I’ve had a few people asking me about how to “do Hong Kong properly,” or, “If I have X number of days is it enough time to do Hong Kong properly?”
In all honesty, I don’t know what “properly” means — it really depends on your version of what proper is. If proper is hitting up all the top 10 tourist spots in a destination, head on over to Trip Advisor.
If properly means getting a real impression of a place… well, I’m not from Hong Kong, but after three years living here, I can tell you that the people who live here don’t spend every day walking the Peak or riding roller coasters at Disneyland. I have a to-do list of experiences and sightseeing that I’m still working through—as you can tell, there’s plenty to keep you occupied in Hong Kong.
Anyway, I digress. Here’s a short guide of classic tourist attractions, and the things you could swap them with: it’s up to you to decide which version of “proper” Hong Kong is for you.
Hike the Peak > Hike Lion’s Rock
The Peak is like a right of passage in Hong Kong, but anyone who’s been in Hong Kong a while knows that the best views are from Lion’s Rock on Kowloon side: on a clear day, you can see all the way across the Kowloon peninsula to the island. It’s certainly a harder hike than walking (or taking the tram) up the Peak, but the views make it worth it.
Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade > West Kowloon Cultural District
Tsim Sha Tsui’s promenade is always BURSTING with tourists — which makes sense, because it has great views, Star Ferry access and an MTR station right beside it. But, just a little further west is West Kowloon Cultural District. Granted, parts are still under construction, but from Kowloon Station/Elements Mall it’s a short five-ten minute walk, and the park and waterside promenade is completed and gloriously quiet most of the time. Sunday is the exception when the park is busy with performers and used as an event space. It has incredible views of the island, and you won’t have to fight people for a front row seat here.
Temple Street Night Market Dai Pai Dongs > North Point Wet Market or Stanley Street
The tourist guides will tell you to eat at the Temple Street Night Market, but it doesn’t take a genius to work out that these mostly exist for and cater to tourists. However: Sing Kee Dai Pai Dong on Stanley Street, Central, is one of the only 25 authentic dai pai dongs left in the city. For a rowdier (and again, well known but oft forgotten in the top 10s) experience, head to North Point’s wet market on Java Road and visit Tung Po on the second floor. The food is good, and the owner, Robby, is a notoriously great host.
Big Buddha > 10,000 Buddhas
The Temple of the 10,000 Buddhas is still a tourist attraction, but it’s less well-known than the Ngong Ping Big Buddha and less frequented because of its location in Sha Tin. The monastery actually contains more than 12,000 Buddha statues, along with the gold-embalmed body of Yuet Kai, the monk who built the temple.
Ladies Market > Sham Shui Po Market
Sham Shui Po Market is less about designer fakes and cheap tourist tack, and more, just… stuff. You’ll find pretty much everything here, from cheap technology to festival decorations, to second-hand clothing, or old sunglasses. The SSP market—and the area in general—is home to businesses targeted more at locals than tourists, which may be the ‘proper’ experience you’re looking for.
Repulse Bay Beach > Long Ke Wan
Do not swim at Repulse Bay. It’s gross. The main — only — appeal of this place is its relatively accessible location, and large selections of amenities — this is where you go for a beach day that’s more about hanging at a beach bar than sitting on gravelly sand. If you want an ACTUAL beach, then head to Long Ke Wan in Sai Kung, and you might think you’ve accidentally stumbled onto the shores of a tropical Thai island. White sands, clear turquoise waters and generally an MTR ride, bus trip, taxi trip and a short hike, it’s not very busy most days, either.
Hong Kong History Museum > Kowloon Walled City Park
While I’d still recommend anyone who has never been to Hong Kong to hit up the museum the moment you arrive, Kowloon Walled City Park offers a unique look into a very specific part of Hong Kong’s history that, with the stories of people who lived in Kowloon Walled City, gives an incredible first-hand account of what parts of Hong Kong were like.
Lamma Island > Po Toi Island
Lamma is well-known as a hippie haven, with cute villages, great seafood restaurants and good beaches around the island. Less known, less visited, and much harder to get to thanks to a limited ferry schedule is Po Toi Island, which offers beautiful hikes, stunning scenery and a real break from the busyness of the city.
Tim Ho Wan > Dim Dim Sum
Don’t get me wrong, I love the Michelin-starred Tim Ho Wan, and their baked pork buns are, hands down, unbeatable. If you are going to go to THW, go to the Sham Shui Po branch. However, the better dim sum restaurant is (in my opinion and those of everyone I take to both) Dim Dim Sum: all of their dishes are stellar, and while there are always queues at popular meal times, it’s never as busy as THW — and queueing for 15 minutes versus an hour or two is always better.
If you’d like more ideas of what to do in Hong Kong, whether you’re visiting for three days or three months, check out my ultimate guide to Hong Kong: 117 Things To Do In Hong Kong