Hours after arriving for a weekend in Hong Kong, I already had a feeling it was my new favorite city. Hong Kong is like NYC on crack – it has an immediate sense of 24/7 energy and endless possibilities to explore around every corner.
The city’s compact size and cheap, efficient public transit make it ridiculously easy to see and do a ton in less than 3 days. Plus, it’s one of the world’s safest cities, making it ideal for solo travelers. If you’re debating if it’s insane to fly from the US for just a weekend in Hong Kong, don’t. Just go!
Please note, this post contains affiliate links. As always, my recommendations reflect my opinions and personal experiences.
Hong Kong is geographically small but packed to the gills with millions of residents – so as you can imagine, quarters are tight. I got a taste of just how tight when I checked into boutique hostel Urban Pack in Tsim Sha Shui, a neighborhood in Kowloon. As you can see, there’s barely room to get into the bed or stash my Away suitcase – and I was told this was their biggest private room!
But there’s a plus side to living small. Since almost no one has room to host guests (or even lounge about comfortably alone at home) the city is very social. As a result, Hong Kong’s dining and nightlife scenes are legendary; it seemed like every corner I turned another place was touting its Michelin star or happy hour deal.
Flight deals from the US for a weekend in Hong Kong are shockingly affordable. I used around 30,000 Chase Sapphire Rewards points to book my ticket on Hong Kong Airlines, which I’d estimate to be worth around $450 USD. That said, the flights are long – I spent 27 hours in the air round trip.
But I promise the effort is worth it for a weekend in Hong Kong. Just look at my itinerary, below, to see how much I was able to cram in! Do remain flexible in planning your itinerary, as you’re bound to link up with other travelers on a tour for lunch or spot an interesting street to wander down – so you shouldn’t follow in my steps exactly (and if you do, pack comfy shoes – because I took nearly 70,000 steps!).
My Weekend in Hong Kong Itinerary
Start Off By Taking in the Awe-Inducing Skyline and Victoria Harbour
The Hong Kong skyline is one of the most impressive things in the world – skyscrapers just go on and on and on. And there are many places you can go to take it all in. Here are just a few suggestions:
Victoria Peak offers probably the most famous view in all of Hong Kong, and the historic tram that carries tourists up the mountain is half the fun. Once on top, skip the paid observation deck and take a walk on Lugard Road for the most incredible view. If you go before 10am, the tram is discounted and you’ll miss the crowds.
The Star Ferry is another must-do experience during a weekend in Hong Kong. The passenger ferry has been carrying people across Victoria Harbour since the 1800s. While it’s not the most efficient way to get between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, it’s the most fun and offers a glimpse of the city skyline from the water, minus the price of an expensive boat tour. The fare ranges from $2 to $3 HKD (or under $0.50 USD).
To see the skyline from the Kowloon side at night, head to Eye Bar, a bar with an unobstructed view of Victoria Harbour. Located on top of the iSquare mall on Nathan Road, Eye Bar’s terrace is a great place to sip a signature cocktail for a laid-back night out.
Down on the ground, head to the Avenue of the Stars, Hong Kong’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The promenade is right on the waterfront and is a nice place to go for a walk or run in the morning (it’s also located conveniently right in front of many of Kowloon’s biggest hotels).
Shop at Temple Street Night Market in Kowloon
Street markets are a staple of Hong Kong and my favorite was the Temple Street night market in Kowloon, near the Jordan MTR. There’s no specific type of item available – you’ll find a dazzling array of items from the useful and novel to the bizarre.
But first things first, before you hit the stalls, stop at 7/11 and buy a cold beer to sip while you shop. It’s legal to drink on the streets of Hong Kong, and you’ll quickly notice that everyone’s doing it on Temple Street!
After you’ve finished browsing or bargaining, head to one of the street’s lively dai pai dongs (street food eateries) where adventurous diners feast on items like fish balls and spicy crab picked fresh from buckets that spill out onto the streets.
This area also has a lot of the neon lights that are iconic to Hong Kong, but under threat.
Get a Massage
Massages in Hong Kong are cheap and available on practically every street corner at all hours of the day and night. And after traveling for 15 hours and walking around Temple Street, your feet will probably be swollen and sore.
To the rescue comes Tai Pan Reflexology Parlour, located right next to the Tsim Sha Shui MTR (subway) station on Nathan Road and open until 1am. Tai Pan is known for one of the best massages in Hong Kong and is an underground oasis compared to the crazy street above. Before your massage, you’ll slip into heated slippers and sip tea in a dark, swanky room with comfy leather chairs, fountains, relaxing music and burning incense, designed to take you back to 1940s China. The place feels luxurious, but the prices are low – a 30-minute foot massage is $168 HKD, or roughly $21 USD. You can simply wander in or make a reservation in advance if you don’t have time to wait.
For a faster, no-frills version that’s even cheaper, make your way to Hong Wai Foot and Body Reflexology Centre, also in Tsim Sha Shui on Cameron Road. The reflexologists here pride themselves on being “masters,” and mine even took the time to explain (in limited English) the different pressure points he was hitting. A combined 35-minute foot massage and 15-minute neck/shoulder add-on rang in at just $200 HKD (~$25 USD).
Since massages are so easily accessible, it’s possible to pack multiples into one weekend in Hong Kong!
Learn About Hong Kong’s Fascinating History on a Free Tour
Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, was occupied by the Japanese during World War II, and today is a special administrative region of China. The city’s history is fascinating, and I recommend the highly entertaining and informative Hong Kong Free Tours. Unlike the bus tours, you won’t see a million sites with Hong Kong Free Tours – but you will learn about Hong Kong’s complex past, current and future political situation (including details that aren’t necessarily included in the government’s “official” records of events).
I chose the 2.5-hour Hong Kong Central tour, which was led by a comedian who shared plenty of interesting anecdotes alongside the history lesson. For example, he told us all about how banks in Hong Kong are obsessed with feng shui, or the ancient Chinese practice of placing buildings and furniture to attract good luck. It’s so important that HSBC is rumored to have spent $1 million per floor on a feng shui expert during the 2008 financial crisis. And you’ll notice that on top of the HSBC building there are two structures that look like guns, pointing at neighboring Bank of China to deflect unlucky energy toward a rival.
The best thing about these tours is that they are, as the name implies, FREE. Just be sure to tip your guide if you enjoyed it (around $100 HKD is appropriate). And another tip: the Central tour ends at the Victoria Peak tram, so it’s easy to visit The Peak after you’re done.
Explore Hong Kong’s Art & Design Scene
Hong Kong has a thriving art and design community. You won’t be hard-pressed to find architecturally unique and colorful buildings or high-fashion apparel and décor shops (and the city even has its own Art Basel).
One must-visit for design lovers is PMQ, a historic venue in Central that in 2014 turned into a creativity hub fostering Hong Kong’s up-and-coming artists. PMQ houses various fashion boutiques, gift shops, art galleries, design studios and restaurants in two buildings. The compound was previously the Police Married Quarters, which was home to police officers and their families after being built in 1951 (hence the name PMQ).
For the scoop on what’s happening in town during your trip, check in with #ddhk (Design District Hong Kong), a creative tourism organization dedicated to promoting creativity in the historic Wan Chai district on Hong Kong island and former apparel manufacturing hub Sham Shui Po on Kowloon.
During my weekend in Hong Kong, I was able to experience the HKACT! Act 1 BeHere public art project created by Japanese artist Masaki Fujihata and produced by the Osage Art Foundation in the Wan Chai district.
Hong Kong doesn’t have the greatest record for preserving its history – the city is often too eager to tear down old buildings to develop new, often to the dismay of locals. The BeHere art project aims to connect visitors with Hong Kong’s past through augmented reality. A camera app enables you to place scenes from 1940s and 1970s Hong Kong into photos at 10 different stops in Wan Chai. The project is based on oral history from residents as well as old photos. Stops include the Blue House (one of the few remaining examples of a tong lau style residential building from the late 19th century), the Old Wan Chai Post Office and the Pak Tai Temple, built in 1863.
Free guided tours are offered at least through April 30, 2019 on weekends at 10:30am and weekdays at 4:00pm, starting at the Blue House (register here). Note: you’ll need a Hong Kong SIM card to download the app; I bought one at the airport. And if you miss the project, many of the stops are still worth visiting as part of the Wan Chai Heritage Trail self-guided walking tour.
Shop on Hollywood Road – and Take the World’s Biggest Outdoor Escalator
One block from PMQ is Hollywood Road, known as Hong Kong’s go-to street for antique shopping. While there are still many antique shops, in recent years art galleries, shopping boutiques and upscale restaurants and bars have sprung up make this a popular hang out for Hong Kong’s trendiest residents.
From here, it’s easy to access SoHo (south of Hollywood) district, one of the city’s most popular nightlife areas, if that’s something you’re interested in partaking of during your weekend in Hong Kong.
Keep walking on Hollywood Road and you’ll stumble upon the Central-Mid-Levels Escalator, the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator system that whisks Hong Kong residents and visitors up steep hills quickly.
It’s free to take the set of 20 escalators, and you can easily hop on and off to explore the neighborhoods they traverse. For local commuters, the escalators travel downward from 6am to 10am and uphill from 10am to midnight.
Eat Until You Can Eat No More
I saved the best part of my weekend in Hong Kong for last: THE FOOD. Food is very important in Hong Kong, and many places offer small snack-sized portions so you can easily eat even more than three times per day and try a ton of different dishes. Don’t judge a book by its cover in this city: many places that appear to be “holes in the wall” have Michelin stars. Long queues are common at popular local food spots, but they usually move quickly so don’t be deterred.
Must-try Cantonese foods include dim sum and wonton noodle soup, and a trip to a traditional Hong Kong “Western” café, called a cha chaan teng, is also quite the experience. I put together my guide to eating your way through a weekend in Hong Kong in this blog post: 7 Things to Eat in Hong Kong.
Things to Know Before Your Weekend in Hong Kong:
- English is widely spoken in the touristy parts of the city and street signs/public transit are in both Chinese and English. At many local restaurants where the staff doesn’t speak English, the menu either has English translations or pictures so you can point to what you want. Locals speak Cantonese, not Mandarin, and they call people from China “mainlanders.”
- Many traditional local restaurants are cash-only, will seat you with strangers, and do not appreciate if you linger post-meal. Don’t worry about awkwardness; most people you’re seated with will acknowledge your presence with a nod or smile and then keep to themselves.
- Don’t be turned off by brisk service or bluntness – Hong Kong businesses prize efficiency, and don’t waste time on small talk. There’s no “how are you today?” before taking your order!
- Tipping is not expected in taxis or at most restaurants, even if there is a tip line on your bill. If you receive exceptional service, you could tip 5 to 10%, or leave your change in a cab. Tipping IS expected for some other services, like massages and tours.
- Make sure to load an Octopus card before taking public transit, as some services (buses, trams) will not provide change. You can buy them from the customer service desk at MTR stations. Taxis are cheap and cash only, but most drivers don’t speak English; you can download the TakeTaxi app to translate your destination’s address to Cantonese and estimate the price.
Many people don’t think it’s worth it to travel all the way to Asia from the US for just a weekend, but as you can see, I was able to do more than 2,000 words-worth of stuff during my weekend in Hong Kong. There are a couple things I missed, like the Big Buddha on Lantau Island and nightlife on Lan Kwai Fong (when you’re jet lagged and alone, there’s very little motivation to go out and party), but that just means I have all the more reasons to come back another time!