Whether you are fortunate to have an extended layover in Hong Kong or are embarking a cruise from its ship port, with its delectable cuisine and massive number of skyscrapers, intertwined with the ancient and modern China, you can cover much of the city in a short period of time and stay within whatever budget you might have. The great thing is that Hong Kong allows visa-free entry from over 150 countries from 7 days to 3 months; check with your local embassy to see if your country is one of these and how long of stay you are allowed. Also, even though the first language is Chinese (Cantonese to be exact), the second official language is English, which makes it very easy to communicate and explore the city. The street signs and directions are also translated to English as well as Chinese character. Unlike mainland China, the internet is not censored so you can stay in touch via social media as you will and use other commonly used applications such as Google Maps to help you get around.
The most important decisions to make when traveling to Hong Kong is hotel accommodations. You can choose from the downtown area (also known as Hong Kong Island) or stay across the Victoria Harbour on the landlocked portion called Kowloon. Staying on the island can be pricey, but you will be in the heart of the city. Hong Kong Island is known for being the historic and economic center of the city.
If you are looking for a more authentic experience, try staying in Kowloon. You will have the best view of the iconic skyline and enjoy the nightly Symphony of Lights show. Kowloon is also known for luxury shopping, parks and hip new neighborhoods. If you are on a budget or in transit to a cruise ship, Kowloon is must!
Getting around Hong Kong is fairly easy with alternate options by taxi, railways, and trams. Regardless of where you stay, Hong Kong’s vast railway system can get you practically anywhere, you can get from the airport to downtown in 30 minutes. You can find discounted tickets online to save some time and money, and send them to your smartphone for boarding. Taxis are readily available, which are all metered, clean, and fairly affordable. NOTE: Hong Kong drivers tend to all drive fast to get you to your destination (which isn’t always a bad thing)! Be careful not to confuse the tram and subway routes because they have similar routes in certain parts of the city.
After you have made your way downtown and worked up an appetite, when in Hong Kong, you dim sum. Not only is it part of ancient Chinese tradition and a great way to excite your palette, it is also fun and an affordable experience. Dim sum restaurants are located throughout the city and will set you back on a few dollars per order (most orders contain 3-5 pieces). Another must have treat can be found on many street corners – fish balls. Small, deep fried or boiled bites of deliciousness, covered usually in a curry sauce. Quick and cheap, this option for on-the-go eating can easily satisfy your hunger while exploring. They are served throughout the day, so you can start your day or end a late night with them. Another staple in Hong Kong cuisine is barbecue. Roasted goose, chicken and pork can be found everywhere from the small local street shops to fancy sit down restaurants. Combined with rice or noodle and some vegetables, it is a complete meal that won’t leave you hungry.
One of the most visited areas is Victoria’s Peak which overlooks Hong Kong from atop a mountain side. Located on Hong Kong Island, you must conquer the 45-degree tram along the mountain side to see spectacular views from above. Check out Tian Tan Buddha (or big Buddha) statue located on Lantau Island, which is easily accessible by train or by ferry. TIP: Opt to take a 25-minute gondola ride to reach the statue aboard the Ngong Ping 360. Touted as one of the top ten amazing cable car rides in the world, you’ll enjoy scenic landscapes on your journey to the town of Tung Chung.
If time permits, you can make your way to Stanley Market, where you can find anything from little hand-made trinkets to top-shelf electronics. A must-see attraction for souvenirs as well as anything else you might be in the market to buy. Finish your day by enjoying a nightly light show on the city’s skyscrapers glamorously lit up at night. Since 2004, the Symphony of Light has become the signature icon for Hong Kong, showcasing the vibrancy and glamour of this international city.
There is never enough time to see all that a city has to offer however if you are tight on time a lot can be accomplished during a quick trip to Hong Kong. Purchase a day tour or half day tour to see some of the city’s iconic sites to maximize your time. If you are flexible and willing to venture out on your own, it is very easy to plan your own itinerary, but keep in mind some of the places are not as close as you think. Save yourself some time and money by booking things in advance but leave some room for spontaneity.