Hong Kong or Shanghai, which city is better for visiting? These two big regions on the southern coast of China both have interesting places to see, parks, supertall buildings, and shopping malls, and you can have great time in both.
It depends on what you are looking for. For example, if knowing Chinese mainland is your primary interest, then Shanghai is better, and it is also less expensive. If you want nature and better air quality, Hong Kong is better for that.
Here in this article, we compare Hong Kong vs Shanghai in many ways including population density, historical sights, ancient/old historical places, main travel highlights, skyline and scenic beauty, side trip options, food and dining experiences, youth interest, kid friendliness, amusement parks, shopping, malls, comparative prices, weather, nature, beaches, international communications, visas and transport to help you make a decision about which you’d prefer to visit.
- Quick Facts
- Side Trips
- Food & Drink
- Youth Culture & Night Life
- Activities for Children
- Facilities & Theme Parks
- Weather,Climate & Air Quality
- Visa Policies & Transport
Hong Kong vs Shanghai Quick Facts
Hong Kong's features: shopping, financial and business center, East-Western fusion culture, highly advanced, freedom loving, country parks, international gourmet capital. Hong Kong is unique and trend-setting.
Shanghai's features: megapolis, modern China, the Bund, western colonial heritage, tall towers, historical green water towns. Shanghai is huge, an economic showpiece.
|Resident Population (2018)||about 7.5 million||24.2 million|
|Area||1,108 km² (428 mile²)||6,341 km² (2,448 mile²)|
|Population Density||6,777/km2 (17,552.3/sq mi) Mongkok is the most densely populated area of the world: 130,000/km2. Half of the region is unpopulated parkland though.||4,200/km2 (11,000/sq mi)|
|GDP (2018)||381 billion||$480 billion|
|GDP per capita||50,700 USD per person. Hong Kong feels like a much wealthier city than Shanghai. Overall, Hong Kongers generally seem more affluent, educated, etc.||About 20,000 USD per person|
|Non-Chinese, Expats||600,000, 8% of the population
About 2% are Filipinos, 2% are Indonesians, and about 4% are South Asians or from other countries, and 260,000 British citizens live in Hong Kong. So Hong Kong is a lot more multi-ethnic and multicultural than Shanghai.
|209,000, 0.9% of the population
So expats make up about 1 percent of the population.
Relatively small Hong Kong has a lot of superlatives that makes it the best city in the world in certain ways you should know about: Hong Kong Facts: Top for Tourism, Business, Wealth, IQ...(2019)
Shanghai, often considered the biggest city in the world on some measures, has superlative and interesting aspects too: Shanghai Facts - 10 Things You Should Know
Travel Highlights: Hong Kong vs Shanghai
Hong Kong Must-see Travel Sites: Brief Description, Location, Time Needed and Tips
|Hong Kong's Must-sees||>Brief Description/Location/Tips>||Time Needed|
|Victoria Harbour||The harbor is famous around the world for beauty and enclosed by the world's tallest skyline on Hong Kong Island, Tsim Sha Tsui and Kowloon. For low crowds and morning view, go there early. The world record holder Symphony of Lights starts at 8 when weather is good.||2 hours|
|The Hong Kong Skyline||The ICC Tower and the IFC Towers frame both sides of the entrance to the harbor and numerous skyscrapers, the most in any city in the world, comprise the world's tallest skyline. For an observation deck view, we suggest the Sky 100 at the 393 meter level or dining at the top of the ICC in one of the Michelin restaurants.||1-2 hours|
|Victoria Peak||Though the ICC Tower affords a good observation point of the cityscape, the best observation and sightseeing of the city is from the top of the 552 meter (1,811 foot) tall peak. Excellent park hiking can be had up to it and on it, and it is free.||½ day|
|Sunset Mountain and other natural peaks||For excellent nature hiking, Sunset Peak on Lantau Island and several other peaks such as Lantau Peak afford free, excellent hiking, and Hong Kong's beaches are the best along the coast of China. In a day's hike, you can enjoy both good mostly clean beaches and good peaks.||1 day (daylight hours)|
|Nathan Road||It is the main shopping and sightseeing boulevard in Tsim Sha Tsui. Both luxury and bargain shopping can be done along it. St. Andrews Cathedral is a good place to have a break on it.||2 hours|
|Stanley||In the past, this town's Stanley Market area was quite famous for bargains, but bargaining is gone now. However, the area's beaches, adjacent Repulse Bay, Dragon Boat Races and good hiking can be done as well.||3½-hours depending on if you want to go to the beach too|
|Ocean Park||Ocean Park is Hong Kong's favorite theme park. There is also a Disneyland Park in Hong Kong.||½ day or 1 day|
|Gourmet restaurants||Hong Kong's fine restaurants are a tourist attraction in themselves. Each year, about 60 restaurants of a variety of styles of cuisine are awarded with Michelin rankings, and this is more Michelin restaurants per capita than any other city in Asia. See our Food and Dining Comparison below.||
a few hours
Shanghai's Best Travel Sites: Brief Description, Location, Time Needed and Tips
|Shanghai Must-sees||Brief Description/Location/Tips||Time Needed|
|The Bund||The Bund is a world-famous boulevard lined with a historic collection of colonial architecture that is situated on the west bank of the Huangpu River. Get there early for better spots for photos of the night view of skyscrapers on the east bank||2 hours|
|Shanghai Skyline||The Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai Tower, Jinmao Tower, World Financial Center are the main skyscrapers that create a picturesque Shanghai skyline. They are on the east bank of the Huangpu River and have observatories (prepare to queue for at least 30 minutes if traveling without an agent who would arrange a ticket in advance).||1-2 hours|
|French Concession||Colonial-era European-style buildings, dining and shopping attract tourists.||½ day|
|Yuyuan garden||Classical southern Chinese garden architecture is the main attraction. It is often crowded and noisy and is like a museum.||½ day|
|Jade Buddha Temple||It is a famous temple in Shanghai||2 hours|
|Huangpu River||The river cruise is a nice way to enjoy the Shanghai view.||30-minutes to 3½-hours depending on the cruise package|
|Nongtang||It is an old residential area that you can wonder around in.||½ day|
|Water towns||Zhujiajiao Water Town is one of the closest to the city but the most touristy. Further out there are better ones bordering nearby cities such as Tongli and Jinze.||1 day depending on personal preference|
History: Hong Kong vs Shanghai
Hong Kong’s Historical Places are Fairly New
Hong Kong was not a city until the British colonized the area in the 1800s. Before that however, small villages and towns dotted the region. Some like Tai O, an old fishing village on stilts in Lantau, and Kat Hing Wai, a 500 year old Punti village and fortress, might be interesting for some tourists. There are walled villages, temples, and some buildings a few hundred years old.
Hong Kong has good museums. At the Hong Kong History Museum, you’ll get an idea of the area’s history. The British-built fortress, Museum of Coastal Defense, on the east side of Hong Kong Island helps you understand the area’s military history. There are exhibits of the Japanese attack in WWII there. The Museum of Art gives a history of China’s art and ceramics and porcelain.
The new Ciqu Center in the West Kowloon Cultural District has traditional Chinese opera and performances of traditional music where you can learn something about ancient culture. You may get the feeling this is the classic China you have longed to see.
See more about Hong Kong's Top 10 Museums.
Shanghai Has a Longer History in Comparison
Shanghai and its suburbs have a longer history and many more historical places. Water towns in the area have construction to see stretching back hundreds of years.
Shanghai was declared a county in the Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368). But, like Hong Kong, the city of Shanghai itself is a relatively new one that only became an important city under European colonial rule. Several empires such as the French and British had concessions in Shanghai during the 1800s and early 1900s, and this is how Shanghai grew into a major city. However, as in Hong Kong, rapid urbanization and modernization has obliterated much of the older architecture and historical sites in the city.
Now, tourists can see a few gardens and temples that are hundreds of year old which create some sense of history such as Yuyuan Garden and the Jade Buddha Temple.
Some older areas of Shanghai remain. You can walk through the narrow alleyways in (Nongtang) of the old town area. Traces of the quaint old-time agrarian town life are preserved in nearby water towns that have always provided popular day-trips from Shanghai.
The Old Water Towns of Shanghai
Zhujiajiao Water Town is one hour from central Shanghai. You can choose to stroll around by foot to admire the numerous fascinating canals, bridges and architecture in this old water town...
Alternatively, you can take boat or ferry rides. The shortest ride takes you up and down the main canal in the middle of the town while the longest takes you around the town and back.
A 2-day Shanghai and Zhujiajiao tour is perfect for those who want to see modern Shanghai as well as a traditional ancient town.
Insider tips: If you have more time, we recommend Nanxun and Tongli, which are a bit further away but are less commercial and less crowded. Detailed information about the Top 10 Ancient Water Towns Near Shanghai will help you to make a choice.
Hong Kong's Little Old Villages vs Shanghai's Old Water Towns and Urban Areas
What do they have in common?
- Both have narrow alleyways with lanes between or connecting the old traditional houses/apartments.
- Both are old residential areas representing the old style of living in each city and are popular among tourists.
- Shanghai's water towns have some locally famed lanes packed with cafes and fancy stores worth exploring if you go out of Shanghai to visit them. Hong Kong's little old villages are too small to stroll in though you may find shops and places to eat.
Comparison of the 19th and 20th Century Colonial Architecture
Shanghai has a lot more old European architecture. In the 19th century, land concessions were established in Shanghai, and the Europeans built a lot of buildings in various national styles and in styles of various historical eras.
The Shanghai International Settlement (joint concession to British and Americans) was established in 1863, and it lasted 78 years until 1941. The French concession in Shanghai was established in 1849 and existed nearly a century until 1943.
Two old colonial areas that are well known for tourism is Tianzifang, a tourist shopping and café area in Shanghai in the old French quarter, and Xintiandi that is known for an excellent reconstruction project carried out by a Hong Kong company. Tianzifang is good for souvenirs and unique cultural shops that sell products relating to tea therapy.
Xintiandi is a better-known redevelopment within the French Concession for used for shopping, gourmet restaurants, and luxury stores. It is quite upscale and is one of Shanghai's most expensive shopping areas. It is known for local arts studios and art displays.
Insider tips: Tianzifang and Xintiandi are similar. Both feature shikumen (traditional residences with gates and courtyards) and are favorite places to go for many young tourists and expats in Shanghai. Whereas Xintiandi was renovated on a grand scale, Tianzifang was renovated on an ad-hoc basis.
Due to this, you may feel that Tianzifang has a lot more of its former character. It is truly a haphazard labyrinth of narrow alleyways and shikumen. Residents still live in the apartments above the shop units. It is more of a middle-budget area.
The winner for places of historical interest: Shanghai
If you are interested in the European colonial era, you'll find more colonial-era construction in Shanghai than in Hong Kong. But in Hong Kong, the European/Western cultural influence and traditions live on to the present. The British customs and ideas are in the everyday lifestyles of native Hong Kongers.
Hong Kong has a few old villages that are still preserved. There are some good well-preserved British buildings to see such as Flagstaff House that now houses the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware in Hong Kong Park. It is one of Hong Kong's excellent examples of British architecture.
Hong Kong has very good museums and some well-built colonial buildings, but Shanghai's museums such as the Shanghai History Museum are a lot bigger and have more ancient exhibits to see. The Shanghai Museum is a large glass building that is easily reached on People's Square near Nanjing Road. So the location is more convenient than the Hong Kong History Museum that is sort of out of the way in East Tsim Sha Tsui and more difficult to reach on foot.
The Hong Kong History Museum is about Hong Kong history mostly, but the Shanghai History Museum is about Chinese history.
The stylish architectural collection on The Bund and the leafy laneways of the French Concession give you a totally different outlook on Chinese history. Shanghai has traditional centuries-old roots.
Hong Kong vs Shanghai: Urban Architecture, Scenic Beauty, and Skylines
Urban Architecture and Skylines
For many people, one of the main travel highlights in both cities is the very tall buildings. At first sight, Shanghai wins out since it has the world’s 2nd tallest building in 2019, the Shanghai Tower.
But Hong Kong has its vertical advantages too: It is known for being the city with the most skyscrapers in the world. The ICC Tower is the 12th tallest in the world and has the world's highest hotel. If you can afford the Ritz Carlton, then it is probably the world’s best hotel at these very tall heights.
Moreover, Hong Kong also has Asia’s first skyscraper that many think is still among Asia’s most beautiful called the Bank of China Tower. When it was built in 1989, Hong Kong became the first city outside of the US to have a skyscraper, and it started the current Asian skyscraper boom. It had innovative design features, and its lighting effects (like lightning) catches the eye at night during the Symphony of Lights.
Conclusion: Hong Kong wins for architecture and skyline. Though Shanghai has a much taller building and a tall tower, Hong Kong has the tallest and most beautiful skyline. Generally, the skyline is considered the best in the world day and night. The Symphony of Lights is a daily spectacle.
Beating all of them for beauty, Hong Kong has a mountain called Victoria Peak. It is 56 meters shorter than the Shanghai Tower in pancake flat Shanghai, but it is definitely much bigger, and it has the better views from its observation points and an observation deck atop of Peak Tower Mall on top of it.
Hong Kong's Overall Scenery Is Much Better
Hong Kong is generally considered one of the most beautiful cities in the world for other reasons too. Along with the highly vertical skyline and the beauty of the forested peak, Victoria Harbour, the surrounding blue sea, and the blue sky with less pollution makes Hong Kong much more attractive and scenic.
The best natural scenery is in the clean big white sand beaches and mountain country parklands as explained below in the Nature Comparison section.
Overall winner for scenic beauty: Hong Kong
The better architecture, more beautiful skyline and light displays, far more natural beauty, and less pollution and cleaner seas combine to make the city beautiful.
Side Trips: Hong Kong vs Shanghai
Both cities have bullet train stations that can take you to the interesting highlights of their regions in an hour or two.
The Hong Kong region is better for shopping for international products and luxury goods, and Guangzhou and Shenzhen are better for buying Chinese electronics, clothing and many other things since the area is a big industrial region. Macau is another world attraction only about hour away by ferry or by bus.
While Hangzhou and Suzhou and the water towns near Shanghai are packed with history and scenic areas, the Hong Kong area with world-famous Macau and the huge cities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou is generally more interesting from a 21st century angle. Some of the world's and China's tallest buildings are now in Guangzhou and Shenzhen.
Shanghai Side Trip Options
- 1 Day to Zhujiajiao Water Town
- 2 Days to Hangzhou “a city without cash,” where you can experience the cutting edge technology in addition to the city’s beautiful scenery
- 1-2 Days to Suzhou, a charming city with classic southern Chinese gardens and traditional waterside architecture.
- 4 Days escape to Huangshan, a city named after one of the top destinations in China, the Yellow Mountains (Huangshan), with ancient-style dwellings to explore in villages like Hongcun and Xidi.
Hong Kong Side Trip Options
From Hong Kong, using the bullet train, you can reach Guangzhou in less than an hour and Shenzhen about 25 minutes. Here are some side trip ideas:
- One-Day Macau Tour from Hong Kong - taking you to visit famous historical sites and do some shopping in Macau.
- 4-Day Guangzhou and Shenzhen Tour
Conclusion: Winner on side trips is Hong Kong
Yes, Hong Kong again. Unless you are particularly interested in climbing Huangshan, a 3-hour bullet train journey away from Shanghai plus additional travel time, then touring Hong Kong's local region is more varied and interesting. The attractions in Guangzhou, Macau, and Shenzhen are better than those in Hangzhou and Suzhou overall.
Hong Kong vs Shanghai: Food & Dining Comparison
Hong Kong is better than Shanghai for dining too. Shanghai has local specialties such as xiaolongbao or shengjianbao, hundun dumplings, pan-fried pork buns, braised pork, beggar’s chicken, steamed crab and various street foods.
Colonial history has given Hong Kong an advantage on the quality-international-cuisine front. It was officially a British colony until 1997, and Hong Kong became internationalized. You can find world-class Italian, French, Japanese, and Indian food as well as various styles of Chinese gourmet cuisine. The restaurants are rated very highly by ratings publications such as the Michelin's Guide.
For example, all of Shanghai has 34 Michelin restaurants in 2019. It has one 3-star restaurant and 8 2-star restaurants. But just one building, the ICC Tower, has a 3-star Italian, a 2-star Cantonese, and a 2-star Japanese restaurant with Hong Kong's best views on the 101st and 102nd floors. Read more about these sky high restaurants on our Top 20 Hong Kong Restaurants 2020 guide.
Hong Kong's Michelin restaurants are not all expensive. Hong Kong is noted for having the among least expensive Michelin restaurants in the world too.
Shopping and Malls: Hong Kong vs Shanghai
For More Enjoyable Luxury Shopping
The IFC Mall in the IFC Towers is the best luxury mall in China for tourists wanting to enjoy luxury shopping while enjoying fine views, fine dining, and convenient location. Unlike the Landmark Mall, it is a favorite of window shoppers and tourists.
The waterfront view is among the best in Hong Kong. It overlooks Victoria Harbor, and its rooftop cafes and bars are notable. It is a place to watch the daily Symphony of Lights.
Convenient transport: It is a busy pedestrian thoroughfare for people passing between the Central ferries, the MTR subways below, and the rest of the area. People enjoy shopping on the way to the airport via the convenient, direct Airport Express subway below it.
Shopping Streets and Variety of Shops: Comparison
Hong Kong is much better for shopping in general. For middle-budget and especially luxury shopping, tourists and international travellers find that Hong Kong is one of the best places in the world, and Shanghai with China's tariff walls and barriers against imports and luxury goods isn't as good a place for shopping except for maybe getting bargains on Chinese made products if you are not looking for quality or service. However, for some products or kinds of products made is China such as souvenirs and antiques, Shanghai is better if you do you research and know what you are hunting for.
For example, Shanghai has Nanjing Road, one of the world’s busiest shopping streets, full of luxury options if you want them. But most tourists will be thinking, why come to China for international luxuries? Hong Kong offers more and at better prices and services.
Though Shanghai has bargain shopping areas, most tourists still prefer Hong Kong's bargain electronics and fashion areas such as Ladies Market. Though Guangzhou and Shenzhen are right next door where much of the world's consumer electronics and electronics accessories and components are made, shoppers from Chinese mainland from these areas often prefer Hong Kong for their shopping on Mainland products too. It is partly because Hong Kong stores and services have a better reputation. See more about Hong Kong's Top Street Markets
Luxury Mall Comparison: Hong Kong Wins Again
Hong Kong has been long known for its bargain shopping, but it is also known for its huge world-class malls for both luxury and middle-budget items where people come from around the world to shop in.
The ritzy factor: Shoppers looking for the highest fashion and the most costly luxury can find it in Hong Kong. The millions of international and Mainland shoppers who come to Hong Kong bring lots of money for shopping, and they want the best and can get it in Hong Kong.
The trust and service factors: Service is a key factor. If you want some kind of service or repair warranties or guarantees, or to be more sure of quality, then only the reputable Hong Kong stores provide this.
In HK you can avoid China’s extra taxes and duties. It is the combination of low taxes, no tariffs, and free trade that makes the area so attractive, as well as good service and honest business practices. For more about Hong Kong shopping, see An Ultimate Guide to Hong Kong Shopping: What to Buy and Where to Shop
Comparative Prices: Hong Kong and Shanghai
|Price of 3-course meal for 2 people in mid-range restaurant (2019)||51 USD||28 USD|
|Price of Big Mac Meal||4.46 USD||4.96|
|Price of brand name jeans||80 USD||62.53 USD|
|Price of taxi (start price)||3 USD||2 USD|
|Price of Ipad 128GB||489 USD||About 465 USD|
|Price of cup of cappuccino in a coffee shop||4.60 USD||4.18 USD|
|Price of good quality, tourist popular 4-star hotel room for 2 in the main tourist areas in August 2019||about 50 to 90 USD near Victoria Harbour in Tsim Sha Tsui||about 50 to 90 USD in Bund|
How do the two cities stack up on prices?
Meals: Expect that it costs about 40% more to eat at middle-budget restaurants and about 30% more for low-budget restaurants. Overall, eating out in Hong Kong will cost you 50 percent more than in Shanghai. People might be surprised that a cheap bowl of noodles costs about 3 USD in Hong Kong, but only 1 or 2 USD in Shanghai's cheapest restaurants that might be open to the air, have no aircon, and be a worse setting, so part of the additional costs in Hong Kong covers the better restaurant facilities.
Hotels: Staying at Hong Kong hotels cost about 50% more in general. The 5-star hotels cost more than 1,800 HKD (230 USD), but 3-star hotels cost about 80 USD or more.
Shopping: Hong Kong is the cheapest of any city in China when it comes to prices of brand name jeans, shoes and dresses; even a bottle of coke is going to cost less in Hong Kong. Yet the prices for souvenirs are cheapest in cities like Xi’an and Hangzhou, and in Shanghai, prices are in the middle of the two.
If your budget is limited, then Shanghai is still a better value probably if you don't plan to do much shopping and want to eat cheaply. You can stay for more days on the same amount of money.
Youth Culture & Night Life: Hong Kong vs Shanghai
The winner is Hong Kong. Shanghai often has quality music festivals and is a stop-off point on world tours of the big acts all year round, but Hong Kong has the same. Hong Kong has the better theme parks, but what really sets Hong Kong apart from most other big cities in Asia is the outdoors that young people love. It has excellent beaches, mountains for hiking, and fairly pollution-free water though some areas near Shenzhen are somewhat polluted.
If you can afford the higher costs in Hong Kong, the general international ambience and more friendly, generally safe, and respectful atmosphere of Hong Kong is something almost unique in the world. It is an East & West cultural meeting point, and you'll feel more free generally to do the things you want to do. It is more posh, and good facilities such as good quality park and beach facilities are taken for granted and free. See the Nature section below.
Activities for Kids in Hong Kong vs Shanghai
The winner for family fun and kids’ activities is Hong Kong! Hong Kong is more fun!
Hong Kong has everything that Shanghai has for kids, but much more too. It has a range of opportunities for kids' fun and learning that they can't get in many places. For example, Shanghai has a Disney theme park, but Hong Kong has one that might be better for children since it is smaller, less crowded, and English is spoken. Theme park staff are more friendly and like speaking English with kids. See more below in the Theme Park Comparison section.
Kids love the clean sandy beaches and parkland, the fine museums that are more oriented for kids and English speakers, and the exciting mix of cultures and people when they go to Tsim Sha Tsui and other places. The more advanced and educated atmosphere where cultures mix and get along is more fun and interesting for children, and the general use of English makes the environment easier for kids to enjoy. See The Top 12 Things to Do with Kids in Hong Kong
Shanghai however presents children with China that more resembles the China that they read about in history books. So if you want to teach kids about China or ancient China, than Shanghai is better for that. See 10 Interesting Things to Do with Kids in Shanghai
Hong Kong vs Shanghai: Tourist Facilities, Amusement Parks and Theme Parks
Both cities have Disneylands. Hong Kong’s is 11 years older. Shanghai’s opened in 2016, and it is much bigger. Both have natural settings, and the rides are a toss up. But the attractions are in Chinese in Shanghai, but English is used extensively in Hong Kong,
However, Hong Kong has an even more popular and larger park called Ocean Park with equivalent rides. But Shanghai has one of the world’s major aquariums, the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium, conveniently next to the Oriental Pearl Tower. Ocean Park has sea mammal acts, a large aquarium of its own and excellent scenery from its tram. A third small theme park in HK, Noah's Ark is especially geared for children.
Shanghai also has Happy Valley with thrill rides, but in general, because the park is often crowded, somewhat dirty, more difficult to access and enjoy, and queueing takes a long time, it doesn't match the experience of Shanghai Disney.
Conclusion: Hong Kong wins again. If you really want to see sea animals like a sea life zoo, then Shanghai has it. But if you mainly want thrill rides, then Hong Kong has better ones spread over two parks. If you want to avoid crowding and problems of Mainland crowds, then Hong Kong is where people are more respectful generally. Also Hong Kong parks have the advantage that almost everyone speaks English and are more friendly.
Conclusion: The big winner for shopping is Hong Kong.
For bargain shopping and a taste of China, Shenzhen, just across the border, is a place you can go on a Hong Kong trip.
The prices, selection and especially the service and warranties/guarantees are things Shanghai can't match. In 2019, for example, CEOWorld Magazine ranks Hong Kong as #4 in the world for shopping after New York and Paris and far ahead of any other city in Asia.
Hong Kong vs Shanghai: Which Has Better Weather and Climate?
Basically, Hong Kong's weather is much better. If you are visiting China during summer, than Hong Kong has a climate that is cooler and more pleasant due to the ocean breezes. Both cities get tropical storms, so in this respect, the cities don't differ much.
Shanghai is on a similar latitude to New Orleans, Dallas, and Los Angeles. It has a humid subtropical climate. Shanghai is suitable for travel all the year around, and it has with four distinct seasons. The best season to visit Shanghai is autumn to avoid the summer heat and winter chills. Shanghai is considered one of the "furnace cities" of China in the summer, and Shanghainese themselves like to leave for the mountains and the north in the summer. Learn more about Shanghai weather.
If, however, your proposed vacation is in winter, Hong Kong wins over Shanghai by often having mild, sunny, and at times even warm late fall and winter weather. It is the best time for country park hiking. Shanghai's late fall and winter weather can be chilly, damp and cold. Morever, Hong Kong is less polluted. Learn more about Hong Kong weather.
Hong Kong vs Shanghai: Nature, Parks, Beaches, Forests
Along with Lantau Island’s parks, the big tracks of country park in the east are Hong Kong’s best outdoor areas. Because of the good trails, big size, and unusual scenery of lakes, waterfalls, rock formations, islands, and big empty beaches, eastern Hong Kong is great for outdoor adventure.
Sections 1 through 4 of the MacLehose Trail goes through this area, and there are nine country parks extending over a large area to Clearwater Bay. There are big natural beaches, hills, campsites, small villages, unusual geology, and waterfalls to explore. You can hike and camp for several days. See more about Eastern Hong Kong Hiking.
Big winner for nature and outdoors: Hong Kong! Hong Kong might be unique in the world for such a technologically and economically advanced large city sitting in such beautiful nature parkland. The lower pollution really makes the southern islands of Hong Kong attractive for beach activities, even surfing.
Hong Kong vs Shanghai: International Communications
China's firewall keeps out much of the world's news/videos/music, and you can't use or may have difficulty with many international internet apps and sites, and you'll find that all Google services and Western social media won't work or work poorly. So Hong Kong wins again on this account.
Hong Kong vs Shanghai: Visa Policies & Transport
- Visa policies: Shanghai has a 144-hour visa-free policy, so making trips for a week is very convenient. Hong Kong on the other hand, as an autonomous region, sets its own visa policies. But generally, Hong Kong visa policies are more liberal than China's for most tourists. See Hong Kong Visa.
- Airports: Hong Kong as a major international airport, Hong Kong International Airport, serving Hong Kong, Macau, and southern China. Shanghai Pudong Airport (PVG) is the Shanghai airport that is most commonly used by foreigners entering China.
- Taxi costs: Flag price for taxis in Shanghai are 14 yuan, and for Hong Kong, it is about 16 yuan. But since Shanghai is so huge and spread out and Hong Kong's popular tourist areas are in a smaller area, you will probably find you spend less on taxis in Hong Kong. Shanghai taxis take 1 hour and 180 RMB (26 USD) to get you to the city center, and Hong Kong taxis take 40 minutes and costs about 40 USD.
- Airport trains: Hong Kong has Airport Express trains from the airport taking 20 minutes or so between 05:50 - 00:48 daily, departing every 12 minutes, and costing 100 HKD (13 USD). The Shanghai’s Maglev train connects PVG to the city center in 30 to 40 minutes depending on transfer to line 2, and costs 9 USD all together for the two rides.
- Subway: Shanghai has the world's largest subway system, but Hong Kong's subway is excellent and fast especially for airport transfer and connections between popular tourist points. It is generally considered that the Hong Kong MTR is the world's best mass transit system. Starting prices for the Shanghai subway is 3 RMB. Starting prices in Hong Kong depends on the line, but 8 HKD (1 USD) can take you between inner city destinations.
Winner for city transportation: Hong Kong
It is faster, cleaner and more efficient. The Hong Kong government keeps prices low in order to discourage vehicle use. It is to be noted that taking the Star Ferry across Victoria Harbour to get to the main tourist areas of Hong Kong costs about .30 US cents, and the views and scenery can't be beat. The ferry is actually generally counted as one of the main tourist highlights of all of China and Hong Kong put together.
Hong Kong vs Shanghai: International Transportation System
The Hong Kong West Kowloon Station is adjacent to the ICC.
Hong Kong has the best regional and international travel system in the world. People in downtown parts of the city can travel quickly in the city, to Chinese cities via bullet train, and internationally via the Airport Express connection.
Hong Kong's airport is generally considered to be among the best in the world and better than Shanghai's, and from the airport, the new bullet train can take you to many of China's main southern China and central China tourist destinations in only a few hours. Metro connections are quick from/to the airport to the HSR line that leaves from West Kowloon Station. This bullet train links Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Hong Kong. People travel to the Guangzhou South Station in less than an hour. Beijing and Shanghai are only a day's travel away.
The special Airport Express MTR line is very fast and directly takes tourists to two main tourist areas of Hong Kong. One station is in the ICC Tower and serves the West Kowloon and Tsim Sha Tsui area, and another station is under the IFC Tower serving Central. It leaves frequently and whisks people in 20 minutes to the ICC Tower. Both stations are hub stations so you can continue on in the MTR system quickly.
The winner for international travel is: again Hong Kong
The 20 minute or so travel time to downtown Hong Kong can't be beat, and both of the main downtown stations have flight check-in service to further speed your travel. Shanghai's airports are too far from the city center, and if people want to use the public rail system by transferring between the Maglev line and the subway to go between Pudong Airport and downtown, it might take 40 minutes and is more of a hassle.
Also, the more liberal visa policies of Hong Kong so that many nationalities can enter and stay for extended periods visa-free is a bonus Shanghai can't match.
Hong Kong vs Shanghai: Conclusions
1. If you want to see and experience more of Chinese mainland, China's history, and water towns, then a Shanghai trip might take least 3 days for the must-sees and easily a week if you want to immerse yourself and do the side trips.
2. For a better experience, better shopping, nature, less pollution, more of an energizing experience, clean beaches, and fine dining, then Hong Kong has it if you are willing to pay more. For many, the opportunity to stay for weeks or months visa-free (depending on their nationality) is quite attractive if they want to have extended stays and use Hong Kong as a base to go to China. We suggest 3 days in Hong Kong plus another 2 days for side trips will probably give you a happier and better experience.
3. In general though, Hong Kong beats Shanghai for most of the points considered on this list if you are willing to pay the extra costs. The quality is better, but it costs more.
4. An option to consider is to book a private tour to maximize your precious time, and we can arrange a trip to both cities!
Enjoy Shanghai and/or Hong Kong Highlights with Us
Recommended Shanghai and Hong Kong Tours
- 4-Day Shanghai, Hangzhou, Water Town Culture Tour This tour visits the Bund, Nanxun Water Town, and Hangzhou
- A Broad Taste of China - the tourism and taste highlights of Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, Guilin, and Hong Kong in 13 days
All our tours can be customized. Contact us to receive a free quotation for a tailor-made tour - just tell us your requirements and interests. You can propose two tour ideas, one for Shanghai and one for Hong Kong, and we can explain the costs for each for your comparison.