First-time visitors to Hong Kong are always surprised by the fact that there is so much more to see than just concrete jungle.

An incredible 250 islands make up the region of Hong Kong, from the massive Lantau Island to the far-flung, uninhabited islands of the UNESCO World Geopark. And many people who can’t take the hustle and bustle of city life choose to make these quiet Outlying Islands home, commuting to the city in a quick and scenic 30-minute ferry ride.

For visitors, this means that some of the best Hong Kong day trips can be reached by ferry. The ferries are very pleasant—certainly much more pleasant than rush hour on the MTR. They are usually air conditioned, with comfy seats, toilets, wifi, and sometimes even vending machines with cold drinks. A few even have open-air top decks, where you can sit, relax, take pictures of the view, and enjoy refreshments.

How to buy tickets

One of the best things about ferry trips is that you don’t even need to buy the tickets in advance. Because these are commuter ferries, which run quite frequently, simply show up a few minutes before boarding time, and buy a ticket to your respective destination. (Or, use your Octopus card, which is faster). All of the ferries publish their schedules online so you can plan ahead on which ferry you want to catch. If you miss a ferry, simply wait for the next one, and walk around the Central Harbourfront to kill some time.

Most of the popular day-trip ferries leave from the Central Ferry Piers which line the waterfront of Central, in front of the International Finance Centre (IFC). This makes getting to a nearby island an easy and convenient option.

Lamma Island

Sok Swu Wan, Lamma Island
Panoramic view of Sok Kwu Wan Lamma Island. | Photo by iStock.com/8vFanI

Laid-back Lamma Island has its own vibe, with fishermen, cute cafes, seafood restaurants, and pubs. It’s a good mix of old-school island life with hipster Hong Kong. Because the island is quite long, there is a ferry pier in the north and in the south of the island. You can focus on just one area, or you can walk from one to the other via the Lamma Family Trail, where you’ll get to see beaches, tiny temples, hidden caves from WWII, and pavilions with beautiful views.

Ferry schedule: To Yung Shue Wan, or to Sok Kwu Wan
Leaves from: Central Pier #4

Mui Wo, Lantau Island

hong kong day trips by ferry
Photo by Emily Dickson

Mui Wo is an old-fashioned village where most residents get around by bicycle, and herds of wild cows and water buffalo roam the roads. There’s a pretty beach, a Cooked Food Market with great seafood, some pubs by the waterfront, and a trail through the old town that take you to the Silvermine Waterfall and Silvermine Cave. The Mui Wo ferry leaves from Central Pier 6 (next to the Star Ferry Pier at Pier 7). From Mui Wo, you can take a bus to the Big Buddha, or the quaint Tai O Fishing Village, both of which are on Lantau.

Ferry schedule: New World First Ferry
Leaves from: Central Pier #6

Cheung Chau Island

Hong Kong day trip to Cheung Chau Island
The island of Cheung Chau near Hong Kong | Photo by iStock.com/AlenaLitvin

Cheung Chau remains its own little world, with fishing boats in the bay, tiny village houses, lovely beaches, and a bustling promenade. Take time to wander around the island and see a different way of life in Hong Kong, left largely unchanged thanks to its disconnect from the city. Scramble down into pirate’s caves, hike along a Mini Great Wall, and take a break at the Windsurfing Centre, run by the island’s Olympic gold medalist.

Ferry schedule: New World First Ferry
Leaves from: Central Pier #5

Peng Chau Island

This tiny island is one of the lesser known ones, often overshadowed by Cheung Chau with its famous Bun Festival, or Lantau with its big attractions like Hong Kong Disneyland and the Big Buddha. But Peng Chau is a great day trip if you truly want to escape the hustle and bustle of skycraper city. With less than 7,000 residents, Peng Chau offers pretty beaches, winding alleys with tiny traditional shops, and small temples in the village square. Climb Finger Hill—it won’t take much effort since the island is almost flat—to see beautiful views of Discovery Bay and Lamma.

Ferry schedule: New World First Ferry
Leaves from: Central Pier #6

Hong Kong day trip
Local tricycle driver outside the Tin Hau temple in Peng Chau | Photo by iStock.com/gionnixxx

Discovery Bay

Hong Kong day trip
Photo by Emily Dickson

Also located on Lantau Island, Discovery Bay (‘DB’) is a resort-like commuter town not far from the airport. If you’re looking for a quaint or ‘local’ scene, you’re better off at one of the other places on this list, as DB is highly westernised. You will, however, find swank alfresco restaurants that overlook a scenic beach, a plaza with pubs and cafes, and some excellent hiking trails. One of the perks is that if you take the ferry to DB and eat at one of the al fresco restaurants at D’Deck, you get a free ferry ride back to Central.

Ferry schedule: Discovery Bay Transportation Services
Leaves from: Central Pier #6