If you're lucky, your trip might coincide with one of Hong Kong's colorful festivals. The only festival that shops and offices close for is the Chinese New Year, though some in Tsim Sha Tsui remain open to cater to tourists.
Below are the most popular events, including Chinese festivals and festivals of the arts. For additional information on all of these events the Hong Kong Tourism Board (HKTB; tel. 852/2508 1234 in Hong Kong; www.discoverhongkong.com) can provide detailed information on where events are being staged and how to get there. For several of the festivals, HKTB even offers organized tours, which are one of the best ways to secure front-row seats without battling the crowds.
For an exhaustive list of events beyond those listed here, check http://events.frommers.com, where you'll find a searchable, up-to-the-minute roster of what's happening in cities all over the world.
Chinese New Year. The most important Chinese holiday, this is a 3-day affair, a time for visiting friends and relatives, settling debts, doing a thorough housecleaning, consulting fortunetellers, and worshipping ancestors. Strips of red paper with greetings of wealth, good fortune, and longevity are pasted on doors, and families visit temples. Most shops (except those in tourist areas) close down for at least 2 or 3 days; streets and building facades are decorated with elaborate light displays; flower markets sell peach trees, chrysanthemums, and other good-luck flowers; a colorful parade winds its way along the waterfront, usually on the first day; and a dazzling display of fireworks lights up the harbor, usually on the second day of the holiday. Because this festival is largely a family affair (much like the Christian Christmas), it holds little interest for the tourist. In fact, if you're planning a side trip into China, this would be the worst time to go, since all routes to the mainland are clogged with Hong Kong Chinese returning home to visit relatives. Late January or early February (Feb 3-5, 2011).
Hong Kong Arts Festival. This is a month-long celebration with performances by world-renowned orchestras, pop and jazz ensembles, and opera, dance, and theater companies (including experimental theater and Chinese operas); and with ethnic music and art exhibitions. For a schedule of events, venues, and ticket information, call tel. 852/2824 2430 or HKTB at tel. 852/2508 1234, or visit the website www.hk.artsfestival.org. February/March (Feb 17-Mar 27, 2011).
Hong Kong Sevens Rugby Tournament, Hong Kong Stadium. Known as "the Sevens," this is one of Hong Kong's most popular, and one of Asia's largest, sporting events, with more than 20 teams from around the world competing for the Cup Championship. Tickets (priced at HK$880 for a 3-day pass) are often sold out. For more information, contact the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union at tel. 852/2504 8311 or check the websites www.hkrugby.com or www.hksevens.com.hk. Fourth weekend in March.
Ching Ming Festival, all Chinese cemeteries (especially in Aberdeen, Happy Valley, Chai Wan, and Cheung Chau island). A Confucian festival to honor the dead, observed by sweeping ancestral graves, burning incense, offering food and flowers, and picnicking among the graves. Contact HKTB at tel. 852/2508 1234. Fourth or fifth day of the Third Moon, March/April (Apr 5, 2011).
Hong Kong International Film Festival, Hong Kong Arts Centre, Hong Kong Cultural Centre, City Hall, and other venues around town. More than 250 films from more than 50 countries are featured at this 2-week event, including new releases, documentaries, and archival films. Tickets for most events cost HK$60. For more information, call tel. 852/2970 3300, or check www.hkiff.org.hk. Two weeks in March/April.
Tin Hau Festival, all Tin Hau temples, especially in Joss House Bay (Sai Kung) and Tai Shu Ha (Yuen Long). This colorful festival celebrates the birth of Tin Hau, goddess of the sea and Hong Kong's most popular deity among fishing folk. The celebration stems from a legendary fisherman's daughter who could supposedly calm stormy seas and protect fishermen. To pay her tribute, fishing boats are decorated with colorful flags, parades and lion dances fill the streets, and family shrines are carried to shore to be blessed by Taoist priests. A similar festival is held at A-Ma Temple in Macau. Contact HKTB, which organizes special tours of the events, at tel. 852/2508 1234. Twenty-third day of the Third Moon, usually in April (Apr 25, 2011).
Cheung Chau Bun Festival, Pak Tai Temple, Cheung Chau island. Unique to Hong Kong, this weeklong affair is thought to appease restless ghosts and spirits. Originally held to placate the unfortunate souls of those murdered by pirates, it features a street parade of lions and dragons and Chinese opera, as well as floats with children seemingly suspended in the air, held up by cleverly concealed wires. The end of the festival is heralded by three bun-covered scaffolds erected in front of the Pak Tai Temple, with selected contestants scrambling up them to retrieve the buns, which supposedly bring good luck to those who receive them. HKTB organizes tours of the parade; call tel. 852/2508 1234. Usually late April or early May (May 10, 2011).
Buddha's Birthday, Buddhist temples throughout Hong Kong. Worshippers flock to pay respect to Siddhartha, founder of Buddhism, and to bathe Buddha statues. The Po Lin Monastery on Lantau Island is one of the most popular destinations on this day. Contact the HKTB at tel. 852/2508 1234. Ninth day of the Fourth Moon, usually either in April or May (May 10, 2011).
Dragon Boat Races (Tuen Ng Festival). Races of long, narrow, gaily painted boats are powered by 20 to 22 oarsmen who row to the beat of drums. The races originated in ancient China, where legend held that an imperial advisor drowned himself in a Hunan river to protest government corruption. His faithful followers, wishing to recover his body, supposedly raced out into the river in boats, beating their paddles on the surface of the water and throwing rice to distract sea creatures from his body. Tai O, on Lantau, holds a religious ceremony, featuring dragon boats carrying deities to four temples and residents burning paper offerings. Otherwise, qualifying heats for the races are held in Aberdeen, Sai Kung, Cheung Chau, and Lantau, with final races on the main day best seen from Stanley Beach. For a front-row seat, contact HKTB at tel. 852/2508 1234 for special race-day tours. Fifth day of the Fifth Moon (June 6, 2011).
Yue Lan Festival (Festival of the Hungry Ghosts). Released from the underworld, ghosts are believed to roam the earth for 1 lunar month each year. Religious ceremonies and offerings of food and paper replicas of life's necessities are burned to appease the spirits of discontented ghosts (those who were murdered, died without proper funeral rites, or are without descendants to care for them), in an attempt to prevent the unhappy souls from seeking vengeance on humans. Popular venues are King George V Memorial Park in Kowloon and Moreton Terrace Playground in Causeway Bay. Contact HKTB at tel. 852/2508 1234 for more information. Fourteenth day of the Seventh Moon (Aug 14, 2011).
Mid-Autumn Festival, Victoria Park, Kowloon Park, and Victoria Peak. Held in early autumn, this major festival (sometimes referred to as the Moon Festival) celebrates the harvest and the brightest moon of the year. In honor of the event, local people light lanterns in the shapes of fish, flowers, and even ships and planes; gaze at the moon; and eat mooncakes (sweet rolls with sesame seeds, duck eggs, and ground lotus seeds). The mooncakes commemorate the 14th-century uprising against the Mongols, when written messages calling for the revolt were concealed in cakes smuggled to the rebels. Today the Urban Council organizes lantern carnivals in parks on both Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, where you can join the Chinese for strolls among hundreds of lanterns, making this one of Hong Kong's most charming and picturesque festivals. In addition, don't miss the dragon fire dance in Causeway Bay's Tai Hang district. Contact HKTB at tel. 852/2807 1234. Fifteenth day of the Eighth Moon, either in September or October (Sept 12, 2011).
Chung Yueng Festival, all Chinese cemeteries. The second time of year when ancestral graves are swept and offerings are made. It's also a popular hiking day. Ninth day of the Ninth Moon (Oct 5, 2011).
Wine and Dine Festival, West Kowloon Promenade. Food vendors set up booths along the promenade, allowing visitors to sample award-winning local dishes and wine from around the world. Four days at the end of October.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.