Hong Kong's Best Places to See: Sightseeing Made a Lot Simpler

The whole of Hong Kong is a sight to see: myriad skyscrapers set around one of the world's most dramatic natural harbors make for an intriguing panorama by day or night, at dawn or dusk, noon or midnight. 

Some of Hong Kong's sights have been constructed on purpose, others have just grown up of their own accord. Madame Tussauds is a slightly unusual sight, but it's as much fun observing the reactions of the local visitors as it is marveling at the waxworks of the rich and famous. And the Goldfish Market is pure Hong Kong – right in the heart of the city, a thriving sub-culture that's right on the street. 

And – get this – many of Hong Kong's sights charge no admission at all, or just a couple of bucks. Stroll along Sai Kung's Seafood Street for as long as you want, and it won't cost you a red cent. Star Ferry and the Happy Valley Racecourse must rank as two of the world's cheapest attractions.

Not all of Hong Kong's major sights are in town – hop aboard the ferry or the cable car to see the Big Buddha at the Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island, or wind your way out to the east of Hong Kong for a stroll around the old fishing port of Sai Kung and its buzzing seafood street.


Sheung Wan
Man Mo Temple
Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Tourism Board

The gods of literature and the military are celebrated here in one of the oldest temples in Hong Kong. Built in the 1840s, you'll find two unique chairs inside that were once used to carry these deities through the city during festivals. Former visitors have left sticks of incense over the years, which are now hanging from the ceiling; you can still buy one in hopes of fulfilling a wish, while a fortune teller runs a brisk business to one side of the temple. Man Mo is very much on the tourist trail, but with very good reason, and handy for antique shopping along Hollywood Road.

Happy Valley Racecourse
Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Tourism Board

Surrounded by high-rises, this downtown racecourse is one of the greatest stadiums on earth to enjoy a sweaty, noisy and adrenaline-pumping horse race at night. Dating back to 1844, the 55,000-seat racecourse is one of the earliest public facilities in colonial Hong Kong. Regular races take place every Wednesday and Saturday from September to June on the 30-meter-wide grass track. A 978-seat iPad-equipped betting hall is located on the second floor of platform one. Visitors can either pay HK$10 (US$1.3) to sit on the public spectator seats or HK$100-150 (US$13-19) to enter the member-only zone. There are a total of seven restaurants and bars in the complex from Cantonese dining to al fresco drinking. On the second floor of the Happy Valley Stand of the racecourse, there is a 670-square-meter museum, Hong Kong Racing Museum, tracing the past and present of the city's enduring pastime.

Kowloon Walled City Park
Photo courtesy of Kowloon Walled City Park

The Kowloon Walled City was truly infamous as it was the only district in Hong Kong that avoided British rule during the 1840 Qing Dynasty. So who ruled the walled city? No one! It was in a state of lawlessness and ruin until it was demolished and the site turned into an award-winning park in the 20th century. It is home to Bonsai trees, relics from the Qing Dynasty, and a popular giant chessboard. This is the ultimate urban regeneration project, not just in Hong Kong but just about anywhere in the world. There's always a pleasant air of calm, whatever the time of day.

Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences

This intriguing museum traces the relatively recent history of medical science in Hong Kong. In 1906, in response to Hong Kong's ongoing epidemic of bubonic plague, the Bacteriological Institute opened in this building as the city's first medical laboratory. Over the decades the focus changed (as did the name, to the Pathological Institute), and the building eventually was turned into a museum. Today it houses several galleries with exhibits devoted to Chinese herbal medicine, dentistry, and a unique comparison of Chinese and Western medicine. The building itself is quite interesting as well; among its charms are several fireplaces, a beautiful entry hall, and carefully tiled floors.

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. Most people come here by road or cable car, both exciting journeys in themselves.

A hidden gem of Hong Kong, this fishing town is where Hong Kongers retreat for sea-swimming, kayaking and some of the city's best seafood. The center of the town is a 1,000-meter-long street lined with seafood stalls. Each looks like a mini aquarium as the boss displays an amazing array of freshly-caught seafood for diners to order. Across the street, fishermen sell 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 south of the seafood street is Trio Beach, a nice soft-sand stretch with calm and clean water, relaxed atmosphere and opportunities for seaside barbecue. For the truly energetic type, Sai Kung Country Park provides some of the most challenging but rewarding hiking experiences through mountains to beaches.

Madame Tussauds Hong Kong
Photo courtesy of Madame Tussauds

Yes, there's even a Madame Tussauds in Hong Kong. Exhibits include "Hong Kong Glamour" (rich, famous and/or powerful), "Historical and National Heroes" (such as former President Hu Jintao, the British Royal Family, and astronaut Neil Armstrong), "World Premier" (national and international film celebrities), "The Champions" (athletes like David Beckham and Tiger Woods), "Music Icons" (international stars like Elvis and Madonna displayed alongside Chinese pop sters like Leslie Cheung, Teresa Teng and Joey Yung). As always at Tussauds, the waxworks are amazingly lifelike, enough to make you do a double-take, even in an age when international celebrities are so familiar from the media.

Goldfish Market
Photo courtesy of Hong Kong Tourism Board

Tung Choi Street is Hong Kong's street shopping center. Not far from the Ladies Market in the north lies a treasure island that's uniquely Chinese, the Goldfish Market. This fascinating market is a great place for families to visit. Bags upon bags of live goldfish in different sizes and colors can intrigue even the naughtiest kids. These are sold as pets as the Chinese consider goldfish a sign of good luck and some of the rarer species in the market can fetch great prices. Besides the kaleidoscope-like display of goldfish, the market also sells other small pets including turtles, rabbit and hamsters.


Star Ferry is the loveliest attraction in Hong Kong. This 115-year-old service is one of these rare attractions that are hailed by both tourists and locals. Shuttling between Tsim Sha Tsui on Kowloon side, and Central and Wan Chai on Hong Kong island, these 20-minute boat rides represent a lifestyle of the past: slow, soothing and stress-free. That's exactly where the excitement and enjoyment lies. It's fascinating to see the hyper-busy city from these boats: century-old colonial buildings rub shoulders with glass-walled skyscrapers on the two jam-packed waterfronts. Even with the MTR efficiently connecting Kowloon and Central, locals still choose to ride the Star Ferry now and then for that classic Hong Kong moment.

Victoria Peak

The 552-meter mountain boasts that classic Hong Kong view. Near the summit 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 rises in eye-opening density beneath your feet while Victoria Harbour glitters in distance. Go on a nice day, you can also make out the outlying islands scattered over the South China Sea. Various modes of transport reach the top but the 1,350-meter-long tram (funicular) line is most popular. The 125-year old track is said to be the first railway in Asia and the eight-minute ride can reach as steep as 30 degrees.


Meet Ed Peters

Ed Peters has been based in Asia for much of his life.