This year for our two week holiday we decided to combine Hong Kong with the Maldives. We do love our city break/beach holiday combos! I like to travel without that many expectations (probably so I’m not disappointed) so I wasn’t really sure what to expect of Hong Kong. One thing I didn’t expect though was how I fell in love with it straight away.
Hong Kong has a fascinating history, having started off as a fishing village and producing salt to the financial hub it is today. During its history it has been part of the Chinese Empire, a British colony, occupied by Japan in the second world war, returned to the British and then returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
At the moment, Hong Kong is experiencing a wave of anti-government protests after China announced allowing extradition to the mainland. Whilst there were a couple of protests during our visit, we didn’t see them and we weren’t affected by them at all. The tourism industry has experienced a huge hit as a result of the protests but please don’t let that put you off visiting. It’s perfectly safe!
So what were my favourite things to see and do in Hong Kong?
We were only in Hong Kong for five days but we managed to pack a lot in! Here are nine things I loved and I’d recommend putting on your list.
The views from The Peak
We got the bus up to The Peak (or Victoria Peak as it’s officially called), which is situated 552 metres above the city and is the highest hill on Hong Kong Island. The bus trip is an experience in itself with a narrow, windy road!
Once you reach the top, the views are spectacular. As Hong Kong has quite a bit of pollution, the view the day we went was a bit hazy and grey. Of course the next day was blue sky and sunshine! I was seriously tempted to go back up but we had lots of other things to do.
There’s a shopping centre with restaurants as well as Madam Tussauds if you’re wondering what else there is to do once you’re at the top. We just took in the views, walked around a bit and then got the tram back down to Central, which was great fun! The Peak Tram has been operating since 1888 and is one of Hong Kong’s most popular attractions. It only takes 8 minutes too (the bus took 30 mins).
A trip on the Star Ferry
We were staying at the Mandarin Oriental, which was pretty much across the road from the Star Ferry terminal, which is situated in Victoria Harbour. These double-decker ferries are the best way to get from Central to Kowloon and have been operating since 1898! They also carry around 100,000 passengers a day.
Not only do you get a fabulous view of both Kowloon and Central, the ride costs just over 2HK$ during the week and just under 4HK$ during the weekend. We went both during the day over the weekend and once at night during the week. The night ride was definitely the best as you see the spectacular city lights.
Free flow brunch
Hong Kongers LOVE their Sunday brunch – especially when it’s bottomless (or ‘free flow’ as they call it). There are so many places to choose from with various free flow options, from cocktails to premium champagne.
We decided to try the brunch at Ozone at the Ritz Carlton in Kowloon as it’s one of the highest bars in the world – 118 floors up… just look at that view!
We enjoyed the brunch and we’d definitely do a free flow brunch again the next time we visit but I don’t think we’d go back to Ozone. It was quite over-priced in our opinion and we didn’t like the decor that much.
Explore the markets
I love markets! Especially street markets in Asia. Hong Kong has lots of markets to check out, including a night market (although sadly we didn’t get round to visiting it). We visited the Ladies’ Market and the Jade Market in Kowloon.
If you’re looking to buy something, definitely haggle! We just enquired the price of a few things and then when we walked away, the price was slashed so there are definitely bargains to be had.
The Jade Market had hundreds of stalls all selling jade jewellery, ornaments and objects which became a bit ‘samey’ after a while. What was fascinating though was watching some of the male stall holders passing the time by playing traditional games.
Watch A Symphony of Lights
A real highlight of our trip was watching the Symphony of Lights show in Kowloon. Every night at 8pm, this free lights and sound show delights visitors!
You can watch the show from Central or Kowloon as iconic buildings on both sides of the harbour put on a fabulous, choreographed show – and have been doing so every night since 2004. Get there at least 20 mins early though so you get a good spot as it gets really crowded.
Eat loads of dumplings
My friend Nancy has lived in Hong Kong for years so we asked her where the best place to get dumplings was and without hesitation she said ‘Wang Fu’. It’s an unassuming little place on Wellington Street but its Pekingese dumplings are so good, it’s in the Michelin Guide!
We met Nancy for lunch on our last day and ordered three different kinds of dumplings for the three of us with bottled water and a cucumber side dish. The entire meal came to around £25!
Day trip to Macau
We decided to get a JetFoil ferry to visit Macau for the day. Macau lies around 60 km from Hong Kong and takes 55 minutes to reach by ferry. It was a Portuguese colony from 1557 until as recently as 1999, however its population is mainly Chinese. Note that the currency in Macau is the Pataca. You can use Hong Kong Dollars in Macau but if you get their currency in change, you can’t spend it back in Hong Kong.
It still has some beautiful and well preserved colonial architecture. Most notably the facade of Sao Paulo church.
The historic Portuguese area is very pretty and we enjoyed walking around. We also visited the Red Market, which is a food produce market (as in meat, fish and vegetables) and is housed in a beautiful art deco building.
Macau is the only place in China where gambling is legal so the Chinese flock here to visit the casinos. It’s like the Las Vegas of China!
Day trip to Lantau and Tai O
Lantau is twice the size of Hong Kong island but is quite under-developed. It’s where Hong Kong Disneyland is (I really wanted to go but we didn’t have enough time!) and the Tian Tan Big Buddha – which we went to see.
We got there via the cable car (see below) and had lunch first in the tourist village. We then walked to the Big Buddha, which is 34m high and weighs 250 tonnes! It’s situated in front of the Po Lin Monastery, which was founded in 1906 and is one of the largest Buddhist temples in Hong Kong.
After visiting the Buddha and the Monastery we took a bus to the fishing village of Tai O, which is about 20 minutes away. Tai O is the largest and oldest village in Lantau and is home to around 2,000 people. A lot of the village homes and buildings are built on the water with stilts – it’s like nothing I’d seen before!
We took a little boat tour around the village and also out to sea to try and spot pink dolphins. We were unlucky and didn’t see any though. After the boat trip we walked around the village and the shops before getting the last bus back to the Ngong Ping cable car. I’m so glad we went because it was interesting to see another, more rural side of Hong Kong.
Ngong Ping 360 cable car
The best way to get to Lantau to see the Tian Tan Big Buddha is by getting the Ngong Ping 360 cable car. It’s one of the longest cable car rides in the world – it takes 25 minutes – and is 5.7km long.
We chose to get the Crystal cabin, purely to skip the queues but it’s called the Crystal cabin for a reason… the floor is glass! Not for the faint hearted…
We loved our stay in Hong Kong and it’s definitely a city we will return to. And there’s lots we didn’t get to see this time round so another good excuse to visit again.