If you’ve never been to Hong Kong, chances are you picture the bustling streets and iconic skyline from the movies.
But did you know that Hong Kong is so much more than just a compact, chaotic city?
I’m talking quiet mountain trails, picturesque islands and stunning beaches, all within a short journey of the city.
Maybe you have been to Hong Kong on a stopover to another destination (Hong Kong International Airport is one of the busiest passenger airports in the world and is the gateway to many destinations around Asia), but never managed to get out of the city.
While I would consider it essential that you do spend some time in the absolute crazy wonder that is the central hub of Hong Kong, there is so much more to do and see!
After all, there are 263 islands in Hong Kong, as well as the Kowloon Peninsula!
From Central Ferry Pier, you can take a ferry to many of the outlying islands, including Lantau, Cheung Chau and Peng Chau.
I’m starting with Lantau because I have a huge bias towards it – I lived there for almost two years and I still have family living there.
When you land at Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA), you are actually already on reclaimed land at the north of Lantau Island, and the airport express train service can take you to Central in 30 minutes, if you’re staying in the city.
However, if you’re staying on Lantau, only have a few hours or want to visit the island before checking in to your accommodation, you can catch a blue taxi or a bus from the airport to the nearest town of Tung Chung and beyond.
Note: taxis in Hong Kong are colour-coded; red taxis are urban and serve all areas of New Territories, Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Green taxis serve parts of the New Territories. And blue taxis serve Lantau Island (except Discovery Bay). Red taxis tend to be the most expensive and blue taxis the cheapest.
If you’re travelling to Lantau from Central, usually the quickest and easiest mode of transport is the ferry from Central Ferry Pier to Mui Wo (South Lantau).
There are two options: the ‘Fast Ferry’, which takes 25-30 minutes, or the ‘Ordinary Ferry’, which takes around 50 minutes and can also carry cargo.
While the Fast Ferry is (obviously) faster and more comfortable, I always enjoy taking the Ordinary Ferry as I like to sit or stand at the back of the boat in the open air and watch the islands pass by.
You can plan ahead by checking the timetable at www.nwff.com.hk.
Alternatively, you can catch a train on the MTR from Central to Tung Chung (North Lantau), which runs regularly and takes around 25 minutes.
Tung Chung is the biggest town on Lantau Island and has a large outlet shopping centre, as well as being the starting point for the cable car to Ngong Ping and the Big Buddha.
If this is your destination, it would be best to take the MTR from the city, or you’ll be facing a 30 minute bus ride once you get off the ferry at Mui Wo.
Ngong Ping and the Big Buddha
This is one of the main tourist attractions on Lantau so it can be very busy, but totally worth it!
For the full experience, take a standard or crystal cabin (glass-bottomed) from Tung Chung over the mountains to Ngong Ping.
For those not so keen on heights, you can also catch a bus from Tung Chung. This is much cheaper but is also a much longer journey with many twists and turns.
Once you arrive at the tourist village of Ngong Ping, you’ll need to walk along a street of souvenir shops. After that, you’ll be able to see the way to the Po Lin Monastery and the steps to the Big Buddha.
There are 268 steps to climb to reach the Buddha himself.
Sitting at 34 metres high on a lotus flower with the right palm raised and the left resting open in his lap, the Big Buddha is quite a sight to behold!
As it is a popular tourist attraction as well as a major centre of Buddhism, there are often crowds of people at the statue and in the village.
To avoid the crowds as much as possible, I would recommend visiting in the morning on a weekday in school term time.
The Buddha and the nearby Po Lin Monastery are open from 10am – 5.30pm and are free of charge, but you can also go inside the Buddha for a small fee.
The Po Lin Monastery is located opposite the steps to the Big Buddha and is also well worth a visit for its stunning architecture and decoration.
There are three halls: the Hall of Skanda Bodhisattva, the Main Shrine Hall of Buddha and the Grand Hall of Ten Thousand Buddhas.
As you walk up to the monastery, you pass through a garden of incense sticks of all sizes, which I absolutely love!
There is also a vegetarian kitchen to the side with plenty of delicious food at a reasonable price. You can buy a meal ticket from the booth at the bottom of the stairs to the Buddha.
Finally, once you’ve visited the main attractions and had a bite to eat, take a short walk along the road to the Buddha’s right to join a track that runs to the Wisdom Path.
The track runs through a wooded area, past some derelict buildings, and emerges into an open area.
On your left, Lantau Peak looms above you, and on your right is the Wisdom Path – a short looped walk between wooden pillars engraved with verses from the Heart Sutra in Chinese characters.
The view of the peak and out over the South China Sea is gorgeous on a clear day.
This traditional fishing village is a short bus ride from Ngong Ping and is possibly my favourite place in Hong Kong.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of seafood, so I haven’t tried any of the weird and wonderful dried fish snacks on offer, but I’m still fascinated every time I walk through the main part of the village as there is so much to look at!
For me, the beauty of Tai O lies outside the market streets with their crowds of tourists.
The village literally sits on stilts over the water and you can take a boat tour along the river and out to sea, with a chance of spotting some rare Chinese White Dolphins, for around 20 HKD per person.
There are a couple of hidden gems that I highly recommend, one being Solo Cafe on the western side of the river, where they brew a delicious ‘Specialty Coffee’ and offer some tasty lunch dishes right over the water.
It’s perfect for a relaxed meal, taking in the views of the mountains and watching the boats cruising up and down the river.
On the opposite side of the river is Triple Lanterns Cafe, which is much harder to find as you have to make your way through the maze of houses and walkways over the water to find it, with very little signage to direct you.
The only reason I knew this beautiful little place existed was because I could see it from my table on the deck of Solo Cafe!
Again, it offers stunning views of the mountains and the river from its deck, and the staff are very friendly.
On the same side of the river as Solo Cafe, you can walk towards the sea through houses on the outskirts of the village, following the signs pointing to Tai O Heritage Hotel.
Along the way, there is a sign stating that there is a dolphin viewing point at the top of the hill.
Although I would say you would be extremely lucky to spot a dolphin from up there, the view is worth the climb.
From the top, you can look down over Tai O and to the mountains and the sea beyond.
Turn your back to Tai O and you’ll see the not-quite-so-stunning views of the airport and the new bridge to Macau.
But, hey! Bring your binoculars and you might spot a dolphin! You never know.
Back down on the path, you can continue out to the end of the harbour and onto the pier.
I love to just sit here and watch the sea and the airplanes coming in.
You can also take a look at the Tai O Heritage Hotel, and there are a few boards around displaying some interesting historical information.
Way back on the other side of the harbour, where the buses stop, there is another jetty that extends into the water, and a path juts off to the left across the wetlands to the base of the mountains.
I believe you can start a hike up into the mountains from this point, although I have not done this myself.
All in all, I highly recommend Tai O for the great sense of peace I get every time I visit (once I escape the crowds of the market).
Cheung Sha is a village located on South Lantau and is known for its long, beautiful beach.
There’s nothing quite like sitting on the sand outside one of the beach-front bars with a cocktail in hand, watching the sunset! Trust me.
To get there, or to any of the South Lantau villages I’ll mention after this, take a bus from either Mui Wo, Tung Chung or Tai O along South Lantau Road.
This is the Lantau village that really has my heart. Again, I may be biased as this is where I used to live, but I really do think it trumps the rest for beauty.
With a mountainous backdrop and a beach out front, what more could you ask for?
The beach is a very popular swimming and sunbathing spot, with a campground right by the sand for anyone who enjoys falling asleep listening to the sound of the waves, and free BBQs for anyone to use.
Make sure you buy your meat and BBQ equipment in Mui Wo or Tung Chung before heading to Pui O; there is a small kiosk at the beach for snacks and drinks, but no supermarket nearby.
Have you ever seen a herd of water buffalo moving along the beach to their next bathing or grazing spot?
You are very likely to see that here, but don’t be alarmed by their impressive horns!
They are very docile creatures, unless you’re being an idiot and trying to bother them – don’t do that, (I know you wouldn’t, but I have to say it).
And that leads me onto a shameless plug for the family business. Feeling hungry after your day at the beach? Thirsty?
Head over to The Water Buffalo on South Lantau Road (you most likely saw it from the bus, depending on which way you came from). The food there is truly and honestly delicious – I really miss it!
It is a British restaurant and brewpub so expect proper comfort food and delicious craft beer, and if you’re lucky you might even be able to try a unique beer brewed right there on the premises!
Don’t worry if beer isn’t your thing – they also have a selection of wine, spirits and soft drinks.
Aside from being the ferry port for the island, this is the main hub for South Lantau, with supermarkets, restaurants, bars, hotels and a beach all a short walking distance from each other.
Silvermine Beach was recently redeveloped and there is a new walkway from the main town to the beach with gorgeous views of the sea, beach and surrounding mountains.
The beach facilities, including the toilets and showers, are also all new.
If you’re planning on staying in Lantau, I would recommend the Silvermine Hotel, or the more budget-friendly Mui Wo Inn.
Both are located on Silvermine Beach in Mui Wo, and if you book a sea-view room in either of these, make sure you wake up for the sunrise at least once!
Which reminds me: do not leave Mui Wo without visiting the Village Bakery, unless you want to miss out on what we consider the best doughnuts in the entire world! Seriously, just try them.
Follow the signs to Silvermine Cave for a short walk up the hill to where the miners used to work and stop off at the gorgeous waterfalls on the way.
Hiking on Lantau Island is one of my favourite past-times in Hong Kong.
Lantau Peak is the tallest mountain in Hong Kong, but there are many other mountains and trails to try for all abilities.
For a short but steep climb with an incredibly rewarding view at the top, hike Chi Ma Wan peak in Pui O, starting from the Ham Tin end of the village.
It only takes about 30 – 40 minutes to reach the top, but it does get quite steep, so make sure you take plenty of water on hot days.
Sunset Peak is a tougher climb, but you can start from the top of the Tung Chung Road if you catch the 3M bus from either direction, which means you’re already pretty high up before you even start.
With panoramic views from start to finish, this is one trek I highly recommend.
There are so many other fantastic hikes on this island as the 43 mile (70km) Lantau Trail runs almost around the whole island. It starts and finishes in Mui Wo, so you can join it and leave it at any point.
Try hiking from Mui Wo to Pui O, and from Tung Chung to Tai O; these are two more of my favourites!
And that’s Lantau! A little piece of my heart is still there, and I hope you love it as much as I do.
This small, dumbbell-shaped island is a short ferry journey from Central or from Mui Wo and is wonderful for a day trip.
The main mode of transport is bicycle, as there are no motorised vehicles on the island, but it’s lovely to just take a wander around.
Due to the shape of the island, it only takes a few minutes to walk from the harbour to the beach on the other side, and there are some nice little bars and restaurants on the way.
Before you head over to the beach though, take a walk along the harbour to your right when you exit the ferry and check out some of the seafood places and market shops.
Once you’ve done that, either cruise over to the beach, or go back past the ferry pier for more shops and restaurants.
If you continue in this direction, you’ll come across the Pak Tai Temple. This is well worth a visit and is the venue for the annual Cheung Chau Bun Festival.
Continue to the south of the island and you will find some gentle hiking opportunities!
The ‘Mini Great Wall’ walk follows the coast, with plenty of pagodas along the way so you can stop in the shade and enjoy the view.
This little island really has it all for a day trip: beautiful beach, classic culture and wonderful wandering!
If you thought Cheung Chau was small, wait until you see Peng Chau!
Another island with no motor vehicles, plenty of fishing and seafood restaurants and some nice walks. A great, relaxing day trip away from the city.
Make sure you hike up Finger Hill for a fantastic 360 degree panoramic view (it only takes about 45 mins to reach the top), and don’t miss the Peng Chau Heritage Trail for a short and informative wander.
Peng Chau doesn’t attract as many tourists as Lantau and Cheung Chau, so expect a quiet, relaxed day.
And don’t forget to check out the beach!
Ferries for Peng Chau depart from both Central and Mui Wo.
I’ve been told that Lamma Island is fantastic as well, but I haven’t made it there myself.
It just goes to show that there’s always a new place to visit, no matter how much time you’ve spent in a country!
After so many visits and living in Hong Kong for almost two years, you can probably tell that it is very close to my heart. I hope that I’ve provided you with plenty of inspiration to explore it for yourself.
There are so many more gems in Hong Kong once you get out of the city.
Let me know of any others that you find on your trip!
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