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I’m either in Hong Kong, or I miss it. The city feels like a microcosm of the entire world, and nothing compares to its excitement and energy. There are hundreds of things to keep you busy in Hong Kong, especially when you’re 17. Here’s a look at some of the best teen-friendly activities that keep me looking forward to each family trip here.
1. Ride the Star Ferry
Crossing Victoria Harbour on Star Ferry, the 120-year-old boat route between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, has to be the quintessential Hong Kong experience. I try to ride it as often as possible, taking in views of the city and enjoying a windy 10-minute break on the way to my next adventure. Tickets cost less than $1 and ferries arrive every few minutes. Each terminal is in a fantastic neighborhood, so a Star Ferry ride makes it easy to explore both sides of Victoria Harbour in the same day.
2. Eat at One of the World’s Cheapest Michelin-Starred Restaurants
They’re easy to miss if you’re not looking for them — Tim Ho Wan’s restaurants look like any of the thousands of hectic Hong Kong hole-in-the-wall joints, but this unassuming chain is set apart by its long lines and Michelin star. Stop by for delicious char siu bao (steamed barbecue pork buns) and ha gow (shrimp dumplings) at any of the chain’s five Hong Kong locations. Tim Ho Wan is no secret, and its popularity means you could be waiting quite a while before you get a table. The first time I went, it took about three hours before I was sitting down, but eating there was well worth the wait.
3. See the City from The Peak
Get breathtaking views of the entire city by riding the tram up Victoria Peak, the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island, to an outdoor observatory overlooking the downtown area — the views are especially striking at nighttime, when Hong Kong’s spectacular lights are in full effect.
4. Wander Along Nathan Road
You won’t easily miss Kowloon’s main thoroughfare, Nathan Road. Its two miles are covered in countless stores, which feature enough neon lights — and pedestrians — to rival Times Square. Hong Kong teens hang out here (just look for the bubble tea shops!), while couples of all ages stroll together on the sidewalk.
Nathan Road begins in the city’s bustling Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood, home to a number of shopping malls, Chungking Mansions and Kowloon Park, one of the largest green spaces in downtown Hong Kong. As you wind your way through Jordan and Yau Ma Tei, take a detour to the world-famous Temple Street Night Market. Then, immerse yourself in Mong Kok, the city’s densest neighborhood. Aside from its crowds, this area is best known for its specialized shopping streets and markets, like the Goldfish Market, for instance. You can easily hop around Nathan Road on the MTR, Hong Kong’s metro system.
5. Visit the New Territories
Most visitors to Hong Kong spend all their time in Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, but I say no trip to Hong Kong is complete without a trip to the enormous New Territories (NT), a less crowded area that surrounds downtown. There’s plenty to see in NT, from urban neighborhoods to serene beaches and hillsides swathed in forests.
6. Have A Meal With a View
The International Commerce Centre — home to the Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong — stands out from its neighbors in skyscraper-lined Victoria Harbour, with its 118 floors that make it the tallest tower in Hong Kong. If you aren’t staying at the Ritz-Carlton, you can still catch its panoramic views from the restaurants and bars on the highest floors. At the very top is Ozone, a “sky bar” and café with an incredible open-air terrace, where tapas, sashimi and refreshing drinks are accompanied by all-around views of the city — try the octopus with potato foam or the Nutella lava cake. Ozone takes on a more club-like atmosphere in the evening, so be sure to visit in the early afternoon when it’s more family-friendly. For a real treat, stop by Café 103 for seasonal-themed afternoon high tea.
7. Head to the Water for a Nightly Light Show
With its opulent skyscrapers, Hong Kong’s waterfront loves to put on a performance. On any clear evening during your visit, take 15 minutes to watch A Symphony of Lights, a nightly light show where Victoria Bay’s buildings light up, lasers shoot into the sky and fireworks burst in time with the music. If it sounds a little over-the-top, it is — still, don’t miss this incredible celebration of the city.
8. Get Lost in Chungking Mansions
There’s no place on Earth quite like the frenetic Chungking Mansions, a building complex facing Nathan Road. While the entrance is unassuming against the bright lights of nearby buildings, Chungking Mansions’ interior is livelier than any of them. The complex’s 17 floors are full of Indian curry restaurants, budget guesthouses, assorted shops and above all, people from around the world. The building, sometimes dubbed the city’s informal Indian and African quarter, is one of the most diverse places in the entire city, if not the world. Some Hong Kong residents regard Chungking Mansions as the last haven for lawlessness in an otherwise gentrified area. Despite these local rumors, it is safe to visit. To miss Chungking Mansions is to miss an entire city within Hong Kong, one that runs on its own time and plays by its own rules.
Bonus: Spend a Few Days Exploring Nearby Macau
If your visit is long enough, then a visit to Macau is well worth the hour-long ferry ride. Once a Portuguese possession, Hong Kong’s sister city is home to beautiful colonial architecture and fantastic cuisine. Though Macau is known for its casinos, there are plenty of family-friendly activities on the island as well. One of my favorite beaches in the world is Hac Sa Beach, a gorgeous and not-too-crowded black sand beach just a short bus ride from the downtown area. While you’re there, visit traditional Portuguese bakery Lord Stow’s for pastel de nata (egg custard tart), a classic Macanese specialty.
Hong Kong is a head-spinning and frantic place, bursting with people from every culture and walk of life. But don’t be intimidated — Hong Kong’s intensity is what makes it so exciting. The city’s fast-moving current of life stops for no one — not even teenagers — so take a deep breath and dive right in!
What are your favorite things to do in Hong Kong? Leave your tips in the comments, below.
Featured image courtesy of Shutterstock.
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