Don't Miss in Hong Kong
The Star Ferry docks are just a stone's throw from the Ocean Terminal. Connecting Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, it's a scenic and affordable way to begin a tour of the island.
The highlight of the island is Victoria Peak, the tallest mountain in the city, and the most popular tourist attraction in all of Hong Kong. The Peak Tram funicular railway takes visitors to the summit for a fantastic panoramic view of Victoria Harbour, Kowloon and the New Territories. The Peak Tower and Galleria complex atop the summit is filled with restaurants and even a "Ripley's Believe it or Not" Museum. There's also a walking trail that encircles the summit, offering a pleasant stroll through lovely gardens and, of course, a breathtaking 360-degree view on clear days. If you're visiting on your own, it's best to get an early start. Crowds can cause the wait to be an hour or more. Tip: If you go as part of a tour or shore excursion, you'll be in a separate, faster line.
Also on the island, Hollywood Road is a mecca for antiquers, with shops and galleries lining the street. Pop into the Taoist Man Mo Temple here to see students lighting candles and making offerings to Man, the god of literature. The area around Western Market (a beautifully restored colonial building with nothing much exciting inside) is filled with food shops that sell all sorts of Chinese delicacies, including birds' nests and shark fins for soup. As you explore these areas, keep an eye out for small, local street markets that stretch up narrow streets or stairways; Bonham Street in particular remains the center of Hong Kong's dried seafood and Chinese medicine trade.
Some walking tour operators offer excursions around Hong Kong Island that focus on its importance as the center of British occupation, as well as the history as the center of Chinese trade. Possession Point, where the British took formal control of the island in 1841, is now a lovely park with pagodas and fish ponds. The Mid Levels escalator, which provides a covered commute for workers into Central's financial district, is the longest outdoor system of its kind in the world; traverse it on a weekday and you'll see Hong Kong's remaining expat community heading into work or on a weekend, when it's full of residents doing their shopping.
Back in Kowloon, pop in for afternoon tea at the swanky Peninsula Hotel on Salisbury Road, Kowloon, and get a taste of the bygone colonial era. Many hotels offer their own versions of this British tradition, but reservations may be necessary, particularly at the most popular places -- and that includes the Peninsula.
The Hong Kong skyline is transformed each night at 8 p.m. into a tapestry of colored light by means of computer-controlled lasers. The show is synchronized with music and narration. The best spot for viewing the Symphony of Lights is along the Waterfront Promenade, just beyond the Star Ferry terminal. Take this into account when making your pre- or post-trip hotel bookings.
The city's markets are legendary. In the afternoon, the Ladies' Market springs up along Tung Choi Street in Kowloon, offering clothing items, souvenirs and tchotchkes like dim sum fridge magnets. As is true for all these markets, bargain your heart out. The Temple Street Night Market, also in Kowloon, offers similar items, plus food stalls and a section of street entertainers, like jugglers and opera singers. To see the latter, try to arrive before 9 p.m. Stanley Market, on the south side of Hong Kong Island, is a collection of tiny indoor and outdoor shops. You'll find silk robes, jade jewelry (or at least jewelry that's supposed to be jade) and small porcelain goods. The market is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
In Kowloon, the Tsim Sha Tsui area offers vibrant shopping districts, colonial architecture, modern high-rises and lovely parks. It is home to Nathan Road -- a must-see, especially at night, when clubs, restaurants and hotels switch on their gaudy neon signs. Kowloon Park, which is on Nathan Road, is a lovely refuge in the middle of the bustling city, with fountains, a rose garden, a waterfowl exhibit and more. In the morning, you'll encounter folks of all ages performing Tai Chi exercises near the outdoor sculpture garden and lake.
If you've maxed out your credit cards, consider visiting one of the three museums along the harbor: the Museum of Art, Cultural Center or Space Museum. Banners announce special shows. A bit farther away, you'll also find the Science Museum and the Museum of History.
For a unique experience, check out the Yuen Po Bird Garden (Yuen Po Street, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.), where older gentlemen bring their pet songbirds to show them off and give them some fresh air. There are also stalls that sell birds, live crickets and other avian treats. Was it just our imagination, or do local wild birds also congregate to taunt the caged beauties? There's also a small Flower Market nearby, as well as Goldfish Street. All three of these center around the Mongkok neighborhood. It's an easy ride here on the clean and comfortable MTR subway (stop: Prince Edward).
The Floating Fishing Village at Aberdeen on Hong Kong Island isn't what it once was. Much of the harbor has been taken over by mega-yachts. But it's still possible to take a 15-minute cruise through the scene, both rich and poor. You'll also travel past Jumbo, which bills itself as the world's largest floating restaurant. If you go, keep an eye out for the little boats that scoot around scooping up trash from the water.
Looking for something a bit different?
In addition to its three districts, Hong Kong encompasses an array of outlying islands within an hour's ferry ride. Each offers a number of outdoor activities that are a marked contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city. Cheung Chau is a perfect getaway for biking enthusiasts, as there are no cars on the island. Lantau Island is home to the ultramodern international airport. You'll also find superb beaches, scenic walks and a monastery with the world's largest seated bronze Buddha, as well as Hong Kong Disneyland. Finally, since you can never be too far from shopping, the island also has an outlet mega-mall, City Gate Outlets. Visit Lamma Island for great seafood and scenic surroundings. Sai Kung, referred to as Hong Kong's "back garden," offers numerous outdoor dining establishments.
If you've got a few days in Hong Kong, consider a trip to Macao. The former Portuguese colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1999. The island is about an hour from Hong Kong by "jetfoil" boat, and it makes for an amusing excursion. Macao's primary claim to fame these days is its Las Vegas-style casinos, some operated by Las Vegas gaming consortia. It also has a historic sector that is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Macao is jammed on weekends and holidays with folks coming to party from Hong Kong -- and long waits at customs -- so it's best to visit during the week.
If you'd like more adventure, take a visit to Mainland China. It's pretty easy to get to the city of Shenzhen, a special "economic zone" in the southern coast of Guangdong Province. You'll need a visa, obtainable in Hong Kong, though it can take a day or two to process. A 45-minute train ride will take you to the Chinese border, or you can opt for a one-hour jetfoil ride instead. Shenzhen is a haven for those interested in fake designer goods, and it also has a few noteworthy amusement parks, in addition to thousands of years of history.
Speaking of amusement parks, you'll also find Ocean Park on Hong Kong Island. In addition to rides, it has an aquarium and marine mammal exhibits. There's a famous racetrack, Happy Valley Racecourse, on the island, too.