3 Days in Hong Kong: Take in the Sights, Sounds and Tastes of This Dynamic CityBy Selena Chan
Hong Kong is a vibrant, dynamic city that perfectly embodies the phrase “where East meets West.” Rich in Cantonese heritage, the city’s lively street markets, celebrated cuisine and historic architecture have stood the test of time. The juxtaposition of tradition and modernity is everywhere, with ancient temples standing alongside modern architectural marvels and traditional teahouses sharing streets with global fashion flagships and independent cafés.
You’ll never tire of the neon-lit city’s dramatic skyline, created by a medley of skyscrapers that still aren’t quite tall enough to obscure the view of the valleys and hills in the distance. You’ll also be surprised to find that just outside this compact, fast-paced urban hive lie abundant serene beaches and lush greenery — a much-needed respite that’s also easily accessible thanks to Hong Kong’s extensive and efficient public transportation network.
Here’s how to make the most of your weekend exploring all facets of this enchanting city. And as always, check for travel guidelines and closures before planning your trip.
Friday: Heritage and Horizons
Begin your day with a delightful dim sum feast, just as the locals do. Dim sum translates to “touch the heart,” a reference to the small bites that are meant to tease instead of fill you up. These days, however, dim sum meals are lavish affairs where you can eat your fill by ordering from dim sum trolleys at traditional teahouses or pairing your bites with free-flowing Champagne at the city’s luxury hotels. Head to the Michelin-starred Man Ho Chinese Restaurant to indulge in an iconic Cantonese brunch called yum cha (which means “drink tea”) featuring an extensive selection of dim sum delicacies and endless tea.
After your meal, head toward Wan Chai to explore the quirky cafés, independent eateries, art galleries, design stores and hip boutiques on Star Street, including minimalistic coffee shop APT. Coffee, modern teahouse Basao Tea, Greek taverna Artemis & Apollo and multilabel lifestyle store Kapok. This eclectic neighborhood, part of the Starstreet Precinct, includes Wing Fung Street, Star Street, Moon Street, Sun Street and St. Francis Yard.
Once you’re done getting lost in the streets of Wan Chai, take a ride on one of Hong Kong Island’s iconic trams, affectionately known as ding ding due to their bell chimes. They are not only one of the world’s oldest public transportation systems, but also the largest fleet of double-decker trams still in operation.
Travel from Wan Chai to Central and experience the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator, the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator. Featured in internationally acclaimed films like “The Dark Knight” and “Chungking Mansion,” this 2,625-foot-long network of moving stairs and walkways connects the urban areas of Central to the hilly residential Mid-Levels, winding through narrow streets, historic buildings and picturesque alleys.
The escalator takes you past Tai Kwun, a vast independent art space housed within three declared monuments (government-protected heritage buildings). The former Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison are colonial buildings adorned with iconic columns and brick facades. They’ve since been transformed into a world-class creative hub for arts, culture and heritage.
Inside, you’ll find preserved jail cells from the Victoria Prison, art galleries, immersive exhibitions, designer shops, bars, and restaurants serving international cuisine. Grab a cuppa inside old jail cells at On The Hill Coffee Bar, dive into the pages of art and culture at Taschen bookstore or enjoy modern Chinese fare at Madame Fù.
After immersing yourself in culture, make your way to the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island by taking the historical Peak Tram, which has served the city for more than a century. Rising 1,300 feet above sea level at a gradient of up to 25.7 degrees, the 10-minute journey provides awe-inspiring views of skyscraper upon skyscraper, each taller than the next.
The Peak offers a perfect vantage point for taking in Hong Kong’s renowned night view, whether you choose to look down from the cliffside at the Peak Circle Walk, the 360-degree viewing platform Sky Terrace 428 situated inside the wok-shaped The Peak Tower, or the free-entry observation deck at Peak Galleria. You’ll also find alfresco restaurants like The Peak Lookout and Fiamma by Enrico Bartolini against the backdrop of the city’s stunning panorama.
After dark, hop into a taxi or onto a bus or minibus to SoHo and Lan Kwai Fong for a bar crawl around Hong Kong’s famous nightlife district. Here, you’ll find award-winning watering holes, classy rooftop bars, cozy live music joints and pumping nightclubs. But if you have to pick just one spot, make it COA, a mezcal-focused concept that is consistently recognized as one of Asia’s 50 Best Bars.
Saturday: Nature and Urban Exploration
Hong Kong is home to more than 250 islands, many of which are easily accessible by ferry. Hop on a ferry from Central to Yung Shue Wan or Sok Kwu Wan and spend your Saturday morning on laid-back Lamma Island, the third-largest island in Hong Kong. Known for its bohemian lifestyle, this quaint island is the perfect blend of a traditional Chinese fishing village and a vibrant multicultural community.
Take a leisurely stroll through the narrow alleyways and explore the diverse selection of authentic local seafood restaurants, cafés, taprooms, bookstores, craft workshops and tiny temples.
The island also boasts abundant beginner-friendly hiking trails and scenic beaches. Fire up the barbecue at Hung Shing Yeh Beach, unwind on the tranquil stretch of golden sand framed by lush greenery at Lo So Shing Beach or take a short hike to the island’s largest beach, Shek Pai Wan Beach, nestled amid rolling hills and the sea.
After experiencing Lamma’s unique local charm, head back to Central in the afternoon and cross to the other side of Victoria Harbor aboard the notable Star Ferry. The historic, fast and affordable ferries have watched over the city’s shoreline for more than a century and provide a full view of the city from the water, embellished by the impressive skyline and the lush greenery of Victoria Peak in the background. Sit back, breathe in the salty sea breeze and enjoy the scenic five-minute ride to Tsim Sha Tsui.
Begin your adventure in Kowloon’s busiest neighborhood with an easy stroll along the Tsim Sha Tsui promenade that skirts Victoria Harbor. Make your way down to the Avenue of Stars, an homage to the Hollywood Walk of Fame, adorned with handprints from more than 100 Hong Kong celebrities, including martial arts master Bruce Lee; Oscar-winning actress Michelle Yeoh, who began her early career in Hong Kong; and the esteemed actor Tony Leung Chiu-wai.
Then head west to the West Kowloon Cultural District, home to two world-class art museums. Explore some of the world’s foremost collections of design, moving images and architecture at Asia’s first global museum of contemporary visual culture, M+, or discover more than 900 priceless treasures from Beijing’s Palace Museum at Hong Kong Palace Museum.
The art hub also features Art Park, one of the best vantage points of Victoria Harbor during the golden hour, with a sprawling promenade, open lawn spaces and harborfront culinary options, from bistros and cafés to fine dining restaurants.
As the night sets in, walk to The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong for an exquisite and authentic Cantonese feast at the Michelin-starred Tin Lung Heen. Then head up to the hotel’s rooftop bar, Ozone, that sits sky-high on the 118th floor of the International Commerce Centre.
The world’s highest rooftop bar greets you with moody lighting, avant-garde seating and walls of refracted swirling glass. Sip on inventive cocktails and savor delectable Asian tapas while taking in the unobstructed and breathtaking views of the city that never sleeps.
Sunday: Embrace the Great Outdoors
Spend your last day in Hong Kong on its largest island — Lantau Island — a sanctuary of natural beauty and breathtaking landscapes that is also home to the Hong Kong International Airport and Hong Kong Disneyland.
Sheraton Hong Kong Tung Chung Hotel or Four Points by Sheraton Hong Kong, Tung Chung are convenient home bases if you’re looking to explore more of Lantau Island. Start your day with a hearty breakfast buffet before gliding up on Asia’s longest bi-cable ropeway, the Ngong Ping 360 cable car, where “360” refers to the 360-degree view from inside the cabin.
Enjoy the stunning panorama of the airport, the vast South China Sea, the rolling greens of North Lantau Country Park and the verdant, mountainous terrain of Lantau Island. Choose from standard cabins, crystal cabins with glass bottoms, or Crystal+ cabins with fully transparent floor-to-ceiling glass, and the scenic ride brings you from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping in 25 minutes.
The giant Big Buddha, also called Tian Tan Buddha, is hard to miss — standing at a height of 112 feet. This remarkable statue took 12 years to plan and construct. Climb the 268 steps for an up-close encounter with the second-largest outdoor bronze Buddha statue in the world, taking in its fine details and craftsmanship. Inside the pedestal lies a three-story exhibition hall showcasing invaluable Buddhist items, including Buddha’s relic.
Adjacent to the statue is the Po Lin Monastery, where you can recharge with a hearty vegetarian feast or local snacks after all that stair climbing. If you’re in for more legwork, embark on a 15-minute walk through the whimsical Wisdom Path.
The Wisdom Path is a landscape installation of 38 wooden pillars inscribed with the Chinese calligraphy of the Heart Sutra prayer and thoughtfully arranged in a figure-eight pattern symbolizing infinity. Once you reach the top, turn around and admire the majestic Lantau Peak towering behind you, while on the other side, the boundless sea extends its welcoming embrace.
From Ngong Ping, a 15-minute bus ride or short hike takes you to Hong Kong’s oldest fishing village, Tai O. Dubbed “the Venice of Hong Kong,” this centuries-old gem nestled on the northwestern tip of Lantau Island is famed for its rich cultural heritage, traditional stilt houses, scrumptious bites, and waterfront cafés and restaurants, all set against a backdrop of unparalleled natural landscape.
Sample and shop for the famous shrimp paste, XO sauce; dried seafood; and salted fish at Tai O Market, where you can also find souvenirs like puffer-fish keychains and freshwater pearl earrings. Savor a wide selection of street snacks, from giant fish balls and cha guo (tea dumplings) to freshly fried sugar-dusted Chinese-style doughnuts, tofu pudding and egg waffles.
Opt for a 20-minute boat tour to see how life on the water is in Tai O. It takes you through the waterways of the fishing village for a glimpse of the stilt houses and villagers’ everyday lives and then to the open sea where you can spot Tai O’s landmark, the General Rock.
In the evening, stand on the Tai O Creek Pedestrian Bridge to see the golden sunset over the water flanked by nearby hills, watching the water traffic go by as walkers and cyclists cross the bridge. For dinner, relish authentic Cantonese stir-fried dishes at Crossing Boat Restaurant.
This article was created in partnership with Time Out.