Riding the Star Ferry and heading up to The Peak are two things most newcomers and tourists tick off very quickly when they arrive in Hong Kong. And both are absolute must-dos! Here, though, we’ve curated a list of some of the less obvious – though equally rewarding – things to do in this incredible place. There’s everything from trawling quirky city streets to exploring the countryside. Call it Expat Living’s insider’s guide to exploring Hong Kong!
#1 Walk Hollywood Road from Sheung Wan to Central
Built in the 1840s, Hollywood Road isn’t named after America’s movie capital; it was likely the name of the family homestead of the Hong Kong governor at the time. Before the harbourfront changed with land reclamation, the road was close to the water. As such, it gained a reputation as a place to trade artefacts and antiques. Plenty of those can still be found in the storefronts, but the road is also home to a number of Hong Kong icons.
At the western end, just after Hollywood Road Park, is Man Mo Temple. It’s the largest of its kind in Hong Kong and a declared monument. You’ll also pass under the Central Mid-Levels Escalator, providing super-quick access down to the IFC or the Star Ferry pier. (Or take the distinctive “stone slab” stairs of Pottinger Street if you prefer!) The eastern end of Hollywood Road is home to the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts, located in an old police compound and prison that underwent Hong Kongs largest ever historic building revitalisation project.
Another highlight of walking Hollywood Road is eyeballing some stunning street murals by local and international artists. The best known of these is on the corner of Graham Street – it depicts dense apartment living in Kowloon.
#2 See Kowloon Walled City Park and Little Thailand
Even in the middle of the busy city there are plenty of parks for enjoying the outdoors. One is Kowloon Walled City Park, a must-do in Hong Kong that sits on a seven-acre area with a long military history. Formerly a garrison, in the mid-1800s it was reinforced by a strong stone wall – hence the name. In the 20th century, the area was left to develop into a densely populated and ungoverned conglomeration of high-rise buildings. It was finally demolished in the 1990s.
Belying the cramped conditions that came before it, the park is a beautifully peaceful place. There’s a series of eight floral walks, taking in pines, pomegranates, bamboo and more. You also find sculptures, interesting rock formations, traditional Chinese-style pavilions – the Mountain View Pavilion takes the shape of a docked pleasure boat – plus plenty of historical remnants. And keep an eye out for the interesting bronze model of Kowloon Walled City.
Hungry after your visit? Exit the park via the south gate to Little Thailand. This neighbourhood in Kowloon City has been populated by Thai-Chinese families since the 1970s. That means plenty of Thai food on menus here! Start your hunt at Nam Kok Road or South Wall Road. (Oh, and be prepared to get damp if you’re here in April. Celebrations for Songkran – Thai New Year – are traditionally marked by water fights!)
#3 Tackle the New Territories Cycle Network
So far, you’ve been exploring Hong Kong on two feet. Now it’s time to see some of it on two wheels! A cycling route now stretches from east to west all the way across the New Territories, with the recent completion of the 60km track. Using brand new bikeways to link up with existing sections, the route takes in stunning mountain views and areas of interest. You’ll also find plenty of amenities and cycling hubs along the way.
Don’t have a bike? No problem. Rent one at a kiosk and return it further down the path at a different spot. Kiddie seats, baskets, helmets and locks are all available too. With plenty of dead-flat sections in the network, it makes for a great family activity.
At the eastern end, a path veers off the main route and heads up to the picturesque fishing village of Sam Mun Tsai and then to Tai Mei Tuk on the edge of Plover Cove Reservoir. The reservoir is Hong Kong’s largest by area and unique in being a freshwater coastal lake formed from an ocean inlet.
#4 Picnic at West Kowloon Cultural District
The vibrant West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) has quickly gained a reputation as a fabulous place to visit for art and cultural events – or just to drink in the spectacular harbour views with a stroll on the waterside promenade or a picnic on one of the many lawns.
Located on 40 hectares of reclaimed land and first earmarked as a potential centre for museums, galleries and performance arts centres in Hong Kong a couple of decades ago, the site started opening in phases from 2015. Today, it’s home to the Hong Kong Palace Museum, M+, Art Park, Freespace, the Xiqu Centre and more. The Lyric Theatre Complex is scheduled to be added by 2025, with other venues to follow. Browse the website for a guide to Hong Kong events currently showing in the district.
#5 Explore Tai Ping Shan Street
Tai Ping Shan is one of the city’s hotspots, and a must-do in Hong Kong if you enjoy urban exploring. The street runs parallel to Hollywood Road, so you can tie it in with your stroll there (see #1). The site of one of the earliest Chinese settlements in the city, the area is today full of cool cafés serving world-class coffee, one-of-a-kind independent stores selling knickknacks, books and art, traditional tea shops, and other pockets of interest for shoppers, food enthusiasts and history boffins alike.
For a break from the shops and cafés, scale the red staircase to Pak Sing Ancestral Hall. The space is festooned with coiled incense and wooden ancestor tablets. Or turn up Square Street and take a seat under the trees in nearby Blake Park, keeping an eye on the action on the basketball and badminton courts.
#6 Visit a traditional walled village
Hong Kong started life as a bunch of separate fishing and farming villages spread across what is today the New Territories. As these settlements grew, they attracted the attention of pirates and bandits. The response from villagers? Build walls!
Some of these traditional villages remain today – and a visit is like a step back in time. A highlight is Lai Chi Wo, a historic Hakka village set in a picturesque area of the northeast New Territories, where wooded hills meet the sea. The walled village has over 200 homes, laid out in the same auspicious configuration as three centuries ago.
After the population declined from 1960s, the village has more recently undergone a UNESCO-recognised revitalisation. Today, the farmlands are thriving with crops, and a cultural hub provides a glimpse into Hakka traditions and history. Don’t miss the nature walk, taking in ancient gnarled trees and countless butterflies.
Want more of a walled village fix? Tsang Tai Uk in Sha Tin is another must-see.
#7 Hit the Shops of Mong Kok
Most guides to Hong Kong will list Tsim Sha Tsui, Central and Causeway Bay as three areas that are a must-do for shopping enthusiasts. Yet other spots offer brilliant retail therapy in the city.
One that’s been getting some buzz lately is Mong Kok – and with good reason. It offers an eclectic mix of shopping highlights. You’ll find street markets including the famous Ladies’ Market, but also a computer/electronics centre, and high-end malls with plenty of easily recognised international labels, plus brands from Hong Kong that are well worth exploring. In short, this is where Hongkongers shop! So there’s plenty of atmosphere and energy. It’s also very easy to get to via MTR. (Exit B2 or B3 is a good starting point.)
#8 Escape to a Country Park
Did you know that Hong Kong has 24 country parks, covering around 40 percent of the territory? Ask Expat Living readers to name their favourite thing to do in Hong Kong, and many will answer hiking in a country park.
A great starting point is the “Big Four”: the Hong Kong Trail, MacLehose Trail, Wilson Trail and Lantau Trail. These are 50, 70, 70 and 100km long respectively, weaving through glorious countryside in different parts of Hong Kong. Each is divided into much smaller sections, some relatively easy, others steep and challenging. The Hong Kong Trail includes the popular “Dragon’s Back” hike, an 8km ridge walk that ends in a much-deserved beach session.
Perhaps the most striking – and also the oldest – is the MacLehose Trail. It passes through eight different country parks over 10 stages. National Geographic Society labelled it one of the world’s best walks! Highlights include Hong Kong’s highest peak, Tai Mo Shan, plus Lion Rock and the striking geological formations of the Hong Kong UNESCO Global Geopark at High Island Reservoir.
We hope you enjoyed our guide to exploring Hong Kong. See more ideas in our Things To Do section.