If you’re on a flight with a Hong Kong stopover, you could stay there for a day and experience a bit of this fascinating city. In this post I outline how I would spend 24 hours in Hong Kong.
After years of doing really long long-haul flights non-stop, we’ve now come to the realization, that we arrive at the destination in much better shape if we break the flight half way, sleep in a proper bed overnight and spend a bit of time on the ground seeing our chosen layover city before continuing on to our final stop.
Although, on my recent first trip to Hong Kong we were staying for a week, after 24 hours, I thought to myself that if I had to leave right then, I would already have a lot of memorable moments to take with me….which inspired me to put together this post of what I would pack into a day if I only had 24 hours to spend in this incredible city.
Catch the Airport Express to the city and drop luggage at the hotel
The MTR’s Airport Express is an incredibly fast and efficient way to get between Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) and the central business area. The 35.3km journey takes about 24 minutes. Check out my earlier post about using Hong Kong’s MTR system for all the details.
For the purposes of organising the 24 hours, I’m going to assume you’re on a 7.00am Airport Express. Choose a hotel near Hong Kong Station (Central), and you could be dropping your luggage off and ready to hit the streets before 8.00am.
Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens
A brisk walk is great to shake off that cramped-in-a-tin-can post-flight feeling. Put on your walking shoes, and head up to the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens which are located on the slope of Mount Victoria between Upper Albert and Robinson Roads. Admission is free and parts of the gardens are open from 5.00am, with the greenhouses open from 9.00am. Within the gardens you’ll find a variety of birds, mammals and reptiles being kept in about 40 enclosures, including some spectacular flamingos.
The Peak Tram and Sky Terrace
The Peak Tram is one of Hong Kong’s most famous attractions. The first Peak Tram was built and commenced operation in 1888, to replace the exisiting method of reaching the Peak Hotel – a labour-intensive sedan chair. When the Peak Tram opened it was the first cable funicular in Asia, covering 1,350 metres and connecting five intermediate stations.
The tip is to sit on the right-hand side of the tram as you go uphill for the best views back over Hong Kong Island and the Harbour, however this advice was irrelevant for us, as fog the day we went reduced visibility to about 2 metres!
At The Peak (396 metres above sea level), the tram terminates at The Peak Tower, a unique architectural feature which contains restaurants, shops and entertainment venues. On the roof of the Peak Tower is the city’s highest 360° viewing platform – The Sky Terrace 428. The Sky Terrace 428 (428 metres above sea level) usually offers spectacular views of the city and harbour…but not for us, because…fog.
It’s seven minutes for the Tram to reach The Peak, so assuming you don’t have to wait too long to get onto a Tram (it can get busy from around 9.30am onwards) you can be up to The Peak, enjoy the views from Sky Terrace 428, and the into one of the cafes for a quick coffee all by 10.30am.
Peak Circle Walk
There are a number of walks you can do at The Peak, and we choose to do the Peak Circle Walk (also known as Hong Kong Walk, and incorporates the Pok Fu Lam Tree Walk) which encircles Victoria Peak, the highest point on Hong Kong Island. As you exit the Peak Tower, head off to the right until you get onto Lugard Road and then just keep walking.
This 3.5 kilometre walk takes about 40-60 minutes, and offers spectacular views of the Harbour and the island, except when…fog. 🙂 However, even in the fog, the walk was an enjoyable stroll through the trees, and the misty atmosphere was beautiful.
When you return to the Peak Tower, take the next Tram back down to the terminus.
Head down to the IFC One
At the Tram terminus, you can catch a bus to the IFC (International Finance Centre) mall or, like us, walk down to IFC One (it takes about 15 minutes to walk and you wind your way through Statue Square and along Connaught Place). Inside IFC One, you’ll find a huge shopping mall with more than 200 stores, but if you can tear yourself away from the shopping, you’re looking for the Level 1 elevated walkways in IFC that connect with the start of the Mid-level Escalators.
Ride the Mid-level Escalators
The Central to Mid-Levels Escalator is the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator system. It rises 135 metres, over a distance of 800 metres through the steep streets of the Central area of Hong Long Island, connecting Queen’s Road Centre to Conduit Road in Mid-Levels. The system consists of 20 escalators and 3 sloped travelators, linked by walkways and bridges. At 14 points along the way you can enter or exit.
The Mid-Levels Escalator is built over very narrow streets, so there wasn’t enough room to do two escalators (one up and one down), instead, there is just one escalator and a parallel set of stairs. From 6am to 10am, the escalator runs downhill, to allow workers to commute to offices and workplaces in Central, and for the rest of the day until midnight, the escalators run uphill.
From the vantage point of the moving escaltors high above the streets, you get a great perspective on the shops, bars and restaurants above, below and at eye level – you realise how much of Hong Kong is above street level.
It takes about 20 minutes to ride the entire length of the system, and about the same to walk back down the steps.
Dim Sum lunch
No Hong Kong experience is complete without a dim sum lunch. We had a couple of great ones while we were staying in Kowloon, but we didn’t do it while we were in Central, so you’re on your own in finding a recommendation. As a starting point, we used this post on Hong Kong’s best dim sum restaurants at Lady Iron Chef to find recommended dim sum restaurants.
Walk along Hollywood Road to Man Mo Temple
From Central, walk along the length of Hollywood Road towards Sheung Wan. Hollywood Road was the second road to be built in the colony of Hong Kong (Queen’s Road Central was the first) and historically has been filled with antique and curio shops. More recently, it has become a bit of an art district, and also features some interesting concept stores.
Halfway along Hollywood Road is Man Mo Temple which was built in 1847 for the worship of the Gods of Literature (Man) and War (Mo). Inside the temple, you’ll find many giant hanging incense coils, which create a smoky atmosphere. Surrounded, as it is, by multi-story buildings, the Temple provides a small oasis of calm in this hectic city.
Paper and incense shops, dried seafood and herbal ingredients
Towards the western end of Hollywood Road in Sheung Wan, you should branch off into the nearby streets of Des Voeux Road West (dried seafood street), Wing Lok (ginseng and bird’s nests), Ko Shing (herbal tonic ingredients) and Queen’s Rd West (incense and paper shops). These areas offer a fascinating insight into Chinese traditional culture.
Dried seafood is a common ingredient in Chinese cooking and in the shops on ‘dried seafood street’ you’ll find a huge and fascinating range of dried fish and shellfish, as well as other dried ingredients.
In the nearby streets of Wing Lok and Ko Shing, ingredients for Chinese medicines and tonics are on offer, with items such as ginseng and bird’s nests, dried berries and barks all believed to hold the secrets to treating or preventing most of life’s ailments.
At 136–150 Queen’s Rd West, there is a row of shops selling incense and paper offerings for the dead. These items are bought and then burned in order to pass the benefits of these ignitables on to the departed ancestors. The range of things the ancestors may like is fascinating – KFC takeaway, Chanel bags and shoes, phones, fast cars, big houses, even cold hard cash (from the Hellbank Corporation).
Cat Street markets and shops (Upper Lascar Row)
Walking back towards Central, deviate into Upper Lascar Row (also known as Cat Street) where you’ll find an eclectic street market and a collection of antique and curio shops and art galleries. The street stalls would be a great place to pick up a souvenir to take home, and you could rummage for hours through some of the stalls which seem to have a ‘dump it all in a pile’ approach to merchandising.
Dinner with a view
At night, the views of the Kowloon Skyline from Central are stunning, and there’s many restaurants with an outlook from where you can enjoy these views. We choose to have our dinner on the 49th level of the hip Upper House hotel at Café Grey Deluxe. The pesky fog cleared for a bit, and we actually saw across to Kowloon!
An after-dinner nightcap perhaps?
With literally hundreds of bars, lounges, clubs and pubs within the Central area of Hong Kong – from chic rooftop bars with a view, to hidden lairs down small alleys, there’s many for you to take your pick from. For any new city I visit, I like to check out the Time Out guide before I go to find out their recommendations.
The next day…
If you still have time before heading back out to the airport (on the Airport Express, of course…) squeeze in a trip across the Harbour and back on the iconic Star Ferry or take a ride along Hong Kong Island on a ‘ding ding tram’ (or both). But if you’ve run out of time, you can always add these to the list for next time.
Hong Kong’s famous Star Ferry boats have been transporting passengers between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon since 1888. Nowadays, the two sides of the harbour are linked by road and rail tunnels, but the Star Ferries are still a popular (not to mention, enjoyable) way to make the journey. Plus the views of the city’s skyline from out on the water are breath-taking.
Ferries between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui run every 6-12 minutes throughout the day from 6.30am to 11.30pm. Individual trip tickets can be purchased at the ferry terminals, and there is both an upper deck and a lower deck with different pricing structure (lower deck is a bit cheaper). At HK$6.80 (less than $1.20 AUD) for a return, weekend adult upper deck trip, it is possibly the cheapest fun you can have.
Take a ‘ding ding tram’
A ride on one of Hong Kong’s double-decker trams is another iconic experience. There are six routes which all run roughly East-West on the Northern edge of Hong Kong Island. And at only HK$2.30 per ride (about AUD$ 0.40), they’re an even bigger bargain than the Star Ferry. Stops are located around 250 metres apart along each route, so you never have to walk far to reach the next one.
The Hong Kong Tramways was founded in 1904, and is now the world’s largest double-deck tram fleet still in operation. Locals call it the ‘ding ding’ due to the constant ringing of the tram bell along the route.
How would you spend 24 hours in Hong Kong?
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