So you decided to take the plunge and bought your flight to Hong Kong. Grab your camera and your tripod because there is no shortage of spectacular vistas, night lights, magical markets, bustling streets and vibrant scenes. The Hong Kong territory boasts the highest number of skyscrapers of any city and is one of the most densely populated areas in the world.
If you enjoy street photography or urban photography, Hong Kong will be one of the best places on Earth. The locals are friendly, and you’ll catch jaw-dropping, colorful scenes at every turn. And if you enjoy the outdoors, you can get out on two feet and hike to one of the many venerable viewpoints of this amazing city and bay.
Note: Hong Kong is divided into two parts, Kowloon on the mainland to the north and Hong Kong island to the south. Much of this post will reference those two areas.
Chi Lin Nunnery
Surrounded by urban high rises and busy streets, this large Buddhist temple in east Kowloon is surprisingly peaceful. Here you can enjoy the many gardens, fountains and waterfalls, lotus flowers and ponds, teaming goldfish and sculpted trees and landscaping, all against a backdrop of golden Buddhas and traditional wooden temple architecture. Get here via the Diamond Hill metro station.
Recommended for: Architecture, people, flowers and nature
Dragon’s Back Trail
Stretch your legs and get ready for some steps and hills. On Dragon’s Back Trail, you can explore the natural side of Hong Kong Island. The many points along the trail will afford beautiful views towards the coastline, the bays and the near countless islands beyond. Best access point is at To Tei Wan, and you can hike from here along the ridge and down to Big Wave Bay Beach.
Recommended for: Landscapes and seascapes
Goldfish Market & Ladies Market
Bustling with activity and opportunities for action shots and urban street photography, these are open air markets in Kowloon. You can walk the few blocks, north to south on Tung Choi Street and hit both areas at the same time. Goldfish Market is just what it sounds like, with lots of goldfish and other fish and sea creatures for sale in little, clear plastic bags. Ladies Market originally got its name for selling inexpensive products for women, but these days you can find just about anything here. Keep your camera at the ready and you can catch those fleeting, special street photography moments.
Recommended for: Street and urban photography
Hong Kong Island waterfront
After walking back and forth and scouring the Victoria Harbor waterfront near the Star Ferry pier and the Maritime Museum for the best photo spots, I think the best view can be had from Pier Number 9 and Pier Number 10.
At Pier 9 you’ll see the local folk fishing and hanging out, and you can also enjoy a full panorama of Kowloon, the harbor and also much of Hong Kong island and the Central district. Pier 10 is the perfect place for a sea-level view of the Central cityscape and the nightly light show at 8pm. (bring your tripod!)
Recommended for: Street photography and nighttime long exposures
Prepare to go up, up and up some more, for what almost feels like a top-down view of Hong Kong and Kowloon. This is a very strenuous hike, so make sure you have good shoes and plenty of water. Think lots of rocks and roots and steep steps. The payoff is that when you reach the top of Lion Rock, you’ll find yourself immersed in nature and clouds and sky and also looking almost straight down at one of the best views in the world.
To find the trailhead(s), you can start near Fat Chong Temple and take the steps from the reservoir (on Shatin Pass Road), or from the other side at Lion Rock Park. My recommendation is that you start at one side, hike one way to the top, and then come down the other way.
Recommended for: Landscapes, cityscapes, night shots
Man Mo Temple
Get ready to pay tribute to the gods of war and literature. The Taoist Man Mo Temple was built in the mid-1800s and is now tucked in between soaring skyscrapers and tenement buildings, in Central district on Hong Kong island.
Here you will find an intimate and quiet temple setting, complete with ornate architecture, gilded carvings, traditional lanterns and hanging incense coils. The smoke and incense from the many coils can make for dramatic photographs. (but if you have trouble with your lungs or breathing you might want to limit your stay inside to a few minutes)
Recommended for: Temple architecture and detail shots
Mong Kok markets
For a taste of “real” street life in Hong Kong, take the metro to Mong Kok and walk the area between Argyle Street, Mong Kok Road and Nathan Road. From barber shops, to fruit and meat and fish vendors, to tools and food and clothing, to live chickens for sale, you’ll see it all here.
The classic overhead billboards, some with the old fashioned neon characters, abound here as well. For street photography and night photographers, you’ll find no shortage of scenes to snap.
Recommended for: Street photography and urban life, also for nighttime and long exposures
You may have to jockey for position to enjoy the famous nighttime view of Hong Kong island over the harbor. But get there early and set up your tripod. Anywhere along the waterfront and public pier between Star Ferry and Avenue of Stars is a good option. With their red or blue sails, you will also see a few of the old fashioned junk boats plying the waters, but they are just for tourists these days of course.
Also worth sticking around for is the Symphony of Lights lightshow across the harbor, nightly at 8pm. The Central skyline and clouds will shine with LEDs, spotlights, laser beams, ambient lights and projected displays.
Recommended for: Cityscapes and night photography
Tai O Village
Tai O is on the far side of Lantau Island, so plan to spend some time getting here from the city. But they say that the atmosphere at Tai O fishing village is how Hong Kong was a century ago. Here you can watch the streetlife, fish markets and view the small stilt buildings, houses and bamboo huts constructed near and over the waterways and tidal inlets.
Best to get here early, especially on weekends, as the town will fill up later in the day. The most convenient way to get here is via Mui Wo. Take the ferry from Kowloon to Mui Wo, and then a bus to Tai O. You can combine this trip with a visit to the giant Buddha at Ngong Ping. (keep reading below)
Recommended for: Fish markets, action and people, waterfront architecture
Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery
Set between green, forested hillsides, Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery is a must do in Hong Kong. Here you’ll find a towering pagoda, mausoleums, a monastery and hundreds of golden statues lining the way to the top. Easily accessed from the city by public transport, the monastery will also give you some nice views of Sha Tin district and the nearby urban area.
It’s uphill the entire way, and there are something like 400 steps to reach the top. So this is another case for bringing your own water.
Recommended for: City views, architecture and temple shots
Tian Tan Buddha at Ngong Ping
Ngong Ping is nothing really, just a fakey tourist trap. The real attraction is the Tian Tan Buddha. So take the public transport to Ngong Ping (bus or cable car) and walk east from the tourist traps as fast as your feet can go. Straight ahead you’ll see the Po Lin Monastery, which is also worth a quick visit, but climbing up and to the right will be the steps to the colossal, bronze Tian Tan Buddha.
The views from up here are really spectacular, with natural landscape and coastline seeming to stretch to infinity, with dozens of little islands dotting the panorama. There is also a lot to explore, inside and around the statue. For the best photos, I recommend coming here in the late afternoon. There will be fewer crowds, and the faraway, fairytale landscapes will look postcard-ready.
Recommended for: Landscapes and seascapes
This is it, a rite of passage and the crown jewel of a visit to Hong Kong. From the lookouts on Victoria Peak, the skyscrapers of Central district and Hong Kong island are so close, you might feel like you can reach out and touch them. And with the ocean blue of Victoria Harbor, Kowloon and the mountains beyond, I’m not exaggerating when I say the view from up here is breathtaking. Get your camera and your tripod ready, because sunset and blue hour shots will be stunning. If you’re at the Central district waterfront or ferry piers, the best way to get here is using CityBus Route 15, starting from Exchange Square.
There are several places to enjoy the views. The most well-known view is from Peak Tower at the top, but this will be jammed with crowds on most nights. There is a better (and free) viewpoint from Findlay Path, just to the east of the tower. If you have time, you should also check out the lookouts at Luggard Road (north east from Peak Tower) and Stubbs Road (one of the first stops on the bus up from Central station)
Recommended for: Cityscapes, especially at sunset and blue hour
Additional Creative Commons photos from Flickr:
Best Photo Spots
Plunge into the streets of vibrant Hong Kong with this guide to the city’s best photo spots. All these spots are open to the public, so you shouldn’t have any problem getting around. Do you know any other favorite photo spots in Hong Kong? Send me a message or comment!