I strongly suggest visitors to travel in a local way. Be open mind, blending in with locals always give you great experiences.
If you're not sure what places are local/ tourist traps, please find the following comments in lower part of this page.
What I suggest in tours
In a tour I strongly suggest you to do local area and food places only in a tour. For more touristy things I would suggest you to consider to do it in a self-guided way. I would be happy to help with to plan that as well.
When I travel on my own, I actually don't even pay much attention to itinerary, i'm more thirsty about information, I always try to learn about the people and their culture. Personally I'm not very interested in hitting main attractions at all, especially touristic ones. I always believe that traveling is about learning new idea and get inspired by other people and their culture.
This is also what I wish to deliver in a tour. I don't think a tour is simply about moving people from point A to B to complete a checklist, it's more about learning new things. Itinerary is only a medium for you to learn about Hong Kong. In my opinion, local insights and conversation are far more important part of a tour that help you to learn.
Be a respectful traveler and use the tour as a way to get you into real Hong Kong, learn about the people, their culture, their stories, their beliefs, their happiness and sadness... I hope that this will be something that you'll remember for a long time after the tour.
This is an introductory tour to Hong Kong's culture and history.
I don't set fixed itinerary for this itinerary. When I meet with the groups, we discuss and then we set the plan of the day together based on their preferences.
It could be a tour with a focus on history & culture, or food, or even a short hike for some photographers.
I usually recommend local neighborhoods in both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon side.
For instance Sheung Wan, Sham Shui Po, Wan Chai, Kowloon City are all very interesting neighborhoods for walking tours.
The only region I have run tours before in the New Territories is Ping Shan as it's quite interesting for the old architecture. But most other locations take too much traveling time.
Hong Kong is quite mountainous, therefore there are quite a lot of hiking trails right near the city. I have included short hikes in tours for photographers, it could be a hike in between 30 minutes to 3 hours.
I run 4, 6 or 8 hours tour.
Which tour to choose?
4 / 6 hours of city tours are most popular.
If you're very interested in Hong Kong history or local food culture, then you can consider a 6 hours tour, there would be enough time to cover markets, temple, historic sites and some food places, otherwise 4 hours tour would be enough.
I sometimes run 8 hours tour for hikers, or some people may still choose to see tourist attractions. But do note that tourist sites are something you can do easily without a tour.
Any hotel/ residence or MTR stations.
I mostly use MTR in this tour. Sometimes tram, ferry & buses. I don't suggest you to use taxi/ private car as it's not the best way to get to understand local life.
Lantau Island Tour
This is a tour that is suitable if you're interested in Hong Kong's rural landscape and countryside. If you like natural scenery or if you're hiker or photographer you'll find this interesting.
Lantau Island is also where I have been calling home for many years. if you're willing to walk I can show you many hidden gems.
The highlight of the island would be Tai O fishing village, it's one of the few places in Hong Kong which is still untouched by urbanization. Sometimes I also cover other towns on the island like Tung Chung, Mui Wo and Pui O.
Tung Chung is actually quite interesting, it's where I live. It's where we find some hidden historic sites, temple, market, local housing estate and even a fishing village. Surprisingly most people choose to stay at the touristic part of this town only to do shopping!
I sometimes cover a hike in the tour as it's a good way to see the hidden beautiful places on the island. It could be a hike in between 30 minutes to 3 hours.
The Big Buddha and the cable car are sometimes included, both places are very touristy. But the cable car's scenery is amazing.
Hong Kong has rainy season between April to August, the weather usually gets very hot and humid in these months.
This tour mostly takes place in outdoor area, therefore it's best to be visited from October to March.
I run 6 or 8 hours tour for Lantau.
Which tour to choose?
I mostly run 6 hours Lantau Island tour.
There are two choices, either doing the island in off the beaten track way (visiting Tai O, Tung Chung and probably other towns if time allows), or covering Tai O, cable car and the Big Buddha, but this option is more touristy.
It's possibly to do a hike in a 6 hours tour too, but I think it's only enough time to cover Tai O fishing village and a hiking trail.
Sometimes I run 8 hours tour as some groups are hikers who wish to do longer hike, but otherwise 6 hours would be enough for most people.
It takes about 40 minutes to 1 hour (or even more) to travel in between the island and the city. I therefore mostly met people on Lantau Island directly to save time. If you wish to meet at the hotel (or end back there) you may have to consider 8 hours option of tour.
The island is large and hilly. It takes 30 to 45 minutes to travel in between towns by bus. If you have motion sickness this tour may not be suitable for you due to the bus ride.
You can take taxi to slightly shorten traveling time to 20-30 minutes. But still the roads on the island are quite windy for people with motion sickness. A taxi ride costs in between 100 HKD to 180 HKD, it depends on the distance.
Multiple days tours?
Previously I mostly met people for 1-2 days only. Most people chose City tour, some people chose Lantau Island tour. I rarely run a third tour. Things could easily repeat if you do so many tours in such a small city.
I think city tour is a good choice if you're interested in the history and culture of the city. I only run Lantau Island tour because I live there and I know the hidden places there. If you think you're very interested in Hong Kong or if you're very interested in natural landscape, then you can consider a second tour on Lantau, but otherwise a day tour in the city is enough to provide you a lot of information.
I don't encourage people to do too much tours. I aim at using tours to help people to gain information and local insights rather than using the tour to complete a checklist of places, it's something that you can do easily with taxi/ subway on your own at lower cost.
Please do some "homework" too before you come...
I feel that people who get most from a tour are the ones who read before they come. It's not just about reading a guide book to see which top attractions are "must see", which market/ shopping mall are good for shopping...
When I travel on my own, I always try to read as much as possible before I join a tour. Learn about the history, culture, food, political situation, economy. So that I can ask deeper questions, to have more discussions with local people and to just learn more about everything. You don't know what to ask if you don't even have basic understanding of a place. In recent years i try to learn a little bit of the languages. It's not easy and it takes you some effort, but it's a very important way to learn and to show respect to other culture.
Hong Kong has amazing natural landscape, even local like me who has lived here for my whole life is still fascinated by it... (See the following picture of myself and my Lantau Island gallery)
These places are quite touristy
Hong Kong Island
Victoria Peak: Top tourist attraction and excellent place to see city skyline. But it is touristy, easy for self-guided trip with bus/ tram. It takes long transportation time to travel to and fro. I only cover this place before if the guests are keen hikers.
Stanley & Repulse Bay: Both places are very beautiful, but the area is relatively touristy and easy to explore with tourist bus.
Kowloon markets: Many guide books recommend the Kowloon markets around Prince Edward MTR station. I usually don't cover these markets in a tour, this includes flower market, bird garden, goldfish market and especially Ladies' market (which is very touristy). These places lack of a deep history to be introduced.
Mong Kok: It is a local shopping area and is a good place to experience local life (and street food is amazing too if you are foodie). But it is also lack of deep history to be introduced in a guided tour.
Chi Lin Nunnery / Nan Lian Garden: The garden and nunnery are very beautiful place to explore, definitely it is a great place for self-guided trip. But these places are only completed in recent decades. It is artificial and is lack of any deep historical background to be covered in a guided tour.
Thousands Buddha Monastery: The monastery is a beautiful place to explore, but it takes long walk to reach this place from nearby subway station (almost 25 minutes at least). It take at least another 20-30 minutes to travel from other part of Kowloon to the area. There are other more authentic temple that I would recommend which takes fewer transportation time.
The Big Buddha: I often receive inquiry about about the Big Buddha. This place is quite touristy and it is only completed after 1990s. There is relatively little historical background for this place to be introduced by a guided tour.
Many experienced travelers I met before request to skip this place, albeit some guests find it impressive, so i think there are mixed comments about this place. Ngong Ping 360 has great view, but it is relatively touristy.
One more note...
Yes, it sounds like many major attractions that you see in guidebook are considered as "not so local" for us. It is strange. You travel so far away to see Starbucks right near a big Buddha statue. Mass tourism works like this way, it create a sanitized comfort zone where tourists can travel in comfortable way. Unfortunately it also removes cultural uniqueness.
Please consider traveling in a more local way at least in some part of your trip. Step out of comfort zone and follow local lifestyle will help you to experience far more. Travel like a local is always great way to appreciate, to respect and to protect local culture.