Hong Kong is such an exciting, lively and vibrant city, that lives up to its term:
“East meets West”. It has a great mix of both Western and Eastern, both when it comes to
culture, food, shopping, and architecture. It is a city that has “everything”.
On any given
day, you can head to a fishing village less than an hour from downtown, lie on a beach and
go shopping bonanza in one of the many flashy shopping malls or back-alley markets. After
a busy day, you can wind down at one of the city restaurants that hold world-class
standards, before heading out in the evening to any of the endless numbers of cafes and
bars. What's not to like about Hong Kong? Hong Kong is the 3rd biggest international
financial center, after London and New York.
The main language spoken in Hong Kong is Cantonese, a local dialect. However, many people speak English (or at least basic English),
and almost all signs are bilingual. After all, Hong Kong was a British colony for more than 150 years! The two official languages of Hong Kong are English
and Chinese. English is spoken as the primary language in 3% of Hong Kong households, while 38% of the population claims the ability to speak English. While the
country has two official languages, English is the most preferred language in business, government, and tourism due to the fact that Hong Kong is an international business hub.
Owing to a subtropical climate, Hong Kong’s sweltering summer months are sauna-like, and there are frequent monsoons and typhoons during that time of year. Prime timing for a trip falls around mid-October to late December, when temperatures are still mild and Chinese tourists swarming in for the week-long national holiday have left.
July is the hottest month, with an average high of 84°F (29°C). January is the coldest month, with an average high of 61°F (16°C).
Weather-wise, the best time to visit Hong Kong is in the Fall, from around the end of September till November, followed by Spring (March to May).
MAR-MAY: Spring is a great time to visit Hong Kong. Like Fall, the weather is ideal though it does get a little foggy and rainier around this time.
JUNE-AUG: Summer is the hottest, wettest, and most humid time of the year so avoid these months if you can.
SEPT-NOV: As described, Fall is the ideal time to visit Hong Kong. The weather is mild and it seldom rains. Room rates are reasonable around this time as well. On our last trip, we went in mid-September and the weather was great, though I think October or November would have been even better.
DEC-FEB: This is the busiest time of the year in Hong Kong, especially around Lunar New Year. Expect more tourists and higher hotel prices around that time.
Know Before You Go: Due to the ubiquity of counterfeit thousand-dollar notes on the market, most shopkeepers are hesitant to accept denominations larger than HK$ 500. Still, set aside cash for dining—many restaurants do not accept credit cards.
Hong Kong dollar (HK$). For Americans and citizens of some other countries, handling Hong Kong paper cash is more familiar since the denomination values are about the same as in the US. However, the cash is colorful unlike the American cash.
- ATMs: It is fairly easy for travelers to find and use ATMs since they are everywhere except in remote areas such as in the countryside or small villages. Any sizable town of a few thousand people will have ATMs available to use. They take international cards and have instructions in English and Chinese. Generally, people can withdraw in amounts of 300 USD or 400 USD (4,000 HKD). Hong Kong is modern and international. It is the most popular city for tourism in the world, and so international credit cards such as American Express, VISA, Diners Club and MasterCard are generally welcome at the bigger hotels, retail shops and restaurants. Businesses will often display signs showing which cards they will accept.
- Octopus Card: Part of the reason for the slower use of electronic payment systems is that the Octopus cards are universally used by the locals. In Hong Kong, the simple Octopus cards are probably the most suitable electronic method for tourists. Octopus cards are handy for travelers. Not only do they allow for quick electronic payment for transportation such as the MTR metro to avoid getting tickets, you can use them to pay for everything from convenience store purchases to restaurant bills at many restaurants. Again, it is a method to avoid handling cash or getting scammed with counterfeit money.
- How to get an Octopus card: You can buy these little plastic debit cards at a metro station ticket office or machine. You can also get them at the ferry ticket offices in Central. Add however much money you need. You can return these for a full refund of the 50 HKD price and any unused cash at stations and ticket offices.
- Using Chinese RMB: Some stores, supermarket chain stores, and the 7-11 convenience stores (there are many in Hong Kong) will accept Chinese RMB cash, but usually, they want to take something like 20% of the value as profit. If they will accept Chinese yuan, they might put up a notice about it or a 元 symbol.
- Tipping: Tipping in Hong Kong is appreciated and important (unlike in Mainland China).
Top 10 places to visit
Hong Kong is known the world over as a glamorous city and a top choice for luxury shopping. But this city-state is steeped in culture and history, and has a lot more to offer than mouth-watering dim sum and an impressive skyline. Hong Kong has an energy about it that is hard to describe. Hong Kong has another side as well, where you'll find forest-covered mountains, hiking trails, beautiful beaches, islands, and traditional fishing villages. Find out what to see and do and discover the best places to visit with our list of top attractions in Hong Kong.
- Star Ferry: Hong Kong's famous Star Ferry, with roots dating back to 1880, costs only a few Hong Kong Dollars to ride, making it one of the best deals in all of Hong Kong. Victoria Harbor is a hive of activity, and ships of all shapes and sizes chug, zip, or wallow past as the expert captains of the Star Ferries somehow avoid collisions. As you travel the main route from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, or more specifically, Tsim Sha Tsui (TST) to Central, it's hard not to be struck by the dense towers of Hong Kong Island, backed by green mountains rising before you. The breeze off the water is exceptionally refreshing, and the wide-open spaces are a perfect antidote to the tight confines of the city. The 360-degree spectacle of laser beams striking the skyscrapers on either side of the harbor is one of the city's free attractions and one of the most popular things to do at night in Hong Kong.
- Hong Kong skyline: Hong Kong has one of the most impressive and recognizable skylines in the world. The dense collection of skyscrapers, both on the island of Hong Kong and in Kowloon, combined with the surrounding mountains and harbor set this city apart. In the harbor, traditional red-sailed Chinese junk boats and the historic Star Ferry contrast sharply with the backdrop of modern high-rises. At night, the skyline changes character completely as the sky darkens and the city lights fill the scene. Two of the best places in Hong Kong to see the skyline are from the top of Victoria Peak or from the Kowloon waterfront (along the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade near the clock tower), not far from the Star Ferry dock, where benches line the waterfront and look across to Hong Kong. The latter location is the best place to watch the nightly A Symphony of Lights laser and light show set to music.
- Victoria Peak: You haven't seen the best of Hong Kong until you've taken in the skyline from Victoria Peak, more commonly known as The Peak. Ride the tram to the top of this scenic viewpoint to see the skyscrapers, bustling city, harbor, and surrounding islands. The tram station is located near the entrance to Hong Kong Park by the Murray building. At the top of the tram are the Peak Tower and Peak Galleria, with shops, restaurants, and an observation deck. Most of The Peak is covered by a large park with lush greenery, nature trails, and more beautiful lookouts with views over the thriving metropolis below. A trail also leads down from The Peak to the city below, following a mix of trails through the forest and sections of road here and there. It can be a bit confusing to find your way. See our article on Hong Kong hiking trails for more details.
- Big Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha Statue): The 34-meter-high "Big Buddha" sits above Lantau Island's Po Lin monastery, which was a fairly secluded place until the statue was built in 1993. This is one of the largest Buddha statues of its kind in the world and took 12 years to complete. The size is astounding, both up close and seen from a distance. The setting here is also incredible, surrounded by the green forest and views out over the ocean and islands. Although you can take a bus, the best way to reach the Buddha is via the scenic Ngong Ping cable car, which takes you on a 5.7-kilometer, 25-minute ride over the forest, water, and mountains. The ride terminates at the small tourist-focused Ngong Ping Village, which you'll have to walk through before reaching the monastery and Big Buddha.
- Wong Tai Sin Temple: The Wong Tai Sin Temple is one of the newest in Hong Kong and also one of the most interesting. Located in Kowloon, the original temple was a private structure built-in 1920. It was later replaced with a newer building in 1968, which is what visitors see today. The temple was built to honor the Taoist god Wong Tai Sin, whom locals regard as the bringer of good luck in horse-racing and a healer of illnesses. A festival is held at the temple in Wong Tai Sin's name each fall. The temple complex is made up of several buildings, including the Hall of Three Saints, the Good Wish Garden, and another hall dedicated to Confucius and his 72 disciples. Expect to see fortune-tellers in the large hall, as well as joss sticks and other offerings that visitors can use. It is customary for guests to leave a small donation toward the temple's maintenance.
- Repulse Bay and the Beaches: Not everyone thinks of beaches when they think of Hong Kong, but you don't have to go far to find some incredible soft-sand beach. The beach at Repulse Bay is the most popular in all of Hong Kong, with beautiful views and a great place for swimming, although it's very non-touristy. A day spent here is complemented with the luxury and style typical of Hong Kong itself. The street running along the oceanfront and overlooking the wide beach is lined with trendy restaurants and shops. Amalfitana is a fun place to enjoy a pizza, with casual open-air dining looking over the beach.
- Temple Street Night Market: A stroll through the Temple Street Night Market is another one of those all-important things to do while you're in Hong Kong. Located in Kowloon, this is the place to go to taste eclectic foods and to shop for bargains on everything from clothing and trinkets to electronics and household goods. Vendors sell gadgets of every shape and size, as well as jade jewelry and traditional Chinese crafts. The market gets going around 6 pm, but vendors are often slow to get set up, so it's best not to arrive too early. This is the best market for tourists in Hong Kong, but you can find several interesting street markets. See our article on Hong Kong street markets to learn about markets to explore by day. The MTR stop for the Temple Street Night Mark is Jordan Station, Exit A.
- Hong Kong Disneyland: Hong Kong Disneyland is located on Lantau Island. Here, you'll find a wonderful world filled with fun and fantasy populated with the cast and characters from Disney movies. The park is divided into seven lands: Adventureland; Fantasyland; Toy Story Land; Tomorrowland; Grizzly Gulch; Mystic Point; and Main Street, U.S.A. Performances happen throughout the day in the various lands and feature everything from parades to musicals, right through to evening fireworks over the castle. Also on offer are a wide array of adventures, ranging from Jungle cruises to a trip to Tarzan's Treehouse, as well as water-based fun at Liki Tiki.
- Ocean Park: As theme parks go, this one covers all the thrills you can handle in a day — a walk through old Hong Kong, roller coasters, a Grand Aquarium, and a look at rare and exotic wildlife. Ocean Park boasts a huge aquarium dome and offers a look at thousands of fish from 400 species, a Reef Tunnel, and a chance to get hands-on with sea stars and sea cucumbers. Above the sea, guests can partake in a Giant Panda Adventure, where they'll see giant pandas, red pandas, and the endangered Chinese Giant Salamander. There are also special programs focused on the North and South Poles. Fun rides include the Mine Train, Raging River, Hair Raiser, and the Eagle. To reach Ocean Park, take the MTR South Island Line to Ocean Park Station.
- Dragon's Back Hike: If you've had enough of the tight confines of Hong Kong and are ready for a little exercise, try escaping to the Dragon's Back Hike. Hong Kong's most popular hiking trail, this hike offers spectacular views out over the ocean, Big Wave Bay, Mount Collinson, Stanley, and Shek O. It's a pleasant change from the buzz of the big city to hear birds singing, the sound of small waterfalls, and the leaves rattling in the ocean breeze.