What to Do in Hong Kong

Travelers keep two kinds of lists: the bucket list and the “wanted” list. Hong Kong should be on both, particularly when traveling with children.

The striking contrast of the city’s modern skyline against the lush greenery of Victoria Peak certainly qualifies as a see-before-you-die spectacle, while the access–direct flights from around the world and pricing that is usually lower than a trip to Paris–makes a visit attainable sooner rather than later.

And, if you’re looking for an introduction to Asia, Hong Kong provides an easy transition from the West to the East thanks to the prevalence of English.

But what’s truly notable is how kid-friendly this Asian super city can be owing to its mix of urban wonders, natural beauty, and fascinating street scenes. Follow these tips to make a first trip memorable, or get ready to plan a second. Hong Kong, like Paris, London, or New York, is a destination that begs for repeat visits.

Victoria Peak

Hong Kong’s tallest mountain, and home to some seriously impressive real estate, “the Peak” is a great first stop for jet-lagged travelers hoping to get their bearings.

The historic tram, which debuted in 1888, begins its steep ascent from the city’s Central district and climbs 1,300 feet to the Peak Tower, where the rooftop terrace offers spectacular views across the island and towards Kowloon and the New Territories.

After taking advantage of the photo ops, explore some of the trails that wind around the peak. A few minutes of walking puts travelers thick into the mountain’s greenery and far from the tourist crowds. The paths are paved, so they’re stroller-friendly for families with younger children.

  • Tip: Hong Kong Park isn’t far from the Peak tram station in Central. A walk through the aviary, where high catwalks loop through trees and more than 100 species of birds fly free, deserves a post-Peak visit.

Urban Attractions

After your high-altitude , descend back to the urban chaos of Hong Kong’s sea-level neighborhoods.

Much of the city isn’t ideal for strolling due to wide, busy highways and confusing overpasses, but certain areas, like Hollywood Road, are ideal for exploring on foot.

Walking from Central to Sheung Wan, you’ll pass a mix of modern and ancient Hong Kong: hip cafes, traditional roadside noodle shops, high-fashion boutiques, and elaborate temples (stop in Man Mo to make an incense offering).

  • Tip: While you’re in Sheung Wan, take time to visit the Mid-Levels Escalator, the longest outdoor escalator in the world–and daily transportation for commuters moving between the residential buildings above to the corporate office towers below. No surprise, kids love it.

Lantau Island

There’s no shortage of great day trips from Hong Kong, but a must for a first-time visit is Lantau. Accessible via a high-speed train, this large island has the airport on one side but pristine greenery, Buddhist monuments, and traditional Chinese villages on the other.

Go early (lines can be long later in the day) to take the Ngong Ping 360 cable car over the mountain, departing at the Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha, known informally as Big Buddha. Wear comfortable shoes; there are 268 stairs to climb to reach the more-than-100-foot-high Buddha’s platform, but the views from the top are worth the effort.

  • Tip: Keep the adventure going from the Big Buddha by continuing on to Tai O, a traditional fishing village built on stilts over the shallow tidal waters of the sea.

Hong Kong’s Markets

Hong Kong’s shopping scene goes far beyond the luxury labels, and most kids aren’t interested in trailing their parents while they pick out a new handbag or have a bespoke jacket made by a local tailor. Keep the shopping fun by hitting local markets, which sell everything from kitschy souvenirs and authentic antiques to fresh food.

Browse the Wan Chai Wet Market on Queens Road East (as well as those that spill down nearby open-air streets) to see housewives picking up local produce, live seafood, and freshly-plucked chickens.

Across the harbor, Kowloon’s Goldfish Market has stalls lined with tropical fish of all stripes and sizes, while the Ladies’ MarketLadies’ Market hawks clothing, toys, electronics, and a sizable selection of fake handbags. Antiques hunters shouldn’t miss Cat Street, where vendors sell old coins and curios.

  • Tip: Come prepared to negotiate.

South Side Bays and Beaches

Fifteen minutes by taxi from Hong Kong’s crowded central districts is the island’s peaceful south side, where bays like Deep Water, Repulse, and Stanley offer quiet havens for families ready for a respite from touring.

Sandy, palm-lined beaches, waterfront esplanades, and cafes with views of the South China Sea feel more like a beach retreat than a city, which is why many wealthy Hong Kong residents (as well as fancy international schools) base themselves here.

  • Tip: Bring a couple beach towels and spend an afternoon swimming while the sun sets behind the outlying islands.

Dim Sum and Dinner

Hong Kong has earned its reputation as a city for great dining, and the options are as varied as the island’s terrain.

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With kids, lunch at long-established Maxim’s, where diners choose their dumplings from old-school rolling dim sum trolleys, is a must. Fair warning: steel yourself for the grumpy waiters.

For a taste of where the young and hip are flocking, try Yardbird, a casual, no reservations yakitori shop specializing in all varieties of grilled chicken that’s owned by alums of NYC’s Masa and Nobu. Think your kid won’t go for the more adventurous cuts? She will, and she’ll think it’s the best chicken nugget she ever ate (while you can brag to friends that neck is her new favorite snack).

If you have children who don’t balk at raw fish, the amazing Sushi Mori in Causeway Bay has a back room where families can sit to avoid bothering the omakase connoisseurs at the sushi bar. For those with less adventurous kids, just down the street from Yardbird is Little Bao, a tiny eatery specializing in “bao,” or Chinese burgers. Come right at opening time to snag one of the stools.

  • Tip: The famous, Michelin-starred Cafe Grey feels decidedly adult, but the views are phenomenal and will mesmerize children and grown-ups equally.

Kowloon and New Territories

In addition to the famous Ladies’ and Goldfish markets, Kowloon and the New Territories offer a host of other attractions that make this more local section of Hong Kong well worth a visit.

Take the Star Ferry over, then choose between the museums (Hong Kong Heritage, with its Children’s Discovery Gallery, or the Hong Kong Science Museum are good options).

In the hills of Sha Tin is the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery, which boasts golden statues, a nine-story gilded pagoda, and a local population of wild monkeys.

  • Tip: End your evening with dinner by the harbor (the iconic Peninsula has wonderful restaurants) and watch the nightly Symphony of Lights laser show from Victoria Harbor.

Henley Vazquez is the co-founder of Feather+Flip, a new travel website for globetrotting families. Find out more @featherandflip.

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