Answers from Our Experts (4)
Hong Kong's public transportation network puts other metropolitan mass transit systems to shame. The MTR rail system is fast and efficient, providing easy transportation between 82 stops, including special lines that go straight to Hong Kong International Airport and Disneyland Resort. Fares are inexpensive and can be prepaid using an Octopus Card, a handy scan card that allows users to get in and out of subway stations quickly.
Though the MTR is the most widely used form of public transportation, it's certainly not the only option. Hong Kong is filled with buses and minibuses that take residents and visitors from Point A to Point B quite easily. If you're heading to the outlying islands, you can also hop on a ferry at the Central docks.
A word of advice for foreign travelers: MTR station employees usually speak English, and the in-car stop announcements are made in both Cantonese and English. Some bus drivers are fluent in both languages, but it's not guaranteed. Take it from someone who has mistakenly stepped onto the wrong bus, only to find that the driver didn't know English at the end of the line — the MTR is usually your best option for getting around Hong Kong without getting lost.
Mass transit in Hong Kong is efficient, affordable, and clean. MTR trains run frequently, the stops are clearly marked and announced, and maps and signs help you get oriented at the stations — some of which sprawl far underground. Areas that aren’t covered by the MTR are well-served by buses. The 100-year-old tram still operates, too, running west-to-east along Hong Kong Island.
Outlying islands are served by ferries, most of which depart from the piers in Central. For an atmospheric float across the harbor, take the Star Ferry.
Trains, buses, trams and ferries (and most convenience stores) all accept the Octopus Card, a stored value card which you can obtain at any MTR station. It's by far the most convenient way to pay. Otherwise, single-journey tickets or day passes are available for the MTR, and bus and tram fares can be paid upon boarding, but change isn’t given.
From the moment you leave the terminal at Hong Kong International, public transportation is a joy and a relief. The airport express costs 100 HKD, takes 20 minutes to the center to the city, and leaves from right within the arrival terminal. You don't even have to take an escalator. If there's an easier trip from airport to city, I haven't seen it.
The same goes for inner-city transportation. The MTR is clean, comprehensive, accessible and efficient. Taxis are omnipresent and affordable (though not all drivers speak English). Buses go everywhere, as do their ragtag counterpart, the minibus. And though its reach is limited, the tram is a charming and cheap way to explore downtown.
Servicing the outlying islands is a network of ferries, which run from the Central Piers. Kowloon is easily reachable by MTR, but the famous Star Ferry is an attraction in itself, and an especially scenic way to cross Victoria Harbour, especially at dusk, or when paired with the Hong Kong light show.
The easiest way to get around is with an Octopus card, which is like New York’s Metrocard or London’s Oyster. A hundred dollars-worth (plus a fifty dollar redeemable deposit) should last you about a week. Octopus cards can be used on virtually every form of transportation, but they can also be used at many shops, including any 7-11 or Starbucks.
The transportation system in Hong Kong is possibly one of the best in the world — it's quick, efficient, and covers most of the city. As soon as you touch down, it's a good idea to purchase an Octopus card, which can be used on most forms of public transport (except for taxis and the Airport Express) as well as at various retail and F&B outlets such as 7-11, McDonald's, Starbucks, etc. Buying a card usually requires a HK$50 deposit and at least another HK$50 value added to the card, but a special-edition tourist option is also available where you buy the card directly for HK$48.
MTR: While not the most economical transport option, the MTR (short for Mass Transit Railway) is definitely the easiest. Not all districts in the city have MTR stops, however. Multiple new lines have been added within the last ten years alone, and new stops in more out-of-the-way districts like Sai Ying Pun are currently in development. Helpful street signs with the MTR logo will guide you towards the nearest station in the area, if there is one, and most trains take under five minutes to arrive. Be sure to avoid rush hours of 9:30 a.m. and 6 p.m. if you dislike crowds. Single-journey tickets can be bought at touch-screen machines near the entrance. The MTR has both a website and an app.
Buses, minibuses & trams: Most of Hong Kong that isn't reachable by the MTR is reachable by buses. The double-deck KMB (Kowloon Motor Bus) buses are more structured, with a website and app you can use to search its routes and timetable. Each bus stop will have the bus route clearly mapped out in both English and Chinese.
Minibuses, on the other hand, only provide information in Chinese, and you need to tell the driver you want to get off right before your stop, so it's probably a better idea to skip over them altogether unless you're comfortable speaking Cantonese and have a clear idea of where you're going.
Trams are available on Hong Kong Island only and, while incredibly cheap, are quite slow and cover a limited amount of distance. Sitting on the upper deck while looking out at the city can make for an interesting and novel experience, though.
You can pay for all buses and trams with exact change in addition to using the Octopus card.
Ferries: Certain outlying islands like Lamma Island and Cheung Chau are only accessible via ferry, which leave from Central Pier. There are also various ferries connecting Kowloon to Hong Kong Island, if you're looking to take a more scenic route. The Star Ferry that connects Tsim Sha Tsui to Central across the iconic Victoria Harbour is an attraction in itself with a rich history behind it.
Taxis: Compared to most cities, Hong Kong's taxis are cheap and readily available, with a starting rate of HK$20 and an extra HK$1.50 for every subsequent 200 meters or one minute of waiting time. A toll fee of around HK$10 needs to be paid if you cross the harbor, and you'll be charged extra for storing luggage in the trunk. All taxis are metered and receipts can be requested. Most drives will recognize English names of landmarks and major buildings, but if you're traveling out of the way or to a more obscure location, it's a good idea to ask your hotel concierge to write down the name of your destination in Chinese before you set out. You can line up for a taxi at a taxi stand (look out for the sign in green), call for one, or flag one down (except in restricted areas, like curbs marked with a double-yellow line).