If there’s any city that can say it’s got public transport figured out, Hong Kong is it.

Cars, trams, buses, ferries, and a gleaming, highly efficient subway system to make any other city jealous, Hong Kong likes to make getting places quick and easy. Here’s an overview of the public transport options you have to get around town.

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The Octopus Card

Octopus Card
Octopus Card | Photo by Gregory Lane

This is first thing to do to make getting around easy in Hong Kong is to get yourself an Octopus Card. The stored-value card works much like the Oyster in London or the SmartCard in Washington DC. While those can usually be used only for a limited number of transport options in those cities, in Hong Kong, the Octopus Card is accepted almost universally.

It’s also an easy way to go cashless in the city, as you can also use it to pay at quite a few restaurants (often fast-food places), retailers, convenience stores (usually places that don’t sell big-ticket items) and even hospitals.

Where to buy an Octopus Card

The best place to buy one is at the customer service booth of any MTR or Airport Express station. (We’ll get to what those are in just a bit). Here’s a full list of places that sell them.

There are a few variations, but a standard Octopus card costs HK$50.00, and an initial stored value of HK$100.00 (a total of HK$150.00). You can return it at the end of your trip and get back the HK$50.00, plus any leftover balance.

There’s also a tourist version, which features an illustration of the harbour. Personally, I don’t see much benefit in getting a tourist one over a regular, other than the fact you can buy it at 7-Eleven and other convenience stores.

The Airport Express

Photo by Gregory Lane

Run by the MTR corporation, Hong Kong’s subway operator, this high-speed railway takes you from the airport to Central Hong Kong’s financial district in just 23 minutes. It also stops at Tsing Yi (a mostly residential district) and Kowloon (the western part of the peninsula) before reaching Hong Kong Island.

In the other direction, it also connects to the Asia World Expo, where many of the city’s trade events and concerts take place. Round-trip tickets to AsiaWorld-Expo are cheaper than to the airport and back.

Top tips when traveling to/from the airport

  • If you travel as a group, you can get single-journey tickets for a significantly discounted price per person.
  • You can also buy Airport Express tickets for cheaper ahead of time at local travel agents like Hong Thai or Wing On Travel or using an app like Klook.
  • The MTR operates a free shuttle bus to and from major hotels, and MTR stations Airport Express stops. Here’s a list of routes.

There are also travel passes available, but personally I find it’s cheaper to get my single-journey group ticket, then use my Octopus card to get around the city. The travel passes only really work on the MTR, not on any of the ferries, etc., and are only valid for three consecutive days of unlimited travel on the MTR.

The only time I can think it might worthwhile getting the travel passes is if you’re planning to stay somewhere farther out from the city centre (Tuen Mun, for instance) and travel back and forth a lot.

Mass Transit Rail (MTR)

MTR central admiralty
Photo by Chris Kirkland

Subway, Underground, Tube, Metro—whatever you want to call it, Hong Kongers aren’t shy about claiming we have the best subway system in the world. Extremely clean and efficient, you’re likely to never be waiting more than 5 minutes for a train. At peak hours trains come every 1–2 minutes. Just be aware things do get crowded at some stations during rush hour (8 am to 9 am and 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm).

Look for this symbol to find a station:

MTR
Photo by iStock.com/hansenn

There are ten main lines. The ones you’re most likely to take as a visitor are:

  • Island line (dark blue)
  • Tsuen Wan line (red)
  • Tung Chung line (orange)
  • Kwun Tong line (green)
  • East Rail line (light blue)

Here’s the MTR journey planner, which tells you the time and price it’ll take for you to get from station to station. Give yourself 10–15 minutes of leeway time in case you get lost underground.

The major stations like Central, Kowloon Tong and Admiralty can be labyrinthine. Central can be particularly tricky, as it connects several different lines, Tung Chung, Island, Tsuen Wan, and even to the Airport Express. Lucky for us Google Maps has made life easier by telling you what exit you need to take to get to any given destination. It’s actually also a great way to figure out the best routes.

Top tips

  • For some neighbourhoods the MTR corporation runs shuttle buses to and from stations.
  • Try and avoid Admiralty, Central and Kowloon Tong during rush hour if you can. Those stations get claustrophobic as people try and move between train lines.
  • Google Maps is great for telling you what exit, but the little blue GPS dot isn’t always accurate. Pay attention to street names, crossroads and landmarks.

Taxis

Hong Kong taxi
Photo by Emily Dickson

Taxis in Hong Kong are cheap and easy to find in most urban areas of Hong Kong.

There are three different colours. The red taxis operate throughout most of Hong Kong, the green taxis in the New Territories, and the light-blue taxis only on Lantau Island.

Here’s the latest price charts for taxis from the Transport Department.

You can also find details on a bright-yellow sticker on the inside of the passenger-side doors.

Top tips

  • Make sure you have cash. Many of our taxis still don’t accept cashless payments.
  • While the red taxis can operate on both Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon, they are designated as either Hong Kong or Kowloon taxis. If you take a Kowloon Taxi to the island or vice versa, you’re required to pay for part of the tunnel fee back to the other side.
  • Be aware that the tunnel fees can be a hefty addition to your journey. The Western Tunnel for instance costs HK$65.00 for taxis.
  • As with any city, there are some unscrupulous drivers that might take you for a ride, but in this day and age of Google Maps, you can easily work around that by pre-downloading a map of HK and having your route already marked to see if they make any deviations.
  • Technically a taxi driver cannot refuse service unless it’s out of his area of operation.
  • Drivers should use the metre, but sometimes you can negotiate a lower fee for say a long journey to and from the airport. (If you’re solo and going from the major urban areas, the Airport Express is a much quicker and cheaper option from most parts of Hong Kong).
  • Receipts are available. If the machine isn’t working, the driver is required to give a hand-written one.
  • Drivers may not have enough change for $500–$1000 notes.
  • Cars and buses can’t stop in an area with double yellow lines.

Some useful numbers/resources

Minibuses

public transport in Hong Kong
Photo by iStock.com/CHUNYIP WONG

There are two types of minibuses in Hong Kong: the red and the green.

  • Green minibuses have fixed routes and fares, and are fitted with Octopus card readers.
  • Red minibuses set their own routes, times and prices. While they do have set stops, they often stop anywhere along the routes.

Google Maps is generally decent for figuring out the best routes and timings.

Routes can be found here: http://www.16seats.net/eng/

They’re usually one of the fastest ways to get around Hong Kong, their double-decker cousins often take a while during peak hours, since more people get on and off.

Double-decker buses/regular buses

HK public transit
Busy street with double-decker buses and taxis. | Photo by iStock.com/Bim

These buses connect most of Hong Kong.

Top tips

  • Any double-decker bus with X following a number is usually an express bus with fewer stops.
  • Prices vary on a route. As you get closer to a destination the fare drops.
  • Again, Google Maps is generally decent for figuring out the best routes and timings.

Ferries

Hong Kong is made up of over 200 small islands (mostly uninhabited rocks), so ferries are a part of Hong Kong’s day-to-day commute. Here we lay out the major routes.

The Star Ferry

These iconic ferries are one of the best ways to see Victoria Harbour, and still the most affordable ways to cross it. They travel on two main routes, between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui and Wan Chai and Tsim Sha Tsui. Check out our full guide to taking the Star Ferry.

Split into the upper and lower decks, the non-airconditioned lower decks are cheaper than the upper, which have air-conditioned compartments.

Central ↔ Tsim Sha Tsui

Monday to Friday: HK$2.70 for adults, HK$1.60 for children (3–12) and the disabled. Free for anyone over 65.

Weekends and public holidays: HK$3.70 for adults, HK$2.20 for children (3–12) and the disabled. Free for anyone over 65.

Runs: Every 6–12 minutes daily from 6:30 am to 10:30 pm.

Wanchai ↔ Tsim Sha Tsui

Monday to Friday: HK$2.70 for adults, HK$1.60 for children (3–12) and the disabled. Free for anyone over 65.

Weekends and public holidays: HK$3.70 for adults, HK$2.20 for children (3–12) and the disabled. Free for anyone over 65.

Runs: Monday to Saturday: 7:30 am to 10:20 pm | Sundays and public holidays: 7:30 am to 10:20 pm

Top tips

  • The Wan Chai pier is a good walk away from any MTR station. The Central one is a bit closer, but still a bit of a hike.
  • First Ferry (The Outlying Islands)

    These start from Central and head to Lamma Island, Cheung Chau and Lantau.

    Lantau ↔ Central routes

    • Mui Wo ↔ Central (Pier 6)
    • Discovery Bay ↔ Central (Pier 3)

    Lamma ↔ Central routes

    • Sok Kwu Wan ↔ Central (Pier 5)
    • Yung Shue Wan ↔ Central (Pier 5)
    • Cheung Chau ↔ Central (Pier 6)

    Top tips

    • For trips to the Outlying Islands, check the ferry schedule on the website before you make your trip. Weekends and Sundays often operate on a different schedule to weekdays.

    Trams

    Photo by Gregory Lane

    If you have the time, and the weather is cooperating, Hong Kong’s trams (aka Ding Ding) are one of the best ways to see the northern part of Hong Kong Island. Routes stretch from Kennedy Town in the west to Shau Kei Wan in the East. They’re slow, and not as reliable as the MTR, but great for short distances and cutting through traffic as they run on their own tracks along the main roads.

    Top tips

    • Trams get crowded around rush hour (5:30 pm to 7 pm)
    • Make sure you get the right tram in the right direction going to the right destination because routes can diverge.

    Uber

    uber hong kong
    Photo by iStock.com/FangXiaNuo

    Hong Kongers often use Uber when they have larger groups and for those times when getting a taxi is difficult. (Taxis just seem to disappear when it starts raining in the city.)

    Just know that Uber is technically illegal in Hong Kong. Drivers have been prosecuted for operating illegal taxi services.

    Walking Hong Kong

    Central Promenade, Hong Kong Island | Photo by Gregory Lane

    As long as the weather permits, Hong Kong is an incredibly walkable city. To get your bearings on Hong Kong island, remember the harbour is north and the mountains are south.