It’s hard not to fall in love with Hong Kong at first sight, a disarmingly high-rise metropolis in the dreamiest of island settings. Then you start to discover just how memorable the food scene is, how vibrant the nightlife is, how endless the shopping is – and game over, you’re smitten.
Hong Kong truly is one of the world’s most iconic cities, which is all the more remarkable given its relative youth, sprouting from the seeds of British colonialism to dizzying heights of wealth and success. Recent years have brought a raft of new challenges, as China seeks to bring its upstart territory to heel. For now, at least, this incredible city retains its allure.
There really is no set way to experience this incredible city, but this list offers the most popular, unique, and unusual things to do in Hong Kong.
1. Marvel at Hong Kong’s skyline from the deck of the Star Ferry
Despite rumors in 2022 that the service would close after 142 years, Hong Kong’s iconic Star Ferries continue to chug the ten-minute trip across Victoria Harbour between Kowloon and Central. Costing mere pennies each way, it’s a commute dressed up as the world’s cheapest sightseeing cruise. It’s also simply the best way to take in the skyscrapers (over 500 are above 150m/492ft tall) and jungle-clad hills that Hong Kong Island is best known for.
Detour: Star Ferry also runs a one-hour Harbour Tour voyage with pick-ups at Tsim Sha Tsui, Central, and Wan Chai.
2. Savor craft cocktails in Asia’s most creative bars
With eight venues ranking in Asia’s 50 Best Bars for 2022 (including first and third place with Coa and Argo respectively), Hong Kong’s bar scene is positively humming with creativity. Coa is all about boutique agave and the flavors of Mexico, while Argo utilizes sustainably sourced staples like coffee and cacao to make a statement about climate change. Hong Kong’s trailblazing mixologists also include Quinary, inspired by Spanish molecular restaurant El Bulli, and The Old Man, which takes its inspiration from Ernest Hemingway.
3. Explore Hong Kong island by tram
Hong Kong’s teetering trams have been traversing the north shore of Hong Kong Island since 1904. Looking like slimmed-down London buses, the double-decker "ding dings" are a fun and low-impact means of exploration, and you get a killer view from the top deck. Hop on an east-bound tram to North Point and you’ll have the added thrill of trundling right through the middle of Chun Yeung Street Market, inches away from stalls and carts stacked with glossy cabbages and fresh seafood.
4. Queue up for Michelin-starred roast goose
Glitzy Hong Kong has some of the best (and most expensive) fine dining in Asia, but you can still eat like a king on the cheap if you know where to go. Yat Lok and Kam’s Roast Goose are two unpretentious local diners that specialize in the Cantonese staple of roast goose over rice. Both serve glorious renditions of the dish for around HK$100 (approx US$12), and both also happen to have a Michelin star.
Local tip: Goose leg is more highly prized than breast and typically costs more on menus.
5. Go for a hike up and around Victoria Peak
Taller than Hong Kong’s highest skyscraper, the 552m (1811ft) Victoria Peak is Hong Kong’s most popular beauty spot, with hordes of visitors riding the white-knuckle Peak Tram to its upper terminus for jaw-dropping views of the city and the South China Sea. To skip the crowds, consider hiking up from Pok Fu Lam Reservoir, a relatively gentle ascent, and then circling the top following the Ludgard Road loop, a flat, accessible trail with panoramic viewpoints. They’re worth the effort, but allow 2.5 hours to complete the 6km (3.7 miles) route.
Planning tip: Aim to hit the Peak at sunset to see the skyline in both day and night mode.
6. Have a night at the races, Hong Kong style
Wednesday night is race night on Hong Kong Island, with thousands of revelers descending on the Happy Valley Racecourse to watch horses thunder around the track, place a bet or two, and drink copious amounts of beer. The atmosphere is usually electric, with live music and silly wigs a-plenty, and entry costs just HK$10 using your Octopus (subway) card. It’s one of the most fun things to do at night in Hong Kong. The oval race track, first laid out in 1845, is overlooked by a cliff face of towering apartment blocks and makes for a remarkable setting.
Local tip: Outside of race days, joggers are welcome to use the course as a public running track.
7. Get nostalgic for old Hong Kong at Yau Ma Tei
For a taste of old Hong Kong, steeped in neon and nostalgia, head to Yau Ma Tei in Kowloon where you’ll find mahjong parlors, martial arts dens, dried seafood sellers, cleaver shops, plus Hong Kong’s oldest theater, performing Cantonese opera. Be sure to stop in for a cuppa at one of the area’s retro cha chaan tang (teahouses) and if you’re feeling in fine voice, head to a neighborhood "singalong parlor" for old-time karaoke and beers with the locals.
8. Seek out Hong Kong’s atmospheric urban temples
Easily overlooked amid all the tightly packed, high-rise modernity are Hong Kong’s many urban temples, with their double-eave tiled rooftops, resident fortune tellers and hanging coils of incense. Some are dedicated to Tin Hau (Mazu), a sea goddess, while others honor a Chinese general called Che Kung. The gods of literature and war are also represented, as is the case with the magnificent Man Mo Temple. Entry is usually free, even to the best temples, and the temples are at their busiest during Hong Kong’s regular folk festivals.
9. Embark on an island-hopping adventure
There are some 250 islands around Hong Kong, a few of which are an easy ferry trip away from the piers at Central. You might try laidback Lamma with its hippy vibes and craft beer shacks, or hipster Cheung Chau with its temples, trails and beaches. Lantau, Hong Kong’s biggest island and joined to the mainland since 1997, is home to the world’s largest seated bronze Buddha, as well as the world’s most famous mouse at Hong Kong Disneyland.
10. Bag a bargain at Hong Kong’s street markets
Hong Kong is a shopper’s nirvana with more malls per square mile than most places, but it’s on the street, and in its markets, where you’ll find the best retail buzz. Temple Street Night Market is perfect for souvenirs, while the nearby Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market is a hive of commerce at all hours. Cat Street is the go-to spot for vintage and curio stalls, and for snacks the retro "cooked food markets" (da pai dong) of central and east Hong Kong island dish up homely meals like fish balls in soup and wok-tossed noodles.