When in Hong Kong, it’s easy to get caught up visiting the typical tourist spots and sightseeing hotspots, but why not get off the beaten path and experience the city’s lesser-known offerings? Grab your camera and walking shoes — here are 15 recommendations for exploring the hidden side of Hong Kong.
Tour a ghost town
Hong Kong may be home to a bustling city center, but there are still several abandoned villages scattered around the city and its surrounding islands. One of the most famous is Ma Wan Ghost Town, the site where residents were forced to relocate from the once thriving fishing town due to planned construction of a luxury apartment complex in 2011. Ma Wan’s abandoned houses, restaurants, and squares create an eerie, quiet atmosphere perfect for a spooky stroll. You can get there by bus via the Tsing Ma MTR Station or direct boat from Central Ferry Pier 2. Other ghost towns worth checking out are Mau Wu Shan in Devil’s Peak and the allegedly haunted village of So Lo Pun in Plover Cove Country Park.
Go to a singalong parlor
In Yau Ma Tei, the southern part of Hong Kong’s Kowloon Peninsula, it’s common to see restaurants with faded, vintage portraits plastered around their entrances. These are called “singalong parlors” — hangouts where budding artists used to sing street operas before busking (street performing) was allowed in the city. A handful of these places are still in operation, offering a taste of entertainment from eras past. Each parlor has an organist and a troupe of singers who can take on anything from Cantonese opera to the musical likings of the Carpenters. There’s typically an HK$20 admission fee, which includes tea and snacks, and customers are encouraged to tip or make song requests every so often. Even if you’re just looking for a prime people-watching spot, try out Canton Singing House on Temple St or Jyut Wan Go Zo just next door.
See 10,000 buddhas
This is not an exaggeration. The 431 steps leading up to Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery are lined with golden life-sized Buddha statues, each with a unique pose and style. Once you reach top of the stairs, the Man Fat Sze complex will greet you with thousands of other gilded Buddhas, as well as gorgeous pavilions, a crimson pagoda, and a panoramic view of Sha Tin. Although the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is a bit of a misnomer — as it’s a monastery with no monks and there are far more than just 10,000 Buddha statues — it stands as one of the city’s most memorable cultural sites.
Located in the northeastern New Territories of Hong Kong, the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is free to enter and has a small restaurant attached to it that offers refreshments (after 431 stairs, trust us, you’re gonna need it).
Visit a rabbit café
If you’ve ever wanted to sip coffee among bunnies, Rabbitland is the place for you. This cute vegetarian café is home to 12 adopted rabbits that customers can pet and hang out with during their visit. Situated in an upstairs space in Causeway Bay, Rabbitland is the first Hong Kong café of its kind. If you choose to visit, remember to wear (or bring) socks and know that there is a limit on the number of individuals allowed inside at one time, so there may be a bit of a wait.
Stroll through one of Hong Kong’s themed marketplaces
Among Hong Kong’s thriving market scene, there are a few unusually themed shopping experiences in the city — so embrace it. The Hong Kong Goldfish Market, located on Tung Choi Street North in Mong Kok, features a quirky line of shops that cater to the Feng Shui lifestyle. Because aquariums embody good luck, fish symbolize good fortune, and water attracts energy of wealth and abundance in the Asian culture, the Hong Kong Goldfish Market offers an array of interesting fish and fish-themed accessories.
Another market to put on your list is the Bird Market. In Yuen Po Bird Garden, stalls sell birds and souvenirs in a traditionally landscaped Chinese garden. The Bird Market showcases beautiful and exotic songbirds, and, if you keep your eyes peeled, you might even see some locals taking their birds out for a “walk” as they socialize with their fellow bird enthusiasts.
Explore a pirate cave
Legend has it that Cheng Po Tsai was the son of a local fisherman who was kidnapped by a notorious pirate couple and adopted into a life of crime. When one of the pirates died, Cheng Po took up the “family business” of pillage and plunder. At his height of infamy in the early 1800s, it was estimated that he had commanded a fleet of nearly 600 ships and a pirate army of at least 20,000 men. Before surrendering to the government in 1810, Cheng Po allegedly stashed his pirate treasure on Cheng Chau Island, just six miles off the coast of Hong Kong.
If you visit the island, you can climb down into a small cave near the coast and look for the treasure yourself — since nothing has ever been found, you never know what you might come across. The cave is on the southwestern peninsula of the island, and is both well marked and easy to find.
Watch an old movie
If you’re in the mood to catch a movie, the Hong Kong Film Archive hosts regular screenings of classic films from the city’s past, including many that are silent or black-and-white. Aside from screenings, the building also houses rotating exhibitions and events related to the collection, conservation, and appreciation of film art and history. Most of the films shown at the archive are considered Hong Kong classics, though they do also show modern documentaries and foreign films — so check out their schedule before you go. Located in Lei King, Sai Wan Ho, Hong Kong Film Archive is near the Sai Wan Ho MTR Station.
Discover Hong Kong’s artistic side
Hong Kong is known as a cultural melting pot and the lively intersection of the East and West. So it’s easy to see why art is such a thriving component of the city.
For anyone interested in more high-end and polished art, go gallery-hopping in Soho. For those who prefer a bit more grunge, check out the city’s best street art and graffiti in Sheung Wan around Upper Station Street, Sai Street, Hollywood Street, and at the point where Oil Street meets Victoria Harbor. And for anyone whose taste is somewhere in between, check out C&G Art Space, Osage Kwun Tong, Cattle Depot, and the JCCAC. There are also regular exhibitions of local Hong Kong photography at Lumenvisum, AO Vertical Art Space, Blindspot Gallery, and La Galerie.
See the world’s oldest surviving teapot
Located in Hong Kong Park, Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware was built in the 1840s and was formerly the office and residence of the Commander of the British Forces in Hong Kong. And — you guessed correctly — it’s now the home of the world’s oldest teapot. Alongside its exhibitions, the museum also holds regular demonstrations, tea gatherings, and lecture programs to promote ceramic art and China’s enduring tea-drinking culture. Visit to treat yourself to a spot of tea and a glance at some globally recognized earthenware.
Wish upon a tree
In the Lam Tsuen area, there are a pair of trees near the Hong Kong shrine in Tin Hau Temple that are said to grant any wish that gets caught in their branches. The legend of the Wishing Trees dates back to when the temple was constructed in the late 1700s, and to this day, the enchanted grounds draw visitors and locals alike. Initially, visitors would write their wishes on small paper scrolls and tie them onto the branches or throw them onto the tree. The idea was that the higher the wish, the better the chance of it coming true. If it fell out, the wish wouldn’t be granted at all. Today, however, visitors place their wishes on a colorful plastic tree in Lam Tsuen to preserve the ancient branches of the Wishing Trees.
Have an animated meal
Fun fact about Hong Kong locals: they love cartoon characters enough to dedicate entire restaurants to them.
In fact, Hong Kong is home to the world’s first Hello Kitty dim sum restaurant (yes, you read that correctly). Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine is an experience worth exploring, as everything down to the very last custard bun and shrimp dumpling bears Hello Kitty’s face and trademark pink bow. But the city doesn’t stop there. Dim Sum Icon is themed around Gutedama, an adorable Japanese egg, while Moomin Café offers traditional Nordic dishes themed around an anthropomorphic hippopotamus from which the cafe takes its name. Whatever your favorite cartoon, enjoy Hong Kong’s playful food options.
Photograph rocks from the dinosaur era
Though relatively unknown to visitors, Saikung is one of Hong Kong’s most stunningly beautiful places. The area is part of the UNESCO-recognized Hong Kong Global Geopark, which features spectacular rock formations (both volcanic and sedimentary) from 140 to 400 million years ago. The most geologically impressive of the volcanic rock columns can only be viewed by boat, so the best way to see them is to join a tour, which typically last about three hours and show you a variety of sea stacks, precipitous rock cliffs, secluded bays, sea arches, and sea caves. The acidic, silica-rich rocks of Saikung are colored a rare, luminous yellow, which makes for stunning photos against the blue of the sea and the sky. The hexagonal columns were formed when lava and volcanic ash cooled and contracted after violent eruptions during the Cretaceous Period. Pretty neat, huh?
Eat at the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant
Tim Ho Wan is a hole-in-the-wall dim sum restaurant with enticing menus that have won the plaudits of food critics and the hearts of foodies across the globe. It gained recognition after receiving a coveted Michelin star and is now known as one of the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurants in the world. And by cheap, we mean really cheap. Though famed for their pork buns, Tim Ho Wan offers a full menu of tasty options. The original restaurant has since expanded, and the owners have opened several locations across Hong Kong, so be sure to look up which branch fits your itinerary best.
Experience your first daipaidong
Hong Kong’s sprawling Ap Lei Chau Cooked Food Centre is one of the most unique hawker-style daipaidong (open-air food stalls) in the city. Ap Lei Chau Island and nearby fishing port Aberdeen are home to Hong Kong’s largest population of Tanka fishermen, and because of this, the market just below the food court sells a dazzling variety of seafood, including wild yellow croaker and goose barnacles. If you’re up for it, you can even buy your seafood downstairs and pay one of the operators to cook it right then and there.