The Hong Kong that you see in the glossy tourism brochures is tetris shaped skyscrapers, electric neon lights blazing from street-level back alleys and scintillating smoke wafting from the kitchens of Michelin star restaurants and corner-block food stalls. Instagram portrays a discord of symmetrical urban perfection and candy-coloured basketball courts.
It’s not until you walk the streets yourself will you understand the chaotic harmony that thrums through Hong Kong; from its lofty peaks to slurping noodles on a plastic stool in the street and down in the belly of its MTR.
This post will tell you how to spend 4 days in Hong Kong with a significant focus on food and photography. The weather gods were quite kind to us at the beginning of May and our visit was uninterrupted by the riots which took over the streets a few weeks after we left. This Hong Kong travel itinerary is filled with eating escapades and zigzagging across town drinking in the urban landscapes and observing the characters which fill them.
4 day hong kong itinerary
DAY 1: EXPLORING & EATING IN KOWLOON
Start your first day with breakfast at Urban Coffee Roasters. You can opt for your familiar smashed avo with sweet corn quinoa salad otherwise you might be tempted to try the portobello mushroom eggs benny on a charcoal brioche bun
Get ready to “smize” at your first urban photography location in Hong Kong. Nam Shan Estate is a housing complex in fifty shades of green. The simple playground in the middle of the complex is above the farmers’ market complex underneath.
And it was all yellow too. For high rise views of Hong Kong, you need to almost always go up. Make your way to the rooftop of the Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre where you can snap photos to your heart’s desire of the perfect symmetrical yellow and white high rises in the background. For your safety, please respect the ribbon tape and do not climb onto the elevated platforms or balcony edge.
One thing you’ll learn about many food places in Asia is that for the good stuff, you have to be prepared to queue. Michelin fame has propelled the Tim Ho Wan group to unwavering levels of popularity so if you’re wanting to dine at a Tim Ho Wan branch in Hong Kong, make sure to arrive at opening time. The must-try dish is the baked BBQ pork buns.
Roll out of lunch feeling like a stuffed BBQ pork bun and set off to explore Nathan Road. This long road stretches from Sham Shui Po, through Jordan and Mong Kok, all the way down to Tsim Sha Tsui. There are a number of eclectic shops and boutiques while the backstreets serve as perfect street photography backdrops.
With all that walking, you’ve definitely earned an afternoon treat. At the edge of Victoria Harbour where the Star Ferry departs and arrives to and from Hong Kong Island, go in search of Tai Cheong Bakery for its renowned egg tarts. A couple of doors down is the sleek % Arabica Hong Kong Star Ferry coffee shop if you also need a refreshment.
To rest the feet, take your sweets around the corner to the Avenue of Stars. Sit and admire the Hong Kong Island skyline and passing ferries.
Slot yourself into one of the old-school diner booths at Mak’s Noodle. The famous Cantonese restaurant chain is well known for its wonton noodle soup. Even Anthony Bourdain tried these notorious noodles. The long thin yellow egg noodles could be hailed as the Chinese version of spaghetti bolognese except you’ll have shrimp dumplings instead of tomato sauce. The servings are quite small, served in small bowls said to prevent the noodles from going soggy. If you’re super hungry, consider ordering two servings.
DAY 2: DISCOVERING CENTRAL & HONG KONG ISLAND
Today you’ll be exploring Hong Kong Island. Start your day off by getting the heart pumping and the blood flowing. The walking trail up to Braemar Hill (also known as the Red Incense Burner Summit) is mostly paved with some stairs at the beginning of the path and a little bit of rock scrambling at the end to reach the coveted lookout point. The flat boulder proffers uninterrupted skyline views of the skyscrapers of Central, Wan Chai and across the water to Yau Ma Tei. To reach the beginning of the walking trail, catch the green minibus 25 from Causeway Bay to Braemar Hill Bus Terminus.
Another uber-famous Instagram hotspot is at the Transformer buildings known as Montane Mansion but also known as the Yick Fat Building Hong Kong. Unfortunately, the residents and building management have had to put up with an increasing number of photography enthusiasts visiting the premises. When we visited in April 2019, there were signs prohibiting commercial photography and videography.
Recently, we have discovered that physical barriers have now been installed around certain elevated platforms that prevent prohibited climbing. Please respect the barriers and the fact that these areas are where people live. We implore you to not be a nuisance.
This will be one of the prettiest lunches you ever did see and eat. Yum Cha Central has become insta-famous for its cartoon piggy pork buns, dachshund sausage rolls and googly-eyed molten custard buns. It’s one time where you can get away with playing with your food as an adult!
Head up the hill and take a look inside Man Mo Temple. One of the oldest temples in Hong Kong is at the top of a hill in the Sheung Wan district. The three-room temple is dedicated to the gods of literature and martial arts. Entrance is free.
Looking for a low-fuss meal that is cheap and tasty too? We’ve got a solid option for you if you’re tired of waiting in food lines. Head to Joy Hing Roasted Meat and don’t judge this place based on its interior. Sure you’re sharing table space with strangers and there are ripped posters on the wall but the ambiance is incredible and we loved the food too. A plate of roast goose, roast pork and rice with choy sum will really hit the spot and you’ll certainly be eating earlier than if you stuck it out in the line at Kam Roast Goose just around the corner.
Head towards the water’s edge and find a good vantage point of Victoria Harbour. Each night at 8:00pm, iconic buildings on both sides of the harbour are set alight in a dazzling multimedia extravaganza called A Symphony of Lights. The lightshow plays accompanied by a soundtrack performed by the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra.
DAY 3: A TASTE OF THE LOCAL CULTURE
Over 70% of Hong Kong is mountains and sprawling green parks but this is a side of the country that you don’t come to see from atop Victoria Peak. Catch The Peak tram (KHD $99 return) to the top for views of the endless skyscrapers starting in Hong Kong Island and stretching across to Yau Ma Tei and Kowloon Bay.
Don’t eat too much breakfast and save your appetite for this dim sum meal at One Dim Sum. It may seem odd to eat dim sum mid-morning but this is the traditional time for yum cha. The former Michelin guide restaurant still attracts hordes of loyal locals and hungry visitors. Our top tip is to get there early in the hope that you’ll minimise your queuing time.
Once you feel as stuffed as a dumpling, direct your feet towards the markets in the area. There is the Flower Market, the Bird Market, the Goldfish Market and the Ladies Market.
Horse racing in Hong Kong is quite a big deal. From the track to the many bookie venues all over town, if you want insight into a rather unorthodox aspect of the country’s culture, a trip to the races should be added to your Hong Kong travel itinerary.
Horse races usually run on a Wednesday night at Hong Kong Jockey Club race at Happy Valley racecourse whilst races take place on Sundays at Sha Tin racecourse. The Wednesday night affairs provide a festive atmosphere where you can enjoy food, drinks and live music alongside the racing.
DAY 4: STARS AND SHOPPING
If you’re a die-hard Instagrammer, it will be most difficult to resist the allure of snapping a shot at the most famous colourful basketball court in Hong Kong. Catch the MTR to the Kowloon side where you’ll find the rainbow coloured Choi Hung Estate. Keep in mind that the residents come out to exercise on the basketball courts on weekend mornings so you may be vying for space amongst basketballers, brisk walkers and those practicing tai chi.
Pick up a coffee at NOC Graham Street. You’ll find yourself amidst Graham Street Market, a centuries-old market where locals stock up on daily fresh food. There are some great portrait photo opps here where stall owners sell whole pigs, live seafood and even stinky tofu.
If you happen to be in Hong Kong during a weekend, consider an indulgent dining experience where you can stuff yourself silly with bottomless dim sum at Michelin star restaurant, Duddell’s. For two hours, your dining party can order unlimited dumplings, spicy snacks, crispy peking duck and wash it all down with free-flowing beer, wine and cocktails.
Professional and amateur photographers may be aware that Hong Kong has a number of retailers selling brand new and second hand cameras and lenses. Often, you’ll need to catch a lot of elevators and escalators up to stores which resemble an overcrowded pawn shop. There are certainly some second hand bargains to be found if you know what you’re looking for and many places are willing to give a small discount if you pay in cash. We would recommend browsing in Jordan and Tsim Sha Tsui.
If you’re looking for souvenirs, cheap knock-offs and little knick knacks to take home, wander through the flood-lit stalls of Temple Street Night Market. The restaurants which line the street are rather touristy and arguably not as authentic as those you may find on other back streets but the plastic stools do provide an ideal perch for people watching.
One of our favourite travel memories of Hong Kong is the night that we stumbled across the back streets of Jordan whilst looking for the neon lights of Mong Kok. Whilst Temple Street Night Market is the main thoroughfare, the surrounding blocks should not be ignored with other smaller stall holders selling fruit and vegetables, jade trinkets, sex toys and fortune telling readings.
If you have more than 4 days in Hong Kong, consider adding these activities and attractions to your list of things to see and do in Hong Kong.
Day trip to Macau from Hong Kong
If you’ve got some extra dough plus an extra day up your sleeve, why not spend a day in Macau. An easy 55 minute direct ferry takes you from Hong Kong Macau Ferry Terminal to Macau Outer Harbour Ferry Terminal. Spend the day soaking up the eclectic mix of Chinese and Portuguese influences, peek into the giant shiny casinos and shop big in the malls. If you prefer to soak up the scenes out on the streets, grab your camera and let this guide show you the most instagram-worthy places in Macau.
You will need your passport to travel between Hong Kong and Macau (you’ll receive a short-term visitor stamp) and it’s likely you won’t need a visa.
Tian Tan Buddha (the Big Buddha)
Reaching 34 metres high, Tian Tan Buddha is the bronze Buddha said to symbolize “the stability of Hong Kong, prosperity of China and peace on earth.” Located at Ngong Ping, Lantau Island, the Big Buddha and the Po Lin Monastery is one of Hong Kong’s most important Buddhist sanctums and a tourist attraction. Refer to this website for details on how to get to the Big Buddha.
A round trip on the Ngong Ping Cable Car (depart outside MTR Tung Chung Station Exit B) costs HKD $235. Access to the outside of the Buddha is free of charge but there is a small admission fee to go inside the Buddha.
Hong Kong Disneyland
Release your inner child for a day snapping selfies with Mickey & Minnie and riding roller coasters until you feel ill. Hong Kong Disneyland features Toy Story Land, Fairy Tale Forest and Festival of the Lion King.
HOW TO GET AROUND IN HONG KONG
Public transport in Hong Kong offers frequent and efficient services to 7.3 million locals and approximately 26 million visitors each year.
Even if you do prefer walking, it’s likely your Hong Kong travel itinerary will cover a lot of ground so purchasing an Octopus Card in our opinion, is worth it and recommended.
The best Octopus cards for visitors are:
- Sold Tourist Octopus Card – costs HKD $39 and comes with no refundable deposit or initial value. Can be used for public transport, dining, entertainment and shopping.
- On-Loan Standard Octopus Card – comes with a refundable HKD $50 deposit. Can be used for public transport, dining, entertainment and shopping. You can return your On-Loan Standard Octopus Card to an authorised distribution outlet to collect your deposit and remaining value but you will be charged a handling administration fee.
WHERE TO STAY IN HONG KONG
Rent per square metre is more expensive in Hong Kong than it is in New York City but don’t let the price tags deter you. You’re bound to find a place within your price range to sleep off your daily food coma.
The Eaton HK is retro meets modern glam on the edge of the Yau Ma Tei neighbourhood. The hotel features an array of room options suitable for couples, travelling pairs or small families. With several lounge bars and restaurants on the lower levels decorated in shiny tiles and neon lights are the perfect hang outs if you don’t wish to venture far. The Wes Anderson-esque rooftop pool and fitness centre is the icing on the cake and will have all your friends envious once you post a pic on your Instagram. Breakfast is not included but can be purchased for HKD $150 per person.
The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong
For plenty of ooh-la-la, a luxury suite at The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong is the ultimate indulgence. If your bank balance stretches far, you can even request one of the rooms with a waterfront view of the harbour. The hotel is also home to the glitzy OZONE rooftop bar, offering cocktails and Asian tapas.
If you prefer low-key accommodation with minimal fuss and a smaller price tag, AirBnb offers many clean and compact studio apartments. They’re often nothing fancy or luxurious but perfect for storing your bags, a hot shower and a comfy bed.
PLANNING YOUR TRIP TO HONG KONG
Wi-Fi in Hong Kong & Buying a Hong Kong Sim Card
Wi-Fi can be accessed in most restaurants and cafes. You can buy a prepaid Hong Kong SIM card from 7-Eleven outlets. We purchased the Individual Traveler Prepaid SIM Card for HKD $68 and used the data for navigation purposes in the city.
Language in Hong Kong
Most of the locals speak Cantonese in Hong Kong.
Do they speak English in Hong Kong?
Despite Cantonese being the main language of Hong Kong, we found that many locals speak English too (it is one of the official languages). Most restaurants will have English menus or pictures.
Is Hong Kong safe to visit?
Our 4 day visit to Hong Kong was before the protests and riots of 2019. In our experience, we felt extremely safe throughout the city. From walking streets at night to catching public transport, we did not feel threatened or uneasy at any point during our trip.
Cost of 4 days in Hong Kong
This will vary between travellers from budget to luxury. Using the above suggested 4-day itinerary in Hong Kong, you should expect to pay around HKD $500 per person per day excluding your accommodation but including an estimate for public transport travel.
Factors that will influence your spending money in Hong Kong:
- Accommodation – on this particular trip, we spent three nights in an Airbnb (HKD $1,725) and two nights in a hotel (HKD $1,775)
- Public Transport – we used public transport each day. There is no daily cap. We avoided and did not use taxis or rideshares
- Food & Drink – we mainly chose to spend our money on food experiences and specialty coffee. You can eat cheaply in Hong Kong but brunch at Duddell’s (two Michelin stars) will seriously inflate your spend (HKD $778 per person). Coffee in Hong Kong is also a luxury (you’re looking at AUD $10 – $15 a cup!)
- Attractions – we did not pay for any tours or admission fees to attractions on this visit.