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I recently spent two weeks travelling in China and you can see our south-west China itinerary here. China was completely different to anywhere I’ve experienced before. More so than South America even. In South America, we could at least make educated guesses at what words meant thanks to the familiar alphabet. In China, despite our best efforts to learn a few keywords before travelling, it was impossible to guess what the various lines and patterns meant. It was just the language, the food was pretty challenging too… Let’s just say I don’t plan on eating noodles for a long, long, long time.
We spent a few days in Hong Kong at the beginning of our trip and returned for a night towards the end of our trip. When we first arrived in Hong Kong it seemed like a different world entirely for the reasons mentioned above. But, returning after having spent two weeks travelling in mainland China I realised actually Hong Kong is pretty Western and it’s not that difficult to get by with limited knowledge of Mandarin.
I found Hong Kong to be extremely expensive. When I was living in London I assumed most places will be cheaper, and this wasn’t really the case in Hong Kong. Yes, there are bound to be cheaper places throughout the city, but on average? It’s expensive.
That’s not to say it’s not possible to do Hong Kong on a budget. We still stuck to a fairly minimal budget of around £35-£40 (give or take a few ££) a day incl. accommodation. The following top things to do in Hong Kong are all suitable for those of you also travelling on a budget. Let me know if you’ve any more suggestions to add to this Hong Kong travel guide!
Useful resources for your Hong Kong trip
A south-west China itinerary – ancient towns, Yangshuo and rice fields
Skyscanner – Cheap flights to Hong Kong
Booking.com – Cheap accommodation in Hong Kong including Hong Kong guesthouses, hotels & apartments
Hostelworld.com – Cheap hostels in Hong Kong
About Hong Kong
Hong Kong is known for many things; it’s dim sum cuisine, its impressive skyline, it’s battling with China and its shopping to name a few. The many neighbourhoods and islands of Hong Kong offer a sensory feast as you go from riding a double-decker tram, to riding incredibly long escalators. From gazing out at the harbour to gazing out from one of the many mountain peaks surrounding Hong Kong city. It’s a cliche but there is something for everyone in Hong Kong.
Many people don’t realise that over 70% of Hong Kong is mountains and the sprawling country parks are home to geological and historical gems. Ride one of the best public transport systems in the world and spend a day wandering in a Song dynasty villages, kayaking among volcanic sea arches or hiking mountain peaks.
When you’re done with adventuring, it’s time to eat in Hong Kong! Hong Kong food comes from all over the world whether that’s Sichuanese, Japanese, French or Cantonese. There’s dim sum, wonton noodles, pineapple buns, prawns and dishes you’ll only find in Hong Kong.
If it’s a culture shock you’re after, you’ll still find it in Hong Kong despite the fact that there’s a large ex-pat community from western countries. Hong Kong is where Chinese roots and colonial connections collide. There are modern art galleries amongst ancient Chinese gardens, opera theatre and concerts.
Where is Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is a special administrative region on the eastern side of the Pearl River estuary in southern China. While Hong Kong is still part of China and not its own country, it is currently allowed to act as one.
Hong Kong map
Visa information for Hong Kong
Nationals of about 170 countries and territories may visit Hong Kong visa-free for a period ranging from 7 days to 180 days.
If you’re from the UK you do not currently need a visa to enter Hong Kong. However, if you plan on travelling to mainland China you will need to get a Chinese visa.
Always check the current visa requirements for Hong Kong before you travel.
How to get to Hong Kong and around
Most people will visit Hong Kong by flying to Hong Kong international airport.
Flights to Hong Kong
If you’re flying to Hong Kong from the UK, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, and Virgin all operate direct flights to Hong Kong from London. There are also plenty of other airlines that fly to Hong Kong from the UK’s regional airports.
I always book my flights through Skyscanner as they make it super easy to search for cheap travel to Hong Kong. Search over the entire month and pick the cheapest days if you’re flexible on dates (you can save SO much this way!).
Airport transfers to Hong Kong
Hong Kong has one of the best public transport networks I’ve come across. It’s super-efficient, quick, and the cheapest way to get to downtown Hong Kong from the airport.
The Airport Express train takes just 24 minutes to get to Hong Kong Island and runs frequently from 5.54am to 00.48am. Tickets cost HK$100 per adult ticket but ask at the information desk for deals for tourists, groups and families. Once you get off the Airport Express in Kowloon or Hong Kong Island you can get the subway to your hotel.
Alternatively, you can get a taxi from the airport which costs around HK$300 and takes 40 minutes. Taxis will charge HK$5 for each piece of luggage in the boot.
You can also arrange a private transfer from Hong Kong airport to your hotel.
Ferry to Hong Kong
If you’re already in mainland China or Macau, you can get to Hong Kong by ferry. The ferries leave from and arrive at ports on Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and by Hong Kong International Airport.
The ferry between Hong Kong and Macau takes about an hour. You can also get a ferry from mainland China to Hong Kong which takes about 1.5 hours and goes to Humen, China.
Trains to Hong Kong
You can also get to Hong Kong from mainland China by high-speed train or the regular intercity trains.
The high-speed trains go to and from Hong Kong to 58 cities across China including Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing. You can get the ‘Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong’ High-Speed Rail (Hong Kong Section) fro the West Kowloon station.
The MTR (the regular intercity trains) runs regularly between Hong Kong and Guangdong province, Beijing and Shanghai. It arrives and leaves from the MTR Hung Hom Station located on the Kowloon harbourfront. When you get this train you need to pass through immigration before boarding.
Getting around Hong Kong
Hong Kong has a great public transport system that’ll get you around the city quickly and cheaply.
If you’re staying for a few days I recommend getting a 72-hour MTR metro travel pass. This one includes 3 days on the metro as well as the airport express when you land.
Where to stay in Hong Kong on a budget
Hong Kong is renowned for expensive real estate and this isn’t any different whatever Hong Kong accommodation you’re looking for. The islands have limited space on which to build and so hotel rooms are usually small and expensive at that. One great thing about Hong Kong’s transport system is that it’s so good you don’t have to worry about splashing out $$ on hotels in central Hong Kong. Just look for places to stay in Hong Kong near an MTR station and you’ll be good for getting around during your Hong Kong holiday.
However, it’s not impossible to find good Hong Kong hotels on a budget. I’ve picked out the top cheap hotels in Hong Kong below and you can see a full guide on the best hotels in Hong Kong on a budget here.
Sleeep Hong Kong: The city’s first capsule hotel and one of the top budget hotels in Hong Kong, Sleeep has 8 spacious capsule beds. It’s great for a solo traveller spending a couple of nights in the city.
Hang Ho Hotel: This is where we stayed and it has everything you need for 3 days in Hong Kong. It’s definitely a Hong Kong budget hotel; cheap and cheerful but also close to an MTR station.
The Mahjong Hostel: This Hong Kong Hostel, the Mahjong, is a super stylish and near Mong Kok MTR. It has many home comforts and is just a 15-minute drive or metro ride to the harbour as well as being super close to the Mong Kok markets such as the goldfish market and Ladies market.
The best things to do in Hong Kong on a budget
Add these awesome, fun things to do to your Hong Kong itinerary.
Best Hong Kong tours
Not got long in Hong Kong but want to see the highlights? Check out these Hong Kong city tours:
- Hong Kong private tour with a local: Get an insiders guide to the best places to eat, drink and do some Hong Kong shopping!
- Kowloon – The dark side of Hong Kong: Learn about the dark side of Hong Kong in this eye-opening tour.
- A personalised tour of Hong Kong with a local: This Hong Kong tour guide will create a personalised itinerary based on your preferences.
- The story of modern Hong Kong walking tour: Learn about China’s past, present & future on this information walking tour
- Love food? Take a Hong Kong food tour!
Ride the Star Ferry
The Star Ferry is one of the most popular attractions in Hong Kong. The main route takes you across the harbour from Kowloon island over to Hong Kong island. The ferry has been in operation since 1888 and it’s still maintained a fairly low price.
Travelling across the harbour by ferry gives you a unique look at Hong Kong’s skyline and it’s well worth doing. A night-time ride is a great way to see those spectacular skyscraper lights in action too.
Eat Dim Sum
No trip to Hong Kong would be complete without eating some Dim Sum. Whilst Dim Sum is traditionally more or a brunch food to be enjoyed with tea, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t eat it later on in the day as many people do now.
There are many, many places in Hong Kong offering Dim Sum as you’d expect. They vary in price range and tastiness but one of the places that you’ll see recommended pretty much everywhere is Tim Ho Wan.
If you’re wondering where to go in Hong Kong for dim sum I can definitely recommend Tim Ho Wan. There are several Tim Ho Wan restaurants in Hong Kong and the restaurant shot to fame back when it 2010 after it was awarded a Michelin Star after just a year of being open. Not only is it tasty, but it’s also one of the best places to eat in Hong Kong on a budget. And it has to be the cheapest Michelin Star dinner you’ll ever have – reason enough to make it one of the places to visit in Hong Kong. We left feeling full having spent just £10 in total.
A £10 Michelin Star dinner for two? If you know of somewhere that can beat that, let me know!
Definitely get the BBQ pork buns and the prawn dumplings. I promise you won’t regret it.
World’s Longest Escalator
When it comes to Hong Kong tourist attractions this might seem like a weird one and you might be thinking “um, what?!”. But trust me on this one. This escalator is well worth seeing. It’s the world’s longest escalator for starters!
This Hong Kong escalator begins near the Central MTR station and is known as the Central-Mid Levels escalator. At around 800m long, it takes about 20 minutes to ride from start to bottom.
It’s believed over 85,000 people use the escalator every day on their commute. The escalators go down in the morning and up in the afternoons and evenings so time your visit for the afternoon to save yourself from climbing hundreds of steps!
There are some very cool looking restaurants and bars along the way which tend to be packed full of Westerners. If you’re missing food from back home, you’ll find some here.
The Big Buddha
One of the items that tops the list for Hong Kong sightseeing is the Big Buddha. The Big Budha sits proudly on Lantau Island which is in the South West of Hong Kong. Completed in 1993, this Bronze Statue is free to visit and well worth seeing.
There are a fair few steps (268 to be exact!) to climb before you reach the Buddha which is 34m high. The statue faces north to look over the Chinese people and has drawn pilgrims from all over Asia. The Buddha took 12 years to complete and from the foot of the Buddha, there are some remarkable views of the mountains and sea.
You could hike up to the Big Buddha but it’s far more enjoyable to take the cable car…
Ride the Cable Car
If you’re looking for what to do in Hong Kong for a day then head out to Lantau Island. You can see the Big Buddha (above) and tide the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car which will woosh you up and over the mountains to Lantau Island 5.7km away.
There are incredible panoramas from the cable car too. Just make sure you get there early, or are prepared to queue. We turned up at 9.30 (half an hour before the cable car was even open) and found we had to queue for about an hour once it had opened. When we came back down in the afternoon there were still very long queues!
Take a day trip to Macau
Macau is only about an hour away from Hong Kong by ferry and is best known globally as the “Vegas of the East”. Sure there’s a lot of gambling to be done here, but there’s plenty more to see. Once a Portuguese colony for over 300 years, there’s a mixture of two very different cultures which is fun to explore. You’ll notice signs in Portuguese and Portuguese dishes on the menu too.
Walk the historic streets of Taipa and Coloane during the day and hit the casinos at night.
The Venetian deserves a shout out whether you’re up for gambling or not. It’s the world’s largest casino and even has a Grand Canal complete with gondolas, whilst the Parisian next door has a sparkling Eiffel Tower.
- Macau day trip from Hong Kong and cultural tour
- Hong Kong to Macau Cotai Water Jet Ticket
- Ferry ticket from Hong Kong to Macau
Visit Wong Tai Sin Temple
One of the more peaceful places to go in Hong Kong, the Wong Tai Sin Temple claims to “make every wish come true upon request”. If that doesn’t convince you to visit then maybe the relaxing gardens will, or the fact that entry is completely free.
The temple may be busy from the outside with tour groups, but venture inside and head to the gardens and you’ll find them virtually empty. Just you, the turtles and the waterfall.
Of course, you can miss the incense burning at the centre of the temple either!
Shop at Hong Kong’s Markets
Hong Kong is full of markets from a goldfish market to a ladies market and many more. Temple Street market is one of the best due to the variety of products on offer. Amongst the knock off luxury handbags and designer goods, you’ll find tea sets, jade jewellery and more. Ideal for souvenirs or gifts for friends and family back home. Wandering around the markets was more than enough Hong Kong nightlife for us!
- Visit Temple Street Market and more Hong Kong markets here
- Private night markets and street food tour
Climb Lion Peak
My favourite addition to any budget itinerary, but especially this Hong Kong budget itinerary is to go hiking! Victoria Peak may be Hong Kong’s most famous peak, but I found Lion Peak a far more enjoyable climb.
Whilst it’s a long climb – give yourself about 4 hours to climb up and back down – the views are well worth it even through Hong Kong’s pretty much everlasting layer of mist.
You’ll be climbing up through the forest on dirt tracks and there’s a bit of scrambling to be done at the end too!
We started the climb at the Wong Tai Sin MTR. Leave the station at exit B3 and head towards the stairs straight ahead where you’ll soon come across a minibus terminal (lots of green buses!). Head left here and walk along Shatin Pass Road where you’ll begin to see signs for the climb.
Take plenty of water – you’ll need it!
Ride Hong Kong’s double-decker trams
Another great idea for cheap things in Hong Kong is to ride the double-decker trams. Hong Kong is home to the largest network of double-decker trams in the world and riding them is not only practical in the sense they get you from A to B but fun! I’d never seen a double-decker tram before and they’re super cheap to ride too.
For about 30p you can ride a tram line for as long as you like. We hopped on at Victoria Park and rode it all the way to the end looking at the bustling streets as we passed and remembering places we wanted to stop off at on the way back.
There are several tram lines on Hong Kong island and although it’s not the fastest method of transport in Hong Kong, I’d say it’s the most enjoyable.
Climb Victoria Peak
Hong Kong’s most famous peak, Victoria Peak, looks down on Hong Kong Island and its mass of skyscrapers on one side, and out to the islands on the other. The hike up takes between 45 minutes and 1 hour but prepare yourself for how steep it is! You could also get the scenic tram up but expect queues of at least an hour.
Once you’re up the peak continue heading up to the gardens where you’ll likely see bridal photoshoots going on, family get-togethers and (hopefully, if you’ve timed it right) a sunset!
There’s no need to pay the $50 to climb the tower. Save that money for something else and carry on past the tower and shops and get a great view, for free! from the viewing platform there.
Watch the Symphony of Lights Show
Ask anyone for tips on things to do in Hong Kong and they’ll tell you to watch the light show. This is one of the top Hong Kong attractions AND it’s free! This free show takes place every night at 8 pm and you can watch it from anywhere along Kowloon’s waterfront. The best place is just in front of the cultural centre.
The show lasts for about 15 minutes and it’s best enjoyed with a few drinks and some snacks from the nearby 7/11.
Watch Tai Chi in the park
In the mornings, Hong Kong locals hed to the parks and practise Tai Chi. We saw this happening in Kowloon Park (which is beaut, by the way). Grab a pastry and a coffee and enjoy your breakfast al fresco in the park whilst watching this ancient martial art.
Watch the boats in Victoria Park
Whilst enjoying a lunch in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park we got soaked by toy speed boats zipping up and down a pond in the park. It seems to be a popular pastime at the weekend with the ponds specifically set up for it (there were a couple of poor splash guards at each end) and it’s fun to watch.
Drink bubble tea
I’d never had bubble tea before going to China but I’d heard a lot about it. The drink started in Taiwan in the 1980s and is now available all over the world.
Our favourite place was Gong Cha. It’s a chain that has loads of different flavours to chose from and you can also decide your own sweetness too if you like a little less sugar in your drinks. The mango one was a dream for cooling us down on a hot and humid day.
Eat an egg waffle
Promise me you’ll eat an egg waffle. They’re basically just waffles in the shape of balls but in China and Hong Kong, they usually come with ice cream, chocolates and fruits on them too. Such a good dessert. Oddies serve up incredible egg waffles with chocolate chips in the waffle mixture and delicious ice cream flavours.