The thriving metropolis of Hong Kong is a city that has much to discover. With its mediterranean-like islands and beaches to its fine dining and shopping. It’s a unique blend of Cantonese and Western culture with an intriguing history and breathtaking views of beautiful cityscapes within easy reach. One minute I feel like I’m in Chinese New York and a few hours later I’m alone on an island in the Caribbean. Never before have I experienced the diversity this city offers. The cost of living however is high, so high in fact it was rated as the second most expensive city in the world in 2016. Despite this there are many things to do and see that cost little to no money. Here is a summary:
- 1. Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor (Cheap)
- 2. View Hong Kong from Victoria Peak (Cheap/Free)
- 3. “Ding Ding” Trolley (Cheap)
- 4. Go Hiking (Free)
- 5. Victoria Harbor Light Show — Symphony of Lights (Free)
- 6. Visit the monasteries and temples (Free)
- 7. Open Air markets (Free…until you buy something)
- 8. Islands and beaches (Free/Cheap)
- 9. Monster Building (Free)
- 10. watch the Horse Races (Cheap)
1. Star Ferry across Victoria Harbor (Cheap)
Hong Kong is a city on the water and for less than 50 cents you can ride across Victoria Harbor with fantastic views of the skylines on either side. There are sidewalks along the water on both sides of the harbor as well that are perfect to stroll and watch the various boats and of course people.
From Tsim Sha Tsui (North side of the harbor) take the Star Ferry near the Harbour City Shopping Mall. From Hong Kong Island go to Central Ferry Pier number 7
2. View Hong Kong from Victoria Peak (Cheap/Free)
One of the unique things about Hong Kong is that it’s surrounded by mountains that afford spectacular views of the city. The view from Victoria Peak is probably the most classic view of Hong Kong as well as the easiest mountain view to get to.
You can get there 3 ways 1. Take the tram/cable car. 2. Take a bus 3. Walk
For more information on the peak tram visit their website here. If you are going on the weekend get there early and expect a wait time of 1 to 1.5 hours. From the beginning of the cable car there is also a trail you can follow on the left side of the WWF building. It takes 1–1.5 hours to get to the top.
3. “Ding Ding” Trolley (Cheap)
This has to be one of the cheapest tours in the world. For 2.30 HKD (About 30 cents) you can spend a few hours seeing Hong Kong Island from a slow moving trolley car (the locals call it the Ding Ding” due to the bell sound) with open windows to take pictures. If you have time and patience, take it from the start of the line in Kennedy Town all the way to the terminus in Shau Kei Wan. And if you love it, why not do it again at night. You only pay when you get off. So you can stay and ride it for hours for just 2.30 HKD.
Tips: Don’t forget to bring your octopus card or bring exact change. Pretty much all of the buses and trams in Hong Kong do not give change.
Go to the upper level and sit at the front or the back of the tram. All of the windows can be manually pulled up or down.
If you want to know more about the sites along the way the tram website has some great information you can check out for each neighborhood. Browse it beforehand and keep an eye out for things that interest you…and skip the over-priced Hong Kong Tours.
4. Go Hiking (Free)
For a metropolis known for it’s shopping (There’s no tax in Hong Kong) it’s a surprise to a lot of people that there are many great hikes in a jungle like setting, many of which have great views of the city or surrounding islands.
The Best Hike in Hong Kong:
Dragon’s Back on Hong Kong Island has been rated in numerous places as the best hike in Hong Kong due to its accessibility (it’s easily reached by bus) and scenery. Click here for the hiking guide to Dragon’s Back.
5. Victoria Harbor Light Show — Symphony of Lights (Free)
Every night at 8pm beams of light shine into the skies above Hong Kong. For the best views go to the waterfront in Tsim Sha Tsui. There is a viewing deck near the Star Ferry Pier. Or you can walk anywhere along the water. There will be fewer people further away from the viewing deck. Grab a beer and enjoy (You can drink in public in China and HK!)
There are paths along the waterfront on both sides of Hong Kong Harbor with great views of the city. A nice place to walk day or night.
6. Visit the monasteries and temples (Free)
With more religious freedom than mainland China, there are many Monasteries, temples and churches from all denominations. My personal favorite is the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. It’s a quirky temple that starts with a winding staircase lined by golden, life-sized statues of Buddhist men, each a unique character with a unique facial expression.
7. Open Air markets (Free…until you buy something)
The markets are a buzz of activity and an interesting experience even if you aren’t going to buy anything. People and window shopping at it’s finest. Since I carry everything on my back I’m not exactly in the market for a knock off Lego Star Wart [sic] Millennium Falcon
8. Islands and beaches (Free/Cheap)
Escape the crazy throngs of people in Kowloon and head to the islands and beaches. There are many places to explore. My favorite island for less crowds is Po Toi, but the ferry is only on Tuesday, Thursday and the weekend. The easiest accessible Island is Lantau Island (Can be reached by the MTR) with the famous Big Buddha Statue as well as Tai O Fishing Village and some fantastic hiking. For the best experience (fewer people) go during the week if you are able to.
9. Monster Building (Free)
A densely constructed E shaped public housing structure on Hong Kong Island built in the 1960s as an answer to the massive influx of Chinese immigrants to a then British Hong Kong. The Insta-famous view looking up from the courtyard has a certain aesthetic quality and was recently featured in a few blockbuster Hollywood movies.
10. watch the Horse Races (Cheap)
For just over $1 you can watch horse races all day, though a few hours is probably enough. The races are usually on the weekends during the day and Wednesday night from 6pm-11pm. The races themselves last about a minute and twenty seconds each and occur every 30 minutes. The 10 HKD fee ($1.30) gets you access to the public area. Inside you can eat and place bets, but don’t be worried if you want to try betting for the first time and don’t know how, there are plenty of employees ready to show you how to part with your money. A large seating area outside will give you a higher view of the action, or you can walk right up to the track and practically feel the thundering hooves as they whip by you.
Though I went on a Sunday it apparently is a good place to hang out on a Wednesday night with friends and drink.
There are two tracks, Sha Tin (New Territories) and Happy Valley (HK Island)
If you are in Sha Tin take a look at the enormous video screen, reportedly equivalent to 4,500 21 inch screens. In 2003 it earned a place in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest tv screen.
To get to Sha Tin take the East line metro and get off at the Racecourse Station (racing days only)
For the calendar and more information on Sha Tin click here:
Causeway Bay station, Exit A on the Island Line MTR.
If it’s been raining a lot the races may be canceled due to unstable ground conditions.