Last updated on August 19th, 2023 at 12:22 am
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Your first time in Hong Kong will be exciting and fun but as with all trips, it does require planning ahead.
Read on this Hong Kong travel guide post to find out all the necessary details about the city and get ready to go on vacation!
Hong Kong Division
Hong Kong is divided into three areas – Hong Kong Island, Kowloon, and New Territories.
The Hong Kong and Kowloon side are more inside the city.
To get to Hong Kong Island to Kowloon, you have to go through a tunnel. The most common one is the Cross Harbour Tunnel if you’re on a bus or car. With the star ferry, you can cross Hong Kong Victoria Harbour while taking in the pretty view.
New Territories is generally an area where you visit while you’re in HK but not a lot of people choose to live in a hotel there. It’s because it’s further from the city attractions. It’s where Lantau Island is.
Hong Kong is an international city. Although the majority of the city speaks Cantonese, many people and most signs are also in English.
It’s easy to find Hong Kongers that can speak English. Quite a few of them were educated abroad in the US, Canada, or UK.
There are also many expats. Though you can bump into them anywhere around the city, you’re likely to find them in Central because it’s the financial district of the city.
You probably won’t have to download a translation app on your phone and can get around to places without any Chinese.
You’ll impress locals though by learning these few simple Cantonese phrases…
- How much is this? (gay dor cheen ah) 幾多錢啊?
- Thank You, Excuse Me (mm goi) 唔該
- Where is this? (nee doh hai been) 呢度係邊?
*When you say mm-goi in Cantonese, this can be used to get someone’s attention politely or what you can say when you leave the store and want to thank the store owner.
Hong Kong is a part of China but Mainland China and Hong Kong use different currencies.
HK uses the Hong Kong Dollar while Mainland China uses the yuan.
Some places do accept the yuan as a currency but most places do not so remember to convert your local currency to HKD.
Here is a rough currency conversion for Canada, the US, and the UK so you know how much to exchange for your trip:
- $1 USD = $8 HKD
- $1 CAD = $6 HKD
- $1 Pound Sterling = $10 HKD
Always carry cash with you when you’re in Hong Kong. While many retailers accept other forms of payment like Octopus Card, Alipay HK, WeChat Pay HK, and credit cards, cash is still king in this Chinese city.
You’ll rarely run into places that will not accept cash but there’s a good chance you’ll visit retailers that don’t accept anything else.
I dedicated an entire post about public transportation in Hong Kong already so I’m going to keep this section brief.
First-time visitors will be delighted by the HK public transportation system. It’s affordable, reliable, efficient, and plentiful. There are many options for getting around the city like the tram, subway, double-decker bus, minibus, taxi, and ferry.
Grab a tourist Octopus card and use your contactless transportation card to get anywhere around the city.
The two must take public transportation are the ferry and the tram. Both are great ways of seeing the city and it’s also cheap to get to your destination using these methods.
Do be aware that the tram only runs on the Hong Kong Island side. For example, there is no tram option if you’re in Mong Kok wanting to go to Tsim Sha Tsui.
The ferry is mostly for people who want to go to Kowloon from the Hong Kong side and vice versa. For example, if you want to go from Tsim Sha Tsui to Central, you can take the ferry.
The only transportation that doesn’t widely accept Octopus card as payment is Hong Kong taxis. Some do but more than 90% accept cash only.
Even when you’re taking a Hong Kong taxi, it’s considered cheap compared to other Western countries so don’t worry about the cab fare getting too pricey unless you’re travelling extremely far.
Your biggest expense is probably going to be accommodation. Hong Kong is one of the most expensive cities in the world.
There are areas you can save money like shopping and food but accommodation isn’t going to be super cheap like some other places.
Tsim Sha Tsui and Causeway Bay are the best areas to stay in since these are some of the busiest districts in the city. With hundreds of restaurants and stores here, there is never a dull moment.
Your first time visiting Hong Kong means it’s dim sum time!
That’s what people think of whenever they’re in the city but there’s so much more to Hong Kong than dim sum.
If you’re traveling to Hong Kong alone, eating dim sum might not be the best thing to get. Each dish is pretty big so you’ll end up only eating 1 or 2 dishes unless you have a big appetite.
Thankfully, there are hundreds of restaurants with different cuisines and other HK foods worth trying.
There’s always local street food, food court food (the food court in HK is better than you might think, I swear!), and Hong Kong cafes.
The three must-visit shopping places are Mong Kok, Tsim Sha Tsui, and Causeway Bay.
Mong Kok pretty much has everything but it is of lower quality since this district is known to sell affordable items. From cute souvenirs to sneakers to cosmetics to Korean clothes, you can find it all here. This is a great place to discover local stores.
One thing to know about Mong Kok is that the stores here do open later. My favourite cute gift store in the area doesn’t open until 12 pm. The store sometimes doesn’t even open right on time!
Mong Kok is best visited later in the afternoon or the evening. However, in the evening, be prepared for crowds. Mong Kok is known to be one of the most densely populated places on Earth. You’ll be surprised how many people there are.
It is the perfect time to come experience as a tourist as the area will be animated.
If you want to avoid crowds, come in the later afternoon but be aware that not everything will be open nor will you get the full experience of Mong Kok.
Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui
Those two districts are filled with malls. They are more on the luxury side with international brands so if you’re on a budget, Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui are more for window shopping.
Since there are so many malls to visit both in Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui, I’m just going to talk about the main ones in each district.
In Causeway Bay, go to the mall Times Square and the department store, SOGO.
SOGO has over 10 floors of retail space and is a one-stop shop for fashion, cosmetics, skincare, kitchen appliances, toys, home goods, and accessories.
Don’t forget to check out the basement. SOGO has a grocery store there and the food stalls there are worth taking a look at.
Times Square is the typical high-end mall. It’s well-known in Hong Kong but unless you’re ready to splurge, you probably won’t buy much here. The top floor has a delicious Korean cafe called Banchan and Cook. They are known for their omelette rice and Korean fried chicken.
In Tsim Sha Tsui, go to the mall Harbour City and K11 Musea.
Harbour City is the largest mall in Hong Kong and has all the international designer stores. There are also some mid-range price stores like Uniqlo and Zara. It’s almost guaranteed that this place is always filled with crowds.
Don’t confuse K11 Art Mall and K11 Musea. They are both in Tsim Sha Tsui but K11 Art Mall is more local and less fancy compared to K11 Musea.
Visit Iconic Destinations
Other iconic tourist attractions in Hong Kong to plan time for include…
- Victoria Peak (the highest point where you can see the Hong Kong skyline )
- Avenue of Stars (Hollywood Walk of Fame but HK edition)
- Lan Kwai Fong (lively bar area at night)
- Nan Lian Garden
Leave Time For Day Trips
Although there’s much to see for your first time in Hong Kong, leave a day or two to spend some time outside the city center. There’s visiting Hong Kong Disneyland, which is always a hot option for tourists.
This might not be as well-known but there is another amusement park in Hong Kong called Ocean Park. It’s bigger, more local, and the tickets cost less.
Big Buddha is often a tourist attraction that represents Hong Kong. It’s good exercise because it takes a few hundred steps to see the Buddha statue up close. Plus, you can take the cable car and enjoy a scenic view of the city.
If you want to visit other cities, consider going to Macau or Shenzhen.
Macau is about an hour away by boat from Hong Kong and is known for its casinos. It’s the Las Vegas of Asia.
They have beautiful hotels where there are many stores inside especially the Venetian. There are also noteworthy landmarks, museums, and mouth-watering food. When in Macau, there are quite a few Portuguese restaurants, which are different from Hong Kong. You’ve got to try their Portuguese egg tarts at Lord Stowe Bakery.
To go to Shenzhen, you have to pass the Hong Kong and Mainland China border. For locals, getting there is convenient and doesn’t take very long but for many tourists, you might have to get a visa.
Along with HK, Shenzhen is a top city in China and has plenty of things to do there. You can go for a cheap massage, see more tourist attractions and continue your shopping spree.
Extra Tips – First Time in Hong Kong
1) People’s concept of personal space here might not be the same as yours. Don’t be surprised if people are standing too near you in line or pushing past you to get to where they want to go.
2) There are always a lot of people around here. Hong Kong is a bustling city and if you come here during the summer, Christmas, or Chinese New Year, there are humans everywhere.
3) Research some restaurants you want to eat at and book a table in advance. Popular restaurants in Hong Kong can take weeks to get a table.
4) Get into the habit of carrying around an umbrella with you. Rain or shine, Hong Kongers love to whip out their umbrellas.
How Safe is Hong Kong?
Hong Kong is a very safe city. A female traveling solo should feel safe in the city even when you’re travelling late at night. You do have to watch out for things like petty theft though.
When’s the Best Time to Come to Hong Kong?
October to February is the best time to visit Hong Kong because it’s the cooler months. Although HK does get colder in the winter, it’s still not as cold compared to Boston and Toronto. There’s no snow here.
The summer seasons are humid and rainy (it’s often 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit) and higher). My frizzy hair hates those months.
Coming to HK in December is a busy time because it’s Christmas. Hong Kong goes all out during this season with plenty of Christmas markets and decorations all over the city. It gets extremely festive that month.
Chinese New Year will also be a very busy time as many Mainland Chinese tourists will make their way to Hong Kong. It’s also another occasion where Hong Kong goes all out with the decorations. The sights around the city are beyond beautiful during this time.
Hong Kong does celebrate holidays well and it’s one of my favourite things about the city.
Do note that during these times, hotel and flight prices are generally more expensive.
How Long Should I Stay in Hong Kong?
4-5 days is the perfect time for your trip to Hong Kong. These few days give you ample amount of time to see the city without being rushed. If there’s a place that you like a lot, you can even go back again!
Spend about 2-3 days in the city and 1-2 days on day trips outside of Hong Kong.
Final Thoughts – First Time in Hong Kong
Your first time in Hong Kong means it’s going to be a jam-packed schedule. Even though I moved back to HK for a few years now, I still feel like I haven’t done everything here yet.
I hope you have a wonderful time in the city and get to do everything you want to do. Hong Kong welcomes you to come back again soon!
Now to You – First Time in Hong Kong
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