Hong Kong's been hailed one of the most expensive places in the world. But with free hikes, temples, art shows and markets, there’s plenty of fun to be had here without spending a penny...
Get out of the expensive city centre and move to the outskirts for some fresh air, scenic views and free outdoor fun. Here's our favourite four...
Hiking the Peak Circle in reverse at the right time offers stunning urban views over the Victoria Harbour. Winding round the highest point on Hong Kong Island takes just 90 minutes. Pause on the precipice at sunset to see the south side of the island glowing under a fiery orange sky.
The priceless sights don’t end there. Arriving at the north side at twilight opens a window to the gold-lit skyscrapers clustered like dominoes around Victoria Harbour, fading out across the mountains and reflecting their light off the midnight blue water.
This four hour hike only needs 20 minutes to prove itself. The cameras come out to capture the panoramic views from Shek O Peninsula Viewing Point, where white roofs fight with a tangle of trees on top of the islands for prime position, all neatly fringed by pristine sands.
Turning around offers a glimpse of the next three hours rising and dipping into the horizon, reminiscent of a Dragon’s Back. Another viewing platform stands above Tai Tam Bay and later, Pottinger Gap looks out on distant Chai Wan’s skyscrapers in amongst the trees – a true urban jungle.
Eventually, a steep descent opens out into the Big Wave Bay. Its bright white sands and shimmering sea cradled by the surrounding mountains offers the perfect place to refuel and refresh.
Rural, rustic and relaxing. The Nam Sang Wai Wetlands trek is less of a challenge (an easier 5km) and more of a chance to slow down and really appreciate the wildlife and scenery surrounding you.
Start with a scenic stroll along Shan Pui River, taking time to appreciate the abandoned farms, fishing ponds and quaint wooden huts you'll pass. Pause at the mudflats and turn your eyes skywards to spot an array of birds. Watch out for crabs scuttling past your feet.
End with a walk through an alley of trees before hopping aboard the ferry — the only free river crossing in all of Hong Kong.
The view from Tai Mo Shan – Hong Kong’s highest peak – rarely disappoints. There’s several marked routed snaking slowly to the summit, all of which will get you to the top in around two hours.
For your first glimpse, stop at Tai Mo Shan Lookout. Clear summer days will reward you with the distant rolling mountains. Spring is when the wild flowers come out in a blur of purples and blues. Autumn brings out the aromatic smell of the growing wild herbs.
The end of the hike is 950 metres high and bookmarked by a giant white sphere – the weather station. If you’re lucky, and most likely if its been raining, you’ll witness a cloud inversion – a natural phenomenon where the clouds seemingly drop below your feet, so you can look down on the mountain tops breaking through the other-worldly white blanket.
In all their gilded splendour, one of the very best free experiences to have in Hong Kong is to visit some of its magnificent temples. From giant buddhas to thousands of icons, here’s our top three...
Some people pay for the cable car and many decide to take the tram. But the most beautiful (and only free) way to reach Tian Tan Big Buddha is to walk.
The green-cloaked Ngung Ping Trail makes for a serene, spiritual hike. Three and a half hours later, you’ll be at the foot of the Tian Tan Buddha which sits atop Muk Yue Shan.
The largest of its kind in the world, the bronze buddha, with its extended right hand offering a blessing, towers above and looks down on the mossy mountains and craggy coastline surrounding it.
Head to Sha Tin in the New Territories to brave the steep yet meditative steps to Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery. Be sure to take time to appreciate the gold statues on the ascent.
After around one to two hours, you’ll arrive at the top out of breath but elated – over 12,000 Buddhas crammed inside and spilling outside of a temple await exploration.
You can literally spend days observing these intricate and individual icons. Some gilded, some colourful and all of them beautiful. Admission to this quiet and well-hidden temple is free.
Paying tribute to the God of Literature (Man) and the God of War (Mo), this is one of Hong Kong’s oldest temples.
The temple's stairs lead under arches, working their way to the red colonnade up front. Inside is boldly but intricately decorated in red and gold. From the incense coils on the ceiling to the lattice bannisters bordering the stairs, every tiny detail is eye-catching.
Part of a larger complex, the nearby Lit Shing Kung and Kung Sor are also worth exploring.
Art Basel may only come to Hong Kong for a short period, but that doesn’t mean you can’t feast your eyes on masterpieces for free at many different times of the year. Check out the best free art experiences…
HKWalls is a not-for-profit organisation that helps create opportunities for local and international artists to display their work. Every March, during Hong Kong’s art month, HKWalls holds an art festival where artists from all over the world flock to cover the walls with their creative concepts.
This year, the artists took over Wan Chan. Download a google map of the key pieces and lose yourself among the mesmerising murals.
This recently painted area in Sai Ying Pun gives you all the talent you’d find in a traditional gallery for free and outside.
Local and international artists alike have brought colour to every corner of the area.
Walk among the walls of Ki Ling Lane and Chung Ching Street for eye-popping murals which will keep you occupied for hours.
The quaint colonial buildings of Tai Kwun are now all the more eye-catching, as artists have transformed the area into Hong Kong Islands’ newest cultural attraction with their impressive exhibitions.
Tai Kwun Contemporary Artists’ Book Library is open to the public for free, where you can explore the fascinating ongoing collection of Asian artist’s books.
Head to Tai Kwun’s Prison Yard for more public art. A selection of contemporary artists have been commissioned to splash their creations all over this space.
The Police Married Quarters (PMQ) built in 1951 is well on its way to becoming another new icon of creativity in Hong Kong.
Work from over 100 aptly-named ‘create-preneurs’ is celebrated here in the form of design, gift, clothes and interior shops. Peer into the doorways to discover some of the hand-made treasures on display.
Sometimes the best way to understand a destination's culture is not through the museums and history books, but by being on the streets to watch it unfold in front of your eyes. And luckily this won’t cost you a penny…
It’s not all skyscrapers and high streets. Escape the bustling city for a more serene experience learning about the culture of the Tanka people in Tai O fishing village.
The ancient village on Lantau island consists of rows of rustic houses on stilts balanced over the water.
The pastel wooden houses and bright boats moored outside them, their colours melting into the water’s surface, makes for a perfect picture. Wander the rural setting, learning, relaxing and photographing as you go.
For more local culture, head to Kowloon, where you’ll find the charming neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po.
This bustling district with its antiquated buildings and higgledy-piggledy shops is immediately alluring.
The carefully thought out self-guided walk ensures every highlight is seen. From traditional temples and historical houses to open-air markets and hip coffee shops, every step of this walk oozes ambience.
Another self-guided walk, this one takes you through the place where the British Navy first took control of Hong Kong over 170 years ago. This is reflected in the colonial buildings scattered around the area, mixed in amongst dazzling ancient temples and the peppermint mosque, which is the oldest of its kind in Hong Kong.
Exploring the cobbled streets and narrow alleys of the oldest of Hong Kong’s districts opens up and brings to life stories of its fascinating past.
Pottinger Street in particular, gives a flavour of times gone by with its purposefully wonky pavement (to help people manage the steepness) and 19th century market stalls still clinging onto tradition.
For a chance to really get beneath the skin of this fascinating place, join Hong Kong Free Tours. The group promises to take you past the glitz and glamour of the main tourist attractions and instead will show you the reality of how many Hong Kongers live, eat, and work.
Finding them is easy – they’ll be donning branded bright yellow coats and standing specifically in between McDonalds and Oliver Super Sandwich outside Admirality MTR Station at 10am every day.
Be prepared to be told about the history of Hong Kong, learn about the One Country Two System rule, and hear political views on where the country has been in the past and where it is going in the future. The tour is free, but a small tip is expected.
Markets aren’t all about spending money – especially in Hong Kong. Simply wandering through the stalls can be a great way to experience the atmosphere of a place and get an entertaining insight into this way of life. But don’t blame us if you’re tempted into buying something! Here’s four of our favourites…
Stained-glass snuff bottles, various shapes and sizes of jade, period vases and ceramic horses. All this and more can be found at Cat Street Market, where vendors have been selling their antiques for over 100 years.
Walk between the stalls dominating Upper Lascar Road, digging with other punters for hidden treasures or simply take a step back to watch and listen to some live action bargaining.
Bold, brash and an assault on all the senses: Chun Yeung Street’s wet market is the grandest of them all. The long, narrow street is lined on both sides with stalls selling meat, fish, vegetables and even flowers. Basically, everything you’d pick up at your local supermarket can be found here along with a huge dollop of atmosphere.
The sheer noise and crowds you’ll find in front of almost every stall is evidence that neither the businesses nor the Hong Kongers who flock here are prepared to let go of this traditional way of shopping. After all, this was how they were doing it long before the modern markets came along.
When the sun goes down, the whole of Temple Street illuminates in an alluring golden glow, diminishing the rows of skyscrapers towering either side of it. And if it wasn’t for the hundreds of lights, you’d hear the market before you saw it.
In amongst the expected sights of vendors and punters bargaining and haggling are opera singers and fortune tellers, transforming this far-from-ordinary bazaar into an evening synonymous with an open air theatre.
The street is certainly teeming with performances, and it makes for an entertaining real life Hong Kong show that you’re bound to enjoy.
If you want the night market experience at a more relaxed tempo, then escape to Hong Kong Island’s village of Stanley. This quieter market offers all of the variety as Temple Street (clothes, jewellery, furniture, food, and souvenirs) but at a more laid-back pace.
Brush shoulders with the locals as you browse the beautiful maze of lanes, being sure to appreciate the talent behind the handicrafts.
Later, swap the stalls for the nearby seaside, where the breeze will cool you down after the shopping experience.
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