Old meets new, East meets West, and your family meets fun in Hong Kong with our age-appropriate guide to the best attractions and activities for families with kids. Don't ignore the many free and useful pamphlets for visitors published by the Hong Kong Tourism Board. “Hong Kong Walks,” available at tourist offices and attractions around the city, includes maps of the Peak Circle and other interesting hikes. For even more fun with the kids, pick up a copy of the "Hong Kong Family Fun Guide," browse for ideas at Discover Hong Kong, or call the board's multilingual visitor hotline at 852 2508 1234.
Great Fun for the Kids
(Toddler to Age 8)
Hong Kong Science Museum
2 Science Museum Road
Kowloon, Hong Kong
852 2732 3232
This fun, multi-floored museum is of the fully interactive variety. Kids can touch and play with educational displays about life science, nutrition, transportation, telecommunications, and more, with both English and Cantonese language options. A favorite is the display on food production, which screens videos of how yummy traditional treats like dim sum and mooncakes are mass-produced and packaged. There’s also a play area upstairs that’s sure to be full of kids having a blast, and a cafeteria with a wide selection of junk food and instant noodles. (This being Hong Kong, there are SARS-inspired hand sanitizers on every level.)
(852 2716 9962)
Kowloon Park is a relaxing, stroller-friendly reprieve in the heart of the ultra-trendy Tsim Sha Tsui district. There are plenty of feathered friends to look at, between an aviary full of tropical birds and a bird pond where flamingos and geese make their home. The park also features a sculpture garden, Chinese garden, shrubbery maze, swimming pool and sports center, and a Heritage Center. For a break from all that walking, there are ample restrooms, benches, and McDonald’s ice cream. Go on a Sunday afternoon between 2:30 and 4:30, and you might catch Kung Fu Corner, where experts demonstrate martial arts and the lion/dragon dance for free.
One of the more unique experiences of Hong Kong is wandering through its many exotic markets, including the goldfish market. Goldfish are considered lucky in traditional Chinese culture, and you can witness the influence of that belief in the form of tanks upon tanks filled with countless varieties of colorful goldfish. Kids can also peruse the turtles and other pets for sale. The Goldfish Market is located on and around Tung Choi Street in the Mong Kok district.
Flower Market and Yuen Po Street Bird Garden
Located appropriately on Flower Market Road, the Flower Market is another popular area that’s a feast for the eyes and nose. This is a great place to point at pretty flowers, both potted and cut, and maybe pick up a gift for someone special in the process. Blooms from all over Asia exhibit every color of the rainbow. Just north of the flower market, Yuen Po Street has over 70 bird stalls showcasing potential pets with wings. This bird garden has a lovely Chinese courtyard design, and both the Flower Market and Yuen Po Street Bird Garden are within walking distance of the Goldfish Market.
Hong Kong Cultural Center
10 Salisbury Road
Kowloon, Hong Kong
852 2734 2009
A controversially-designed concrete block on the outside (it faces a spectacular waterfront, but it has no windows), and an optimally-arranged, thriving arts center on the inside, the Hong Kong Cultural Center offers a variety of musical and theatrical performances throughout the year. The Center also serves as a venue for some of Hong Kong’s most exciting artistic festivals. In the summer, for example, the International Arts Carnival brings a selection of children’s performances and activities. The Cultural Center building itself often holds free musical performances and art exhibits. Check the website for what’s going on.
Fun for Older Children
(Up to Age 18)
Hong Kong Museum of History
100 Chatham Road S
852 2724 9042
“The Hong Kong Story” exhibit is the centerpiece of the Hong Kong Museum of History, which will keep history buffs occupied for at least a couple of hours. This massive exhibit takes visitors on a journey from times of geologic upheaval to the present. Those with shorter attention spans will appreciate the interesting films and brilliant central room that houses models of lion and unicorn dancers, Chinese opera performers, puppets, and other folk arts and entertainment. The museum permits pictures with hand-held cameras, and you’ll be taking them.
Hong Kong Space Museum
10 Salisbury Road
Kowloon, Hong Kong
852 2721 0226
If you have a spare couple of hours and your children are interested in astronauts, take them to the Space Museum to try bouncing around in one-sixth gravity or hang gliding in the Grand Canyon. These and other virtual attractions accompany exhibits on the history of astronomy, space exploration, life as an astronaut, and even science fiction from Jules Verne to E.T. The Space Museum also has a IMAX-style dome theater for planetarium star shows as well as science-themed movies. The theater has a separate box office and shows are available at different times in Cantonese or English. The last show for selected films starts at 8:30 pm; this could be a fun evening activity for teens.
Hong Kong Museum of Art
10 Salisbury Road
Kowloon, Hong Kong
852 2721 0116
English language placards give an excellent overview of Hong Kong and mainland China’s art history in this large and beautifully organized museum. An especially notable exhibit is “Metal, Wood, Water, Fire and Earth: Gems and Antiquities Collections in Hong Kong,” which explores different forms of valuable craftsmanship from throughout China’s dynastic history. Visitors can even take away a wallet-sized cheat sheet to keep all those dynasties straight as they view ceramic, bronze, and gold items that used to belong to the emperors. Attached to the exhibit is a related children’s area with worksheets, craft ideas, and interactive trivia displays.
Tai Tam Reservoirs
For something completely different, this off-the-beaten-path, urban refuge is touted by locals as being one of the most peaceful, beautiful places around Hong Kong. Maybe your family will agree when you look up at the lush, green mountains and down into the tranquil water full of turtles and tremendous orange carp, or maybe you’ll forget that you’re in one of the world’s most populous metropolitan areas. There are many tastefully located picnic areas, some with barbecue pits, along the way. There’s not much shade along the path, though, so come prepared for sun. To get there, take Bus #6 or 61 southeast of the city to where it drops off near Parkview towers—much of the reservoir area is steeply sloped, but from here your hike will be mainly downhill.
Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees
Hong Kong is made up of three sections: Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, and the New Territories. The New Territories are ironically named in a way, since in addition to rapid development, they are also still home to five different clans that arrived from the mainland in the fifteenth century. These clans brought over their own customs, the remnants of which can still be seen today. In the Lam Tsuen Valley, worshippers and tourists visit a temple dedicated to the goddess of the sea. Here you can buy fortune sticks, incense, or large, colorful pieces of paper tied to oranges. You can write whatever wishes you want onto these papers, whether they be good health or good grades or a winning lottery ticket. Traditionally, wishers would throw their papers into two large banyan trees, but on a recent Chinese New Year, some branches gave way under the weight of all those good wishes. Now there are specially constructed racks to keep the tradition alive.
Man Mo Temple and Tai Po Market
Once a hot seat of resistance to the 99-year lease of Hong Kong to Britian, Man Mo is now a serious place of worship to the gods of literature and martial arts, who have taken on expanding responsibilities as time and need have progressed. The temple is full of rich Taoist imagery, the reverberations from a god-invoking gong, and the aroma of thick incense smoke. For even more interesting imagery, take a stroll through surrounding Tai Po Market. Whether you’re looking for pig organs, dried shark fin, or just an egg custard, you’ll find it all here!
The easiest way to get to Man Mo Temple, as well as the wishing trees and other cultural highlights in the New Territories, is to sign up with a five-hour Heritage Tour. The tour picks up downtown at the Kowloon Hotel; for more information, contact Gray Line Tours (852 2368 7111).
Cultural Kaleidoscope Classes
852 2508 1234
How would you feel about an early morning Tai Chi lesson along Kowloon’s breathtaking waterfront? Or a sail around the harbor in an authentic Chinese junk ship? Or a brief course in the secrets of jade shopping? These opportunities and more are available free of charge to tourists, courtesy of the Hong Kong Tourism Board and some local businesses. Other classes cover Chinese medicine, Chinese opera, tea appreciation, feng sui, pearl shopping, traditional cake-making, and new additions diamond appreciation and a Maritime Museum guided tour. Most programs require advance, in-person registration at a tourist office—this is easy enough to do, but don’t forget your passports to prove that you are tourists.
Fun for the Whole Family
See Hong Kong by Boat
Like any great harbor city with stunning architecture, Hong Kong offers ways to explore and see the sights by boat. The easiest and cheapest way by far is the Star Ferry (852 2367 7065), which is part of Hong Kong's regular public transportation system between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island (Hong Kong's version of the Staten Island Ferry, perhaps?). The view from this boat, however, is anything but regular, while the Star Ferries themselves are a nearly indescribable mix of old world novelty and new world functionality. The straight shot across Victoria Harbor gives you just enough time to take some pictures of the towering, ultra-modern skyscrapers that surround you in all directions, as well as the occasional red-sailed junk boat that may be passing by. If the short trip leaves you wanting more, however, the special "Shining Star" Ferry offers a one-hour, circular loop around the harbor with an option to hop on and off.
Other interesting floating attractions await in Aberdeen Harbor, on the south side of Hong Kong Island. This was once an important typhoon shelter and a living space for boat people, some of whom still remain. Now, free ferries take visitors to Jumbo Kingdom (852 2553 9111) for dinner at one of its two impressive floating restaurants. For more privacy, ask for "sampan" dining, and you may get to eat in a small, flat-bottomed, traditional wooden boat. You may also choose to tour the harbor by sampan with one of the independent guides who will inevitably ask you if you are interested!
Finally, if a traditional junk boat is more your style, try taking a sail on the Aqua Luna (852 2116 8821), which runs 45-minute cruises around Victoria Harbor and is associated with a popular group of restaurants in Hong Kong (the cruise itself offers drinks and snacks, but not dinner). Eight daily sailings depart from Kowloon and Hong Kong Island. Kids under 5 years old pay half price.
Symphony of Lights Evening Light Show
Every night at 8pm, the sky above Hong Kong comes to life when lasers from 20 buildings create a story that traces the development of the city. “A Symphony of Lights” has five different story components, and can be best viewed along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront between the Avenue of Stars and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre; on the promenade at Golden Bauhinia Square in Wanchai; and from sightseeing ferries in the Victoria Harbour. The free 13-minute show is accompanied by music and narration, which is broadcast in English on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at these locations. Alternatively, viewers can tune in to the radio (103.4 FM for English) or by calling 35-665-665 on a mobile phone. Note that performances will be cancelled in the event of a typhoon warning.
One of several of Hong Kong’s outlying islands, Lantau is most well-known for its “Big Buddha,” the world’s largest outdoor seated bronze Buddha statue. The Buddha is part of Po Lin (which means “precious lotus”), a large monastery complex with buildings full of interesting little shrines and a great vegetarian restaurant. It takes 260 steps to climb up to the Buddha himself. To reach Lantau Island, you can take either a ferry or the MTR, and reaching the Buddha has traditionally required an additional 40-minute bus ride. Starting in June 2006, however, an exciting cable car ride offers a more bird’s eye view along the way, while Ngong Ping Village offers a tea house, dining venues, and street performances. This new village will try to blend in with traditional Chinese architecture.
For one of the most incredible city views you’ve ever seen (equally, if not more, incredible at night) take the trip up “The Peak,” as it’s widely known. It’s accessible by bus, or more dramatically, by a very popular 1,200-foot tram, and the view from the top is worth it. The Peak Tower, an eight-floor, high-altitude shopping, dining, and entertainment center, features brand stores and attractions such as Madame Tussaud's wax museum; some other options for souvenir shopping and ice-cream buying remain available. And if you’re feeling sporty, the Peak Circle Walk is an easy stroll for getting some alternative angles on the stunning scenery.
Aberdeen, Hong Kong
852 2552 0291
Part zoo, part aquarium, and part amusement park, Ocean Park is a wildly popular theme park on the South China Sea. In the park’s lowland area, families can visit the habitat of An An and Jia Jia, two adorable giant pandas, as well as a goldfish pagoda, butterfly house, and dinosaur exhibit. A unique highlight is the breathtaking cable car ride that connects the lowland to the headland, where even more fun attractions await (take it early—the wait can reach an hour by noon!). There’s a shark aquarium complete with underwater viewing tunnel, roller coasters that loop out right over the sea, an Ocean Theater where dolphins and sea lions strut their stuff for packed audiences, and other, smaller amusement rides and marine animal exhibits. The renovated Atoll Reef facility brings visitors face to face with about 2,000 fish. Keep an eye out for a Giant Grouper that is over 80 years old—he swims slowly, and at almost seven feet in length, he’s hard to miss! Ocean Park is easily accessible by bus connection from the Central Star Ferry pier or Admirality MTR subway station.
Hong Kong Disneyland
852 1830 830
Easy to reach on the MTR’s Disneyland Resort Line, this 310-acre park, opened in 2005, has its own versions of old favorites like Cinderella’s Castle, Main Street USA, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and Space Mountain. In the more Hong Kong-specific Fantasy Gardens, families can wander around and meet their favorite characters for autographs. Beautiful Inspiration Lake lies outside of the park gates and offers boat rentals on its peaceful waters. Special menus feature popular dishes from the northwest, the Jiangnan region and Guangdong provinces of mainland China, as well as Southeast Asian, Japanese and western favorites. And for those who don’t want to go too far, the Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel (modeled on Orlando's plush Grand Floridian) and Hollywood Hotel (with a piano-shaped swimming pool and iconic representations of Southern California landmarks) mean 1,000 guestrooms are on site. To Disney-philes, Hong Kong Disneyland might not look too different from California’s Disneyland, but for the local market, it could not be more exciting.
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