Christmas is fast approaching, and from a cultural standpoint, this time of the year is one of the more interesting times to travel. The opportunities to experience major holidays in other countries are some of my most treasured travel memories.
While many people prefer to visit the Christmas markets of historic cities in Europe during the holiday season, I’ve found some considerable charm in a number of Asian countries that I did not initially expect.
Confession time though first, admittedly, I will be hitting the Christmas Markets in Paris this weekend — lots of gluwein in hand!
One of my favorite Asian cities I visit annually, during the Christmas holiday season, is Hong Kong. Despite being the typical “big Asian city,” I find it has a lot of charm, warmth, and a strange coziness about it in December.
To really appreciate Christmastime in Hong Kong though, you have to visit the Kowloon peninsula. The famous ‘A Symphony of Lights’ show on Victoria Harbour gets a festive overlay making it a “must see” for me in December.
While you can see the show from both Hong Kong Island and the Kowloon Peninsula, I’ve always been more fond of the views of the skyline from the Kowloon side. Here you are looking back into Central with a backdrop of some of the more famous Hong Kong buildings — a photography dreamscape for many.
Over the years, I’ve heard some people say the light show is a bit overrated, while others see it every single time they are in Hong Kong, no matter how often they visit. It’s hard to argue with a free show, and I find it’s a wonderful way to appreciate just how massive the buildings are – especially when all the skyscrapers are lit up at night.
If you aren’t familiar with ‘A Symphony of Lights,’ it is a multimedia show that includes more than 40 buildings on each side of Victoria Harbour. It utilizes colored lights, laser beams, and searchlights to create the synchronized display set to music and narration. The show has been named the “World’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show” by Guinness World Records, so it’s definitely worthwhile to see at least once in your life.
‘A Symphony of Lights’ takes place nightly at 8pm. For English narration, you can listen alongside the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront between the Avenue of the Stars and the Hong Kong Cultural Centre. This is the most popular vantage point and it is recommended you arrive at least an hour before, perhaps more on a weekend if you are hoping to snag a prime spot to set up your tripod.
A few other good spots to catch the show are area rooftop bars and hotels. The key is not to be too high up – we learned that after visiting the brand new Ritz-Carlton earlier this year, which became the tallest hotel in the world when it opened its doors in April. While the views from the restaurants and bars are nice, you cannot see the lasers from that high up so don’t waste your time.
If you are in Hong Kong this month, be sure to look for other festive displays as the city really goes all out for Christmas. There are Tiffany & Co. themed Christmas displays in Kowloon, and some shopping malls have massive interactive exhibits and events. This year, Hong Kong Harbour City, a shopping and entertainment complex, has Christmas displays devoted to Disney-Pixar’s Toy Story franchise to celebrate the new Toy Story Land that opened at Hong Kong Disneyland in November. Also some hotels, restaurants, and local bakeries often have special themed menus, pastries, and other goodies worth seeking out. The Hong Kong Tourism Board has also put together a pretty nice overview of some of the holiday happenings in the city if you are looking for other ideas on what to see and do.
You can visit Hong Kong 1,000 times and think you’ve seen everything there is to see, but come back at Christmastime, and, I think you’ll agree, it’s like discovering a brand new city for the first time.