The best things to do on a Hong Kong layover, from airport entertainment to island hopping
If you’re fed up of airport lounges and duty free shopping, discover how to spice up your Hong Kong layover, whether it’s a quick three-hour stop or a full half-day stretch
It was a brisk winter night in Sai Kung when we heard some rustling in the bushes. A few seconds later, a dark figure emerged not far from our barbecue, flashlight affixed to his head, backpack sagging from his shoulders.
“Do you mind if I join you?” he asks, explaining that he was in town from Singapore – on a layover. “I’ve been hiking all day.”
After a day of walking the MacLehose Trail, his plan was to pitch a tent and catch some sleep before catching his next flight in the morning.
A remarkably efficient airport (almost no one queues for more than four and a half minutes to pass through security, according to the Airport Authority) and the speedy Airport Express mean that a layover in Hong Kong can be far more exciting than trying to doze off in an airport lounge. Even just a few hours between flights gives you enough time to leave the departures area for a quick Hong Kong adventure. Here are some suggestions for making the most of your layover.
3 hours: Explore the airport
Airlines such as Cathay Pacific recommend being at your gate no later than 40 minutes before the scheduled departure time, but even a three-hour layover should give you enough time to check out everything Hong Kong International Airport has to offer.
If you didn’t get your fill of entertainment on the plane, the UA IMAX cinema in Terminal 2’s SkyPlaza shopping mall boasts Hong Kong’s largest cinema screen. Plane spotters will love the nearby Aviation Discovery Centre, where you’ll find a flight simulator, exhibits on aviation and an outdoor sky deck where you can watch the action on the runway with binoculars.
If you’re feeling restless after your flight, play some golf – the virtual version, at least. GreenLive Air, also in Terminal 2, offers nine- and 18-hole golf simulations that you can play regardless of weather conditions.
6 hours: Walk the city
Hong Kong is best explored on foot, and a handful of companies offer walking tours that can keep your experience fun and focused.
Little Adventures in Hong Kong offers tailored private tours that allow you to plunge into the everyday life of public housing estates, street markets and the city’s oldest neighbourhoods. Its food tours are especially notable. Four food writers and a chef are available to work with you to develop a customised itinerary that can be enjoyed with up to two other friends. Want to experience the city’s best dim sum? Want to know more about Chiu Chow food? You’re in good hands.
If your layover coincides with one of the scheduled walking tours offered by Walk in Hong Kong, all the better. Every Tuesday and Saturday evening, the group offers a three-hour tour of neon-drenched Yau Ma Tei that ends with a dinner. Its Wednesday morning tours of Central and Sheung Wan, meanwhile, are a good introduction to culture and history of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods.
The similarly named Walk Hong Kong also offers a range of tours, including visits to some of the city’s military ruins, such as ruined 19th-century batteries and second world war battlefields.
9 hours: Island hop
Thanks to the Airport Express it takes less than 30 minutes to travel from the airport to the Central Ferry Piers, and from there you have access to a waterworld of options.
Pier 4 takes you to Lamma Island, where you can buy locally made, shrimp-infused chilli sauce from Golden Blue, a food shop in Yung Shue Wan; drink a local craft beer at the waterfront Lamma Grill; or peruse the selection of vinyl records and books at Bookworm Café. Next, hit up the beach at Hung Shing Yeh, or walk for one hour to Sok Kwu Wan, the island’s other main village, whose picturesque harbour is lined by seafood restaurants.
Board one of the lumbering ferries at Pier 5 and you’ll eventually find yourself on Cheung Chau, whose narrow, car-free lanes echo with the ring of bicycle bells. Once home to renowned pirate Cheung Po-tsai, Cheung Chau is a fun place to get lost.
Amble off in any direction and you may end up at the 200-year-old Pak Tai Temple with its gold-plated woodcraft, or at the Mini Great Wall, an amusingly named walking trail that has scenic views towards Lamma and Hong Kong Island.
Not far from the ferry pier, the Pink Pig Music Bar offers live music and craft beer in the evenings, while the Cheung Chau Windsurfing Centre is a lovely spot for a seaside sundowner.
Departing from Pier 6 takes you to the island of Peng Chau, once known for its bustling pottery industry. These days, it’s one of the more tranquil communities in Hong Kong, but it’s a good starting point for the Inter Islands ferry – a service that runs every two hours between Peng Chau, Mui Wo and Cheung Chau. Think of it as a budget cruise – a bit of sun and sea breeze before you get back to the recycled air and cramped seats of your next flight.
Taiwan’s southern tip – get away from it all, relax and enjoy gentle bike rides, birdwatching, and much more
12 hours: Go on a hike
Not many cities offer mountain hikes just minutes from the airport. Stretch your plane-weary legs by taking the S1 bus from the airport to Tung Chung, where you can make your way by foot across Hong Kong’s largest island, Lantau.
The government’s official hiking website offers trail maps and descriptions. Many of the best hikes can be had along the 70-kilometre Lantau Trail. This route loops around the island, passing by the giant Tian Tan Buddha, the 934-metre Lantau Peak and the fishing village of Tai O. The latter is a good place to end up, not only because of its excellent seafood restaurants, but because you can take a ferry back to Tung Chung – a scenic farewell to a memorable layover.