Life in Hong Kong transcends cultural and culinary borders, such that nothing is truly foreign and nothing doesn’t belong.” ~ Peter Jon Lindberg.
Although they were under colonial rule for hundreds of years, Hong Kong and Macau each showcase an interesting fusion where culture of the East meets West, but in different ways. On one hand there’s rich British history in Hong Kong and on the other, fascinating Portuguese history in Macau. In this 4 day Hong Kong itinerary I’ll cover how you’ll be able experience the mixing of these cultures, contrasting scenery and culinary differences.
I’m fortunate enough to have stayed in Hong Kong on two occasions: once for business and once for leisure, so this itinerary reflects a combination of the best experiences from both visits. As an added bonus, my itinerary also includes information on a Hong Kong to Macau day trip so you can really make the most of your visit to the region!
Why visit Hong Kong and Macau?
If you’re an Aussies or Kiwi, you’ll know getting to Europe is a mighty task – it’s a minimum of 24 hours away! Why not break up the journey by spending a few days in Hong Kong on the way over? Not only will the jet lag be a little easier to deal with once you reach your European destination but you’ll get to experience the surprising mixture of cultures along the way. If I haven’t stressed this enough already, let me say, it’s definitely worth staying a few days to really uncover the what has made these sister Special Administrative Regions (SARs) of China so unique.
With so much to see and do, you can forget a brief layover… and did I mention most of these things are FREE?!
Here’s some highlights of what you can expect to experience during your visit to Hong Kong:
But what’s the next step? If you’re planning a trip to Hong Kong and Macau you may be overwhelmed on where to start and wondering how you’ll get around (isn’t there a language barrier?!) so I’ll reveal the tips and tricks I used for my own Hong Kong and Macau itinerary. Below you’ll find what you can expect to see at each destination in a day, what to eat, how to get around and my recommendation on where to stay. Hopefully it will inspire you for your own trip and get your itinerary planning off to a good start!
Why should I plan my Hong Kong itinerary on a mid range budget?
As I always say, staying in a centrally located hotel in any destination is of utmost importance if you want to maximise your travel experience. In Hong Kong it means you’ll spend less time getting around and more time exploring the different neighbourhoods, marvel at Victoria Harbour’s lights by night, wandering the vibrant streets and enjoying the culinary delights that make Hong Kong world-famous all without dreading a huge trek back to your room late at night. The hotel I’ve recommended below is for travellers with a mid range budget, in a central location (Tsim Sha Tsui) and only a few moments walk to train stations and the Star Ferry Terminal for the day trip over to Macau.
Also, make use of the Mass Transit Railway (MTR). While much of Kowloon and Causeway Bay can be explored by foot, the MTR is the most efficient way to travel through Hong Kong and her islands. As an added benefit you’ll get to experience getting around like a local, which is something I always recommend!
Where to stay in Hong Kong?
For this Hong Kong itinerary, I highly recommend Citadines on Ashley Road, Tsim Sha Tsui. Awesome location could not be beaten – just moments to Canton Road, the Promenade, Star Ferry Terminal and Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station. There are countless eateries on Ashley Road so you’ll be spoilt for choice! Rooms were on the small side (as to be expected for Hong Kong) but very clean, tidy and quiet. Wifi was also super fast.
Need more information on Hong Kong accommodation? Check out:
What should I add to my 4 day Hong Kong itinerary?
With so much to do in this former British colony, forget a brief layover! To fully appreciate the many free attractions in this itinerary we should gain a brief understanding of Hong Kong’s history and why British rule was significant to shaping the Hong Kong of today.
Why was Hong Kong under British Rule?
Hong Kong was under British rule from 1843 to 1997. The situation was quite complicated however in a nutshell, Britain had been selling thousands of tonnes of opium to China per year until 1839 when the Daoguang Emperor overhauled the policies regarding trade of the drug, rejecting proposals to legalise and tax it. This resulted in a ban on opium trade and lead to the First Opium War whereby viceroy Lin Zexu captured British traders and seized over 20,000 chests of British opium, which were then publically destroyed.
The destruction of their property gave the British Crown a reason to invade and protest that China should have returned the opium as it had promised before British traders were captured, rather than destroying it. After the bloody war, the negotiated compensation was the cession of Hong Kong to the British victors. During British rule, Hong Kong was transformed into an international trade powerhouse and global financial centre.
Ok, with that out of the way let’s make things easy by breaking it down a visit to Hong Kong into a simple day-by-day itinerary:
DAY 1: Arrive & Explore Tsim Sha Tsui
Getting to Tsim Sha Tsui:
From Chep Lap Kok Airport approx. 35mins in a taxi. It’s possible to take the MTR which I would normally recommend however it takes longer (approx. 1 hour) and involves walking with luggage (if you have it) and 2 station changes. Taking a bus is also an option but takes just as long as the MTR and also involves 2 changes also walking with luggage. Personally I prefer taking the most time efficient and practical option where possible so I can get onto exploring the destination sooner.
Cost: Taxi approx. HKD 260. You can find a Hong Kong Taxi Fare finder here.
Where to eat in Tsim Sha Tsui?
Take your pick from the many roads of authentic Asian eateries along Ashley Road or head on over to the food courts in the enormous malls along nearby Canton Road.
If you’re up for some finer dining, be sure to try Peking Garden for dinner at the Star House. The speediness of the waitresses making up dozens Peking duck pancakes using only chopsticks is a skill to be admired, as is the noodle-making demonstration by a top chef! The Peking duck here is the best I’ve had anywhere in the world.
Things to do in Tsim Sha Tsui:
- Get your bearings in Tsim Sha Tsui by exploring the streets surrounding your hotel and adjusting to your new timezone. Prepare to be blown away by the number of eateries, bars and specialty stores in the area!
- Leisurely stroll along The Promenade and overlook Victoria Harbour from a few different vantage points. You’ll be able to see those iconic towers on Hong Kong Island up close tomorrow.
- See the famous red brick and granite KCR Clock Tower that dates back to 1915. The 44-metre high tower is the only remains of the former Kowloon station. It’s a declared monument of Hong Kong and is popular site for taking selfies.
- Watch the Symphony of Lights show along Victoria Harbour at 8:00pm each evening (if the weather permits). In my opinion, Hong Kong has one of the most impressive skylines in the world and it’s especially a wonder to see illuminated in vibrant colours at night!
TIP: You don’t have to walk past the Avenue of Stars to get a good view of the Symphony of Lights. You’ll get an incredible and elevated view by just walking up the stairs on top of the Star Ferry Terminal, located near the KCR Clock Tower.
DAY 2: Hong Kong Island
Getting to Hong Kong Island from Tsim Sha Tsui:
Take the super-efficient MTR from Tsim Sha Tsui station under Victoria Harbour to Central station, 6mins. From here it’s about a 15min walk to The Peak Tram. The walk allows you to pass several iconic buildings on Hong Hong’s beautiful skyline, such as the Bank of China Tower, Lippo Centre Towers, HSBC Building and Citibank Plaza. Statue Square and Hong Kong Park are also nearby if you’d like to check them out along the way.
Cost: Adult MTR ticket HKD 10.5 one way.
Things to do on Hong Kong Island:
- As detailed above, from Central station it’s a hilly yet scenic walk to The Peak Tramway.
- Ride The Peak Tramway up to Victoria Peak summit (also just known as The Peak). The Sky Terrace 428 perched here is Hong Kong’s highest viewing platform (428 metres above sea level) and is where you’ll be able to capture amazing panoramic shots! There are also restaurants, shops and an art gallery up there.
- Stroll along Causeway Bay and see the Noonday Gun (a very British tradition that originated in spite of a naval officer!), accompanying canons and futuristic looking architecture nearby.
- Head through Victoria Park over to Tin Hau Temple, a declared monument. This decorated temple dates back to around 1868 and was built by members of the Tai family who settled in Kowloon. Amazingly, this small and mostly original temple was once a waterfront address before land reclamation! It’s worth a visit to admire the original sculptures and for its significance in the naming of pre-colonial Hong Kong Island Hung Heung Lo (“red incense-burner island”). According to legend the Tai family randomly found red stone shaped like an incense burner in Causeway Bay and believed it was sent to them by the Goddess of the Sea, Tin Hau. They built s shrine to temporarily house the stone but it became so popular among local fishermen they were able to raise funds for a permanent structure. Today incense burns abundantly in the temple.
TIP: Ensure you go on a clear day to The Peak so you’ll be able to see the entirety of Hong Kong! Visibility can tend to be very low on foggy days. Cost: Adult Peak Tram + Sky Terrace 428 adult tickets HKD 90 ea return. Tickets can be purchased at Garden Road Peak Tram Lower Terminus (located at 33 Garden Road).
DAY 3: Kowloon
Although bustling Tsim Sha Tsui is located within this area, Kowloon covers a greater expanse heading north and is where you’ll be able to find some parks to relax and night markets to explore.
Things to do in Kowloon:
- See how far your legs are happy to take you north on Nathan Road. Perhaps Hong Kong’s most famous street, there are countless beauty, jewellery, bakeries, eateries, clothing and camera specialty stores. Temple Street Night Market can also be found on Ning Po Street off Nathan Road.
- Take a break from the hustle and bustle of the streets in Kowloon Park, where locals enjoy practising tai chi. There’s even a tropical bird aviary and in the distance you’ll be able to see the Mira Hotel where Edward Snowden was staying before he fled Hong Kong from US authorities.
- Shopping! For artworks and other souvenirs unique to Hong Kong, head to Silvercord Shopping Centre, Canton Road designer stores, and malls along The Promenade. You’ll literally be able to shop until you drop.
TIP: Don’t miss Haiphong Road running along Kowloon Park’s south entrance. The huge trees overhanging this bustling street and Haiphong Road Market make for a nice contrast from the usual concrete jungle!
Where to eat in Kowloon?
Try the famous egg waffles from Lee Keung Kee North Point Egg Waffles (LKK)!
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Have some extra time?
If you’ve got some spare time up your sleeve, here are a few extra ideas to keep you busy:
- Spoil yourself the British way with an afternoon tea at The Peninsula Hotel
- Explore the Hong Kong Museum of Art
- Discover our solar system at the Hong Kong Space Museum
- Walk along the Avenue of Stars if you’re a movie buff
- Journey to Lantau Island and wave at the Giant Bhudda.
DAY 4: Optional: Hong Kong to Macau DAY TRIP
Until 1999 Macau was the last European colony in Asia, having been governed by the Portuguese since the mid 16th century. Evidence of her colonial history is scattered throughout the region, ranging from architecture to language to culinary treats and is well worth a visit.
The contrast of sprawling modern casinos will momentarily make you believe you’re in Las Vegas – in the last two decades Macau has quickly transformed into a gambler’s paradise. Today, this tiny territory is a huge magnet for mainland Chinese gamblers as it’s illegal to gamble in Hong Kong and China under Chinese law. With ferries every half hour Macau is easily accessible from Hong Kong, making the perfect day trip for every visitor!
TIP: Generally speaking, casinos and slot machines accept Hong Kong Dollars (HKD) instead of Macanese Patacas (MOP). HKD is widely accepted in Macau, but it’s likely you’ll receive change in MOP. Due to its poor exchange rate, you will not be able to use any spare MOP back in Hong Kong on your return so expect get rid of any extra change on some bukkwa or Macanese custard tarts! Now, wouldn’t that be a shame 😉
How to get to Macau from Hong Kong?
1 hour on Turbojet ferries, with services running around every half hour.
Cost: Kowloon (China Ferry Terminal) to Macau (Outer Harbour) approx HKD 340 (adult, return, weekdays). Tickets can be purchased online in advance, from a self-service kiosk (credit cards accepted) or in person at the ferry terminal.
The full sailing schedule can be found here.
IMPORTANT: Essentially, you’ll be visiting a new country once you step foot in Macau so don’t forget to bring your passport and be sure to check with your country’s embassy to see whether you need to apply for a visa in advance or not. Citizens of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States have 30 day visa-free access to Macau, while many European nations are 90 days. Citizens of the United Kingdom are visa exempt for 180 days. For the list of 66 countries that are visa exempt, click here. Even if you have visa-free access to Macau, you will still need to bring along your passport for the authorities to check as you enter and exit both Hong Kong and Macau.
Decided to spend a night in this interesting city instead of doing a day trip?
Read reviews and compare prices for hotels in Macau here!
NOTE: If you’re interested in a complete Macau itinerary, watch this space as I have one coming soon 😃
Things to keep in mind
Here are my top tips and things to note so you’ll have the most enjoyable visit to Hong Kong:
Advice and unpopular truths
- As tempting as it might be for some, it’s best to avoid staying in rooms in the notorious Chungking Mansions. While the rooms are cheap and the location is fantastic (a few streets from Citadines on Ashley), there are many horror stories from travellers who have booked here, just doing a quick Google search will confirm this. Is it really worth your time and potential hassle?
- Ignore anyone trying to sell you Rolex watches. The phrase “copy watches, copy watches” is sure to get on your nerves. Sure, I know everyone is just trying to make some money but those people can get really pushy by closely following you down the street jabbering in your ear. Sometimes they just won’t take no for an answer. If completely ignoring them doesn’t do the trick, you may need to make a scene to get rid of these personal space invaders!
- Try and drink bottled water where you can. The tap water in Hong Kong is not the best quality despite what some may claim.
- During the summer months you may find yourself being dripped on by the hundreds of air conditioning units hanging out from the windows of buildings along the streets! No, it’s not rain…
Is there a language barrier?
If you speak Cantonese you’ll easily be able to communicate with locals in Hong Kong. Mandarin is also spoken and understood. Despite being an official language of Hong Kong, English is not as widely spoken as it is in Europe and other parts of the world, but it’s usually possible to find someone who speaks English if you need some directions or assistance.
Some restaurants have staff who speak English in Hong Kong, albeit broken but you should be able to get your message across. Many hotels employ English-speaking staff on reception that will be happy to help you with your query. Signage and MTR stations are in Cantonese and English so getting around is not difficult.
In Macau, on the other hand, English is less widely spoken and understood. If you’re familiar with Portuguese, this should get you by although the Macanese have their own dialect. If you’d like to learn some Cantonese or Portuguese for your trip, find out how I learn language for travel fast with these resources!
Concluding my Hong Kong Itinerary
So there you have my complete 4 day Hong Kong itinerary! In hindsight if I were to change any aspect of this trip, the only thing would be to stay longer. I’d love to spend at least a day on Lantau Island and visit some of the museums I mentioned located in Tsim Sha Tsui. There’s so much to see packed into such a small region!
I would love to hear if you use this itinerary when you visit Hong Kong and Macau! If you found this helpful please share it, or come and join me on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram or follow my blog with Bloglovin for more Asia travel inspiration!
Until next time,
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