11 Things You Should Know Before Visiting Hong Kong
Having spent the majority of my life in Hong Kong, I feel it is my duty to appoint myself an enthusiastic ambassador for this beautiful city. There are some common misconceptions about Hong Kong (no, it’s not part of Japan – and yes, I have actually been asked if I speak Japanese on multiple occasions) but also some cool facts that you might not know.
The best things to do and places to visit in Hong Kong aren’t ALL necessarily in the heart of the city, and you will be doing yourself a disservice by only covering the obvious and centrally-located landmarks and attractions in Hong Kong. Visiting Hong Kong for the first time? Here are 11 things you should know before your trip!
But first, some quick tips if it’s your first trip to Hong Kong
- The local currency is the Hong Kong dollar. The exchange rate is typically US$1 to HK$7.6, or 1 Euro to HK$9.5. Most places accept Visa or Mastercard, and I’d say 40-50% of places will also accept American Express. There are tons of ATM machines around Hong Kong, just make sure you’ve enabled international withdrawal or your card has the “Plus” or “Cirrus” logo on the back.
- Hong Kong gets 4 seasons! It is not a year-round tropical country as many people seem to believe. Summers are HOT (often >30 degrees Celsius or 86 Fahrenheit from June to September) and it gets fairly cold during the winter months (below 10-15 degrees Celsius or 50-59 Fahrenheit from December to February). The best time to visit Hong Kong is from March to early June, and September to November (but avoid the 1st week of October).
- The main language spoken in Hong Kong is Cantonese, a local dialect. Many people speak English (or at least basic English), and almost all signs are bilingual.
- Public transportation is efficient, cheap and clean, and the network is very extensive. Taxis are cheap as well if you are in a hurry.
- One of the first things you have to do when you arrive in Hong Kong is get an Octopus card. It is a stored value card that works on all public transportation (but not in taxis). You can purchase your tourist Octopus card in advance here – pick it up from the airport when you arrive, and it comes with HK$50 already pre-loaded! If you’re planning on traveling to Hong Kong again at some point, just hang onto the card for your next trip.
- The best way to get to and from the airport is via the Airport Express train. Tickets can be purchased at the station and the train stops in Tsing Yi, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island – it takes just 24 minutes from end to end! Want 30% off your Airport Express ticket? Buy your ticket ahead of time online here! Once you’ve purchased your ticket online, you can use the QR code that they send you to swipe through the special gates equipped with the QR reader.
- Most visitors opt to book hotels on Hong Kong Island or on Kowloon side. Look into hotels in Wan Chai, Central, Soho, Sheung Wan and Causeway Bay for maximum convenience! Here are some of my favourite boutique hotels in Hong Kong, or you can click here to book accommodation in Hong Kong.
Traveling to Hong Kong for the first time? Click here for for the most iconic sights and must-see places to add to your Hong Kong itinerary!
11 things you should know before traveling to Hong Kong
There are many stereotypes about Hong Kong (most of which simply aren’t true), and many of these facts about the city I call home are sure to surprise you. Here is what to know before going to Hong Kong – spread the word!
1. Not just a concrete jungle
It’s often referred to as “the New York City of Asia”, but in actuality it’s more like a tropical island with a splash of skyscrapers. Hong Kong is famous for its spectacular skyline (it has more than 1200 skyscrapers, more than both New York and Tokyo), but did you know that there are beaches, national parks, marine parks, mountains and waterfalls just a hop and skip away from the CBD (central business district)?
In fact, although Hong Kong is considered a metropolis, out of the total 1,108 square kilometres of land, about three-quarters is countryside! If you are an avid hiker then you are in luck, as Hong Kong has more than 50 hiking trails for you to explore. You never have to travel too far to immerse yourself in nature, with the vast majority of hiking trails in Hong Kong and country parks within a short subway or bus ride away.
You might also like: The Best Short Hikes in Hong Kong With Amazing Views (That Aren’t Too Strenuous!)
You probably wouldn’t know it, but Hong Kong is also home to plenty of sprawling farms – you can even pick your own strawberries from one of the many local organic farms outside of the city! Click here to read more about strawberry picking in Hong Kong.
2. Hong Kongers speak Cantonese, not Mandarin, and many people speak English!
If you didn’t already know, Hong Kong used to be a British colony and was handed back to China in 1997. It is now a “Special Administrative Region” under China and the primary language spoken by Hong Kongers is a dialect of Chinese called “Cantonese”. It sounds fairly different to Mandarin in the sense that you might not be able to understand Cantonese fully if you speak Mandarin, and vice versa. Cantonese is known to be an extremely difficult dialect to master, featuring no less than 6 “standard” tones.
Because of its status as a former British colony, many people also speak English fluently. Don’t be surprised if every announcement you hear in Hong Kong is made in English, Cantonese and Mandarin. Again – I do not speak Japanese, though I wish I could! Here are some handy Cantonese phrases you should add to your vocabulary: “jo sun” = good morning; “mm goi” = thank you/excuse me; “lei ho” = hello.
3. Ridiculously easy and cheap to get around
Hong Kong has one of the most efficient public transportation systems in the world. You often have 3 or 4 different transportation options to get from point-to-point and the coverage network covers almost every corner of Hong Kong (including the outlying islands).
We’ve got taxis galore, an awesome subway system (the MTR), ferries, buses, minibuses, trams, trains and an airport railway system – prices are incredibly cheap (unlike some places – *cough* Australia *cough*) and Hong Kong is also very walk-able. In fact, Hong Kong is one of the least car-dependent cities with 90% of daily commuter journeys on public transport!
Though taxis are cheap, don’t make the mistake of not utilizing Hong’s public transportation system. Click here for 21 things NOT to do in Hong Kong!
4. No open-bottle law
That’s right! Like many places around the world, the legal drinking age is 18+ but there is no open-bottle law which means you can walk around and drink a bottle of cider or bring a pitcher of white sangria to the beach! As you can imagine, this is a very welcome exception during the months where the sun is shining bright and all you want to do is spend your time outdoors. Most convenience stores also sell a range of alcohol so if you’re traveling on a budget this is a great option – just buy a bottle of Pimm’s and some lemonade or grab a can of beer and head to the beach/park for a fun afternoon!
Looking for a place to stay in Hong Kong? Look into hotels in Wan Chai, Central, Soho, Sheung Wan and Causeway Bay for maximum convenience! Click here to book accommodation in Hong Kong!
5. Hong Kong Island is only one of more than 230 islands that make up Hong Kong
This is one of the most important things to know about Hong Kong. There is a lot of ground to cover and it’s easy to get off the beaten path in Hong Kong: there’s also Lantau, Cheung Chau, Lamma and Peng Chau to name a few. These islands are easy to get to and are great day trip destinations for hikes, seafood dinners and slightly less-crowded beaches.
Looking for some other ideas for off-the-beaten-path things to do in Hong Kong? Read my latest article here!
6. So many amazing restaurants and bars!
Hong Kong is paradise for foodies – from cheap and cheerful meals to Michelin-starred restaurants – there is something for everyone! Hong Kong has one of the world’s highest per capita concentrations of eateries – there is 1 restaurant for every 300 people!
Feel like having Lebanese food? Done. Or maybe some tasty Asian dessert dishes? Want a bowl of fresh Vietnamese pho? No worries. How about some hot steaming Cantonese dim sum? Yep! Or a big Wagyu beef burger with all the toppings? We’ve got you covered. If you’re visiting Hong Kong you need to be prepared for a gastronomic feast. Want some recommendations from a local? Click here for 20+ awesome food spots to check out!
There are amazing cocktail lounges and rooftop bars in Hong Kong. Click here for some of my favorite happy hour haunts, read this for the best rooftop bars to grab a drink at in Hong Kong or head on over here for the best speakeasies and hidden bars in the city!
7. A/C, A/C, everywhere
Hong Kong is humid, like all the time. Which means that most places are air-conditioned to help prevent mould and excessive sweating (I’m not kidding). Almost every indoor space (including public transportation) is freezing cold, all year round, which means you should always carry a light cardigan or scarf with you. 9 times out of 10, it will come in handy.
8. Shops and restaurants open until late
One of the biggest things that I had to adapt to when I was living overseas or traveling abroad was shops closing at 6 or 7 PM. I was spoiled by the round-the-clock convenience in Hong Kong, because it is not uncommon for shops, restaurants and malls to stay open until 10 PM or later! This means that the streets are always bustling with people and you can always pick up something from the shops last-minute or grab a late night snack.
9. Stand on the right, walk on the left!
An unspoken rule in Hong Kong: when you are walking anywhere that has escalators or a moving walkway/sidewalk, remember to stand on the right and let people pass you on the left! People (myself included) get extremely annoyed when people block the left side of the walkway and it’s always a telltale sign that you’re from out of town.
10. One of the best airports in the world with flights to almost anywhere
Hong Kong Chek Lap Kok International Airport is one of the best airports in the world. Fact! You can fly to almost anywhere in the world from Hong Kong (more than 100 airlines operate 1,100 daily flights to and from 190 destinations worldwide) and the airport itself is extremely easy to get to from downtown (24 minutes on the airport train).
11. Hong Kong is amazing for street photography
Hong Kong is, without a doubt, one of the most diverse and exciting places in the world. Every corner is photogenic and is the perfect blend of East meets West. If you love street photography then you’re going to fall head over heels for this vibrant city.
Some of my favourite places to wander aimlessly looking for unique photo opportunities included Sham Shui Po, Sai Ying Pun, Tai Hang and Wan Chai. Read on for where to go to shoot street photography in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is incredibly colourful and diverse. Click here for a local’s guide to the most colourful places to visit in Hong Kong or read this guide for where to see the best street art in Hong Kong
What are some other things that you think travelers should know? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Visiting Hong Kong? Here are some insider guides you might find helpful:
- Looking for some off-the-beaten-path and unusual things to do in Hong Kong? Read my latest article here
- Visiting Hong Kong for the first time? Check out this guide by Nam of Laughtraveleat.com or click here for my list of essential things to do for first time visitors to Hong Kong
- Here are some important dos and don’ts in Hong Kong to know before your trip
- Venture beyond the main areas and head out on one of these Hong Kong day trips
- Foodies will love the culinary scene in Hong Kong. Here are some of my favorite Hong Kong restaurants
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Thanks for this great articles and all the tips !! I’ve planned a trip to Hong Kong in November (12-16), I’m hesitant to change my plans due to the protests… Do you think it is safe enough to explore the city ? Do you have recommandation for a place/district to stay ? Thanks a lot !
Hi Dodie, you’ll be fine in the city. The protests often take place in pre-determined locations over the weekend (whereas you are here during the week), just stay in touch with your hotel or stay tuned to local news (SCMP). Look into hotels in Wan Chai, Central, Soho and Sheung Wan for maximum convenience.
I stumbled upon your superb site. Loving the way you enjoy Life I would like to express my gratitude for sharing your experiences in such a kind way to the world.
As much as I enjoy HK – and by no all means do I wish to downgrade your beautiful city – nevertheless I still do have to acknowledge the saddening decline definitely of not the city itself, but the atmosphere of this bloody unique island state created by so many intertwining cultures, and the people that have made it such a celebration of being a human being.
Having just returned from Hong Kong, I will always carry with me the exhilariating memories of the City from my past visits. And as such they will last until the end of my days; as a glimmering hope that humanity is a beautiful thing that may accomplish great successes, should it be allowed to bloom and blossom without tyrants.
Goodwill shall eventually prevail.
I appreciate your thoughtful comment and kind words, Jay. I hope that others will visit and experience the city that I know and love as “home”.
These are great tips! I’m visiting for the first time next week for just a few days however I’m a little nervous because of the recent political strife and protests. Do you have any tips if things go awry?
Hi Jackie, just keep your distance from the protests which tend to be located along certain streets (the locations are confirmed beforehand – ask your hotel for the latest). In terms of transportation the buses and subway will be running but may be more crowded than usual, and taxis will also be available. You might want to download the HKTaxi app to order taxis in case it’s hard to hail one on the street, and carry your ID with you at all times. Always have your hotel’s contact information so that you can reach them if needed.
You mentioned 1st week of October is not good to visit Hongkong. Please tell me the reason as I am planning to visit Hongkong from 3-7th October 2019.
It is a national holiday in China, which means Hong Kong receives many Mainland Chinese tourists during this time. Hotel prices tend to go up significantly for this week, and the city also tends to be a lot busier. It’s not a “bad” time to visit, as long as you’re aware that you might have to pay more for your accommodation.
Thanks for the info. Why not the first week of October? We have a honeymoon planned, and decided to stop three days in Hong Kong, on the way, but it is during the first week of October. After reading your article, I’m wondering if it’s a good idea.
Hi Melissa, the first week of October is a national holiday in China, which means Hong Kong receives many Chinese tourists during this time. I wouldn’t change your plans at this stage if it’s all booked, but hotel prices tend to be higher and the city will be busier – as long as you’re aware of this it’ll be fine.
Hi! I’ve read all of your Hong Kong articles and they have been so much help! I’m definitely going to check out a lot of the places you recommended. However, although I’m going to be in Hong Kong for 2 months, I’ll be working for most of it and probably won’t be able to go too far away from Sha Tin, and definitely not to Hong Kong Island more than once or twice. Are there any fun places (restaurants, sightseeing, shopping, etc) in that area?
Hi Charlotte! It’s fairly easy to get from Shatin to Hong Kong Island so I wouldn’t be too worried about not making it over, or you can head to Kowloon instead – there’s plenty of things to see and do there. You’re also going to be close to a lot of the country parks – you might want to check out Tai Mo Shan and Lion Rock. Also definitely head out to Sai Kung – Sharp Island, Tai Long Wan and the consecutive pools are great day trips (check out my article on Hong Kong day trips). If you are here during the summer months make sure you ask around and see if anyone is hosting a “junk trip” – people rent luxury yachts and go out for a day on the water with drinks, food and occasionally water sports.
You can also head out to Fanling if you want to check out some organic farms (though the strawberry season is only from December to April). Have a great time!
I am going in 10 days and can not wait! I will have 3 days and 5 additional nights to sitesee, then will be visiting schools in Hong Kong and 2nin Mainland China while there. This has been helpful, thank you!
Hi Charlanne, I’m so glad that you enjoyed reading this! Here are some more Hong Kong travel tips if you’re looking for more reading material: https://www.yogawinetravel.com/travel/hong-kong/
Very educative information. Hope to visit Hong Kong and do business there. Unfortunately they is no HK embassy in my area.Thanks for the information
Hi Flo , great tips. Heading to Hong Kong for 3 nights as a family of five in July. Staying at a hostel in Aberdeen. Any must sees for teenagers, we are on a tight budget after bring in Australia. Michelle
I’m sure you’ll have a fantastic trip! Here is a list of essential things to do for first time visitors: https://www.yogawinetravel.com/8-essential-things-to-do-for-first-time-visitors-to-hong-kong/
What a great site! We have booked our trip for Jan 2019 and cannot wait!
What is the weather like during January as lots of different sites all have different descriptions?
Hi Neal, thanks for taking the time to read this! Expect it to be cold (well, Hong Kong cold anyway) with the temperature ranging from 10 to 18 degrees Celsius. It’s not uncommon for Hong Kong to feel colder than it is, because of the humidity. Have a great trip!
Hey Flo! We are going to Hong Kong for the first time in January. This post was amazing and we want to thank you for sharing these great tips! We loooove food, so I think Hong Kong will suit us just fine 🙂
Ophelia and Pajam at backpackingfoodies
Hi you two! Enjoy your trip – I’m sure you’ll have an amazing time. I have more food & drink guides here: https://www.yogawinetravel.com/travel/hong-kong/
Hope this helps!
I’ve been to Hong Kong countless of times… and yet I’ve never been to the beach (didn’t know there was one!)
I learned something new today!
Thanks for the read 🙂
Hi Mick! Thanks for checking out the website – there are tons and tons of beaches in Hong Kong (more than 1!). South Bay, Shek O, Big Wave Bay and Cheung Sha Wan beaches are some of my favorites. Hope you get to check them out soon!
I’m planning to visit Hong Kong in early December and stay there for 5 days. All tips logged into our forthcoming visit.
Enjoy your trip!
Wow, nice information to know. I wanna visit Hong Kong next week and your article can be great reference for me to explore this place.
Traveling to Hong Kong for the first time in September from Canada. Some great suggestions and tips, I will definitely bookmark this page and read your other related posts. Glad I found this post on Pinterest! 🙂
Thank you for checking this out, Robert! You’re going to love Hong Kong 🙂 If you’d like to get off the beaten path I have some more recommendations here: https://www.yogawinetravel.com/10-things-to-do-in-hong-kong-that-probably-arent-in-your-guidebook/
Great post! Hong Kong is definitely on my list!
Hope you get to visit soon!
I LOVE this article! There are so many misconceptions about HK (I still can’t believe someone asked you if you spoke Japanese!!) but it definitely helps when misconceptions are shared in forums like this. Thank you for sharing, and as someone who has travelled to HK before I had no idea there was so much countryside in HK!
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this, MG! Come back and visit soon 🙂
You have just made me fall in love even more then I am already with Hong Kong. I was there for 6 days in late September this year. So much so i am hoping to get back next year. But this time as a solo female travller, i have heard its one of the safest places to travel solo as a female. Do you think thats true? Im thinking October November is that a good time of the year to visit? I was also was wondering where about is the waterfall you have pictured?
I totally agree that it is a safe place for female solo travel – it’s safe for any kind of travel 🙂 October is a beautiful time of year to visit as it’s not as hot or humid. The waterfall is in Sai Kung – check out the Hike Hong Kong link for directions 🙂
Looks amazing – we are visiting in the next 18 months but it feels too far away – I want to go now!
Thanks for checking this out, Lisa! When you guys make it over let me know – I have a few other recommendations on the website if you’re interested 🙂