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Hong Kong harbor view
10 FREE THINGS TO DO IN HONG KONG
Hong Kong is one of the most exhilarating, bustling, and visually spectacular cities in the world. Centered on the Chinese mainland section of town, known as Kowloon, and Hong Kong Island, just across Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong is jammed with dozens of tightly packed, soaring skyscrapers mashed between mountains and sea.
HK boasts the most gorgeous urban harbor in the world. Fascinating traditional Chinese culture weaves through narrow, winding alleys. Throngs of people and traffic race around the city, going about daily life.
bustling traffic and people on Hong Kong Island
Hong Kong is also one of Asia’s most expensive destinations, second only to Japan for costs.
I first visited HK in 1998. In fact, it was the launching point for my world trip. I promptly spent 1 ½ month’s travel budget in just one week: $600 US. HK is not a budget destination.
But in 2008 I visited again. Much more travel-savy by then, I was able to stay for one week on a very modest budget by staying with friends, finding local food shops, and enjoying a variety of free activities and attractions around the city. It is possible to visit HK on a tight budget.
Take advantage of these suggestions and HK’s abundant opportunities. If you’re a budget traveler who happens to get a flight stop-over in HK, by all means try to explore the city, even if only for a few days. It’s an amazing place.
Lash and pal Rosie
1. Skip accommodation expenses altogether
Hong Kong accommodation is extremely expensive. True budget housing options don’t really exist. You can significantly reduce the price of your HK trip by eliminating accommodation costs. Join Couch Surfing.
If you’re not yet familiar with couch surfing, go check it out! It’s a world-wide organization of travelers and hosts who offer free accommodation in their homes to travelers. Couch surfing is a great way for travelers to hook up with locals and see the area from the local’s perspective. In turn, hosts are rewarded by meeting travelers from around the world, hearing about their adventures, and showing off their country. Everyone makes new friends and helps each other out.
Currently there are over 1400 Couch Surfing hosts in Hong Kong! Many are expat westerners living in HK, many are nationals. All share a love of traveling and of exhilarating Hong Kong.
another HOng Kong harbour view
Free activities on Hong Kong’s Kowloon side:
2. Marvel at Hong Kong’s spectacular harbour views
HK’s natural setting on a mountainous island beside a narrow channel across from mainland China in conjunction with the combined aggressive entrepreneurial spirit of the British and Chinese has created the world’s most stunning urban harbour.
You can enjoy HK’s spectacular cityscapes for free anytime along Kowloon’s waterfront promenade. You’ll be gazing across the bustling channel to HK’s impressive skyscrapers backed by imposing Victoria Peak.
The promenade is also a fantastic spot for watching boats and for international people-watching. HK is a major tourist destination for people from all over the world, and the waterfront is one spot they all visit. You can’t get much more international than Kowloon’s promenade!
flamingos in Kowloon Park, Hong Kong
3. Escape the chaotic city with a visit to Kowloon Park
HK has many parks scattered around city and province. Kowloon Park is one of the largest, most interesting, and easily accessed. Just a few blocks inland from the harbor, you can walk there from the waterfront in less than 10 minutes.
The park is full of beautiful lush vegetation: towering shady trees, flowering bushes, landscaped gardens. There’s a flamingo lake, Chinese garden, rose garden, sculpture garden and 7 large bird enclosures with over 19 species of Asian birds. In early mornings residents practice Tai Chi throughout the park.
There are walking trails and a large swimming pool. The pool costs money, but everything else is free.
Free activities on the Hong Kong Island side:
4. Get rubber neck-ed gazing up at sky-scrapers
HK’s amazing, densely-packed sky-scrapers are situated at the base of HK Island, seaside, in the areas known as Central and Wan Chai. Wander along the base of those soaring towers, admiring the diverse architecture and detailing.
HK is one of the best places in Asia to see astounding futuristic sky-scrapers, rarely found in Europe or North America.
5. Go tropical bird watching at Hong Kong’s walk-through aviary
Kong Kong Park, on the Hong Kong Island side of HK, boasts one of the world’s best aviaries. Set on the steep hillside, a gigantic netted enclosure houses over 600 birds from 80 species, most of whom fly around freely in the jungly enclosure. There are water birds, land birds, song birds, and tropical flying birds of all colors, shapes and sizes.
Visitors enter from the uphill side and meander down an elevated walkway, searching for birds while being serenaded by song. Because of the density of bird life, you’ll be able to spot an astounding number of birds, probably most of which you’d never be able to locate out in the real world.
Amazingly, the aviary is entirely free. It’s open from 9-5 daily, and you’re welcome to stay as long as you want. Hong Kong Aviary is a real treat.
6. Learn about ancient Chinese tea ceremonies
While you’re at Hong Kong Park, visit the Museum of Tea Ware. This fascinating museum displays Chinese tea implements, utensils, cups and tea pots. The serene colonial building itself is also worth admiring.
The museum regularly holds tea events and lectures. Who knows, you might be lucky enough to be in Hong Kong for one of them.
7. Go take a hike
Although Hong Kong is a densely packed modern city, there’s a surprisingly high proportion of natural land.
Victoria Peak is HK island’s highest point and is famous for its stunning views over HK city and the harbour far below. The mountaintop consists almost entirely of parkland with several hiking trails of varying lengths running through trees and dense brush along the ridge lines, with amazing 360 °views.
From the city, most people take HK’s famous ‘Peak Tram’ near Hong Kong Park to reach the top. The tram, of course, costs money. (currently about 65 HK / $10 US) You can also access the peak for 8-10 HK by bus, minibus or by taxi.
The free option is to walk all the way up from the bottom on Hong Kong’s roads. That way, you’ll also get a most excellent work out.
Victoria Peak looming behind Hong Kong skyscrapers
Free activities throughout Hong Kong:
8. Explore HK’s narrow winding alleyways
Although Hong Kong was dominated by the British for over 100 years, HK has always retained an almost entirely Chinese character at street level.
Wandering around the back alleys you’ll come upon all sorts of eye-opening sights: Chinese medicine shops, snake juice, inexplicable traditional foods, street markets, flower markets, religious alters, and bustling commerce.
Don’t worry too much about getting lost. With a simple map, Kong Kong Island’s tall mountains, and the sea surrounding the city, you can always regain your bearings.
9. Visit an early-morning fresh market
If you’ve never visited a traditional Asian morning fresh market, you’re in for some eye-opening merchandise. You might come across bowls of slithering eels, mounds of tied-up frogs, jars of snakes in liquid, live chickens hanging upside down, all manner of seafood: octopus, squid, eels, shells, lobsters, crabs, and hundreds of fish species.
You’ll also find a bewildering variety of herbs, teas, and unknown vegetables. Fascinating.
small temple in Central, Hong Kong Island
10. ‘Pay your respects’ at some Chinese temples
A trip to HK would hardly be complete without visiting at least one Chinese Temple. After all, technically, HK is part of China. All sorts of interesting activities take place at Chinese Temples.
Inhale sweet musky incense; watch temple-goers’ routines of lighting incense, placing the sticks in giant urns, kneeling and bowing, praying, and making offerings of fruit, flowers or small statues. Puzzle yourself over the quizzical Chinese fortune telling technique using falling sticks.
Consult a HK map to locate several small temples scattered around both Kowloon and HK Island.
You might also like other article in my series ‘1o Free Things to do in…’ :
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