Luxury for Less on Hong Kong Island: An Itinerary

Hong Kong isn’t the first destination that springs to mind for a budget city break, but it is possible to find luxury for less in this buzzing but expensive metropolis. I’m a big believer in living a champagne lifestyle on Lambrini pockets, so I welcomed the challenge when Travelex asked me to fake fancy in Hong Kong for two days. 

I dedicated the first day to seeing all Hong Kong Island has to offer and spent day two across the water in Kowloon. I’ve split the itinerary into two posts because delayed gratification is sometimes worth it. Here’s my guide on things to do on Hong Kong Island on the cheap.

Things to see and do on Hong Kong Island on a budget

HONG KONG ISLAND GUIDE
Hollywood Road Park Hong Kong

Clusters of high-rise buildings with designer label shops on the ground floors are grouped near the harbour, while the steep streets towards Victoria Peak reveals a glimpse of old Hong Kong. Narrow double-decker trams snake through the main streets, a nod to the historic British influence.

First, window shopping for high-end labels in the Central area on Hong Kong Island. I was obviously on a budget but it doesn’t cost anything to look, right?

Hong Kong central

The world’s longest covered escalator cuts through the Mid-levels and chic SoHo. It goes on for 800 metres! From 6 am to 10 am it runs downhill, carrying residents to their jobs and errands down in Central. At 10:30 am it changes direction for the rest of the day, bringing tourists and commuters up to the restaurants, shops and residences in the hills.

Hong Kong escalator

I quickly realised that just walking around Hong Kong Island can keep you entertained for hours. I always feel that an amble around the city is the best way to experience the essence of a destination.

Hong Kong SHOPS

hong kong island art galleries

hong kong island

Hong Kong shops

Hong Kong shops

I even spotted some decent street art!

Hong Kong street art

hong kong island street art

Hong Kong street art

PMQ

I took a break from the balmy heat by cooling off in the free art galleries in PMQ. This is the former Police Married Quarters which are now Hong Kong’s art and culture hub.

hong kong island street art PMQ

Where to enjoy a cheap lunch on Hong Kong Island

It wasn’t hard to find tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them eateries around PMQ. A local guided me towards Ding Dim, an odd little dim sum place spread across two shops. I walked into the nicer looking one and the waitress made me sit in the other one, next to the serving hatch, then served me the most delicious dumplings I’ve ever tasted for just 32 HKD. I washed them down with a cold glass of Tsingtao, Chinese beer, which cost 30 HKD.

ding dim food in hong kong island

Man Mo Temple

The oldest temple on Hong Kong Island is hidden on Hollywood Road itself, amid intriguing antique shops and edgy coffee houses – a juxtaposition that encapsulates Hong Kong’s complex personality.

Man Mo Temple Hong Kong Island

Man Mo Temple Hong Kong Island

Man Mo Temple Hong Kong Island

It was built in 1847 and dedicated to the God of Literature and God of War. You’ll know you’re close because it’ll assault your nostrils from halfway down the street. Heady incense emanates from coils  suspended from the ceiling.

Cat Street

Meandering around flea-market-like Cat Street uncovers plenty of curious alleyways to get lost in. This was probably my favourite place in Hong Kong, with bamboo scaffolding supporting crumbling buildings and locals going about their daily lives.

hong kong island alleyways

hong kong tree

Hong Kong Island shops

Hong Kong street sign

Hong kong building

The higgledy-piggledy streets in Hong Kong Island kept me occupied for ages, because I never knew what I was going to find when I turned the next corner; posey craft beer or wine bars, an old cobbler crafting away in a booth smaller than a phonebox, Vera Wang’s flagship bridal store…

Hong Kong local tradesmen

Hong Kong Island is certainly a mishmash of everything the destination has to offer.

Botanical Gardens

It was getting sweaty so I sought some shade in the Botanical Gardens, which is also a Zoo with orang-utans!

hong kong botanical gardens

 

Victoria Peak

At 552 meters, Victoria Peak casts its shadow over Hong Kong Island. Tai Ping Shan is the chinese name for Victorian Peak and the meaning of this is “mountain of great peace”.

View from top of Victoria Peak Hong Kong

I took the Peak Funicular up and – get this – was only charged a child’s fare, at 40 HKD. Do I look 10 years old to you?

Victoria Peak Hong Kong

I swerved the pricey pass to the top viewing deck. The view is pretty much the same from the free viewing platform on the 3rd floor, and you can still enjoy sweeping vistas of Hong Kong from this vantage point. There’s also a mall and a pretty decent view from the coffee shop!

View from top of Victoria Peak Hong Kong mall

Aqualuna sunset cruise

Back in the thick of the city, I indulged in my first ‘treat experience’; a sunset cruise on a junk boat. As the last of the day’s rays bathed Victoria Harbour in pink and red hues, I sipped my complimentary drink smugly. The Aqualuna cruise was so much more relaxing than crossing on the ferry, and at just 195 HKD, it made for an affordable luxury treat.

sunset in hong kong

Hong Kong island nighttime skyline

Hong Kong island nighttime skyline

Hong Kong island nighttime skyline

dannielle wine

It actually cost me 200 HKD because my 5 HKD change coin rolled into the water as I struggled to stop my wine from spilling. Priorities.

Symphony of Lights

The bargain memories didn’t stop there – I alighted the boat on the other side of the harbour and grabbed a spot on Tsim Tsa Shui Promenade in time for the world renowned Symphony of Lights. It’s a dazzling laser show across Victoria Harbour and it takes place every night, meaning tourists in Hong Kong can enjoy world class entertainment – completely free of charge.

Hong Kong island nighttime skyline symphony of lights

To be honest, the lasers are a little underwhelming. Hong Kong Island’s glittering skyline put them to shame!

Lan Kwai Fong

I took the MTR back to Hong Kong Island and wound my way back to the hotel via Lan Kwai Fong, the buzzing nightlife area sprawling across the mid-levels. It reminded me of a more chic version of Thailand’s island bars, and for the first time on my solo weekend break, I wished I had company.

I ate dinner at dodgy place with ‘Roast Children’ on the menu. I hope they meant chicken…

Hong Kong food menu

Another option was Phoenix Talons. Mmm.

Getting around Hong Kong

I took the airport express train from Hong Kong Airport to Central Station on HK Island then jumped in a taxi to my hotel. The MTR is incredibly easy to use and travelling between Kowloon and Central on HK Island cost 10.50 HKD each way. Alternatively, you can buy tickets for Big Bus Tours online before you arrive if you’re short on time or would rather  have someone else navigate for you.

Where to stay on Hong Kong Island

Accommodation is the aspect of travel that can rack up your overdraft. I booked a mid-range hotel on Hong Kong Island, and enjoyed creature comforts like a hairdryer in the room and nobody snoring in the hostel bunk next to me, without the hefty price tag attached to hotels like The Peninsula – although how amazing would it be to stay there one day?! The best thing about Hotel Butterfly on Hollywood was that every movie-themed room comes with a smart phone for guests to use, meaning I saved on data roaming and never get lost during my stay. I’m not sure I want to go back to winging it with WiFi after this little luxury! I’m ruined.

Hotel Butterfly Hong Kong

Hotel Butterfly Hong Kong

Hotel Butterfly Hong Kong

There were butterflies on my pillow and an honest to God director’s chair set up in the lobby. I’ve never stayed in a themed hotel before and though I’m not sure how butterflies relate to the Hollywood theme, it definitely made sleeping there feel special. The lobby smells good, so that’s another bonus.

Buy tickets to attractions in Hong Kong (including Disneyland!) on Viator

I was surprised at how much I’d managed to see of Hong Kong Island on my first day, and thrilled to find that a trip to Hong Kong really doesn’t have to cost massive amounts. I’d got a bird’s eye view of the city, ate some ridiculously good food, and even enjoyed a sunset cruise – and I’d hardly spent anything!

On day two I explored Kowloon on the other side of the harbour, and there I visited the world’s cheapest Michelin starred dim sum restaurant, shopped Hong Kong’s heaving markets, and walked the length of Nathan Road, Hong Kong’s main artery.

Have you been to Hong Kong Island? Did I miss anything? Let me know if you’re planning a weekend in Hong Kong and have questions, and as always you can follow me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to keep up with the adventures from Dubai and beyond.

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15 Comments

  1. July 22, 2016 / 3:26 pm

    Oh Dear good to meet another dubaian! Hongkong is amazing we would LOVE to move there next, great guide <3

  2. July 23, 2016 / 7:47 pm

    I love how you’ve covered so many different aspects of Hong Kong Island in one post without it being too much! Great succinct post 🙂

  3. July 23, 2016 / 9:27 pm

    Dannielle, thanks for sharing your day out on Hong Kong Island. We visited there a few years ago and also had a great time exploring! I loved how you were able to find great cheap and free options to explore and make the most of your short visit.

  4. July 23, 2016 / 10:41 pm

    Great pictures! I really enjoyed the in-depth guide of your trip! Sounds like a fun tim!

  5. MariaAbroad
    July 24, 2016 / 3:39 am

    Last time I went to HK, I was sick, so I didn’t get to see too much. I really want to go back and really experience it again!

  6. Klipdrifters
    July 24, 2016 / 5:46 pm

    The symphony of lights sound cool! There is so much to do in Hong Kong! Sound like you had an amazing trip,

  7. Lisa
    July 24, 2016 / 6:29 pm

    Amazing and shocking pics. Isn´t Hong Kong a big deal when it comes to culture shocks? Especually when it´s the first time being there?

  8. traciehowe
    July 25, 2016 / 6:41 am

    “Fake fancy”, I love it! It looks like you had an amazing time! I would love to have a coffee up there with that view. Wow!

  9. July 25, 2016 / 10:42 am

    Hong Kong is wonderfully vibrant, the art scene is thriving and evident in its street art! The food there is fantastic too, although I’ve never had any Roasted Children 😉

  10. July 25, 2016 / 8:20 pm

    I loved Hong Kong so much. I was on a very low budget when I visited and I remember searching for as many free things to do as possible. I enjoyed exploring Hong Kong island and I even hiked Victoria Peak instead of taking the funicular. 🙂

  11. July 27, 2016 / 10:41 am

    I would let go of that 5HKD too in order to save my wine 😀 Nice way to spend two days in HK!

  12. July 27, 2016 / 12:56 pm

    Awesome post. We loved Hong Kong when we visited a few months ago. A few more budget tips: Take the bus from the airport, it’s super cheap. Take the trolley when you can, buy stuff at Ladies Market, and take the bus to the top of Victoria Peak. We wished we had taken the train, just for the experience, but there was a huge line so we skipped that!

  13. July 28, 2016 / 6:30 am

    Hi, great write up on Hong Kong. I am confused about what “Police Married Quarters” are/was?

  14. July 28, 2016 / 10:20 am

    I heard a lot of good things about HongKong, it’s like one of those cities that Asian version of the west 🙂

  15. July 29, 2016 / 7:04 am

    Your post brought back wonderful memories of HK, we had been here last Christmas and had a whale of a time. Glad to see your pictures and relive some of the memories.