– Before we start, I want you to imagine you’re climbing up Victoria Peak (feel free to take the Peak Tram if you’re not feeling up for the steep imaginary walk). The paved trail twists and turns its way up until you’re looking out over the reason you mentally came to Hong Kong. In front of you and spread out below you is the iconic skyline of Asia’s World City. Beyond that is Hong Kong Harbor and bustling Kowloon. There are other ways to view the Hong Kong skyline, but this is my favorite.
Surprisingly, the great outdoors are rather abundant in Hong Kong. I’m going to take liberty on the term “outdoor” and give you a rather literal interpretation of the best of outdoor Hong Kong.
Riding the Star Ferry
This is a classic Hong experience, often touted as the cheapest thing to do in the city. Star Ferry is actually not a tourist attraction, but rather public transportation—a short ferry ride connecting Hong Kong with Kowloon. It’s another fantastic vantage point to view the skyline and a practical way to get over to Kowloon. The ride cost the equivalent of $.25 US. A bargain indeed.
Hiking Dragons Back
I was pleasantly surprised to learn of the multitude of hiking options around Hong Kong. Hiking and the outdoors is not what comes to mind first for most people when they think of Hong Kong. In three weeks, I hit a number of trails on Hong Kong Island, the New Territories, and the outlying islands. If you can only do one, I’d say to head for Dragon’s Back. Dragons Back is mountain ridge with sweeping views of the rugged coastline, islands, beaches, and exclusive real estate off the south end of Hong Kong Island.
Day Trip to an Outlying Island
The full Hong Kong experience is not complete without a ferry boat ride out to one of the outlying islands. Lamma Island is a good choice, with a relaxed vibe and some great walking trails. My island of choice is Cheung Chau. Cheung Chau has a village feel to it, probably because of the lack of automobiles and the fact that it remains a traditional fishing town. You can walk around the island in a few of hours. There’s a cave where pirates used to hang out, scenic views and temples, some nice beaches, and plenty of seafood restaurants. Cheung Chau is a great way to escape the big city while staying in Hong Kong.
Shau Kei Wan Market
Shau Kei Wan outdoor market is a stop that is not going to be on your average tourist’s itinerary. It is an outstanding fruit, vegetable, meat, and fish market with a great selection. The especially friendly fishmongers get a kick out of showing off there fresh and sometimes still-alive seafood. Head to the neighborhood around Shau Kei Wan MRT station to witness this lively wet market.
Night at Happy Valley Racetrack
Even if you’re not into horse racing, a night at Happy Valley Racetrack is a night well spent. The atmosphere is an interesting mix of young expats socializing while drinking beers and very serious male Hong Kongers with their pens, betting cards, and newspapers listing the race order, horses names, and betting odds. It is a cultural experience for sure—and one you can take part in. Minimum bets can be wagered for less than the price of a bowl of wonton soup.
Watch the Light Show
Every night of the year, Hong Kong puts on its much hyped light show: A Symphony of Lights. The multimedia sound, light, and laser performance involves 40 buildings on both sides of the harbor. Most people observe the show on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront between Avenue of the Stars and the Hong Kong Cultural Center. Quite a large crowd gathers nightly at 8pm. It only lasts 15 minutes, so get there early.
Riding Ngong Ping Cable Car
While I’m not a huge sightseer, I’m including Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car in order to give you the greatest variety of outdoor Hong Kong. I tend to focus more on the cultural aspects when I travel, but this cable car can be great fun. First off, it’s really high up and the views are epic. It gives you a spectacular panorama over Lantau Island. Ngong Ping cable car carries you for 25 minutes from Tung Chung MTR station to the top where the 34-meter Tian Tan Buddha sits.
The Novelty of the Outdoor Escalators
Where else in the world can you ride up 135 vertical meters on escalators outside? Hong Kong’s Mid-Levels Escalators are a series of 20 covered escalators and three moving walkways forming a unique part of its public transit system (although they are free). Their purpose is to connect the upscale Mid-Levels residential neighborhood with the Central Station MTR. The escalator operates downhill during the morning rush hour from 6-10am and uphill the rest of the day until midnight.
Stephen Bugno has been traveling the world and writing about it for the past decade. For more of his writing and photography, visit his blog Bohemian Traveler.