Below we explain where each one is and whether you should book a hotel on Hong Kong Island or stay in Kowloon.
Hong Kong Island
The heart of Hong Kong. A little like Manhattan, Hong Kong's north shore is the financial and entertainment hub of Hong Kong. Packed with some of the tallest skyscrapers in the world, its this cluster of buildings that have made images of Hong Kong famous around the world.
The Central district was once the capital of the then colony and remains the city's well-moneyed political and business district. You will find the city's swankiest shopping malls and finest boutiques on its streets. Hong Kong Island is also where the city goes to party. Lan Kwai Fong and Wan Chai are packed with pubs, bars, and clubs, and are also home to the best western restaurants in town.
So where does that leave Kowloon? This is still very much downtown Hong Kong, but it's a little grittier - some would argue more authentic, more Chinese. The buildings here are certainly older and the streets less swanky, but then prices for food, hotels, and shopping are also a lot lower. In Mongkok and Jordan you'll find some of the city's best markets, the sort of street food that wins Michelin Stars and the busiest neighborhoods in the world.
The heart of Kowloon is Tsim Sha Tsui, where you'll find most of Hong Kong's hotels, the biggest shopping malls and the best museums.
The truth is it won't make or break your holiday whether you stay on Hong Island or over in Kowloon. The two parts of Hong Kong are well connected by several MTR connections as well as the Star Ferry. The journey time from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui by metro is just a couple of minutes.
The only difficulty in traveling between the two is at night when you'll need to rely on night buses or taxis – this is doable, but can take upwards of thirty minutes by bus and cross-harbor taxis are expensive. If you plan on hitting the bars, you would be better off staying on Hong Kong Island.
Verdict: Where to stay?
If it's your first time in Hong Kong and you can afford it, stay on Hong Kong Island. It remains the best of the city from a tourist point of view – from the historic buildings to the bars and restaurants of Wan Chai and Lan Kwai Fong. It's more enjoyable to walk to your favorite nightspot, rather than having to jump on the metro. There are many reasons to visit Kowloon but most tourists will spend more of their time on the island.
The exception is if you want to save a bit of cash. There are cheaper neighborhoods to stay in on Hong Kong Island than Central, such as the east of the north shore and areas out past North Point, but these are less convenient and less interesting than Tsim Sha Tsui. The heart of Kowloon has more mid-range hotels than anywhere else in Hong Kong and there is much more going on here than in the further flung reaches of Hong Kong Island.
If you don't mind hitting the MTR a few times a day you will definitely get better value in Kowloon. You can find Kowloon hotels for under $100.