A big bustling city can still be a friendly place for the family to stop over, writes Alexia Santamaria.
When flying to the Northern Hemisphere with kids in tow, there are plenty of places to break up the long, long, time in that big metal tube. Hong Kong is an excellent choice as it's incredibly easy to see many of the highlights in a relatively short space of time. Even better, the public transport is frequent and efficient, and there's something for everyone on the food front.
Though you could easily fill up a week in Hong Kong, a 48 or 72-hour stopover would give you a pretty good idea of what this vibrant, fun city is all about. Here's a family friendly itinerary I've tried, that works pretty well.
Depending on what time you arrive, it's good to work out when in your stay you can take a trip up Victoria Peak (the highest point on Hong Kong Island). Yes, it's full of tourists but for good reason; the views over the shimmering cityscape of skyscrapers, beautiful harbour and out to the rolling hills of the New Territories are breathtaking. To avoid the queues, take a taxi up and the famous Peak Tram down and also make sure you check on the cloud cover as it can affect your views. Sunset is particularly stunning from this viewpoint, but it's worth going up at any time of the day.
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Ding Ding trams
If you're hungry or keen to shop, the best way to get to food or retail therapy is like the locals do, on a Ding Ding tram. You'll love riding these colourful double-decker trams as much as the kids, and sitting at the top is a great way to view the chaotic, vibrant energy that is Hong Kong — without being right in it. Take a tram to Times Square for shopping and stop at any of the local eateries on the way — you can't go too far without stumbling on a dim sum joint, a bakery selling egg tarts, or a restaurant with Hong Kong's famous roast duck, pork and goose glistening on hooks in the window. Most malls — there are a lot — will have pretty decent food courts to please any fussy eaters in your entourage.
If you're up to it, you might want to check out a market or two in the afternoon; or leave it till the evening if you need to head back to your hotel for a rest. You'll find wet markets all over the city — a great insight into how locals buy their fresh food — but there are also all kinds of quirky specialty ones too: one for electronics, one for jade products, even one exclusively for goldfish. Kids will love the Ladies Market (think leather goods, pottery, souvenirs, branded caps and shirts, cutesy toys, accessories and so much more) — it's a fun lesson in bargaining for them too. Temple Street Markets are a perfect evening one-stop-shop; you can eat there, shop for almost anything you can imagine — and several things you can't — and be entertained by traditional opera singers and fortune tellers.
An evening must-do is a trip on the Star Ferry on beautiful Victoria Harbour. It's not a long trip — 10 minutes one way — but it gives you a great view of one of the most spectacular skylines in the world. And if you time it right, you can catch the Symphony of Lights show, where searchlights, LED screens, lasers and other beams from Hong Kong's towering skyscrapers perform to a soundtrack by the Hong Kong Philharmonic (you can also view this from the shore — it's well worth seeing either way). The Star Ferries go every eight minutes from Hong Kong to Kowloon, and vice versa.
If you're only on a two-day stopover you can actually check in to your departing flight at Hong Kong Train Station. This means your baggage can go on to the airport and you can head to Lantau Island to see Big Buddha. He really is very big, at a towering 23 metres, and bound to impress the kids — as will the panoramic cable car ride across to the island (book a Crystal Cabin with a glass floor if no one's afraid of heights). If your flight time permits, you can take a bus further to see traditional fishing villages and you may even be lucky enough to spot one of the famous pink dolphins. If huge statues and temples aren't your kids' thing, the same train line towards the cable car also stops at Hong Kong Disneyland, obviously a crowd-pleaser.
If you have an extra day you can relax the itinerary a bit and spend more time eating at a leisurely pace or mooching round the malls and markets. And if you get sick of the city, it's only a very affordable, 15-minute taxi ride out to the closest beach or gorgeous hikes in the lush