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Hong Kong's Best Free Activities: Things Every Budget-Conscious Visitor Should Do



With a little planning, it would be more than easy to spend the best part of a day in Hong Kong without spending a cent, assuming you have a big breakfast and take a bottle of water along with you. A stroll along the harbor front in either Tsim Sha Tsui or Central won't cost a penny. Assuming it's a Wednesday, admission to the Hong Kong Museum of History is free all day long. If you are keen to avoid shelling out for bus fares, a hike up to Victoria Peak or the Po Lin monastery will lead to two of Hong Kong's most popular attractions – and they're free too. Of course, the goods on show in Hong Kong's street markets aren't free, but there's no charge for wandering about these incredibly photogenic locales. And why not wind up your day by taking in the magnificent sound and light show that is the Symphony of Lights, which illuminates the harbor and surrounding skyscrapers in a fitting finale. All in all, there is plenty to attract the budget traveler in Hong Kong, and a few days spent in the city won't necessarily break the bank.


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Tsim Sha Tsui

The 44-meter-tall red-brick structure is one of the most historic buildings in fast-growing Hong Kong. Although visitors can't access the building nowadays, it's a mandatory pit stop for tourists en route from the Star Ferry terminal to Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade to take in the contrast between now and then. Hong Kong's very own "Big Ben" is the only remaining structure of the now-demolished Kowloon-Canton Rail Terminus. This was the original railway to have connected Hong Kong with mainland China. Millions of mainland Chinese immigrated to Hong Kong through here between 1910-1949 before Communist China shut its door to the outside world for the next 30 years. The railway station is now relocated to Hunghom.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Hong Kong's heritage has a habit of being demolished by over-eager developers, but the Clock Tower is a gallant survivor.

Tracy You's expert tip: After snapping a photo or two in front of the Clock Tower, history buffs can hop across Salisbury Road to visit 1881 Heritage on the crossroads of Canton Road. These two colonial-style mansions were built in 1881 as the former Marine Police Headquarters (until 1996).

Read more about Clock Tower →


Hong Kong Museum of History
Photo courtesy of Museum of History


Chinese history has taken dramatic twists and turns over the past three millenia, and this museum offers detailed exhibits that take you through every aspect of the country's development. Beginning in Neolithic times and running right up to today, some of the top attractions include a recreation of a Hong Kong street of a century ago and photo exhibits showing how certain areas have changed. Many clans and ethnic groups are represented. As Hong Kong tends to change very quickly, with rapid construction and population growth,the History Museum acts as a good point of reference, tracing the city's development over the years.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The Museum of History is sympathetically interpreted, and should appeal to all ages.

Ed's expert tip: Free guided tours are also available.

Read more about Hong Kong Museum of History →


Hong Kong Park
Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Tourism Board


This small, but well-designed park offers a welcome break from the concrete and glass buildings that are surrounding it. Built into the side of a small hill, top attractions include an aviary with a large selection of exotic birds, and a conservatory, which is among the most extensive in the world. It recreates various climates and includes many of the plants indigenous to each area. Also within the park's boundaries is Flagstaff House. Built in 1846, it's the oldest remaining colonial building in Hong Kong, and today is home to a fascinating tea ware museum. Contact the museum at 852 2869 0690.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Quite apart from all its other attractions, Hong Kong Park is often the venue for newly married couples' souvenir photos.

Ed's expert tip: Victoria Park used to be a barracks; the greenies moved in when the military moved out.

Read more about Hong Kong Park →


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Tsim Sha Tsui
Chung King Mansions
Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Tourism Board

Situated on the "Golden Mile" of Nathan Road (the southern-most mile of the thoroughfare until it reaches harbor-side Salisbury Road), Chung King Mansions is an alternative landmark to witness the city's extending heritage as a colony and crucial trading port. The 17-story block is the ground zero of cheap hostels (with more than 80 budget accommodations crammed inside), together with chaos and eye-opening globalization. The bottom two levels of the building houses wholesale stores that sell everything you can think of. This is the most multi-cultural part of the city and otherwise very much homogeneous China. The majority of the residents and shop owners are immigrants from all parts of Asia and Africa and most hostel guests are young backpackers from Europe, North America and Oceania.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Chung King Mansions is like a mini United Nations, with scores of cultures and nationalities jumbled together.

Tracy You's expert tip: As a base of the Indian community in Hong Kong, Chung King Mansions has a number of amazing curry restaurants.

Read more about Chung King Mansions →


Symphony of Lights


The 15-minute light and sound show is the top free activity in Hong Kong. Every night at 8pm, spectacular decoration lights, laser lights and digital fireworks shoot out from 45 buildings along the Victoria Harbour on both the Hong Kong Island and Kowloon side. The US$5.7 million project was dubbed by Guinness Word Records as the "World's largest permanent light and sound show." All lights are controlled and displayed as a visual reflection of the eponymous music symphony which is broadcast at the name time. The best places to enjoy the show are around the Avenue of Stars on Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, the Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai or, better yet, from any cruise boat on the harbor.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The harbor is what makes Hong Kong so amazing,and the Symphony of Lights is a fitting tribute.

Ed's expert tip: The spectacle is accompanied by music and narration. The English version can be heard on the waterfront in Tsim Sha Tsui and the promenade outside the Golden Bauhinia Square in Wan Chai on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, or through 103.4FM on radio any night.

Read more about Symphony of Lights →


Stanley Market
Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Tourism Board


Stanley is possibly Hong Kong's best-known market. And with good reason. It's part of a community set by the sea, with plenty of restaurants and cafes so you can pause for refreshment. The goods on sale are fabulously varied, and the traders generally cheery and not averse to bargaining. There's no charge for entry, of course, so visitors are free to wander about and enjoy the spectacle. There's a beach nearby, and Murray House, a Victorian building which was moved here lock, stock and barrel from Central, stands by the shore. One way or another, Stanley is a great day out.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Stanley is the perfect market: higgledy-piggledy, full of character, and with bargains galore.

Ed's expert tip: Pace yourself, there's lot to explore here; so build lunch or supper into your itinerary.

Read more about Stanley Market →


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Lantau Island
Po Lin Monastery
Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Tourism Board


Po Lin translates to "precious lotus," and this monastery is one of the most famous of Hong Kong's numerous attractions. In addition to being one of the most opulent and grandest temples in the country, this is also home to the famous "Big Buddha," which measures more than 100 feet high. Made of bronze and seated in the mythical cross-legged repose, this statue is an attraction on its own. The views of the countryside are spectacular, and an excellent vegetarian cuisine is served by monks in the canteen. Get here first thing before the tour groups turn up for a rather more serene experience.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: This is quite the most spectacular of Hong Kong's religious sites.

Ed's expert tip: Po Lin is connected to the rest of Lantau by numerous hiking trails, a great way to get here, and by cable car from Tung Chung.

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This fishing town is where the Hong Kongers retreat for swimming, kayaking and some of the city's best seafood. The center of the town is a 1,000-meter quay lined with endless seafood stalls. Each of them looks like a mini aquarium as the boss displays an amazing array of freshly caught seafood for diners to order from. Across the street, fishermen sell their curious looking catch right off the boat at the pier. Many of them also offer sailing trips around the surrounding islands for around US$20. Some six kilometers west of the seafood street is Trio Beach, a nice soft-sand stretch with calm and clean water, a relaxed atmosphere and seaside barbecue pits. For the truly energetic type, Sai Kung Country Park provides some of the most challenging and rewarding hiking experiences with mountains to beaches.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Sai Kung is one of the most entertaining towns in all of Hong Kong.

Ed's expert tip: Sai Kung is a popular weekend getaway, which can lead to lengthy traffic jams; Monday-Friday is the best time to visit.

Read more about Sai Kung Seafood Street →


Ladies Market

Taking up three blocks of Tung Choi Street every night, this enclave of more than 100 stalls represents the epitome of Asia's market culture: a bit crowded, a lot noisy but totally stimulating. Rather than what its name suggests, the 1,000-meter-long market sells a wide selection of clothes, shoes and travel souvenirs, from US$5 sandals to Chinese necklace pendants to the "I Love Hong Kong" T-shirts. Although it's been running for about three decades, this government-licensed street market is still set up from scratch every day. Vendors construct their tents with canvas at noon and pull them down when the market closes around midnight. Best time to go is after 7pm when tourists and merchants are at their optimal size. Nearest MTR station is Mongkok via exit E2.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: It's photogenic, bustling and fun: Ladies Market is sheer entertainment.

Ed's expert tip: Bargain hard or you'll be a bargain. A good strategy is to halve the asking price, at least.

Read more about Ladies Market →


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Victoria Peak


The 552-meter mountain has that classic Hong Kong view. Near the summit at 396 meters there is an entertainment and viewing complex called Peak Tower where travelers can snap that perfect souvenir photo. In the foreground, a forest of skyscrapers rise in eye-opening density beneath your foot while the sapphire blue Victoria Harbour glitters in distance. Go on a nice day, and you can also make out the outlying islands scattered on the South China sea on the 360-degree observation deck. Various modes of transport run here, but the 1,350-meter-long Peak Tram line is most popular. The 125-year old track is said to be the first funicular railway in Asia and the eight-minute ride can reach as steep as 30 degrees. The Peak Tower also houses a view-fantastic Cantonese restaurant Sky Terrace 428 and a Madame Tussauds Museums featuring Jackie Chan, Jet Li and various other Asian celebrities.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: From Victoria Peak, the whole of Hong Kong is spread out below like a vast sightseeing buffet.

Ed's expert tip: This mountain also provides great hiking opportunities. Hikers can exit the tourist viewing deck and head up to the less crowded summit.

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