Riding a Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island is a signature Hong Kong experience.
The low-slung, double-decker, green and cream ferries are a Hong Kong emblem, dating back to 1888. Until the cross-harbor road tunnel and underground train link were built, the only way to cross between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island was by ferry.
Take a trip by day to experience the harbor and see the buildings on both sides, then take another trip at night to see the buildings light up and enjoy the nightly Symphony of Lights.
You can also cruise Victoria Harbour aboard a circular Star Ferry harbor tour, or book yourself onto an evening dinner cruise to sit back and drink in those twinkling views.
Overlooking the Central district on Hong Kong Island, Victoria Peak (Tai Ping Shan) is one of the best vantage points for stupendous views of the harbor and high-rises. Rising 1,810 feet (552 meters), Victoria Peak is topped with the touristy Peak Tower complex of shops, restaurants and 360-degree Sky Terrace viewing platform.
Go for a stroll through the Victoria Peak Garden, follow one of the many nature walks on the mountain, and stay on for nightfall to see Hong Kong's spectacular nightly light show.
Aberdeen Harbour is a busy harbor with floating restaurants, brilliantly illuminated at night. Jumbo is the most famous of these floating restaurants, along with its neighbor Tai Pak. Recently refurbished, and outlined in colored lights, the double-storied Jumbo serves up a huge array of gourmet delights, highlighting fresh seafood and traditional Cantonese dim sum.
While you’re here, take a sampan tour of the harbor and its famous ‘floating village’ of junks, used for fishing, restaurants, sightseeing and also the home of Aberdeen’s boat-dwellers.
Lantau Island is twice the size of Hong Kong Island, but only a fraction of the population live here, leaving its beaches, hills and national parks to visitors to enjoy.
The highlight is the Po Lin monastery and temple, reached by the Ngong Ping 360 cable car on the western side of the island. The temple’s amazing seated bronze Giant Buddha is the world’s largest.
Hong Kong Disneyland offers more familiar entertainment, and the island’s fishing villages, walking trails, beaches and seafood restaurants are also popular.
The Big Buddha (Tian Tan Buddha), located on Lantau Island, has the very specific distinction of being the largest outdoor seated bronze Buddha on earth. Including its podium and lotus flower, the entire statue stands 112 feet (34 meters) tall. The stature was erected in 1993 and faces north toward Mainland China.
When you make the climb the 268 steps to the Big Buddha’s base, you’ll have panoramic views over the surrounding mountains and South China Sea. Just opposite the statue sits the Po Lin Monastery, one of the most important in Hong Kong. Come hungry and eat at the highly rated vegetarian restaurant run by the monastery.
Saturdays and Sundays are always busy at the Big Buddha, as this is when locals and many mainland tourists come. While you can ride a bus to the top of the mountain, the best and most scenic way to go is on the Ngong Ping Cable Car from the Tung Chung MTR station.
Po Lin (Precious Lotus) Monastery, is one of the city’s most important Buddhist sites. It was established in 1906, long before the Big Buddha was erected, by three monks traveling from China. The three men discovered a flat stretch of land amid the verdant mountains and though it would be a perfect place for meditative religious practice. The monastery didn’t gain a spot on the global tourist map until 1993 when the Buddha statue was completed, and today it welcomes thousands of tourists who ride the cable car to see the statue and gaze out over the South China Sea.
The monastery itself is easy to overlook but is well worth a visit, particularly for the excellent vegetarian restaurant run by the monks. Dishes vary season to season and are made from fresh, locally sourced ingredients thought to help cleanse the body and spirit.
Hong Kong, one of Asia’s biggest and most international cities, also enjoys one of the world’s most impressive skylines, particularly at night. With the Victoria Harbour splitting the city in two, Hong Kong is a forest of skyscrapers squeezed together in front of a backdrop of green hills on both the Hong Kong Island and Kowloon sides.
To fully appreciate the size and scope of Hong Kong’s downtown area, you need to see it from above, and there are a variety of ways to do it. One of the best and most popular views is from the top of Victoria Peak. The vantage point from the top of the funicular lets you see the South China Sea, Central, Kowloon and the mainland extending into the distance. For a similar view, though not a 360-degree one, head to the International Financial Centre Tower 2 (2IFC). You can register at the front desk to ride up to the public observation deck on the fifty-fifth floor free of charge (and other tourists).
For over 100 years, the Victoria Peak Tram has been inclining its way up Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island. Taking a ride on the steeply angled tram is an essential Hong Kong experience.
The service began as a coal-fired tramway in 1888, and was electrically powered by 1926. Today, more than four million people take a ride on the Peak Tram every year.
At the top, you’ll find the ultra-modern Peak Tower with its restaurants and Sky Terrace viewing platform, the surrounding nature walks on the Peak and the Victoria Peak Garden.
Anyone who’s experienced either of the Disney Magic Kingdom resorts in the United States will feel a sense of déjà vu when walking in to Hong Kong Disneyland. The Disney franchise has stayed true to form with a topnotch amusement park experience combining a few classic attractions, like Space Mountain and the Jungle Cruise with some new offerings, like the Toy Soldier Parachute Drop in the newly opened Toy Story Land. The park is split into six themed areas: Main Street USA, Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Toy Story Land, Grizzly Gulch and Adventureland.
Weekdays have the lightest crowds, but no matter when you visit, remember to pick up a Fast Pass for the big attractions.
Every night at 8pm, Hong Kong puts on a spectacular light show, highlighting the skyscrapers lining both sides of Victoria Harbour. The world’s largest light show, A Symphony of Lights, is free.
More than 40 skyscrapers shoot laser beams, colored lights and searchlights from their rooftops, in a choreographed sequence synchronized to music and a narration.
The best place to view the extravaganza is from a boat cruise or ferry ride on Victoria Harbour.
The British handed over sovereignty of Hong Kong in 1997, but cultural vestiges remain. One of the most prevalent is horse racing, and the best place to see it in Hong Kong is at the Happy Valley Racecourse on Hong Kong Island. The sport has a history in the city dating back to 1841, a pastime of the city’s rich and elite. Today, it’s become somewhat of a local passion.
Racing season lasts from September through July, with races typically taking place on Wednesday nights. Horse racing is the only legal form of gambling in Hong Kong, and you’ll find thousands of spectators betting on the horses at the track, while thousands more place bets at Jockey Club offices around the city. Before the races, head up to the second floor of the facility to learn about the history of the sport at the Hong Kong Jockey Club Archive and Museum. Exhibits trace the migration routes and origins of the racing horses used, display a skeleton of one of Hong Kong’s most winning horses.