Why You'll Want To Add The World's Most-Visited City To Your Bucket List

The results are in, and the world's most-visited city isn't London, Paris, or New York, according to recent studies. For years, Bangkok ranked No. 1 on Mastercard's Global Destination Cities Index, but in July 2023, based on the latest data from that index and the consulting firm Euromonitor International, Atlys reported that Thailand's capital has now taken a back seat to Hong Kong as the world's most-visited city.

This may come as a surprise since Hong Kong was literally giving away flights in a bid to woo tourists back earlier this year. However, it would appear the city is on the rebound now after the pandemic and closed borders reduced its inbound visitors from over 6.5 million in 2019 to just 500,000 in January 2023 (per Al Jazeera).

What is it about Hong Kong that makes it so special and worth visiting in your lifetime? The city is full of amazing sights, enough to earn it a spot on any traveler's bucket list, but the very nature of such lists is that they bend one's wishful thinking toward dream vacation destinations. Like any great city, Hong Kong has famous landmarks you'll want to see and unique dining experiences you'll want to have, but there are also practical considerations to keep in mind before visiting. That said, part of the adventure and fun of Hong Kong is just experiencing all the different ways to get around.

What makes Hong Kong worth visiting

With cheap fares, the world-renowned Star Ferry is an affordable way to take in Hong Kong Island's skyline as you ride back and forth between it and Kowloon. At night, the skyline really comes alive in the Symphony of Lights show. For even more stunning views, try the Sky100 High-Rise or the Peak Tram. The latter will take you up to Victoria Peak, or you can hike there after riding the Central–Mid-Levels escalator (Guinness-certified as the world's longest).

Riding a double-decker tram across the city is another inexpensive yet scenic way to soak up Hong Kong's tenement atmosphere. Foodies will definitely want to dine on dim sum, with Maxim's Palace in City Hall and the Michelin-starred Sham Shui Po branch of Tim Ho Wan being just two examples of restaurants that still cart steamed dumplings around to tables on old-fashioned trolleys.

The skyscraper district of Central has appeared in blockbuster movies like "Godzilla vs. Kong" and "The Dark Knight," where Batman glided off Tower 2 of the International Financial Centre, the city's second-tallest building. Back across Victoria Harbour, if you stroll along the Avenue of Stars on the Kowloon side, you'll find Hong Kong's version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, which includes the handprints of 2023 Oscar winner Michelle Yeoh and a statue of martial arts legend Bruce Lee. Don't forget Lantau Island, either: It holds major tourist attractions like Hong Kong Disneyland and the Big Buddha and nearby Po Lin Monastery.

Where the bucket list meets reality

Your readiness to visit Hong Kong may depend partly on where you live — not only because of distance, but because of geopolitical tensions. Though still considered a Special Administrative Region, Hong Kong has come under more control from mainland China in recent years through a new national security law, which set off a wave of much-publicized protests before the pandemic. On June 30, 2023, three years to the day after the Chinese central government enacted that law, the U.S. State Department issued a Level 2 travel advisory for Hong Kong, urging U.S. citizens visiting the city to "exercise increased caution due to the arbitrary enforcement of local laws."

That's a lower-level advisory than the ones for Macau and mainland China, where a "reconsider travel" warning is in effect. Yet it still means you could be detained in the wrong situation, so if you're coming from the U.S. and you do decide to visit Hong Kong, follow the State Department's guidelines about being aware of your surroundings, avoiding demonstrations or unauthorized photos of the police, and keeping a low profile.

This isn't meant to burst anyone's travel bubble; just use common sense and remember that you're a guest, subject to local laws. Whether you put Hong Kong on the back burner or at the very top of your bucket list, its Immigration Department has a list of visa requirements for countries around the world, so you can check your passport against that and plan accordingly.