What to do in Hong Kong for free!

Hong Kong is ripe with places where you’ll need to cough up the big bucks. Yet with a bit of guidance, you’ll manage to explore the city and give your wallet a break

The Nan Lian Garden offers a moment of respite in a city famous for its buzz

The Nan Lian Garden offers a moment of respite in a city famous for its buzz

Category Cities

Date 25th April 2017

Every city offers great experiences that don’t come with a price tag, but they might be difficult to find. Hong Kong is no exception.

While most of your money will be spent on accommodation, food and drinks, with a bit of research, you’ll save plenty of money on sightseeing. Zen gardens, cultural activities, a remote island and much more … our local writer, Dora Chan, guides you to the best free experiences around.

Cultural Wednesdays

There's a museum for every taste in Hong Kong – why not try the Space Museum?
There’s a museum for every taste in Hong Kong – why not try the Space Museum?

Curious about art and history? Mark Wednesdays in your travel schedule. Seven of the city’s museums welcome visitors for free on this day, among them the Hong Kong Museum of History, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum and the Hong Kong Space Museum.

Others, such as the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware and the Hong Kong Railway Museum, are free every day, and you can always attend exhibitions at the Hong Kong Film Archive and the Hong Kong Arts Centre for free.

A day at the beach

How does sunrise on an empty beach sound like? Try the beaches at Tai Long Wan
How does sunrise on an empty beach sound like? Try the beaches at Tai Long Wan

White sands, crystal-clear water, palm trees, the sound of waves, a gentle tropical breeze … Hong Kong’s stunning beaches might just be the city’s best-kept secret!

Located on the south-eastern tip of the Hong Kong Island, secluded Shek O is one of Hong Kong’s nicest beachside villages and its adjacent beach is where local surfers congregate to hit the waves. As you would imagine, every secret gets out sooner or later, so try to avoid it during weekends as it tends to get crowded.

One adventurous alternative is Tai Long Wan, part of the Sai Kung East Country Park. Though it is relatively hard to reach, it’s perhaps one of the most beautiful beaches Hong Kong has to offer. Getting there will include several modes of transportation: the MTR (subway), taxi, boat, bus and plenty of walking. But since it’s never overly crowded and as such an oasis of serenity, it pays off to make the great efforts to get here.

Hike the MacLehose Trail

Lion Rock, one of the wonders of MacLehose Trail
Lion Rock, one of the wonders of MacLehose Trail

Travelers are often surprised to realize that Hong Kong, far from being buried under skyscrapers, is filled with country parks and nature reserves covering around 40% of its territory.

Many of the city’s hidden beaches, rugged mountains, deserted villages and secret valleys are linked by the MacLehose Trail, a 100-kilometers hiking trail recently listed as one of “20 Dream Trails” by National Geographic.

Criss-crossing the New Territories’ national parks, the trail is divided into stages of varying difficulties. Perennial favorites are Stage 2 which includes the dreamy beach Tai Long Wan, Stage 8 featuring the Ng Tung Chai Waterfalls, a series of four plunging waterfalls that create beautiful swimming holes. And finally, the challenging Stage 5, culminating on the Lion Rock peak, named so due to its remarkable shape resembling a crouching lion.

Hollywood Art

A moment of meditation under the giant hanging incense coils at Man Mo Temple
A moment of meditation under the giant hanging incense coils at Man Mo Temple

Going westward from the central escalator on Hollywood Road, you can admire art and antiques in a plethora of shops and galleries, on a strip stretching from the Central District Police Station, soon to re-opened as Tai Kwun, a center for art, heritage and leisure activities, to Man Mo Temple, Upper Lascar Row and creative hub Police Married Quarters (PMQ).

If you’re a student, you can book a free visit to the Liang Yi Museum, a stunning building housing one of the world’s largest collections of Chinese antique furniture from the Ming and Qing dynasties as well as an unusual collection of more than 400 bejeweled clutches, compacts and powder boxes from the likes of Cartier, Boucheron and Van Cleef & Arpels.

A zen moment at Nan Lian Garden

The Nan Lian Garden is the perfect spot for a zen walk
The Nan Lian Garden is the perfect spot for escaping the buzz of the city

Travelers in need of a respite from Hong Kong’s frenetic pace should spend some hours in the Nan Lian Garden, a scenic oasis of sublime tranquility.

Modeled after the famed Jiangshouju Garden in Shanxi, China, each of its intricate details has been carefully crafted and placed in accordance with ancient rules and traditional methods, from the position of rocks to the timber structure.

The park is maintained by the adjacent Chi Lin Nunnery, a wooden temple complex filled with Buddhist relics where you’re free to ponder the teaching of the Shakyamuni Buddha and other bodhisattvas.

Cultural offerings at West Kowloon Cultural District

The promenade at West Kowloon Cultural District is ideal for an evening stroll
The promenade at West Kowloon Cultural District is ideal for an evening stroll

The West Kowloon Cultural District is set to eventually become a major hub for culture in Hong Kong. Plagued by budget issues and managerial changes, it remains a spectacular spot if only to enjoy Hong Kong’s skyline at night.

In addition to the stroll along the promenade, travelers can visit the Nursery Park, which is used to grow a range of trees, from salt-tolerant plants to fruit trees that are to be used across the area. Free events ranging from indie music festivals to exhibitions on topics like Gender in Popular Culture or theatrical performances are regularly held, so it’s worth checking out their website to see what’s on.

Hunting down history

The famous Blue House, one of the last remaining tenement buildings from the 1920s
The famous Blue House, one of the last remaining tenement buildings from the 1920s

Legendary revolutionary Dr Sun Yat-sen, widely considered the “father” of modern China, is still revered in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. He was the first president and founding father of the Republic of China and played a pivotal role in overthrowing the Qing dynasty, China’s last imperial dynasty.

The Dr Sun Yat-sen Historical Trail is a series of fifteen stops in the areas of the Central and Western Districts that help history buffs relive some of the key events of this turbulent era. Notable spots include the location where Sun’s associate, Yeung Ku-wan, was assassinated, as well as the meeting place of Sun’s gang of “Four Bandits”.

The Wan Chai Heritage Trail retraces the history of Hong Kong’s most notorious area, showcasing historical settlements like the Green House, now devoted to the local comics’ industry, and the Blue House, a pioneering community-living project run together with the adjacent Yellow House, the buzzing Wan Chai Market, a few temples and fashionable Star Street.

Ghost hunting in Yim Tin Tsai

St Joseph's Chapel on the abandoned Yim Tin Tsai island
St Joseph’s Chapel on the abandoned Yim Tin Tsai island © Isaac Wong

Hong Kong’s rapid development has led to many villages and islands being deserted, as residents abandoned their ancestral abodes for the glitter of urban living. Yim Tin Sai, located a short ferry ride from Sai Kung, used to have a population of more than one thousand Hakka people, but now sits mostly empty, although it’s slowly coming back to life.

A handful of descendants returned to the island some years ago and built a heritage trail, renovated Hakka ancestral homes, created a ceramics museum, and even started an organic farm that sits at the foot of the church.

While nature has reclaimed most of the houses, the island makes for a nice day out. St Joseph’s Chapel, which won the Award of Merit at the 2005 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards, and the island’s revitalized salt pans, also recognized by UNESCO, are worth the detour. While there sip some Yim Tin beer, a craft beer made in Hong Kong and dedicated to the island.

Flower Market in Mong Kok

Take in the colours and fragrances at the Flower Market in Mong Kok
Take in the colors and fragrances at the Flower Market in Mong Kok

Even if you have absolutely no need to buy flowers as a temporary passer-by, you may end up with a pot at the end of a tour, because the buzzing atmosphere and sheer varieties of floral beauty will make you fall head over heels in love with this place.

For endless rows of fresh flowers, pots and plants, gardening and ikebana equipment, go to the western end of the market, where you’ll find a lovely, newly renovated art deco four-story building. Here, you’ll discover a world of lovely tea houses, local cake shops, modern organic cafes and a handful of cute shops peddling local and regional fair-trade produce.

Walk the Central Waterfront Promenade

The "Symphony of Lights" is a must-see
The “Symphony of Lights” is a must-see

The Central Promenade, which stretches from the Star Ferry Pier to Admiralty via the green enclave of Tamar Park, is the perfect way to experience Hong Kong’s skyline from the ground, especially at night.

Flanked by iconic buildings like the Bank of China Tower and HSBC on one side and Victoria Harbor on the other, you can also take in stunning views of Kowloon and secure an excellent vantage point from where to enjoy the “The Symphony of Lights” that takes place every day at 8pm across the harbor.

Many events are held along the Promenade or within Tamar Park, so expect to see plenty of revelers, especially on weekends.

Find a cheap flight to Hong Kong
No holiday is complete without a bit of shopping and food sampling. Find the best food around and browse through some of Hong Kong’s most distinctive shops

Originally published

25th April 2017