If you’re considering backpacking in Hong Kong, you’ve probably heard that Asia’s world city is a pricey place to visit. But is Hong Kong expensive for tourists and backpackers? The truth is, between cheap food and amazing free attractions, it is possible to explore Hong Kong on a budget. Here are Hong Kong travel tips to make the most of your money in this amazing city.
The prices used below are in Hong Kong Dollar (HKD) and United States Dollar (USD).
1. Stay outside the main tourist areas
First things first — where to stay in Hong Kong? A common answer will be Tsim Sha Tsui or Central. I’m here to tell you that’s not necessary. While those areas are conveniently located between major attractions, you’re more likely to find cheap Hong Kong budget hotels in the outlying neighbourhoods.
You’ll also find fewer tourists and cheaper food outside of Central and Tsim Sha Tsui. Consider Sheung Wan in Hong Kong or Yau Ma Tei and Sham Shui Po in Kowloon. With Hong Kong’s excellent public transport, you won’t feel isolated even in a smaller neighbourhood.
If you do want to stay in the main tourist neighbourhood, Tsim Sha Tsui has more cheap guesthouses (and the infamous Chungking Mansions).
2. Plan your lodging carefully!
Do not show up to Hong Kong with no plans and expect to find a cheap hostel bed at the last minute. It won’t go well for you (speaking from experience). Book well in advance to secure a good deal in a good area. Hostel beds average around HKD200 (USD25) a night.
Since lodging will be one of your biggest expenses, consider Couchsurfing or staying in a hostel that will allow you to trade a few hours of labour for a bed.
When planning your trip to Hong Kong on a budget, make sure you avoid Chinese national holidays. While they might not be celebrated in Hong Kong, tens of thousands of mainland Chinese travellers visit the city at those times, driving hotel prices sky-high.
3. Enjoy the FREE stuff
Hong Kong might have a reputation as an expensive city, but some of the most famous and memorable experiences are absolutely free, making travelling to Hong Kong on a budget so much easier.
Take in the Victoria Harbour light show, climb to the Peak for the best view over the city, visit traditional temples or hike to the Big Buddha on Lantau Island.
While you can do any of these in a more expensive way (for example, a boat tour on the harbour or a cable car on Lantau Island) there’s no need to spend the money. Make sure you prioritise these free experiences especially if you’re travelling Hong Kong on a budget. Arguably the best thing to do in Hong Kong is simply walking around and enjoying the neon lights and general chaos. Sensory overload is always free!
4. Avoid touristy markets
One of the most common travel to Hong Kong tips is to visit the open-air markets, like the Ladies Market and the Temple Street Night Market. These are great places to experience the atmosphere of a Chinese market, but they mostly cater to tourists now. Expect lots of knock off goods and ‘I love HK’ t-shirts.
For a more authentic, “only in Hong Kong” experience, try the Goldfish Market or Flower Market in Kowloon. For souvenirs, the antique shops along Hollywood road and the Cat Street market are good choices. Whichever market you end up at, make sure you bargain!
5. Get out of the city centre
Outside of the densely packed urban core of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, there are dozens of small fishing villages, beautiful beaches, and vast stretches of protected land. Much of this rural side of Hong Kong, scattered across outlying islands and the new territories, is easily accessible via the amazing public transport network. Ferry rides to these islands are beautiful and likely to be a highlight of your day.
Tai O village on Lantau island is a popular destination for sightseeing and seafood. Lama Island is another easy-to-access beach hangout. The Dragon’s Back hike is a classic, and Ham Tin beach is a good, less-trafficked beach alternative. There are dozens of destinations worth exploring all over the Hong Kong area. A day trip to one of these places is also likely cheaper than the popular day trip to Macau.
6. Get an Octopus card (or a short-term tourist card)
An Octopus card is the Hong Kong public transport card, which will allow you to access the MTR without having to buy tokens each time. Not only can you use it on the metro, buses, trams and ferries, but it’s also accepted at lots of convenience stores and vending machines. The card will give you minor discounts on the metro fare and generally make your life in Hong Kong a lot easier. This is one key to travelling Hong Kong on a budget.
If you’re only in town for a few days, there are set-value tourist cards that include a round trip to the airport and unlimited metro rides for three days. (Although they’re not always the cheapest option).
7. Take the bus from the airport
If you want to keep transportation costs down, skip the airport express train, which costs HKD110 (USD14). The Cityflyer takes longer but won’t cost more than HKD50 (USD6). It’s a double-decker bus and there are special racks for luggage.
8. Ride the tram and ferry
Not only is Hong Kong’s tramway (called the Ding Ding) the most atmospheric way to get around the city, it’s also cheaper than the metro. While it’s slower, you can save a few HKD and enjoy an above-ground ride on the double-decker tram.
Similarly, a trip across Victoria Harbour on the Star Ferry is cheaper than the metro. It is only HKD3.5 (USD0.50), making it a great alternative to the popular sunset harbour cruise.
9. Eat Chinese food
Keeping your Hong Kong trip expenses down is one reason to avoid Western fare and stick with Asian food while you’re in Hong Kong. The best reason, however, is that Hong Kong has some of the best Chinese food in the world. There’s loads of delicious, cheap food in Hong Kong. Not only is the food amazing, some of the best stuff falls within a backpacker budget.
Dai pai dong (open air restaurants), cha chaan teng (local cafes serving Hong Kong comfort food), cooked food markets, and street food stalls all serve up affordable feasts. In fact, the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world is in Hong Kong. A meal for two at the Dim Sum classic Tim Ho Wan usually costs around HKD230 (USD30). Kam’s Roast Goose is another affordable Michelin-starred restaurant.
You don’t need to seek out Michelin stars for good food. Follow the crowds or ask the locals (many people speak good English, including cab drivers) for their recommendations on the best places to eat in Hong Kong on a budget. They will most likely point you to Hong Kong cheap restaurants.
10. Save money on alcohol
Alcohol is never cheap in a world city, and Hong Kong is no exception. Expect beer and cocktails at prices close to what you’d expect in a major European or North American city. Where Hong Kong drinking sets itself apart is the open container laws. You can drink legally on the street, so it’s easy to pregame on the way to a bar or club. Stop into one of the convenience stores on nearly every corner and pick up a drink or three for the road.
If you do want to drink in a bar, seek out Happy Hour deals! Hong Kong has some excellent drink discounts and two-for-one deals. For example, the famous rooftop bar Ce La Vie does Happy Hour specials every day from 3pm to 9pm.
11. Enjoy free parks
In addition to all the free attractions, Hong Kong’s beautiful parks are always free, helping you cut down your overall Hong Kong trip expenses. Escape the city in Kowloon Walled City Park or Nan Lian Garden, which are beautifully maintained Chinese-style gardens. For people-watching, try Hong Kong park.
12. Spend a night at the races
While it’s not free, a general admission ticket to Happy Valley racecourse will set you back at just HKD8 (USD1). (Sha Tin course in Kowloon is about the same). Even if you’re not interested in gambling, watching a horse race is a classic Hong Kong experience you can share with the locals. It’s an affordable and memorable night out, and a great way to see Hong Kong from a new perspective.