Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China, located just south of mainland China. It comprises Hong Kong Island, Kowloon Peninsula, the New Territories and 200+ other near islands in the South China Sea, covering over 400 square miles of land. Hong Kong is hard to label because it’s (basically) a country but also a city, which is broken up across islands and divided again into neighborhoods.
I tell you this because we really struggled to define these excursions and whether they counted as “Day Trips From Hong Kong”. While we technically remained in Hong Kong the entire time, we ventured more than an hour from the “downtown” areas of Tsim Sha Tsui (on Kowloon) and Central (on Hong Kong Island). Since we’re leaving the central areas of Hong Kong, we decided to call these day trips.
Regardless of what you want to call them, these are five really fun activities you won’t want to miss if you’re in Hong Kong.
Before I go on, I want to give a huge shoutout to my new sister-in-law, Kayiu, for planning all of these excursions for our group! She compiled a Hong Kong Welcome Guide for all of her friends and family who traveled to Hong Kong for her wedding to my brother. The content of her welcome guide and her execution on those plans (while dragging 14+ people) drove the content for this post. THANK YOU!
And without any further ado …
5 Day Trips from Hong Kong’s City Center
1. Lantau Island: Tai O & Tian Tan Buddha
Lantau Island is huge and nearly impossible to miss as Hong Kong International Airport is located on Lantau Island. It’s the largest of the surrounding islands, and you could easily fill an entire week’s vacation on Lantau Island alone. But if we’re talking day trips, you absolutely can’t miss a visit to Tian Tan Buddha (aka Big Buddha). When you pair Big Buddha with Tai O and the glass-bottom cable cars, it makes for a great escape from the chaos of Mong Kok.
- Sample Itinerary: Tai O, Tian Tan Buddha, Po Lin Monastery, Crystal Bottom Cable Cars
- Perfect For: The Adventurer. While Big Buddha alone is easy for anyone to navigate, when you add Tai O, you’ll really find yourself in explorer mode. You’ll take a few mini busses, order by pointing, and have to do a bit of navigating. It’s great for the person who doesn’t mind getting a little lost or stepping out of their comfort zone.
- Time Commitment: Full Day
- Be Sure to Bring: Cash. If you want to buy souvenirs or try the street food in Tai O (which you will), you’ll need to have some Hong Kong Dollars.
- Eat This: The veggie spring rolls from the cafe at Po Lin Monastery next to Tian Tan Buddha. (I can say this because I’m vegetarian, but if you eat meat, you should eat all the seafood in Tai O.
2. Stanley & Repulse Bay
Stanley is located opposite Central on Hong Kong Island. While these two neighborhoods share an island, that’s where the similarities stop. Stanley has some great markets (smaller and less chaotic than the markets of Mong Kok), beautiful beaches, and lots of expats. I loved Stanley for what it was: a break. We tend to be pretty fast-paced travelers, so coming to Stanley and sitting on the rocks in the sun for an hour is not something we would otherwise typically do. But since we were with a group, we adjusted our pace and I truly enjoyed the beachy vibe that came with Stanley. It’s a place for patio bars and ocean views.
In full transparency, we never actually made it to Repulse Bay. There was a big group of us, and by the time we all made it to Stanley and had a drink at King Ludwig’s patio, we didn’t have enough daylight to make it to Repulse Bay. However, I hear it’s another beach town that would be a great way to fill out this day trip if you don’t plan on sitting on rocks and drinking the afternoon away.
- Sample Itinerary: Stanley Main Beach, Stanley Plaza, Stanley Market, Repulse Bay Beach
- Perfect For: The beach bum. This is an easy commute and a relaxing day. This is the place if you’re looking for warm sun and cold beers.
- Time Commitment: Half to full day, depending on how much sitting/eating/drinking you plan on doing.
- Be Sure to Bring: Sunblock. If you do Stanley right, you’ll be spending all day in the sunshine.
- Eat This: The ice cream truck soft serve which is usually parked near the water along Stanley Main Street. While it’s just vanilla soft serve, it’s super fluffy and I swear tastes like marshmallows.
Macau is one of the most famous day trips (and most accurate use of the term “day trip”) from Hong Kong. It is another Special Administrative Region of China and located straight west of Hong Kong. Getting too and from Macau is actually quite a chore. Because it’s a different (basically) country, you have to go through Customs coming in and out of both Macau and Hong Kong. The combined time required for going through customs is easily as long as the actual ferry ride.
Once you’re there, Macau has quite a bit to offer. While Hong Kong was a British colony, Macau was a Portuguese one, so you’ll find a lot of Portuguese influence, like the tiled sidewalks, Portuguese language and food, and some very European architecture like the Ruins of St. Paul. However, it’s most famous for its casino scene and is often referred to as the Vegas of China. You can’t go to Macau with hitting the slots.
- Sample Itinerary: Senado Square, Ruins of St. Paul, Taipa Village, Casino Hopping
- Perfect For: The vacationer. Macau isn’t exactly the cheapest excursion on long-term travel standards, especially if you’re going to the casinos. Macau deserves to be (although doesn’t have to be) more of a luxurious day trip.
- Time Commitment: Full day.
- Be Sure to Bring: Your passport & Hong Kong Exit Card (which you’ll receive when you go through Customs into Hong Kong)! You’ll be going through customs so this is 100% essential.
- Eat This: Egg Tarts! You can find Egg Tarts all over Hong Kong actually, but their roots trace back to Portugal, via Macau. You have to try the authentic Portuguese pastry in Macau.
We went to Discovery Bay on our last day in Hong Kong. Our group of 20 friends and family had been whittled down to only seven of us, and we were all pretty much tapped. Discovery Bay was perfect for our crowd. We pretty much just went there to have great lunch on the water, shop at bit at the market, have a cup of coffee and come back to Kowloon. I’d definitely recommend going on a Sunday and catching the market or plan to spend a morning on the beach.
The ferry to Discovery Bay (which is also on Lantau Island) leaves just a few piers down from the Star Ferry (which gets you from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon and back), so it’s easy to get to from pretty much anywhere in Central or Kowloon. The ferry ride is relaxing and and you’ll pass right by Hong Kong Disneyland Resort.
While I don’t think you could do Disneyland and Discovery Bay in a single day, I think if you did Disneyland one day, and then popped over to Discovery Bay the next day, it’d be a perfect weekend excursion.
- Sample Itinerary: Tai Pak Beach, Lunch on the water, Sunday Market, maybe Disneyland (!?)
- Perfect For: The resort destination traveler. This trip takes very little effort, requires very little walking, and doesn’t actually require doing that many things. It doesn’t have a ton of cultural experiences, but it is enjoyable, safe and easy.
- Time Commitment: Half day
- Be Sure to Bring: Your appetite. You’ll probably just be eating & drinking here and taking up the scenery of Lantau Island.
- Eat This: Dal Makhani from Ebeneezer’s Kebabs & Pizzeria. I kid (kind of), but the only thing I ate in Discovery Bay was veggie fajitas, which were fine, but nothing to write home about. But Ebeneezer’s is a fast-casual chain in Hong Kong that offers cheap and delicious Indian/Mediterranean food which we ate at a few places in HK, including Gold Coast! If you’re looking for drinks, we had a great time a Zak’s which had some good drink specials.
Gold Coast – Tai Lam Chung Reservoir Hike
About an hour by car northwest of Kowloon, you’ll find Gold Coast. It is small and home to a diverse crowd. Among other things, you’ll find some mountain trails dotted with tiny villages and the Gold Coast Hotel & Yacht Club. If chartering a private yacht is in your budget, the yacht club looks like it’d probably be pretty sweet. I can tell you absolutely nothing about that other than that the gigantic yacht outside the window of my hotel room had a helicopter landing pad.
We were in Gold Coast for my brother’s wedding. His new wife’s family lives on the other side of Tai Lam Chung opposite Gold Coast, so he’s hit the mountain trails a lot. He took us on a run around the reservoir, and while it was a tough 15 miler, if you’re any kid of runner, I’d recommend at least tackling a portion of it. Even if you’re not, I’m sure the hike is just as good.
If you don’t have a reason to be in the Gold Coast area of the New Territories, I don’t necessarily think you need to change any plans to take a visit to Tai Lam. There are probably better hikes closer to Kowloon or Hong Kong Island (like Dragon’s Back, although I didn’t actually hike it). However, if you find yourself in the area, you’d be remiss not to take on the trails. They are pretty clearly marked and relatively flat(ish) after the initial incline. The mountain and reservoir views are great, plus if you make it to the north side, you’ll get to go through a pretty sweet bamboo forest.
- Sample Itinerary: Tai Lam Chung Reservoir Hike, starting from Gold Coast Hotel and going counter clockwise around the reservoir
- Perfect For: The outdoor junkie. Strap on some kicks and breath in all that mountain air that you’ve been missing down in Central.
- Time Commitment: Full Day (The hike will only be a half day, but it takes a bit to get there and back, plus you’ll be tired and won’t want to do anything after.)
- Be Sure to Bring: Water! There is not potable water on the trail. We thought we’d be fine refilling our water bottle with mountain water, but later saw a sign warning of Dengue Fever. I wouldn’t recommend risking it. When you finally get out of the mountains and find a 7-Eleven, it will be the best grapefruit juice you’ve ever had. Also maybe don’t forget your phone for pics or in case you get lost.
- Eat This: The snacks you packed I guess?
Have you been to Hong Kong? What excursions did I miss? I’m 100% sure we’ll be back to Hong Kong one day!