Hong Kong is one of the most exciting and famous cities in the world.
This big, popular city is an intoxicating mix of Chinese and English cultures as well as the old and ultra-modern.
This makes Hong Kong easy to explore, as there’s lots of English around, and makes the city feel weirdly familiar even if you’ve never been there before.
Despite the English influence, Hong Kong is decidedly Asian at the same time and the locals are proud of their unique heritage.
But what, exactly, puts this city on the map? What is Hong Kong known and famous for? Read on to find out.
1. Global financial hub
Hong Kong is best known for being a financial powerhouse in international trade and investment.
This Chinese special administrative region (SAR) enjoys a market economy with low taxes, high GDP, favorable trade arrangements, and a regulated banking system.
Hong Kong is also an important economic gateway to mainland China. It allows many international businesses to do business in China via HK.
The city also boasts one of the world’s top stock markets.
2. Victoria Peak
Everyone who visits Hong Kong goes to Victoria Peak. The views from the top of this mountain are iconic.
There are towering mansions housing some of the richest residents in Hong Kong, but the area is most famous for the views over the city and the islands to the south.
To get up to the peak you can take a taxi or take the Peak Tram, a tourist favorite.
The tram runs regularly and is cheap and easy, but you might have to wait in line and hop onboard a crowded tram as it’s very popular.
You can also hike up Victoria Peak if you’re the active type. It will take about an hour, but the views are stunning and it’s really worth it.
Just remember that Hong Kong can get really humid, so choose your hiking day wisely!
3. British rule
Hong Kong was a British colony from 1841 to 1997.
The British moved in following a dispute with the Qing Dynasty government, who ruled China at the time.
The Chinese had seized opium in Canton (now known as Guangzhou) to try and stop the trade, but the Brits demanded that free trade prevail.
Known as the Opium Wars, the British military overpowered the Chinese to get their way and the result was essentially a treaty which ceded Hong Kong to Britain.
The British also got access to many more treaty ports across the country, allowing the opium trade to flourish and Christianity to spread.
As part of the handover in 1997, it was agreed that Hong Kong would remain a special region of China in accordance with the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle for 50 years.
This means the capitalist system stays until 2047.
4. Ferry crossing over Victoria Harbor
Hong Kong is actually made up of more than 250 islands, but most visitors only visit a few.
The main island is Hong Kong Island, across from the Kowloon Peninsula.
There are several ways to travel between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, and one of the best is the Star Ferry on Victoria Harbor.
The ferry has been running since the 1880s, so it’s more than just a mode of transport – it’s a quintessential part of Hong Kong.
The trip is relaxing and offers great views of the city’s skyline on both sides of the harbor. It’s even better at night, when you can see the buildings lit up with shimmering lights for just a few HK dollars.
5. Cantonese food
Hong Kong is known for a lot of things, but the food has to be called out! This is what I love about the city the most.
Hong Kong offers more street food than you could ever eat as well as incredibly expensive restaurants, so you’ll be able to eat lots of delicious meals no matter what your budget is like.
And food is everywhere too. In fact, Hong Kong has one of the highest densities of restaurants in the world, so you won’t have to go far whenever you get hungry.
Some foods not to be missed in Hong Kong are:
- Dim sum of all kinds
- Egg tarts
- Claypot rice
- Egg waffles
- Siu mei (spit-roasted meat)
- Pineapple buns
- Wonton noodles.
You can check out this page for more amazing foods you can find across China.
6. Sky100 Hong Kong Observation Deck
If you don’t mind heights and want to take in the whole city, then you should do it from the Sky100 Hong Kong Observation Deck.
Located in the tallest building in Hong Kong, the International Commerce Center (ICC), the deck offers unobstructed, 360-degree views of the city and harbor.
The deck is a great spot for selfies as well as a good way to orientate yourself when you’ve just arrived in the city.
Just make sure that you take the trip up on a relatively clear day, or you’ll mostly see clouds and fog!
7. Hong Kong Disneyland
There are only six Disney theme parks in the world, and China has two of them – Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Hong Kong Disneyland was the first to open in China in 2005. Located on Lantau Island, it’s smaller than other Disney parks around the world, but still packs a lot into a small area.
Obviously, this attraction is best for families with kids, but the young at heart will still enjoy it.
There are great rides, including the exhilarating Hyperspace Mountain, several lands to explore, a fun daily parade down Main Street, and nightly fireworks shows.
8. Japanese invasion and occupation
Hong Kong has not always been the “happiest place on earth”.
The city was invaded by the Japanese at the start of WWII, at the same time Pearl Harbor was bombed.
The battle lasted a couple of weeks, and thousands of military personnel and civilians died. The area was then occupied by the Japanese for more than three-and-a-half years, from December 25, 1941 until August 15, 1945.
It was during this period of Japanese rule that life was brutally hard for locals. An estimated 10,000 Hong Kongers were executed, tortured, raped or mutilated.
And, for those who escaped the brutality, there wasn’t enough food to go around so many people starved to death.
There was also a process of ‘Japanisation’ in many aspects of daily life. For example, in schools, the Japanese language became compulsory and Japanese traditions and customs were introduced.
9. Brand name shopping
Of all the things that Hong Kong is famous for, shopping is probably one of the most well-known!
The shopping in Hong Kong is absolutely legendary and it’s almost a national pastime for visitors to the city and the locals.
There are so many stores and shopping malls that you’ll find plenty to buy no matter how big or small your budget is.
Here are some of the most famous places to shop when you’re in Hong Kong:
- Causeway Bay for endless streets of shops of all descriptions
- IFC in Central for upscale brands and the latest fashions
- Times Square for a huge number of shops spread over 16 floors
- K11 Musea for shopping, dining, entertainment, culture, and art
- Harbour City, which is so big they had to divide it into three areas
- Elements Mall for shopping and an ice rink
- Tai Yuen Street if you’re traveling with the kids and want to buy some toys.
If you like a bargain or just enjoy the atmosphere of street markets, then you should spend some time at a street market in Hong Kong.
Just remember to bargain for the goods you want and prepare for crowds.
Here are some of the best markets in Hong Kong:
- Temple Street Night Market, where you’ll find everything and everyone
- Jade Market and Jade Street for jewelry
- Apliu Street Flea Market for electronics
- Ladies Market, which is famous for its bargain women’s clothes
- Li Yuen Street East and West, which are two tiny streets with amazing fashion finds.
11. Ding dings
Wondering what this funny-sounding thing is?
Well, double-decker trams have been running up and down northern Hong Kong Island for more than a hundred years. And the locals call them ‘ding dings’ for the iconic sounds they make!
The trams are also popular with tourists, who often sit on the upper deck for the best views. It’s a much more pleasant way of seeing the city than inside a taxi.
Rides are paid for using the local transport card, called the Octopus Card, or you can pay the exact amount in cash.
Just remember to get on the tram at the back and then pay the fare at the front when you’re getting off.
Read more about the history of Hong Kong’s renowned trams.
Hong Kong is famous for its nightlife, and if you enjoy hitting the bars and clubs, you’ll understand why once you visit this city.
Most of the best bars and pubs can be found in the districts of Wan Chai, Lan Kwai Fong, and Tsim Sha Tsui and they’re open until the early morning.
I’m probably a bit too old to give advice on the best clubs these days. I suggest you visit a site like HK Clubbing that specializes in Hong Kong’s nightlife.
13. The Big Buddha
Located on Lantau Island, pictures of the Big Buddha (or Tian Tan Buddha) are synonymous with Hong Kong.
It’s one of the tallest statues of a seated Buddha in the world and stands 112 feet above the Po Lin Monastery.
The walk itself to get up to the Big Buddha is also one of the things that Hong Kong is famous for.
You’ll have to walk up 268 steps to reach the platform that holds the Buddha sitting on its giant lotus. This might not sound too bad, but when you’re making the hike in Hong Kong’s famously humid heat, you’ll really feel it!
Despite the heat, almost every tourist visits this statue, which was created to symbolize the harmonious relationship between nature, religion, and human.
14. Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery
Located in the New Territories (take the MTR train to Sha Tin Station), this is a temple with a very incorrect name.
There are actually a lot more than 10,000 Buddhas at the temple and lining the 430 steps up to the temple. Plus, the monastery is deserted, which makes the name even more curious.
As you walk up the stairs, take the time to check out the Buddhas along the way, which all have their own unique poses and expressions. And if you manage to get to the top of the stairs, you’ll find the main complex, which is filled with 12,000 golden Buddhas.
At the highest point, there’s a reclining Buddha above a koi pond as well as a statue of the Gautama, one of the most important spiritual teachers in Buddhism.
To be honest, getting up to the temple is even worse than the Big Buddha. There are more stairs and if it’s hot you’ll need more than one bottle of water to replace all the sweat.
But if you’re reasonably fit, you’ll see how important the Buddha is in this religion. Plus, the expressions on the different Buddhas are surprisingly varied and amusing!
You might not know this, but Hong Kong is known for its hiking trails because of the mountainous terrain and natural areas.
Going on a hike, away from all the concrete and glass of the city, can be a great way to de-stress and improve your fitness at the same time.
If you enjoy hiking, here are some popular trails you should try while you’re in Hong Kong:
- Dragon’s Back, which is easy, accessible, and is the most scenic part of the Hong Kong Trail
- The Peak Trail, as mentioned earlier, for stunning views atop Victoria Peak
- Monkey Trail Hike, which is located in Shing Mun Country Park and means you can take photos with troops of Rhesus Macaques
- Tai Long Wan Hiking Trail, which is a more remote and challenging trail that offers beautiful views and beach access.
What is Hong Kong most well-known for?
Internationally, Hong Kong is most famous for being a global trade and finance hub.
But it’s also a surprisingly edgy place known for great shopping, amazing food, natural beauty, lots of attractions, as well as its dark history.
This is why it’s become a must-see on many travelers’ itineraries, and a place that people visit again and again.
Learn more about China
Main image credit: Marci Marc on Pixabay.
Frequently asked questions about Hong Kong
Are Hong Kong people Chinese?
Yes they are, but they refer to themselves as Hong Kongers, which is different to those from mainland China.
Where is Hong Kong situated?
It’s in southern China, near Shenzhen which is in Guangdong province. It’s about a four-hour flight to Tokyo, Japan or just under three hours to Shanghai.
What is Hong Kong’s currency?
It’s the Hong Kong dollar or HKD. It’s been pegged to the US dollar since 1983.
When is Hong Kong returned to China?
It was returned from the UK in 1997. Even though it’s under Chinese rule again, the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle lasts until 2047, meaning Hong Kong is governed differently and remains capitalist until then.
Where is Hong Kong Disneyland located?
It’s on Lantau Island, Hong Kong’s biggest island which is also home to Tian Tan Buddha. HK Disney is close to the international airport.