Disclosure: We get a commission for some links on this website. You don’t have to use our links, but we’re very grateful when you do. Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or endorsed by our partners. Here’s our Advertiser Disclosure.
This post is part of our Around-the-World Series.
During our trip around the world, I built in a few long layovers, thanks to United’s generous routing rules. The second of these was our Hong Kong layover. We had only 8 hours on the ground, so our time was extremely limited. For this layover, I planned everything down to the minute, to ensure we got the most from our visit. How much can you see in Hong Kong during an 8-hour layover? Read on to find out…
What We Planned
I made sure to research the details for transportation, walking distances, wait times at points of interest, and to allow time for getting lost. This is the itinerary that I built for the 8-hour Hong Kong layover
What Actually Happened
EXACTLY what I planned! This layover went so smoothly, that I was actually surprised. All of the research paid off, and we followed the itinerary above almost exactly to the minute.
Arrive in Hong Kong – 12:55pm
We landed slightly ahead of schedule. Thai Airways offered us bulkhead seats for the 4.5-hour flight, which we gladly accepted. I’ll take extra legroom any time it is offered!
When we arrived, we ran into a long line at immigration. I was immediately worried that my careful planning would blow up before we left the airport. Fortunately, the line moved quickly, and we were through in only 20 minutes.
Next, we needed to find the Left Baggage counter to store our backpacks. Ceiling signs guided us to the right after we entered the terminal. After a winding 10-minute walk, we found the counter and dropped our bags. The charge is 12 HKD ($1.50) per hour per bag. We each carried only one bag, so the total charge for 5 hours was only 120 HKD ($15). We loaded our camera gear, sunscreen, and raincoats (just in case) into the daypack and headed to the Airport Express train.
Airport Express (MTR) train from airport to Central (Hong Kong) Station – 1:50pm – 2:14pm
You will have a couple options to purchase tickets for the Airport Express train upon arrival. The first place is a ticket booth just before you enter the terminal. Long lines often form here, so move along. You can purchase your tickets at the train platform much more quickly.
If you are planning a quick visit to the city, you should purchase ROUND TRIP tickets to Central Station. A round trip is the same price as a one-way! If you only purchase a one-way ticket, you will have to pay again to return to the airport.
Trains run every 10 minutes and take only 24 minutes to reach Central Station. We boarded the 1:50pm train – 10 minutes ahead of schedule! Our total time from arrival, to clearing immigration, to dropping our bags, and boarding the train was only 55 minutes… efficiency!
Meet tour group and walk to tram – 2:45pm
When our train arrived, we were a bit confused. Our tickets said “Central Station,” but we arrived at “Hong Kong Station.” The stations are separate but connected by a sky bridge. To find Central Station, leave Hong Kong station through Exit A and follow the bridge to the right. You will see signs for Central Station.
We needed to find Central Station, because we booked express tram tickets through Klook Tours. They instructed us to meet outside of Exit K from Central Station. Klook Tours sells discounted Victoria Peak tram tickets ($7/ea for one way), with the added bonus of skipping the long line at the base tram station. Save money and time?! Yes, please! They even guide you through the city, directly to the tram station.
The Klook group began the 15-minute walk to the tram at 3pm. When we arrived, we only had to wait for one tram to board ahead of us. I estimate that we saved at least half an hour by buying the express tickets!
Victoria Peak Tram to Skydeck – 3:30pm-3:40pm
The old, rickety tram only takes seven minutes to reach the peak. Riding up the hill is quite an experience, with sweeping vista views of the city as we ascended the steep tracks. Be sure to sit on the right side of the tram for the best views of the Hong Kong skyline.
Victoria Peak Skydeck Viewpoint – 3:45pm-4:30pm
When the tram reaches the top of the hill, you will find yourself in a surprisingly busy complex. Perched on the side of Victoria Peak is a bustling shopping mall, with places to eat, candy stores, and arcades. There is even a wax museum at the top.
We didn’t come all this way to shop, so we marched straight up the flights of stairs to the Skydeck. High above Hong Kong, we stepped out onto the viewing platform to take in the incredible scene. Hong Kong is a city built into the valley. It showcases the most skyscrapers of any city on the planet. We marveled at the magnitude of the city, and how it seemed to be absolutely crammed into the valley, along the banks of Victoria Harbour. You absolutely must come to the Skydeck viewpoint for such a unique look at this massive urban jungle!
Ride #15 Bus Back to the City – 4:30pm-5pm
After snapping a few selfies at the Skydeck, we walked back downstairs and across the street, to the bus station. Here, we hopped onto the #15 bus back to the city. The double-decker bus is VERY cheap at only $1 each, and we didn’t have to wait in the LONG tram line at the top!
I recommend sitting on the second level, as close to the front as possible. This will give you the best view and the wildest ride! Hang on while the bus barrels down the steep, winding road back toward downtown Hong Kong. As you reach the bottom of the hill, keep an eye out for the Wan Chai area.
Street Food in Wan Chai – 5pm-6pm
Hong Kong is well known for its crazy street food offerings. The central hub for this is the Kowloon district (across Victoria Harbor). Unfortunately, our time was too tight for a visit to the Kowloon street vendors, so Wan Chai street food would have to suffice.
Wan Chai is one of the busiest commercial districts in Hong Kong. Tucked within this bustling area, you will find crazy street markets and even crazier street food! We hopped off the bus and walked through Wan Chai Market. This is a famous “wet market,” where merchants sell everything from fresh fruit to live shrimp. Seriously, a live shrimp jumped out of a basket and onto my foot!
Passing through the market, we came to a few streets lined with shops. These neon-lit shops sell all sorts of random meat, vegetables, pastries, candy, toys, etc. We continued through these streets until we reached the Wan Chai subway station. Just to the left of the station entrance, we walked along a side street and found some fantastic, authentic street food!
First up – Curry Fish Balls! This is the #1 must-try street food on nearly every list I read. I stood in line and ordered my bowl of mashed up fish bits, rolled into spongy balls, and covered with a spicy curry sauce. To eat these delicacies, you jam a pointed wooden stick into them, close your eyes, and chow down. Honestly, not as bad as I had imagined – mildly spicy, oddly squishy, with a faint flavor of fish. I don’t get the hype, but when in Hong Kong…
Other street food staples we tried included egg waffles (spherical puff waffles, made with egg batter), egg tarts (pastries filled with egg custard), pineapple buns (butter-filled sweet roll), and bubble tea. Unfortunately, we were not able to track down the famous “stinky tofu”… maybe next time!
Trains Back to the Airport – 6pm-6:45pm
With our bubble tea in hand and bellies grumbling from the strange foodstuffs, we squeezed into the crowded subway train at Wan Chai station. Back at Central Station, we cashed in our round trip tickets for the Airport Express train. Exactly 24 minutes later, we stepped off the platform at the Airport Station and walked to Left Luggage to collect our backpacks. We spent five total hours exploring the city, and we still had enough time to grab dinner before our flight!
Dinner at the Plaza Premium Lounge – 7:30pm-8:10pm
Past security, we stopped to rest our weary feet and grab some dinner. Fortunately, Priority Pass from our Chase Sapphire Reserve offers complimentary access to three lounges at the HKG airport. The Plaza Premium Lounge in Terminal 1, near gate 40, offers an excellent dinner spread and complimentary beer and wine. I had a noodle bowl, with fresh meat and veggies, and washed it down with a local beer (or two). Dinner in the lounge provided a great opportunity to chill after a hectic day running around the big city!
Board Flight to Bangkok – 8:20pm
We boarded our 2.5-hour Thai Airways flight to Bangkok, completely exhausted. Fortunately, they offered us exit row seats, so we could stretch our legs and get a bit of sleep. As soon as the plane left the ground, we both passed out!
Hong Kong is a massive, bustling, hub of culture, food, finance, and technology. We only spent 5 hours in the city, but we squeezed in a couple quintessential Hong Kong experiences. Standing atop Victoria Peak Skydeck gave us a fantastic vantage point to fully appreciate how crazy the city layout really is. Back on the ground level, we took the opportunity to taste the exotic local delicacies. Hopefully, we will have a chance to visit for a longer time in the future. A trip to Kowloon and a deeper dive into the street food offerings, as well as a cruise through Victoria Harbour, will definitely be on the itinerary.
What is your favorite Hong Kong activity or street food offering?
This post is part of our Around-the-World Series.