If you fly to Asia with Cathay Pacific, there will usually be a layover in Hong Kong. I have recently flew to Vietnam with Cathay Pacific and I had a 10 hours layover in Hong Kong, which I took advantage of to the fullest. I exited the airport at 6am in the morning with no plan in my mind other than eating dim sum. I ended up having a wonderful time during my half a day spent in Hong Kong and today I am sharing with you what I did and see, and what other suggestions I have for you, if you don’t want to go too far away from the airport.
But first things first:
How to get from Hong Kong airport to the city
The airport is about 40 kilometres away from Hong Kong island, which you can easily reach by train, bus or private transfer.
The Airport Express train is the most convenient option when you are in a layover in Hong Kong because it reaches the city centre in just 24 minutes and runs every 10 minutes from 5:54AM until 00:48AM. It stops both in Kowloon and in Hong Kong station. The price of the ticket is 105 Hong Kong dollars (approximately £10) for a return trip to Kowloon and 115 Hong Kong dollars (about £11) to Central, on Hong Kong Island. If you want to skip the line, you can book your ticket by clicking on this link. It costs a few quid more, but you avoid the queue which can be long at peak times.
The bus is cheaper but it takes much longer to reach the city and it does make more stops. You will also need to know where exactly you want to go. Two of the airport buses that go into town are A21 (goes to Kowloon in 45-50 minutes, the price of a one-way ticket is 33HK dollars (approx. £3) and A11 (goes to Hong Kong Island in about an hour, the price of a one-way ticket is 40 HK dollars (about £4). You can find the schedule of the buses serving the airport here.
If you are traveling with friends or family then it makes sense to take a cab. You do need to know that the taxis in Hong Kong are colour coded, based on the areas they operate in. Red taxis are serving Hong Kong island, green taxis operate in the North-East and North-West of the New Territories, whilst blue taxis only go on Lantau Island. You can find here the estimated fees for taxi rides from the airport. If you want to book a transfer instead, check out this highly rated company here that uses eco-friendly Tesla cars.
Take the cable car to the Giant Buddha from Lantau Island
If you don’t have a long layover and you want to see something different, visiting the Giant Buddha from Lantau Island can be the perfect option for you. The airport of Hong Kong is located just next to it and a taxi ride to the cable car terminal costs only about 50HK$ (around £5).
The cable car up to the Giant Buddha is quite spectacular, and you can opt for different types of cabins: standard or crystal. The later one has a glass floor designed specifically to make you feel like you are flying and to see the scenery underneath your feet. The journey to the top takes 25 minutes. You can book the cable car ticket by clicking here.
Tian Tan Buddha is the tallest outdoor statue of a seated Buddha in the world. It measures 34 meters and it is made out of bronze. There is no charge to see the Buddha from the outside, but you do need to pay if you want to visit the structure on the inside as well. Next to the statue you will find the Po Lin Monastery, which can be visited.
Besides the Giant Buddha, there are other things to see as well once you get off the cable car. The Wisdom Path is one of them, where 38 giant wood columns are depicting calligraphy writings of Professor Jao Tsung-I, a master of Chinese studies. Further up, there is the Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a Buddhist centre spread over 6,000 square meters.
The island has many different hiking paths that lead to natural beaches, secluded villages, and beautiful scenery. If you are fit enough, don’t have luggage and have time to spare, you can adventure on one of the market trails. You can find more information about the trails, their length and the difficulty levels by clicking here.
Whilst on Hong Kong island you will find modern skyscrapers, luxury stores and pretty much the financial vibe that every major metropolis has, Kowloon is where the culture is. Located across the harbour, on the mainland, Kowloon is an architectural mix and match, with residential, commercial and industrial areas all congested together in narrow spaces. Kowloon has a much lower skyline than Hong Kong Island, but offers great views towards it on the Avenue of Stars, which has just been re-opened to the public at the end of January, after years of being under refurbishment. The Avenue of Stars is a tribute to the Honk Hong movie industry, and it is based on the same concept as Hollywood Walk of Fame. There are over 100 celebrity handprints on this promenade and two statues: one of Bruce Lee and another one of Anita Mui. After the refurbishment, you can interact with the statues using augmented reality.
The Avenue of Stars is the place to be in the evenings, to enjoy the Symphony of Lights, a daily spectacular performance in which the skyscrapers on Hong Kong Islands are illuminated by what seem to be dancing lights in the rhythm of the music played through the speakers, on the promenade. It is the largest permanent light and sound show in the world, according to the Guinness Book of Records.
In Kowloon you will discover unique local markets, such as the Jade Market (where dozens of stalls sell jewellery made out of jade), the Temple Street Night Market (a lively market dedicated to cheap merchandise but where also you will find fortune tellers and fengshui experts), Cat Street (where all antique sellers gather) and Ladies market (where you will find bargain clothes and accessories). There are also markets dedicated to flowers, birds and even gold fish! You could spend an entire day just browsing through the markets of Kowloon.
If you want to learn more about the culture of Kowloon, check out these insightful and highly rated tours:
Kowloon: The Dark Side of Hong Kong Walking Tour – which shows you how the people of Hong Kong really live, taking you to a journey along the poor neighbourhoods in Kowloon and explaining how the high living costs in the city are affecting the locals.
Kowloon Food Tour – Go on a journey of flavours and learn about the Cantonese cuisine by tasting dishes in local non-touristy markets, food stalls and restaurants.
Kowloon Market Walking Tour – This tour doesn’t only take you to many different markets around Kowloon, but it is also a great way to learn more about the local culture and why these markets are still surviving in a world of technology.
Take the Star Ferry to Hong Kong Island
When you only have one day to explore Hong Kong, you should plan your itinerary so that it includes activities on both sides of the harbour. This way you will get to cross from one side to another with the famous Star Ferry, a symbol of Hong Kong.
Even if Star Ferry operates only 12 boats on two routes across the harbour, they carry over 70,000 passengers every day. That’s impressive!
The ticket buying system is very old fashion and operates with coins. A ticket costs 2.70HK$ (approx. 25 cents) on the upper deck and 2.20HK$ (about 20 cents) on the lower one. On Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays, the prices go up with 1HK$. You can’t use cards to buy tickets, only cash is accepted.
The crossing usually takes about 5 minutes and offers stunning views over the entire harbour. For a longer cruise, Star Ferry also runs harbour tours during the day, night, and the Symphony of Lights. You can check out the prices for each here.
Take the tram up to Victoria Peak
If this is your first time in Hong Kong, you have to go up Victoria Peak and admire the view over the city. It is breath-taking!
To go to Victoria Peak, you have two options: hike or take the tram. The problem with being on a layover in Hong Kong is that you probably won’t have enough time to do the hike. My advice is to come as early as possible to the tram station, because the lines form pretty quickly, and you don’t want to lose time waiting. I would recommend buying in advance a “Skip the line” ticket for the tram, when you decide what time you would like to go up. You can buy the “Skip the line” ticket by clicking here. The ticket costs £11 and includes a round trip.
Visit the Forsgate Conservatory and the Edward Youde Aviary
This recommendation might sound very random but trust me on it. Hong Kong’s weather is pretty hot (even in December, when I visited). Add high humidity to that and you will be sweating in the first 10 minutes of walking through the city. When I arrived In Hong Kong the sun was hidden between the clouds but even so, the humidity levels were very high, which makes walking around a bit of a pain. So, by visiting the botanical garden and the aviary, which are indoors with controlled temperature, you are giving your body a break from the heat.
The Conservatory and the Aviary are very close to each other and are located in Hong Kong Park, next to the tram station for Victoria Peak. The park itself is an oasis of green in the middle of the concrete and glass jungle, with a little river where tortoises and fish live together.
The Conservatory is quite small but it has three permanent exhibitions with many exotic plants displayed, from orchids and begonias to cacti and carnivorous plants. You can also see here different types of trees, like the cacao, vanilla, coffee or rubber trees.
The Edward Youde Aviary is a recreation of a rain forest from the Malesia region which includes the Malaya Peninsula, Philippines, Indonesia, New Guinea and he Bismark Archipelago. Many of the rain forests in this botanical area have been destroyed at a massive scale and many birds native to here are threatened with extinction. The Aviary in Hong Kong has created a home for over 550 birds of 70 different species originating from the Malesia botanical region. Many of the birds here are endangered, such as the Bali Mynas. The Aviary features a 30 meters high walkaway through the canopy of the trees, so that visitors can observe the birds better.
Both the Botanical Garden and the Aviary are free of charge.
Visit the Tea Ware Museum
You know I’m all about discovering less touristy places to visit when I travel, and my layover in Hong Kong wasn’t any different. So whilst adventuring on an upper path in Hong Kong park I discovered a little architectural gem, which later I found out that it is the oldest western style designed building in HK. The Flagstaff House hosts a wonderful collection of tea ware, rare Chinese ceramics and stone calligraphy seals.
The Tea Museum is a great place to learn more about the history and art of tea drinking in China. They also organise many events all year round, tea brewing and pouring demonstrations to traditional Chinese music concerts. The access to the museum and to the events is free (for some of the events you need to boko in advance). You can see the schedule of the events on the Tea Museum’s website, and check what’s on in the same day as your layover in Hong Kong.
Go for dim sum
One of the things I really wanted to do during my layover in Hong Kong was to have a proper dim sum. However, I until I reached Hong Kong, I didn’t realise how difficult it was to find restaurants among the tall buildings from the island, in the Central area. What I ended up doing was following the local crowds during lunchtime and see where they go to eat. This is how I discovered a few back streets with many cheap restaurants, offering all sorts of menus, from grilled meats to Korean food, from oyster bars to burger joints, from Mexican restaurants to Lebanese cuisines. And that’s where I found my dim sum place, a tiny restaurant tucked in on Wo On Lane, just a couple of minutes’ walk from Queen’s Road Central. And wasn’t I lucky, to find a fusion creative dim sum restaurant? Yo Dim Sum has a very interesting menu, with different special deals for each day of the week. I chose the shrimp and sakura dumplings, the sea urchin steamed dumplings and the sweet BBQ pork buns, which I enjoyed with a cup of tea, on the house. The bill was around 130 Hong Kong dollars (which is around £13).
If you want to experience having dim sum with a local and understand more about this food sharing experience, I found a Hong Kong dim sum breakfast tour that gives you the chance to try plenty of different dumplings and buns, for only £20. Click here to see reviews and book.
Take a free walking tour of Hong Kong
If you want to learn more about how Hong Kong works and how it became an autonomous territory, take this free walking tour that goes every day at 10AM from the Admiralty MTR Station A. The tour is run by locals and it won’t take you to many touristic attractions. This tour is meant to show you the real Hong Kong, how people live there, the struggles they have and how things might chance in the future. It is a very interesting tour and I do recommend it.
Just so you know, a free walking tour is not exactly free. The concept is based on you pay how much you think the tour was wort. I would never recommend not to give anything to the guide, as that is rude. I have joined many free walking tours and to be honest, I never had a bad one, all the guides I met were passionate and very knowledgeable about their city.
Talking about tours (and my non-touristy obsession again), for an alternative tour of Hong Kong, check out this Erotic History Tram Tour where you will learn about the dark history of what today are tourists spots. This is not free though, it costs £28 and you need to book it online.
Explore the flavours of Hong Kong in a food tour
I have always thought that food is an important part of a culture and that’s why I always try to emerge myself in the local cuisines every time I travel. I have taken so many food tours and if this layover wouldn’t have been in the morning, I would have had taken one in Hong Kong as well. Because food tours are important to me, and you have probably noticed this in the foodie section of my blog, I did some research to recommend you some highly rated ones that you can go to if you have more time in Hong Kong than I did. And this is what I found:
Small-Group Hong Kong Island Food Tour: this tour is a great introduction to the Hong Kong foodie scene and includes lesser known local specialities, such as egg tarts or milk tea. It also includes other dishes like wonton noodles or roasted meet, and takes you to a Micheline star restaurant, a 60 years old bakery and an 100 years old tea house. Intrigued? You can check out the reviews and book it here.
Secret Food Tour with the Locals in Tin Hau Hong Kong: this food tour is not only an explosion of flavour but also a cultural lesson. The dishes you will try in this tour are mostly coming from street vendors and family owned small restaurants. Dumplings, roast goose and beef brisket are only a few of the fantastic dishes you will try. You can check out the reviews of this tour and book it here.
Private Food Tour: Hong Kong Island: For a fully customised experience based on your availability and time in Hong Kong, check out this private food tour of the city. You will sample up to 8 different dishes and drinks, but also learn about how the British influenced the local cuisine. You can check the reviews of this tour and book it here.
Have a cocktail at the second highest bar in the world
You’re in Hong Kong, treat yourself! The second highest bar in the world is located at the 118th floor of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, in Kowloon. And if you’re going all the way up there, you deserve to treat yourself with one of their special cocktails. They are pricey, but not much more than you would expect to pay for one in a posh London cocktail bar. And you won’t find any classic cocktails on their menu. Oh no, at Ozone every cocktail is special and has carefully selected ingredients. One cocktail is priced at 195HK$ (around £19) per glass. Glancing over their menu I would definitely like to try the Lion Rock or the Green Village.
The Signature Cocktail from Ozone is the HK Skyline – what a brilliant name! – and has 23 years old Zacapa Rhum, Absinth, Imperial Oolong Syrup, Pink Grapefruit, Lime, Dom Perignon Foam, Chocolate Stones and Lavender Smoke. One for me, please!
Another day trip option from the airport, if you don’t want to go into Hong Kong, is having fun at Disneyland! Located pretty much on the same island, it is very easy to get a taxi from the airport to Disneyland Hong Kong.
Even if it is the smallest of all the Disney Parks in the World, Disneyland Hong Kong is special because it incorporates the Chinese culture and traditions in the design and also it is built bearing in mind the rules of feng shui.
There are seven different areas with attractions at Disneyland Hong Kong: Adventureland, Toy Story Land, Mystic Point, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Mains Street USA and Grizzly Gulch. The park hosts plenty of attractions, to keep entertained both adults and children. And if you are a Star Wars fan you’re in for a treat, as the Jedi masters are looking for new recruits to join a secret training session at the Hyperspace Mountain.
As time is important when you are in a layover, you can buy a skip the line ticket for Disneyland by clicking here.
And finally, we arrived at the end of this post. Let me know how your trip went and if you did any of my recommendations on your layover in Hong Kong. I’d love to hear about it. ?
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