Photograph by Christian Kerber, laif/Redux
When Britain claimed Hong Kong in 1842, the peninsula and islands in southern China was a collective of fishing villages and a haven for coastal pirates. The territory returned to Chinese control in 1997 as one of the world’s leading financial centers and one of Asia’s most popular tourist destinations. Whether you want to explore Hong Kong’s urban jungle of towering skyscrapers or the beaches and subtropical wilderness that lie just beyond, here are some ways to enjoy the city where East meets West for much, much less.
Many of Hong Kong’s museums offer free general admission on Wednesdays, including all of the following:
The Hong Kong Museum of Art boasts more than 15,000 pieces, including many Chinese paintings, historical portraits, ceramics, and calligraphy works.
Dedicated to preserving the area’s unique blend of Eastern and Western cultural influences, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum houses collections of folk art, toys, comics, and other pop culture relics alongside ancient Chinese artifacts.
The Hong Kong Museum of History further elucidates the area’s distinctive development through a permanent exhibit called “The Hong Kong Story,” which spans local history from the Devonian period 400 million years ago to Hong Kong’s reunification with China in 1997.
Horse racing first came to Hong Kong with British colonization of the area, and it has been the most popular sport in town for many years. The Hong Kong Racing Museum celebrates this rich racing tradition and the history of the Hong Kong Jockey Club. Exhibits let visitors glimpse a day in the life of a racehorse trainer and admission is always free (not just on Wednesdays) with free guided tours provided on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Or, if the space race is more your speed, the Hong Kong Space Museum has interactive exhibits highlighting milestones in space science and astronomy.
At the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Museum, learn about the early 20th-century revolutionary who helped inspire the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and played a vital role as the first provisional president of the Republic of China. Dr. Sun was educated in Hong Kong, and the area was where his initial thoughts of revolution and uprising began. In addition to being free each Wednesday, admission to this museum is also free on the anniversaries of Dr. Sun’s birth (November 12) and death (March 12).
The Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens house more than 1,000 species of plants and over 500 birds and animals, including orangutans, lemurs, pythons, and flamingos. Admission is always free.
Victoria Harbour is at the heart of Hong Kong, and every night at 8 p.m., you can view A Symphony of Lights along its shores. Named the "World's Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show" by the Guinness Book of World Records, this dazzling multimedia presentation, complete with lasers, searchlights, and pyrotechnics on special occasions, features more than 40 Hong Kong buildings on both sides of the harbor. The show can be seen from a variety of positions on Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, but the Avenue of Stars is a particularly popular viewing point because accompanying music and narration are piped in. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, the narration is presented in English. On all other nights it is in Mandarin, except for Sundays, when it is presented in Cantonese.
The Cultural Kaleidoscope program, offered by the Hong Kong Tourism Board, gives visitors access to a multitude of free opportunities for immersion in Hong Kong’s unique culture. Get things in balance when you get back home with techniques learned from a free feng shui class. Feng shui, or Chinese geomancy, is the ancient practice of positioning objects and buildings in harmony with nature to foster good fortune and peace of mind. A free class is offered each Friday from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.
Or strengthen and balance your body and mind with a free tai chi class. Discover why this ancient Chinese martial art is still a very popular form of exercise as two of Hong Kong’s local masters walk you through some movements. Classes are offered Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 8 to 9 a.m.
The Cultural Kaleidoscope program offers many more free educational courses. For more information, visit the tourism board’s website. You are strongly encouraged to register for all classes in advance by calling or visiting any Hong Kong Tourism Board Visitor Centre throughout the area.
The Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre in Kowloon Park has an exhibition gallery showcasing Hong Kong’s cultural heritage, along with an educational activity room and reference library. Admission is always free.
Gather around Golden Bauhinia Square, also known as The Expo Promenade, outside the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre at 7:50 each morning to observe an official flag-raising ritual. Performed daily by uniformed Hong Kong police, this ritual is filled with pomp and ceremony. It marks the raising of China’s red ensign over the territory, which was transferred from British control in 1997. On the first day of each month, catch an extended ceremony in which the ceremonially dressed Police Pipe Band performs music, including the national anthem, as a backdrop to the proceedings.
Drink in a Chinese tea appreciation class (download PDF) that will introduce you to many varieties of the beloved Asian beverage. Within a traditional teahouse, learn proper preparation techniques and tea-drinking etiquette. After you’ve mastered the perfect sip, head over to the adjacent Museum of Tea Ware to view a collection of rare teapots—admission is free.
You are strongly encouraged to register for all classes in advance by calling or visiting any Hong Kong Tourism Board Visitor Centre throughout the area.
Children of all ages will enjoy Kung Fu Corner each Sunday from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. at Kowloon Park. This free weekly performance features traditional kung fu demonstrations by Chinese martial artists. Members of the public are invited to try out their own skills after each show, with instructors and students leading kids through basic kung fu movements. Ceremonial drumming and lion and dragon dances are also part of this interactive spectacle.
Kids will also enjoy Victoria Peak’s EA Experience, where more than 70 free gaming stations allow visitors to play new and classic Electronic Arts video games that span all genres and appeal to a variety of age levels.
Hong Kong’s beautiful beaches are always a popular source of free amusement and relaxation for visitors and locals alike. Golden Beach and Repulse Bay are popular spots for swimming and sunbathing. Big Wave Bay Beach is, as the name suggests, popular with surfers when typhoons pass nearby. It is also the site of some prehistoric rock carvings.
Stroll through Hong Kong’s history at Kowloon Walled City Park, an area that has had many past lives. Originally the site of a walled fort, it became a sanctuary for Chinese refugees after World War II and later, an unlawful slum. Today, it boasts a beautiful Chinese park and garden built in classical Jiangnan style with striking pavilions.
Much of Hong Kong’s undeveloped subtropical landscape is contained within a network of 24 protected country parks and an extensive network of hiking trails, most of which are less than an hour away from urban areas and are free and open for hikers and bikers to explore.
One of those trails, Wong Nai Chung Gap Trail, offers both sweeping natural vistas and historical insight—informative signs along this route tell the tale of fierce fighting in the area during World War II. The trail terminates near Wong Nai Chung Gap, the spot where nearly 2,000 people died in the bloody Battle of Hong Kong that took place in December of 1941.
Birds are popular pets in Hong Kong, and you can peruse dozens of stalls filled with colorful feathered friends in the Yuen Po Street Bird Garden. The birds themselves, along with cages, food, and everything a bird owner might need are up for sale. But this narrow, bustling market makes for a fun, free stroll and allows you to take in some beautiful sights and sounds. The garden is a favorite gathering spot for Hong Kong’s songbird owners, who carry and display their pets in intricately carved cages.
Theater and Music
The Avenue of Stars, located along the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade, features cement handprints of Hollywood stars with Hong Kong heritage, such as Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. While the avenue offers panoramic views of Victoria Harbor and is a great place to take pictures during the day, it comes alive on Saturday nights, when any number of free performances dominate the street with music, song, and dance. The area is also a popular viewing point for A Symphony of Lights.
The Hong Kong Tourism Board’s Cultural Kaleidoscope program offers a free Cantonese opera appreciation class every Saturday from 2:30 to 3:45 p.m. at the Hong Kong Heritage Museum. Traditional Cantonese opera is a highly respected art form that incorporates Chinese legend, music, and drama. Participants view elaborate costumes and set pieces in the museum’s Cantonese Opera Heritage Hall and attend a live operatic performance by a local troupe. You are strongly encouraged to register for this class in advance by calling or visiting any Hong Kong Tourism Board Visitor Centre throughout the area.
Hong Kong Tourism Board
Hong Kong Tourism Commission
Hong Kong Transport Department
Shop National Geographic