Yes, HK and Shanghai have a common thread, but there are significant differences that can make Hong Kong or Shanghai the most effective choice. It all boils down to the kind of activities and environment you enjoy most.
Do you want to hike Hong Kong’s long and winding trails and/or summit its ‘sharp’ peaks? In contrast, do you fancy a cruise on the mighty river bisecting Shanghai?
These are just a handful of things that cause each destination to stand out. Find out more of them below to nail that next trip.
There’s no shortage of good reasons to holiday in Hong Kong, and there’s no shortage of intriguing reasons below the surface as well. The past and the present are very well represented, from its architecture, culture, art, markets, attractions, and more.
And even if you tire of the urban offerings, you are surrounded by nature. So just island-hop to your next adventure to keep the fire alive.
If you need some more persuading to head over to Hong Kong, the motivation you need is a few headlines in—
What Makes Hong Kong Unique
Full of Family-Friendly Activities
There is a slew of branded theme parks in HK, but if you think that’s the gist of all the attractions, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Expect novelty museums and thrilling activities. Below are several that your group of young folks (or young at heart) will surely delight in.
Disneyland is the frontrunner when it comes to the most resounding of all the activities you could do in Hong Kong. With it being the largest ‘park’ in HK, it is the smallest Disneyland to date. Though it borrows themes from its Anaheim counterpart, it still has several unique offerings only available there, including a real island in the background.
Want something more indoorsy?
How do you feel about playing with Lego blocks? Legoland Discovery Centre Hong Kong is more than just stacking bricks though. Look forward to seeing a replica of HK, ride a glorified merry-go-round that rises from the ground, employ all your senses in the 4D theatre, and tons more to bring out the child in you.
If Lego is not your speed, there’s Monopoly Dreams. It’s the supersized version of the classic board game. Get your selfie in prime form in front of life-size tokens and every element in the game imaginable. Plus, there’s the museum to learn about the Monopoly Man and the history and evolution of the game.
It doesn’t make sense not to get wet when in a destination near water, so consider several of them in HK.
If you are not a fan of sand and sea salt residue on your skin, Water World Ocean Park should solve several of your beach woes. Surf simulated waves, slide down state-of-the-art water slides, wade in wave pools, and raft in an artificial river, among others in a continuously expanding list.
Another water adventure that is laced with culture and history is the Walla-Walla Tour. Hop aboard the walla-walla, a humble electric-motor boat with an unassuming design. They come in flavors of thatched roofs and road-tire lifesavers for that authentic feel. Navigate to the decades-old floating Shrine of Peace. Or catch the gun salute of the Noonday Gun.
After the water, how about the wind for a change?
Peninsula Helicopter Tour gives ‘easy’ access to you who dreams of flight. Take the roughly 20-minute flight path over the city to get an unprecedented panorama of skyscrapers, landmarks, and the HK infrastructure. While all this is happening, the pilot doubles as a narrator as well.
If you have your younglings with you, looking for a purely child-themed place to foster your child’s development can be a challenge… but not in HK!
Wan Chai Promenade has dedicated open spaces, play facilities, and outdoor furniture for that exact purpose. On top of that, navigate Victoria Harbour in pedal-driven boats for that special bonding moment.
Have a hankering for a snack? Does instant ramen sound good? If yes, visit the Cup Noodles Museum. Not only do they have exhibits of all the iterations of this miracle foodstuff, but you can get your hands dirty in their workshops. Make your own noodles, design your own cup, and develop your own soup with over 5460 ingredient combinations.
If you want something more laid-back, you can always default to shopping at Central Market, taking in the sights and sea breeze at Victoria Harbour, or have a relaxing picnic in West Kowloon’s Art Park, East Coast Park Precinct, and Victoria Peak Garden, to name a few.
Creative Expression in Unlikely Places
Creativity and creative spaces are not something alien to the inhabitants of Hong Kong. They have their fair share of world-class art galleries from names that may elude you.
But what makes HK special is that they are not shy to express the contents of their creative minds on a canvas other than regular art materials… or on a stage other than a highbrow gallery.
The creativity of HK artists knows no bounds, they make use of augmented reality (AR) for the techies out there. Get the CITY IN TIME mobile app to watch Pedder Street’s history unfold as you yaw your screen and strafe around the area.
Looking for performance-based expression? Catch performance art and stand-up comedy at its finest in Fringe Club.
In HK, even coffee is used as a hub for artistry. Visit Artisan Cafe Central with its decorative interior full of colorful mugs and vintage artifacts. Drop by KAFFE for its hand-printed maps hung on walls, Scandanavian-art-covered paper cups, and other lifestyle products. Come to the front of Stain+ to gawk at their fluid façade, the murals ever-changing.
Do you also shop for art? Discover in PMQ the many wonderful works of art that you’ll yearn to place in your living room. Not just that, it is a nexus dedicated to serving like-minded creatives. Find inspiration, materials, exhibits, and workshops, anything and everything to take your game to the next level here.
Last, but not least, if graffiti is your definition of art, the Shingo Art mural by Shingo Katori should give you pause. It’s all about reds and whites dotted with flowery accents and a cityscape.
At the end of the day, you’ll learn that art and creativity need not be constrained to the traditional space of galleries and such. Let your imagination run wild as you get aroused from art in Hong Kong.
Outdoor Activities Overload
At roughly 1100 sq. km (430 sq. mi), Hong Kong is quite a small piece of real estate. Yet it surprisingly has an array of outdoor terrain to satisfy the most hardcore outdoorsman. Rock climbing, trail running, paddleboarding, stargazing, and cycling are but a sample of what can be had in HK.
The first of a number of options for you is rock climbing on Tung Lung Chau. Whatever your level, there are craggy rock faces on the shoreline ready to support your desire to reach the top. Climb the steep faces over the crashing waves and catch the scent of brine that fills the air.
If climbing rocks is too extreme for you, a relaxing hike should be right up your alley. Hike in Tai Lam Country Park for spectacular vistas over Thousand-Island Lake. Make it to the pointy peak of High Junk Peak. Or be a daredevil and brave the raised ridgeline of Tai To Yan.
The hiking possibilities in HK are vast—too much to fit in this guide. You can go on hiking trails to:
- Lau Shui Heung and Hok Tau Reservoirs for the sky-mirror effect,
- ‘Quarry Bay to Repulse Bay’ to traverse the width of Hong Kong Island,
- MacLehose Trail Section 4 and circumnavigate Pyramid Hill, and
- High Island Geo Trail for the hexagonal rock columns
Are watersports on your mind? Head to Kwun Yam Beach on Cheung Chau island for your dose of windsurfing, SUP, kayaking, and kitesurfing. Even though it is a small island, it sure is packed with the comforts of modern living, so there is no need to go back to the mainland after a fun-filled day.
What if you want to just relax under the night sky, that doesn’t count as an activity, you say? Think again.
The Clearwater Bay Country Park is sheltered from the city’s encroaching light pollution, thanks to the mountains. While waiting for nightfall, there is a designated kite flying area; watch people fly kites, or perhaps fly one yourself. You can even go to the highest point in the park. Tai Leng Tung’s summit is all but guaranteed to be a stargazer’s heaven.
With all that has been presented here, there is simply much to do in Hong Kong, so plan carefully if you want to maximize your stay.
Not Your Ordinary Shopping Street
Huge malls are a mainstay in Hong Kong, but that is not what will put the pizzazz in your shopping spree. Look for vintage shops, flea markets, night markets, bargain bazaars, and food streets, to name a few, in order to have a well-rounded dose of retail therapy.
After a whole morning’s worth of gallivanting all over the city and the islands, shift into low gear at the Temple Street Night Market. It can get rowdy here, with all the badgering from the vendors and the commotion from the crowds surrounding street acts. Anything and everything can be found here; even have your fortune read by the fortune tellers up at the north end.
If you want to focus on upping your fashion game without breaking the bank, drop by Ladies’ Market, Jardine’s Crescent, and Li Yuen Street East and West. Pick your choice of womenswear, wardrobe essentials, traditional garments, vintage gear, and the occasional branded item in their respective markets.
Wanting an upgrade to your home theatre? Apliu Street Flea Market has an array of new and preloved electronic goodies. Haggle that final piece to complete the set you’ve been meaning to have—and for a fraction of the price.
How about that missing decorative accent to your home interior? Cat Street is the place to be. Peruse their stalls filled with antiques, figurines, and a whole bunch of quirky curios. You are guaranteed to amaze your guests with that unique find.
What if you are more into consumable souvenirs? A health buff, perhaps? Get a whiff of the powerful stuff found at Dried Seafood Street and Tonic Food Street. Also, pick up some exotic remedies and Chinese medicine at Ko Shing Street.
In reality, there is much to discuss when it comes to Hong Kong’s uncommon trade and commerce scene. So much so that this section is just scratching the surface. So, head on over and discover them for yourself.
Shanghai, more than a tech city with sky-piercing structures and maglev trains, is a city of hidden gems. Uncovering said gems is all part of the appeal of a Shanghai vacation.
It’s a city where the old and new meet and meld without a hitch. It’s where the waters, i.e. the river, integrate swimmingly with the city; both serving as the economic backbone and a tourist temptation.
If everything laid out so far reads like the type of vacation you’re looking for, Shanghai just might be the next city you’ll be headed to next.
What Makes Shanghai Unique
For some, the tower of Babel is a myth, but in Shanghai, there could very well be more than one of this infamous ‘tower’ that stretches far out into the heavens. Whether you believe such things or not, promise yourself to climb atop at least three of these monolithic marvels.
And it’s not just climbing and spectacular views that you need to think about or expect, rather, there’s also a unique exhilarating activity waiting for you in each of them.
Take for example the Top of Shanghai Observatory perched on one of the floors of the tallest twisted building in the world, Shanghai Tower. Ride the elevator erroneously expecting it to be composed of twisty turns. However, it boasts the world’s fastest elevator (some say) that shoots you straight all the way to the top in a matter of a few minutes. How’s that for a thriller?
The Shanghai World Financial Center is another fine example of impressive engineering work within walking distance of Shanghai Tower. Get the feeling of walking on the clouds in the safety of its observatory… with transparent floors, that is. Test yourself on it, and be rewarded handsomely with bragging rights.
Want the feeling of riding a sci-fi capsule in the upper atmosphere?
Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower has that to offer, except for the “upper” part. But it’s still freakishly high, 351 meters (1152 ft) to be specific. And on top of the whole futuristic feel, the trip to the top could very well be the best part. Hop aboard its scenic elevator to get an unrivaled view of the mighty river flowing beside it.
Actually, Shanghai has a ton of skyscrapers, at least 10 of which are above 53 floors. And there are the other ones under construction as well. So there’s always something new that’s blossoming and raring to set or break some record. However, while that is going on, check out some of the other existing ones like:
- Shimao International Plaza,
- White Magnolia Plaza,
- and Plaza 66
Parks and Theme Parks
Shanghai is no stranger to parks, whether they are household names or not. What makes them stand out is the outstanding cultural integration implemented in them. And the denizens of Shanghai know how to infuse such things to make your visit worthwhile even if you’ve been to other branches.
First on the list is the magical kingdom of Disney Shanghai. It’s got all the characters and enchanted elements you know and love. On top of the cultural representation that underpins the park’s theme, the iconic Enchanted Storybook Castle is open for you to drop in. Meet and greet the Disney Princesses in said lavish abode.
Water Parks more your thing?
Shanghai Haichang Ocean Park is ready to get you wet with its interactive setups filled with intelligent wildlife. And that’s not all. Feel the thrill of their theme park rides designed to imprint memories. Choose from its roller coaster, volcano raft, cable car, and similarly zany attractions.
What if you want something less action-packed by a few notches? If you are thinking of regular parks… not yet!
Drop by the Shanghai Wild Animal Park and get into their safari vehicles. Observe the wildlife in the most realistic simulation habitat in Shanghai. And don’t forget to also watch the live animal performances if you want to be entertained by their adorable superstars.
For a more serene environment under the shade of centuries-old trees or the shadows cast by the pagodas mounted over water features, enter Yu Garden. The real treat comes at night when the gentle glow from strings of paper lanterns warms you up inside.
If you love art, particularly sculptures, have your fill with Jing’an Sculpture Park’s 10 pieces. In the center of the park lies the “Red Beacon,” which looks like a red cloud made from haphazardly spread sticks—to put it crudely. Use it as a hub to spot and map out your journey to the other 9 sculptures.
While it does sound fun to get into the more touristy parks and such, Shanghai also has several more of the basic types for that place to lay your hair back. They’re the kinds that have wide-open spaces, natural growths, and the occasional classic Chinese architecture and/or peculiar twist. Here are several of the ones worth mentioning—
- Changfeng Park (with an artificial lake),
- Gongqing Forest Park (the second-largest park here),
- and Huangpu Park (small area but with great views towards the Huangpu river and arguably the top 4 skyscrapers in the area).
Without the Huangpu river, Shanghai could very well be unable to reach the state that it is in. It is the very driving force of its economic might. Therefore, no trip to Shanghai would ever be complete without even taking a peek at the glistening ripples of the water as the sun shines upon them.
If you think daydreaming on the river’s edge is all there is to it, think again!
Check out the curious panoramas that vary from engineering feats of steel and concrete (and glass) to ancient Chinese ‘water towns’ where not a minute has passed by from the moment of their construction.
Here’s a smidge of bucket list attractions you’ll find in the area—
Riverboat tours or river cruises? The bottom line is you get to see the city in its full splendor from the water. Whether it’s day or night, there is always something special to be said about the cityscape. Some say a night trip makes for the best sightseeing; feel the energy of the city lights on the modern buildings and the warmth of the highlighted building outlines of the classic structures.
If you have bad sea legs, simply stroll at The Bund, which some consider the city’s center. Colonial-era buildings line the waterfront, a stark contrast to the modern-day marvels that are the skyscrapers on the other side of the river. And it’s not all just water and buildings though. There’s a park, a flowered wall, and a sightseeing underwater tunnel that crosses the river.
As mentioned earlier, stepping back in time is part of the allure of the river. Though not directly on the Huangpu, a handful of ancient towns grace the banks of the tributaries and distributaries that crisscross the landscape. These towns not only have numerous old-style homes along the banks, but they also have a multitude of bridges that span the width of the bodies of water.
Fengjing Water Town and Zhujiajiao Ancient Water Town are some of the most touted water towns in Shanghai. Just check the travel forums and aggregator sites to see that either Fengjing or Zhujiajiao is plastered all over them.
Of course, there is more than just these mentioned. The network of streams and rivers lends to many hidden gems waiting to be explored. All you have to do is to explore off the beaten track.
Experiences Hiding in Plain Sight
Discovering hidden worlds within a city can be daunting at first, but when you get to know them, you’ll get to experience the full character of the city… an experience that no travel site can ever hope to depict with words and/or pictures.
Take for example the roaring crowds in the Old Town market. From the outside, it looks like pure chaos. But get to know it and brave its ornate alleyways to find a whole new world waiting to be seen, heard, touched, and tasted.
Looking for curios as nonstandard souvenirs? There’s the mahjong market among the other knickknack dealers here and there. Want a serving of exotic or simple street food? Food stalls, street vendors, and bistros are aplenty among the aisles and courtyards. In here, be open-minded. Because whatever you are looking for, you’ll find something better in the next corner.
If the madness in the markets is just too much for you, search for the hidden landmarks and treasures scattered across the city instead.
Centuries-old private gardens and abodes are ripe for your adventure. Get in touch with a guide to tour you safely through them. Nod in reverence upon entering the Confucian temple deep within the city. Admire lesser-known sculptures littered all over, whether they be stone reliefs, guardian lions, oriental gargoyles, and the like.
But, at the end of the day, these wonders are marketed as ‘endangered.’ Advertisements say modern expansion of the city tends to discard such for bigger and shinier things. Nevertheless, don’t wait too long to explore them in Shanghai, they might not be there the next time around.
Which Is Better – Hong Kong or Shanghai?
Hong Kong makes the most sense out of the two because its outdoor experiences truly complete the vacation experience.
However, online ranking systems like Juniper Research rank Shanghai as one of the tippity top players in the smart-city scene. Well, that is if you are more into the modern urban environment and superlative structures, Shanghai will satisfy you there.
Also, Shanghai and its river escapades are nothing trivial. Access to ancient water towns is definitely a must in your itinerary.
That said, Hong Kong may not have the tallest buildings in the world, but it just brings more to the table for a well-rounded trip.
Whatever you ultimately decide, realize that you’ll have an enjoyable experience in either Hong Kong or Shanghai.
Shanghai vs. Hong Kong Economy
Gross Domestic Product estimates are quite confusing for the uninitiated. Some evaluations would rather focus on GDP per capita (i.e. individual contributions), living standards, and happiness index. But even that is hard to wrap your head around.
If you trust Forbes, their 2021 article, “Shanghai Is Now The Most Expensive City In The World,” should be more than enough of an answer. They also declare that Hong Kong is a few steps behind that once-held title.
How so, you may ask?
The underlying theme is that the number of billionaires increased in Shanghai, thereby raising the overall standing of the city. And that Hongkongers have changed their spending attitudes. Whether this becomes an undesirable characteristic for your pocket… the proof will be in the pudding.
Hong Kong Disneyland vs. Shanghai Disneyland
Originality points go to Shanghai Disneyland, especially for the Enchanted Storybook Castle. Hong Kong has more of a conservative style, borrowing themes from Disneyland Anaheim. And although HK has its flagship attractions and real-island backdrop, those are not enough (currently) to spell out a hallmark feature.
In 2020, the Castle of Magical Dreams was constructed in HK, which is not unlike Shanghai’s Storybook Castle. So if you’ve been to Shanghai, it’s probably not going to impact you much.
Nevertheless, as with all Disneylands, their evolution is a constant process. Their rankings could very well swap from decade to decade, so take this assessment with a grain of salt.
Hong Kong vs. Shanghai Shumai
Shanghai’s shumai is a delectable treat filled with marinated pork, sticky rice, herbs and spices, plus the omnipresent Shaoxing wine. Whereas Hong Kong shumai has ground pork, the occasional shrimp pieces, black mushroom, and an assortment of spices and seasonings specific to the style… and don’t forget the Shaoxing.
Now, it all boils down to your preference. With Cantonese-style shumai being the ubiquitous style in various countries outside HK, your taste buds are probably set. Depending on where you are, you might even consider Shanghai’s version a bit odd, considering the glutinous rice texture.
If you don’t like rice, HK shumai is your go-to dumpling. Otherwise, go for Shanghai shumai to get that filling breakfast the Shanghai denizens swear by.
Hong Kong Noodles vs. Flat Shanghai
In the fried noodle scene, Hong Kong’s noodles are thin egg noodles compared to Shanghai’s noodles, which are more thick Japanese-udon-like ones… not exactly as flat-shaped as the headline suggests.
HK noodles make for that characteristic crispy crunch to fried and soupless versions. Shanghai’s thick noodles are more for that ease of slurping, whether fried or not. So it all depends on the chef’s culinary goal/s, and, of course, your personal preference.
Where Is Shanghai and Hong Kong?
Shanghai is on the east coast of China, while Hong Kong lies on the southern coast of China.
Train From Hong Kong to Shanghai
Direct trains from Hong Kong to Shanghai are available at Hung Hom and West Kowloon stations. You can choose to end up at either Hongqiao or Shanghai railway station.
If you want to save a few bucks, you can take a bus to Shenzhen North station and get to the stations in Shanghai from there. You can also save by riding the overnight train that takes 20-ish hours.
The fastest trains will get you there in no longer than 10 hours. And you ‘might’ need to transfer trains in Shenzhen North station.
Hong Kong to Shanghai by Bullet Train
These high-speed trains can get you to Shanghai in eight-and-a-half hours. Take the Hong Kong West Kowloon Railway Station to Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station.
Select from Second-Class Seats, First-Class Seats (recommended for foreigners), and Business Class Seats.
This train historically departs once every 11:10 AM and arrives in Shanghai at 07:27 PM daily.
You must always refer to their website for the availability of the trains as it is subject to change.
Hong Kong to Shanghai High-Speed Train Time
8.5 hours is the typical time the High-Speed Train gets from Hong Kong to Shanghai.
You can catch this train, historically, at Hong Kong West Kowloon Railway Station every 11:10 AM. You’ll reach Shanghai at around 07:27 PM.
Hong Kong to Shanghai Drive
If you’re ready to brave 1462 km (908 mi) of pavement, then this 15- to 19-hour journey is for you. Realistically, 2 days of driving is what you’re going to need.
If you want to make this a worthwhile road trip, here is what some recommend as your itinerary—
From HK, drive 13+ hours towards Quzhou for a night. Visit the Ancestral Temple of Confucian origin. Or perhaps get a sight of Lanke Mountain’s green peaks before calling it a day.
In the morn, drive to Hangzhou for some sights like the Grand Canal and Hu Xueyan’s historic mansion. Or head to He Fang Street to snag some souvenirs.
Finally, 2+ hours of driving will get you to Shanghai.
Hong Kong to Shanghai Distance by Road
Not exactly a comfortable distance, 1462 km (908 mi) of road is what’s waiting for you if you drive. Which is why most folks recommend a plane or a train. But don’t let that stop you from acting upon your desire for a driving adventure!