 13 December 1993. It’s not very big, but it’s a very unique spot to see. Apart from the birds you can spot crickets and bamboo cages on sale too!
Have you heard about the bird walking culture? This is a very specific though traditional activity when bird owners take the cages with their pet birds out and walk with them, especially in the morning, socialising with other bird owners! It’s been up in China since the 11-th century and is said to enhance the singing ability of birds, not to mention enriching their lives. Nowadays the tradition is dying out with only the older generation keeping it alive. Also it is worth mentioning that if you’re visiting a bird market in Asia, always pay attention to the conditions regarding the space and cleanliness for songbirds, take in account the avian flu cases and the legitimacy of the sellers (birds should not be catched in the wild).
16. Flower Market
Just a few steps away from the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden and close to Prince Edward MTR station there is a Flower Market! Although it’s not very big and consists of a few large flower shops and stalls, it’s a really nice place to visit too. They sell flowers and other plants (both potted and cut), bonsais and everything plant-relatedI was really impressed by the range of orchids of all sorts for instance (you can check my log about the orchids in Kew Gardens too!)
17. Kowloon Walled City Park
I was deeply saddened that I couldn’t visit the Yunnan Garden in Shanghai because it was under reconstruction but luckily I was able to go to Kowloon Walled City Park in Hong Kong! It looked like a magical garden from the illustrations, with the lakes, flower walks, rock formations, waterfalls, beautiful nature sights and of course the pavilions (especially the Lung Nam Pavilion)! The style of it is called Jiangnan and refers to Qing Dynasty tradition.
The story behind it is a bit gloomy because Kowloon Walled City, a former Military outpost, in the past was very densely packed and notoriously known for different illegal activities, drug trade, prostitution and crime levels. And the government simply decided to demolish it in the 1990s and to grow a garden in its place.
Another place to visit if you like gardens is Chilin Nunnery and Nan Lian Gardens.
18. Hong Kong Museum of History
Hong Kong Museum of History is a must if you’d like to learn about the history of the city from the first hands: Chinese tradition, British rule, Japanese invasion we all the major influences that shaped Hong Kong as we know it now (not to mention the recent political events when China regained the absolute power over Hong Kong and suppressed the protests pressing many habitants to flee the city and to move to the UK, for instance). The museum covers the prehistoric times and ends with the Handover of Hong Kong when the rule of Hong Kong was formally passed from the UK to the Chinese authorities.
There are many other nice museums in Hong Kong, for instance, Hong Kong Museum of Art, Museum of Science and Space museum!
19. Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery
The last but not least landmark on my list is the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin, a huge complex built in the 1950s famous for numerous gold Buddha statues. The most impressing thing about them was that all the statues are different and expressing emotions (and sometimes even extremely scary).
You pass on your way though about the 400 steps up to the main halls and the nine-story pagoda of the monastery. I haven’t counted the statues myself but it is believed that actually there are more than 13 thousands of them!
20. Hong Kong Central
Hong Kong Central, also called Chung Wan, I’ve been mentioning a lot is a financial district of the city (similar to Shanghai’s Pudong, for instance) that consists of the skyscrapers, older buildings and parks among those concrete jungles. The Government Hill in Central is where all the government buildings reside.
Among the places to see I’d suggest the famous lion of the HSBC bank, Cheung Kong park, The City Hall, the General Post office, The Court of Final Appeal building and, by the way, the Museum of Tea Ware is located here too! The best views to the Central are from Tsim Sha Tsui and from the Victoria Peak.
When you’re in Hong Kong, don’t hesitate to spend a day in Macau, a former Portuguese colony and now a SAR of China!
Where to stay in Hong Kong?
We stayed in The Langham in the Tsim Sha Tsui area, a gorgeous luxury hotel with three Michelin star restaurants and a pool on the roof. It was definitely one of my best stays ever (and I love the Langhams in general: I worked with their London hotel before and stayed in The Langham Shanghai).
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