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Summer dreaming: Hong Kong's best beaches
The best sun, sand, sea, and lotioned-up crowds that this tropical locale has to offer
Summer is Hong Kong's default season -- the cool winds of winter are just a refreshing break. So what to do when the humidity is high and the thermometer hovers above 30 degrees for months on end? Head to the beach, of course.
Hong Kong has more than 100 beaches, 41 of which are maintained by the government, with lifeguards, shark nets, changing rooms and other convenient amenities. Here's our pick of the best:
See the Leisure and Cultural Services Department's beach water quality ratings at it's website.
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Best overall beach: Shek O
The scene: While the tourists go to Repulse Bay, those who know better head east to Shek O. This beach has got it all. A wide expanse of soft sand, a beautiful view of rocky headlands and a cute beachside village packed with restaurants, cafés and BBQ joints. On hot summer weekends, you'll come across families, rich kids who cruise up in daddy's Bentley, groups of Indian men picnicking with pots of biryani and local beach bums with scraggly hair and skin five shades darker than everyone else. Yes, it's busy and full of people, but there's a giddy atmosphere that reminds us of being teenagers on summer vacation. And isn't that what going to the beach is all about?
The crowds: Nearly 4,000 people visit Shek O Beach on weekends, but the beach is big enough to absorb the crowds without making things too uncomfortable.
Facilities: Changing rooms, showers, toilets, public BBQ area. There's a row of shops next to the beach that sell swimsuits, beach mats and snacks.
How to get there: Take bus 9 or the red minibus from Shau Kei Wan MTR.
Best beach to get away from it all: Tai Long Wan
The scene: You don't need to go to Malaysia to find miles of pristine white sand beaches. Tai Long Wan is a strip of several large beaches on the coast of the Sai Kung Country Park. The closest is a 90-minute hike over scrubby hills with incredible views of sharp peaks and turquoise water. Ham Tin Village, next to the main beach, has a ramshackle restaurant that serves simple dishes and rents out camping equipment and surf boards. The water here is often rough -- Tai Long Wan means Big Wave Bay -- so don't stray too far into the water unless you're a strong swimmer.
The crowds: Nice days will attract a few dozen hikers and surfers, but the long hike means that only serious beachgoers make the effort. It's a universe away from any beach closer to town.
Facilities: The restaurant at Ham Tin has crude, filthy toilets, but beyond that, don't expect change rooms, lifeguards or rules -- which is, of course, the whole reason for going.
How to get there: Take bus 94 or 96R from Sai Kung town centre and get off at Pak Tam Au. Alternatively, take a taxi from Sai Kung to the Sai Wan drop off. If you're too exhausted to hike back, a speed boat runs from Ham Tin to Sai Kung on the weekends ($100 per person), but only if the waters aren't too rough and there are enough people.
Best beach for summer surfing: Pui O
The scene: Surf's up at Pui O Beach, which is one of the few places in Hong Kong to catch a break during the summer monsoon, when winds blow from the southwest. The waves here aren't exactly big, though, which makes the beach popular with families and anyone who loves a bit of bodysurfing. The view is spectacular, with the lush mountains of Lantau on three sides, and the beach sits next to a large marsh that is popular with water buffalo, which makes for a fun diversion when you get tired of the sand.
The crowds: Even on the busiest days of the year there are no more than a few hundred people on the beach, so you'll have plenty of space to yourself.
Facilities: Toilets, changing rooms, showers, snack bar, public BBQ area and a campground.
How to get there: From the Mui Wo ferry pier, take any bus; from Tung Chung MTR, take bus 3M and get off at Pui O Village.
Best beach for nighttime trysts: South Bay
The scene: By day, South Bay is where Hong Kong's scenesters hang out, showing off their trendy beachwear while they nurse hangover cocktails at the South Bay Beach Club. But the real magic happens at night, after the spectacular sunset, when the beach grows quiet and the bright lights of Repulse Bay and Ocean Park glow in the distance. This is probably one of the quietest beaches on Hong Kong Island and the absence of public transport means that the later you stay, the more sand you'll have to yourself. Bring a bottle of wine and toast whatever stars you can see.
The crowds: More than 1,100 people flock here on weekend afternoons, but on weekdays, it's virtually empty.
Facilities: Changing room, toilets, showers, snack bar and public BBQ area.
How to get there: There's no public transport, so take a taxi from Repulse Bay.
Best beach for romantic sunsets: Wu Kai Sha
The scene: There's no obvious way to get here, but if you find your way down the winding concrete paths to To Tau Village, you'll be greeted by a rustic scene of wooden boats moored in the idle waters of Tolo Harbour. As the sun dips below the mountains and the city's distant lights twinkle on, you won't hear much more than the lapping of water. If it weren't for the apartment towers of Ma On Shan looming in the distance, you could be on an isolated bit of the rural Chinese coast. Somewhat fittingly, the beach is a popular destination for wedding photography, especially at sunset.
The crowds: Newlyweds aside, the beach is a popular weekend hangout for families who live nearby, though the water is of dubious quality.
Facilities: None, but there is a BBQ restaurant on the beach.
How to get there: Take the MTR to Wu Kai Sha station and walk towards Cheung Kang Village; then follow the signs to To Tau.
Best beach for volleyball and gorgeous views: Lido
The scene: Here's a good bet: if you've heard of Lido Beach, you either live near Tsuen Wan or you're a baby boomer who grew up in Kowloon. Back in the day, Lido Beach was one of Hong Kong's most famous beaches, with a hotel famous for afternoon tea and a panoramic view of the Rambler Channel. Then the water quality deteriorated so much that lifeguard services were withdrawn and the beach was officially closed. Recent sewage treatment projects have been so successful, however, that the government hopes to reopen the beach next year. In the meantime, the view is still beautiful, and the beach is still immaculately maintained and used for sunbathing and beach volleyball. Water quality isn't great, but it's clean enough for a quick dip, and on our last visit there were a few dozen people in the water.
The crowds: No more than a few hundred on weekends, including lots of volleyball players.
Facilities: Changing rooms, toilets, showers, beach volleyball courts.
How to get there: Take bus 53 from Fu Wah Street, near Tsuen Wan MTR. Red minibuses going to Yuen Long from Jordan and Mongkok also pass by the beach.
Best beach for clean freaks: Trio
The scene: The Environmental Protection Department is constantly monitoring the water quality at Hong Kong's government-run beaches and those that consistently top the list for clean, clear water are in Sai Kung. Trio Beach is the nicest and most convenient of the Sai Kung beaches: the sand is soft, the water calm and the atmosphere idyllic, with families, couples and lazy bands of BBQers. The lifeguards here lead an especially charmed life -- with so little to worry about, they spend most of their day suntanning.
The crowds: Because the beach is small, it can get fairly crowded on weekends, but not as much as Sai Kung's other good beach, Tap Mun Bay.
Facilities: Changing rooms, toilets, showers, snack bar, public BBQ area.
How to get there: Take the 1A minibus from Choi Hung MTR or 101M minibus from Hang Hau MTR; get off at Pak Sha Wan, where a sampan makes the 10-minute journey to the beach.