A good number of flights to and from various Asian cities have a Hong Kong layover — for a few hours or even much longer, like our layover of 17 hours. No need to hunker down in the airport, though. Hong Kong has made a quick trip into town such child’s play. So go ahead, pop in for a meal, a walk, the famous Hong Kong waterfront light show, or even a night’s sleep.
The transit is so easy, you really don’t need us to tell you how to do it! But we know, we know, it’s a little disconcerting if you don’t know in advance what’s going to happen. So HI Travel Tales will put your mind at ease. Read on….
Enough time to head in for a Hong Kong layover?
Do you have enough time to go into the city? Without luggage, you won’t likely need more than an hour or perhaps a little more to get into town. If you arrive back to the airport two hours prior to your flight, you may need up to three hours to get back in allowing time to get to the city station and take the train. That’s four hours, give or take, depending on the type of traveler you are – cut it close or allow so much extra time you drive companions crazy.
With that in mind, here is our quick list of tips and how-to’s for your Hong Kong layover.
Plan your layover
- Double-check when you check in for your first leg that your luggage is checked all the way through to your destination. Who wants to schlepp a suitcase around for a few hours on a Hong Kong layover? Plan in advance, as we did, and pack a separate bag with any essentials for the length of your stay. In our case, that meant a few toiletries, a change of clothes, and our personal electronics and essentials.
- If you are there overnight, as we were, pick out an inexpensive hotel that is just good enough for a good sleep. We decided we were not up to staying up all night, nor did we want to crash on a chair in the airport. If money is no object, then any hotel will be willing to accept about 10 or more times what we paid (see our HITT Tip, below).
Customs and airport transit
We have read a lot of concerns online about getting out of customs and security. Rest easy, my friends. This is so easy. Customs? What customs? Your baggage is checked through so you whip right out of the airport, no questions asked. Show your passport to enter and that’s it. You’re on your way to the city of lights and skyscrapers. All good there?
Click here to see a map of the arrival area and some arrival information. Click here to see an interactive map of the entire airport, or download PDF maps if you prefer.
Airport Express best for Hong Kong layover
We found out why the local transit railway MTR and its Airport Express is one of the leading systems in the world. What efficiency! No need to worry about missing one and having to wait an hour. They run every 10 minutes, from early to late.
Plenty of signage is everywhere, as well as very helpful English-speaking assistants. Really, you can’t miss it. Really!
What to expect on transit into Hong Kong
Assuming you have chosen a hotel (if you are overnighting) close to either Kowloon station or Hong Kong central station, it’s easy. Those are the two stops for the Express line from the airport. Travel time from the airport to Hong Kong station is 24 minutes and of course a few minutes less for Kowloon, the stop prior. Click here for a MTR system map; the airport is at the far left on the green line; follow that line to the right and you’ll see Kowloon just after Olympic station, with Hong Kong across the water just after that. Kowloon is where things are “happening,” while Hong Kong Island is much nicer — and more expensive.
Once you exit the arrival area, the halls directly connect you with huuuuuuuge signage to the Airport Express area. You can buy a ticket from the desk there or from a machine with a credit card. You can also buy it in advance online if you prefer. At the time of this writing, the price to Kowloon was HKD 90 (RT 160) and to Hong Kong Station HKD 160 (180) – about USD$ 10-12 per person each way, depending on your price structure and destination.
Buy the ticket, follow the signage (and the nice women ready to help if you go astray), and board the train from a clean, neat, safe platform. There are even charging stations in some areas on the train if you need a power boost. And the trains too are clean and comfortable.
If you are worried, take a look at this short video by MTR summarizing the journey.
City arrival for your Hong Kong layover
We arrived efficiently at Kowloon station. That’s when we discovered part of the Airport Express service is an entire network of bus shuttles – free! — that can take you into most parts of the city, with stops at a number of hotels. (Note: The same shuttle network will take you back.)
Do not worry if you are not staying at one of these hotels. The wonderful guides in the hall will help you pick the right one that will stop closest to your destination.
The shuttles were also efficient, and we were at our hotel within minutes. We were happy for the shuttles, too, since it was very hot and muggy, and although you can walk to and from the station, it is a rather convoluted route with all of the freeways and overpasses that converge there.
Getting back from your city stay
Same thing in reverse to get back to the airport. Either walk to your chosen station or take a shuttle bus or taxi (if for example if it’s raining since that direction will only be a few bucks). One fantastic benefit is the ability to check luggage you may have directly with your airline at either Kowloon or Hong Kong stations. Thus, no need to maneuver bags on the train or through the airport. Man, they have really thought this out!
This is such a breeze, there is utterly no reason to not head into the city for a Hong Kong layover rather than hang around the airport bored to tears.
Map of China
In the map below, pins mark the location of all the sites mentioned in our articles on China. Zoom in or out on the map using the controls. Switch easily from map to satellite view. Click on each pin to pull up a tooltip with the name and any additional information.