Hong Kong International Airport is a major hub of Asia, welcoming more than 70 million passengers a year from 220 destinations. Many people passing through Hong Kong may find themselves with long layovers, wondering whether they can leave the airport, and how much they can squeeze into their short stay.

To help you plan an awesome Hong Kong layover, we’ve set out some itineraries depending on how much time you realistically have, and how to make the most of it, without missing your flight.

hong kong layover
Photo by Gregory Lane

But first, a few practicalities:

  • Know the visa requirements: If you come from a country which does not require a visa to enter Hong Kong, then you can go through immigration, showing them your outgoing flight that same day.
  • Budget enough time for immigration/customs: Landing, disembarking and immigration could take up to 60 minutes or more, plus time for bags if you have to collect them. You need to be back at the airport roughly two hours before your departing flight, so if you only have three hours between flights, it is not feasible to leave the airport.
  • Ditch the bags: If your bags are not going all the way to your final destination and you plan to leave the terminal, park your suitcases at the Left Baggage facility on Level 3 in Terminal 2. It’s open from 5:30 am to 01:30 am, at a very reasonable price of HK$12.00 per bag, per hour.
  • Get some local currency: If you are leaving the airport, you’ll need some Hong Kong Dollars. There are a number of currency exchange desks, as well as ATMs, both inside the restricted area and after immigration in the Arrivals Hall. Check the airport’s full list to find one after your arrival.
  • Use the Airport Express: Hong Kong has an excellent public transportation system, and the Airport Express gets you into the heart of the city in under 30 minutes. Visitors who are returning the same day can purchase a ‘Same Day Return Ticket’, which gives you a free journey back to the airport, and costs just HK$115.00. Important tip: don’t buy the one-way ticket—it’s almost twice the price!
  • 2–3 hours: Roam around the airport

    If you do have a little time to kill in the airport, here’s our list of things to do to stretch your legs and pass the time.

    Within the terminals there are 18 lounges where you can pay-in for entry, providing food, drink, and usually showers and changing facilities.

    If you don’t have the cash for the lounge, there are actually free shower facilities inside Terminal 1, near Gate 12 to help you freshen up for the next leg of your flight.

    In Terminal 2 (after immigration, non-restricted) is the Aviation Discovery Centre, which also has an outdoor SkyDeck where you can watch the planes landing and taking off below.

    In terms of food, you’ve got a lot of choices, from ramen to pub food and dim sum, so check out the airport’s long list of restaurants to plan in advance.

    5–6 hours: Visit the Big Buddha

    Like the airport, the Tian Tan ‘Big Buddha’ is also located on Lantau Island, so it’s an easy enough excursion.

    The fastest way to get to the Big Buddha is to take a taxi (ride time: 35 minutes) but be aware that only blue taxis can go there. There is a separate taxi stand for blue taxis and you will need to line up there. The Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car from Tung Chung to the Big Buddha is awesome, but takes 30 minutes, and unfortunately the lines are notoriously long. A taxi is a much easier and faster option.

    The taxi drops you off at the top of the mountain at Ngong Ping Village, a pretty Chinese-styled pedestrian area. The Big Buddha is always an impressive sight, as is the nearby Po Lin Monastery, with its colourful architecture. There are a number of restaurants around this area where you can have a bite to eat.

    When you’re done, simply hop in another blue taxi, and return to the airport.

    6–7 hours: Head to the city

  • Option 1: Go straight to Victoria Peak

    If you absolutely must see the city, take the Airport Express to Hong Kong Station in Central. You’ll find yourself under the shiny IFC Mall, a major landmark of the city. The IFC stands right in front of Victoria Harbour, one of the most beautiful waterfronts in the world.

    But to really rise above it all, head to Victoria Peak, the highest mountain on the island. The Peak is a must-see in Hong Kong, and will give you a true appreciation of this incredibly vertical city.

    hong kong layover
    View from Victoria Peak | Photo by Gregory Lane

    One way to get there is via the historic Peak Tram, but again, the lines are really long. A fast and easy alternative is to catch Bus 15 from Central Ferry Pier #5, which is directly in front of the IFC. While not as historic, it is still a beautiful bus ride up the mountain. You could always take the tram back down to Central as the lines heading down tend to be not as long.

    After you return to Central, if time is tight, get back on the Airport Express and go catch your flight. If you’ve got some time to spare, eat the Michelin-star dim sum at Tim Ho Wan, conveniently located in Hong Kong Station. After dim sum, you’ll definitely be rejuvenated for your flight.

  • Option 2: Explore Tsim Sha Tsui

    To get to Kowloon side, take the Airport Express to Kowloon Station, and then grab a taxi to the Star Ferry terminal at the waterfront of Tsim Sha Tsui. Next to the Star Ferry terminal is an observation deck, where you can take in Hong Kong’s iconic skyline. Walk along the boardwalk and you’ll reach the Avenue of Stars, which pays homage to Hong Kong’s film stars.

    victoria harbour photograph spots
    Photo by Chris Kirkland

    If you’re peckish, then it might be time for some dim sum. It’s a short walk up Nathan Road to YUM CHA dim sum restaurant, which creates the cutest character dim sum around. Nathan Road is also chock-a-block with shops, restaurants and cafes to choose from.

    When it’s time to go back to the airport, head back to Kowloon Station (by taxi) to get back on the Airport Express. If you have a bit more time to play with, then get high—really, really high. Sky100 is located on the 100th floor of the International Commerce Centre, right next to Kowloon Station. The 360-degree panoramic views are truly incredible.

  • 8 hours or more: See both sides

    Lucky you if you have such a long Hong Kong layover! You could easily see a number of the top sights before returning to the airport.

    Our recommendation is to take the Airport Express to Hong Kong Station in Central, then a bus or taxi to Victoria Peak. Then, return to Central and cross Victoria Harbour on the Star Ferry. Once on Kowloon side, walk along the Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade to admire the view.

    If your layover goes well into the evening, or you’re overnighting, you can’t miss the bustling Temple Street Night Market for shopping, eating and drinking. And talking about drinking—if you happen to be there on a Friday night, then you can’t miss the crazy party atmosphere of Lan Kwai Fong in Central.

    Temple Street Night Market | Photo by iStock.com/Nikada

    Another great night time activity on Kowloon side is to see the nightly Symphony of Lights show. This light show takes place every night at 8 pm at the observation deck next to the Star Ferry in Tsim Sha Tsui, and illuminates the city’s landmarks and iconic buildings, both on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon.

    The last train on the Airport Express leaves Hong Kong Station at 00:48, and leaves Kowloon Station at 00:52, so don’t miss it and plan accordingly to be sure you get back well before your departing flight.

    Travelling from Japan to Hong Kong? Check out our article Japan to Hong Kong: The Ultimate Short-Trip Destination to get great ideas about what to see and how to get around.