Hong Kong off the beaten path
Delectable dim sum, floating islands, and a one-of-a-kind skyline are just some of Hong Kong’s enchanting features. Eat your way across Temple Street Night Market with its fish balls and stinky tofu, or settle in for dim sum at Michelin-starred venues like Tim Ho Wan. For traditional Chinese architecture, head to Ngong Ping Village, then take the tram to the tippity-top of Victoria Peak for skyscraper views. The gentle hills of Nan Lian Garden will deliver serenity, but a detour through the city’s cocktail bars will bring back Hong Kong’s urban buzz.
But this article is not about the standard places all tourists will visit. If you’re like us, you would want to avoid the tourist traps in Hong Kong. It’s not difficult to explore Hong Kong off the beaten path, you just have to know where to go. Keep reading so that you can plan your unique Hong Kong itinerary:
1. Visit Sham Shui Po
One of our favorite place to take visitors to is Sham Shui Po, a Hong Kong hidden gem. This colorful Kowloon locality is one of the poorest of all the districts in Hong Kong and provides a stark contrast to the glitz and glam of the Central skyscrapers. Each street specializes in different goods, from kids clothes and suitcases, decorations to match the season, electronics of every kind, craft and jewelry making supplies and every fabric under the sun.
For even more of a local feel go for a walk through the busy wet market to see fish fillets so fresh the hearts are still beating, every manner of sea creature and literally every part of the pig in the pork butchery. If that’s not your scene you can go on a Michelin foodie hunt with the famous Tim Ho Wan dim sum and new inclusions to the street food guide Kung Wo Tofu and Soybean shop and Kwan Kee dessert shop. Hit up Sham Shui Po in the afternoon or early evening to see daily life in full swing.
2. Go on a sunset cruise on the Aqua Luna
Going on a traditional Chinese junk is one of the most unique things to do in Hong Kong. The stunning red sails of the Aqua Luna are iconic and clearly visible every night as it sails up and down Victoria Harbor. It’s one of the last remaining red-sail Chinese junk boats and has been refurbished to take passengers on short harbor cruises.
If you feel like taking your happy hour to the open water, book a spot on Aqua Luna’s sunset cocktail cruise to watch Hong Kong’s famous skyline come alive at night. Tickets are HKD $220 (approx AED 100) and includes 1 standard alcoholic beverage. The boat leaves from both sides of the harbor and you can get 10-15% off your harbor cruise if you book online here!
Prefer to stay on land? Not to worry, there are plenty of incredible rooftop bars in Hong Kong. Click here for some of my favorite rooftop bars to grab a drink at.
3. Head up to Victoria Peak gardens
My absolutely favorite destination in Hong Kong is Victoria Peak gardens – not the famous Victoria peak you most probably know, but another much more amazing place. It’s quite hard to find and it was shown to me by a local. When reaching Victoria Peak Observatory/Peak Tower, you’ve got to keep walking up the road for 10-15 minutes and when you’ll see stairs. Keep your eyes open, since these stairs are barely visible.
Once you’ve taken them, you’ll get to Victoria Peak gardens, but don’t stop! You’ve got to climb up the hill, because when you get on top of it, you’ll see a wonderful nearly 360-degree panorama of Hong Kong. And most probably, you’ll be there completely alone and can enjoy the view in silence.
4. Walk around Lugard Road
This is one of those hidden places in Hong Kong that most tourists don’t know about. If it’s beautiful views you’re after, skip the hordes of people at the Peak Tower and take a stroll along Lugard Road instead. Lugard Road is right next to the Peak Tower and offers a leisurely, mostly-shaded stroll around the Peak. I have two small dachshunds and this is one of my favorite places to take them – they get a nice, long walk and I get unparalleled views: a win-win!
The leisurely walk takes around 90 minutes to complete and loops right back to where you started. About mid-way through the walk you will reach a small park and a fork in the road, take the path on the right hand side and keep walking. A few more minutes and you’ll get to a long cliff-side path for breathtaking, unobstructed panoramic views of Hong Kong. The view from these lookout points are, IMHO, much better than those from the Peak Tower!
5. Check out all the street art in Soho and Wan Chai
Over the past few years, street art has really taken off in Hong Kong and there are lots of beautiful pieces scattered around Soho, a neighborhood just above the CBD, and Wan Chai. You can easily spend an afternoon walking around and stumbling upon funky and colorful street art.
Going on a self-guided street art tour is one of the coolest things to do in Hong Kong. In Central, start at Graham Street and walk along Hollywood Road towards Sheung Wan.
In Wan Chai, start on Queen’s Road East and make your way towards Morrison Hill Swimming Pool – make sure you explore all the different side streets: honestly the fun is in wandering around and spotting the pieces on your own!
You can also check out HKWalls to see if they have any guided tours coming up and download one of their street art location guides.
6. Take a ferry to Cheung Chau Island
On every visit without fail I catch a ferry from Hong Kong to Cheung Chau Island. Rich in pirate tales, the island is a quiet escape where fishing boats bob in the harbour and beach sports are a popular pastime. Bicycles are the main mode of transport and you’ll find life is lived at a much slower pace until the annual Bun Festival celebrations when the island is home to one of the craziest (and tastiest) festivals in the world.
The ferry to Cheung Chau leaves from Central Pier 5 and the journey takes about 30 minutes if you hop on a fast ferry, and an hour if you get on a slow one. The ferry schedule is available here.
7. Explore PMQ
PMQ is a complex in Soho that has become a creative hub for local designers and funky brands and products. PMQ stands for “Police Married Quarters” as it used to house married junior police officers before being emptied in the year 2000.
It sat there until it was revitalized as a heritage site and was opened to the public in 2014. It is now home to about 100 different design galleries, shops, exhibits and boutiques with an emphasis on homegrown designers and brands.
PMQ is a great place to pick up unique gifts and check out cool storefronts – the complex is always hustling and bustling over the weekends with pop-up exhibits and workshops, so even if you don’t buy anything, you never leave empty-handed.
8. Walk around Tai Kwun
Like PMQ, Tai Kwun is a heritage site that used to serve an entirely different purpose and one of the most unique places to visit in Hong Kong. Tai Kwun is just a few steps away from PMQ and opened to the public in May 2018 after years of renovation.
The massive complex dates back to the mid-1800s and used to be the Central police station, prison and magistracy. Today, the buildings have been revitalized and preserved, and has been converted into a heritage & arts centre.
It is one of the most underrated places in Hong Kong and is filled with many art and history exhibits throughout the complex as well as plenty of shops, restaurants and bars – I loved the cocktails at Dragonfly! Give yourself a solid 1-2 hours to soak in everything it has to offer! Entry is free.
9. Eat egg waffles
Arguably the main reason why I moved back to Hong Kong, Egg Waffle is a type of waffle that was created by a store owner who was trying to find a way to use up the leftover egg, flour, sugar and milk in his store back in the 50s. Their name derived from their shape, which is also called bubble waffle or eggettes.
Nowadays, you can get egg waffle at almost any corner street food stores and it comes in a variety of flavors as well. In fact, some stores have some whacky yet delightful flavors such as orange chocolate, pandan, pineapple and even meatfloss and sesame.
10. Chase waterfalls
There are beaches, waterfalls and hiking trails just outside of Hong Kong’s CBD – it may surprise you to learn that Hong Kong is a perfect blend of nature and the city!
I don’t know anybody who doesn’t love a good waterfall, and this is one of the top Hong Kong hidden gems that most visitors don’t know about. Sheung Luk Stream is a great Hong Kong day trip destination if you’re looking to get out of the city and bask in nature. If you are visiting Hong Kong from May to about October/November, aim to head here on a weekday as you’re almost guaranteed to have the place to yourself. The best thing about this one is that you can swim in the cascading pools of fresh water!
To get here, take the MTR (subway) to Choi Hung Station and then hop in a taxi to Sai Wan Pavilion (Sai Wan Ting). Take the path on the right and follow it for about 45 minutes to get to Sai Wan beach. Once you’re at the beach go to one of the local shops to pre-purchase your boat ticket back to Sai Kung as they tend to fill up fast.
After you’ve bought your ticket, head left down the beach and turn towards the woods. The waterfall is another 10-15 minute walk from the beach and you will need to climb over a few jagged hill faces to get to it so wear comfortable walking shoes.
Good to Know
Read the basic info and also some fun facts about Hong Kong!
Ready for your next trip?
No doubt about it: Hong Kong will surprise you. There's no way to prepare for the awe-inspiring view from Victoria Peak or for the Symphony of the Stars light show from the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade. Against the verdant terrain, glittering skyscrapers have never looked so beautiful. Taking in Hong Kong's atmosphere is half the joy of being here. The other half is equally exciting: With Hong Kong Disneyland, Ocean Park and Happy Valley Racecourse, there are options for every interest.
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