It was time for another trip of discovery in Asia so we recently did a bit of city-hopping from Busan to Hong Kong which was so lovely to do. We were there earlier this month when the temperatures were perfect for spending time outdoors and enjoying the vibrant city for what it is. With direct flights from Busan, you can be in Hong Kong in less than 4 hours so it’s a place you can get up and go with great ease.
For those of you unfamiliar with Hong Kong, the city is split over Hong Kong Island and the mainland known as Kowloon Peninsular, which also gives on to the ‘New Territories’. The good news is that, wherever you decide to base yourself during your time in Hong Kong, travelling between the two areas is extremely easy and cost-effective. Both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon have a mix of hotels, eateries, and tourist attractions; taxis are reasonably priced, and the MTR (Mass Transit Railway) and the infamous Star Ferry, make crossing from one side to another, a real pleasure.
While we took a taxi from the airport (as a family of 4 this was more cost-effective) what I would suggest doing for nipping around the city on shorter journeys, is buying one of their rechargeable ‘Octopus cards’ which makes taking and paying for the MTR, trams, and even the Star Ferry, very easy. While you do pay a small deposit for the card, you get this back (along with any remaining credit) the day you return your card before leaving HK.
We managed to combine a vast range of things during our visit, from the popular tourist attractions, to hidden gems a little bit off the beaten track, to free parks and museums and, of course a little bit of shopping, eating, and checking out the art scene in the little markets. There’s so much to do in the city, but here’s an overview of what we got up to which may point you in the right direction for your next trip!
Mainland Hong Kong – Kowloon Peninsular.
Disneyland Hong Kong
Needless to say that anyone travelling with children will probably make a trip out to Disneyland and, let’s be fair, even if you don’t have kids, you may still find yourself heading out on the Mickey metro to enjoy a little bit of magic at the theme park.
The park is open daily from 10am until 9pm. We hadn’t bought our tickets in advance, so got there before 10am and with very few others there, we entered the park right on time. The park isn’t perhaps the largest of “the Disneylands” but this just made it more manageable. It has the usual meet n greets with characters, parades, roller coasters, simulators, eateries and everything else to ensure we all had the most amazing time. From being there at opening time, we stayed til closing after watching their fireworks display over Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, and were sufficiently exhausted!
A little tip, check performance and parade times and work around those! We loved the “Flights of Fantasy Parade” but my absolute favourite was their ‘Festival of the Lion King’ which is as close to seeing the full musical stage version as you are going to get, with the most amazingly talented performers from all over the world.
The Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery
Also called Tian Tan Buddha, this is a major attraction in Hong Kong. Not only is the large bronze Buddha an impressive sight hidden in the mountains, but it is reached by taking one of the longest cable car rides in the world, lasting 25 minutes and giving the most incredible views!
Located out on Lantau Island at Ngong Ping, it’s near the airport, in fact, you’ll have undoubtedly spotted the cable cars as they glide up to the mountain when making you way downtown. Once you have taken the cable car ride, you can tackle the 200+ steps to get a closer look at the Big Buddha which will also allow yet more views over both the mountains and the sea, and then you can go opposite to the Po Lin Monastery, one of the most important monasteries of the country.
You can spend a good few hours at Lantau Island, enjoying the view, wandering little markets and restaurants and, of course, making the most of the main tourist sights and surrounding gardens.
Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden
This amazing place doesn’t often appear on the ‘top list’ of things to do in Hong Kong but I am here to tell you that it should be!
Completely free to enter, the beautiful gardens set around a main central lake are enough to take a wander around, but with 3.5 hectares to explore, you’ll find so many treasures along the way. The gardens are meticulously maintained, there is a water wheel, waterfall, cute little pathways, tea houses and exhibitions and then you get to the Chi Lin Nunnery that stands amongst lotus ponds and yet more perfect gardens.
The whole place has a very serene feel to it and it was in such stark contrast to the busy city just a few minutes away. The children loved it – there was so much to see and enjoy and it makes for some gorgeous photos. Fit it into your schedule if you can!
Temple Street Night Market
As the name would suggest, Temple Street comes alive at night in the form of a lively, colourful Chinese market. Go in the day, and the shutters are down and it’s a ghost town, but come back after sun down and you can wander through stalls of knick knacks, food and everything else. It’s a nightly affair and is a popular one for tourists and locals alike.
In the vicinity you also have the infamous ‘Ladies Market’ where you may want to head for a bit of ‘girly shopping! Handbags and fashion accessories adorn the streets by day and by night. There are no official opening (or closing!) times but it’s generally open in the morning until as late as 10 or 11pm, depending on trade. If you’re looking for some statement fashion pieces, this could be the place for you!
Hong Kong Museum of History
Wonderfully telling the Hong Kong Story, the Museum of History is a large, well-thought out museum which is completely free to enter. It will transport you back through time looking at the historical and cltural journey that the country has gone through.It’s true
Exhibits included a section on Boat Dwellers with a large boat replica to check out, a wonderfully colourful section on traditional festivals and folk culture and so much more. It was a lot larger than I expected so you can easily spend a few hours here if it’s something you’re interested in.
Victoria Harbour / Symphony of Lights
Victoria Harbour is the main waterway separating the mainland from Hong Kong Island. It’s a beautiful spot for taking in the views over the city, irrelevant of which side of the water you are stood on. Junk Boats, cruise ships, tour boats and the infamous Star Ferry, all roll along here and it’s a spectacular sight both during the day and by night.
Victoria Harbour is also the ‘stage’ for the nightly “Symphony of Lights’ which is an original take on a sound and light show. At 8pm every evening, people take to the decks to watch the show as music whistles through the speakers. The Clock Tower should be your pinpoint for getting on of the best views in the city but you may need to get there a bit early if you want their front row view.
Needless to say, the view is best from the opposite side of the water and there is a two-story viewing gallery right in front of the Clock Tower. Get there early to avoid disappointment.
The Star Ferry has made quite a name for itself and rightly so. These ferry boats that run permanently, connecting passengers with Hong Kong Island and Kowoon Peninsular, are a fabulous way to cross the waters.
Offering uninterrupted views of both sides of the city, this short boat trip is one you can make when travelling around Hong Kong. It’s ridiculously cheap (and they accept payment with your Octopus card if you have one) and allows you to feel right in the very middle of all the action while sailing to your destination. It’s only a 10-minute trip but you can choose to sit inside or go up on the top deck to really take advantage of your surroundings. (Incidentally, if you time it right, this would make a great spot for watching the Laser Light Show that illuminates the skyscrapers on HK Island with accompanying music!)
Hong Kong Island
The views from Victoria Peak, the highest point in Hong Kong, have made this attraction the most popular of things to do while in the city. Tourists flock to the viewpoints, both by day and by night, to catch the perfect moment at sunset. Queues at the ticket office can get pretty insane later on in the day (so if you fancy buying them online in advance, this may be your best move!) but early mornings were fine when we went. There are a number of ticket options for the quaint little tram ride, and while a return ticket may seem the obvious choice, a friend suggested we take the tram up (for the experience!) and then come back down with the local bus as it gives a different view point and offers multiple stops on the way down. I’m so glad I listened to her as this is exactly what we did (the first time we went up!) and it worked out perfectly!
Your visit to The Peak will start with your little tram ride up the hillside, taking only about ten minutes. It’s a cute little journey, offering nice views, and runs every 10-15 minutes so it’s frequent enough to not need to wait too long. Once you arrive at the top, you have a number of things to do. If you purchase the Peak Tram Sky Pass, this is a combo ticket that includes entry into the The Sky Terrace 428 which gives you 360 degree views over Hong Kong. Needless to say, this is one of the main reasons you’ve gone up to The Peak so take advantage of the view, the scenery and taking your selfies from the highest part of the city.
Other viewpoint options include the Lugard Road Lookout and Lions Point View, both of which we did the second time we went up for a sunset session! There are also some beautiful walks to do, and in fact, on one occasion, we walked all the way down (which took us directly to the Zoological gardens!)
Hong Kong Park
Hong Kong Park is a beautiful place with landscaped gardens set around a central lake in the heart of the city. There is an entrance directly opposite the ticket office for The Peak so you may find yourself combining these activities.
The park has a very pretty lake that also gives on to a waterfall where turtles play on the rocks, some water features and nice little walks. Near the lake there is the Museum of Tea Ware, and a little tea house set in cute gardens. Walk a little further into the park and you’ll come across their enclosed bird aviary, which you can walk through and get up close and personal with more than 80 species of feathery friends, and for those of you travelling with children the children’s playground is just opposite and noticeable by it’s rainbow walls! Access to everything in the park is completely free of charge.
Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens
These gardens are yet again a fabulous thing to do while in Hong Kong, be it with children, or without. Located close to Hong Kong Park (and the base of The Peak experience) there is a central part that houses a nice big fountain with plenty of benches and space around it for relaxing or having a picnic, with a little coffee shop nearby.
Stroll up the hill to wander through their orchid gardens, and row after row of large enclosures with birds ranging from bright flamingos to geese and cranes! If you think you’ve seen everything by this point, then you’d be mistaken! Follow the signs for the meerkats and monkeys and I’m sure you’ll be pretty impressed by all the other animals you get to see in the zoological gardens! Once again this is an attraction that is free of charge and great for the whole family.
Hong Kong Tramways
These skinny double-decker trams are an absolute delight to see! The tramway runs on Hong Kong Island between Shau Kei Wan and Kennedy Town and you’ll regularly see them zipping up and down the roads when you’re in the city.
If you’ve taken the Octopus card for use on public transport, the good news is that you can use the card on these trams too (just by swiping when you get off at your stop) and it is definitely a fun way to get around that part of the city. They are great to photograph, and are lit up to look really quite festive of an evening which we all loved seeing.
Man Mo Temple
Man Mo regularly comes up on the top tourist attractions to see while in Hong Kong so I think I was expecting a little more, or perhaps something a little bigger but if, like us, you are in the area you can very easily visit one of the city’s oldest temples.
It is located on Hollywood Road, which basically runs parallel to some of the art streets and local markets so it’s worth taking the time to combine all of these things while you’re in the area. The statues, the incense, the dim lighting, the offerings to the Gods, all make it an interesting stop, but you won’t need to set aside too much time for the temple itself.
Hong Kong Art Scene
You can’t help but stumble across the fabulous street art and the little markets of antiques and artwork that adorn the streets near Man Mo.
We just wandered around the streets of Central, but there are several walking tours which, even with children of 7 years old, was very enjoyable to do. With western and Asian influences, art, food and music, it’s a nice neighbourhood to check out.
Hong Kong Observation Wheel
This was unfortunately closed when we were there in October 2017, but we did go down to the waterfront to check it out as it’s right near the terminal for taking the Star Ferry.
Due to a change in ownership it’s closed until at least December but I’ve since read that upon it’s reopening they will have crazy prices for taking a ride on Hong Kong’s scenic wheel; at least 5 times lower than the previously offered ! So, if you’re heading that way – look out for deals!
Ocean Park Hong Kong
This is marine-life theme park and is another popular attraction with tourists to the city. It has a funicular train as well as an impressive cable car that connects the two separate sections o f the theme park, the latter giving stunning views over the islands. You’ll find thrill rides and roller coasters, live shows, and marine wildlife all in the same park. We didn’t go as I saw on their website that they have temporarily closed their main outdoor water attraction and I thought we’d save it for a future visit when everything is up and running again!