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.
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).
Let me let you in on a secret: Cathay Pacific Fanfares. Every Tuesday, Cathay Pacific releases tickets to select destinations at heavily discounted prices. If you know you are flying into Hong Kong and want to nab yourself a cheap ticket then keep your eye on the website! This is also a great option if you have a flexible travel schedule and don’t mind buying a ticket last-minute.
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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