Hong Kong may be one of the most expensive cities in the world to live in, but that doesn’t mean you have to be a millionaire to enjoy it. In fact, there are loads of fun things to do that won’t cost you a dollar – if you know where to look. So leave your money woes at home and experience one of these freebie activities in the 852.
1. Visit a Temple
Hong Kong is blessed with beautiful Buddhist temples adorned with bronze Buddhas, swirling incense, and quite often blissfully tranquil gardens that are completely free to enter. Among our favourites are the impressive Wong Tai Sin with its beautiful architecture and Good Wish Garden filled with ornate pagodas, exotic plants, and mesmerising carp ponds. Only a short walk away (or one MTR stop) from Wong Tai Sin is Chi Lin Nunnery, which boasts traditional Tang Dynasty architecture and the connecting Nan Lian Garden with its beautiful water features, trees, rocks, wooden structures, and charming tea house. Meanwhile, nestled in the mountains of Sha Tin, Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery boasts a stunning temple hall, nine-storey pagoda, and countless life-size golden Buddhas striking all sorts of bizarre poses along the 400-step pathway to the top. But if that all sounds a little too crazy, then take it down a notch and visit the conveniently located Man Mo Temple in Sheung Wan and witness the giant hanging incense coils and stunning murals on display.
2. Explore a Wet Market
Nestle between the city’s towering skyscrapers, wet markets are an iconic part of Hong Kong life and a great place to snap incredible shots for your Instagram feed. Among flapping fish, leaping prawns (we’re not even kidding), and haggling fruit and veggie vendors, you can capture a wealth of photographs bursting with character, energy, and colour. Among our favourites are Bowrington Road in Causeway Bay, Wan Chai Market (pictured) which also has some of the best toy shops in the city, and Reclamation Street in Jordan. Just bear in mind they are called “wet” markets for a reason – an extensive amount of water is used to wash the floors, keep the fruits and vegetables fresh, and the seafood alive – so be careful not to slip!
3. Take a Hike
Totally free, and totally exhilarating, hiking is a popular pastime for all ages in Hong Kong. Packed with lush countryside, rolling hills, and breathtaking coastal scenery, the city’s 300km of hiking trails are often scattered with joggers and families taking a stroll during the weekends. For a fairly gentle hike, the popular Dragon’s Back route, which was voted the ‘world’s best urban trek’, is ideal for newbies and kids, and offers stunning views of Shek O Beach down below. Meanwhile, more seasoned hikers might enjoy tackling a section of the MacLehose Trail, Hong Kong’s longest hiking route, which traverses through the New Territories and Kowloon bringing coastlines, parks, rugged peaks, valleys, and even the odd glimpse of rural living. For a totally unique experience, you might want to consider taking a scenic night hike and experience the twinkling city lights from a totally different perspective. One of the most popular routes is Wan Chai to the Central Ferry Piers via The Peak, which takes between 2.5 and 3 hours to complete and offers some pretty unforgettable views.
4. Go to a Park
Despite being one of the most densely populated cities in the world, and home to a million skyscrapers, Hong Kong offers several beautiful parks and gardens in which to escape the metropolis. Just minutes away from the bustling Central district, well hidden by tall buildings on Hennessy Road and Kennedy Road, Hong Kong Park is a wonderful oasis of nature and an ideal place for children to play and run around. Its colourful aviary, carp ponds, and water features offer a peaceful sanctuary for all to enjoy for free. Over on the “dark side”, Kowloon Park (pictured) occupies 13.3 hectares of land, offering a full range of free facilities to the public, including flamingo ponds, playgrounds, and a giant outdoor pool (if you’re willing to part with the $17 entry fee to take a dip). Alternatively, you can run a lap around the Victoria Park race track or watch elderly locals enjoy a spot of tai chi in the mornings. Be sure to check out the spectacular lantern display here around the Mid-Autumn Festival and the colourful flower market during Chinese New Year.
5. Hit the Waves
Nothing beats kicking back on the sand during a gorgeous day in Hong Kong and luckily, we are spoiled for choice when it comes to beaches around the city. Obvious choices include Big Wave Bay and Shek O on the Southside, but when these become packed on sunny weekends, good alternatives include Palm Beach and Cheung Sha over on Lantau, and the breathtakingly beautiful Tai Long Wan in Sai Kung (pictured), which is well worth the trek to get there. But let’s not overlook the quieter shores like Deep Water Bay and South Bay Beach, which sit either side of Repulse Bay and its famous “building with the hole in it” – The Repulse Bay residential complex. If you really want to push the boat out (pun intended), then head to Sai Kung and jump on a sampan to Sharp Island or Hap Mun Bay (aka “Half Moon Bay”) which offer crystal clear waters and spectacular views of the surroundings islands, without the heaving crowds.
6. Hit the Museums on a Wednesday
Schedule your culture fix for a Wednesday, when many of Hong Kong’s galleries and museums open their doors for free. Whether you’re a history buff, mad about science, or love astrology, there’s plenty to keep you entertained. Topping the list of our personal favourites are the Hong Kong Science Museum (pictured), which regularly hosts exciting exhibitions from London, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum which includes a Cantonese Opera hall with regular performances, and the Hong Kong Museum of History which has over 1,600 animal specimens in its Natural History collection. Be sure to check out the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) website for the full list of museums around Hong Kong.
7. Encounter Some Wildlife
Monkeys, and flamingoes, and exotic birds, oh my! Believe it or not, according to the GovHK website, 40 percent of the land in Hong Kong is protected in the form of country parks or nature reserves, which means there are plenty of furry neighbours to visit when you fancy a breath of fresh air. Many of Hong Kong’s country parks and trails are teeming with wildlife which you might not even know existed in Hong Kong – watch out for those wild boars! For a spot of monkey business, step onto the trails of Kowloon at Kam Shan, Lion Rock, and Shing Mun Country Parks, where a population of around 2,000 can be spotted sunning themselves and preening each other with zero inhibitions. Be warned though, finding yourself alone on a trail surrounded by monkeys can be quite a harrowing experience! If you prefer more placid creatures such as birds, then check out the beautiful aviary in Hong Kong Park where you can walk over wooden paths perched high among the trees, or observe the colourful flamingos bathing themselves in Kowloon Park (refer back to number 4).
8. Go Island Hopping
Okay, we know this article is all about “free” things to do in Hong Kong, but if you can bear to part ways with a piddly $20 or so, the world is your oyster – or its islands at least. Some of Hong Kong’s best kept secrets are found in its outlying islands, which are just a short ferry ride away from the bustling city. Among the most cherished are Lamma Island which is known for its sandy beaches, hiking trails, fresh seafood, and chilled bohemian vibe. A more rustic, local experience can be had over on Cheung Chau, which boasts beautiful temples and beaches, delicious seafood restaurants, and the chance to hire a bike and cycle around the island. Meanwhile, big adventures can be had over on Lantau which offers sandy beaches, mountainous trails, and the spectacular Po Lin Monastery and Wisdom Trail (pictured).
9. Visit Tai O Fishing Village
One of the most interesting things to do in Hong Kong is undoubtedly a visit to Tai O, one of the last remaining villages of its kind in Hong Kong. Located in the Western coast of Lantau island, this humble settlement is full of charm with its quaint collection of houses on stilts and rows upon rows of traditional, dried seafood shops which can bring surprising results – hanging shark or pufferfish anyone? This enchanting world is a photographer’s paradise, with plenty of opportunity to capture traditional life set against the towering mountains. You can easily while away a couple of hours exploring this fascinating village, whether you’re strolling around the market or hopping aboard one of the small boats (if you can spare $20) that take you around the harbour and stilt houses for a close-up view.
10. Drink for Free!
After all these free adventures, you’re going to want a drink! Hong Kong might be one of the priciest cities in the world to wine and dine in, but if you know where to go, you could wind up drinking all night for free – if you’re a woman that is! Sorry lads. Ladies Nights are very much alive and kicking in the 852, with various bars offering free drinks after a certain time in the evening. Among the most popular haunts are Carnegie’s which serves free vodka sprites after 9pm on weekdays, Cé La Vi where complimentary bubbles can be enjoyed between 8.30pm to 10.30pm on Thursdays, and Oolaa where the fizz runs freely on Wednesdays after 6pm. For a night of theatrics head to Ophelia between 8.30pm and 10.30pm on a Wednesday night and sip on free-flow vodka and gin with mixers while watching burlesque showgirl performances. Magic!