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Let’s face it, Hong Kong is expensive. So after you’ve shelled out more than you care to for a hotel or hostel, having some more affordable options for your activities is probably well-appreciated if your budget was anything like mine. You can certainly shell out for a day at Hong Kong Disneyland or ferry over to Macau for a day of gambling, but if you’re looking to keep the spending low, here are 18 cheap or free things to do in Hong Kong.
1. Eat delicious food
Like so many places in Asia, Hong Kong is packed with amazingly delicious eats. From dim sum to roasted barbeque meats to egg waffles and more, it’s hard to not have an amazing gastronomic experience everywhere you go.
Head over to this post on the best places to eat in Hong Kong on a budget. Most of the meals are under $10 USD, including Michelin-starred spots, and not a single one is more than $20.
2. Explore on foot
Work off some of that food you stuff yourself with by walking through the city. Strolling through Hong Kong felt like I was in a neverending Chinatown. Not surprising, I suppose, given that most Chinatowns in the west were started by immigrants who came from the Canton region of China.
Hong Kong has a unique blend of cultures and traditions given its history, a peninsula that has gone through many episodes of drastic changes, all of which have contributed to the city’s current vibe. And there’s no better way to experience it than to just put on some comfy walking shoes and go where the streetlights take you. Plus, you get to see random art all across the city!
3. Get context at the Hong Kong Museum of History
To dig deeper into that history, there’s no better place to visit than the Hong Kong Museum of History. Admission to the permanent collection, “The Hong Kong Story,” is always free, and it’s as informative as it is fascinating.
“The Hong Kong Story” starts with the history of natural developments in the area starting way back about 400 million years ago. It then moves to the flora and fauna of the area, the earliest human settlements, and the history of Hong Kong throughout China’s dynastic periods. The last section of part one focuses on folk culture in Hong Kong and the traditions of the various ethnic groups who call this place home.
The second floor of the exhibit focuses on the near recent history of Hong Kong from the Opium Wars and the cession of Hong Kong to life during British rule and the Japanese occupation to Hong Kong’s return to China. While this was history I was more familiar with, the museum did a great job of tying the narrative together with artifacts, testimonials, photographs, and videos as well as recreations. It really helped bring history to life.
I truly feel a visit to Hong Kong would be remiss without a visit to the Hong Kong Museum of History, so get your butt over there!
4. Check out the Hong Kong Heritage Museum
If you have time for another museum, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum is a great choice. Like the Hong Kong Museum of History, the heritage museum is mostly free save for certain special exhibits.
The museum has a variety of exhibits on Chinese art and Cantonese traditions such as Cantonese opera. When I visited in February 2018, it also had a free special exhibit on the life of Bruce Lee that was absolutely fascinating. Did you know he was an accomplished cha cha dancer? Or that he married his wife Linda Emery before anti-miscegenation laws were banned?
5. Visit the Avenue of Stars
Speaking of Bruce Lee, make sure to visit the Avenue of Stars. The counterpart to Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, Hong Kong’s Avenue of Stars pays tribute to the stars that have contributed to the city’s entertainment industry.
The Avenue of Stars was closed for renovations when I visited, and repairs aren’t scheduled to be done until early 2019. But fear not, a selection of the sculptures and handprint plaques have been moved to a temporary exhibit called Garden of Stars at the Tsim Sha Tsui East Waterfront Podium Garden. Go find some stars!
6. Watch “A Symphony of Lights”
If real stars are more your thing, well, it’s a bit hard to see the stars in Hong Kong. Instead, you can check out “A Symphony of Lights,” the nightly light and sound display that showcases the city’s skyline.
You can view “A Symphony of Lights” from various spots along the water. One good spot is the Hong Kong Culture Center area, just get there early to make sure you get a good spot. The free show starts at 8 p.m. and lasts approximately 15 minutes.
7. Cruise on the Star Ferry
Another great spot to catch “A Symphony of Lights” is on the water, and one of the cheapest ways to do so is via the Star Ferry. This passenger ferry is as much a transportation option for locals as it is an attraction for visitors.
There are a couple of routes that run between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, and depending on which route you take, the Star Ferry costs between 2.20 HKD and 2.70 HKD on weekdays and 3.10-3.70 HKD on weekends.
8. Whiz by in a double-decker tram
Another transport-cum-attraction is Hong Kong’s double-decker trams. I never took the double-decker buses when I visited in London, so when I got to Hong Kong, I really wanted to hop on one of these trams. They made me giddy because they reminded me of Harry Potter. They’re also a fun way to traverse through Hong Kong Island, and they’re one of the cheapest modes of transport at only 2.30 HKD a ride ($0.29 USD).
9. Ride the Mid-Levels Escalator
Okay, okay, one more: the Mid-Levels Escalator!
Hong Kong Island is one hilly maze. Known as the world’s most vertical city, Hong Kong literally feels like separate cities smashed together like some sort of reverse Pangaea. Out of that comes the need for the Mid-Levels Escalator, the world’s longest outdoor covered escalator system.
When I first learned of the Mid-Levels Escalator, I thought it was one continuous escalator. Instead, it is a collection of individual escalators. I suppose that makes sense given that people need to get off at various points to get to their destination. You can hop on the escalator at any point, but if you start at the bottom at 100 Queen’s Road in Central, you’ll get the opportunity to experience just how hilly the area is.
On your way up, don’t miss the opportunity to stop at Jamia Mosque, the city’s oldest. The serene atmosphere of the place and the pastel green minarets were a welcomed contrast to the frenzied crowds and skyscraper apartment buildings it’s nestled in between.
10. Hike up to Victoria Peak
If you’re ready to use your own two feet for transport, fear not, there’s plenty of hiking to be done in Hong Kong. First up: Victoria Peak.
Yes, there’s the famous Peak Tram, but I honestly felt it was overrated and overpriced. So instead, you should hike up to the peak as I’d originally wanted to. (But because I planned my Hong Kong days around food, I found myself at a rather weird spot on Hong Kong Island too late in the (winter) day to do the hike.)
If you plan more accordingly, you can take the MTR (the local public transit system) to Sai Ying Pun station, and from there the hike is only about 70 minutes. Given how long the wait is at the Peak Tram ticket booth, one might even say that the hike is shorter.
Once you get up to the top, it’s basically a giant mall. Unless you’re interested in doing overpriced shopping, skip the building and follow the signs to the Lion’s Pavilion Lookup for a fantastic view of the city.
If you’re too tired to walk on the way down, you can take bus 15 from the peak straight down to the Star Ferry dock.
11. Hike through Lantau Island
Another great place to hike is on Lantau Island, the largest of Hong Kong’s islands (and much more sparsely-populated than Kowloon and Hong Kong Island).
I was woefully underdressed for Hong Kong in February and also had a mishap with my phone battery, so I only did a short hike when I was on Lantau. But the island is full of trails, and there were plenty of people in full hiking gear making their way across the island.
12. Visit the Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery
If you’re up for it, you can even hike up to the Ngong Ping highlands, home to two of Lantau’s most famous attractions: Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha.
At 34 meters high, Tian Tan Buddha is one of the largest Buddhas in China. Tian Tan Buddha is known as the big Buddha of the south, while the one on Liuding Mountain in Dunhua is known as the big Buddha of the north. Fittingly, the northern Buddha was part of the first stop of my funemployment trip and this southern one was part of my last. (I also learned about the Hong Kong one while at the Dunhua one.)
Head over to Lantau Island on weekdays when public transit is cheaper. Just take the subway to Tung Chung station. From there, either hike or take bus 23 to Ngong Ping for 17.20 HKD (27 HKD on Sundays and public holidays). The ride takes just under 40 minutes.
Alternatively, you can take the fancy new cable car. It’s about 5x the price but could be worth it if you love aerial views. Just make sure to wait until you get to Tung Chung station to decide. They put up signs about the visibility each day, so it’s good to know that before shelling out the money. What’s the point if you can’t see anything?
13. Explore another side of Hong Kong
One of my favorite things about Lantau is that it feels so different from the chaotic skyscraper-filled worlds of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. At the same time, it’s also one of the more accessible islands of Hong Kong (which has 200+!).
So while you’re on Lantau, make some time to visit Tai Po, one of the characteristic fishing villages on the island. From Ngong Ping village, it’s approximately a 15-minute ride on bus 21. Walk around town, visit the Tai O Rural Committee Historic and Cultural Showroom for artifacts from various parts of daily life in Tai O, and see the stilt houses of the fishing village.
There are also a number of delicious local eats in the village. From giant Chinese donuts at Tai O Bakery to curried fish balls and other seafood options from local vendors to sticky, sweet, and savory Hakka snacks from Yun Gu Cha Guo, you won’t go hungry in Tai O!
14. Walk through Hong Kong’s oldest street
While Kowloon and Hong Kong Island may seem incredibly modern in comparison to Tai Po, you can still get in touch with the old by strolling through Hong Kong’s oldest street.
Hollywood Road, aka antiques street, is Hong Kong’s first completed road. This street is packed with shops large and small selling art and antiques from various time periods. To be honest, I was a little afraid of going into some of them and knocking precious items over, so I only gingerly examined a few shops. But if you’re an antique lover, don’t miss Hollywood Road — even if you can’t afford to buy anything!
15. Say a prayer at Man Mo Temple
While you’re on Hollywood Road, make sure to check out Man Mo Temple, one of the oldest and still active houses of worship in Hong Kong. In fact, there are more locals burning incense and praying than tourists.
The temple is made up of three halls: one is for the worship of all Chinese gods, one is for the worship of the god of literature and the god of martial arts, and the last is an assembly hall that is also now a commemoration hall for those who have passed.
16. Peek inside Langham Palace
On the flip side of all that is old and historical at Man Mo Temple is Langham Palace. It’s actually a bit of a posh mall, but it’s worth a visit for the architecture and interior design, the crazy escalators, and the maze that it is. Plus, if you’re in Hong Kong during the cold months like I was, the mall can be a nice reprieve from the bitter wind. Just keep your wallet in your pockets (no mobile payments either, please!).
17. Head to the Ladies Market
If you’ve got the retail itch but all you can afford to do at Langham Palace is window shop, head to the Ladies Market instead.
From all sorts of standard souvenirs to things you didn’t know you needed or wanted, this market has it all. The Ladies Market, as its name implies, has more goods catered to women, though it’s bound to be interesting for anyone to explore. Keep your wallets close though (better yet, keep your wallets empty) — this is near the end of the list because it is very possible to walk out of the Ladies Market feeling like it wasn’t all that free or cheap of a stroll. That’s up to your own discipline.
18. Hit up the Temple Street Night Market
If food and shopping together is more your thing, head over to the Temple Street Night Market. Like the Ladies Market, there’s plenty to buy. But there are also many spots where you can grab a bite as well as performers to keep you entertained while you’re waiting in line.
What are your favorite free things to do in Hong Kong? Pin it to share it!
1 thought on “18 Cheap or Free Things to Do in Hong Kong”
This a nice detailed guide. Hong Kong is on my wish travel list and this would definitely be useful when I decide to visit.