Hong Kong Tours & Holidays
East meets West in a unique city offering the best of both worlds.
If the skyscraper-filled streets thrum with energy and smiling faces greet you from behind street food stalls then congratulations, you made it to the bustling and lively Hong Kong. From the top of Victoria Peak and the vibrant harbour to the peaceful islands bursting with adventure, Hong Kong is bound to delight travellers wanting to throw themselves into the thick of things. Whether you want to shop till you drop in the markets and mega-malls, dine out on dim sum or put the yum back in yum cha, this cosmopolitan city is full of fascinating things to discover, all within a single suburb.
Our Hong Kong trips
Hong Kong at a glance
Hong Kong Dollar (HKD)
(GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi
Type A (North American/Japanese 2-pin), Type C (European 2-pin), Type I (Australian/New Zealand & Chinese/Argentine 2/3-pin)
Learn more about Hong Kong
Culture and customs
Hong Kong is a semi-autonomous territory of China. While it might seem like its own country – having its own passport, money, legal system and culture – technically, it’s still part of China. Most Hong Kongers, however, see themselves as separate and are quick to point out the differences. Locals speak Cantonese (rather than Mandarin) and write traditional Chinese characters (rather than simplified).
It’s important to remember that Hong Kong only became a ‘Special Administrative Region’ of China in 1997. For the preceding 150 years it was a British colony, and though it was part of China before the British came, Hong Kong was greatly influenced by foreign traders as well as the Chinese mainland.
The result of this is a culture that integrates traditional Chinese beliefs with more modern Western values. The majority of Hong Kongers practice traditional Chinese religions – Taoist, Confucian or Buddhist doctrines – but these often take a backseat to Western liberalism and a fierce belief in freedom of speech and democracy. The recent protests aimed at what’s seen as an overly intrusive Chinese government are a testament to the desire of Hong Kong’s population to retain their unique blended culture.
Given Hong Kong is one of the world’s largest and most successful financial hubs, there is an element of ‘work hard, play hard’ that pervades everyday life. This isn’t just relegated to the large expat community either, with Hong Kongers placing education, work ethic and wealth accumulation high up on their priority list.
Hong Kong is one of the wealthiest cities in the world and this is built off the back of a laissez-faire economy promoted by the British and the lack of an interventionist government. Life here is fast-paced and cosmopolitan – the population can be quite materialistic and prone to displays of wealth.
A rare example of a culture blending East and West, the Hong Kongers are equal parts aspirational and traditional. They’re saving money and saving face and here’s hoping their unique culture will continue.
History and government
Hong Kong has been inhabited for many thousands of years and was incorporated into the Chinese empire under the Qin Dynasty in the early in the late 3rd century BC. The islands were populated by small fishing villages that grew as more Chinese ventured south from the mainland. In the 16th century the Portuguese established colonial rule of nearby Macau, and the foreign presence greatly influenced the development of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong as we know it began its journey in 1842 after the British won the First Opium War. China unsuccessfully attempted to stop British drug traffickers from smuggling opium into the country and they were forced to cede Hong Kong Island to the British under the Treaty of Nanjing. Once the island had been ceded, it was much easier for the British to access the Chinese but still they wanted more. The Second Opium War kicked off in 1856 and in 1860, when the war ended, China was forced to give the British the Kowloon Peninsula. Almost 40 years later the British leased further territory from China, known as the New Territories, which set the modern dividing line. A 99-year lease was agreed upon with the return date set for 1997.
Aside from a brief period of Japanese occupation during WWII, Hong Kong remained under British control. While China took up communism in 1949, Hong Kong continued as a capitalist society and experienced a huge economic boom. In the back of everyone’s mind, however, was the looming deadline for Hong Kong’s New Territories to be returned to China.
Return to China
Leaders from Britain and China met multiple times in the years preceding the handover to discuss whether all of Hong Kong or just the leased areas would be returned. It became increasingly obvious that the New Territories, which included the airport, could not be separated from the rest of Hong Kong and in 1984 the Sino-British Joint Declaration was signed. This agreement handed over all lands to China but gave Hong Kong some degree of autonomy for a period of 50 years through what’s known as the ‘one country, two systems’ policy. Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China with its own legal system and its capitalist economy and individual democratic rights were protected until 2047.
Modern Hong Kong
Hong Kong is still a global financial centre and shows no signs of slowing down. That said, the city has been plagued by protests in response to what many are calling excessive interference by the Chinese government. In 2014, for example, elections were held but all candidates had to be vetted and approved by Beijing. The locals are concerned that moves like this are eroding their freedom, which will in turn affect their economy and lifestyle. It’s impossible to say what will happen in Hong Kong after – and in the lead up to – 2047, but it seems that the Hong Kongers are intent on keeping their society and economy as independent as possible.
Eating and drinking
Hong Kong’s history as an international port and British colony has shaped its cuisine, which deliciously blurs the lines between Chinese, Western and other international influences. Its geographic proximity to southern China means Cantonese traditions form the backbone of Hong Kong’s cuisine and specialties like dim sum can be found everywhere from hole-in-the-wall street vendors to 5-star hotels. Hong Kong has become a foodie destination for both its perfectly executed traditional dishes and the new spin Chefs are putting on them. Fun fact: the spicier the dish, the less fresh it probably is. Cantonese chefs prefer to keep the natural flavours of the ingredients, so they’ll usually use small amounts of spice. These are some you need to try:
- Dim sum
This quintessential Hong Kong dish can be found in abundance throughout the city. Translating as ‘touch the heart’, dim sum are bite-sized dishes accompanied by tea in a dining experience known as ‘yum cha’ (literally ‘drink tea’) and are rarely more expensive than USD 1–3 per dish. The most famous dim sum restaurant is probably Tim Ho Wan, which was awarded a Michelin star in 2010 and named the world’s ‘cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant’, or Luk Yu Tea House, which dates back to 1933.
- Char siu
The Cantonese don’t mess around when it comes to pork. This dish is traditionally cooked by skewering strips of marinated, boneless pork and placing them over a fire or in an oven, then served with noodles, rice or inside a bun.
Given Hong Kong’s location, it comes as no surprise that seafood is a massive part of the local restaurant scene. Shellfish and fresh fish are served up in a variety of ways from fish balls to seafood soup and lobster and crab.
This rice porridge has been eaten around the world for over a thousand years. The Cantonese version will often use fish or pork stock as a base for this silky-smooth comfort food.
Hong Kong may be known for its traditional meat-based dishes but a food-mad city like this has plenty of options for vegetarians and vegans too. In fact, Hong Kong is probably the best place in all of China for varied vegetarian food and it’s not just a case of ordering a dish without the meat. From vegetarian dumplings to noodles and a range of European-influenced dishes, you’ll have no issue finding a veggie feast while in town.
Of course, this is all a lot easier when you’re travelling with a local, someone who knows the language and the culture and can help you tell your sorrel from your schi (they’re both soups FYI). If you travel with Intrepid, you’ll have a local leader who can help you decipher menus and recommend good plant-based choices.
Geography and environment
Located on the south-eastern coast of China, Hong Kong is made up of three main territories: Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories. With an extremely high population density, Hong Kong as a whole is notorious for lacking residential space and this comes down to the difficult terrain. The region has undergone a series of land reclamation projects to increase usable land area, with the international airport being built by levelling two islands and reclaiming some 10 square kilometres of seabed.
Hong Kong Island
This was the first piece of land occupied by the British Empire and sits on the southern shore of Victoria Harbour. The central area is the economic and historical centre of Hong Kong. It’s packed with skyscrapers and shopping centres, while other parts of the island offer hilly terrain and good hiking opportunities.
Kowloon sits directly opposite Hong Kong Island on the north shore of Victoria Harbour. It’s the southern part of Hong Kong’s mainland territory and was taken by the British in 1860. It has developed into a thriving shopping and entertainment district and is surrounded by the New Territories.
The New Territories
The New Territories refer to the land leased by the British from China in 1898. It includes all the area between Kowloon and the border with mainland China, as well as more than 200 outlying islands, most notably Lantau and Lamma islands. Lantau is home to the airport as well as sights like Disneyland and the Big Buddha, while Lamma is popular for hiking trails and beaches. A lot of the New Territory’s land is quite mountainous, with Hong Kong’s highest point – Tai Mo Shan – located in the range just north of Kowloon. The eastern region is sparsely populated, with many hiking trails winding through the lush, tropical greenery.
Hong Kong has a subtropical climate and is generally pretty hot and humid.
Spring sees average temperatures in the low 20s°C (high 60s°F) that steadily increase into the summer. June, July and August are the wettest months with heavy rain from the south-southwest monsoon. Temperatures average around 28°C (82°F) and humidity is quite high. Autumn sees a fall in humidity, less rainfall and average temperatures of 20–28°C (68–82°F). Winter is even drier and can actually get quite cool, especially in the evenings. Temperatures tend to top out around 20°C (68°F) and can drop down to 10°C (50°F).
Hong Kong is a world-famous shopping destination with a glut of luxury stores, unique antiques and a mind-boggling range of other offerings.
Temple Street Night Market
While the city has more than its fair share of chaotic markets, the Temple Street Night Market is it's most famous. Located in the heart of Kowloon, this market is open seven nights a week and can provide you with everything from electronics, clothes and antiques to noodles and seafood soup.
Mongkok Ladies’ Market
Mongkok is one of the most densely populated places on the planet. This market got its name from the amount of women’s clothing and accessories on sale but there’s plenty more up for grabs on this one-kilometre strip. Weave your way through the crowd and see if you can be the first to grab a bargain – even if you don’t it’s a memorable experience.
Hong Kong’s Central district has just about all the shopping options you’ll ever need. Wyndham and Hollywood roads have a bunch of art galleries and some of Asia’s best antique shops, while the Landmark shopping mall is home to your top-end brands like Louis Vuitton.
Causeway Bay is touted as one of Hong Kong’s best shopping districts and is home to the Times Square shopping mall. It’s known as a city without night as the closing times are the latest in the city and there’s plenty of street food to keep the most rabid shopper fuelled up.
Festivals and events
Chinese New Year
The most important event on the Chinese calendar comes with many traditions and customs. The city shuts down – but not before being decorated in red, the colour of good fortune – while people visit family, exchange iconic Lai See gifts (red envelopes stuffed with cash) and drop into their local temple for prayer. It can be difficult to travel during this period, so your best bet is to stay put and take in the dragon dances, parade of carnival floats and the immense fireworks display that takes place over Victoria Harbour.
Hong Kong Arts Festival
Founded in 1973, the Hong Kong Arts Festival takes place over February and March each year and promotes leading local and international artists in all genres of the performing arts. Past performers include the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Paris Opera Ballet, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Philip Glass, the China National Peking Opera Company and the Bolshoi Theatre. With cultural events spread over the festival period there are a bunch of fantastic opportunities to see some of the best artists from both China and the rest of the world.
This harvest festival is celebrated in different ways in various southeast Asian countries, but in Hong Kong festivities are all about illuminated lanterns and dragon dances. For three days each September, colourful lantern exhibits, performances, palm readings and games fill neighbourhoods as people gorge on mooncakes. Head to Tai Hang for a festival highlight – where hundreds of performers use incense sticks and firecrackers to make an incredible ‘fire dragon’ dance.
Dragon Boat Festival
People flock to waterways across China every year to watch three days of frantic competition. The party is just as important as the race in Hong Kong with concerts, food trucks, beer tents, games and more popping up around Victoria Harbour. The festivities begin on the fifth day of the fifth lunar month each year.
For inspiring stories to prepare you for your Hong Kong adventure, check out these books:
A Many-Splendoured Thing – Han Suyin
The Piano Teacher – Janice Y K Lee
Umbrellas in Bloom: Hong Kong’s Occupy Movement Uncovered – Jason Y Ng
No City for Slow Men: Hong Kong’s Quirks and Quandaries Laid Bare – Jason Y Ng
Hong Kong High and Lows – Hong Kong Writers Circle
Hong Kong travel FAQs
Trips from 1 January 2023 onwards
From 1 January 2023, Intrepid will no longer require travellers to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 (excluding all Polar trips and select adventure cruises).
However, we continue to strongly recommend that all Intrepid travellers and leaders get vaccinated to protect themselves and others.
Specific proof of testing or vaccination may still be required by your destination or airline. Please ensure you check travel and entry requirements carefully.
The best time to visit Hong Kong is during the mid-shoulder seasons – from mid-March to mid-April and mid-October until late November. These are the periods most likely to feature pleasant temperatures and a relatively small amount of rain compared to the rest of the year, while the October/November period also tends to see more sunshine.
Hong Kong has traditionally been a very safe place to visit. That said, there have been ongoing protests directed at the Chinese government that can take place with very little warning. While these generally don’t present a direct threat to tourists, it’s possible you may get caught up if you don’t take precautions. Always monitor the local news for word of any possible protests.
Travellers from the US, Europe, Australia, Canada and New Zealand do not require a visa for stays of up to 90 days. If you hold a UK passport, you may stay for 180 days without a visa.
Visas are the responsibility of the individual traveller. Entry requirements can change at any time, so it's important that you check for the latest information. Please visit the relevant consular website of the country or countries you’re visiting for detailed and up-to-date visa information specific to your country of origin. Check the Essential Trip Information section of your tour itinerary for more information.
Tipping isn’t a huge part of Hong Kong’s culture and most restaurants will add a 10–15 per cent service charge to your bill. That said, hotel staff, like luggage porters, will often expect a small tip for their service.
Free wi-fi is widely available across Hong Kong. You should be able to find hotspots at most major tourist attractions, libraries, major stations and shopping malls. Many hotels, bar and cafes will also offer complimentary wi-fi.
Mobile phone coverage is exceptional across Hong Kong. Phones can be used pretty much everywhere and there are a number of tourist SIM cards available for purchase once you arrive. If you’d prefer to use your global roaming, be sure to activate it before departing and always check costs with your provider.
- Bus ticket = USD 1.50
- A cappuccino = USD 4
- A set meal at a local cafe = USD 5–10
- A small beer from a bar = USD 5
- A small beer from 7-Eleven or similar = USD 1–2
- Standard yum cha meal = USD 15–20 (USD 1–3 per dim sum)
Tap water is considered safe to drink in Hong Kong unless marked otherwise. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Fill a reusable water bottle or canteen with filtered water instead.
Major credit cards are accepted by large hotels, stores and restaurants, but may not be accepted by smaller vendors and market stalls. Be sure to carry a small amount of some cash in case your card is not an option.
ATMs are easy to find in Hong Kong and the majority will accept foreign cards.
Hong Kong experiences a subtropical climate with mild winters and hot, wet and humid summers. The average temperature range across the year is 15–31°C (59–88°F) with rainfall at its heaviest from May through September. The large rain deposits over the summer come in the form of storms and downpours so while it will be wet, it won’t be wet for long.
- 1 Jan New Year’s Day
- *Chinese New Year
- *Good Friday
- *Easter Monday
- *Buddha’s Birthday
- 1 May Labour Day
- *Dragon Boat Festival
- 1 July Hong Kong Special Admins. Region Establishment Day
- 1 Oct National Day of the People’s Republic of China
- *Chung Yeung Festival
- 25 Dec Christmas Day
- 26 Dec Boxing Day
[05:00] Cliona Elliott
Hey team. When updating the public holiday FAQs on destinations, many of them are out of date (some are as old as 2015!). To make this content evergreen for things like Easter which changes every year, we could remove dates and put an asterisk, with some copy at the bottom. An example for Malawi:
- 1 Jan New Year's Day
- 2 Jan New Year's Day Holiday
- 15 Jan John Chilembwe Day
- John Chilembwe Day Holiday*
- 3 Mar Martyrs' Day
- Good Friday*
- Easter Saturday*
- Easter Monday*
- 1 May Labour Day
- 14 May President Kamuzu Banda's Birthday
- Eid al-Fitr / End of Ramadan*
- Eid al-Fitr / End of Ramadan*
- 6 Jul Independence Day
- Mother's Day*
- 25 Dec Christmas Day
- 26 Dec Boxing Day
*Please note these dates may vary. For a current list of public holidays in Hong Kong go to World Travel Guide's website.
Despite Hong Kong’s liberal values, the city tends to follow traditional Chinese beliefs when it comes to sexuality. This means that homosexuality was considered a mental illness up until 2001 and though things have certainly improved, discrimination laws are not equal between LGBT and non-LGBT identifying citizens. There is still no legal recognition of same-sex relationships.
That said, Hong Kong is hassle-free destination for LGBTQIA+ travellers that display discretion. Public displays of affection are rare in Hong Kong for both heterosexual and same-sex couples anyway, and Hong Kongers are generally very tolerant given their British history. Hong Kong also holds an annual Pride Parade, which is banned in mainland China.
For more detailed and up-to-date advice, we recommend visiting Equaldex or ILGA before you travel.
Intrepid is committed to making travel widely accessible, regardless of ability or disability. That’s why we do our best to help as many people see the world as possible, regardless of any physical or mental limitations they might have. We’re always happy to talk to travellers with disabilities and see if we can help guide them towards the most suitable itinerary for their needs and, where possible, make reasonable adjustments to our itineraries.
Hong Kong is one of the best cities in Asia for travellers with disabilities. Its modern public transport system is almost entirely accessible, including the MTR and ferry, though there are only a limited number of taxis with wheelchair ramps available. Most sights are accessible and there are plenty of accommodation options available depending on the individual traveller’s needs. Sidewalks in the touristed areas tend to have curb ramps too.
If you do live with a visual, hearing or other impairment, let your booking agent or group leader know early on so they’re aware and suitable arrangements can be made. As a general rule, knowing some common words in the local language, carrying a written itinerary with you and taking to the streets in a group, rather than solo, can help make your travel experience the best it can be.
Your wardrobe while visiting Hong Kong ultimately comes down to personal preference. You can get away with loose-fitting shirts, dresses, shorts or trousers for most of the year without too much discomfort. In summer, however, it can be particularly humid and wet so it’s best to wear breathable clothing and a light waterproof jacket or poncho. The winter evenings can get a little chilly too so it’s good to have a light sweater or a few layers to stay warm.
Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organisation for the latest information before departure:
Go to: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/
Go to: https://travel.gc.ca/
From the UK?
Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/
From New Zealand?
Go to: http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/
From the US?
Go to: http://travel.state.gov/
The World Health Organisation also provides useful health information.
Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.
For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance