Hong Kong is an energetic and vibrant city that’s plenty of fun at any time of year. It has a striking fusion of modern urban living and Chinese tradition, and you’ll find plenty of contrast everywhere, from the fast-paced neon streets of the city centre to the slow rural settings of the outlying islands. Old temples sit cheek by jowl with ultra-daring skyscrapers, and as for the views of Hong Kong harbour by night, they are nothing short of breathtaking.
The name Hong Kong means ‘fragrant harbour’ and its harbour is certainly one of its major attractions, as the British discovered over a century and a half ago. Hong Kong Island was ceded to Britain in 1842 after the end of the Opium Wars with China, while the mainland New Territories were leased for 99 years in 1898. The city grew prosperous after the Second World War as a free trade zone and major port. The People’s Republic of China regained sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997, when it became a Special Administrative Region with its own government and unchanged capitalist system. Since then life has continued almost as usual. You’ll still find plenty of colonial traditions, architecture and street names everywhere.
Full of bustle, noise, stunning views, daring skyscrapers and very fashionable people, Hong Kong is a vibrant slice of Asian urban life. Hong Kong Island is home to the main business district at Central, although the far side of the island has quiet fishing villages and good beaches. Around Central stand the city’s most spectacular skyscrapers, backed by the hill simply referred to as The Peak (actually Mt Victoria), the view from which will take your breath away both by day and night. Across the harbour, Kowloon is a peninsula of the mainland and is more crowded, more shabby but undoubtedly a more authentic display of Hong Kong life.
There are two things every Hong Kong resident loves: eating and shopping. Both are reasons in themselves to visit the city. This is certainly the culinary capital of Asia and has the best Chinese food anywhere in the world. The shopping is also amazing, with an extraordinary variety that ranges from the latest ultra-modern shopping malls full of designer boutiques to the hurly-burly of street markets where you can pick up items straight from the warehouse or factory.
By contrast, you should also take a day to explore the surprisingly quiet and rural offshore islands, where you’ll find duck farms, Buddhist temples and tranquility that seems a world away, rather than a short ferry ride, from the city. Further north of Kowloon, you’ll also find a slower pace of life in the New Territories, which has commuter towns and even agricultural land where peasants work the fields.
Hong Kong also has activities galore, including plenty of family-oriented fun that could keep you busy for a week, or even two. One of Hong Kong’s most popular attractions is Ocean Park, a large theme park where you could spend a whole day. From September 2005 it is joined by the world’s fifth Disneyland, bringing the Disney experience for children much closer to Australia. There are also several excellent public gardens to explore, numerous museums and some quirky sights such as bird and goldfish markets. One thing is sure, you’ll never have a dull moment in Hong Kong, one of Asia’s truly great cities.
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Interactive Itinerary Planner
The Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB) has introduced a web-based Interactive Itinerary Planner, a user-friendly online tool that enables visitors to create personalised itineraries before arriving in Hong Kong.
All visitors need to do is select their length of stay and preferences with just a few clicks on the HKTB’s website (www.DiscoverHongKong.com/planner), and the planner will devise their tour itinerary. Visitors can also change, add and mix and match activities best suited to their interests, or choose among the five themed itineraries. These include first-timers’ finds, family fun, culture caravan, islands and green, and transiting thrills.
The Interactive Itinerary Planner presents the total Hong Kong experience, combining recommendations on sightseeing, culture and heritage, as well as local tours. Visitors can search and bookmark shopping and dining establishments, all of which are accredited under the Quality Tourism Services (QTS) scheme. Furthermore, the planner will provide point-to-point transportation information to help visitors get around easily. The Interactive Itinerary Planner is currently available in English and in Traditional and Simplified Chinese, and the HKTB will continue to develop other language versions.
The Interactive Itinerary Planner complements the HKTB’s existing electronic information tools, which provide visitors with convenient access to up-to-date, tailor-made tourist information before and upon arrival. As well as devising their itineraries with the planner, visitors can download the Leisure Guide for Business Travellers to their PDA prior to arrival, so that they can access handy information and maps of the city while in town. And as they tour around, they can listen to shopping and dining tips, and on-the-spot commentaries on key attractions through their mobile phones by using the Hong Kong Mobile Host service. Together these tools ensure that visitors can make the most of their time and enjoy a total experience during their visit to Hong Kong.
Where is it and how do I get there?
Hong Kong is in East Asia on the southwest coast of China. The largest part is known as the New Territories and is on the mainland; Kowloon is a peninsula on its southern edge. Hong Kong Island is directly across the harbour and is home to the city centre. There are also numerous small islands scattered out in the South China Sea with only small rural populations.
Located near the eastern rim of Asia, Hong Kong is an important stop over for many flights to and from Asia and North America. It also has busy routes to Australia. Several airlines including Qantas and Cathay Pacific fly from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns and Perth to Hong Kong, so you should be able to get a flight almost any day of the week.
When to go, Weather
Hong Kong’s climate shows more variation than you might suppose. January and February are cold and rainy, March and April can be unpredictable. May is pleasant. June to September is the typhoon season, with plenty of rain and hot, humid weather. October to December is has the best weather: warm sunny days, cool evenings. Not surprisingly, this is also the high season for tourists.
Where to stay
Hong Kong offers a wide range of accommodation with hotels spread around the city. Many visitors choose to stay in Tsim Sha Tsui (part of Kowloon) and Causeway Bay (on Hong Kong Island) because of their proximity to transportation and medium-range hotels. Upmarket hotels cluster along the waterfront, particularly in Central. If you have a larger family, remember that a suite can sometimes be better value than separate rooms. Hotels will often arrange a sofa bed in your room, but many charge extra, although there are some that don’t, so it’s worth checking at the time of booking.
Accommodation for Families on a Budget:
(Prices range from HK$500 – HK$800 per night)
Harbour Plaza Resort City (18 Tin Yan Road, Tin Shui Wai, Kowloon) is comfortable and efficient, and rooms come with kitchenette and sitting area. An extra bed can be placed in the room at no extra cost, but families of four should request connecting double rooms. The hotel features shopping, a gym, tennis courts and even a cinema. The park outside has a model car-racing track, basketball courts and water biking that will appeal to kids.
Best Western Rosedale on the Park (8 Shelter Street, Causeway Bay) is bright, cheerful and reasonably well located. Junior suites have a living area, kitchenette with microwave and sofa beds for the kids.
BP International House (8 Austin Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui) is modern, clean and pleasant. The higher the floor, the better the rooms, with the top floors often used by budget-conscious businesspeople. Children under 13 stay for free. It also has inexpensive family rooms for four with bunk beds, as well as a laundry. It’s often busy with tour groups and school excursions. Its location beside the child-friendly Kowloon Park is a plus.
Accommodation for families on a mid-range budget:
(Prices range from HK$800 – HK$1800 per night)
Cosmopolitan Hotel (387-397 Queen's Road East, Wan Chai) is uniquely located on Hong Kong Island, amid Causeway Bay's major shopping and entertainment attractions and the commercial district of Wan Chai. The Cosmopolitan Hotel offers a Toy Suite, tailored for families with young children, which is packed with toys of all sorts and a DVD with cartoon programmes to keep the young ones occupied. Kids aged 12 or under can select a free gift from a basket of fabulous toys upon check-in.
Harbour Plaza Metropolis (7 Metropolis Drive, Hunghom, Kowloon) is a large and modern hotel with spectacular harbour views and excellent amenities. Extra beds can be placed in rooms for an additional charge, baby cots are free. One child can also share a parents’ room free of charge, but no extra bedding is provided. The Hong Kong Science Museum is nearby.
Salisbury YMCA (Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui) is the best place a family could possibly stay if considering value for money. The décor is plain but the amenities are just as good as many a more expensive hotel. The location right at the Star Ferry and MRT couldn’t be bettered, and the facilities include an indoor swimming pool and kids’ pool, a climbing wall, squash courts and a play area. Babysitting is also provided. Book well in advance.
Pruton Prudential Hotel (222 Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui) has a central location above a shopping complex and MRT station. Smart and sleek, it provides extra beds in the room at no extra charge, and under-12s stay for free. There’s a babysitting service and rooftop swimming pool. Rooms at the front of the hotel are better than those at the rear.
The Hong Kong Gold Coast Hotel (1 Castle Peak Road, Castle Peak Bay, Kowloon) has large well-equipped rooms, some with water views. Interconnecting rooms are good for large families, otherwise an extra bed can be place in regular rooms for an additional extra charge. Free baby cots available. There is a swimming pool, tennis courts, basketball and badminton courts and archery range. There’s also a kid’s club and playground in the garden. The location is not the most convenient, but there is a free shuttle to the nearest MRT station.
Nestled along the waters edge on Lantau Island, the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel recalls the elegance and romance of the hotels at the turn of the 20th century, but with all the advantages of the 21st century living. The luxurious six-story Victorian-style resort features 400 rooms and includes restaurants, lounges, a tea cafe, a retail shop, a children's program, a full-service fitness centre, spa and beauty salon, a garden wedding gazebo and ample convention and meeting space.
The huge Regal Airport Hotel (9 Cheong Tat Rd, Chek Lap Kok) doesn’t have a good location for those staying more than a night or so, but it’s worth mentioning for its superbly equipped children’s playroom, that comes with books, toys, games, computer games, ping-pong, air hockey and even climbing tunnels. Rooms are large and soundproofed, and many also have TVs with keyboards for playing computer games.
Accommodation for families looking to indulge:
(Prices range from HK$2000 – HK$4000 per night)
The Island Shangri-La (1 Pacific Place, 88 Queensway, Central) has all the facilities you would expect of a top-end hotel, as well as the largest rooms in the city. Kids will love the binoculars through which they can watch the activity on the harbour below. Free baby cots, but an additional charge for an extra bed. It also perches above Pacific Place, a shopping mall and entertainment centre. Heated outdoor pool, great gym and health club.
The two neighbouring hotels Grand Hyatt and Renaissance Harbour View share some facilities, including a gigantic (at least by Hong Kong standards) outdoor swimming pool and splash pool for younger children, set in pleasant gardens. Babysitting is available at both hotels. The Renaissance has similar facilities but is probably better value. Located right on the harbour, many rooms have superb views.
The Ritz-Carlton (3 Connaught Rd, Central) has outstanding provisions for children, including night lights, water temperature controls in the bathroom, covers for plugs and a first-aid kit with plasters and even nappy-rash ointment. Children under 13 stay for free in parents’ room, but only one child is allowed. For adults, the hotel also appeals with its homely décor, which manages to steer away from the usual large hotel blandness.
Family Friendly Hotels
The Hong Kong Tourism Board considers the following hotels particularly family friendly.
Holiday Inn Golden Mile Hong Kong
50 Nathan Road, Tsimshatsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Ph: +852 2369 3111
118-130 Nathan Road, Tsimshatsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong
Ph: +852 2368 1111
Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel
Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, Lantau Island , Hong Kong
Ph: +852 3510 6000
Disney’s Hollywood Hotel
Hong Kong Disneyland Resort, Lantau Island, Hong Kong
Ph: +852 3510 5000
Harbour Plaza North Point
665 King’s Road, North Point, Hong Kong
Ph: +852 2187 8888
Food and Drink
There’s no doubt that Hong Kong’s superb cuisine is one of the highlights of a stay in the city, and well worth exploring. The city has the best Chinese food in the world, most of which is Cantonese. Try to be adventurous, and if you can, get someone to translate the Chinese menu, which will have far more exciting dishes than the English one. Check prices before you eat in Chinese restaurants, especially if ordering fish and seafood, which can be much more expensive than in Australia and is often priced by weight.
Don’t leave without going to a dim-sum restaurant, where you’ll be presented with a hundred different steamed foods in bamboo baskets. With such a wide choice, it’s also a great place to have a family meal. The tourist office’s Essential HK has listings and photos of the most popular dim-sum places in town.
Chinese desserts are likely to appeal to children with their mixtures of custards, jellies and exotic names such as ‘sweet snow frog jelly soup.’ There are several chains around town that specialise in dessert and drinks.
To find a wide variety of eateries and low prices, head to Tsim Sha Tsui along and around Nathan Road, where you’ll find everything from restaurants to snack houses, and cuisines from all over the world. Central is trendier and more modern, while neighbouring SoHo goes for world cuisines in dozens of ethnic restaurants.
There are a few things to consider when eating out in Hong Kong. With the exception of hotels, few restaurants have booster seats, and not many have decent washing facilities, so bring some handy wipes. Unless your children are familiar with chopsticks, you should also carry a fork and spoon with you. Finally, note that a great deal of Chinese food contains peanuts or is cooked in peanut oil, so if your family has an allergy you need to be vigilant, especially as it might be hard to communicate the importance of peanut-free cooking to the waiters.
There are a handful of restaurants in Hong Kong that will especially appeal to children. The Juo Bear Comic Café (3/F, Richmond Plaza, 496 Jaffe Road, Causeway Bay) has both Chinese and Western food and a vast array of comics, games and computer games. Up at the top of The Peak Shooters 52 has familiar steaks, chips and ice cream and a good playground, while Marché Mövenpick has crayons, toys and toddler’s playground. Also with a familiar fare of pizzas and spaghetti is Spaghetti House, a family restaurant chain with numerous locations (including 30 Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui). The Harbour Side Restaurant at the InterContinental (Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui) has a good children’s menu, and children eat Sunday brunch for half price while adults get champagne. Some dim-sum restaurants carve their food into animal shapes such as rabbits, fish and butterflies, including Kamboat Chinese Cuisine (113 Argyle Street, Kowloon), Super Star Seafood Restaurant (Shui On Centre, 8 Harbour Road, Wan Chai) and Serenade Chin (Hong Kong Cultural Centre, 10 Salisbury Road, Kowloon).
Hong Kong has always had a reputation for good shopping, and while this is still true, it isn’t the bargain-basement paradise it used to be. Good value can still be found, but you have to hunt around, and often bargain hard. You also have to be canny when buying electronics, because devious sales tricks abound.
Among the good buys in Hong Kong are watches, cameras, designer fashions and tailor-made suits. Chinese antiques and porcelain are superb but not necessarily cheap. An odd assortment of items are also cheaper than back home, such as silk sheets, pearls and glasses. Shops usually open at 10am and close at 9pm or a little later, though most in Central shut down after the office workers go home at around 6pm. End of season sales (January-February and July-August) see some dramatically reduced prices in department stores.
Central has plenty of marbled shopping malls among its skyscrapers such as the Galleria, Landmark and Prince’s Building. The little alleyways that run between Queen’s and Des Voeux Roads are crammed with stalls selling cheap cosmetic jewellery, bags, rolls of fabric and printed T-shirts. Hollywood Road is full of antique and second-hand stores.
Kowloon isn’t quite as fancy (with the exception of the fantastic Harbour City mall, where there is also a gigantic Toys R Us) but has an abundance of shopping centres and department stores, as well as factory outlets along Granville Road. Nathan Road goes for smaller shops were bargaining is a must. Further north in the Yau Ma Tei district you’ll find lots of street markets with cheap clothes, toys and other consumer items. Be aware, though, that many children’s clothes aren’t fire retardant. The kids will enjoy hunting for T-shirts and jewellery, and will love inspecting the weird Chinese goldfish, even if they can’t pack them in their suitcase.
One of the most luxurious malls in Hong Kong is Festival Walk at 80 Tat Chee Avenue in Kowloon. It has an ice-rink, which is the perfect antidote to the heat and a good place to leave the kids so you can browse to your heart’s content.
Chek Lap Kok International Airport is modern, efficient and very clean but can get very crowded, so keep a watch on your kids, especially as you have to negotiate escalators and shuttles to get to the baggage area. There are plenty of ways to pass the time should you be there for several hours, including a playground, TVs, napping rooms, showers and massage centres. There are restaurants, cafes, bars and fast-food outlets offering Asian and Western food. There’s plenty of duty-free shopping available, although sometimes the prices don’t seem any better than in the city itself. There are also pay phones, ATMs and currency exchange.
Transfers from airport
All the major hotels can arrange airport transfers for you, but it’s much cheaper and perfectly easy to do it yourself. The Airport Express is a free shuttle service from the airport to major hotels and train stations; all you need is your boarding pass. The Airbus and Airport Shuttle are other services for which you pay. The fastest way into the city is by the Airport Express Railway, which takes just 20 minutes to Kowloon or Central for HK$70 one way. Return tickets are better value and valid for a month. A taxi to Hong Kong Island will cost around HK$320 to Kowloon or HK$400 to Hong Kong Island.
Getting around for families
You can hire a car easily in Hong Kong, but with a highly efficient, cheap and very regular transport system there is hardly any point. There are two main railway lines which are mostly underground in the city centre, the Kowloon-Canton Railway (KCR) and the Mass Transit Railway (MRT). Get an electronic Octopus Card for HK$100 (rechargeable) for convenience. Children under three travel free, those from 3-11 pay half fare. Buses run from 6am to midnight and many connect to KCR and MRT stations. There is also a tram line (HK$2) with rattling double-decker trams that kids will love; it runs through Central and Causeway Bay.
Ferries run to various outlying island and also connect Central with Kowloon. This is the famous Star Ferry, an eight-minute ride that’s a not-to-be-missed experience for its views of Hong Kong Harbour. Tickets cost just HK$1.70 on the lower deck or HK$2.20 on the upper.
What to wear
Hong Kong is often hot and humid, so light, loose fitting clothing should be worn. Be sure to have hats and sunscreen on hand to protect your family from the hot, tropical sun. Most Hong Kong Chinese dress fairly conservatively, and well.
Hong Kong has a growing population of nearly seven million. About 98% of the population are of Chinese origin. The biggest expatriate community is from the Philippines; some 150,000 Filipinos work in the city, mainly as maids and nannies. There is a small Indian population of mostly turban-wearing Sikhs, many of whom are most evident to visitors as tailors and doormen.
The vast majority of Hong Kong’s population is Chinese, with Chinese culture very much in evidence. Temples are a mix of Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist influences, although there are also a fair number of mainly Catholic churches. The British colonial influence is surprisingly little in evidence, except in some of the architecture and street names, which have remained unchanged since Hong Kong reverted to China a decade ago.
Hong Kong Chinese don’t have the politeness and friendliness you might have experienced in Thailand or elsewhere in Asia. Don’t expect outstanding service or too many helpful people; everyone here seems to be in a hurry. On the other hand, Hong Kong Chinese love kids, and little blonde children especially can easily end up the focus of attention in restaurants.
The official languages of Hong Kong are Cantonese and English. The use of Mandarin, mainland China’s official language, is becoming more common. While many young people speak English, some of the older generation does not, and a lot of the English spoken, perhaps surprisingly, isn’t particularly good.
Hong Kong is 2 hours behind Eastern Standard Time and in the same time zone as Western Australia. For timezone information, click here.
Hong Kong Dollar. For up-to-date currency conversions, click here.
Traveller’s cheques and major credit cards are accepted at most hotels, shops and restaurants. Most banks are open 9am to 4:30pm weekdays and 9am to 12:30pm on Saturdays. ATMs are everywhere, with instructions in English.
It is usual to leave a 10% tip in restaurants, hairdressers and taxis. Hotels and high-end restaurants add a 10% service charge, but you should nevertheless still leave your small change for the staff.
220 volts AC, with some outlets taking three round prongs and others two square prongs.
No vaccinations are required to enter Hong Kong but ask your GP what precautions are recommended. Although Hong Kong is considered clean and healthy, it’s still a good idea to get basic inoculations like tetanus and hepatitis if you haven’t already had them. Recent outbreaks of hepatitis here have been linked to eating raw shellfish.
To be on the cautious side, drink only bottled or boiled water, though the tap water is considered safe.
Passport and Visa Requirements
Australian passport holders don't require a visa to enter Hong Kong as long as the passport is valid for 6 months from the date of departure, and the stay is no longer than 3 months. You will need a visa for mainland China if you are continuing there after Hong Kong.
HWK Family Travel Tips
The price of children’s clothes is considerably lower than in Australia, especially at the cheap end of the range. Street markets in Stanley and Kowloon are excellent places to stock up on T-shirts, shorts and other items including toys, although the quality isn’t always the best.
Click here for Things to See and Do in Hong Kong