Hong Kong is one of the world’s great urban playgrounds, but this place has another side to its personality beyond the gleaming skyscrapers and shopping malls.
Three quarters of the territory is green, dotted with hiking trails and secluded beaches, not to mention dozens of outlying islands bobbing in the South China Sea, some just an easy ferry ride away. With the mainland megacities of Shenzhen and Guangzhou connected to central Hong Kong by high-speed train, the possibilities for wider exploration are vast.
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Here are eight of the best one-day excursions to enhance your next Hong Kong adventure.
Take a cable car to Po Lin Monastery and the Big Buddha
Travel time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
A pilgrimage to the serene Tian Tan Buddha in the lush hills of Lantau is mandatory for Hong Kong newbies. Clocking in at 34m (111ft) high (podium included), this bronze icon faces the Po Lin Monastery, a sprawling Buddhist complex linked to Tung Chung (the main town on Lantau) by cable car. The scenic 5.7km (3.5-mile) journey offers sweeping views of Tung Chung Bay and, for plane-spotters, the bustle of Hong Kong Airport.
How to get to Po Lin Monastery from Central: Ride the MTR from Hong Kong station to Tung Chung (35 minutes) and then take the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car for the final leg of the journey (25 minutes). You can also take the ferry to Mui Wo and then get Bus No. 2.
Get lost in the alleys of Tai O © Alex Cimbal / Shutterstock
Admire Hong Kong’s last remaining stilt houses at Tai O
Travel time: 1 hour, 45 minutes
Historically the home of the Tanka boat people, the fishing village of Tai O is an atmospheric maze of back alleys and street markets, but its big draw is a photogenic cluster of traditional stilt houses teetering over the water, some with a history spanning back 200 years. To extend your trip, consider a night’s stay at the boutique-styled Tai O Heritage Hotel, housed in a converted police station built in 1902.
How to get to Tai O from Central: Ride the MTR from Hong Kong station to Tung Chung (33 minutes) and then take Bus No. 11 to Tai O (1 hour). Otherwise, take the ferry to Mui Wo and then change to Bus No. 1.
Hang out on Lamma, Hong Kong’s hippy island
Travel time: 30 minutes
With its hidden beaches, car-free paths and countercultural vibes, laidback Lamma Island is the perfect tonic for when the hustle of Hong Kong gets too much. Yung Shue Wan is the main village, with cafes, vegetarian restaurants and new-age shops aplenty. Across the island at Sok Kwu Wan, take your pick from a string of seafood restaurants serving dishes like steamed whole grouper or fried clams with black bean sauce.
How to get to Lamma Island from Central: Take a ferry from Central’s Outlying Islands ferry terminal (pier 4) to either Yung Shue Wan pier or Sok Kwu Wan pier.
Discover another side of Macau on a day trip from Hong Kong © aluxum / Getty Images
Explore the Portuguese heritage of Macau
Travel time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Macau might be known as China’s Las Vegas for its casinos, but the island was a Portuguese colony for 300 years and retains pockets of European colonial architecture. Admire the ruins of the Church of St Paul, a 17th-century cathedral, graze on Portuguese custard tarts in the old town center and then ride the cable car up to Guia Fortress, a historic military complex containing China’s first lighthouse and a chapel built by Portuguese nuns.
How to get to Macau from Central: Take the MTR one stop to Sheung Wan and then catch a high-speed ferry from the Hong Kong-Macau Ferry Terminal to the Macau Maritime Ferry Terminal (1 hour).
Ride the bullet train to mainland China
Travel time: 45 minutes
Outside of pandemic control periods, the Chinese megacity of Shenzhen is just minutes away from Hong Kong by bullet train. Beyond the bragging rights of making it to the mainland, Shenzhen offers visitors dazzling modern architecture; a thriving arts, shopping and dining scene; and some deliciously retro theme parks. Best of all, you can pick up a temporary visa at the border crossing with minimal fuss, though you’re not permitted to travel beyond the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone.
How to get to Shenzhen from Central: Take the MTR to West Kowloon station, go through immigration and then catch the high-speed train to Futian Station (14 minutes). If you need a visa, ride the MTR to the Luohu border crossing instead (1 hour) and get a five-day visa on arrival on the spot.
Admire nature’s handiwork at Hong Kong Global Geopark © Dragon Claws / Shutterstock
Marvel at the otherworldly scenery of Hong Kong Global Geopark
Travel time: 2 hours
Hong Kong Global Geopark, a Unesco-listed natural playground, is home to stunning and surreal volcanic rock columns and sea caves – think Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway but yellower. Tour operators run boat, kayak and SUP excursions into the Geopark, but you can also take a trip to the East Dam Reservoir and get up close without leaving dry land. The Volcano Discovery Centre in Sai Kung advises on the best ways to explore.
How to get to Hong Kong Global Geopark from Central: Take the MTR to Choi Hung station (30 minutes) and then take Hong Kong Green Minibus No. 1 to Sai Kung Pier and the Geopark Volcano Discovery Centre (35 minutes).
Go temple and beach hopping on Cheung Chau island
Travel time: 1 hour
With its white-sand beaches, tumbledown villages and Taoist temples, Cheung Chau Island makes a delightful day trip from central Hong Kong. Be sure to hike or bike your way to the island’s southwestern corner to chill by the Reclining Rocks, picnic optional. The usually tranquil island packs out each year for the Cheung Chau Bun Festival, a spectacular event of parades, “floating children” and a race up bamboo towers to snatch the sacred bun.
How to get to Cheung Chau from Central: Take a ferry from Central’s Outlying Islands ferry terminal (pier 5), either regular (1 hour) or fast (40 minutes).
Hike around Hong Kong’s wild side on Sai Kung © ahei / Getty Images
Hike and swim in unspoiled Sai Kung
Travel time: 2 hours
One of the last havens left in Hong Kong for hikers and swimmers, Sai Kung offers trails through pristine scenery to secluded coves and picture-perfect beaches. The Tai Long Wan Hiking Trail passes four gorgeous beaches with some steep climbs and beautiful views along the route. You’ll find dining spots at Sai Wan and Ham Tin beaches, and it’s even possible to camp on the sand, or you can head back to Sai Kung Town by speedboat and have dinner on the waterfront.
How to get to Sai Kung from Central: Ride the MTR to Choi Hung station (30 minutes) and then take Hong Kong Green Minibus No. 1 to Sai Kung Pier (35 minutes). Take a taxi to the East Dam of High Island Reservoir (30 minutes) for the full hike or get a taxi to Sai Wan Pavilion for a one-hour hike to the beach.