Hong Kong may bring to mind sky-high hotel prices, luxury malls, an endless list of cosmopolitan cocktail bars and high-end restaurants. But here’s a budget-friendly adventure guide on how to experience the city’s best corners for a weekend.
Day 1: Get your bearings
The first stop for most visitors? Victoria Peak, which is famous for its postcard-worthy views of the city. Instead of taking the Peak Tram, embark on a leisurely 45-minute hike up the peaceful, forested Morning Trail (along Hatton Road and up to the Peak Circle Walk intersection). At the top, make your way to the free viewing platform crowning the Peak Galleria mall. If time allows, enjoy the Peak Circle Walk around the mountain’s circumference, before taking the historic tram (US$4.70 one-way; thepeak.com.hk) on the way back down.
From there, walk for 10 minutes toward Victoria Harbour, to Maxim’s Palace in City Hall; the venue is an iconic dim sum spot. Order from old-school roving trolleys to try dumplings and cha siu bao (barbecue pork buns) for about US$15.
After walking off your hearty dim sum spread, enjoy a Chinese-style reflexology massage at sleek parlor The Right Spot (US$23 for 25 minutes; therightspot-wellness.com) in Central. Just around the corner, you’ll find H Queens, a new vertical arts center that boasts beautiful architecture and big-name galleries like Pace, Pearl Lam and Tang Contemporary Art.
As evening sets in, sit down for an indulgent pasta dinner at the new Pici Central (US$20; pici.hk), then hop to Coa (coa.com.hk), a Mexican cocktail bar, for a mezcal-powered tipple. Try the Mezcal Paloma (US$12.80) or Horchata de Pistachio (US$11.50), made from the owners’ own horchata (milky drink derived from nuts or rice) mix.
- Day 1 costs: Tram ticket $4.7; Dim sum $15; Massage $23; Dinner $20; Drink $12.80; Total: $75.50
Day 2: Get outta town
Looking around the compact urban center, it’s easy to forget that about 40% of Hong Kong’s total area has been designated as a country park or public green space. And when urbanites need an escape from the crowds, they venture up to Sai Kung, Hong Kong’s green lung. Situated about an hour northeast of Central by bus, this quiet, pristine corner of the territory showcases a completely different side of Hong Kong. Start the day early with a stop at Sai Kung Cafe & Bakery for a sugar-topped, butter-slathered pineapple bun (US$2; 6–7 Sai Kung Hoi Pong Sq).
From there, allow a few hours to hike to Long Ke Wan, one of Hong Kong’s best beaches. Take bus 29R from the village to Sai Wan Pavilion, then follow Stage 2 of the MacLehose Trail past volcanic rock formations and the eastern shores of the High Island Reservoir until you reach the beach. After splashing about, head back to Sai Kung to dine at the Conservatory (enotecagroup.com), a colonial-style alfresco spot, where you can enjoy a gourmet salad (US$12.50) and pizza (US$15), or a few sharing plates.
Returning to town, opt for a quick walk through one of the free exhibitions at the Hong Kong Space Museum in Tsim Sha Tsui, which emerged from renovations this April. For dinner, Green Common (greencommon.com), just down the road in Harbour City mall, will reward you with a fresh and affordable feast of nutritious plant-based dishes — there’s vegan pho (noodle soup; US$10.20) and veggie burgers (US$10).
Take the Star Ferry back to Central, then round out the day with a nightcap on the Sky Deck of Cé La Vi (US$20 or under; hk.celavi.com) — the rooftop terrace provides 360-degree views of the skyline, city and mountains.
Day 2 costs: Breakfast $2; Lunch $27.5; Dinner $10; Drink $20; Total: $59.50
Day 3: West Side story
Thanks in part to Sai Ying Pun MTR Station, which opened in 2015, the Western District of Hong Kong Island continues to welcome an influx of cool galleries, cafés and restaurants — best explored on foot. Start the morning off with a coffee and pastry at newly opened Amber Coffee Brewery (fb.com/ambercoffeebrewery), which will set you back about US$10. From there, wander along Man Wa Lane — nicknamed “chop alley” after its resident chop (or stamp) makers — and up into the hills of trendy Tai Ping Shan, which is home to indie cafés and boutiques like Squarestreet, a shop with elegant timepieces.
Head east to check out PMQ, Hong Kong’s dedicated design and culture hub, and drop into local design shops GOD (Goods of Desire), the HK Room and Kapok; all brimming with worthy souvenirs.
Walking west on Hollywood Road, you’ll pass myriad antique shops and art galleries stocked with jade vases, contemporary calligraphy, rugs, photography and more. For lunch, Winstons Coffee (winstonscoffee.com) does combos of Aussie-style coffee (from US$3.60) with homemade sandwiches (US$8.90; US$11.50 with coffee) in a casual-cool environment. Just up the hill in Sai Ying Pun, Above Second (abovesecondgallery.com) art gallery is one of Hong Kong’s most avant-garde spaces. It specializes in contemporary urban art from emerging Asian talents.
Keep the creative vibes going with dinner at newcomer Co Thanh (fb.com/cothanhrestaurant). Located in the trendy Gough Street area, the Vietnamese eatery churns out banh mi (sandwiches; US$11.20) and vermicelli noodle soups (US$12.50) from an open kitchen. Further into the lifestyle mecca of SoHo, 65 Peel (fb.com/65peel) pours local craft beers from the likes of Young Master Brewery and Moonzen Brewery for about US$10.20 per 450ml glass.
Day 3 costs: Breakfast $10; Lunch $11.50; Dinner $12.50; Beer $10.20; Total: $44.20
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Where to stay
They may be few and far between, but Hong Kong does provide accommodation for under US$100 a night. Here’s where to rest your head without breaking the bank:
- Mingle Place by the Park. Surrounded by the historic temples and buzzing markets of Wan Chai, Mingle Place by the Park sits inside a ’60s-style tong lau residential building. 2–5/F, 141-3 Wan Chai Rd, Wan Chai; mingleplace.com
- Bishop Lei International House. With harbor views, a central location, a pool and a terrace, Bishop Lei International House is a backpacker favorite for good reason. 4 Robinson Rd, Central; bishopleihtl.com.hk
- Cosmo Hotel Hong Kong. Conveniently located by the Happy Valley Race Track, Cosmo Hotel draws design-savvy travelers to its color-coded rooms. 375–377 Queen’s Rd East, Wan Chai; cosmohotel.com.hk
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Happy hour hangouts
With prices like these, we’re not sure how these Hong Kong hotspots stay in business:
- Jamie’s Italian serves up drinks, wines and beers for US$1.25 from 6pm to 7pm; US$2.60 from 7pm to 8pm; and US$3.80 from 8pm to 9pm every night. 1 Tang Lung St, Causeway Bay; jamieoliver.com
- Lily & Bloom is a stalwart that offers select cocktails, wines and beers at a discount, as part of its nightly happy hour (from 5–9pm, Mon–Fri; 6–9pm, Sat). Prices start at US$3.80. 33 Wyndham St, Central; lily-bloom.com
- Stone Nullah Tavern promises free-flow snacks and standard drinks for US$12.60, from 5pm to 7pm, Mondays through Fridays. 69 Stone Nullah Ln, Wan Chai; stonenullahtavern.com
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Pro tip: plan your visit for the museum exhibits
Many of Hong Kong’s museums offer free entry, some daily and others every Wednesday. That means there’s nothing between you and the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, which has an ongoing Bruce Lee exhibition, or the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence, which, on top of its exhibits, offers amazing views of the South China Sea.
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The cheapest, and often most convenient, way to explore Hong Kong is via public transport. The trams and Star Ferry are extremely affordable, with the latter costing just over a quarter dollar. The MTR and buses are also well-priced with fares escalating according to distance.
This article first appeared in the May 2018 issue of Smile magazine.