Hong Kong’s exceptional public transportation system makes it easy to explore the city between flights; whatever else you do, taking in the skyline of this sky-scraping metropolis is a must. We asked the Hong Kong staff of Context Travel—a company on Wendy’s WOW List of Trusted Travel Experts that runs cultural walking tours in cities worldwide—for their favorite ways to get a taste of Asia’s financial hub. Keep in mind that because of immigration, getting to and from the airport, and checking back in, you’ll need at least six hours between flights.
How to get out of the airport:
Train: The best option is the Airport Express, which takes you to Kowloon or Hong Kong island in no more than 24 minutes. The platform is located in the main terminal building, just after arrivals, and is clearly signed. Trains depart every ten minutes from 5:50 a.m. until 12:48 a.m. A round-trip ticket is 100 Hong Kong dollars (about U.S. $13); purchase tickets by the platform before boarding the train or on arrival at your destination.
Taxi: The Airport Express is the quicker and more convenient option, but you can also take a taxi to Kowloon for approximately HKD $270 (about U.S. $35) and to Central for approximately HKD $320 (about U.S. $40).
What to do with your luggage:
If you haven’t checked your baggage through to your final destination, stow it at the left luggage counter on Level 3 of Terminal 2, which is open daily from 5:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. Prices are HKD $12 (about U.S. $1.50) per hour or HKD $140 (about U.S. $18) for the day.
If you have a 6-hour layover:
Context recommends allowing three hours for immigration, exiting the airport, and traveling to and from your desired destination. So don’t bother leaving the airport unless your layover is at least six hours long.
But if you do have six hours, you’ve got enough time to explore Kowloon Island and absorb the famous Victoria Harbor skyline. The best route is to take the Airport Express to Kowloon Station (about 20 minutes); from here, you can either stretch your legs on a 15-minute stroll to the Jordan district, or jump in a taxi for the five-minute ride (HKD $22 /U.S. $3). Here you’ll find some interesting markets selling anything from fish balls to your fortune to the newest gadgets. It’s a great place to soak in the bustling atmosphere and see today’s Hong Kong firsthand. Grab a bite to eat in one of the many tasty eateries in Jordan before walking down Nathan Road toward the harbor, where you can walk along the Avenue of Stars to see the city’s iconic skyscrapers. It’s a striking view day or night, and a great place to sit with a drink or an ice cream.
Head back to Kowloon Station on foot through Kowloon Park (25 minutes) or via a ten-minute taxi ride. If you find that you are ahead of schedule and have an hour to spare, head up to Ozone, the highest bar in the world—located 118 floors above Kowloon Station inside the Ritz-Carlton—for an impressive panorama before boarding the Airport Express to get you speedily back to the airport.
If you’d like a more structured interlude, Context Travel offers a three-hour Today’s Hong Kongwalking tour of Kowloon Island. This allows first-timers to understand the social, cultural, and political changes that Hong Kong has experienced (and is still experiencing) since the 1997 British handover.
If you have a 9-hour layover:
A slightly longer layover allows you to head into the Central district and go up to Victoria Peak to admire the sprawling metropolis below. Take the Airport Express to Hong Kong Station (the final stop). Once you’re in Central, signage along the walkways will help you navigate to the “Mid-Levels Escalator,” which links different parts of the hilly city, from sea level to 443 feet high; take the escalator up to admire the bustling streets below. In the Central area Context offers a two-and-a-half-hour food tour; you could sample local delicacies, from dim sum to custard egg tarts.
Continue on your way up the escalator until you see a sign for Hollywood Road. Turn right down Hollywood Road toward Sheung Wan, and you’ll find yourself on an interesting street lined with antiques shops and ancient trees growing up the stone walls. Pop into Man Mo Temple, an interesting contrast to the financial center and towers surrounding it. Now it’s time to see Central and Kowloon from an outstanding vantage point: Victoria Peak. You could catch a tram, which leaves from the Lower Peak Tram terminus; however, the queues can sometimes be long, which may be risky during a layover. A safer bet is a taxi, which should take approximately 30 minutes each way and will cost about HKD $90 ($11.60). The top of the peak is the perfect place to soak up the view, walk off your plane legs, and grab a drink or a bite. When it’s time to leave, jump in a taxi back to Hong Kong station to board the Airport Express.
If you don’t have time to leave the airport:
The Hong Kong airport is a comfortable place to spend a few hours. There are a number of V.I.P. lounges that are free for business-class ticket holders; at some travelers can pay for a day pass. Terminal 2 is home to SkyPlaza and SkyMart (large shopping and restaurant areas), and there is even an IMAX cinema. For a bit of R&R, you can grab a foot massage or a spa treatment inside Terminal 1. Free Wi-Fi is also a plus, to help you pass the time or plan for your next leg of the trip.
An airport layover doesn’t have to mean that you’re stuck in the airport. In this series, local experts in the world’s most popular hub cities recommend sightseeing itineraries for every time frame.