In this endless neon-lit labyrinth of towering glass, concrete and steel, and the astronomical numbers of people pressed in between, you can only imagine the myriad crannies in which the weird and wonderful might find a place to thrive. In a lifetime spent exploring the city I have uncovered secret delights of my own, and in this guide, I hope to share them with you; the wonderfully offbeat festivals, quirky streets and historic towns all littered with tradition and cuisine unique to my crowded corner of the world. While the Big Buddha, Avenue of Stars, and Ngong Ping are naturally the crowd-pleasers that every traveler to the city needs to see, there is simply so much more the city has to offer; experiences that only the true adventurers can hope to discover! If that’s you then you’re in for a treat – here I have highlighted just a few of my favorite unusual things to do in Hong Kong, the ultimate list for an experience of Hong Kong off the beaten path.
Ride aboard the Star Ferry and Tram
One of the more unique experiences in Hong Kong, this 100-year-old trip across the Victoria Harbour is a charming way to get the most unique view of the city. A double-decker tram not unlike those you might find in England, followed by a harbor tour on one of the Star Ferry boats that have been faithfully transporting passengers to Kowloon and back for generations. Naturally you could make use of the modern infrastructure – a network of road and rail – that nowadays connects the two sides of Victoria Harbour, but a trip aboard one of the humble Star Ferry vessels is simply more of a treat, not only for the unrivaled view of the breathtaking Hong Kong skyline but because of the legacy of reliability and tradition it honors. It also makes for an incredibly picturesque – and, might I add, incredibly affordable – sunset or nighttime cruise, one that (if timed right, around 88 pm might let you glimpse the laudedSymphony of Lights show!
Browse legendary markets
One of the quirkier aspects of Hong Kong life is the thriving market culture that can be thanked for a plethora of shopping streets that range from intriguing to downright weird. Chop Alley, Flower Market, Cat Street, Jade Market, Yuen Po Bird Garden, Ladies Market ,and Temple Street Night Market are just a few worth visiting for those on the hunt for unusual things to do in Hong Kong. Some of these are mentionable due to the wares they offer, while others are simply charming cultural phenomenons that need to be witnessed in person. For the perfect holiday souvenirs head to Chop Alley – where you can have business cards made or jade stamps carved to your design – or Cat Street, the embodiment of quirky Hong Kong, where a world of trinkets and antiques await. Flower Market offers fairly ordinary merch, but the setting, blooming as it is with ccolorand greenery, is a fragrant and invigorating oasis in the middle of the city. For a fascinating morning jaunt, make your way to Bird Market, when the feathered inhabitants are enjoying their breakfast, or head out at night for a street bazaar – Temple Street Night Market is vibrantly colorful spectacle, full with opera performances, fortune tellers and delicious street food to complete the festive scene!
Visit the Fishing village where people live on boats
For a trip out of your everyday ordinary and into another time, this excursion – an ideal addition on a list of things to do in Hong Kong for 3 days or more – will take you completely off the beaten track, to a place where the only path is a watery one! Situated on Lantau Island, the Tai O Fishing Village is a trip into historic Hong Kong, a time before the teeming concrete jungle where the heritage of old lives on in a quaint and picturesque setting. Swap the skyscrapers for fishing boats with a day trip to the village where you can explore the way people once lived (and still do) in stilted houses, eating the hard-caught catch of the day with handmade delicacies. It’s a charming meander through time, one that will leave you craving a simpler life, right before you dive back into the fray of bustling city life. If you are really lucky you might even be gifted with a rare sighting of the pink dolphins that inhabit the bay!
Attend one of the many local events
Many of the wonderful and weird things to do in Hong Kong can be found in clusters at the numerous festival and events that dot the Hong Kong calendar, which are as intrinsic to local culture as dim sum and jade. These are not only great opportunities to experience authentic Hong Kong culture, but offer the perfect setting in which to uncover some genuine Hong Kong hidden gems. These are so plentiful and varied (as with our street markets) as to be impossible to list in detail, but Chinese new year and the Birthday of Buddha are a few of my favourites while the Bun Festival, Hungry Ghost Festival, and the Mid Autumn Fire Dragon Dance are certainly among the more strange ones with vast servings of Hong Kong authenticity! Surely the biggest and most colorful among the festivals must be Chinese New year, an annual event of such scale and widespread celebration – a city generously littered with red lanterns and a feel of buzzing excitement– that you couldn’t miss it if you tried! The others are slightly more obscure, or out of the way, so a bit more research is required to get to them, but trust me when I say the results are well worth the effort!
Hike up Lion Rock
For a high-energy adventure that definitely constitutes an experience of Hong Kong off the beaten path why not take a stroll up the tallest mountain in the area; Lion Rock? Not only will this provide you with the chance to work off some of that peking duck and (if you happened to have attended the Bun Festival) sweet buns you have no doubt been indulging in, but all your work will be rewarded with a prize view. The breathtaking panoramas of Kowloon and Hong Kong Island beautiful yet rarely witnessed, purely thanks to the fact that this area cannot be reached any way but on foot! The 1 hour hike is – while thoroughly worth it – not a walk in the park, so be sure to hydrate, wear comfy shoes and get ready to earn your spot at the top of the world!
Visit the abandoned town of Ma Wan
Another prime example of Hong Kong off the beaten path, this village – well off the travelled path – is a fascinating peek into the sometimes devastating effects of gentrification, and a town now entirely abandoned. While there are in fact several such ghost-towns – namely Mau Wu Shan in Devil’s Peak and the village of So Lo Pun found within Plover Cove Country Park – Ma Wan is my favourite, and makes for a peaceful (if somewhat unsettling) stroll through a village that once housed thousands of people and now merely holds memories of the past. Once a thriving fishing town, the residents of Ma Wan were forced to relocate in the face of plans to erect a new luxury apartment complex. The town, now merely a shadow of its former vibrancy, was never repopulated and never recovered, leaving houses restaurants and community centers abandoned, empty shells that exist as ghosts of another era.
Dine at a cartoon restaurant
One of the great things to do in Hong Kong at night and a prime example of more offbeat Hong Kong, dining at a “cartoon restaurant” provides insight into one of the more unique passions of Hongkongers – namely their love for cartoon characters! And while you might not find any of the typically – and distinctly delicious – traditional Hong Kong dishes at these spots, what you will find is an abundance of those characters you know and love in a format that is quite literally good enough to eat! From Hello Kitty shaped dim sum, to cappuccino froth adorned with an effigy of Charlie Brown, these cafeś offer cuisine which is as creative as it is cute! Not merely a fly-by-night trend either, these cartoon cafes have been around since the 60s and have grown in popularity ever since, becoming a firm fixture on the landscape of Hong Kong cafe culture. While the cafes celebrating the likes of Hello Kitty and Charlie Brown are sure to serve you food you personally recognize, they are merely the beginning of a rabbit hole that winds all the way down into cuteness overload! Gudetama and Pompompurin Cafe are just a few of the other wildly popular cartoon cafes you might sample on your journey!
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