The bustling metropolis, Hong Kong is blessed with lots of hidden islands, combining stunning sandy beaches, scenic hikes and things to do. David McKenzie fills us in on how to get to the best, where and what to eat while there and top tips for your trip.
Got the smog sniffles? Sick of bumping into people? Feeling suffocated? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. Hong Kong’s hustle-bustle is a huge part of its charm. If it ever gets a bit much, though, respite is much closer than you may think.
David McKenzie's picked the five top outlying islands for a replenishing day trip from Hong Kong, and he's included all the information you need to know about each.
Except for Lantau, all the islands below are car-free. The ferry piers in Central are right in front of IFC: from Central MTR station, take the covered walkway, past the Apple shop, above Man Yiu Street.
1. Cheung Chau
How to get there: There are alternating ‘slow’ (takes just under an hour) and ‘fast’ ferries (c. 35 minutes) from Central, Pier 5, running regularly, 24 hours a day.
Tip: Walk the so-called ‘Mini Great Wall’, a granite walkway around Cheung Chau’s eastern coastal tip that takes you past the island’s most interesting rock formations and a great lookout point from the Chi Ma Hang Pagoda.
Where to eat: No question here: Pak She Praya Road, overlooking dozens of small fishing boats, squeezes in a stretch of seafood restaurants serving some of the freshest catch you’ll find anywhere.
If you only have time to visit one of Hong Kong’s islands, it’s hard to argue against Cheung Chau. This little gem packs a bit of everything into 2.5 square kilometres.
Most people, especially windsurfers, come here for the gorgeous golden beaches on Cheung Chau’s eastern side: Tung Wan and Kwun Yam Wan. But with important temples and whacky rock formations, the hideout cave of a 19th-century pirate and the world-famous Cheung Chau Bun Festival, this little island has a lot more going on.
If you’re not up for walking, you can hire bikes from near the ferry pier.
2. Peng Chau
How to get there: Ferries from Central, Pier 6, at least once an hour 7am-midnight, 7 days a week. They return from Peng Chau to Central at the same frequency.
What to do: Sleepy Peng Chau was once the surprising centre of Hong Kong’s thriving lime industry, with a total of 11 lime kilns in the early 20th century. You can visit the eerie Sing Lei Hap Gei Lime Kiln Factory for a glimpse into this history.
Where to eat: You can’t miss Wing On Street, lined with seafood restaurants typical of the outlying islands, as well as a few cafes specialising in afternoon tea. For a local island speciality try pureed, battered and deep-fried shrimp on toast.
Peng Chau is located just off Discovery Bay, but the vibe could hardly be more different from its glitzy neighbour.
Peng Chau still has the feel of an old fishing village. You can aimlessly stroll quiet alleys and pedestrian streets to visit the small market, several peaceful temples, a disused theatre or catch sunset ocean views from Finger Hill.
How to get there: You can get to Tung Chung by MTR. Or, ferries from Central go to Discovery Bay (Pier 3, at least every half hour) and Mui Wo (Pier 6, every 30-60 minutes).
What to do: Visit Tai O, a traditional fishing village with huts built on stilts over the sea. A bus goes from both Mui Wo and Tung Chung.
Where to eat: It might feel like a tourist trap, but the vegetarian restaurant at the 110-year-old Po Lin Monastery, below the Big Buddha, is actually pretty good. The shopping-mall food court at Citygate in Tung Chung has every eating option under the sun.
You can’t say it’s off the beaten track, but Lantau still has plenty of chilled island charm.
It’s huge (bigger than Hong Kong Island, in fact), so there’s room for everyone and everything. Tian Tian Buddha, aptly named ‘The Big Buddha’ at 250 tonnes and 34m tall, at Ngong Ping, is worth a visit. For fewer crowds, chill out at Silvermine Beach near Mui Wo, which has a distinctly tropical, Pacific Island feel.
The 70km Lantau Trail gives endless hiking options, all of which offer awesome views of Lantau’s forested, often mist-shrouded hills.
4. Tap Mun
How to get there: From University MTR station, walk/taxi to Ma Liu Shui Ferry Pier, where a kaito ferry goes 2-3 times daily to Tap Mun, taking about 1.5 hours. You can also get a 30-minute kaito from Wong Shek Pier, which is closer to Sai Kung but doesn’t have an MTR station, so you’ll need to bus or taxi there.
What to do: Take the track beside the disused King Lam school up the grassy hill to a lookout pavilion with great views – it’s an excellent picnic spot.
Where to eat: Hoi Pong Street (right by the ferry) feels like a fishing village of yesteryear, and it has the produce to prove it. One of the restaurants was supposedly frequented by the last British Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten.
This is where you go if you really want to get away from it all. With a population of barely 100, Tap Mun (or Grass Island) is about as different from commercial Hong Kong as you could imagine. The main charm is Tap Mun’s serenity and isolation. However, the water is crystal clear and offers excellent swimming, there’s an impressive 400-year-old Tin Hau temple, and the island has some brilliant walking trails.
How to get there: Frequent ferries from Central, Pier 4, to both Yung Shue Wan and Sok Kwu Wan take roughly 30 minutes.
What to do: For something off the tourist trail, visit Lamma’s eerie Kamikaze Cave. Here the Japanese military stashed speedboats for surprise attacks on Allied ships during WWII.
Where to eat: As well as plentiful seafood and barbecue places, Yung Shue Wan has some quirky cafes – Bookworm is a particular favourite, serving organic, vegetarian fare in a space lined with English (and other language) books.
Once an island dotted with simple Chinese fishing villages, Lamma has a well-established community of European hippies and other foreign expats. Many have been drawn to Lamma’s laid-back atmosphere, lack of cars and polar opposite character from the city. Yung Shue Wan is Hong Kong’s hippie capital, lined with quirky handicraft shops and casual international eateries.
There’s no shortage of natural beauty on Lamma, either. Try the inland hiking trail to get sweeping views, or the Ling Kok Shan trail passing quaint villages and tracing the coast. For a beach blob-out, the powdery sands of Hung Shing Yeh have you covered.