You might remember that when I went to Hong Kong last year I was surprised to learn that the city is actually pretty expensive. I was on a budget, as usual, but I still wanted to splurge on a few of my favorite things: tasty coffee (and yes, the $6 coffee at The Coffee Academics was worth every penny!), fancy cocktails in rooftop bars with a view (even though I skipped Ozone, the highest rooftop bar in the world, on top of the Ritz Carlton, and opted for a cheaper one), tasty pizza (much needed after months of only Asian food, and Motorino, a famous Brooklyn pizza place, hit the spot), speakeasy bars and a nice place to stay.With all these things in mind, I tried to do everything else in Hong Kong as cheap as possible, and I think I succeeded. Transportation is very cheap, you can do a lot of sightseeing for free, and you can eat cheaply if you forgo Hong Kong’s fancy eateries (but then there’s still Tim Ho Wan, where you can sample Michelin star cuisine for around $10?).So here are my tips on how you can experience Hong Kong on a shoestring:
Get into Hong Kong on the cheap
You have a variety of options of getting from the airport into Hong Kong. The most expensive one? Taking a cab, obviously. To get from the airport to Central Hong Kong will set you back at HKD250 – 350 (US$32-45!). The airport express train (which is much faster and more comfortable than a taxi, by the way) is slightly cheaper at HK$105/US$13.55 to Kowloon (HK$185/US$24 return) and HK$115/ US$15 (HK$205/US$26.50 return) to Hong Kong Central.
If you’re visiting Hong Kong on the cheap, you have two inexpensive options:
Take a bus into Hong Kong. The buses to the airport leave from Kowloon and cost HKD39 (US$5.02). In Kowloon you can change to the subway, which is HKD5 to 15 (US$0.65 – $1.95), depending on how many stops.
Alternatively, you can take the S1 bus to Tung Chung MTR station (about 15 minutes from the airport, price: HKD3.50 / US$0.45) and change into the subway here – the Tung Chung line will bring you to Kowloon in about thirty minutes (HKD18 / US$2.30)
Public transportation in Hong Kong
Luckily, Hong Kong’s transportation network is excellent and there is absolutely no need to waste money on taxis. I navigated my way around the city with the help of GoogleMaps ‘Public transport’ option which always showed me the correct buses or subways to use. The cheapest mode of transportation? The tram, which covers parts of Hong Kong Island, and is only HKD2.30 (US$0.30). Like I mentioned above, subway tickets range from about HKD5 to 15 (US$0.65 – $1.95) and buses are even a little bit cheaper.
The Star Ferry, the most scenic way to get from Kowloon to Central or vice versa, is ridiculously cheap: HK$2.50 – US$0.32!
Hong Kong has a card system, the Octopus Card, comparable to London’s Oyster Card, which you credit with money for public transportation, but you can also pay with it in shops like 7-11. You also top up your Octopus Card at a 7-11 stores, or at an MTR (subway) service center. Note that you pay a HK$50/US$6.45 deposit on the card – don’t forget to get it back before leaving Hong Kong.
Budget accommodation in Hong Kong
Accommodation is without the doubt the most expensive aspect of a trip to Hong Kong. Hotels start at around US$110 for a comfortable 3* hotel, and you can find good hotel deals for less than $200. My tip: do your research beforehand and take advantage of cheaper rates – you can find some incredible hotel deals by booking online.My first trip to Hong Kong was made pretty miserable by the poor accommodation choices I had made (and by not booking anything in advance for the entire duration of my trip, leaving me with very few and very bad hotels to choose from when I had to move hotels). I stayed in Kowloon on my first visit, but enjoyed staying in Central more, which I did during my second visit. I also found the hotels to be nicer in Central.
If you’re visiting Hong Kong on a shoestring, expect to pay US$25 for a dorm bed in a hostel, or US$50 for a private room.
These are the three great hostels in Hong Kong (read: central location, small dorm rooms – not 12 or 18 beds, as is common in Hong Kong, and friendly staff.)
- AMU Dreamhouse – in Kowloon, less than 10-min walking from the Avenue Of The Stars / 15 mins from the Star Ferry. Dorm bed from US$23; double room / twin room from US$40
- Hop Inn – located in Kowloon, less than 15-min walking from the Star Ferry terminal. 6-bed dorm from US$20; 4-bed dorm from US$24; single room from US$41; double rooms from US$49
- The Mahjong – this hostel is located further north in Kowloon, about 20 mins by subway to the Star Ferry Terminal. The hostel is modern and new and has comfortable beds with a privacy curtain. 8-bed dorms from US$27; 10-bed dorms from US$22; double beds (for two) in small 6-bed dorm rooms from US$44.
Sightseeing in Hong Kong on the Cheap
I don’t think I paid anything for sightseeing in Hong Kong – just what it costs to get to a certain place, like the Giant Buddha or the Peak. But even the Peak is free if you, like me, want to combine sightseeing with a little workout and decide to walk up the mountain. It also saves you the HKD40 /US$5.05 for a return ticket for the Peak Tram. To get to the Big Buddha, take the subway to Tung Chung station. From here you can either take the scenic yet pricey cable car (HKD125 round trip /US$16.10) or opt for the bus instead (HKD17.20 /US$2.22). Or hike up the mountain – it’s quite a strenuous hike, but it’s free 🙂Other main attractions that are completely free? The Avenue of the Stars, Hong Kong’s answer to LA’s Walk Of Fame, is free, as is the Symphony of Lights, the world’s ‘Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show’ (according to the Guinness Book Of World Records), which takes place every night at 8pm and is best seen from the Avenue of Stars. Strolling over the markets, such as the Ladies Market or Temple Street Market, is also free (and great for cheap souvenir shopping!), the beaches are free and only cost the ferry tickets to get to them. Also: wandering the streets of Kowloon and Central is an excellent way to get to know Hong Kong, and it doesn’t cost a penny. In Central you can also ride the world’s longest escalator for free and pop into the Chinese temples, which are all worth a visit.Two pricey Hong Kong activities you can easily replace with free versions: Instead of visiting the Sky100 observation deck (cheapest ticket is HKD169 /~US$22), visit the sky lobby on the 46th floor of the Central Plaza skyscraper which can be visited for FREE! Instead of taking the hop-on hop-off sightseeing bus (tickets start at US$57), take a much cheaper sightseeing tour on a local bus – it’s much better for people watching, too, and it’ll only cost you a couple of bucks. CNN Travel listed the best bus routes to take in Hong Kong.
Cheap food & drinks in Hong Kong
Street food is the least expensive option in Hong Kong – for a proper meal in a restaurant I paid as much in Hong Kong as I’d pay in the U.S. A cup of coffee is around US$3, a latte around US$6 (that’s in a nice coffee shop, not at McDonald’s!). A large americano at Starbucks is HK$27/US$3.48), and if you’re lucky enough to find a cheap meal, it’s going to set you back at around US$10. Whenever I treated myself to a nice meal, I easily spent US$20+ on a main dish and a drink.Cheap local fast food chains are Café de Coral and Maxim’s MK – you can get a meal here for less than US$5 and they have English menus. A meal at McDonald’s starts at around HKD30 (around US$4). A beer in a bar / restaurants starts at US$7, a glass of wine at around US$10. Beer and wine in a 7-11 convenience store or supermarket are much more affordable. Tap water is drinkable, so if you’re visiting Hong Kong on a shoestring, there is no need to spend money on bottled water.Have you been to Hong Kong? If you have any budget tips, feel free to share them in the comments below!