In a city as dynamic and populous as this one, it’s no surprise that you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to things to do. Though it can be overwhelming to know where to start, our shortlist of seven classic Hong Kong experiences should allow you to get a true flavour of the city!
Visit The Peak on board the old Peak Tram
Victoria Peak, known colloquially as ‘The Peak’, is the highest mountain on Hong Kong island. With an elevation of 552m, it affords a breath-taking panoramic view over Hong Kong’s world-famous skyline. This view makes it one of the truly classic Hong Kong experiences. The Peak has long been a popular residential area for the city’s affluent residents, attracted by the cooler air. Originally, residents accessed the area by sedan chair but the Peak Tram, the first cable funicular in Asia, opened in 1888.
Over time vehicle access to The Peak has increased for residents. Today, the Peak Tram is now predominantly a tourist experience. The tram ride allows passengers to marvel at this unique way to travel. The route is so steep buildings look like they are leaning as you travel on a gradient of 4 to 27 degrees! You can board the tram at the Peak Tram Lower Terminus in Central, with trams leaving every 10 to 15 minutes from 7am to midnight. Once you reach The Peak, you can enjoy the spectacle from the viewing platform. Then, head into the Peak Tower for restaurants and shopping.
Ride the Star Ferry
Another of the city’s icons, Star Ferry boats have been shuttling locals and tourists between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon for 130 years. People used to cross Victoria Harbour in sampans, but the steam ferry service was established in 1888. Within 10 years the ferries were making in excess of 100 crossings a day. The Star Ferry’s name is believed to be inspired by a Alfred Lord Tennyson poem. It remained the key way to cross between the Island and Kowloon side until the Cross Harbour Tunnel was opened in 1972.
It is still a favoured way for Hongkongers to quickly cross Victoria Harbour. This is largely because of its cheap ticket price. A lower deck ticket is just HK$2.20 and affords spectacular views of the harbour. Jump on board and experience this slice of history. The Star Ferry crossing has been named by National Geographic Traveller as one of “50 places of a lifetime”.
A classic culinary Hong Kong experience – dim sum
No trip to Hong Kong is complete without having dim sum. Dim sum is believed to have its origins in the travellers on the Silk Road needing a place to stop and rest with tea and snacks. It was traditionally only served to mid-afternoon, but it is now common to have dim sum at dinnertime. The dishes are often served with tea, leading it to be known as ‘yum cha’, which translates to ‘drink tea’ in Cantonese. There are about 2000 types of dim sum dishes. A traditional dim sum meal includes steamed buns such as char siu bao, and dumplings such as siu mai and har gow. Many restaurants offer vegetables, roasted meats, congee and other soups. Older-style restaurants, such as Maxim’s City Hall, serve dim sum dishes to your table from trolley carts. Today, it is increasingly common to order from a menu. Hong Kong is also famed for being home to the cheapest Michelin star dim sum at Tim Ho Wan. Whether it’s in a tiny hole-in-the-wall joint or a grand dining room, make sure you try this classic Cantonese way of dining.
Get a tailor-made suit
Getting a suit or shirts made-to-measure is a quintessential Hong Kong thing to do. Many a businessperson will make a beeline to a tailor. The tailoring industry has its origins in the 1920s and Hong Kong tailors soon built a reputation for precision and speed. They have been supplying quality bespoke clothing with a fast turn-around for generations. Hong Kong tailors are now revered around the globe and at one time the local industry was said to rival London’s famed Savile Row. The custom clothing trade is still going strong. You can get bespoke suits, shirts, overcoats, and accessories made-to-measure in the finest materials with precision and speed. Hong Kong’s top tailors also pioneered mail order and travelling services. This means you can access their services around the globe.
Go to Happy Valley Races
Happy Valley Races is a Hong Kong experience like no other. Here you’re surrounded by some of the world’s most passionate racing fans, cheering their horse on to victory. It’s this electric atmosphere which has seen the races become a tourist attraction for its world-famous Wednesday nights. This racecourse, surrounded by skyscrapers, was once swampland – it’s hard to imagine! The first race was run in 1846 at the course which is now at the heart of the city’s multi-million dollar racing industry. Even if you’re not a horse racing fan, it’s worth a trip to Happy Valley Racecourse when the races are on. Soak in the vibes of Hong Kong’s most popular sport.
Ride the Mid-Levels escalator
The Central to Mid-Levels escalator is another one of the ‘only in Hong Kong’ things to do. It stretches over 800 meters and rises 135 meters through the city to link the Central and Western districts. The Mid-Levels escalator is the world’s longest escalator system. It was an innovation in response to making it easier to traverse the city’s steep inclines and link Central to Mid-Levels. Plans began in the 1980s, with other ideas including a monorail or cable-car! The escalator opened in 1993 and took more than two years to build. Since, it plays a key role in the development of the Soho district. Mingle with local workers getting to and from the office while you ride this outdoor marvel. The escalator runs downhill until 10AM for workers heading to the office, after which, it reverses and runs uphill for the rest of the day.
Visit Chung King Mansions for a cheap meal
The infamous Chung King Mansions in Tsim Sha Tsui is an eclectic mix of stores selling things like cheap electronics and spices. It is also a rabbit warren of private kitchens specialising in ethnic cuisine. This makes it a must on any foodie list of things to do in Hong Kong. You’ll find some amazing food here, but you’ll need to keep your wits about you when you visit. The building has existed for more than 50 years and originally had high-end shops and nightclubs in the basement. By the 1970s it had become associated with the city’s less desirable underbelly. The 1995 Wong Kar-wai film Chungking Express immortalised it in popular culture. Chung King Mansions is believed to be home to about 4000 people.
Want more? Here’s what’s on in Hong Kong!