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20 Things Not to Do in Hong Kong — Top Tips for 2024

Written by Joshua Updated Jan. 13, 2021

There is more going on in Hong Kong than you can imagine. Among all the many things you could do there, there are some that you should be careful not to do. If you take note of such things now, it should help make your trip smooth and colorful.

Here below are some tips for tourists to Hong Kong from our experienced travel advisers. Let us help make your trip a good one and steer you clear of problems.

1. Don't Treat Hong Kong Like a Typical Layover City

Hong Kong's busy airport can be used for interesting layovers. But the small territory itself has an outstandingly diverse range of places to explore.

Hiking is unusually good in the region, and it's worth spending several days at the beaches, with surfing and swimming. Some of Asia's best restaurants, tallest buildings, best malls, and best museums are in Hong Kong.

2. Don't Spend All Your Time in Kowloon or Hong Kong Island

Lantau IslandLantau Island

Most visitors first head for Tsim Sha Tsui, Victoria Harbour, and Central, but many islands have a diverse range of environments you could explore.

  • Lantau Island is twice as big as Hong Kong Island. It is extensively wooded and is known for long-range hiking, camping, long beaches, and tourist areas like Tai O and Disneyland.
  • Lamma Island is a small thin island offering excellent natural scenery, a Family Walk, beaches, and seafood restaurants. It is a popular walking and mountain-biking area.
  • Cheung Chau is different from Lantau or Lamma. It is more like a tourist shopping area, with seafood and Chinese restaurants as the main draw. Short scenic walking and biking tracks radiate out from the main town.

For first-time visitors, exploring these main outlying islands, 30 to 60 minutes away, is enjoyable and different from staying in the urban areas. If you have a few extra days after visiting sites in the main areas, trips to the islands can refreshing, relaxing and even more enjoyable.

3. Don't Forget to Consider Going to These Top Places

Avenue of Stars Avenue of Stars

Most foreign tourists will enjoy these quintessential Hong Kong experiences, places they'll remember fondly even years from now.

  • Victoria Peak via hiking, tram, bus, or taxi. The harbor and ocean scenery are great, especially at dusk.
  • Victoria HarbourAvenue of Stars by day and Symphony of Lights at 8 pm.
  • Nathan Road for a stroll and sightseeing during the day, when the weather is good.
  • Mong Kok for bargains/souvenirs, best during the day.
  • The History Museum or Hong Kong Park and its Museum of Tea Ware.
  • The Dragon's Back or Sunset Peak for scenic hiking. Watching the sun set into the water and shine under the water (it looks like that) is a great way to finish a hike. But bring water to drink and a flashlight for the way down, and make sure the weather is good.

4. Don't Only Explore the Main Streets

Shopping malls, skyscrapers, restaurants… The streets and avenues in Hong Kong are quite attractive. If you want to know the city and its people, however, you should not walk only on the main streets.

Take time to explore some small alleys, where you may find shops selling goods popular with local people, or restaurants serving traditional food. It is a good idea to travel with a local guide, for he/she can give you some excellent advice.

One place we suggest is Graham Street in Central Hong Kong, with a famous graffiti wall. This is a cool place for photos, to be shared online. You may find more graffiti on walls in the surrounding alleys. It's a good area for learning about Hong Kong street art.

5. Don't Visit Hong Kong at the Wrong Time of Year

Hong Kong could be crowded in peak seasonHong Kong could be crowded in peak season

Hong Kong is a good place for holidays, but not all-year-round. You may need to take weather and busy travel seasons into account, and make more preparations for certain times of year.

From July to September, there is high likelihood of heavy rain and typhoons in Hong Kong. During such times, you will need to bring raingear with you anytime and anywhere, and to pay attention to typhoon alarms. Your travel plans may be interrupted by typhoons.

During the following periods, there are always more visitors from the Chinese mainland to Hong Kong:

  • Spring Festival (generally around late February)
  • Labor Day holiday (May 1 to 3)
  • Summer holiday (July and August)
  • National Day holiday (October 1 to 7)

During these times, hotels are harder to book, and crowds are to be expected in the streets and malls, and at attractions. If you are traveling with us, your guide will try to help keep you away from the crowds, but some long queues may still be unavoidable.

Check the weather and the best time to visit Hong Kong.

6. Don't Miss the Festivals and Special Events

Firework show in Hong KongFirework show in Hong Kong

If you happen to visit Hong Kong during a festival, no matter whether a western, traditional Chinese or local Hong Kong festival, you are recommended to take some time and join in the celebrations. It will be a good opportunity to enjoy some carnival atmosphere or to experience local customs.

Hong Kong is one of the best places for celebrating Christmas and New Year's Eve, as well as traditional Chinese festivals, like Spring Festival or the Dragon Boat Festival. Some Hong Kong local festivals, like the Birthday of Tin Hau or the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, are also not to be missed.

In addition to festivals, there are annual exhibitions of fine art, movies or music in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is also the site of many international sporting events, like Hong Kong Horse Racing, Rugby Sevens, Tennis Open and more.

For festival and event times in Hong Kong, you may check the home page of the Hong Kong Tourism Board.

7. Don't Skip the Museums

If you have some time and are interested in art, antiques, or history, three local museums that stand out from the rest are the History Museum, the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware, and the Museum of Art.

The Museum of Art is next to the Avenue of Stars and the Museum of Tea Ware is in Hong Kong Park, which is next to the huge Pacific Place Mall. These are popular tourist areas, and easy to access.

8. Don't Only Shop in the Malls

Temple Street MarketTemple Street Market

Hong Kong's reputation as a "shopper's paradise" stems partly from its great luxury malls covering whole blocks in the city, and Hong Kong's low taxes and tariffs. Products are marked up, however, because of high overheads, so prices and choice might not be much better than your local luxury mall at home.

If you'd like to see something popular with local people, visit a street market, such as the Temple Street Market in Kowloon, or Stanley Market in Hong Kong Island.

Or again, walk around some specialist markets where you can find many interesting goods from the daily lives of Hong Kong people; such as the "flower market", the "sneaker market", or the "bird market".

See more about Hong Kong Shopping.

9. Don't Forget to Bargain

Haggling is expected in the popular shopping streets. Try to bargain down, and compare prices with nearby stores. There is no bargaining, however, in supermarkets or department stores where they use bar code scanners.

10. Don't Only Take the MTR or Taxis

Hong Kong tramHong Kong tram

Taking the local buses is often quicker than taking the MTR for short distance hops, in popular tourist areas such Tsim Sha Tsui, Central, and Admiralty. Buses are much cheaper and sometimes quicker than taxis.

Buses 6 and 7, running along Nathan Road from Victoria Harbour, are especially useful for short trips along the main shopping street. Bus 15, running between the Central Pier and Victoria Peak, is an essential tourist bus.

If you are visiting places near the north coast of Hong Kong Island, you can try the Hong Kong Tramways, referred to by locals as "Ding Ding" Tram. This is a historical way of being driven slowly through the old avenues and streets of Hong Kong.

11. Don't Avoid the Ferries

Star FerryStar Ferry

If you are not familiar with taking passenger ferries, you might not consider riding one to Lantau or across Victoria Harbour. If you take the subway or taxi instead, you'll miss a wonderful boating experience.

The ferries, especially the slow ferries, provide tourists with wonderful scenery and a memorable experience for quite inexpensive fares. The Star Ferry gives photographers good angles of the harbor and tall buildings.

12. Don't Only Look Left!

Americans are particularly vulnerable to this! Traffic, especially the buses, speeds past new American tourists frighteningly fast on the narrow streets, and it GOES THE WRONG WAY. Only after a scary near-miss do many Americans begin to beware of the traffic.

Be safe, keep your distance from the road, and look both ways before crossing, until you get used to the difference. This might take weeks. Because the wide buses have little space to maneuver, they often brush up close to the curb.

13. Don't Forget to Buy an Octopus Card

If you are going to be using the quick, clean, and economical MTR to get around a lot, getting a little Octopus Card can save time and make travel more convenient.

You can buy these little plastic debit cards at a metro station ticket office or machine, or at the ferry ticket offices in Central, and add however much money you need. You can return these for a full refund of the 50 HKD price and any unused cash at these same stations and ticket offices.

14. Don't Carry Too Many Cigarettes when Entering Hong Kong

Take care in Hong Kong if you are a smokerTake care in Hong Kong if you are a smoker

According to law, people can only carry 19 cigarettes or 1 cigar when entering Hong Kong, which means you can't carry a full packet of cigarettes. If you carry too many cigarettes, you may face a maximum fine of 1 million HKD (about 128 thousand USD) and two years in jail. This is no joke.

15. Don't Smoke in Public

Hong Kong forbids smoking in almost all public places, including streets, shops, malls, restaurants, bars, night clubs, and public vehicles such as buses, the MTR and ferries.

In Hong Kong, you can only smoke near a trash can with an ashtray, or in the special smoking rooms in malls or attractions. If you are caught smoking in a non-smoking area, you might be fined around 5,000 HKD (about 800 USD).

16. Don't Forget to Use Your Safety Belt, If There Is One

Taxis, buses, ferries… No matter what vehicle you are riding or where you are sitting, you should put on your safety belt if there is one. This is not only for your own safety, but also to obey the law. Failure to do so may result in a fine.

17. Don't Deal with Touts in Tsim Sha Tsui, Except for Cheap Hotels

You might be surprised by the boisterous fellows lining the southernmost part of Nathan Road near Chung King Mansion.

Most of the mainly South Asian guys are touting for hotels in Chung King, and most can be useful for quickly finding an empty room in the confusing warren of hotels in that huge building. For best results, however, check several different hotels.

Many touts are on the lookout for tourists who will buy watches, clothes, etc. It is best to avoid such things.

18. Don't Stay in Chung King or Similar Cheap Hotels

You can live in Chung King, but not suggestedYou can live in Chung King, but not suggested

If you need to save money, such hotels are on option, but if you can afford it, stay away from those places unless you simply want to explore the underside of the third world.

They are interesting enough, but bugs, dirt, trash, theft, scams, rudeness, and sometimes violence emanating from cheap hotels threaten to destroy an enjoyable stay in Hong Kong.

If you are in Tsim Sha Tsui, a good relatively low-priced hotel is the classy YMCA near Chung King, with harbor-view rooms and lots of good facilities.

19. Don't Go to Crowded Shopping Areas at Weekends or on Holidays

The milling crowds from Chinese mainland and locals are best avoided at places such as the popular Ladies Market and the adjacent streets in Mong Kok.

Such popular areas are fine to browse and explore during weekdays, when people are working or at school. You'll have a more enjoyable time without the crowds, and probably find better bargains too.

But it is no fun competing with the crowds when they fill the streets, shops, and restaurants. You might feel claustrophobic and quickly tired.

20. Don't Only Eat Food from Your Own Country

Hong Kong foodHong Kong food

Hong Kong is an international metropolis with many western restaurants. You could choose to eat just as you do at home.

The Cantonese food served in Hong Kong restaurants, however, is delicious and appreciated all around the world. Compared with some food in other places in China, which has strong flavor or strange ingredients, Hong Kong cuisine is more acceptable and worth a try.

Don't skip Hong Kong's street food, such as fish balls, egg puffs, rice pudding, fried squid and more. You may have seen some street food in Hong Kong movies or dramas. When you happen to walk by a roadside shop selling street food, just stop for a while and have a taste.

Hong Kong also has excellent restaurants serving Japanese, French, South Asian and even African food. The many kinds of restaurant opened by expats from all over the world give you a chance to enjoy a variety of cuisine. Sounds great for foodies, doesn't it?

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