How to spend 48 hours in Hong Kong

Hong Kong needs no introduction: its skyscrapers, neon lights, throbbing streets, impressive shopping scene, and instantly recognisable views are renowned the world over. Yet, as with anywhere this revered, it can be daunting trying to work out what to do and where to go, especially if you're visiting for a short time or even the first time. In this handy guide, we suggest some of the best things to see and do in a logical manner that is easy to follow. If you're still planning your trip, don't miss the latest offers on flights direct from London with Virgin Atlantic.

How to spend 48 hours in Hong Kong © Studio Incendo - Flickr Creative Commons
How to spend 48 hours in Hong Kong © Studio Incendo - Flickr Creative Commons

Day 1

Hong Kong Zoological & Botanic Gardens

This little oasis in the city makes for a wonderful morning's exploration. Having opened to the public in 1864, the Hong Kong Zoological & Botanic Gardens is a living, breathing monument to colonial times. Where once it coexisted with low-lying official buildings, today it has been swallowed up by the city, which continues to climb higher around it.

There are various areas in the gardens, from the impressive aviary with its high walkway looking down on flamingos and cranes, and the reptile house with many a tortoise, to the mammal enclosure with monkeys of all shapes and sizes plus lemurs, meerkats, raccoons, and orangutans. There is also a pretty herb garden and a greenhouse as well as a playground for kids. Best of all, it's free to enter.

The Peak Tram & Victoria Peak

Victoria Peak is surely Hong Kong's best known landmark - an unmissable vantage point from which every visitor simply has to see the city below. While there are various ways of getting to the top, be it by bus, taxi or on foot, riding the Peak Tram is the only real way to travel, and an experience in itself.

Riding the Peak Tram to the top of the Peak © leungchopan - Fotolia.com
Riding the Peak Tram to the top of the Peak © leungchopan - Fotolia.com

A short walk from the garden mentioned above, you'll find the entrance to the lower Peak Tram terminus, complete with a short exhibition. The tram, which is the world's steepest funicular, entered service in 1888, and remains one of Hong Kong's most popular attractions. Sit back as you emerge through the trees and rise up to spectacular views across Hong Kong Island and over to Kowloon before reaching the upper terminus at the base of the Peak Tower. The Peak Tram runs every 10 to 15 minutes, and the journey lasts for around six minutes.

At the top, head for the Sky Terrace on the roof of the Peak Tower - the city's highest viewing platform. Whether you go during the day or after dark, the views offered are unrivalled, and without doubt one of the finest cityscapes anywhere in the world. The Peak Tower is well stocked with shops, restaurants, and even a Madame Tussauds, giving you plenty to do high above the bustle below.

Top tip: a cheap and easy way to refuel in Hong Kong is with a stop at any of the countless noodle shops. Devour a steaming hot bowl of goodness with added wontons before diving back into the city.

Star Ferry & the Symphony of Lights

No trip to Hong Kong would be complete without a hop across the harbour on a Star Ferry. A true icon with its distinctive green and white paint job and double decker layout, the Star Ferry has been shipping passengers between the mainland and Hong Kong Island for over 100 years. Today, the ferry departs from piers in both Central and Wan Chai to Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon, while a more comprehensive tour of Victoria Harbour is also on offer if you have the time.

Hong Kong's iconic Star Ferry crossing the harbour - photo courtesy of Bernard Spragg
Hong Kong's iconic Star Ferry crossing the harbour - photo courtesy of Bernard Spragg

Plan your Star Ferry voyage to reach Tsim Sha Tsui in time for some light evening entertainment courtesy of Hong Kong's Symphony of Lights, which has been declared the world's largest permanent light and sound show. This free spectacular sees 40 buildings both sides of the harbour lit up in a colourful display of strobe lighting, which dances across the skyscrapers to the sound of carefully choreographed music. The Symphony of Lights kicks off at 8pm every day, lasts for around 13 minutes, and gives you a performance you won't soon forget.

Bag some souvenirs at the night market

After the dazzling display at the harbour, get the MTR from Tsim Sha Tsui up to Mong Kok, and make for the Ladies' Market, which comes alive at night, except on Sundays. Expect to find anything from general souvenirs such as Chinese cushions and tablecloths to knock-off trainers, household goods, textiles, clothes, and handbags. There are many boutiques and places to grab something eat or drink lining the street either side, and remember to look up for the jumble of neon lights so typical of Hong Kong after dark.

Day 2

Hit the shops in Causeway Bay

If the Ladies' Market only leaves you wanting more, the good news is that one thing you can do all day and night in Hong Kong is shop. Whether you're hitting the malls over on Nathan Road in Kowloon or cruising through the IFC in Central, Hong Kong is a shopper's paradise with something for every budget.

Heading for the Ladies Market in Kowloon © IK's World Trip - Flickr Creative Commons
Heading for the Ladies Market in Kowloon © IK's World Trip - Flickr Creative Commons

Causeway Bay is a big hit with those after some retail therapy thanks to its eclectic mix of shops and brands, and you can easily while away a morning browsing everything from high street favourites on Fashion Walk to big hitters like Chanel, Gucci, and the luxurious designer store Lane Crawford in Times Square. Then there's the more obscure Japanese style department store of SOGO, among many, many others.

Top tip: staying on a Wednesday night? Head for Happy Valley Racecourse for Happy Wednesday - a dose of horse racing plus live music, food and drinks.

Ride the tram to Museum of Coastal Defence

Hong Kong has many excellent museums including the Hong Kong Museum of Art and the Science Museum, but for those after a little history, it's hard to beat the Hong Kong Museum of Coastal Defence. A great way to get to the museum from Causeway Bay, or anywhere along the north side of the island, is to squeeze onboard one of the rickety old trams to Shau Kei Wan, and ride it to the end of the line, passing through residential districts and busy shopping streets for a different view of the city.

The museum, which is well sign posted from the tram terminus, is housed in the old Lei Yue Mun Fort that has stood strong for more than 100 years. Today, the fort has been transformed into a thoroughly interesting look at coastal defence over the past 600 years. Take a wander through the stores, and visit the old gun emplacements, which still bear the scars of bullet holes from the 1941 Battle of Hong Kong during the Second World War. For a quicker way back towards Central, get the MTR from Shau Kei Wan station.

Sip a sundowner with a view

In a city as scenic as Hong Kong, it's unsurprising that there are many rooftop bars offering splendid views for you to enjoy, glass in hand. Top of the list has to be the world's highest bar, Ritz-Carlton's Ozone on the 118th floor of the ICC Tower in Kowloon. If you want to catch the Symphony of Lights from the comfort of a bar stool, make for the Eye Bar on the 30th floor of the iSquare on Nathan Road, also in Kowloon.

Deliciously decadent rooftop bar in the centre of Hong Kong - photo courtesy of www.sevva.hk
Deliciously decadent rooftop bar in the centre of Hong Kong - photo courtesy of www.sevva.hk

On Hong Kong Island, SEVVA is a deliciously decadent bar that throws you in amongst the skyscrapers with views up and out from the 25th floor of the Prince's Building. It attracts a lively crowd and is great place to see in the evening. Meanwhile, RED Bar at the IFC offers a tucked away terrace overlooking Victoria Harbour and the busy ferries to-ing and fro-ing. Finally, at the top of Hong Kong's liveliest street, Lan Kwai Fong, Azure Bar across the 29th and 30th floors of the LKF Hotel lends yet another perspective on this enchanting city.

Got a little extra time?

If you're lucky to have a little longer in Hong Kong, there are plenty of other sights to see and things to do. Why not visit the large bronze Tian Tan Buddha (or, Big Buddha as he's often called) on Lantau island? Take the Tung Chung MTR line to Tung Chung, and board the cable car to the top. Here you'll also find the Po Lin Monastery, as well as - sometimes rather hazy - views across the nearby islands.

Hong Kong is also well equipped to entertain kids thanks to Ocean Park, with its roller coaster, sea lions, and cable car, and Disneyland, where you'll find all the usual familiar faces, star-studded shows, and nightly firework-displays.

The 34 metre high Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island, Hong Kong © Beria Lima - Wikimedia Commons
The 34 metre high Tian Tan Buddha on Lantau Island, Hong Kong © Beria Lima - Wikimedia Commons

For a taste of life away from the big city, Lamma island makes for a lovely day trip, with beaches, walks, and waterfront bars offering a laid back escape for a few hours. If you're keen to sample more of the natural world in Hong Kong, then don't miss the chance to visit the WWF Mai Po Nature Reserve. Autumn and winter are the ideal times to go as the marshes become a hotbed of migratory birds including, among others, spoonbills. Look up and you may even spot an eagle, if you're very lucky. Snake your way along the duckboards or join a guided tour to learn more about the reserve's wildlife and biodiversity.

Are you planning a stopover in Hong Kong? Hopefully these tips for making the most of any short visit to this world city will ensure you get a good flavour of what's on offer, and even tempt you back for more. Check out the latest deals on flight to Hong Kong with Virgin Atlantic, and keep an eye on the weather in Hong Kong with our complete climate guide. You can also see when we think is the best time to go without it being too wet or too cold.

Kirsten Henton

Kirsten Henton
Posted on Wednesday 7th December 2016 in: Asia City Culture

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