This post was last updated on May 8th, 2020 at 01:03 pm
Every city has some great experiences that don’t come with a price tag, but it can be tricky to find these free attractions. Hong Kong is no exception. While most of your money will be spent on accommodation, food, and drinks, with a bit of research you can still save quite a bit of money when sightseeing in Hong Kong. Zen gardens, cultural activities, a remote island, and much more… we’ll take you on a tour of the best free things to do in Hong Kong.
Curious about art and history? Mark the Wednesdays in your itinerary. Seven of the urban museums offer visitors free admission on this day, including Hong Kong’s History Museum, Heritage Museum, and the Space Museum.
Others are free to enter daily, for example, the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware and Hong Kong Railway Museum, and you can always attend free exhibitions at the Hong Kong Film Archive and Hong Kong Arts Center.
A Day at the Beach
White beaches, crystal clear waters, palm trees, the sound of the waves and a gentle tropical breeze… the beautiful beaches of Hong Kong are perhaps the city’s best-kept secret!
On the southeastern tip of Hong Kong Island lies Shek O, one of the most beautiful beachfront villages, where local surfers gather to catch some good waves. You can imagine that every secret place will be discovered sooner or later and it is, therefore, best to avoid the weekends here, because it will get very busy.
An adventurous alternative is Tai Long Wan, which belongs to the Sai Kung East Country Park. It is difficult to get there, but it is perhaps one of the most beautiful beaches Hong Kong has to offer. You will have to use various means of transport: metro, taxi, boat, bus and a lot of walking. Because it is never very busy, an ocean of serene peace, it pays off to put in all that effort.
Hiking on the MacLehose Trail
Travelers are often surprised when they realize that Hong Kong is not quite as full of skyscrapers as people think and that it consists of 40% parks and nature reserves.
Many of Hong Kong’s free attractions, such as hidden beaches, rugged mountains, deserted villages, and secret valleys, are linked by the MacLehose Trail, a 100-kilometer hike, named one of the best hikes in the world by the National Geographic Society.
The route crosses the national parks of the New Territories and is divided into several stages of varying difficulty. The traditional favorites are stage 2 with the dream beach Tai Long Wan, stage 8 where you will encounter the Ng Tung Chai waterfalls – a series of 4 waterfalls that plunge down into beautiful pools – and finally, there is the challenging 5th stage that leads to Lion Rock peak. It’s named Lion Rock because of the special shape reminiscent of a lion.
If you walk west from the central escalator on Hollywood Road you will pass many shops and galleries with art and antiques. It’s a street that stretches from Hong Kong’s Central District Police Station, which is transformed into Tai Kwun, a center of art, heritage and leisure, to Man Mo Temple, Upper Lascar Row, and Police Married Quarters (PMQ) creative hub.
If you are a student, you can enter the Liang Yi Museum for free, a beautiful building housing the world’s largest collection of antique Chinese furniture, dating from the Ming and Qing dynasties, as well as an exceptional collection of over 400 jeweled handbags, suitcases and powder boxes from big names such as Cartier, Boucheron and Van Cleef & Arpels.
A Moment of Zen in Nan Lian Garden
Travelers who need to take a break from Hong Kong’s raging pace can spend a few hours at Nan Lian Garden, an atmospheric oasis of unparalleled tranquility.
The famous Jiangshouju Garden in Shanxi, China, modeled Nan Lian, with intricate details beautifully crafted, where everything is positioned according to ancient guidelines and traditional methods, from the placement of the rocks to the wooden structures.
The park is maintained by the adjacent Chi Lin Nunnery, a wooden temple complex filled with Buddhist relics where you can immerse yourself in the teachings of the Shakyamuni Buddha and other bodhisattvas.
West Kowloon Cultural District
The West Kowloon Cultural District aims to eventually become an important cultural center in Hong Kong. Plagued by lack of money and variable management, this is still a spectacular place, if only to enjoy the Hong Kong skyline at night.
Travelers can stroll along the boardwalk and also visit Nursery Park. This park contains different types of vegetation, from plants that are resistant to salt to fruit trees that will be used throughout the area. You can attend free events such as indie music festivals, exhibitions on topics such as Gender in Popular Culture, or theater performances. These activities are regularly organized so it is worth checking out what’s going on.
On the Hunt for History
The legendary revolutionary Dr. Sun Yat-sen is considered by many to be the “father” of modern China and he is still highly regarded in China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong. As the first president and founder of the Chinese Republic, he played a key role in overthrowing the Qing dynasty, China’s last imperial dynasty.
The Dr. Sun Yat-sen Historical Route is a series of fifteen stops in the areas around the central and western districts, and along this route, history buffs can indulge themselves as they witness the major events of this turbulent era. Two spots should be mentioned in particular: the location of the murder of Sun’s right-hand man Yeung Ku-wan, and the meeting place of Sun’s “Gang of 4”.
The Wan Chai Heritage Trail is a route that goes back in the history of Hong Kong’s most notorious neighborhood and offers historic sites such as the Green House, which is now a center of the local comic book industry, and the Blue House, which is a is a pioneer of commune life, along with the adjacent Yellow House, bustling Wan Chai Market, some temples, and the fashionable Star Street.
The Abandoned Yim Tin Tsai
Due to the rapid development of Hong Kong, many villages and islands have been completely abandoned at a rapid pace, because the inhabitants left the lives of their ancestors behind for a more colorful life in the city. A short ferry ride takes you to Sai Kung, where more than 10,000 people of the Hakka people once lived. Nowadays it is almost completely abandoned here, although life seems to be slowly returning.
A handful of descendants of these people returned to the island a few years ago and they developed a route based on their heritage, they renovated old Hakka homes of their ancestors, set up a ceramic museum and even started an organic farm, located at the foot of a church.
Although nature has taken over many of the houses, the island is still a great place for a day out. The Chapel of St. Joseph won an Award of Merit at the 2005 UNESCO Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards, and the island revived the salt pans. These are also recognized by UNESCO, so feel free to deviate from your route to view them. Taste the Yim Tin beer when you get there, brewed in Hong Kong, and dedicated to the island.
Mong Kok Flower Market
Even if you have absolutely no reason to buy flowers because you are just a fleeting passer-by, at the end of your tour you shouldn’t be surprised if you have some flowers in your hands. Mong Kok’s buzzing, lively atmosphere, and the extensive diversity of all the beautiful flowers will make you fall head over heels in love with this place.
For endless rows of fresh flowers, flowerpots and plants, gardening tools, and ikebana gear, head to the west side of Mong Kok market, where you’ll find a beautiful, newly renovated, four-story Art Deco building. Here, you’ll find quaint teahouses, local pastry shops, modern organic cafes, and a handful of cute shops trying to sell local and regional fair trade stuff.
Walk on the Central Waterfront Promenade
The Central Promenade extends from the Star Ferry Pier to Admiralty, through the green enclave of Tamar Park. It’s the perfect way to admire the Hong Kong skyline for free, from the ground, especially at night. Flanked by iconic buildings like the Bank of China and HSBC tower on one side and Victoria Harbor on the other, you can admire the mind-bogglingly beautiful views of Kowloon and get an excellent place to enjoy “The Symphony of Lights” the light spectacle that takes place every day around 8 p.m. at the harbor. Many events are organized along the Promenade or in Tamar Park, so expect a lot of crowds, especially on weekends.