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How to see Hong Kong for free
A vertical playground
Despite the fact Hong Kong is considered one of the world’s most expensive places to live, it actually has a rather surprising amount of things to do for free or at a very low cost. Sitting in the South China Sea, Asia’s most dynamic city is a vertical playground full of fascinating neighbourhoods, pretty urban parks, superb museums and art galleries as well as miles and miles of lush mountainous land.
And not only is it possible to pack your trip with free activities but you can also eat for pennies – literally. Hong Kong is home to the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant, Tim Ho Wan in Mong Kok, where the most expensive dish on the menu comes in at less than £3.
Most people come to Hong Kong for the shopping; some come for the nightlife and some for the food, but few would suggest that the island’s arts and museums are a big draw. This is a real shame as the city has a bundle of excellent, though often overlooked artistic and scientific institutions. The Hong Kong Heritage Museum in Sha Tin is well worth a half-day of your time with its time tunnels, interactive suites and dramatic Cantonese Opera Hall.
And if you’ve got kids in tow, a sure fire winner is the Science Museum, home to hundreds of whirling, buzzing, flashing, bouncing interactive exhibits designed to inspire (and hopefully exhaust) young visitors.
Several museums open their doors to the public on Wednesdays for free but if you’re reading this post on a Thursday, fear not: during the rest of the week entrance fees are minimal – around HK$10-25 (£1–£2.60) or a bargain HK$50 (£5.25) for an annual pass.
Take a hike
…or a leisurely stroll. Whichever you prefer, there’s a wealth of walking to be had in Hong Kong – and not just around the shopping malls. More than 70% of Hong Kong remains rural with large lush areas of rolling mountains, wildlife-packed wetlands and enchanting outlying islands and coastline.
Hong Kong’s walks can be as relaxing or as taxing as you like. The Peak Circle Walks, at the top of the famous Victoria Peak, are some of the easiest. It only takes around twenty minutes to circumnavigate the island’s highest summit and you’ll be richly rewarded with stunning city views. Further up the scale, the Dragon’s Back is an urban hiking trail stretching across the length of Hong Kong through the huge Shek O Country Park. The 4.5km mountain trail is perfect for casual hikers and the last stage has fantastic views over Hong Kong’s best beaches. End your day feasting at one of the cheap Chinese and Thai restaurants back at Shek O beach.
For challenge-seekers, the Maclehose Trail is Hong Kong’s longest hike and should satisfy even the hardest of hard-cores. Competitive types take note; November is time for the Oxfam Trailwalker Race which is held over the entire 100K and run in teams of four. Many groups tend to take about 24 hours to complete the race – whereas the Chinese army and Ghurkha teams sprint the entire trek!
Maps for all the walks can be downloaded from the Discover Hong Kong Great Outdoors website.
If you can’t stretch to the HK$45 (£4.70) for a return trip on the vintage tram to the top of The Peak, it’s possible to walk it via a walkway from Cotton Tree Drive.
Alternatively, visit OZONE on the 118th floor of the Ritz-Carlton for the ultimate harbour view. It claims to be the highest bar in Asia and as long as the clouds don’t roll, the heart-stopping panorama will have you picking your jaw up off the floor.
If you’ve any energy left after hitting Hong Kong’s free sights, take advantage of the city’s best known evening entertainment. A Symphony of Lights is undoubtedly Hong Kong’s most famous free attraction; every night at 8pm the island’s skyline is illuminated by the world’s largest permanent light and sound show. Where’s the best place to see this colourful spectacular? Either the Avenue of the Stars on the Kowloon promenade or Golden Bauhinia Square on the Wan Chai waterfront.
by Lee Cobaj