Best beaches in Hong Kong: where to surf, where to avoid sharks and where to relax on the sand and watch the world go by
With 41 public beaches and dozens more, the city’s shores offer extraordinary variety of options for fun, adventure and people-watching
From the highly developed southern shores of Hong Kong Island to the wilder coastlines of Sai Kung, the city boasts an extraordinary variety of beaches. They are among our most valuable assets, especially in the sweltering summer heat when the best option for outdoorsy types is to stay close to water. And every beach has its own character, its own story to tell.
The Leisure and Cultural Services Department operates 41 gazetted public beaches that are staffed by lifeguards and equipped with shark prevention nets. There are also dozens of non-gazetted beaches, which lack the facilities of government-run beaches, and appeal more to nature lovers and those who want to get away from the urban hustle and bustle.
The site of shark attacks: Silverstrand Beach, Sai Kung
Situated just off Clearwater Bay road, Silverstrand Beach is the one most likely to send a shiver down the spine. Why? Because this was the site of several shark attacks between 1991 and 1995. Six shark-related fatalities took place across Hong Kong in this period – with several in the vicinity of this small beach.
Little is known about the attacks and there is not even agreement about what species was responsible, though it was likely a tiger shark. As a direct consequence of the attacks, the government sank millions into installing shark prevention nets at public beaches.
Happily, there hasn’t been a shark attack in Hong Kong waters since 1995. But sightings of the fearsome creatures are also down, and that’s not necessarily a good thing: conservation experts say the presence of sharks can be a sign of a healthy ecosystem. Should sharks reappear, they say, it should be a cause for celebration, not panic.
The annual water quality ranking of this beach has stayed “fair” since 1996, and a “good” ranking was tallied in 2011 and 2015, according to the Environmental Protection Department.
Best for fun: Kwun Yam Beach, Cheung Chau
This small beach on the island of Cheung Chau is, arguably, the best place in Hong Kong for water sports. This is where windsurfer Lee Lai-shan – aka San San – trained for the Atlanta Olympics in 1996. Lee made history by winning Hong Kong’s first ever Olympic gold, despite receiving a painful jellyfish sting just as her race began.
The annual water quality ranking of the beach has been “good” since 1998. As well as windsurfing, the water sports clubs at Kwun Yam offer kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Historic Cheung Chau, an island 10km southwest of Hong Kong Island, is a cultural treasure in its own right.
It is home to the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, which takes place on the eighth day of the fourth month of the lunar calendar, usually in April or May. The festivities include parades, Taoist rituals and the iconic bun-snatching race, in which climbers race to the top of a 60-foot tower collecting steamed buns (since 2007, the buns have been replaced by synthetic versions).
Best for people-watching: Repulse Bay Beach, Hong Kong Island
Those who don’t like crowds: stay away. Visitor numbers fluctuate, but Repulse Bay on the south side of Hong Kong Island is consistently among the most popular beaches in the city, attracting large tour groups throughout the year.
Since 1990, the beach has achieved a “good” annual water quality ranking. Spanning 292 metres, it’s also one of the longest beaches in Hong Kong, capable of accommodating tens of thousands of sun-hungry bodies. If it all gets a bit much, of course, visitors can retreat to one of Repulse Bay’s upscale eateries to cool off. The area, after all, is home to Hong Kong’s rich and famous – the city’s wealthiest man, billionaire Li Ka-shing, lives nearby.
A three-bedroom flat measuring 1,600 square feet is on sale for HK$55 million (US$7 million), whereas a villa nearby costs about HK$120 million. And the famous Repulse Bay Hotel, which was the setting for Eileen Chang’s influential novella Love in a Fallen City, was demolished in 1982 to make room for all-new luxury flats. In its place stands a replica featuring the same high ceilings and tiled roof recalling colonial days – it’s now a shopping centre with restaurants.
Best for adventurers: Big Wave Bay (Tai Long Wan), Sai Kung
Not to be confused with Big Wave Bay in Shek O, this Sai Kung bay, named for its surfable waves, is a hit with local wind surfers, attracting up to 100 surfers and swimmers at the height of summer – though if you are going out, be mindful of the bay’s dangerous rip currents that have claimed lives.
The annual water quality ranking of the beach has been “fair” or “good” since 2008. Thanks to its remoteness, Tai Long is still comparatively unspoilt and famous for its beautiful scenery. It takes a bit of a hike to get there, and is located near two equally stunning beaches: Ham Tin Beach, where archaeologists have discovered Neolithic and Bronze Age artefacts, and Tung Beach.
There are a number of ways to get there: catch the 94 bus from Sai Kung to Pak Tam Au, then embark on a 90-minute hike; take the 94 bus to Chek Keng village and hike for 60 minutes; or catch the 29R minibus or take a taxi to Sai Wan Pavilion and hike 90 minutes.
Lazy adventurers, on the other hand, can hire a speedboat from Sai Kung town or from Wong Shek Pier.
The most polluted?
Sadly, there’s too much competition in this category to pick a winner. Every kind of human-produced rubbish imaginable washes up on our city’s shores. No Hong Kong beach is immune.
Plastics are the worst offenders. For years it was widely thought plastics would not break down in seawater and that this was a bad thing. The reality is worse: plastics in fact decompose, and when they do, they enter the ecosystem, poisoning everything. If you want to make a positive impact on Hong Kong’s beaches, there’s no shortage of clean-up events throughout the year. The Environmental Protection Department now lists major scheduled local clean-up projects on its Clean Shorelines portal.
But conservationists point out that without a dramatic reduction in the use of single-use plastics worldwide, beach clean-ups are little more than a cosmetic exercise.
Earlier this year, campaigners hailed Taiwan’s announcement that it would ban single-use plastic straws, bags and utensils by 2030. The question now is: will Hong Kong follow suit?