Hong Kong or Kowloon side – where to stay?

Hong Kong or Kowloon side? Image: Prachanart Viriyaraks CC
Hong Kong or Kowloon side? Image: Prachanart Viriyaraks CC

Wondering where to stay in Hong Kong? We weigh in on the pros and cons of Hong Kong or Kowloon side to find out where is the best place to stay when visiting Hong Kong.

Pros: Staying on Hong Kong side

By Diliff (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Hong Kong Panorama By Diliff (Own work) CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Loads of history & charm

Hong Kong was ceded to Britain in 1841 and where the British colony first settled, from a humble fishing village of 1,500 predominately Han Chinese to what it is now, it started on the Hong Kong side. Here’s where you’re more likely to stumble upon colonial gems, hidden gardens, discrete temples and charming old teahouses.

Wan Chai Blue House. Image: MrT HK, CC
Wan Chai Blue House. Image: MrT HK, CC

Discover heritage buildings from Jamia Mosque established in 1890 to colonial style Government House, Legislative Building and Central Police station. There’s the stark contrast of new boutiques and sky- scrapers against 1930’s Tong Lau, old tenement buildings. These uniformed blocks of 3-5 story residential apartments line the old precincts of Hong Kong and have become icons, most legendary is Blue House in Wan Chai, owing it’s bright blue facade to surplus Government paint reserves.

The city views with kids mini robes
Morning views from Mandarin Oriental to Statue Square

Hong Kong is considered the quieter side, it’s historical and a little better organised. The term quieter is used loosely in a nation of 7.2 million people.

All the main attractions

The majority of Hong Kong’s main attractions are on the Hong Kong side, it’s only here that the trams affectionately called Ding Dings rattle, it’s where the Peak Tram tugs up the mountain for spectacular city views from Victoria Peak and home to the more interesting precincts of Central, Sheung Wan, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay.

Tram to Victoria Peak on Hong Kong side. Image: Philip Roeland, CC
Tram to Victoria Peak on Hong Kong side. Image: Philip Roeland, CC

Rare green parklands and outdoor spaces can be found on this side, which includes: the free Hong Kong Zoo, serene Botanical Gardens, Hong Kong and Victoria Park as well as the tourist drawcards Repulse Bay, Stanley, Shek O and Ocean Park.

Super convenient

From Central Station, zip effortlessly anywhere in Hong Kong via the expansive Mass Transit Railway (MTR) network, even across to Kowloon for Tsim Sha Tsiu.

The Hong Kong airport express is directly connected from Hong Kong Station in Central to the Airport and the Lantau island draw cards of Tian Tan Buddha and Disneyland are a quick and more direct train ride away.

Hit Hong Kong with kids
Convenient Hong Kong station

The ferry terminals across the harbour and to the outlying islands are located on Hong Kong island as well as the Hong Kong- Macau Ferry Terminal for express jetboats to Macau.

Great places to eat & drink

Though Kowloon does dish up excellent and tasty fare and you can be pretty content dining out Kowloon side, it cannot compete with Hong Kong islands reputation for some of the best places to eat and drink. You’ll discover sky high contemporary roof top bars, Michelin starred restaurants, iconic dai pai dong (open air cooked food stalls), cha chaan teng (traditional tea restaurants) delicious award winning dim sum parlours, shops selling steamy bowls of noodles, BBQ meat and the best egg tarts in Hong Kong.

Hollywood Road & Soho - Hong Kong. Image: Bertrand Duperrin, CC
Hollywood Road & Soho – Hong Kong. Image: Bertrand Duperrin, CC

The Hong Kong side is also home to funky galleries, chic boutiques and hip restaurants and bars of SOHO and Lan Kwai Fong, connected via Central’s Mid-Level escalators, a fun free tourist attraction in it’s own right.

Cons: Staying on Hong Kong side

Compact and pricey

Staying in the thick of Hong Kong, especially around Central can be expensive with more demand than supply for each precious square foot. Expect accommodation to be compact and pricier than on the Kowloon side, though it maybe just as compact.

Space matters - Wan Chai, Central. Image: Yu Tung Brian Chan, CC
Space matters – Wan Chai, Central. Image: Yu Tung Brian Chan, CC

Less mid-range and budget accommodation

Though there is an excellent choice of luxury hotels on the Hong Kong there is limited mid-range and budget accommodation.

Pros about staying on Kowloon side

Kowloon Panorama by By [2] ([1]) [CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons
Kowloon Panorama by By [2] ([1]) [CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Spectacular views

The biggest bonus for staying on the Kowloon side is the spectacular views looking back towards the Hong Kong city skyline.

The best place to see this is from the ICC building, the tallest in Hong Kong at 118 storeys, where the luxurious Ritz-Carlton hotel occupies the top floors, with Michelin starred restaurants and the worlds tallest bar.

Hong Kong Skyline from Kowloon. Image: John Skodak, CC
Hong Kong Skyline from Kowloon. Image: John Skodak, CC

Tsim Sha Tsiu – the heart of Kowloon

The central hub around Tsim Sha Tsiu (TST) is the heart of Kowloon and has bright shiny malls, an astounding amount of restaurants to suit every budget and palate as well as superb entertainment venues.

Avenue Of Stars, Kowloon. Image: Bertrand Duperrin, CC
Avenue Of Stars, Kowloon. Image: Bertrand Duperrin, CC

Around TST are Hong Kong’s museums and attractions including the Avenue of the Stars and colonial charm of the Clock Tower the only remnants of the Kowloon-Canton rail terminus. Other glimpses of British imperialism include Heritage & Hullet House and The Peninsula hotel.

More accommodation options at better prices

Kowloon has a higher concentration of hotels from mid-range to absolute luxury, with better opportunities to find value for money places to stay, which may be a little bit roomier.

Mid-range Salisbury YMCA, Harbour View Suite. Image: ksskss2013
Mid-range Salisbury YMCA, Harbour View Suite. Image: ksskss2013, CC.

Kowloon is best for cruise passengers

Both Hong Kong cruise terminals, the older Ocean Terminal and the larger flashier Kai Tak Cruise Terminal are located on Kowloon, making it a good side to stay for cruise passengers.

Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Kowloon
Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Kowloon

Passengers departing from the older Ocean Terminal are close to Tsim Sha Tsiu the central hub of Kowloon with a variety of accommodation options to choose from.

Temples galore

The best temples are located Kowloon side, with the most colourful being Wong Dai Sin Temple, where many locals (and tourists alike) pay respect to the immortal named Huang Chu-pin who grants worshipers fortune and good tidings.

Other highly recommended temples to visit include the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery and Chi Lin Nunnery.

Ten Thousand Buddha Monastery. Image: Narelle Cooper-Philip :)
Ten Thousand Buddha Monastery. Image: Narelle Cooper-Philip.

Explore the intriguing ‘Dark Side’

Beyond Tsim Sha Tsiu lies the Kowloon urban sprawl, Hong Kong island residents like to call it the ‘Dark Side’. Once home to the ungoverned Walled City a huge community of shacks, home to brothels, sketchy dentists and doctors and a drug warren for the Hong Kong triads. It’s now a carefully planned park and worth a quick look

Still standing and of a similar vein is the ghetto-like Chunking Mansions, home to over 10,000 residents including immigrants, backpackers and illegal workers, further boosting Kowloons’ working class reputation.

Chunking Mansions, Kowloon. Image: Nate Robert, CC
Chunking Mansions, Kowloon. Image: Nate Robert, CC

Kowloon is frantic and grittier with the highest density of residential towers in the world, this is what make Hong Kong so intriguing. Visit Yau Mai Tei’s old tenement blocks, dai pai dong’s in Sham Shui Po and bustling markets of Mongkok and Jordan. Eat like a local in the casual restaurants and shops along Nathan Road.

Kowloon's Jordan at night, Image: JohnNsl, CC
Kowloon’s Jordan at night, Image: JohnNsl, CC

Kowloon is the side where locals live, it’s louder, less organised and more crowded. These are also the things that make it a cultural adventure

Dai Pai Dong, Mong Kok, Kowloon. Image: B Clarke, CC
Dai Pai Dong, Mong Kok, Kowloon. Image: B Clarke, CC

Cons about Kowloon side

It’s not the Hong Kong side

Tai-pans translated as “Big Shot” in Cantonese were the merchant British tycoons who traded in Hong Kong after the Opium Wars in the 19th century. They brought along their family to live in grand mountain top mansions, where the air was cooler and far removed from the commoners below. So elite, only Chinese servants and workers were to ascend the mountain, often carrying their masters in sedan chairs.

The modern day Taipans prefer Hong Kong island's mountain top. Image: Ray_Lac, CC
The modern day Taipans prefer Hong Kong island’s mountain top. Image: Ray_Lac, CC

The mountain top mansions still exist and are some of the most expensive properties in the world (some reaching $800 million), home now to the modern day Tai-pan, who prefer the Hong Kong side as it has it all. Visitors on a whistle stop tour may not need to cross the harbour at all.

Not as convenient

Chances are visitors staying on the Kowloon side will make their way over to the Hong Kong side. Staying on Kowloon involves utilising the MTR a little more frequently to access attractions on Hong Kong island. At times, Kowloon based visitors will have to change lines to reach a destination. A slight inconvenience as the Hong Kong MTR is one of the most efficient in the world and taxis as well as busses and crisscross the island frequently.

Mini busses in Mong Kok, Kowloon. Image: Eduardo M. C, CC
Mini busses in Mong Kok, Kowloon. Image: Eduardo M. C, CC

A little less charming

Kowloon would be far less charming if it weren’t for the harbour front views. It’s appeal lies in the markets, busy city streets, authentic restaurants and relaxed local vibes.

High density living in Kowloon. Image: Jay Sterling Austin, CC
High density living in Kowloon. Image: Jay Sterling Austin, CC

What takes away from Kowloon’s charm is the sprawl of seemingly never ending residential towers, which begins from Kowloon and creeps towards the New Territories. Though there are green spaces like Kings Park or Kowloon Park with it’s own resident flamingoes, most of the parks are concreted or offer small patches of lawn.

Where to stay in Hong Kong or Kowloon?

We prefer Hong Kong island side, but…

The Hong Kong island side is particularly good for first time visitors and those that want to be close to the action. Staying around Central or a few stops either side of the Central Station MTR will see you in the heart of Hong Kong and all the wonderful nearby things to do, however the conveniences of staying on Hong Kong side does come at a price.

Four Seasons Hotel Hong Kong. The kids swimming at sunset in Hong Kong. Best infinity pool in Hong Kong.

Don’t miss out on a good deal on accommodation because it’s located on the Kowloon side. At the end of the day, there isn’t a significant difference which side to stay in Hong Kong so long as you are close to a MTR station.

The MTR makes zipping around both islands easy and affordable. Chances are you’ll frequent both Hong Kong and Kowloon side during your stay.

Best things to do in Hong Kong with kids

Check out the Best things to do in Hong Kong with kids guide, when you’re ready to start exploring.

Where do you think is the best place to stay in Hong Kong? Love to hear your reply below:

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