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Everything You Need to Know When Planning Your Hong Kong Travel Itinerary in 2024

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4 weeks ago

After living in Hong Kong for a number of years, I’m used to the questions that family and friends throw at me before visiting: How do I get to my hotel from the airport? Can I drink the tap water? In short, there’s no question about visiting Hong Kong that I haven’t heard before.

I often describe Hong Kong as the most efficient major world city. But some of those efficiencies are not exactly apparent to a visitor. In this comprehensive FAQ guide, we’ll be sharing some of the little-known tricks and tips that only a local would know.

In short, our goal is to ensure that whether you are on a 24-hour layover or enjoying the ultimate 3-day Hong Kong travel itinerary, your trip is as smooth and enjoyable as possible. Less time for stress and more time for dim sum.

If we missed a burning question you have about visiting Hong Kong, comment below or join our exclusive WhatsApp community – you can find out how at the end of the article.

Before you go

Do I need a Chinese visa to visit Hong Kong?

You do not need a Mainland Chinese visa to visit Hong Kong. Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China and operates under the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’. For visa purposes, this means that Hong Kong operates a different immigration system to Mainland China.

Most Western nationals (USA, Canada, EU, Australia, New Zealand) can visit Hong Kong for 90 days visa-free. Hong Kong maintains one of the most generous visa-free policies in the world, offering visa-free access for almost 170 nationalities for 14 days.

When is the best time of year to visit Hong Kong?

Hong Kong technically has four seasons but, in my opinion, it’s generally either (1) cool and pleasant, or (2) humid and sticky.

I find October to December, and February to March to be the most comfortable times of year to visit Hong Kong. It can sometimes be a little chilly (a light jacket may be necessary), but this is ideal weather for sightseeing.

In saying all of this, Hong Kong truly is a year-round destination. Yes, June and July can be extremely humid and sweaty – but that’s also part of the Hong Kong experience! If you are visiting during the summer, make sure to allocate some time in your Hong Kong travel itinerary to indoor (and air-conditioned) activities.

If you are in Hong Kong during a typhoon or heavy rainstorm, check whether the Hong Kong Observatory has put any warning signals or place. Better yet, ask your Hong Kong hotel about borrowing an umbrella.

Getting to Hong Kong

By plane

Hong Kong International Airport is one of the world’s busiest airports. You can fly directly to most major cities in Asia, Australia, Europe, USA and Canada, across the Middle East and Africa.

In short, you’ll have no trouble finding a flight to Hong Kong.

By land

Hong Kong is connected to Mainland China via an elaborate road, bus and high-speed rail network. You can take trains directly from Kowloon West station to Shenzhen (15 minutes) and Guangzhou (45 minutes) (provided you have a Chinese visa).

There are also direct buses to major cities in Guangdong province, including Dongguan, Zhuhai and the beautiful Kaiping (home to the UNESCO World Heritage Diaolou).  

By sea

For travelers, the most relevant of Hong Kong’s sea-connections is to Macau, a former Portuguese colony, the ‘Las Vegas of Asia’ and the other Special Administrative Region of China.

You will need your passport if you are planning to travel between Hong Kong and Macau.

Just one hour away, Macau makes for an extremely unique and easy day trip from Hong Kong. The Macau ferries leave from the conveniently located Macau Ferry Terminal in Sheung Wan. Before you head there, you’ll want to double check the ferry schedule (or better yet, book your ferry tickets in advance).

Getting around Hong Kong

Octopus card

I struggle to think of other major world cities which operate public transport as brilliantly as Hong Kong.

The most important thing to ensure your Hong Kong travel itinerary is smooth and easy is to get yourself an Octopus card as soon as possible. Octopus cards operate as your catch-all transport card in addition to being a local Hong Kong debit card. You will find that many small shops, 7/11s and even cafes will generally accept Octopus card.

You can easily buy an Octopus card upon arrival at Hong Kong airport for HK$150 (US$19.20). This includes: (1) a refundable deposit of HK$50 (US$6.40), and (2) HK$100 of value (US$12.80). Octopus cards can be easily topped up at any 7/11 convenience store in Hong Kong.

Getting to and from Hong Kong International Airport

Hong Kong’s Airport Express train runs an extremely efficient service taking you from Hong Kong International Airport to either Kowloon or Central in an extremely scenic 23 to 26 minutes. Efficiency is no joke and you can often be in your Hong Kong hotel within one hour of landing – a long way from other major world airports like New York or Tokyo.

Local tip: While you can use your Octopus card to pay for the Airport Express, pre-buying tickets from Klook saves you about 20%!

Airport Express also means if you are on a Hong Kong layover of anything above four hours, you can easily sneak in a short Hong Kong visit!

Public Transport

Bus

Hong Kong operates a wide bus network. The buses are easy to use and you simply tap your Octopus card upon entry.

Generally, I find tourists prefer to use the MTR or taxis when getting around. But keep buses in mind, particularly when covering short distances in Kowloon (for example, Mong Kok to Tsim Sha Tsui).

Ding Ding

Hong Kong’s iconic double-decker trams are affectionately referred to as ‘ding dings’. They’re never the fastest option and don’t have AC, but I absolutely love taking them.

Particularly for quick hops from Central to Sheung Wan, Sai Ying Pun or Wan Chai, grab a seat upstairs and you will quickly understand why ding dings are so adored in Hong Kong.

MTR

Hong Kong’s public metro system is called the MTR (mass transit railway). A common theme by now, it’s extremely efficient with trains coming every few minutes (i.e., you’ll never have to run for your train).

The MTR is easy to use and all announcements are made in Cantonese, Mandarin and English. Generally speaking, the MTR should be your first choice for cross-harbour transport between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon.

Star Ferry

As can be expected from a territory comprising of over 250 islands, Hong Kong’s public ferry network is world-class. For tourists, the Star Ferry is not simply public transport but the best way to appreciate Hong Kong’s iconic skyline. At HK$5 (US$0.65) per crossing from Hong Kong Island to Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, I’ve even heard the Star Ferry be referred to as ‘the cheapest cruise in the world’.

Don’t worry, we’ve factored at least one Star Ferry crossing in our ultimate 3-day Hong Kong travel itinerary.

Taxis

By Western standards, Hong Kong’s iconic red taxis are extremely cheap with fares starting at HK$27 (US$3.45) on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon. Given how short distances are in Hong Kong, getting in a taxi can often be a cheap and extremely efficient way to hop across the city.

While things are changing slowly, Hong Kong taxis generally do not accept credit card or Octopus. You’ll need to have cash on hand – but more on that below.

While you’re in Hong Kong

Are there any internet restrictions in place in Hong Kong?

Visitors to Mainland China will be aware that you cannot use WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and other social media channels in China.

At present, there are no internet restrictions in Hong Kong. There has been discussion of restricting access to YouTube but Hong Kong authorities have confirmed this will not be taking place. Should there be any developments which may impact visitors, we will update this article.

Can I drink the tap water in Hong Kong?

If you do a Google search, you will be told you can drink the tap water in Hong Kong. However, you will find that many locals do not drink the tap water and any sort of stomach bug is generally attributed to tap water among Hong Kong dinner tables.

My advice is to drink bottled water – we all know how stomach problems can ruin a trip.

Do I need to carry cash in Hong Kong?

In short, yes. Despite being increasingly cash-free, you will often be required to have cash on hand. Whether you’re picking up some fresh fruit in the wet market or bargaining for souvenirs in the Ladies Market, you’ll likely need cash.

Annoyingly, only select taxis accept credit card or Octopus (always double-check before taking one). The general rule is that you will need cash for taxis in Hong Kong.

Can I find vegetarian or vegan food in Hong Kong?

Yes, Hong Kong is a vegetarian heaven. However, many traditional Cantonese restaurants will not have more than one or two dishes you can eat. To make sure you eat well in Hong Kong, you’ll want to read our comprehensive guide to vegetarian restaurants in Hong Kong.

It’s also worth noting that many items which appear vegetarian are often cooked with lard, including some of Hong Kong’s unique desserts. When in doubt, double check with the restaurant or cafe whether items include lard (豬油, zyu jau in Cantonese).

How are the toilets in Hong Kong?

If you’ve spent much time in Mainland China, you’ll realize this is a very legitimate question. The good news is that, generally speaking, you will find Western-style toilets across Hong Kong.

If you are planning to tackle any of Hong Kong’s hiking trails, note some restrooms on the trails are generally very basic and often squat toilets.

Leaving Hong Kong

How long before my flight do I need to be at Hong Kong airport?

One of my favorite things about traveling from Hong Kong airport is in-town check in. If you are traveling with Airport Express (which you absolutely should be), you can check in for your flight and drop your suitcases at the in-town check-in stations. This means you can be at the Airport Express station two hours before your flight, check-in, drop your suitcases and then take the 26 minute train to the airport.

Unfortunately, since Hong Kong’s post-COVID reopening, in-town check in is only available for Cathay Pacific flights. If you are flying on another airline, you’ll need to be at the airport about two hours before your flight.

Luckily, Hong Kong airport is very efficient, and 90 minutes before an international flight is generally a breeze (even with luggage).


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