Let’s be honest, Hong Kong is definitely one of those places that you should visit at least once in your life. It is a fascinating blend of East and West. While there are many awesome things to do here, a basic itinerary is all you need to fulfill your Hong Kong bucket list.
Best way to see Hong Kong is by combining public transit with walking, hop on/hop off bus tours as well as numerous ferries and boats.
About Hong Kong
As one of the most densely populated cities in the world, Honk Kong is definitely an experience for anyone visiting. It has a long and rich history, colourful heritage and plays an important role in today’s economy.
China’s Qing dynasty ruled here until its defeat in the First Opium war of 1842, ceding Hong Kong and the 230 surrounding islands to Britain. This marked the beginning of the Hong Kong we know today. Composed of three separate islands – Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories – this is a centre of international trade, a major manufacturing hub and a key gateway to China’s economic market.
“Hong Kong is a wonderful, mixed-up town where you’ve got great food and adventure. First and foremost, it’s a great place to experience China in a relatively accessible way.” – Anthony Bourdain
Hong Kong bucket list
It’s important to remember that Hong Kong is a huge place. You’re probably not going to be able to see everything in one visit, especially if you plan to spend only few days here. Knowing this, I created a doable Hong Kong bucket list itinerary that highlights local points of interest.
Admire the famous skyline
The tall skyscrapers, office towers and lights are what makes this such an incredible place. Standing here it’s hard to imagine this place any other way. However, before this port became a trading spot for the British Empire, this was a pirate haven. One of the most famous being Madame Ching, who along her husband commanded 80,000 buccaneers and 800 ships!
Although the pirate days are long gone, the views from the shore or a boat can give you an idea of how this city grew. One of my favourites, however, was landing and taking off from the Hong Kong International Airport. Located in what seems to be smack in the middle of the bay, you can see the towers around you. It’s pretty neat, especially if you get the window seat.
Check out the laser show
Recognized as the world’s most spectacular lightshow, the Symphony of Lights is something worth checking out. Every night since 2004, the harbour comes alive at 8 pm with lights and sounds that shine against iconic buildings on both sides of the bay.
This multimedia display is an impressive harmony of visual and auditory elements that draws crowds of locals and tourists alike. Having seen it few times, I must say that some days are more impressive than others. Either way, it’s definitely an experience worth putting on your Honk Kong bucket list. Make sure you check the weather as during certain conditions might cause cancellation.
Pay homage to Bruce Lee
Although Bruce Lee died way before I was even born, his legend has withstood the passage of time. I even remember my dad watching many of his movies, marvelling at his skill. He was definitely a man that left a mark on many.
Although born in the U.S., Lee grew up in Hong Kong and is among one of its famous icons. A group of local fans raised funds to erect the statue to honour his legacy. Normally, the statue is located along the waterfront’s Avenue of Stars. However, as the waterfront is undergoing redeveloped, the statue has been relocated to the Garden of Stars.
Be prepared to wait your turn to take a pic with Bruce Lee as his is a very popular statue. You might even witness many fan pictures in the making. After all, who can resist a pose or two?
Soak in breathtaking views from The Peak
No Hong Kong bucket list can be complete without a stop at its famous Peak.
This is the highest point on the island and offers unparalleled views of the skyscrapers and Victoria Harbour, with the lush greenery of the New Territories. At night, it transforms into a marvel of shimmering lights and colours.
It’s easy to see why the rich and famous have been settling here since the colonial times. In a world before air conditioning, this spot also offered a breeze from the heat and humidity. I can totally attest to this fact. Having arrived drenched in sweat, The Peak provided a nice change of temperature.
The Peak Tram
Part of the experience of visiting The Peak is a ride in the Peak Tram. You get a nice glimpse into the past as you pass the narrow, steep streets and buildings with impossible angles. When you consider that the Tram has been operating since 1888, it really makes you appreciate the tenacity and vision of those that built it. You can learn some of its history in the terminal before you board or when you return.
Once you reach the top, you’ll find many food and shopping options at The Peak Galleria. It also has access to an observation deck that is free. Other spots for enjoying those gorgeous views are the Sky Terrace 428, Lugard Road Lookout and the Lions Point View Pavilion. If you’re up for it, take the 3.5 km Peak Circle walk.
Visit the Tian Tan Buddha statue
A trip to the Po Lin Monastery where the Buddha statue is located is an experience in itself. It is easy to get there with the subway and navigate on your own. We opted to take the Ngong Ping Cable Car once we were out at the MTR Tung Chung Station Exit B. It was about a 25-minute journey. Since I’m a sucker for a great view, this ride didn’t disappoint. It’s another 10 min walk to the monastery once you get to the top.
Hidden in the mountains, the 34-metre tall statue of Tian Tan Buddha has been drawing pilgrims from all over Asia since 1993. This north-facing statue took 12 years to complete. You can climb the 268 steps for a closer look at the stunning views of the harbour.
The Po Lin Monastery, opposite of the statue, is an important Buddhist sanctum and has a vegetarian restaurant, which came in quite handy.
Shop your heart out
Hong Kong is a shopper’s paradise. From impressive knock offs and traditional souvenirs, to designer shops and everything in between. You are likely to find it here. As in other parts of China that I’ve seen, there are shopping malls, special markets and outlet shops everywhere.
Popular among tourist, locals and expats, the Stanley Market is your go-to for brand name clothes, accessories and jewellery at reasonable prices. Here you can also find souvenirs, home furnishings and a variety of local novelties in a picturesque setting. Set along the waterfront, it’s also a great place to grab some food and drink when you get tired from shopping.
Temple Street Night Market
As the name says, this market comes to life when the sun goes down. Here merchants display their wares while more colourful characters make appearances. Don’t be surprised to see fortune tellers and various singers mingling with the shoppers, food vendors and artists. You can buy pretty much anything here, indulge on local specialties and enjoy the local flavours.
This is the place where your haggling skills become a sport. Originally, this was a place where you could find a multitude of women’s clothing and accessories, giving the market its name. This one kilometre stretch on Tung Choi Street is the place for bargain hunters. Gents are welcome to visit as well since the shopping offerings go beyond women clothes and accessories.
Splurge on custom made clothing
One of the things I have noticed about China in particular is the opportunity for getting some tailor made clothes. This is a luxury that here in Canada is rather expensive. There is no shortage of tailors offering their wares and it won’t be challenging to find one. Great thing about this process is that you get clothes specifically made for you in matter of days.
Deciding on who to select is a personal choice. If you don’t feel comfortable going to someone off the street, it’s always good to ask. Most hotels and services providers or locals will be able to shed some light on where to go. If that is also not your style, google is definitely your friend.
Sample local cuisine
Hong Kong is one of those places where you can find great food at affordable prices. And pretty much anywhere. I even found great vegan restaurants. We also tried many places offering Asian fusions of other foods. It was a delightful surprise.
Be sure to sample dim sum while you are here. After all, you can’t visit Hong Kong without having dim sum! This is such a big thing here that there are different categories of dim sum restaurants. Make sure you ask locals for a recommendation. You can also check out Tim Ho Wan, the famous hole-in-wall and one of the world’s cheapest Michelin starred restaurants.
Party at Lan Kwai Fong
In a place like Hong Kong, it’s not hard to find a great place to party. Lan Kwai Fong is the city’s most popular entertainment spots. Here you will find over 90 restaurants and bars for every taste. Locals and tourist of all ages make their way over to check out the vibe, sounds and lights.
LKF, as it’s referred to, has been the jewel of the local party scene since the 1980’s. The brainchild of a former textile mogul from Canada – Allan Zeman – LKF has been a concept other cities in China are desperately trying to copy. For that alone, it’s definitely worth checking out if only for a short while. It’s also a great place during major festivals and special events.
Get your fill of Buddhas at the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery
The Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is definitely worth adding to your Hong Kong bucket list. After all, where else can you find so many gold Buddhas in one place? There is only one catch – about 421-stair climb. No biggie, right?
The monastery, also known as Man Fat Sze, houses no monks. Only the Buddhas. As you climb the numerous steps, they line the way in various shapes and poses. I guess that is to make you forget how much further you have to go. Keep an eye out for mischievous monkeys and fake monks, and bask in the glow of the statues all around you.
“You can leave Hong Kong, but it will never leave you.” – Nury Vittachi, Hong Kong: The City of Dreams
This Hong Kong bucket list itinerary should provide you with a great starting point for exploring this fascinating city.
And if you’re looking for short trips from the city, you can always take a quick ferrry and discover Macau.
Have you been to Hong Kong? What are some of your favourite things to see and do? let me know!