As some of you might remember, my first visit to Hong Kong didn’t go as planned. Even though I was wowed by the city and loved my time there, I felt like I had failed as a traveler. I had made poor choices about where to stay, I gave into my jet lag instead of fighting it, and I was too exhausted after a busy month of travel to feel the urge to truly explore the city.
But back then, I also knew that I’d be back in Hong Kong a few months later, and this time around, I’d rectify all the mistakes I had made on my first visit.I arrived energized after a short flight from Bangkok, and when I checked into my cozy room at the OZO Wesley Hotel a little bit later, looking out of the window over Hong Kong Island, I couldn’t wait to head out and take on the city – I didn’t waste any time and went right out to wander the streets of Wan Chai, the neighborhood I was staying in. When I left the city six days later, (even though I was nowhere near ready to leave Hong Kong!), I did so with a smile on my face, knowing I’d made the most out of my visit. Read on for my tips on how to have a splendid time in Hong Kong, plus my favorite eateries, coffee shops and bars.
Take time to just wander
In the past, I’ve often made the mistake of running through a city and trying to tick off as many sights as possible. I vividly remember my first visit to New York, when I proudly ticked all the famous sights, from the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge to Times Square and the MoMA, the Guggenheim and the Library, Washington Square Park and Central Park, the Empire State Building and Broadway, off my list, but left feeling like I had no idea how the city worked (something I also did on first-time visits to London and Paris, but corrected on later visits).
Looking back, my best days in Hong Kong were those when I’d just wander the streets, simply following my gut instead of a map, letting myself drift, sneak into alleyways that looked interesting, popped into coffee shops that give off an irresistible smell. That’s how I found some of my favorite coffee shops in PoHo and Wan Chai – my two favorite neighborhoods in Hong Kong.
Research all the good food before you go
One thing I’d found frustrating during my first visit was that I didn’t seem to be able to find any good vegetarian food. Sure there are literally thousands of places to eat in Hong Kong, but to seek out the good vegetarian options, you’ll have to research beforehand. Usually my belly was already rumbling when I headed out to eat, which led me to eat in mediocre places a lot, because all the ones that were recommended online were too far away.
The second time, I knew exactly where I wanted to eat, and I had researched my options well in advance, so that I wouldn’t have a single meal that was just meh. After months in Asia I was craving a decent slice of pizza for example, and I was thankful that Hong Kong’s food options are so international that I could get just about anything. The same goes for coffee, French pastries (my weakness!), American-style brunch and good dim sum. (See below for some recommendations for my favorite places).
Be strategic about where you’d like to stay
The first time I visited Hong Kong I stayed in Kowloon (the part of HK that is on mainland China), and when I crossed the harbor, I knew immediately that I wanted to stay on Hong Kong Island during my next visit. I know that other people prefer the distinctly more Chinese Kowloon side, but I personally preferred Wan Chai and LKF. When you research your hotel options, I recommend making sure it’s near a bus, tram or subway stop and that there are some places to eat around there.
Be a tourist
While I aspire to go beyond the typical tourist sights these days and prefer to just wander and get lost, as I said before, let’s not forget that these sights are touristy for a reason and can be fun, and why would you want to miss out on views like these?Some of my favorite things in Hong Kong: taking the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor, strolling along the Avenue of the Stars, watching the cheesy light show that’s displayed on the skyscrapers of Central every night at 8pm, enjoying the views from the Peak and going souvenir hunting in the Ladies Market. Sure, there’ll be crowds, but these are places you shouldn’t miss. And if you really dislike crowds, find the hiking path up to the Peak instead of going up via the tram (and save the HKD40 / US$5.16 for a return ticket). I found some very quiet spots along the way and up on top. There is also a well-signed 1-hour hike on top of the mountain to escape the crowds (even though it wasn’t horribly busy when I was up there).
Take your time
The best thing I could do in Hong Kong was allowing myself an extra day, which is what I did during both my visits. The first time the extra day was much needed to get over my jet lag (or at least to attempt to get over it), the second time it was raining on and off, so I was glad that I had some wiggle room to do certain things (like the Peak, which is best done on a sunny day, when the views are good).
My Hong Kong favorites
The Coffee Academics (several branches around Hong Kong)
Rabbithole (Wan Chai)
VEYGO Coffee (Sheung Wan)
Coco Espresso (various locations)
The Cupping Room (Central & Wan Chai)
Hazel & Hershey (Central)
Cafeine (Sheung Wan)
Cafe Habitù (several branches)
Passion by Gerard Dubois (several branches)Restaurants
Brunch Club (all day brunch)
Oldish (hip brunch/ daytime restaurant)
Tim Ho Wan (World’s cheapest Michelin Star restaurant, serving Dim Sum)
Light (excellent vegan and vegetarian Chinese food)
O Green (Western vegetarian food, but also fish; lots of ‘trendy’ health foods like dishes with quinoa and chia seeds, kale, etc.)
Grassroots Pantry (organic vegetarian food, a mix of Western & Chinese dishes)
Studio Caffeine (bagels, sandwiches, coffee)
Pizza Express (I know, I know… a chain! But the pizza I had there was excellent!)Bars
Other practical information
Public transportation: Buses, trams and the subway are the cheapest way to get around, and I always felt safe on public transportation, no matter what time of day or night. I found the subway system extremely easy to navigate. Subway tickets range from about HKD5 to 15 (US$0.65 – $1.95), depending on the length of your trip. The tram (dingding) is slow but a scenic way to see the northern part of Hong Kong island. It’s also super cheap at HK$2.30 (US$0.30).If you’re planning to use public transportation a lot, consider buying a 1-day tourist pass for HK$55 (US$7.10). There is also the option to buy an Octopus Card, similar to the Oyster Card in London, to which you add any amount you’d like. You can also use this card to pay in many cafes and shops around town and you can load money on it in 7-11 stores or at an MTR (subway) service center. You’ll pay a HK$50/US$6.45 deposit – don’t forget to get it back before leaving Hong Kong.
Getting from the airport into the city: The fastest way is the Airport Express Train, which is HK$90/US$11.61 to Kowloon (HK$160/US$20.64 return) and HK$100/ US$12.90 (HK$180/US$23.22 return) to Hong Kong Central. There are direct bus connections from the airport to Kowloon – slower, but considerably cheaper at HK$39 /US$5.03).How much money do you need: I’ve already told you that I found Hong Kong surprisingly expensive, but Hong Kong has been listed as one of the world’s ten most expensive cities for the past few years now, so I shouldn’t have been all that surprised. Don’t expect it to be as cheap as most other Asian countries, but considering that it is one of the priciest cities to live in, I have to say though that I find Hong Kong still affordable. As I’ve mentioned above, public transportation is very cheap – crossing from Central to Kowloon or vice versa on the Star Ferry is even only HK$2.50 – US$0.32!Hotels start at around $110 for a decent 3* hotel, and you can find really great hotels for less than $200. A dorm bed in a hostel is between $25 – $28, a private room in a hostel starts at $60. If you don’t need much comfort, you can find a (usually tiny) room for US$40 – $50. Expect to pay around US$3 for a cup of coffee / US$6 for a latte (in a proper coffee shop, not at McDonald’s. A grande americano at Starbucks is HK$27/US$3.48), and around US$10 for a cheap meal. When I spoiled myself, I easily spent US$20+ on a meal and a drink though. A glass of beer starts at US$7, a glass of wine is around US$10. Beer and wine in a 7-11 or supermarket is considerably cheaper, however.
If you’re on a super tight budget, you can get by with US$20 a day for food (if you don’t mind eating at McDonald’s and 7-11). I also found that you can do most sightseeing for free – you don’t have to pay for the Peak, if you hike up the
hill mountain, and instead of paying HK$168 /US$21.67 at the Sky100 Observatory Deck, you can get free views from the Central Plaza Observatory Deck. Have you been to Hong Kong? Feel free to share your tips on how to have a great time in Hong Kong in the comments below!