Even after my 5th or 6th trip to Hong Kong I still find this city amazing with all its buzzing streets, a breathtaking skyline, modern infrastructure, brand new skyscrapers standing right next to local markets full of exotic tastes and smells. You will never get bored exploring a great variety of restaurants, cool bars, little local shops and huge malls. I personally rather prefer mingling around locals in markets and narrow little streets you can find in between skyscrapers than spending time in shopping malls – although of course taking a look at the malls is a “must”, especially when all the Christmas lights are on (which is not inferior to what you see in NY).
In many respects HK has a NY-feeling for me, just with a bit more exotic flavor. You can always be sure to meet interesting people and an international, open-minded crowd. If you like shopping, HK is definitively a paradise (although it’s more expensive than Europe or US if you are after European/US brands). A new hot spot will open every other week and the city seems to never sleep. If you want to get out, there are nice day-trips to local beaches and mountains. In general, it’s really easy to fly in and out of the city and it’s certain that you’ll always have a great time. A warning for art lovers though: there are no typical museums or “cultural” sites like old tombs and churches you would expect to find in Western cities, but I have to say that the Asian style, buzzing markets, stunning views and the amazing food more than make up for it. Also, there are some galleries especially around Soho that are worth a visit.
So what’s the optimal length of a trip to HK? Of course you can stay there for a month and really see everything, but I’d say that three-four days are sufficient to get a good taste of the city and still have time for a beach vacation in Bali or other nearby places. And if you just have a long weekend and no time for the beach, HK by itself is still worth going (well, depending on where you live – in any case make sure you get enough sleep on the plane – direct flights from main European cities take c. 12h!). In terms of when to go – as long as you check out the weather before you go and pack accordingly (it can get surprisingly cold during the night, especially in Nov-Mar), any time of the year should be ok.
So here is my latest update of famous HK hot-spots and rather “secret” places I found and learned to love during my several trips to HK:
- A ferry ride from HK Island to Kowloon by the Star Ferry. Boats are leaving every 10-15min from the Star Ferry Pier in Central and cost you 20 cents. The view on the skyline is amazing – at night as well as during the day – especially when the Christmas lights are on
Enjoying the view on the city from the Peak. Even though the view at night is stunning, I would recommend going during the day as it shows you the full magnitude of the city. But make sure it is a clear and not too dusty/foggy day as otherwise you won’t see much more than clouds; to get there either take the convenient way and go by taxi or take the bus No. 15 from the Exchange Sq.
- Local markets give you the true Asian flavor. The stuff sold is quite commercial, so do not be too disappointed not to find any “treasures”. But if you are looking for “bling bling” gadgets, pashmina scarves and/or leather accessories you are quite right here – otherwise simply enjoy the atmosphere. I always stop by the “Ladies Market” or “Night Market” (Temple St) in Tsim Sha Tsu at least once when I am in HK. Best to get there by metro (get off at Jordan) and to go after sunset
For the real local feeling explore Wan Chai. You can find local restaurants (do not expect to find an English menu everywhere), local stores (selling everything from spices, chicken feet to kitchenware) and a bit more of the buzzing feeling you would expect to find in an Asian metropolitan city. Wan Chai also offers some cool late-night bars (see below “Bar” section)
Wednesday night is horse race night at Happy Valley. For those interesting in horse racing a definitive must – the scenery as well betting volumes are quite impressive; but also for those who are simply looking for a bit of fun, I do still recommend it as it is a local hang-out for many expats on a Wednesday night to enjoy a cool beer with friends
- Dim Sum: Di Tai Fung, Tsui Wah (several outlets across the city, try the milk tea!), Tung Yuen Banquet – delicious food! I always prefer to go pre noon and often for breakfast, as it is before the places get really crowded for lunch and food is freshest. On a side note: if you are the “cornflakes”-kind of breakfast type you might rather go for the local coffee shop… I had a very brave friend who joined me for breakfast at Tung Yuen Banquet, but I believe it was her first and last dim sum experience ;-)
- Aqua Restaurant and Bar: stunning views on the HK Island skyline. Make sure you reserve a table well in advance. Dinner is on the pricy side, but the view is definitively worth it
– Zuma at the Landmark: great food and nice terrace. Try the spicy tuna maki rolls with a Lychee martini or sake (depending on which you prefer!)– mmmmhhh delicious!
– Itacho – the more “local” sushi spot; not fancy but good sushi, especially good for lunch
- The best hangover cure after a long night out: Ebaenzier Kebab in Wan Chai or LKF (when you get out at 5am from one of the bars, you will understand why I considered it a “useful” tip to include into this list :-))
- Ippudo – even though it is a chain restaurant (which I normally try to avoid for dinner), this is a nice place to go. You can choose and pick the ingredients for your Ramen
– The Chairman – I have to admit I did not manage to try it yet, but has been highly recommended to me – reservation definitively needed!!
– Oolaa – in case you are not the Dim Sum-breakfast-type and fancy some Bacon and Eggs for Sunday brunch
There are two main areas to look for good bars. For the European style ones definitively go to LKF (Lan Kwai Fong), most of them also have good life music; you will see them by walking down Wellington St., Hollywood St. and Wyndham St. For the more local bars go to Wan Chai (best post 3am after some bar-hopping in LKF). But careful: style and crowd are very different in those two places!!! Both are an experience it itself though! For the best views head to the Kowloon side bars (e.g. Felix, Aqua, Ozone)
– Felix at the Penisnsula: Very “classy” atmosphere and good skyline views. Try the Lychee martini (for those who have not noticed yet, I am a BIG fan of any sort of drink with lychee in it ;-))
– Ozone Bar at the Ritz Carlton – let the view from the 118th floor speak for itself! If it is not too windy you can even sit outside on the terrace. Amazing!!!!
- Sevva – very nice roof top with a view; quite exclusive location (which you might find reflected in the prices ;-). Easy to spend USD 80 for a small lunch bite and a lychee martini)
Dragon Eye – everything but an “inside” tip; the “evergreen” when it comes to famous clubs in HK
Dusk till Dawn (76 Jaffe Rd, Wan Chai, Hong Kong) – if you want to meet your steward or stewardess from your flight to HK, this is the place to go. It is the local “hang out” for the flight crews; good life music; best to go very late night (I normally go around 3am and mostly get out when the sun is already up again); pub atmosphere / not “fancy”
- Flawless – definitively the right place to relax and get pampered!
- As I said before, a visit to the malls is a must as it is impressive to just see the variety of brands and offerings… I believe I once read in a travel book that HK has the highest density of Chanel stores per inhabitant – if you have been to HK you will believe it immediately, even without statistical proof. To name a few: IFC Mall, Landmark Mall
For those interested in more creative and individual stores take a walk through the small streets in Soho (but be prepared for some “hiking” exercise, as the streets are all leading up-hill; better to leave the high-heels in the hotel and take the comfi sneakers). There are too many streets to name them all, but do not miss Gough Street – if you are looking for some “bric a brac” Homeless is the place to go – you will find Cuckoo-clocks next to creative jewelry and extraordinary interior pieces
If you are looking for some “Asian”-style designer fashion and interior accessories stop by a Shanghai Tang store. Even though the brand sells in Europe as well, I always feel it more “exotic” to buy from their collection while in HK (simply better matches the setting ;-))
Have fun diving into the HK spirit and please enjoy some yummy dim sum for me!!!