See the view from Victoria Peak
If there’s only one thing you must do in Hong Kong, it’s to take in the famous view from Victoria Peak, arguably the city’s most famous attraction. Rising 1,805 feet above sea level, the summit affords breathtaking views of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, Victoria Harbour, and, on very clear days, Kowloon’s eight mountains. There are several ways to reach the top, but the classic method is a seven-minute ride on the Peak Tram, the world’s steepest funicular railway. There’s an ongoing argument about whether the view is better during the day or at night—see both if you have the time and decide for yourself.
Eat dim sum
Translated literally, dim sum means “touch your heart,” but it refers to a family-style meal consisting of dumplings and other dishes served in steamer baskets or on small plates. Dim sum originated as a morning or early afternoon meal, but today you can have it any time of day. And there’s no better place in the world to enjoy it than Hong Kong. While some restaurants serve dim sum from pushed carts and others allow guests to order from a menu, you can expect a similar roster of options including har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings), char siu baau (barbecued pork buns), spare ribs, turnip cakes, and much more.
There are countless places where you can order dim sum, but your best bet is to head directly to Tim Ho Wan, known as the cheapest Michelin–starred restaurant in the world (there are twelve locations in Hong Kong, but only the North Point, Sham Sui Po, and Tai Kwok Tsui locations are on Michelin’s list). For an old-school dim sum experience, try Luk Yu Tea House (24-26 Stanley Street; +852 2523 5464); for nouveau dim sum made with high-end international ingredients, try Mott32.
Charter a junk boat
A popular weekend activity for locals is to escape the city center by renting a “junk,” a term which used to apply to Chinese fishing boats but now refers to any motorized water vessel designed for leisure. But just because you’re a visitor doesn’t mean you can’t partake in this tradition. Castelo Concepts offers seven-hour rides, including food and open bar, for up to fourteen adults (approximately $1,260), while Traway’s eight-hour charters are less than half that price (their website is in Chinese, but if you call them, you can arrange something in English). Another option is to hire a sensual massage therapist to be with you on board the boat. Imagine how wonderful it can be receiving a tantric massage under the fresh sea breeze.
Ride the Star Ferry
The Star Ferry, which transports 20 million riders across Victoria Harbour every year, has been around since 1888 and shows no signs of disappearing anytime soon. Even though the MTR, Hong Kong’s public transportation system, is one of the best in the world and a more efficient way to travel between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, you don’t want to miss a ride on the ferry. For a nominal fee, you’ll be treated to one of the most scenic boat rides in the world, allowing you to simultaneously gaze at the skylines on both sides of the water. If you’re riding it for the views alone (as opposed to trying to get from point A to point B), go at night and feel free to disembark and immediately hop on another ferry going back to your starting point.
Hit the street markets
Just about anything you could ever want to buy can be found in Hong Kong’s lively street markets. Ladies’ Market, home to more than 100 stalls selling clothing and accessories, and the Temple Street Night Market, where you can find everything from noodles to watches, are the most famous. Elsewhere, Cat Street is known for antiques, Apliu Street Market is the place for electronics, and Fa Yuen Street is known as Sneakers Street. There are also dedicated markets for flowers, goldfish, birds, jade, kitchenware, and more.
Gaze upon the Big Buddha
West of the city center lies the mountainous terrain of Lantau Island, home of the Tian Tan Buddha, a 202-ton statue of the deity. Commonly referred to as the “Big Buddha,” the massive bronze statue is the main attraction here, but there are some other touristy attractions nearby that you can skip. The best way to get to the Big Buddha is to hop on the Ngong Ping 360 gondola, which offers impressive views of North Lantau Country Park, Hong Kong International Airport, the South China Sea, and the surrounding countryside.
Hike the Dragon’s Back
Hong Kong is often regarded as a city of skyscrapers and shopping malls, but it offers remarkable hiking options for active locals and visitors. Stretching for 31 miles, the Hong Kong Trailcuts through five country parks on Hong Kong Island, the most popular portion of which is known as the Dragon’s Back. The highlight of this hike is reaching Shek O Peak, from where you can enjoy 360-degree views of beaches, bays, verdant countryside, waterfront communities, and the South China Sea. The shortest version of this hike can be completed in less than two hours, though you could extend it to six hours if you wanted to start from Happy Valley and make your way south.
Place your bets at Happy Valley Racecourse
Aside from the summer months, when there are no horse races, Happy Valley Racecourse is the place to be in Hong Kong on a Wednesday night. Popular with both expats and locals, this weekly event feels more like a party than a sporting event; sure, people come to gamble, but it’s more about the scene than anything else. Some weeks offer themed nights, like Oktoberfest or Carnival, and the crowd dresses accordingly.
Visit historic temples
For all its fast-paced modernity, Hong Kong is still home to historic religious sites that pre-date the British occupation. Man Mo Temple is the oldest in the city, and it is dedicated to the Taoist gods of literature (Man) and war (Mo). Anyone is welcome to visit, but true believers come here to leave offerings and burn incense, while fortune tellers (who are highly regarded in Hong Kong) sit in front awaiting customers. If you want to be dazzled, head to the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in the New Territories, where 500 life-size golden Buddhas sit on either side of the 400 steps you’ll climb to reach the temple. Inside the main temple, there are nearly 13,000 gilded ceramic statuettes, even more than the temple’s name promises.