Having lived in Hong Kong for the past four years, I’ve had the opportunity to experience this incredible city as a tourist, as an expat and now as a local. I’ve come to love it for its amazing beauty, diversity and energy. Hong Kong fully engages all five senses.
One of Hong Kong’s most famous tourist attractions is the world’s steepest funicular railway, which leads up to “The Peak.” For a spectacular 360-degree panorama, head to the Peak Tower’s observation deck, where you’ll take in breathtaking views of Hong Kong, its famous S-shaped harbor, the Kowloon area, and nearby islands. A leisurely stroll along the peak’s 3.5-km circular path affords vistas of beautiful Victoria Harbor.
Older children will also enjoy the Madame Tussauds wax museum. Choose from several family-friendly restaurants where you can enjoy a meal while lingering over this stunning setting, particularly at sunset.
One of the cheapest harbor rides in the world, the Star Ferry began operations back in 1898, carrying passengers between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon on the mainland. The crossing takes about 5 minutes, and kids never tire of it. For an even more enjoyable experience, cross at sunset or at night and marvel at Hong Kong’s unforgettable skyline.
The Hong Kong Museum of History is one of the finest museums in Hong Kong. Housed in an ultramodern facility, it offers a historical journey through Hong Kong’s amazing transformation, from the ancient geological periods to the present. Displays throughout include replicas of junk boats, furniture, clothing and traditional housing. You can also visit the backstage of a Chinese opera.
My favorite display (and kids’ too) is the historic replica of life in Hong Kong before 1941. Take a walk through the recreated city streets, complete with a Chinese herbal medicine shop, a pawn shop, a tailor’s shop, a grocery store, a traditional tea shop and a double-decker tram.
The Hong Kong Science Museum is a rainy-day adventure. Kids love the hundreds of exhibits showing sound and motion, light, electricity, computers and more; they’ll especially enjoy playing with different optical illusions in the World of Mirrors. Older kids might prefer the Hong Kong Space Museum, where they can take a walk on the zero-gravity simulator or a 3-D ride on a virtual glider over the Grand Canyon. See a multimedia planetarium show at the Stanly Ho Space Theatre — the projector system can create more than 8,000 stars, making for a magical experience. The Space Theatre also houses an OMNIMAX screen.
The 250-plus islands off Hong Kong, many of which are uninhabited, represent a welcome opportunity to get away from the more densely populated locales. Cheung Chau is one of my favorite family outings. Take a ferry from Central Piers to the Praya, where you’ll find a waterfront promenade with souvenir shops and dozens of great restaurants overlooking the harbor. This 1-square-mile island is family-friendly, as there are no cars, and kids will love exploring the narrow pedestrian lanes. Bicycle rentals are readily available to venture beyond the village.
Another pedestrian-friendly island that’s ideal for kids is Lamma. The ferry drops passengers off at one of two harbors; I prefer being dropped off at Yung Shue Wan and taking the scenic 90-minute hike along the beaches to Sok Kwu Wan, which is famous for its seafood restaurants. (Note, young children may have difficulty with the hills on this route.) If they’re not too squeamish, kids will love looking at the bins of live seafood out front.
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Although smaller in scale than the original California or Florida versions, Hong Kong Disneyland has many of the same features, with seven different lands that include Main Street USA, Fantasyland, Adventureland and Tomorrowland. There are the usual rides and attractions along with a variety of upscale shows and parades throughout the day, as well as the new Fairy Tale Forest at Fantasyland. At night, you won’t want to miss the dazzling, all-new Disney in the Stars fireworks display.
Spending the night at one of the two onsite hotels is a nice option if you are seeking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Kids will love the dim sum character meal at Crystal Lotus in the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel, made even more special by the costumed Disney characters visiting each table.
For older children, Ocean Park may be a better choice than Disneyland — it’s as exciting as it is massive. The park is divided into the lowland Waterfront and the headland Summit. The latter will appeal to older kids, with thrill rides including a roller coaster that turns them upside down three times. Also on the Summit are the fun-loving dolphins and sea lion exhibits. You can even swim with the dolphins at a Dolphin Encounter.
Younger kids will enjoy the Lowlands area, which offers gentler rides and shows along with a stellar aquarium. Ocean Park has so much to see and do that you’ll want to get an early start and plan on spending most of the day. Plenty of western and eastern fast food options are available throughout the park.
This is my favorite family outing and one of the most scenic hikes on Hong Kong Island (and perhaps all of Asia). An initial steep ascent leads to the top ridge. Once there, the reward is a breathtaking view of the South China Sea. A quick descent will bring you to Big Wave Beach, where you can watch the surfers, relax, eat, and dip your toes in the water. It’s a 20-minute walk or a quick minibus ride to Shek O for a delicious late lunch. This hike, which takes more than 3 hours, is best for active children who enjoy the outdoors.
The world’s largest seated bronze Buddha can best be reached by riding the Ngong Ping 360 cable car. This 25-minute journey offers incredible views and lots of photo opportunities — some cars even have glass floors. Upon arrival, you’ll find yourself in a newly built “Chinese village” with many shops and restaurants. It’s a steep 260-step climb to reach the Giant Buddha, so keep that in mind if there are little ones in tow. Po Lin Monastery, an important religious site, lies opposite the Buddha.
Spend an evening at Hong Kong’s biggest and liveliest market, and kids are guaranteed to be entertained! Things get into full swing around 8p. Bargain with the countless vendors selling inexpensive souvenirs, toys, knockoff designer bags and watches, clothing, CDs, and kitsch. Be forewarned, however, that these items are often poorly made and it’s more about the experience.
I especially enjoy the street performers, musicians, singers (both Cantonese opera and pop), and palm readers, many of whom speak English. For dinner, eat like the locals and grab a table at the Temple Street Food Store to enjoy delicious and inexpensive fresh seafood.
While it’s known as the Las Vegas of the East, there’s more to this Chinese city than gambling. Take a 55-minute turbo jet ferry ride there, then grab a cab to the cobblestoned Senado Square, where you can wander the pedestrian streets and explore Macau’s Portuguese past. Highlights include St. Dominic’s Church, the Lou Kau Mansion, Cathedral Square, Mercado de Sao Domingos, the Ruins of St. Paul’s and many other sites.
Give older kids the experience of a lifetime: bungee jumping off the Macau Tower, an adrenaline-filled 764-foot free fall, or the 1.5-hour tower climb, which allows them to scale the side of the tower to an amazing 1074 feet. Reward everyone with lunch or dinner at the tower’s rooftop revolving restaurant and take in the views.
TIP: You can comfortably do Macau as a day trip. However, if time allows, it’s worth staying for a day or two to experience all the area has to offer.
Novice travelers will have no problem getting around Hong Kong, as this compact city boasts one of the world’s most efficient and extensive (and extremely inexpensive) public transportation systems. Because buses and trams require exact change, it’s most convenient to purchase an Octopus card, which allows you to hop on subways, trains, buses, trams and ferries without having to buy individual tickets. Octopus cards are available at the airport and all MTR (Mass Transit Railway) stations, and can be recharged at subway stations and 7-Elevens. Taxis are also very affordable and reliable.
Hong Kong is a very safe city, but as is the case everywhere, use common sense with your wallet and valuables.
Editor’s Note: Photos by the Hong Kong Tourism Board except where noted.
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