The New York of the East, Hong Kong is a tiny yet mind-blowing island. It’s a city of juxtaposition, where Chinese tradition meets international modernity. While it’s an adults’ haven with uber-luxe hotels, wild sporting events (Hong Kong Sevens and Happy Valley races), high-end dining and duty-free shopping; it’s also a brilliant family-friendly holiday destination. The glittering metropolis draws families from far and wide with some of the best theme parks in Asia, invigorating hiking trails, great beaches, unique local attractions, awesome parks and delicious food. It’s THE city break you can’t miss this year. Why not add a few more kid-friendly travel destinations to your wishlist while you’re at it? Check out our travel guides to Kuala Lumpur, Sea Gypsy and our top 5 last-minute family holidays for inspiration.
Before we unveil all the fabulous activities you’ll be enjoying on your Hong Kong trip, it’s wise to raise the issue of weather. Hong Kong is at its loveliest in November/December and March/April when skies are a sunny blue, temperatures bob around 21 degrees, and the sapping humidity of July and August is thankfully absent.
Top 5 kid activities in Hong Kong
1. Theme parks
No self-respecting kids’ guide to Hong Kong can start at any other place than Disneyland! It’s truly a magical place where every child’s eyes will shine bright with wonder (and, ahem… adults too). It’s well connected to HK Central by the efficient and affordable Mass Transit Railway (MTR). The kids will go wild when they board the Disney train with iconic Mickey Mouse-shaped windows and themed decor.
Disneyland HK is perfectly pitched at the sub-10-year-old market, with rides including Dumbo the Flying Elephant, It’s a Small World, the Cinderella Carousel, Mad Hatter Tea Cups, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, 4D cinema (with strawberry scents and real rain), Jungle River Cruise and the Toy Story Slinky Dog Spin. Beware, the height restriction for Space Mountain is a low one metre, and young riders can be driven to tears in the pitch black with flashing lights and gut-wrenching dips.
Don’t miss the opportunity to pap a snap or two with the much-loved Disney characters like Minnie and Mickey Mouse, Snow White and Donald Duck who wander around the park. This summer there’s a Frozen Village sure to delight all Anna, Elsa, Kristoff and Olaf devotees. Head straight there when park gates open at 10 am to secure a few of the limited tickets to the show. You can even stay overnight at the Victorian-era themed Disneyland Hotel!
Hong Kong Disneyland, Lantau Island, Hong Kong, p.+852 3550 3388; www.hongkongdisneyland.com
Ocean Park is another fun-filled theme park to entertain your little adventurers. It caters for all ages, but is probably more suitable for the slightly older child than Disneyland (ages five and up). It not only has a good array of amusement park rides, but also boasts an amazing mammal park and aquarium. Your kids will adore the bamboo-munching resident giant pandas An An and Jia Jia in the Amazing Asian animals exhibit. Don’t miss feeding time!
Jump aboard the Ocean Express ‘funicular’ train for a speedy and fun ride through an excavated tunnel between the park’s two main lands. Make sure to reserve some time for the impressive Grand Aquarium where you’ll explore the ocean depths and witness thousands of fish and sea creatures from the world’s largest aquarium dome. The remarkable 13m wide acrylic viewing panel is also a sight to behold. It’s a full-day adventure at Ocean Park.
Ocean Park, Aberdeen, Hong Kong p.(852) 3923 2323; www.oceanpark.com.hk
With its majestic mountains and spectacular harbour views, Hong Kong is an awesome place for family hiking. The age and stamina of your kids is key; you don’t want to find yourself schlepping them up the hills on your shoulders, so we’ve hand selected four trails with gentle undulations and paved tracks. Your junior entourage should be capable of surviving a ramble at Pok Fu Lam Country Park, Tai Tam Country Park, Bowen Road and Sai Kung Country Park at Pak Tam Chung. For more info on Hong Kong’s 24 Parks check out the Hong Kong Agriculture Fisheries and Conservation Department website. And like a good scout leader, be prepared with maps, water, Dora the Explorer Band-Aids, sunscreen and snacks.
The mere mention of Hong Kong tends to summon up images of gritty, edgy skyscraper-lined streets, not idyllic beach landscapes. Surprisingly, there are some lovely, well-equipped beaches where the South China Sea ebbs onto clean white sands (think lifeguards, swimmers pavilions with showers and toilets, kids’ playgrounds and BBQ pits). But we aren’t talking pristine turquoise waters, so best to check the pollution levels and water quality on the Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department website before donning your swim suits.
A few of our fave spots to park your beach umbrella are Repulse Bay Beach (for easy access); Shek O (for beachside cafes); Trio Beach (for clean water); St. Stephen’s Beach Stanley (for serenity); Clearwater Bay beaches in the New Territories (for facilities); Chung Hom Kok Beach (for a brilliant playground); Turtle Cove (for calm waters), and Big Wave Bay Beach (for surfing rollers).
4. The Peak Tram
No visit to Hong Kong is complete without a jaunt on the vintage Peak Tram as it climbs near-vertical slopes to the Peak viewing platform. It travels up past the achingly hip mid levels, amidst green trees to reveal the stunning Hong Kong skyline. There are also plenty of small souvenirs for kids to take home. Stop in at the top at Madame Tussauds wax museum and let your budding soccer star strike a pose next to Cristiano Ronaldo!
Hong Kong has plenty of wide open spaces to take a breather from the bustling city, and the shoebox Hong Kong hotel rooms. Two parks we tried, tested and approved are Hong Kong Park and Kowloon Park. Hong Kong Park is brilliant because it is pram-friendly, it features a six-level play space, greenhouse, and a ginormous (3000s square foot) caged bird aviary. Kids of all ages will happily wander through the park and bird enclosure for hours.
Hong Kong Park, 19 Cotton Tree Drive, Central, Hong Kong Island, p.+852 2521 5041.
Kowloon Park has a total area of 13.3 hectares perfect for those who like to roam! Our favourite part is the tranquil Chinese Garden complete with immaculately manicured spaces, lotus pond, rock waterfall and resident turtles. And, if you’re staying on Hong Kong Island it will give you a chance to enjoy a ride on the old-school Star Ferry. If you have any local friends with contacts, see if you can score a ride on a traditional wooden junk with iconic red sails.
Kowloon Park, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, p.+852 2724 3344.
Where to eat
All this fun is bound to make your troupe ravenous. Here are a few spots we refueled at along the way:
- Classified is a top centrally located breakfast spot, sure to satisfy the whole family with bacon and eggs, super-food smoothies and artisanal coffee. Classified, 108 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, p. +852 2525 3454.
- Corner Kitchen Cafe is another solid option for rustic eats in the city. If you miss breakfast, don’t fear, the red velvet cupcakes and roast potato fries are to die for. Yum. Corner Kitchen Cafe, 226 Hollywood Road, Hong Kong, p. +852 2547.8008.
- When in Hong Kong, one must eat as the locals do. Streets are lined with traditionl Chinese dim sum/yum cha joints. Pick one that’s bursting at the seams and join the queue. It can be a bit of pot luck with Chinese-only menus, but ask for a picture menu and if all else fails pointing at fellow diner’s choices should suffice. Kids love dumplings and rice, and it’s a cheap way to fill hungry tummies.
- If you’re zonked post-Disneyland why not order in? Checkmate Pizza, the home of Hong Kong’s largest pizza (30inches!), will deliver a pizza so insanely large it must be folded to get through the door! It’s worth it just to see the kids’ reaction!
- Book a babysitter and hit the town. Hong Kong is renowned for its vibrant night life, so it would be a shame to miss out on the action. We felt young and alive again lining up outside the no-booking resto Chom Chom. Fresh, spicy, local Vietnamese food, beer and cocktails went down a treat. Chom Chom, G/F Block A, No. 58-60 Peel Street, Central, Hong Kong.
- Post-dinner take a HK red cab to Ping Pong Gintoneria, the self-proclaimed hip spot for stylish sipsmiths and cocktail casualistas alike. We like the industrial warehouse chic vibe and the provocative artwork adorning the concrete walls. Ping Pong Gintoneria, 129 Second Street, L/G Nam Cheong House, Sai Ying Pun, Hong Kong.