Hong Kong is known for being a lot of things: a cultural melting pot in Asia, a former British colony, one of the most expensive places in the world to live in and one of the most densely populated, a place where East meets West. One thing is for sure, Hong Kong has many faces!
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 very common misconceptions about Hong Kong (no, it’s not part of Japan – and yes, I have seriously actually been asked on multiple occasions if I speak Japanese) 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.
If you want to open your eyes to what to expect from Hong Kong, let me give you the insider insight that you probably won’t find in your guidebook. Visiting Hong Kong for the first time? Here are some quick Hong Kong travel tips and 15 important things to know before your Hong Kong trip.
✈️ To get into Hong Kong you’ll need to fly into Hong Kong International Airport. A cab from the airport to the city costs approximately HK$350-450 and typically takes less than 45 minutes/1 hour from door-to-door, or you can pre-book your private airport pick up or drop off here.
However, 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 20% 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 to Hong Kong do not require a visa for entry. See here for more details.
💱 The local currency is the Hong Kong dollar. 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.
🎟️ You pretty much never have to pay full price for admissions tickets in Hong Kong as most tour operators, car charters, spas and major attractions are listed on Klook. Just click here and search for places you want to go, and book online for discounted entry or head on over here to read more about how to use Klook to book travel experiences.
📱 Buy a local SIM card. The easiest way to do that is via Klook – you can get a 7 day Hong Kong tourist SIM card and pick it up from the airport on arrival.
🚗 Getting around Hong Kong is easy. 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.
🌤️ Hong Kong gets 4 seasons! It is not a year-round tropical country as many people seem to believe. Summers are HOT and it gets fairly cold during the winter months (December to February). The best time to visit Hong Kong for milder weather is from March to early June, and September to November (but avoid the 1st week of May and 1st week of October as the city can get busy during China’s “Golden Week” holidays).
🌐 Language in Hong Kong: 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.
🗓️ Wondering how many days to spend in Hong Kong? For a first time visitor looking to visit the top attractions in Hong Kong I would recommend spending no fewer than 3-4 days in the city. If you plan on embarking on any Hong Kong day trips or exploring the city off the beaten track, plan to set aside anywhere from 5-10 days for your Hong Kong itinerary.
🛏️ Booking hotels in Hong Kong: Most visitors opt to book hotels on Hong Kong Island or on Kowloon side. Look into hotel in Wan Chai, Central, Soho, Sheung Wan and Causeway Bay for maximum convenience!
There are some fantastic boutique hotels in Hong Kong: I’m a fan of The Fleming (a boutique hotel in Wan Chai which features Hong Kong-inspired design and décor); The Hari (a sophisticated hotel with functional, stylish rooms); Little Tai Hang (a modern, cozy hotel in a quiet neighborhood on the edge of Causeway Bay; Tuve (an industrial-chic boutique hotel in Causeway Bay); Ovolo Central (a funky homegrown hotel in the heart of Central); as well as The Murray (a luxury heritage hotel between Central and Admiralty, within walking distance of Hong Kong Park).
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!
15 things to 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 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. Unlike Mainland China, Hong Kong uses traditional Chinese characters rather than simplified characters (which can look entirely different as well). 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.
Ready to book your trip to Hong Kong? Click here for more accommodation options.
Here are some personal tried-and-tested recommendations: I’m a fan of The Fleming (a Hong Kong-inspired boutique hotel in Wan Chai), Little Tai Hang (a modern boutique hotel-slash-aparthotel on the fringe of Causeway Bay) and The Hari (a classy Wan Chai boutique hotel with a fantastic Italian and Japanese restaurant).
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*) – the vast majority of public transport journeys across Hong Kong will cost under US$1. Make sure you buy a tourist Octopus card as it is accepted on all forms of public transportation.
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.
Don’t be surprised if you find people drinking outside on the streets, even in the bar areas. 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!
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. Hong Kong island and “Hong Kong” are often used interchangeably, but in reality Hong Kong is made up of Hong Kong island, Kowloon, the New Territories as well as hundreds of outlying islands.
These islands, some of which have residential communities, are easy to get to and most of them have regular scheduled passenger ferries departing from the Central piers on Hong Kong Island.
Islands like Lantau, Cheung Chau, Peng Chau and Lamma and are great Hong Kong 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.
Wondering where to stay in Hong Kong? You may want to check out TUVE (a small industrial-chic boutique hotel just next to Causeway Bay), Little Tai Hang (a boutique hotel and serviced apartment complex tucked away from the hustle and bustle) or The Fleming (featuring Hong Kong-inspired décor and design in Wan Chai). For even more options click here to book accommodation in Hong Kong.
8. Shops and restaurants open until late
Hong Kong is a late night city. 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 even 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 from end-to-end on the airport train – buy your Hong Kong Airport Express tickets here).
Planning your Hong Kong trip and not sure where to stay? Look into hotels in Wan Chai, Central, Soho, Sheung Wan and Causeway Bay – click here to book accommodation in Hong Kong!
You may want to check out Ovolo Central (a boutique hotel right above Lan Kwai Fong in Central), The Hari (a sophisticated luxury hotel steps away from Wan Chai MTR station) or The Figo (a budget-friendly city hotel located between Sai Ying Pun and Sheung Wan).
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
12. Hong Kong is still a relatively conservative society
Despite being an international city with a large expatriate population, Hong Kong can still be considered relatively conservative compared to some Western counterparts. Traditional societal and cultural beliefs and values such as “face”, class status, industriousness, respect towards elders and so on are still very much a part of every day life.
As such, you may notice that though Hong Kong is very cosmopolitan yet somewhat restrained – and this can be inferred from the collectivistic public behaviour, the way people dress and express themselves, and the way we interact with one another.
As a fairly surface-level and broad example, people will likely stare at you in public (mostly out of curiosity and surprise) if you stand out of the crowd and wear very revealing or exposed clothing, sport unique or distinct hair styles or colours, have lots of visible body modifications (tattoos and piercings) or if you show very public displays of affection.
13. Hong Kong is a fantastic family travel destination
Hong Kong is an amazing place to visit for families with young children. It is ridiculously easy to get around; you can get your hands on lots of fresh fruit and vegetables; the sidewalks are stroller-friendly and most MTR stations have elevators; there are nursing and baby changing rooms in most shopping malls; and many western restaurants have a children’s menu and high chairs or booster seats.
Despite the city’s compact size there are many public parks with children’s play areas, paid and free indoor play areas and beaches. My favorites are the children’s playgrounds at Hong Kong Park, Coombe Road, Happy Valley and in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay.
You can also bring bubbles, toys and a picnic to any any beach in Hong Kong (we like South Bay, Deep Water Bay and Big Wave Bay beaches), or to Tamar Park which is a huge waterfront space with grassy lawns and a view of Victoria Harbour.
For rainy days with kids in Hong Kong, you can head to any one of these government-run free indoor play areas (there are several in each district), or head to a paid indoor playground. We love the Wise Kids playroom in Causeway Bay, the Little Monster Playhouse in Chai Wan, and Donut Playhouse and Legoland in Tsim Sha Tsui. Older kids might also like Ryze trampoline park or Vermcity climbing gym in Quarry Bay.
There are also three main theme parks in Hong Kong that you can visit with your family. Ocean Park is a marine-themed amusement park on the south side of Hong Kong. You can buy a discounted Ocean Park ticket here! Children under 3 enter for free.
Easily accessible by public transportation, there is a “lowlands” area with toddler-friendly rides and attractions. You can then ride the cable car or take an underground train over to the “highlands” where you will find thrilling rides for older kids and adults.
Editor’s note: Just so you are aware, while Ocean Park spearheads lots of marine conservation and research there are still animals including monkeys, pandas, tortoises, meerkats, dolphins, sharks and other marine life on display at different sections within the park. It is for you to decide whether or not you visit Ocean Park.
Alternatively, head to Water World, a giant outdoor water park located near Ocean Park. This humongous water park has rides galore, including an eight-lane racer slide, lazy river and toddler’s splash section. Click here to buy your discounted Water World tickets. Children under 3 enter for free.
Last but not least, Hong Kong’s very own Disneyland is a favorite for kids and grown-ups alike. It is smaller than some other Disney parks around the world, but a unique family attraction nonetheless. You can even get there on its own dedicated train line complete with Mickey-shaped windows! Click here to buy discounted Disneyland Hong Kong park tickets here. Children under 3 enter for free.
Ready to book your trip to Hong Kong? Here are some family-friendly hotels in Hong Kong to consider: Little Tai Hang, a modern boutique hotel on the fringe of Causeway Bay, offers larger apartments with a kitchenette area with a microwave, fridge and toaster; The Murray offers extremely spacious rooms, an indoor pool, children’s play room and several on-site dining options in a stunning heritage building; and Island Shangri-La is in the heart of the city, conveniently located right above one of the best shopping malls in Hong Kong. Though the rooms are slightly more old-school they do offer an interconnecting room option as well as an outdoor pool. Here are some other tried-and-tested boutique hotels in Hong Kong for a unique city stay.
14. Hong Kong is a “safe” travel destination
Here’s the good news: in general, Hong Kong is considered one of the safest cities in the world, especially when it comes to personal security. Does that mean that Hong Kong is entirely crime-free? Of course not, but crime levels as a whole are extremely low for a city with a population of 8 million residents.
Violent crime and gun violence is rare, but you should be cautious of petty crime like pick-pocketing in crowded areas. Visitors, especially female travelers visiting Hong Kong, should watch their drinks when out and about (just as you would anywhere else in the world).
Public transportation is open until late so that you can get home safely, and people are usually very happy to stop and help if you need directions or any support.
But there are some things you should know. Hong Kong has made international news headlines a few times in the past decade: there were large-scale political demonstrations in Hong Kong in 2014 as well as 2020-2021, and there were incidences of clashes between law enforcement and protesters during that time.
That being said, visitors and tourists were not “targeted” and the general rule at the time was to stay away from planned demonstrations and avoid taking photos or videos of the events. Since 2021, there have been no mass political protests though you cannot preclude the possibility of any taking place again in the future.
15. No vaping or CBD products
Hong Kong banned the import of “alternative smoking products” or ASPs including e-cigarettes and vapes in 2022. Visitors traveling to Hong Kong are not allowed to bring a small amount of “ASPs” into Hong Kong, regardless of the quantity or whether they are for personal use. Vapes and e-cigarettes are not available for purchase in retail shops in Hong Kong.
Most recently, Hong Kong also added CBD products to its list of criminalized drugs in early 2023.
This means that any travelers entering Hong Kong are strictly prohibited from bringing any products containing CBD – including oils, food, drinks and so on. As far as I know, there are no medical exemptions.
What are some other things that you think Hong Kong travelers should know? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!
Ready to book your Hong Kong trip? Click here for more accommodation options.
Here are some personal tried-and-tested recommendations: I’m a fan of The Fleming (a Hong Kong-inspired boutique hotel in Wan Chai), Ovolo Central (a boutique hotel right above Lan Kwai Fong in Central), TUVE (a small industrial-chic boutique hotel just next to Causeway Bay) and The Hari (a classy Wan Chai boutique hotel with a fantastic Italian and Japanese restaurant).
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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