Kowloon might be loud, crazy and disarmingly brash – but the pulsing heart of Hong Kong is full of delights for younger travellers. Just a leisurely stroll through the bright lights of Nathan Road will have them gawking like star struck Canto-pop fans.
But beyond Hong Kong's glitz and high-rises are plenty of green spaces and kid-friendly activities.
Here are a few of our favourite ideas for letting your kids go wild in Kowloon.
Hong Kong Science Museum
Located in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui, the Hong Kong Science Museum is a treat for nerds and nerdy parents alike. Highlights include the World of Mirrors, a DC-3 plane suspended from the roof, and the interactive Children Gallery. For only a few Hong Kong dollars – and free on Wednesdays – you can easily spend a few happy hours scaling the four floors of these fascinating exhibitions.
One way to escape the peninsula’s constant humidity is by taking to the ice. Ice skating is surprisingly popular in Hong Kong, with half a dozen quality rinks located inside major shopping complexes. Our favourites are either the party atmosphere at Festival Walk Glacier, or the more subdued Rink at Elements (rink.com.hk) where beginners can rent cute animal-shaped skating-aids. Both have excellent restaurants nearby: Kowloon Tang at Elements gets busy but is worth the wait for excellent contemporary Chinese, while Oliver's Super Sandwiches (olivers-supersandwiches.com) at Festival Walk is quick and delicious.
When the rumble of Nathan Road shakes your stroller to the point of collapse, you can seek immediate refuge in Kowloon Park's huge expanse of nature. Kids can scream around for hours in the Discovery Playground, which features part of a restored fort and cannon fortifications. There are also two large public swimming pools open year round. The Chinese Garden is like a magical kingdom, and on Sundays, there are lion dances and Kung Fu shows.
The market shuffle
Shopping with kids can be stressful, but the many markets of Kowloon are full of stuff to keep kids wide-eyed without emptying parents’ wallets. The Yuen Po Street Bird Garden & Flower Market is a perennial favourite. Toy Street (Tai Yuen St) can be found over in Sham Sui Po, while Sneaker Street (Fa Yuen St) in Yau Ma Tei is the stuff of many teenage dreams.
Kowloon Walled City
When Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1841, Kowloon Walled City, then an important garrison, was retained by the Chinese military. A year later the British kicked them out, leaving a lawless enclave which soon developed a colourful reputation. Though it used to be a seedy district, today the area is a charming park on the edge of a vibrant Thai neighbourhood. It’s a beautiful place to stroll and learn about this little-known aspect of Hong Kong’s history. Next door is a popular cycling track that is ideal for beginners; bikes are available to rent (HKD$50 per hour).
Taming Lion Rock
Everyone hikes in Hong Kong. Its compact, mountainous terrain makes an upward stroll a default outdoor pursuit for locals, even with kids in tow. Kowloon is a less obvious choice for hiking than Hong Kong Island or the lush New Territories, but Lion Rock Country Park (afcd.gov.hk) is symbolic of Hong Kong’s youthful spirit. Birdlife and butterflies abound as you wind easily up a dirt path among grass-covered rocks. Turn around to see Kowloon stretching to the horizon. The 4km hike is suitable for most kids (though the final section is rocky and not suitable for the little ones) and the views are tremendous.
Wong Tai Sin Temple & Diamond Hill
Kids love a little otherworldliness and exploring Hong Kong’s many temples can be a great chance for them to learn about the unique belief systems held in this part of the world. Wong Tai Sin Temple, believed to grant prosperity in health and business, features a laneway of fortune-tellers and a collection of huge bronze Chinese zodiac statues. Nearby, the Chi Lian Buddhist Nunnery at Diamond Hill has a giant Buddha statue, a magnificent bonsai garden and a top-notch vegetarian restaurant serving juicy veggie dim sum and dumplings. Both are easily accessible by MTR and warrant a solid hour or so each.
Sky100, International Commerce Centre (ICC)
Hong Kong is best viewed from above and Kowloon offers a series of incredible views of the skyline across Victoria Harbour and north towards the New Territories. The best view is from the deck of Sky100 atop the International Commerce Centre tower, the city’s tallest building. Try to time your visit with when the skies are clear of haze, or at night when the 360-degree vista makes kids and kids-at-heart feel like they’ve boarded a spaceship.
West Kowloon Cultural District
Space is at a premium in Kowloon but the re-developed West Kowloon Cultural District feels open. Grassy areas and a lovely waterfront act as a stage for street performers, cyclists and picnickers. A hearty respite from the intensity of urban Asia feels fresh and easy here. The popular, all-ages indie music festival Clockenflap (clockenflap.com) is held here each November.
One of Hong Kong’s most iconic experiences, the Star Ferry runs to and from the Tsim Sha Tsui Pier in Kowloon. Kids will love getting sprayed with water and skyscraper-spotting from the open-air boat as it crosses Victoria Harbour. It’s cheap (US$0.50) and takes about 20 minutes. If you catch it at the right time, you can coincide with a viewing of the Symphony of Lights – a light and music show that bedazzles the Island’s tallest buildings. It happens at 8pm each evening and is best viewed from Kowloon at the Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade, where you can hear the accompanying music.