Bicycle

Cycling in urbanised Kowloon or Hong Kong Island would be suicide, but in the quiet areas of the islands (including southern Hong Kong Island) and the New Territories, a bike can be a lovely way to get around. It’s more recreational than a form of transport, though – the hilly terrain will slow you down (unless you’re mountain biking). Be advised that shops and kiosks renting out bicyles tend to run out early on weekends if the weather is good.

Boat

Despite Hong Kong’s comprehensive road and rail public-transport system, the territory still relies very much on ferries to get across the harbour and to reach the Outlying Islands. The cross-harbour Star Ferry services are faster and cheaper than buses and the MTR. They’re also great fun and afford stunning views. While Lantau can be reached by MTR and bus, for the other Outlying Islands ferries remain the only game in town. Ferries to Kowloon and the Outlying Islands depart from Central Piers 1 to 7.

Star Ferry

  • There are two Star Ferry routes, but by far the most popular is the one running between Central (Pier 7) and Tsim Sha Tsui. The other links Wan Chai with Tsim Sha Tsui.
  • There are two ticket types; upper deck (slightly more expensive) and lower deck. Fares are nominally higher on weekends and public holidays.
  • Buy a ticket at one of the payment kiosks or use an Octopus card (most convenient).

Outlying Islands Ferries

  • Regular ferry services link the main Outlying Islands to Hong Kong.
  • Fares are reasonable, nominally higher on weekends and public holidays, and the ferries are comfortable and usually air-conditioned.
  • The boats have toilets, and some have a basic bar that serves snacks and cold drinks.
  • The ferries can get very crowded on Saturday afternoon and all day Sunday, especially in the warmer months.

Ferry Services

Ferries to the Outlying Islands depart from the Central Piers. The nearest MTR station is Hong Kong; follow the elevated walkway east out of the IFC Mall (MTR exit A1 or A2) and then due north to reach the piers (follow signs for the Star Ferry). Tickets can be bought on the day from kiosks at the entrance to each pier.

Discovery Bay Ferries depart from Pier 3 every half hour around the clock (less frequent after midnight). One-way fares start from HK$46; the trip takes 25 minutes. On Saturdays and Sundays, four ferries a day go from here to Disneyland Resort.

Lamma Ferries depart from Pier 4 to Lamma Island's main town of Yung Shue Wan every half hour to an hour until around 11.30pm. Some departures head to the smaller town of Sok Kwu Wan. One-way fares start from HK$17.80.

Cheung Chau Ferries run every half hour from Pier 5. One-way fares start from HK$13.60; tickets for the fast ferry cost about 50% more.

Lantau and Peng Chau Ferries depart from Pier 6, heading to the Lantau village of Mui Wo (every 20 to 50 minutes) or the nearby small island of Peng Chau (every 30 to 40 minutes). One-way fares for either destination start at HK$15.90.

Feature: Hailing a Cross-Harbour Taxi

Hailing a cross-harbour taxi can be a frustrating task. There are three main ways to snag one:

  • Look for a taxi with its lights on, but its 'Out of Service' sign up. This generally means the taxi is looking for a cross-harbour fare.
  • Find a (rare) cross-harbour taxi stand.
  • Hail a cab with a sort of 'walk like an Egyptian' gesture, snaking your arm as if in imitation of a wave. Taxis potentially interested in cross-harbour fares will stop to negotiate.

Bus

Hong Kong’s extensive bus system will take you just about anywhere in the territory, but it's not always easy to follow. Since Kowloon and the northern side of Hong Kong Island are so well served by the MTR, most visitors use the buses primarily to explore the southern side of Hong Kong Island, the New Territories and Lantau Island.

Departures Most buses run from 5.30am or 6am until midnight or 12.30am. There are a small number of night buses that run from 12.45am to 5am or later, designated with the letter 'N'.

Fares Bus fares cost HK$4 to HK$46, depending on the destination. Fares for night buses cost from HK$7 to HK$32. You will need exact change or an Octopus card.

Bus stations On Hong Kong Island the most important bus stations are the terminus in Central underneath Exchange Sq and the one on Queensway at Admiralty. From these stations you can catch buses to Aberdeen, Repulse Bay, Stanley and other destinations on the southern side of Hong Kong Island. In Kowloon the Star Ferry bus terminal has buses heading up Nathan Rd and to the Hung Hom train station.

Route information Figuring out which bus you want can be difficult. Citybus (www.nwstbus.com.hk) and New World First Bus, owned by the same company, plus Kowloon Motor Bus (www.kmb.hk) provide user-friendly route searches on their websites. KMB also has a route app for smartphones.

Lantau Most parts of Lantau Island are served by New Lantao Bus (www.newlantaobus.com). Major bus stations are located in Mui Wo ferry terminal and Tung Chung MTR station.

Car & Motorcycle

Hong Kong’s maze of one-way streets and dizzying expressways isn’t for the faint-hearted. Traffic is heavy and finding a parking space is difficult and very expensive. If you are determined to see Hong Kong under your own steam, do yourself a favour and rent a car with a driver.

Road rules Vehicles drive on the left-hand side of the road in Hong Kong, as in the UK, Australia and Macau, but not in mainland China. Seat belts must be worn by the driver and all passengers, in both the front and back seats. Police are strict and give out traffic tickets at the drop of a hat.

Driving licence Hong Kong allows most foreigners over the age of 18 to drive for up to 12 months with a valid licence from home. It’s still a good idea to carry an International Driving Permit (IDP) as well. Car-rental firms accept IDPs or driving licences from your home country. Drivers must usually be at least 25 years of age.

Ace Hire Car Reputable local company that rents by the day or for longer periods.

Minibus

Minibuses are vans with no more than 19 seats. They come in two varieties: red and green.

Green minibuses (HK$4 to HK$24) Cream-coloured with a green roof or stripe; they make designated stops and operate fixed fares, much like regular buses. You must put the exact fare in the cash box when you get in or you can use your Octopus card. Two useful routes are the 6 (HK$6.60) from Hankow Rd in Tsim Sha Tsui to Tsim Sha Tsui East and Hung Hom station in Kowloon, and the 1 (HK$10.20) to Victoria Peak from next to Hong Kong station. There's a good directory of routes, costs and frequencies at www.16seats.net.

Red minibuses Cream-coloured with a red roof or stripe, they pick up and discharge passengers wherever they are hailed or asked to stop along fixed routes. Information such as the destination and price are only displayed in Chinese.

MTR

The Mass Transit Railway is the name for Hong Kong’s rail system comprising underground, overland and Light Rail (slower tram-style) services. Universally known as the ‘MTR’, it is clean, fast and safe, and transports around four million people daily.

It costs only slightly more than bus travel (fares HK$4 to HK$25), and is the quickest way to get to most destinations in Hong Kong. Routes, timetables and fares can be found at www.mtr.com.hk.

Train

There are around 90 stations on nine underground and overland lines, and a Light Rail network that covers the northwest New Territories. Smoking, eating and drinking are not permitted in MTR stations or on the trains, and violators are subject to a fine of HK$5000.

Departures Trains run every two to 14 minutes from around 6am to sometime between midnight and 1am.

Exits MTR exit signs use an alphanumerical system and there can be as many as a dozen to choose from. There are easy-to-navigate maps of the local area in each ticket hall; use them to decipher which exit will serve you best.

Fares Tickets are extremely cheap compared with those in many other world cities: between HK$5 and HK$30, though fares to stations bordering mainland China (Lo Wu and Lok Ma Chau) cost up to HK$53.50. Children aged between three and 11 years and seniors over 65 pay half-fare. Ticket machines accept notes and coins and dispense change.

Tickets Once you’ve passed through the turnstile to begin a journey you have 90 minutes to complete it before the ticket becomes invalid. If you have underpaid (by mistake or otherwise), you can make up the difference at an MTR service counter next to the turnstiles.

Peak hours If possible, it’s best to avoid the rush hours: 7.30am to 9.30am and 5pm to 7pm weekdays.

Light Rail Lines

The MTR’s Light Rail system is rather like a modern, air-conditioned version of the trams in Hong Kong, but it’s much faster. It runs in the northwest New Territories.

Departures Operates from about 5.30am to between 12.15am and 1am. Trams run every four to 12 minutes, depending on the line and time of day.

Fares HK$5.50 to HK$7.50, depending on the number of zones (from one to five) travelled; children and seniors over 65 pay from HK$2.50 to HK$4.

Tickets You can buy single-journey tickets from vending machines on the platforms, valid for 120 minutes. There are no gates or turnstiles and customers are trusted to validate their ticket or Octopus card when they board and exit – make sure you tap on the right processor (entry or exit) because you could get charged twice if you tap on 'entry' at the end of your journey.

Feature : MTR – Fun Facts, Fast Fiction

Hong Kong’s MTR stations are colour-coded and colourfully storied.

Ancient superstition Traditional Chinese are apprehensive about digging activities because spirits are believed to reside underground. When the MTR was commissioning its construction in the 1970s, many local companies refused to bid. Like other high-risk industries in Hong Kong, construction has an informal code of ethics based on superstition.

Calligraphy Platforms on the Island Line, which tend to be less spacious, show the station names in ancient Chinese script. The graceful calligraphy is supposed to have a soothing effect on waiting passengers.

Haunted? Ghost stories about the MTR abound. A woman in a red dress is said to have leapt onto the tracks in Yau Ma Tei, but no corpse could be found. There are tales of children playing in the tunnel between Lai King and Mei Foo, vanishing just when the train hits them; and a victim of an industrial accident in white overalls, dangling his legs from a swing made from a high-pressure electric cable between Choi Hung and Kowloon Bay. Staff lit incense, offered apologies, and he was never seen again.

Platform design Colour-coding adds personality to drab underground environments and enables passengers on crowded trains to quickly locate themselves. The most chromatically interesting stations are on the Kwun Tong Line. Kowloon Tong is light blue – ‘Tong’ means ‘pool’. Wong Tai Sin takes ‘wong’ or ‘yellow’. Diamond Hill is charcoal flecked with silver. Navy with rainbow stripes stands for Choi Hung (‘rainbow’). Lai Chi Kok on the Tsuen Wan Line is orange-red because that’s the colour of a ripe lychee (‘lai chi’). Interchange stations, Central and Mong Kok, sport eye-catching red.

Taxi

Hong Kong taxis are a bargain compared with those in other world-class cities. With more than 18,000 cruising the streets of the territory, they’re easy to flag down, except during rush hour, when it rains or during the driver shift-change period (around 4pm daily). Taxi drivers in Hong Kong always use their meter.

Taxis are colour-coded:

  • Red with silver roofs Urban taxis – those in Kowloon and on Hong Kong Island. Can go anywhere except Lantau.
  • Green with white tops New Territories taxis.
  • Blue Lantau taxis.

You need to take a red taxi in New Territories if your destination is in Hong Kong, Kowloon or the city centres of the new towns in New Territories.

Availability When a taxi is available, there should be a red ‘For Hire’ sign illuminated on the meter that’s visible through the windscreen. At night the ‘Taxi’ sign on the roof will be lit up as well. Taxis will not stop at bus stops or in restricted zones where a yellow line is painted next to the kerb.

Complaints Though most drivers are scrupulously honest, if you feel you’ve been ripped off, take down the taxi or driver’s licence number (usually displayed on the sun visor in front) and contact the Transport Complaints Unit hotline (www.info.gov.hk/tcu/complaint) or the Transport Department hotline (852 2889 9999) to lodge a complaint. Be sure to have all the relevant details: when, where and how much.

Extra fees There is a luggage fee of HK$6 per bag, but (depending on the size) not all drivers insist on this payment. Wheelchairs are free. There are no extra late-night charges and no extra passenger charges. Passengers must pay the toll if a taxi goes through the many Hong Kong harbour or mountain tunnels or uses the Lantau Link to Tung Chung or the airport. Though the Cross-Harbour Tunnel costs only HK$10, you’ll have to pay HK$20 if, say, you take a Hong Kong taxi from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon. If you manage to find a Kowloon taxi returning ‘home’, you’ll pay only HK$10. (It works the other way round as well, of course.) Taxi bookings made by phone cost HK$5 extra.

Lost property If you leave something behind in a taxi, call the Road Co-op Lost & Found hotline (852 2385 8288); most drivers turn in lost property.

Language Some taxi drivers speak English well; others don’t know a word of English. It’s never a bad idea to have your destination written down in Chinese. Some hotels provide cards to give to taxi drivers with the hotel name (and often some popular tourist destinations) written in Chinese.

Paying Try to carry smaller bills and coins; most drivers are hesitant to make change for HK$500.

Seat belts The law requires that everyone in a vehicle wears a seat belt. Both driver and passenger(s) will be fined if stopped by the police and not wearing a seat belt.

Tipping You can tip up to 10%, but most Hong Kong people just leave the little brown coins and a dollar or two.

Feature: Taxi Fares from the Airport

Central, Admiralty, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay (Hong Kong Island)

Fare (HK$)

315-370

Tsim Sha Tsui, Jordan, Yau Ma Tei, Mong Kok, Hung Hom (Kowloon)

Fare (HK$)

265-270

Sha Tin (New Territories)

Fare (HK$)

290

Tsuen Wan (New Territories)

Fare (HK$)

225

Tung Chung (Lantau)

Fare (HK$)

60

Disneyland (Lantau)

Fare (HK$)

140

In addition to the fares listed, passengers officially have to pay HK$6 for every piece of baggage that is carried inside the baggage compartment.

Feature: Taxi Fares

Urban taxi (red)

First 2km (HK$)

24

Every additional 200m & minute of waiting

HK$1.70 (HK$1.20 if fare exceeds HK$83.50)

New Territories taxi (green)

First 2km (HK$)

20.50

Every additional 200m & minute of waiting

HK$1.50 (HK$1.20 if fare exceeds HK$65.50)

Lantau taxi (blue)

First 2km (HK$)

19

Every additional 200m & minute of waiting

HK$1.50 (HK$1.50 if fare exceeds HK$154)

Tickets & Passes

Octopus Card (www.octopuscards.com) A rechargeable smartcard valid on the MTR and most forms of public transport. The card costs HK$150 (HK$70 for children and seniors), which includes a HK$50 refundable deposit (minus a HK$9 handling fee if returned within 90 days) and HK$100 worth of travel. Octopus fares are about 5% cheaper than ordinary fares on the MTR. You can buy one and recharge at any MTR station; the minimum rechargeable amount is HK$50. Exact change is required to travel on buses and trams so Octopus is the most convenient way to pay.

Airport Express Travel Pass (one way/return HK$250/350) As well as travel to/from the airport, it allows three consecutive days of mostly unlimited travel on the MTR, Light Rail and MTR Bus.

MTR Tourist Day Pass (adult/child three to 11 years HK$65/30) Valid on the MTR for 24 hours after the first use.

Tram

Hong Kong’s venerable old trams are tall, narrow double-deckers. They are slow, but they’re cheap and a great way to explore the city above ground level. Try to get a seat at the front window on the upper deck for a first-class view while rattling through the crowded streets.

  • The flat fare is HK$2.60 for adults, HK$1.30 for kids. Drop your coins (exact change only) into the box beside the driver, or use the Octopus touch pad.
  • Use the turnstiles at the back of the trams to get on; pay at the front when you disembark.
  • The route is very simple, moving along one set of tracks that runs along the northern coast of Hong Kong Island (with a couple of minor offshoots), from Kennedy Town in the west to Shau Kei Wan in the east.
  • Hong Kong Tramways also offers an hour-long TramOramic Tour, which lets you experience the city on an open-top, 1920s-style tram with an audio guide.

Peak Tram

The Peak Tram is not really a tram but a cable-hauled funicular railway that has been scaling the 396m ascent to the highest point on Hong Kong Island since 1888. It is thus the oldest form of public transport in the territory. It’s such a steep ride that the floor is angled to help standing passengers stay upright.

  • The Peak Tram runs every 10 to 15 minutes from 7am to midnight.
  • The lower terminus is behind the St John’s Building. The upper tram terminus is in the Peak Tower.
  • Avoid going on Sunday and public holidays when there are usually long queues. Octopus cards can be used.
  • Bus 15C (HK$4.20, every 15 to 20 minutes) takes passengers between the bus terminus near the Star Ferry pier and the lower tram terminus at Garden Rd.

The Basics

Key Phrases

MTR The Mass Transit Railway runs nine lines serving Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories; the Airport Express to and from the airport; a light rail network in Northwestern New Territories; and intercity trains to Guǎngdōng, Běijīng, and Shànghǎi.

Octopus Card A rechargeable 'smart card' that can be used on most forms of public transport.

Cross-Harbour Taxi A taxi going from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon Peninsula or vice versa that requires passengers to pay the cross-harbour toll for a single trip.

Central–Mid-Levels Escalator A long, covered escalator that links up areas built on slopes in Central, Soho and the Mid-Levels.

Key Routes

Star Ferry The scenic option between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.

MTR Island Line Covers Kennedy Town, Sai Ying Pun, Sheung Wan, Central, Admiralty, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay.

MTR Tsuen Wan Line Connects Central and Tsim Sha Tsui.

Peak Tram A funicular railway that takes you to the highest point on the island.

Tram ‘Heritage’ transport option that runs along the northern coast of Hong Kong Island.

How to Hail a Taxi

  • Look for a stationary or approaching cab with a lit 'For Hire' sign.
  • When the car is approaching, stand in a prominent place on the side of the road and stick out your arm. The driver should pull over when he sees you.
  • Taxis do not stop if there are double yellow lines on the side of the road, or at bus stops.

Top Tips

  • Use the tram or walk if your destination is one MTR station away.
  • Download the app for the MTR system before you leave home.
  • If short of time, combine the MTR with taxis for destinations that are some walking distance from the MTR station.
  • Carry the business card from your hotel with its name in Chinese characters so you can show your taxi driver; many do not speak English.

When to Travel

  • Avoid rush hours (8am to 9.30am and 5.30pm to 7pm), when the MTR's interchange stations (Central, Admiralty, Tsim Sha Tsui and Kowloon Tong) are jam packed.
  • Vehicular traffic on major roads and the cross-harbour tunnels can also be painfully slow during peak hours.

Travel at Night

Hong Kong's night buses, running every half hour or so, cover most of the city. Their numbers are prefixed with the letter 'N'. But while they're comfortable and safe, sometimes it's worth taking a taxi as they are inexpensive and get you to bed more quickly.

Etiquette

  • Have your ticket or Octopus Card ready before you go through the barrier in the MTR station. Or feel the impatience at your back if you slow down the human traffic by three seconds.
  • Stand on the right side of the escalator or risk being asked to move aside by commuters in a hurry – plenty in Hong Kong.
  • Drinking and eating on MTR, trams and buses is not allowed.
  • Let passengers disembark first before entering the MTR carriage. The train won’t leave the station until all doors are properly closed.
  • Priority seats are clearly marked on buses and the MTR.
  • Hong Kongers are not very good at giving up their seats to pregnant women and the elderly.