In the past decade, Hong Kong has risen in the ranks as one of the most expensive cities in the world, no doubt deterring budget travelers from making a trip to the city. In a place where a cup of coffee costs upwards of $7 USD and a one-day ticket to Hong Kong Disneyland is priced at $75 USD, it is easy to assume that all of Hong Kong is expensive. The truth, however, is that visiting Hong Kong is affordable – as we proved on our recent trip to the city. To help other travelers experience Hong Kong without breaking the bank, we’ve designed a 3-Day Hong Kong Itinerary on a Budget – including actual costs and cost-saving tips.
Hong Kong on a Budget
We created our Hong Kong itinerary on a budget based on a rock-bottom budget, while still being able to experience Hong Kong’s top sights. We relied on public transportation and our own two feet, rather than organized tours and avoided high-dollar tourist sights by seeking out cheaper alternatives. Instead of paying an entry fee for a skyscraper view, we discovered towers that are open to the public. As a substitute to purchasing a ticket to The Peak’s 360-degree viewing platform, we strolled the circumference trail for free. Rather than paying for a harbor cruise, we hopped on the Star Ferry. And, in lieu of a package tour to Lantau Island, we figured out a way to visit the sights on our own for a fraction of the tour cost. However, everyone’s budget is different, so we offer money-saving tips that fit a range of budgets.
3-Day Hong Kong Itinerary
Day One – The Peak and Central
Start the day with a bird’s eye view of Hong Kong from The Peak, then explore Hong Kong’s Central district on foot via a self-guided walking tour before ending the day with a few drinks in SoHo or on Lan Kwai Fong.
Victoria Peak – or simply ‘The Peak,’ as the locals call it – is Hong Kong Island’s tallest mountain, reaching 1,811 feet. Tourists and locals flock to The Peak not only for the phenomenal views of Central, Victoria Harbor, Kowloon and the surrounding islands, but also for the cooler temperatures and a bit of exercise.
While the highest point is off-limits to visitors (it houses telecommunications towers), there are parks, paths, viewing points (free and for fee) and a shopping complex near the top. Our top recommendation: Skip the indoor shopping and pass on buying a ticket to the only-slightly-higher vantage point of Sky Terrace 428 and jump on the Peak Circle Walk trail for spectacular 360-degree views of Hong Kong…for free! (Allow an hour to complete the circumference trail and take in the views. Level: easy, no incline.)
Getting To Victoria Peak:
The Peak Tram, which first operated in 1888, is a popular option to get from Central to the top of the mountain – but often the longest option as we heard of wait times of up to two hours (and with only 3 days in Hong Kong, there’s no time for that!). A second option is to catch bus 15 from the Central Piers for a ride up the mountainside, passing posh Hong Kong residences along the way.
- Peak Tram return (roundtrip) ticket: 45 HKD ($5.75 USD)
- Peak Tram one-way ticket: 32 HKD ($4.10 USD)
- Peak Tram return (roundtrip) with Sky Terrace 428 combo ticket: 90 HKD ($11.50 USD)
- Peak Tram one-way with Sky Terrace 428 combo ticket: 77 ($9.90 USD)
- Bus 15 from Central Piers one-way ticket: 9.80 HKD ($1.25 USD)
Tip: Unfortunately, buying a one-way Peak Tram ticket to ride up and Bus 15 ticket down is not a cost-saving measure. If the roundtrip tram ride and elevation to Hong Kong’s highest viewing platform are at the top of your Hong Kong Must-Do list, purchasing The Peak Combo Ticket will save you money. As a time-saving measure, you may want to consider the Skip The Line Peak Combo Ticket.
Self-Guided Walking Tour of Hong Kong Central
Central is Hong Kong’s vibrant Central Business District. Located on Victoria Harbor on the northern shore of Hong Kong Island, the district is dense with skyscrapers (some of the tallest in the world) and government buildings, both new and historic. Take a stroll through Central district and into the surrounding neighborhoods to get acquainted with Hong Kong. (Map and Google Map links below.)
Hong Kong Self-Guided Walking Tour Sights
A. 2 International Finance Center – Standing at 1,378 feet (with 88 floors), 2 International Finance Center is the tallest tower on Hong Kong Island and a distinct landmark. Tip: The Hong Kong Monetary Authority Museum is located on the 55th floor and is free to visit. Even if the musesum is not of interest, head up to take in the view of Hong Kong. Note: Must have photo ID to enter.
B. The Center – The Center is the fifth tallest building in Hong Kong, best known for its colorful neon lights and iconic lobby.
C. Queen’s Road – Queen’s Road was the first road in Hong Kong, built in the 1840s, and – at one time – marked the northern shoreline of Hong Kong Island (before land reclamation).
D. Mid-Levels Escalator – Covering a distance of 2,600 feet, the Mid-Levels Escalator is the longest outdoor escalator system. Built in 1993, the escalators were designed to relieve traffic and public transport congestion by aiding in the steep climb. Ride the escalators to the end, but make a few detours along the way:
- D1. Lunch: Some of our favorite things to eat in Hong Kong are found near the escalators. For lunch, try Mak’s Noodles or Yat Lok and then stop by Tai Cheong Bakery for an Egg Tart and Lan Fong Yuen for a Milk Tea for dessert.
- D2. Man Mo Temple: The Man Mo Temple dates to 1847 and is a Declared Monument. The temple is open to visitors to pray, light incense and take photos.
- D3. Jamia Mosque: Built in 1890, Jamia Mosque is the oldest mosque in Hong Kong.
E. Hong Kong Catholic Cathedral – Officially named the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, the church was built in 1883.
F. Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens – Built in 1860 to study native plants, the Botanical Gardens now include a small zoo and several educational trails.
G. Duddell Street Gas Lamps – The gas lamps on Duddell Street are the last remaining gas lamps in Hong Kong. The steps of Duddell Street were built between 1875 and 1889.
H. Government House – Built in 1855, the Government House was used as the official residence of the Governor from 1855 until 1997. The house now serves as the official residence of the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.
I. St. Joseph’s Church – Unique in architecture and color, St. Joseph’s Church dates to 1872, but has been rebuilt several times.
J. Hong Kong Park – Hong Kong Park is an oasis in the middle of the city featuring an aviary, greenhouse, fountains and paths.
K. Bank of China Tower – The iconic Bank of China Tower was once the tallest building in Hong Kong, but now ranks as the 4th tallest.
L. HSBC Building – The HSBC Building was constructed in 1985 at the cost of $668 million USD, making it the most expensive building in the world at that time.
M. Statue Square – Statues of British royals once decorated Statue Square, which dates to 1887. However, during Japanese occupation, the statues were removed and destroyed. Only one statue remains – that of HSBC Banker Sir Thomas Jackson, 1st Baronet.
N. Court of Final Appeal – The neo-classical and elegant Court of Final Appeal building (previously the Legislative Council Building, which was originally the Supreme Court building) sits in the shadows of the surrounding skyscrapers.
O. City Hall – Hong Kong does not have a mayor or city council; therefore, the Hong Kong City Hall serves as a cultural and arts center, which includes a concert hall, theater, exhibition hall and library.
P. Chinese People’s Liberation Army Forces Building – Named the ‘Prince of Wales Building’ when it was built in 1979 to house the office of the British Army, the 370-foot-tall structure (that some think resembles a wine glass or upside-down gin bottle) was renamed the People’s Liberation Army Forces Building and reconstructed in 1997 when Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China. The building houses the PLA Hong Kong Garrison.
Q. Tamar Park – Tamar Park is a waterfront park amongst government buildings.
R. Central Government Complex – In 2011, the Central Government Complex was constructed, including the Central Government Offices, Legislative Council Complex and Office of the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. The building design is intended to illustrate a ‘door always open.’
S. Central Plaza – Hong Kong’s third-tallest tower, Central Plaza, stands at 1,227 feet in the Wan Chai district. Tip: The Central Plaza Sky Lobby, located on the 46th floor, has floor-to-ceiling windows and 360-degree views…and, best of all, it’s completely free to go up and take a look.
T. Golden Bauhinia Square – Located along the harbor at the Exposition Center, Golden Bauhinia Square features a golden, blooming Bauhinia – a gift from the Central Government to celebrate the 1997 Handover. To the west of the square along the water, find Ani-Com Park@Harbor”FUN”, 30 life-size statues of comic characters designed to celebrate Hong Kong’s culture of animation.
Note: For travelers who are directionally challenged or more engaged auditorily, a guided walking tour may be more beneficial. Fortunately, there are free walking tours in Hong Kong, as well as inexpensive group tours and higer-priced small-group tours of Hong Kong. Additionally, some of the Hong Kong Walking Tours venture into areas not mentioned above, such as Sheung Wan, a historic district in Hong Kong known for its dried seafood and medicinal shops.
Tip: Before leaving Wan Chai, discover more of the district on a self-guided Wan Chai walking tour and then ride a Ding Ding tram to Central. OR – get out on the water to see the Hong Kong Skyline at night by boat. Hop on a Star Ferry from Wan Chai Ferry Pier to Tsim Sha Tsui (TST). If the time is nearing 8pm, consider staying at the TST Piers for the Symphony of Light laser light show. (Note: The light show can also be viewed from Golden Bauhinia Square. The show is highly acclaimed – and free – however, we don’t recommend altering your timetable to see it.) From TST, catch a ferry to Central Piers. Once at Central Piers, make your way to the Mid-Levels Escalators and into SoHo.
Join the party in SoHo or Lan Kwai Fong
The streets in SoHo (South of Hollywood Road) and Lan Kwai Fong are lined with chic bars and trendy cafes…which pour drinks that come with hefty price tags ($9 USD local beer). However, the atmosphere is lively and budget travelers shouldn’t miss joining the fun. Many places offer happy hour specials, but the deals aren’t exactly spectacular. To keep the budget in check – and still get a taste of Hong Kong – go to 99 Bottles (north of Staunton on Peel Street), where they pour local craft beer for just 45 HKD ($5.75 USD). The true bargain budgeter, however, should hit up Club 7-Eleven (a.k.a: the corner convenience store) to buy beer. Cans of beer from the convenience store can cost as little as $1 USD per can and there are no laws against public consumption in the streets, where bar patrons are already hanging out (and paying a premium for the beers from the bartender).
Keen on meeting other travelers and letting a local lead you to the best bars in Hong Kong? Join the Hong Kong Pub Crawl ~ shots at four bars are included in the price!
Day Two – Kowloon
Discover the TST district on foot and then learn about Hong Kong’s past at the Hong Kong Museum of History. Eat a late lunch of Dim Sum and then wander through the markets and neighborhoods, ending the day at the Temple Street Night Market.
Located on the southern tip of the Kowloon Peninsula, TST sits opposite Central across Victoria Harbor. The district attracts tourists with prominent hotels, high-end shops, fascinating museums, green parks and a few historical sites.
- Clock Tower – The red-brick Clock Tower is a TST landmark, which was built as part of the Kowloon Station of the Kowloon-Canton Railway.
- Avenue of Stars – Modeled after Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, the Avenue of Stars pays tribute to Hong Kong’s movie celebrities, which includes sculptures of Bruce Lee and hand impression plaques. (Note: Avenue of Stars is closed until 2018.)
- 1881 Heritage – Built in the 1880s to headquarter the Hong Kong Marine Police, the 1881 Heritage building now houses a mall, hotel and exhibition hall.
- The Peninsula – The ultra-luxury hotel, The Peninsula, was built in 1928. The hotel has suites that cost more than $2,000 USD per night and a fleet of green Rolls-Royce Phantoms.
- Kowloon Park – The Kowloon Park features a lotus pond, sheltered walkway, aviary and lion dance performances on Sundays. The park, which offers a reprieve from the congestion of TST, was originally the site of British military barracks, only converted into a park in 1970.
- International Commerce Centre – Hong Kong’s tallest building – and the 10th tallest building in the world – is the International Commerce Centre – and quite literally can’t be missed. Located on the 100th floor is the sky100 Observation Deck…that comes with an equally steep price tag of 168 HKD ($21.50 USD). However, purchasing Sky100 tickets in advance can save money. They also have a Sunset Package, Sky100 Sunset, which includes a glass of wine and allows visitors to watch as the sun goes down and Hong Kong lights up at night.
Hong Kong Museum of History
The permanent exhibition at the Hong Kong Museum of History, “The Hong Kong Story,” is an excellent way to learn about Hong Kong’s turbulent past and its surviving culture…and it is free to visit. The exhibit includes eight galleries covering history of 400 million years – beginning with the Devonian period and educating guests on the events that occurred throughout Hong Kong’s history to the reunification with China in 1997. Tip: The coat and bag check are also free.
Lunch at One Dim Sum
Budget travelers rarely return from a trip abroad boasting about the Michelin Star restaurants they ate at while on vacation…except in Hong Kong. Several Hong Kong eateries have been awarded Michelin stars in recent years (but, not all retaining them), yet the prices have remained affordable. As is the case with One Dim Sum, a Michelin Star recipient in 2012. Frequented by both tourists and locals, One Dim Sum offers a wide selection of small plates at incredibly affordable prices (from $2-4 USD per menu item). Tip: We highly recommend the baked BBQ pork buns and steamed shrimp dumplings.
Self-Guided Walking Tour of sights and markets (map)
Lui Seng Chun – The historic Lui Seng Chun building, which is located in Mong Kok, was constructed in 1931 and housed a medicine shop on the ground floor. The building is now used as the Hong Kong Baptist University School of Chinese Medicine and features an herbal tea shop for visitors.
- Yuen Po Bird Garden – Known as the Yuen Po Bird Garden, the pedestrian lane is both a place for bird owners to bring their birds on a daily walk (in their cages) and where stalls are set up to sell small birds.
- Flower Market – The Hong Kong Flower Market includes rows of blossoming plants, bonsai trees and flowers.
- Goldfish Market – The Goldfish Market is a street lined with shops crowded with aquariums, buckets of reptiles and plastic bags of swimming fish hanging on display, like at a carnival.
- Fa Yuen Street Market – Fa Yuen Street is also called Sneaker Street for the abundance of athletic shoe shops. However, there are many shops offering bargains on fashionable clothing.
- Ladies Market – Although popular with tourists, the Ladies Market retains a local feel. Stalls offer clothing (for both men and women – despite the name), accessories, souvenirs, cell phone cases, paintings, CDs and just about anything else you could possibly think of that could be sold in a shop.
- Note: Visiting the Hong Kong Markets comes with a full dose of sensory overload. To experience not only the sights, scents and sounds of the markets, but also get a local’s perspective and guidance, join a Hong Kong Market Tour that fits your style.
Yau Ma Tei Theater – Built in 1930, the historic Yau Ma Tei Theater now hosts Cantonese opera performances.
Shanghai Street – One of Hong Kong’s oldest streets, Shanghai Street is occupied by shops selling traditional Chinese home goods.
Jade Market and Jade Street – More than 400 stalls sell jade stones at the Jade Market and Jade Street. At Canton Road and Jordan, there is a jade stone which weighs three tons.
Tin Hau Temple – Built on the waterfront prior to land reclamation, Tin Hau Temple now sits amidst urban development. The temple is dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea.
Temple Street Night Market
Fortune tellers, karaoke singers, street food and bargain shops line the street after dark to create the Temple Street Night Market. Stalls are crammed with merchandise, but the dynamic atmosphere is the real reason to go. Tip: Find a place at or near the market for dinner. We enjoyed our meal at Tak Kee Seafood, but it’s also fun to simply follow the crowds to find the best food stalls and restaurants.
Day Three – Lantau Island
Take a ferry to Lantau Island to see the Big Buddha, Po Lin Monastery and Tai O fishing village.
Lantau Island is Hong Kong’s largest island, which was long home to several quaint fishing villages. The island is comprised of mountainous terrain that boasts the second highest peak in Hong Kong, Lantau Peak, which stands at 3,064 feet (almost double the height of Victoria Peak on Hong Kong Island). In recent years, major projects have been built on Lantau, like the Hong Kong International Airport and tourist attractions, including Hong Kong Disneyland and the Ngong Ping 360 cable car. Tourists also visit Lantau Island to see the Big Buddha, the Po Lin Monastery, Tai O fishing village and to go hiking.
Officially named the Tian Tan Buddha, the Big Buddha bronze statue on Ngong Ping plateau in the middle of Lantau Island is 112-feet tall – which makes it one of the biggest Buddha statues in the world. Visitors climb 268 steps to reach the statue (bypass the sales desk; they are selling meal tickets, not entrance to the statue). At the base of the statue are six more statues…and breathtaking 360 degree views.
Po Lin Monastery
The Buddhist Po Lin Monastery is just a short walk from the Big Buddha statue. Founded in 1906, the monastery complex includes multiple structures and places to burn incense. Tip: Don’t miss the Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas in the back of the complex.
Tai O Fishing Village
Once a thriving village of fishermen, Tai O has evolved to cater to tourists coming to get a glimpse of their houses built on stilts, which hover above the water. An abundance of dried seafood shops and cafes line the streets of the town. To get a better look at the unique houses, boats take tourists through the ‘neighborhood’ and then out to sea in search of the elusive pink dolphins.
Tips for visiting Lantau Island on a Budget
Taking a day trip to Lantau Island is easily done on a budget – in fact, our Lantau Island visit, only cost about $12 USD per person. There are Lantau Island tours that charge 10 times that amount. In order to save money, we decided not to ride the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car, which costs 185 HKD ($23 USD) roundtrip in a standard cabin. Instead, we took a ferry boat from Central to Mui Wo on Lantau Island, a bus from Mui Wo to Ngong Ping, a bus from Ngong Ping to Tai O, a short boat excursion in Tai O and a bus from Tai O back to Mui Wo to catch a ferry to Central. The times and prices were clearly posted at the bus stops (which differed slightly from online information) and aligned well with ferry arrivals and departures. We weren’t sure what to expect in the way of food on Lantau Island, so we ate a big breakfast and brought snacks with us. The Big Buddha, Po Lin Monastery and Tai O fishing village are all open to the public (and, thus, are free to visit).
Breakdown of Costs:
- First Ferry (Fast Ferry) from Central Pier 6 to Mui Wo on Lantau Island: 31 HKD ($4 USD)
- Bus #2 from Mui Wo to Ngong Ping: 17 HKD ($2 USD)
- Bus #21 from Ngong Ping to Tai O: 6.3 HKD ($.75 USD)
- Boat Excursion in Tai O: 20 HKD ($2.50 USD)
- Bus #1 from Tai O to Mui Wo: 10 HKD ($1.25 USD)
- First Ferry (Standard Ferry) from Mui Wo to Central Pier 5: 15.90 HKD ($2 USD)
Several tour operators run tours to Lantau Island attractions. The organization and information provided by the tour guide can make for a superb Lantau Island Tour, which includes sorted transportation, the cable car and island sights. If riding the cable car is at the top of your list of things to do in Hong Kong – but you don’t want a guided tour – consider a MTR, cable car, Big Buddha tour combo package to save money.
Top Tips for our 3-Day Hong Kong Itinerary on a Budget
More Hong Kong Sightseeing
Our 3-Day Hong Kong Itinerary on a Budget provides an introduction to a vairety of sights in Hong Kong – but is by no means a complete list. Some other top attractions in Hong Kong include harbor cruises, Macau Island, horse races, Ocean Park, Disneyland, a day tirp to Guangzhou (China) and hiking Dragon’s Back. There really is something for everyone – and every budget! – in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Sightseeing Passes
Exploring Hong Kong by foot can be tiresome – especially in high humidity. The Big Bus Hop-On Hop-Off tour takes tourists to all the top sights – and has the added bonus of optional upgrades.
Looking for a way to bundle costs to experience the best of Hong Kong? The Hong Kong iVenture Card can save you money when used for entry into the most popular Hong Kong sights. It includes attractions like Sky100 Observation Deck, Ngong Ping Cable Car, city tours and sights on Macau Island.
Getting around Hong Kong using public transportation isn’t only convenient and efficient – it’s also incredibly cheap. Tickets and fares on the MTR subway system are based on distance. Intercity rides cost as little as 4.5 HKD (50 cents USD) up to about 14.2 HKD ($1.80 USD). The famous double-decker Ding Ding Trams are 2.3 HKD per ride (30 cents USD) and the Star Ferry, which transports passengers across Victoria Harbor (Central to/from TST; Wan Chai to/from TST) for 2.5 HKD per ride (32 cents USD). Buses and Red and Green Mini Buses cost slightly more.
The Airport Express quickly (in as little as 24 minutes) takes passengers from the airport to the city center, but it comes at a cost of 100 HKD ($12.80 USD). Buses from the airport cost significantly less at 40 HKD ($5.15 USD) and take about 15 minutes longer.
An Octopus Card can be used to ride all forms of public transportation and is even accepted at some convenience stores. A standard on-loan Octopus Card, which is sold at the airport (cash only) can be purchased for 50 HKD ($6.40 USD) and then pre-loaded with money to use on public transport. If needed, cards can be reloaded at the ferry terminals or MTR stations in the city. Before departing Hong Kong, a refund of the initial 50 HKD and any remaining balance (minus a 9 HKD processing fee) can be issued at the airport.
We purchased Standard On-Loan Octopus Cards (and found it to work in our favor monetarily), but there are tourist Octopus Cards that can be purchased:
- Tourist Card Day Pass with one day of unlimited travel on public transportation: 65 HKD ($8.35 USD)
- Travel Pass
- With 1 Airport Express ride and 3 consecutive days of unlimited travel on public transportation: 250 HKD ($32 USD)
- With 2 Airport Express rides and 3 consecutive days of unlimited travel on public transportation travel: 350 HKD ($45 USD).
Our preferred method of getting anywhere is by flying (we are JetSetting Fools, after all!). However, due to our unique circumstances (flight benefits earned from years of service with a major airline), we rarely buy airline tickets. That being said, when we do need to purchase plane tickets, we start our search for the best deals on airline tickets on Skyscanner or Flight Hub.
Where to Stay
There are hundreds of Hong Kong hotels to choose from, but budget options are limited. Dorm beds at hostels can cost as little as $25 USD, but even the Hong Kong YMCA dorm beds cost about $50 USD a night. We stayed at the Butterfly on Waterfront boutique hotel in the Sheung Wan district close to Central for $70 per night. Travelers may find better prices on apartments through Airbnb, FlipKey or VRBO – not to mention having the added bonus of having a kitchen to prepare simple breakfasts. (Not already a member of Airbnb? Use this link Airbnb to create an account and save money on your first stay!) Budget travelers – and those seeking truly local experiences – should check out Couchsurfing in Hong Kong, where guests stay with locals for free.
What to Eat
Eating in Hong Kong can be incredibly affordable, with meals often costing less than $5 USD. Check out our list of 6 Incredibly Delicious Things To Eat in Hong Kong for more about eating in Hong Kong.
Before You Go
- We covered some ground in Hong Kong! It’s important to pack a pair of lightweight and comfortable walking shoes to take on the city. I (Sarah) have traveled with these shoes by Columbia, Skechers and Reef. Kris prefers wearing these shoes by Merrell and Sanuk.
- We’re certain you’ll be snapping tons of photos during your trip. Rather than relying on your mobile phone to capture the sights, upgrade to an actual camera for higher quality photos (that can later be printed in a keepsake travel photo book). We travel with a Canon Rebel (which takes amazing photos, but can be a bit clunky) and a Canon PowerShot ELPH (which takes beautiful pictures, is slim and lightweight – and the new models are wifi enabled so you can share your trip pics to social media in real time!).
- It’s easy to get turned around or lost in any new city! Be sure to have a good city map and/or guidebook prior to arriving.
- Regardless of how small our budget is, we think travel insurance is essential! If you haven’t already obtained travel insurance for your trip, travel protected with World Nomads.
We want to know: What sights would you add to our 3-Day Hong Kong Itinerary on a Budget? Have any Hong Kong budget tips to share? Tell us in the comments!
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