Hong Kong Travel Guide – Top 10 Vacation Highlights

A city of contrasts, rich in history and cultural heritage, Hong Kong is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Asia, which attracts millions of tourists each year with its diversity of attractions. Nicknamed the Oriental Pearl, Hong Kong boasts spectacular natural beauty well contrasted with man-made marvels. No doubt about it: Hong Kong will surprise you with its options for every interest.
Hong Kong Travel Guide
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Getting high in Hong Kong is all about taking in tremendous views over the harbor and neighboring islands. From Tai Ping Shan or the Peak, you can enjoy great views of the Hong Kong skyline, arguably the most famous in the world. One of the coolest places in town, The Peak is also a site of historical interest and a gastronomic destination that’s well worth the tram ride up.

Hong Kong is also home to the tallest outdoors seated bronze Buddha in the world. Situated near the Po Lin Monastery, the giant Tian Tan Buddha is truly a spectacle to behold that has transformed the monastery into a major Buddhism center in Hong Kong.

The Temple Street Night Market is a busy Hong Kong market with a rich diversity in wares. A spectacle of brightly lit stalls that sell goods cheap, the market is a must-visit whether you want to find a souvenir or just wish to experience its electric atmosphere. Witness the passion and exuberance of locals hunting for bargains, and enjoy the explosion of crowds, noise and color.

You may have had dim sum elsewhere, but until you’ve had it in Hong Kong – you simply haven’t had the best. In Hong Kong, dim sum is not just food, it’s an institution and lucky for you Hong Kong has the best dim sum in the world. After some fun shopping at the Temple Street Night Market, stop by the Dai Pai Dongs street food stalls nearby for some delicious dim sum.

With the highest number of skyscrapers than any other city in the world, Hong Kong bears a futuristic image. But Hong Kong is more than just skyscrapers and electronics. The city has a traditional side that is best witnessed inside the numerous temples dotting the city. Incense coils, gleaming golden Buddha’s and more can be enjoyed at one of Hong Kong’s most beautiful temples – the Man Mo Temple.

The Nan Lian Garden is one of the most beautiful places in Hong Kong. A relaxing escape from the hustle and bustle of the city, the Garden offers an oasis with all sorts of water features, ornamental trees and oriental timber buildings that are certain to take all the stress out of a busy day of sightseeing.

Hong Kong is an endlessly fascinating destination that boasts a rich history, cultural diversity and many faces. From the Buddha images and vibrant markets to its fine museums and cityscapes, Hong Kong is a city full of culture that truly amazes in the way it fits so many sights, sounds and smells. There’s no denying that Hong Kong is a great place to visit that truly has something for everyone – including you.

1. Tian Tan Buddha

Officially known as the Tian Tan Buddha, Hong Kong’s giant Buddha is the biggest, statue of a seated bronze Buddha in the world, as well as one of the world’s top 10 Buddha statues by scale. Originally erected as a site for contemplation and a source of inspiration, the Giant Buddha’s grandiose size has made it into a tourist magnet that attracts millions of tourists every year.

Perched high on the hills of Lantau Island, the Giant Buddha stands at a towering 110 feet and weighs more than 200 tons. Truly a jaw-dropping scene, the Buddha is part of the Po Lin Monastery complex.

Visitors can climb the 260 steps from the giant statue’s base for a closer look at the Buddha, seated at the top nestled among the trees. On your way up, you will pass by a set of 6 Bodhisattva statues, saints who gave up their places in heaven to enable mere mortals to have a place.

At the summit is an exhibition on the life of Buddha that’s worth a look. From this location, visitors can also enjoy spectacular views over the lush greenery of Lantau Island and the shimmering South China Sea.

Another good way to see the Giant Buddha is on the Ngong Ping Cable Car. This is one of the premier attractions in Hong Kong which offers breathtaking views over the thick green peaks of Lantau Island, as well as the shining South China Sea. Take the cable car ride up to the top to see the giant Buddha and enjoy stunning views including a bird’s eye view of Hong Kong’s green jungle.

The Monastery is also worth a visit, particularly for the fine craftsmanship and ornate decorations in the Great Hall that dates from 1920. Visitors can recharge at the Monastery canteen which offers delicious vegetarian fare.

The best time to visit the giant Buddha is early morning on weekdays. Plan your visit around the Buddha’s Birthday when crowds gather to watch monks bathe the feet of Buddha statues.

2. Tai Ping Shan

Also known as “The Peak”, Tai Ping Shan is a mountain situated directly above Central Hong Kong. The mountain peak is famous for offering some of the world’s most breathtaking vistas with Hong Kong’s skyscrapers bolting out of the sprawling landscape below and piercing the clouds.

You will need to take the Peak Tram from Garden Road, Central to get to the top of the Peak. This is the traditional and most picturesque way of climbing the Peak. Built over a century ago, the tram ascends at an improbable angle, yet affords some great views over the city below.

But the scenic bus route shouldn’t be dismissed either. While the number 15 bus weaves its way up the Peak a bit slower than the tram, it does offer some equally stunning views over Central. Your best bet is to use both – go up in one, come down in another.

The height of Tai Ping Shan, its stunning city views, greenness and lack of humidity has made it an attractive residence of choice for many famous locals. The property up here is the most expensive real estate in the world, with the 2006 sale of 12 Mount Kellet going for $5,417 per square foot.

Often touted as the best city view in the world, there’s no better place to see the stunning Hong Kong cityscape than from the top of the Peak. You can view this via the Peak Walk which takes you in a circle around the mountain top, allowing you to take in views of both the South China Sea and the city. This cityscape view is still widely regarded today as one of the greatest man-made views on Earth.

The Peak also remains relatively underdeveloped. Aside from some entertainment and shopping complexes, it remains surrounded by greenery. The complexes offer a variety of coffee bars and restaurants. The Peak Tower also has a viewing platform at its top and Madam Tussaud’s Hong Kong at its base, which features statues of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan and more.

Both by day and by night, Tai Ping Shan offers spectacular views of the Hong Kong cityscape. However, should you have to choose, the neon lights of Hong Kong’s giant skyscrapers are at their most majestic at night. Avoid going up on a day that is too cloudy or polluted or else you will have wasted your trip.

3. Chi Lin Nunnery & Nun Lian Garden

A striking Buddhist temple complex situated in Diamond Hill in Kowloon, the Chi Lin Nunnery offers traditional Chinese architecture at its finest. Founded in 1934, the Nunnery comprises a large Buddhist monastic complex with 15 magnificently crafted cedar halls, courtyards, Chinese gardens, lotus ponds and gilded statues. There are also visitor’s hostels and a vegetarian restaurant.

The Chi Lin Nunnery was built in the Tang Dynasty (618-907AD) style of traditional Chinese architecture. The buildings are made of wood without a single iron nail used in their construction. Instead, the artisans utilized special interlocking systems cut into the wood to hold them in place. The buildings of the Chi Lin Nunnery are the only ones built in this style in modern Hong Kong.

Only natural materials such as stone, clay and wood were used to build the Nunnery. Built by traditional craftsmen, the Main Hall of the Nunnery is a magnificent structure with a roof made out of 28,000 clay tiles, supported by 28 cedar columns. Inside the Main Hall you will find 5 gilded Buddha statues. Other halls house statues of Buddha made from various materials including gold, stone, wood and clay.

The Nunnery also has a magnificent courtyard that features lotus ponds, bonsai trees and fountains. The first courtyard contains landscaped lotus gardens with 4 large lotus ponds, rockeries, statues, peony trees, cypress trees and bonsai trees in pots. Be sure to bring your camera for great photos of the lotus pond garden and the courtyards.

With a mountain backdrop, the Nunnery is sheltered on its left side by the Mountain of Compassionate Clouds and guarded on its right side by Lion rock. The Main Halls faces the sea, while the back looking out on to the mountains. Home to about sixty nuns, the nunnery has since 2006 managed the adjacent magnificent Nan Lian Garden, which it helped to design and fund.

Opened in 2006, Nan Lian is a Tang-style landscaped Chinese garden of classical elegance. The awe-inspiring attraction was created to serve as an “ancient garden within the city” and offers visitors a place of serenity amid the chaos of Hong Kong city life. Together, the Chi Lin Nunnery and the Nan Lian Garden offer visitors a relaxing and peaceful oasis in the midst of the Kowloon hustle and bustle.

The sprawling Nan Lian Garden has each of its elements – the plants, timber structures, hills, water features and boulders chosen in accordance with specific Tang garden rules as a way of creating serenity and harmony. To the north of the Garden, you can enjoy the distant backdrop of the scenic mountain ranges of Tate’s Cairn, Lion Rock, Kowloon Peak and Temple Hill.

A tranquil respite in the heart of Hong Kong, the Nan Lian Garden is an impressively serene public park that features impeccably landscaped lawns, amazing rock formations, vibrant waterfalls, ancient looking trees, relaxing ponds, man-made hills, a bonsai collection and traditional wooden pavilions and bridges.

The Garden is truly elegant, scenic and beautiful, offering a tranquil atmosphere for all those who visit. Noise barriers shield the gardens from the sound of traffic outside. Mounds have also been placed around the entire garden and trees extensively planted to filter dust and exhaust from the surroundings.

The Garden features the 4 main elements of Tang-style gardens: artificial hillocks and ornamental rocks; old trees; water features; and timber structures. The water features were created to resemble their natural states.

The Nan Lian Garden has been designed such that visitors follow a one-way route. Along the quiet winding paths you will encounter distinctive timber structures such as pavilions, tower, terraces, bridges and the gate. The precious old trees include pines and cypress trees.

Visitors enter the gardens through the Black Lintel Gate before reaching the Chinese Timber Architecture Gallery that contains wooden models of traditional Chinese timber structures and illustrates construction methods such as those that were used at the Chi Lin Nunnery. There are also permanent exhibitions housed in some of the Garden pavilions that feature collections of ancient rocks.

At the Lotus Pond is the stunning iconic gold Perfection Pavilion which is connected by 2 red painted timber bridges. To the left of this pond is Spring Hill, a hillock surrounded by rocks, with a waterfall and trees.

To the south of the garden is Xiang Hai Xuan, a house flanked by Fragrance Hill and its sweet-scented trees of lily, osmanthus and orange-jasmine. To the front of this house is a central courtyard with roofs made of grey tiles and surrounded by a green lawn, rocks and ancient trees. The inner room of the Xiang Hai Xuan features a multi-purpose hall that hosts musical performances, art exhibitions and seminars.

Close by is the Blue Pond which is stocked with Koi, and features rocks and other water features. On the edge of the pond are the Lunar Reflection Terrace and Pagoda Tree Pavilion which allow visitors to relax and enjoy the pond, as well as reflections of the garden buildings.

There is also a restaurant behind a waterfall with a panoramic window that enables diners to look out through the cascading water into the gardens. The restaurant serves high quality vegetarian food and a variety of Chinese dishes. There’s also a snack shop that serves vegetarian sandwiches and beverages.

Song Cha Xie is the Garden’s Chinese teahouse which serves high quality special teas, free of fertilizers or pesticide and processed in accordance with ancient Chinese tradition. This involves the leaves being stored for a few years before becoming sufficiently mature for brewing. Wuyi Chan Ya teas are produced from leaves of a species that naturally grows in the cracks of stones on Mount Wuyi.

Each table at the teahouse is provided with a complete set of tea-making utensils: water taps, vent, electric hot plate, water pot, as well as hand-made pure white porcelain tea set. While you can brew your own pot of tea, it would be a much more enriching experience to have a waiter brew it for you while demonstrating the ancient Chinese art of tea making.

Slippers are provided for visitors to wear while inside the teahouse. The tea house also serves dim sum and sells gift packages of tea and white porcelain tea sets. The Nan Lian Garden also has a gift shop at which visitors can shop for special souvenirs such as porcelain, pottery, traditional Chinese handicraft and stationery.

4. Chinese Opera

Few art forms can evoke the charm and mystery of ancient China, its kaleidoscope of costumes, distinctive falsetto singing punctuated by gongs, as well as intricate gestures rich in symbolism, than the Chinese Opera. Traditional Chinese performance art taking the form of the Chinese opera remains popular in Hong Kong as a timeless and beautiful craft.

Chinese opera began 600 years before any western opera and typically dramatizes historical events and legends. It is characterized by spectacular shows featuring flamboyant costumes, lavish sets, feats of swordsmanship and acrobatics. Cantonese opera is one of the key styles of Chinese opera which blends Chinese drama, legend and music into a vibrant performance rich in symbolic meaning.

If you don’t speak mandarin, you will not understand much of the opera. Nonetheless, you don’t need to understand Chinese or be familiar with Chinese mythology and history – from which the dramas are typically written, in order to enjoy a Chinese opera performance. The performances alone are entertaining enough with their spectacle of extravagant sets, colorful costumes and unique singing style.

Plan your visit around February and March when you can attend the Hong Kong Arts Festival. Chinese Opera can also be watched during important Chinese festivals such as the birthday of Tin Hau or during the annual Bun Festival. Other places to see Chinese opera performances are at town halls in the New Territories. Also visit the Hong Kong Cultural Center which often hosts amazing Chinese Operas.

5. Temple Street Night Market

If you only plan on seeing one market while in Hong Kong, the Temple Street Night Market is your best bet. The Temple Street Night Market is one of the biggest and best markets in Hong Kong, and it doesn’t get busy until after dark.

Temple Street and its intersecting streets feature hundreds of market stalls whose emphasis is mainly on fashion, although there are also stalls that sell just about anything. This is a good place to shop for Chinese embroidered linen and clothing. There are also clusters of fortune tellers who offer palm readings, tarot cards and Cantonese karaoke.

Night is a good time to visit the Temple Street Night Market, see the crowds, colors and enjoy some delicious food at the Dai Pai Dongs. Dai Pai Dongs are basic street food stalls selling noodle and rice dishes to diners who perch on wooden tables and plastic seats. The food served here is typically good and affordable.

Dai Pai Dongs are also a good spot to try some dim sum, of which Hong Kong has the best in the world. Dim Sum is the one meal you simply cannot afford to miss while in Hong Kong. And then there’s also the buzz that goes with eating dim sum in Hong Kong: bustling restaurants alive with the sounds of clicking chopsticks and loud Cantonese.

The collection of Dai Pai Dongs attached to the Temple Street Markets are some of the best in town. Just like the market, they are best visited at night when you can rub shoulders with locals tucking into great seafood. Sit outside for a great opportunity of watching life go by at the nearby market stalls.

As much a spectacle as it is a shopping experience, the Temple Street Night Market makes for one of the most atmospheric nights you will have in Hong Kong. Still popular with locals, the market remains one of the city’s most authentic.

Situated at Temple Street, Yau Ma Tei, the Night Market starts at 2pm and is over around 11pm. The best time to go is around 8pm when the market is most packed and atmospheric. Go here for the bustling atmosphere and good bargains.

6. Hong Kong Museum of History

Situated in Kowloon, the Hong Kong Museum of History encapsulates the rich and colorful history of the territory. The museum aims at preserving and promoting the cultural and historical heritage of Hong Kong. Visitors to the Museum of History get to take a walk through the vibrant past of Hong Kong.

The main highlight of the Museum is the permanent exhibit The Hong Kong Story, an educational exhibition that comprises 8 galleries with a display of more than 3,700 exhibits, 750 graphic panels, multimedia programs supported by special lighting and audio-visual effects.

The exhibition illustrates the natural environment, historical development and folk culture of Hong Kong through a 400 million year period. This has been achieved through a series of themed galleries, each of which displays a specific era in Hong Kong’s past, such as archaeology, ethnography, natural history and local history.

The Hong Kong Story begins with the prehistoric past of the territory as a Neolithic settlement, its development into a fishing village and its eventual transformation into a modern metropolis. The exhibition also focuses on the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997.

Among the many impressive exhibits is a 42m long beach with life-like Neolithic inhabitants engaged in a variety of activities; a reconstruction of a Hakka peasant family house; festive activities of the annual Cheung Chau Bun Festival including bun towers, a Cantonese opera theater and Taoist altar; a 20th century street scene with shops and a tram, as well as a port scene with a steam launch.

The history of Hong Kong is presented here in various media including replicas of fishing boats, reconstructed traditional housing, village models and displays of old Chinese costumes, furniture and other items that ancient Hong Kongers used. Some of the popular displays here include the recreation of an arcaded street in Central from 1881; fishing junk and the simulated backstage of a Chinese opera.

The Hong Kong Museum of History also has 10 small movie theaters that show all sorts of snippets from the beginnings of Hong Kong, the Opium Wars and the territory’s movie industry.

7. Hong Kong Harbor

Hong Kong’s Harbor is one of the most impressive in the world. The Harbor boasts stunning buildings and iconic landmarks on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon which adorn both sides of the busy harbor. All sorts of water vessels ply the waters by day, and the illuminated buildings offering a spectacular and colorful display by night.

Hong Kong Harbor is also the site of the Symphony of Lights, the largest, permanent light and sound show in the world. A wonderful sight to behold, the Symphony of Lights is a nightly light show that creates an all-round vision of colored lights, searchlights and laser beams that perform a stunning, unforgettable spectacle all synchronized to narration and music.

Nothing short of spectacular, the Symphony of Lights uses the forest of skyscrapers surrounding Hong Kong’s Harbor, and has the skyline pulsing and flashing with colored beams and spotlights all set to music. The show features almost 50 of the most iconic skyscrapers and buildings in Hong Kong, and has been carefully choreographed and crafted in a fourteen minute extravaganza.

For a 360-degree picture of the Symphony of Lights, your best bet is to view it while on a harbor cruise. Take the Star Ferry which will pause for a couple of minutes to allow you to enjoy the show.

The Star Ferry is itself an iconic institution in Hong Kong which has been plying the Harbor between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, since the late 1800s. An integral part of the history of the city, the ferry remains loved by locals and remains a popular and convenient means of crossing the harbor, as well as a great way of catching a glimpse of the Hong Kong skyline.

On land, the best of the Symphony of Lights show takes place on Hong Kong Island. Your best vantage point would therefore be over in Kowloon. You will enjoy the perfect view at the waterfront Avenue of Stars, as well as a broadcast of the narration and soundtrack.

Another good viewing spot which is also substantially less crowded is the Ocean Terminal pier. Unlike the other places, you don’t have to arrive early to grab a good spot to watch the Symphony of Lights.

The Symphony of Lights show starts at 8pm. English speakers may want to go on Monday, Wednesday and Friday when the soundtrack is narrated in English.

8. Wong Tai Sin Temple

One of Hong Kong’s most popular temples, Wong Tai Sin is a Taoist shrine situated in the north of Kowloon. Built in 1921, the temple is particularly popular among locals in Hong Kong because many worshippers who pray here claim that their wishes were granted.

The temple was built in honor of Wong Tai Sin, a legendary humble shepherd revered by locals for healing the sick and helping the needy. Wong Tai Sin is also believed to save the dying and punish the wicked and is worshipped by the sick, as well as by those with business challenges.

Legend has it that Wong Cho Ping, a shepherd boy, was born in 328 AD to a poor family on mainland China’s eastern coast. At age 15, Wong Cho Ping was taught by a fairy how to make a medicine that was believed to cure all ills.

After living in seclusion for forty years to learn this art, Wong Cho Ping was found by his brother and from then on called ‘Wong Tai Sin’. Together with his brother, Wong Tai Sin practiced Tao and until his death was regarded as a living deity.

Hong Kong’s busiest and probably best known temple, Wong Tai Sin is adorned with ornate Chinese architecture to provide a tranquil environment among the surrounding skyscrapers. The temple complex comprises a number of structures including an ornate main altar with red pillars, gold ceilings and decorative latticework.

The site of the temple was chosen as it was believed to possess good feng shui with its backdrop of Lion Rock and its front facing the sea. Visitors are encouraged to follow a set one-way route around the temple complex. This is made compulsory during busy times such as the birthday of Wong Tai Sin and the Lunar New Year.

On the eve of the Lunar New Year, the temple is thronged by worshippers queuing to rush to the Main Altar with their burning incense sticks. This is because tradition dictates that the earlier you make your offering, the better your chances of enjoying good luck in the coming year.

The splendid Main Altar features wooden sculptures that tell the story of how Wong Tai Sin became a deity. There are also Taoist, Confucian and Buddhist images and scriptures engraved onto the temple walls.

The architectural style seen here is traditional Chinese with large red pillars, multi-colored carvings, gold calligraphy, and a yellow-tiled roof. A statue of the Monkey King stands on guard outside to the right of the altar.

In addition to praying, burning incense and making floral offerings, people also flock to the Wong Tai Sin Temple to have a glimpse of their fates through the assistance of the many fortune tellers who run businesses in the area. Lucky for you, many of the fortune tellers speak English.

The large open space at the front of the Main Altar comprises the main worshipping area. Here you will find worshippers holding bundles of burning incense and bowing 3 times to Wong Tai Sin. They then go inside, kneel and shake the fortune sticks until one falls out. The stick is exchanged for a piece of paper with a corresponding number for interpretation by a soothsayer at one of the 161 fortune-telling stalls at the temple.

There is also the Secondary Worshipping Platform, which features bronze statues of the twelve animals of the zodiac.

Another temple spectacle is the Tai Sui Yuenchen Hall, a hi-tech palace situated beneath the Main Altar at which worshipping is done “electronically” without incense sticks. For a fee, worshippers can drop written prayers into a box and an electronic statue related to the worshipper’s birth cycle lights up and puffs artificial smoke in acknowledgement of their acceptance of the offering.

Other halls of the temple include the Bronze Pavilion, the Earthly Fountain, the Archives Hall, the Yue Hing Shrine at which the Buddha of the Lighted Lamp is worshipped; the Unicorn Hall at which Confucius is worshipped; and the Three Saints Hall which is dedicated to three deities. There are also a number of memorial archways, as well as a replica of Beijing’s Nine-Dragon Wall.

Adjacent to the temple is a beautiful garden known as the Good Wish Garden. This is a Chinese-style garden with architectural features of pavilions, pagodas, bridges, streams, waterfalls, lotus ponds, gardens and rock formations, all of which are linked by a long corridor. Inside the garden is the Statue of Sheep made from white jade that’s worth a look.

Po Chai Hall has a herbal clinic that provides free Chinese medical consultation and distribution of medicines to the general public. At the Benevolence Preaching Gallery, you will find modern multi-media installations that describe Taoist culture, education and medical services.

There are also 41 stalls that sell temple goods including incense sticks, paper offerings and souvenirs. Worshippers are advised to bring only 9 incense sticks into the temple and first proceed to the designated incense burning area. Three sticks may then be offered at each of the 3 offering areas.

9. Man Mo Temple

A picturesque tribute to the god of literature (Man) and the god of war (Mo), the Man Mo Temple was built in 1847, and is still today the largest temple of its kind in Hong Kong. Students comprise a significant portion of devotees who come here to seek divine assistance in their studies. The Man Mo temple is situated at Sheung Wang.

Inside the temple you will also see a statue of a man in green robes, holding a writing brush. This is one of the gods for which the temple was named – Man Chung, the god of literature. Flanking the main altar are statues of Kwan Yu or Mo who is the Chinese god of war. A general famous for his martial successes, Kwan Yu is today also regarded as a Chinese deity.

You will probably smell the temple long before you arrive there. This is because worshippers light so many giant incense coils, transforming the air into a shade of blue. You should therefore also expect to leave with a distinct yet pleasant scent of Taoist perfume on you.

Once inside, pause for a moment of respite under the giant hanging incense coils of the Man Mo Temple. This will provide you with a pleasant contrast to the chaotic pace of Hong Kong’s financial district that’s close by. At the hall to the right of the entrance you can have your fortune told by an English-speaking teller using a handful of bamboo sticks and a cup to divine your future.

10. Jade Market

A very auspicious stone in Chinese culture, Jade has for eons been associated with long life and good health, which makes it a prized material for charms and jewelry. Jade is available in various colors from yellow, white and brown to deep green. The finest quality of jade comes in a pure green color and is very expensive. Such a stone will typically come with a certificate to indicate its grade.

Situated in Yau Ma Tei, the Jade Market is the site at which the jade trade is most active in Hong Kong. Dubbed the biggest outdoor market in Kowloon, the Jade Market is comprised of over 400 booths that sell a variety of jade items, from jewelry, Buddha statues and other trinkets made out of the stone. You can also find non-jade items here including Chinese fans, chopsticks and feng shui accessories.

The Jade Market in Hong Kong is a great spot to shop for jade souvenirs and gift items to take home with you. Haggle down the price before you make a purchase. Close to the entrance of the Jade Market and also worth a look is a jade stone that weighs 3 tons and which marks the area known as Jade Street.