How to Ride Hong Kong's Trams

Hong Kong tram
Hong Kong tram.

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Despite its reputation as a modern city, Hong Kong offers a few surprising throwbacks, among them a century-old tram (streetcar) system that still chugs happily through Hong Kong Island.

Locals affectionately call the cars of the Hong Kong Tramways the “ding-ding,” recalling the sharp ringing of the tram bells that warn pedestrians off their path. The trams are not exactly five-star rides: they cost about 30 cents per ride, have no air-conditioning, cruise at an average speed of six miles per hour, and provide wooden seating.

Despite these drawbacks, the “ding-ding” is much beloved by Hong Kongers and budget tourists, who appreciate the combination of low cost, access to tourist sites, and the great view that only the tram can offer.

Hong Kong’s Tram Network

First-time visitors to Hong Kong might feel intimidated by the trams, given their lack of helpful signage and exotic-looking stops. But they’re quite easy to ride, once you figure out how.

First, trams only travel on a single, eight-mile east-west corridor (leaving aside the Happy Valley loop that detours to its namesake racecourse). The Hong Kong tram’s six “routes” are actually just overlapping sections of the same corridor; only a handful of trams travel the entire length from Shau Kei Wan to Kennedy Town, so some itineraries will require you to switch trams in between.

The Hong Kong tram’s main route hugs Hong Kong Island’s north coast, with its central section traversing Central, Wan Chai, and Causeway Bay. To visit these areas’ key tourist destinations (and essential MTR stations), plan your trip around the following tram stops, arranged from west to east:

Tram in Central
 Mike Aquino

How to Ride the Hong Kong Tram

The majority of tram stops are located in the middle of the street, at grade with the rest of the traffic.

To make sense of where you are on the tram route and where you’re headed, consult HK Trams’ interactive map; download the MTR Mobile app (Apple App Store, GooglePlay); or just consult the map at the tram stop you’re standing in if you’re already there.

Look for the tram stop you’re headed to, then look for a tram that covers that stop.

When the tram arrives, enter it from the rear; you won’t pay for your trip just yet. When you exit the tram at the front, hold your Octopus card against the sensor to pay for your trip. (Octopus Cards can be purchased beforehand at any MTR station.) Every trip on the Hong Kong tram, no matter how long, costs 2.30 Hong Kong dollars.

As mentioned earlier, trams in Hong Kong are open to the elements. Interiors are narrow, equipped with wooden benches. All trams use a double-deck configuration; for the best views, climb to the second level and secure a seat next to a window. The tram’s slow (if somewhat herky-jerky) motion gives you plenty of time to gawp at the views.

The trams operate from 5:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. daily. Expect a tram every four minutes during regular hours, and every 90 seconds during high-traffic hours.

Hong Kong Tramoramic Tour

A specialized tourist package caters to historical-minded travelers. The Hong Kong Tramoramic Tour is an hour-long ride from Sheung Wan to Causeway Bay that takes place aboard a 1920s-style passenger tram. Six daily tours depart from either the Western Market Terminus or the Causeway Bay Terminus.

The special tram used for the Tour is optimized for both sightseeing and context. A large balcony on the upper deck allows you to take in Central’s skyscrapers as the tram wheels along; a mini-museum on the lower deck reveals the stories behind the passing sights through videos and authentic relics; personal headsets provide a running audio tour in one of eight languages.

Tours from the Western Market Terminus commence at 10:30 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4:25 p.m.; those coming from the Causeway Bay Terminus depart at 11:40 a.m., 3:10 p.m., and 5:40 p.m. The one-hour tour costs 65-95 Hong Kong dollars (between $10-12). More information is available at the Hong Kong Tramoramic Tour page.

History of the Hong Kong Tram

The original Hong Kong tram route was established in 1904, initially only spanning the distance from Kennedy Town in the west to Causeway Bay further east, then later extended to Shau Kei Wan to the east.

The fully-enclosed, double-deck tramcars were introduced in the 1920s, and have evolved very slowly style-wise since then. Riders prefer it that way: “millennium trams,” introduced at the turn of the 21st century and designed along modern lines, were hugely unpopular with the riding public.

Today, about 160 tram cars make up the entire system, transporting some 240,000 passengers every day down 19 miles of at-grade track, stopping at about 120 tram stops along the way.