Top-Speed Tourist: When You’ve Got Just One Day in Hong Kong
It may seem absurd to suggest that Hong Kong—one of the greatest cities in the world—can be seen in just one day. But when that’s all the time you’ve got, you just make it work.
As every globetrotting planner knows, while on duty, there’s rarely time to step outside your venue, much less see the sights. But after the last box is packed and the last guest is on their way to the airport, it’s your time to get out and make a few memories. Nowhere is taking an extra day more essential than in Hong Kong – particularly if you’ve flown half-way around the world to get there as I recently did. Perhaps I’m partial having fallen in love with the place, but whether you’re a planner or civilian, you’ll never regret having spent a day in Hong Kong (although a few more would be even better).
So how to take on this bustling island of pencil-thin, 100-story skyscrapers, mountain peaks and millions of people? Easy, just put on your chicest summer clothes and get ready to move quickly. There’ll be plenty of time to sleep on the flight home, so planners, start your engines:
8:00 am — Take the Star Ferry to Kowloon.
At the Wan Chai Star Ferry pier right next to the Hong Kong Convention center, hop on the ferry headed for the Tsim Sha Tsui stop in Kowloon, which takes you from Hong Kong Island, across Victoria Harbor to the Kowloon side of the city. Used by thousands of commuters and tourists every day, the 7-minute trip across Victoria Harbor is arguably one of the most exciting boat rides in the world, with extraordinary views, cool breezes and a dizzying array of every kind of boat imaginable, all plying the waters with speed, grace and an almost balletic ability to navigate around each other. Even more appealing? The ride costs less than 30 cents and the ferries run constantly so you’ll rarely wait more than 5 or 10 minutes for the next boat.
8:07 am – Breakfast at the legendary Peninsula Hotel Lobby Lounge.
Walk from the Tsim Sha Tsui Star Ferry Pier to the Peninsula Hotel, which is just across the street. While most people are familiar with the hotel’s legendary daily High Tea, if you’re short on time, breakfast gives you that luxurious, Old World experience, without having to cue up for tea later in the day. It’s also the perfect place to have your choice of one of the most elegant Chinese dim sum or traditional English breakfasts in town.
9:50 am – Ferry back to Hong Kong Island.
After breakfast, walk back to the ferry, enjoy the mini-cruise in reverse, and pick up a taxi back at the Wan Chai pier. Take a 3-minute, $3 ride to the MTR Waichai station, the meeting point for your next activity – a food-centric walking tour of Wan Chai, one of central Hong Kong’s most vibrant neighborhoods.
10:30 am – Meet up with your Little Adventures in Hong Kong guide.
The best way to take in the street life of Hong Kong is, of course, with a local, and Little Adventures in Hong Kong has got ’em. Known for their small group tours (5 person max) led by guides who are plugged into the Hong Kong’s deeply-rooted foodie culture, Little Adventures took me and four other guests on a wonderfully educational and convivial walkabout through main drags and quiet backstreets. We explored bustling food shops, fresh fish markets and hole-in-the-wall eateries that first-time visitors would have a tough time finding on their own. The Sunday Morning Wan Chai Walk runs about 2.5 hours and will set you back about $115, which, though pricey, is actually an excellent value considering the quality of the guides and commentary, group size and samples of local delicacies along the way. It’s a real time-saver too – no wandering around aimlessly or getting lost. (Advance purchase tickets are required.)
1:00 pm – View the city from atop Victoria Peak.
The tram up to the top of Victoria Peak is a breathtaking way to take in Hong Kong’s mesmerizing scenery but, truth be told, it’s also a modest, 2-car operation (capacity: 240 people) and the lines to ride up are staggeringly long. Instead of wasting time on line, take a photo-op-filled taxi ride up to the top of “The Peak” and take the tram back down. Once you’ve reached the summit, bust out the selfie stick and go to town. While you’re up there, recharge yourself (and your devices) at one of the numerous eateries at The Peak’s high-end shopping and food emporium, adjacent to the tram entrance. For the tram trip down, get the best views by positioning yourself on the far wall of the tram that faces Hong Kong on the descent. A taxi up the mountain will run you about $10 and the tram ticket back down will cost about $11 – a small price to pay when there’s no time to lose.
3:00 pm – Ferry back to Kowloon to visit the Ladies Markets.
Hong Kong is one of the world’s greatest shopping destinations with something for everyone, no matter what your budget. If yours is on the modest side, then the Ladies Markets in Kowloon are for you. Everything imaginable is for sale there, including clothing, souvenirs, makeup, fragrances, home goods and, of course, the requisite designer bags of peculiar pedigree, like the $8 suitcase-sized faux Longchamps tote I defiantly should have bought. Even if you don’t buy a thing – and don’t forget to haggle if you do – weaving your way through hundreds of packed open-air stalls is an only-in-Kowloon experience that keeps the Markets on everyone’s must-see list.
5:00 pm – To the Ritz-Carlton for the highest High Tea and cocktails in the world.
From the Ladies Markets, grab a taxi (or take the MTR subway) and head to The Ritz-Carlton Lounge & Bar on the 102nd level for the world’s highest High Tea, not to mention stunning views through floor-to-ceiling, double-height windows. From there, head to the 118th level for cocktails in the clouds at the hotel’s Ozone Lounge, the highest bar in the world – and a breathtaking event venue that’s popular with Hong Kong film industry types. Reservations for both spaces are a good idea.
7:45 pm – Head to the waterfront for the Symphony of Lights show.
From The Ritz-Carlton, catch a taxi for the 5-minute ride back to the Tsim Sha Tsui ferry station and follow the selfie-stick-carrying throngs to the waterfront promenade facing Hong Kong Island. Have a seat and stand-by for the nightly 14-minute presentation, the “Symphony of Lights,” a wonderfully wacky extravaganza of lasers, searchlights and neon, beaming, flashing, glowing and twinkling from upwards of 40+ buildings on both sides of Victoria Harbor. Add to that, a booming narrative and musical soundtrack broadcast live from nearby speakers and well, you’ve got yourself quite a party. (Start time is 8:00 pm.)
8:20 pm – Wrap it up in Soho, from atop the world’s longest escalator.
Make your final ferry trip back to Hong Kong Island, hail a taxi and take it to Soho’s bustling bar and restaurant area to refuel before the last stop on the itinerary – The Central Mid-Levels Escalator. Billed as the world’s longest covered escalator, the system is actually made up of 20 individual escalators, plus a few walkways and footbridges that serve as a transportation system used by over 60,000 visitors and hill-dwelling residents each day. Catch the Escalator at its starting point above 100 Queen’s Road, Central, or pick it up along Shelley Road and enjoy the 20-minute ride to the top.
The only thing left to do? Plan a longer stay next time!
Photo credits: zhu difeng / Shutterstock. Top, clockwise: leungchopan / Shutterstock; Kate Doyle Hooper (Ladies Market Kowloon, Little Adventures Fish Market, The Ritz-Carlton Lounge & Bar); Shutterstock/ Luciano Mortula; Kate Doyle Hooper (Ozone Lounge at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong); Nattee Chalermtiragool / Shutterstock.com (Symphony of Lights).