Hong Kong Photo Guide: Places to Photograph and Experience
There are few cities in Asia that we’ve found to be as photogenically pleasing as Hong Kong. Upon arrival, we were immediately aware of how similar it is to San Francisco’s rolling landscapes covered with ever-changing neighborhoods and charms. We found ourselves in an ever-changing array of photographic neighborhoods and stunning cultural charm. We wanted to share our limited experience and hopefully inspire others to venture to this often unappreciated city and explore its photograph potential.
There are countless locations and districts in HK to explore in a photographic way. While this list highlights our top locations, if you look around any corner of Hong Kong or Kowloon, you’re almost certainly going to find something worth photographing. This massive city is as large as it can be inspiring to any photographer hoping to explore a city of this level of legend. You’re certain to be haunted by the missed photo opportunities of Hong Kong, but you can always come back smarter and more focused. That’s our plan, at least!
#1 | Neon Signs
One of the most obvious remnants from a former Hong Kong can be found in the city’s continued devotion to neon signs. While I’d never before been so enamored by these old fashioned signs, there’s something about beautiful glowing signs casting their ethereal hues on the city each night.
As the sun sets each evening, these lights act as beacons for street photographers. Nathan Road around Jordan is a great starting point for anyone wanting to glimpse these glowing beauties.
Tip: Photographing night lights can be a bit difficult, so try shooting in RAW for more editing capabilities. If your photo turns a bit grainy, you can always boost the luminance, to blur some of it out. Try using a tripod and use the widest aperture possible to reduce the chance of camera shake ruining your shots!
#2 | The Last Watershed
Once more common than today, one watershed remains on Hong Kong island. This beautiful pier is that last remaining “jumping off point” for swimmers wanting to brave Victoria Harbor’s water. Located on the northwestern corner of HK, sunsets are the perfect time to visit this photogenic location.
You’re likely to find other people lining up to take engagement photos, Instagram photos, or simply setting up to frame this beautifully posed platform with the setting sun. While most people will visit “Instagram Pier” if they’re nearby, the watershed is far and away a better photo opportunity.
Tip: We were a bit disappointed by Insta-Pier, but we could hardly drag ourselves away from the swimming dock. Go a bit early because the walk up the hill to get to the steps that lead to this spot is a bit steep. We nearly missed sunset by arriving a bit too late.
#3 | Choi Hung “Rainbow” Apartments
Stacks of apartments, layered in progressing rainbow patterns? Yes, please! The Choi Hung Apartments (literally meaning rainbow in Chinese) are colorful in a way that no other apartment complex in Honk Kong is. Within the complex is a parking structure that boasts a basketball court as it’s roof and hosts the majority of the photos you might see from this location.
Many families and children can be found playing in this public space on the weekends if you’re wanting a human element amidst the lifeless rigor of endlessly repeating apartments.
Tip: Check out the position of the sun before coming. During the evening, the sun is behind the buildings and shadows will certainly make your shots less than spectacular. The early morning gives opportunity for unique angles, but around/after noon, the light highlights the building facing the basketball court and everything is really well-lit for photos.
#4 | Victoria Peak
No photo album from Hong Kong would be complete without some skyline photos with iconic buildings accompanied by Victoria Harbor in the background.
While the majority of tourists will end up in the massive people-trap that is commonly referred to as Victoria Peak, nearby, there is a hiking trail that bypasses the peak itself and offers, arguably, better views of Central’s cityscape and the harbor. We highly recommend this deviation from the standard tourist haunts on this one, and having a photo that’s different than the thousands of daily visitors to the peak with smartphone cameras will make the extra effort all worth the effort.
Tip: Again, we find sunset and sunrise to be the best time for photographing the bay as the golden light just does something truly magical across Hong Kong’s skylines.
#5 | Night Markets
Our love for night markets is well documented, but I’ve never had as elevated an angle as the one over Temple Street Night Market.
Not only are the night markets in the area worth visiting, but they offer endless photo opportunities. From the shop owners and stalls selling virtually everything to the parking garage across the street that affords this mesmerizing vantage; Temple St. Night Market is the perfect location to visit before you start wandering around perusing the neon majesty.
The market extends five blocks north and the aerial view is something straight out of an old Hollywood Chinatown movie.
Tip: Go just before sundown for some awesome sunset pictures and perfect lighting across the tops of the stalls. Stay until sunset to see the street light up and then go grab some dinner!
#6 | Rooftop Bars
While Victoria Peak and our suggested alternate path might be the most iconic skyline view of Hong Kong, there are numerous bars and clubs atop skyscrapers with stunning views of this wonderfully photogenic city.
The majority of these rooftop bars can be found in Central Hong Kong, but we very much recommend the alternate view back that looks back at Central from iSquare Shopping Mall from the perfectly positioned EyeBar. Looking back at Hong Kong from Kowloon is the perfect end to a night, or maybe a start if you’re looking to exploit this city’s endless night photography opportunities.
Tip: The happy hour deal at EyeBar gets you 30 percent off martini cocktails, 20 percent off wine and 50 percent off beer. Beware the hidden charges though; service will be added, as will the seemingly complementary nut bowl. We opted to stay for just one drink and then walked down to the harbor front with some to go beer from a local liquor store. The illusion of high living, with a much cheaper price tag!
#7 | Man Mo Temple
Filtered smoke fills the air in this temple, as offerings to luck and in hope of granted wishes are burned relentlessly by thousands of visitors each day.
We visited on a weekday and this temple was still filled with people lighting large coils of incense and offering flowers in hopes of favor being swayed their way. With all of these people visiting Man Mo Temple for legitimate reasons, there are signs indicating that donations are welcome from photographers visiting for the sole purpose of capturing the smoke and majesty of the incense.
While camping out for a photo without background people, consider giving a few Hong Kong Dollars to this beautiful and unique temple experience.
Tip: Go earlier in the morning! They light the huge curling spirals of incense at the start of the day and they just get smaller and smaller as the day goes by, making photographing them impossible.
#8 | Hong Kong’s Mansions
If you’ve ever browsed pictures of HK on Instagram or Google Images, you’ve undoubtedly come across countless photos of beautiful cityscapes or strangely beautiful apartment buildings.
While much of the city is a concrete jungle surrounded by towering buildings, there are certain sights that stand apart as being especially photogenic. Montane Mansion in Quarry Bay is probably the most noteworthy apartment complex for photographers and visitors looking for architecture that is uniquely “Hong Kong.” This style of building is reminiscent of HK’s not-so-distant past, but mansions like these remain one of the most iconic and sought-after photos.
Tip: Try out taking some shots from different angles other than just straight on. These buildings are really interesting from any direction and so much fun to photograph.
#9 | Flower and Bird Market
This one is pretty self-explanatory: people like beautiful flowers en masse. The Flower Market is a long street of every colorful variation of flower you can imagine.
When you finish perusing the flowers and plant-arrangements, continue on to the bird market. Moving from the flower market to bird alley is a perfect hour of time well spent. The colors of the flowers mixed with the myriad of chirping and talking birds makes for a unique afternoon day trip. The bouquets of exotic flowers and beautiful handmade birdcages make for a very photogenic area.
Tip: Do be careful of the birds that are out of the cages, and only touch them if the owners say it’s okay. The birds that seem a bit stressed and fly around their cages erratically, leave them alone and don’t bother them by getting close and taking photos.
#10 | Big Buddha
The Big Buddha is certainly an iconic part of Hong Kong’s points of interests. It is a part of the remote Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island.
You can get there a number of ways, but certainly the most photogenic route is via the cable car. This is certainly a day trip destination as the island is out of the way from everything else, so plan on dedicating a large chunk of your time here if you decide to go. The island also offers hiking trails and beautiful vistas that are the perfect way to escape the busy city life.
Tip: Even in rain or fog, the Big Buddha is pretty photogenic, so don’t let the weather deter you from getting out there!
#11 | SoHo
SoHo is the area south of Hollywood Road and it is one of our favorite places in Hong Kong to simply walk around and explore.
The area is know for it’s restaurants, upscale nightlife and shopping, and it’s charming streets. During the daytime you can walk around and enjoy the street art and the boutique and quirky shops that line the roads. At night, get ready for some bustling nightlife and enjoy some food and drinks at one of the many upscale bars and restaurants.
Our favorite part of this area was certainly all the fun street art that you can find in the area!
Tip: During the day, dress casually for walking and exploring the charming streets. Nighttime is a different story. Most everyone will be dressed to impress for the boujee area of SoHo.
#12 | Victoria Harbor
We honestly could not get enough of this beautiful harbor and city skyline. It was a good thing our hotel was so near the water so we could make it down there as often as possible. We suggest you do the same!
There are many ways to enjoy the harbor, and the sunset cruise was certainly our favorite. You can book a cruise on one of the many boats offered, including the famous junk boat (pictured above in our cover photo). We opted for a regular ferry to save a bit of money. Watching the sunset over the water and the lights of Hong Kong start to pop up is definitely one of our favorite moments while in Hong Kong.
Tip: Night shots from a boat can certainly be tricky. Again, shoot in RAW and widen your aperture to reduce the shake effecting your photos and boost the luminance to get rid of grain. The absolute best time for photos is just as the sun is starting to set as the lighting is just right and plays off the water beautifully.
#13 | Nan Lian Garden and Chi Lin Nunnery
Located in North Hong Kong, this garden and temple are a perfect setting to take a relaxing and quiet walk away from the crowds and city noise.
The gardens are immaculately maintained and even in the winter, the plants and flowers were green and blooming. The temple was renovated in 1990, but the buildings all still look brand new. The temple is used as a retreat for Buddhist nuns and you can see them walking around the grounds and praying. Inside the main prayer halls, photography is not allowed as it is clearly disruptive for those who are praying.
Tip: During mid day this area of town gets really hot and there aren’t a lot of places to find shade. Restaurants in this area are also slim to none expect for the food court in the mall nearby. Plan to go in the morning or mid afternoon.
#14 | The Street Cars
If you feel like you have been walking way too much around the steep hills of Hong Kong, hop on one of the many street cars that run in the Central District of Hong Kong. The steep hills coupled with these fun street cars certainly make Hong Kong feel like the San Francisco of Asia!
The ride is a set price no matter how long you stay on and it is super cheap! For less than a dollar (USD) you can ride around central Hong Kong and take in the sights. These street cars are pretty photogenic and we think they certainly stand out in this busy city.
Tip: For the seats up top at the front window, try boarding at one of the terminal destinations. You will have the best seats with no wait whatsoever! Be careful of your belongings while the windows are open. Stephanie lost a hat when the wind picked up and blew it off her head and right out the window!
It’s difficult to see everything in a city as large as Hong Kong, and I’m sure we’ve missed some beautiful sights. Anyone know of some must-see or must-photograph areas of Hong Kong? Let us know in the comments below!