Hong Kong: It’s kind of a big place, you know?

There’s something extremely comforting about knowing a place before you’ve even arrived. Knowing which areas mean what, what currency is used, all the best ways to get from the airport into town.

There’s a thrill to adventure, but all travel is an adventure and sometimes having advanced knowledge can help make the adventure all thrill, and no buzzkill. Hong Kong is one of the most breathtaking cities in the world, and you’ll find that’s true just from the views on approach into the city. Here’s how to navigate everything from dim sum to Tsim Sha Tsui.

Update: Here’s a guide to the protests in Hong Kong, in case they are of worry to you. Most protests remain peaceful and visitors are largely unaffected, but it’s nice to stay on top of things…

Hong Kong Visas And Getting Around

Hong Kong visitor rules are distinctly difference than those of China. Most tourists, especially those from the UK or the US will not need a visa in advance of arrival. You’re good to go. Here’s how to find out for sure based on your passport. If you wish to make a trip further afield, perhaps to Shenzen or Guangzhou you will need a visa. Shenzen offers a short term visa on arrival, but if you plan to use Hong Kong as a hop to mainland China, go for a full tourist visa and plan well in advance.

Planning Your Stay, Where To Stay

Hong Kong is divided into two main areas, and then many from there. There’s Hong Kong Island, which is self explanatory, and then Kowloon, which connects the city with parts beyond. Most visitors will find themselves with a plethora of hotels in Tsim Sha Tsui, on the Kowloon side, or on Hong Kong Island in an area known as “Central”. There are also many options in Mongkok.

For a first timer, Tsim Sha Tsui offers the best skyline views, looking back across the harbour toward the dancing lights of Central on Hong Kong Island, with the massive skyscrapers. It’s the home of major shopping and a great place for meals of all varieties but know this: it’s busy. Always. A short ferry ride gets you across the water on the Star Ferry in minutes for under $1SD.

If you’ve been to Hong Kong, or have business in town, Central, or areas such as Causeway Bay or Quarry Bay on Hong Kong Island might be just the ticket. These areas are buzzy, like most of the city, but are close to many attractions, restaurants, nightlife areas and local neighbourhoods. They’re also a bit closer to the famous “Peak”.

A Few Dependable Hotel Suggestions

In Tsim Sha Tsui, you’re faced with seriously stiff competition, with icons such as The Peninsula and The Langham at the highest end. Given the choice, the Langham is fantastic, but you can’t go wrong.

For views and upper mid range options you’ve got The Intercontinental and ICON, both of which offer tremendous viewpoints and are well worth a stay. On Hong Kong Island, there’s nothing more famous at the ultra high end than Upper House, by Swire which also owns Cathay Pacific. The Mandarin and Grand Hyatt are both popular choices, which are well located. From there, Causeway Bay and Quarry Bay offer fun choices too. Airbnb is very restricted in Hong Kong.

The Currency, Credit Cards And Such

Hong Kong uses Hong Kong Dollars, and credit card is accepted almost everywhere except small street stalls. 100 Hong Kong Dollars (HKD) equals about $12.8 USD or £10 British Pounds. ATM’s are everywhere in the city and it’s as advanced as anywhere on earth when it comes to banking. In fact, it’s somewhat ahead of the curve! Many stores also take contactless payment, which is a joy for all travelers.

Getting From The Airport To Hong Kong

Getting from the airport into Hong Kong, you’ve got options. The fastest: Airport Express taking around half an hour and stops in both Kowloon and Hong Kong Island.

This train runs between $105-115HKD (about $15 USD) each way, and is slightly cheaper if you spay via Octopus Card, which is the Hong Kong equivalent to London’s brilliant Oyster Card, or New York’s MetroCard. Uber works well in Hong Kong, as do taxi’s.

You can expect Uber fares around $50, and taxi’s slightly less if not similar depending on people and bags. If you’re on a budget, the A21 or A11 busses are your cheapest bet, and are very good.

Must Do: Taking The Star Ferry

The Star Ferry might be the very best, if not the only bargain in Hong Kong! At roughly $2HKD, it’s less than a dollar in USD or GBP, and really just a few cents. Sit on the lower deck for lower prices and more dramatic views.

The brilliant ferry service runs every 10-15 minutes from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central and points beyond and operates from 6:30AM to 11:30PM on most days. You can check specific hours for your trip here.

Dining Out, Drinking And Deeper

Hong Kong is electric, and not just because there’s a ridiculous amount of light bouncing off of buildings. Wellington, Stanley and Wyndham Streets in Central offer a perfect place to bar hop, dine around and enjoy a mix of ex-pat meets local community.

A wander over to Quarry Bay for a rooftop drink at Sugar is well worth it, as is a trip to Ce La Vie. As far as food go, we’ve got you covered. You can’t leave Hong Kong without visiting at least (all) of the restaurants on the list. For an appreciation of Hong Kong new and old, a visit to Tai Kwun is a must. It’s culture trip meets bar and restaurant heaven.

Is The Peak Worth It?

Yeah, it is. It’s a bit of a grind during “peak hours” thanks to crazy cable car lines if you don’t want to take the bus, but it’s up there on the epic scale. The views are unlike virtually anything you’ll have likely seen before. There just aren’t many cities with such steep terrain in such close proximity to huge, brightly lit buildings. It’s amazing during day, but untouchable at night. Here’a a good trick for visiting.

If you have any other questions, leave a reply!

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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9 Comments

  1. Forget about Uber, you can book Tesla Model S to and from airport with Klook from as low as $50 (with bunch of discount if you own HK/SG/TW credit card or 4OL5F if you need any referral code :p)

    Best thing is you don’t have to worry about where to locate your driver. Ooh yah, you can also beat the Peak Tram queue by using klook as well, forget about the timing they set, be there early and they will still accommodate you, but I don’t recommend this, unless you really wanted to visit the Peak really really badly.

  2. Nice article. Two things I noticed that I’d disagree with. First, Credit Cards. I found Hong Kong to actually be the least credit card friendly big city I have visited in the past 5 years. MANY smaller vendors do not accept credit cards. Not just the “Street stalls” you describe, but independent cafes, design boutiques in PMQ, restaurants, even convenience stores in the MTR. All of those accept Octopus though. So if you venture outside of Central and similar areas, i’d advise people to load up their Octopus card (or carry cash). For that matter, you should let folks know they can get an octopus refund at most MTR stations for unused value.

    Secondly, I found Uber to not work well. I’ve read it’s actually not licensed to operate and therefore hard to get cars. The one time I ordered a car from Sheung Wan to the airport, it never arrived and i had to hail a cab.

  3. The cheapest way to ride the Airport Express is to buy online at klook.com. You get a QR code you can scan using your phone at the ticket barriers (and there are none at the airport).

  4. We loved our upgrade at the InterContinental on the Harbor. They gave us a great room with a huge picture window and the light show was better from our room than almost any other view!!

  5. I cannot believe anyone who has actually been to Hong Kong would not mention Lan Kwai Fong the number one destination for entertainment but instead mentions Wellington/Wyndham/Stanley streets.
    I think you need to update your info and perhaps try it from a personal visit not nonsense you read in other people’s travel blogs.

    1. I lived in Hong Kong for years and Lan Kwai Fong is for tourists who don’t know better and people with too much money who want to be seen buying overpriced drinks. It is the number one destination, sure, for people who don’t know better.

  6. Nice review and I loved my trip to Hong Kong last November. Here are a couple of other items for consideration:

    1. if you plan to use the airport express train by an airport express pass online in advance and then pick it up at the airport. For 350HK$ (around $45) you get transportation roundtrip from the airport to either Kowloon or Hong Kong Island and 3 days of unlimited access to the MTR (subway), light rail and buses (doesn’t include street cars).

    2. For hotels in Central, I stayed at the JW Marriott and highly recommend it not only for amenities and location but that fact it is connected to the Admirality MTR station which provides convenient access to all parts of Kowloon and Hong Kong.

    3. I agree Victoria Peak can get crowded but suggest you go first thing in the morning since I think everyone should see the view of the city from up there

  7. It’s great to learn that there are a lot of options to get from the airport to Hong Kong. My wife and I are wanting to travel to Asia and we were wondering how we best and this guide is extremely helpful.

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