Your Trip to Hong Kong: The Complete Guide

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Having spent decades as a British colony and enjoying a vibrant recent history as an Asian financial powerhouse, Hong Kong has managed to become all things to (almost) all travelers: a traveling executive’s playground; a shopping hotspot; a party destination; a foodie haven; a high-tech vision of tomorrow’s city, as immortalized in movies like "Ghost in the Shell."

Travelers willing to go out of their way in Hong Kong can find much more beyond the city’s famous skyline. Hiking trails, sunny beaches and quiet temples connect visitors to the side of Hong Kong that’s been nearly drowned out by its louder and glitzier urban side.

Read on for tips on planning a visit to Hong Kong, including details on the best time to visit, where to stay, what to do, getting around, and more.

Planning Your Trip to Hong Kong

Best time to visit: Hong Kong weather has four distinct seasons despite the humid, subtropical climate. Time your visit between October to December, when humidity is at its lowest, rainfall almost nonexistent, and the weather feels cool but not too chilly

Language: Cantonese Chinese, English

Currency: Hong Kong dollar (HKD)

Getting Around: The MTR subway system is the quickest and most cost-effective way for first-time visitors to get around; the scenic "ding-ding" tram system cuts through Hong Kong’s busiest areas; taxis in Hong Kong are efficient but pricier.

Know before you go: You’ll do a lot of walking, so wear your most comfortable shoes. 90 percent of locals walk or use public transportation on a daily basis, despite the humidity and the hilly local terrain

Things to Do in Hong Kong

First time in Hong Kong? You’ll want to see the famous Hong Kong skyline and harbor from a distance, ideally from the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui, from high above on Victoria Peak, or from a Chinese junk boat on the harbor itself.

Another local institution is perhaps its tastiest — Hong Kong’s dim sum restaurants serve up bite-size savory dishes, arguably the cheapest Michelin star dining experiences in the world. As night settles over the city, visit Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui to watch see Hong Kong’s iconic neon advertising signs (or shop for a fake watch).

Explore more attractions with our full-length articles on the top Hong Kong attractions, best places to see in Hong Kong, and things to do in Hong Kong on a budget.

Street food in Temple Street Night Market, Hong Kong
Stefan Mokrzecki / Getty Images

Where to Eat and Drink

Hong Kong has “one cafe or restaurant for every 600 residents.” This ratio explains why Hong Kong’s food scene manages to combine the best of both “fine dining” and “budget eats.”

Hong Kong is home to the world’s best Cantonese cuisine (a far cry from American Chinese-food takeout), evident in both five-star restaurants and cheap char siu stalls alike. Upscale areas like Central and Soho cater to high-end eaters looking for Michelin-star options. For more bang for your buck, check out the Dai Pai Dongs, or street food stalls, in the back streets of Wan Chai, Mong Kok, Sheung Wan and Causeway Bay.

Where you go for drinks after dark depends on your mood: Wan Chai is famous for its seamy entertainments (though it’s scaled down somewhat these days); upscale Lan Kwai Fong’s clubs turn the party scene up to 11; and the Soho district’s bar scene feels distinctly cosmopolitan.

Where to Stay

Accommodation options in Hong Kong extend far beyond Hong Kong Island’s concrete jungle to the densely-packed lanes of Kowloon to the wide-open spaces of the New Territories. The majority of tourists prefer to stay either on Hong Kong Island or Kowloon.

Most of the five-star hotels can be found in or around Central’s financial district, and prices for hotels in nearby Causeway Bay and Admiralty may be almost as expensive. These accommodations can’t be beat for convenience and creature comforts. If you’re traveling on a budget, check out the hostels and budget hotels around Kowloon, particularly around Tsim Sha Tsui.

For other Hong Kong hotel selections, look at our lists of best places to stay at when shopping, when traveling with your family, or when staying close to Hong Kong International Airport.

Getting There

Over 40 million passengers fly in annually through Hong Kong International Airport, which in turn is connected to Central Hong Kong via a speedy Airport Express that leaves the airport at 12-minute intervals.

Hong Kong’s main overland connection stretches from Guangzhou in the People’s Republic of China: a rail link that departs from Guangzhou Station East and terminates at Kowloon’s Hung Hom Station. 12 trains commute daily between the two points, taking three and a half hours to run each way.

The city’s relaxed visa policies make Hong Kong one of the easiest places to visit: citizens of about 170 countries and territories can enter Hong Kong visa-free, qualifying for entry passes that last from seven to 180 days.

Visitors make the climb to see Big Buddha, Lantau Island, Hong Kong
 Tim Winter / Getty Images

Culture & Customs

Tipping in Hong Kong establishments is not necessary; an additional 10% service charge on your bill takes care of that. You’re allowed to leave a tip, however, if you feel you’ve gotten particularly good service.

Hong Kong temples generally don’t forbid photography in the premises, but taking photos of people worshiping without permission is considered incredibly rude.

Eating or drinking on board the MTR is prohibited, you may get called out by locals or confronted by authorities if you do.

Bargaining at Hong Kong’s markets isn’t only optional, it’s expected if you want to get the most value out of your purchase. Start your negotiations between 30% and 40% off the sticker price, and see how well you can keep the price down.

Unscrupulous market sellers have been known to practice the bait and switch scam; worse, they apply high-pressure tactics to force you to pay up for inferior goods. Luckily, it isn’t against the law to simply walk away from suspicious transactions.

Money Saving Tips

Hong Kong deserves its reputation as one of Asia’s most expensive cities to live in, but it has enough low-cost and free surprises to keep budget travelers happy.

  • Don’t use your home phone account in Hong Kong — buy a local SIM card instead to use local rates for calls and Internet data. Make sure your phone is unlocked before you arrive, or else local SIM cards won’t work. Find out more with our article on how to use your mobile phone in Hong Kong.
  • Buy an Octopus Card as soon as you arrive in Hong Kong. This handy contactless card serves as an access pass to all Hong Kong public transportation — use it on the MTR, the “ding-ding” tram, local buses, and some taxis.
  • Hong Kong hotels count as some of the priciest in Asia, but it’s possible to find some under-the-radar deals with some persistent Internet searching. Check out our tips on finding good hotel deals in the area. You can also scrimp by booking an Airbnb apartment in Hong Kong instead.
  • For cheaper tickets to attractions like the Ocean Park and Hong Kong Disneyland, book in advance via booking portals like Klook and iVenture Card. These sites offer discount codes that can drive ticket prices down by almost 20 percent.
  • Hong Kong’s museums can be visited for free on Wednesdays.
  • The best free activity in Hong Kong takes place after dark, when lasers and spotlights paint the Hong Kong skyline with festive colors. The Symphony of Lights lasts 14 minutes, taking place every evening at 8 p.m. Watch the show unfold from the promenade on Kowloon’s Avenue of Stars, where a soundtrack and narration accompanies the lights. To catch the English-language narration, watch on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
  • You can eat well on a budget in Hong Kong, if you dine at one of the city’s Dai Pai Dongs. These street-side kitchens serve up basic, but tasty food at a low price: fill’er up with rice and char siu pork for between US $4-8.

    Find the cheapest thrills in the city when you read our list of things to do in Hong Kong on a budget.

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