Last Updated: December 2, 2021

Hong Kong vs Shanghai (A Hard Choice)

Hong Kong and Shanghai are the two largest cities in China and some of the largest metropolises in the world, but which one is better to visit?

Let’s just start out by saying that no matter which of the two cities you end up going to, Hong Kong or Shanghai, you’re going to have a great time. And, while they both have a lot of similarities, underneath it all, Hong Kong and Shanghai are quite different. 

Join me as we take a deep dive into Hong Kong vs Shanghai so you can get a better idea of each and choose the right one for your next visit to East Asia. 

About The Cities

Hong Kong 

Hong Kong sits on a group of islands on China’s southern coastline and is home to around 7.5 million people. The city of Honk Kong, as you probably know, used to belong to the British and was given back to China in July of 1997.

Under British rule, the city became an international hub for business and ex-pats, and this trend was continued when the Chinese took over.

Today, Hong Kong is a very cosmopolitan city and a place where western and Asian cultures meet. It has a buzzing and welcoming vibe with a great food scene, nightlife, and the surrounding islands and coastline are stunning to explore. 


Shanghai is the biggest and most populated city in China and is home to some 30 million people. The city of Shanghai sits on China’s central coast, around 1200 km north of Hong Kong. It’s a buzzing metropolis that is home to one of the world’s largest seaports and is the hub for commercial trade and industry in China. 

Sitting on the Huangpu River estuary, Shanghai is famous for its futuristic skyline that features the Shanghai Tower and the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. It has a colonial and cultural side to it too with its Yu Garden and colonial-era buildings along the waterfront of Bund. 

It’s one of the modern cities on the planet but is also somewhere where the old meets the new amongst a serious hub of industry. 


The main differences between Hong Kong vs Shanghai spotlighted here are their sizes and location. Shanghai is almost 4 times biggest than Hong Kong in terms of population and sits way further north. While they are both on the sea, Hong Kong is dotted over islands making for a rather scenic cityscape that traverses nature.

Shanghai’s cityscape is extremely modern and seemingly unending. It sprawls along China’s central coastline while retaining areas of Chines heritage and culture, a lot more so than Hong Kong.  

Things To Do 

Hong Kong 

Hong Kong is teeming with great things to do. Being based on a group of islands, it’s impossible not to integrate nature into your time in this city, as I already mentioned. 

With so many skyscrapers, Hong Kong is known as the tallest city in the world and the best way to get a sense of it is by heading up to Victoria Peak. Victoria Peak is the most affluent neighborhood in Hong Kong and while it’s the home of the rich and famous, you’re going there for the view.

From the top, you can see stretching views across Kowloon Bay and back over into the business hub. The modern skyline mixed with seaside islands is quite amazing. While you’re there you should also check out Victoria Peak Garden which you’ll walk through on your way up to the peak. 

Just down from Victoria Peak is the area of Tai Ping Shan which is home to a lot of Hong Kong’s cultural sites and museums. You’ll find Man Mo Temple which was built in 1847 as a tribute to the Gods of Literature and War, Man & Mo, by wealthy merchants.

You’ll also find the Lung Fu Shan Environmental Education Centre, Hong Kong Museum of Medical Sciences, Dr. Sun Yat-sen Museum, Tai Kwun – Centre for Heritage and Arts, and lots of other museums in the district. 

Something everyone must do while in Hong Kong is to hike along the Dragons Back trail on Hong Kong Island. It’s one of the easiest hikes to get to and it showcases just how intermingled Hong Kong is with its natural surroundings. 

The hike begins at Cape Collinson Crematorium in Chai Wan and once you have hiked up onto the ridge, the trail follows a path along the hills which looks like a Dragon’s Back. As you walk the 8.5 km trail, you’ll have views of the open ocean on one side and Tai Tam Bay on the other. 

Nothing will get you a better sense of Hong Kong than hopping on the Star Ferry. Make sure you get a seat on the top deck and take in the amazing views as you navigate the islands and see the city from the water. You can also the ferry network to go island hopping and check out places like Macau or Cheung Chau Island which is home to traditional fishing villages. 


Something everyone has to do while in Shanghai is to take a stroll down the Bund. The Bund is a waterfront promenade along a meander of the Huangpu River and it’s home to some of the most unique architecture in China. As you stroll along the banks of the river you’ll find old trading houses and banks that were set up by the French, British, and Americans in the 1930s. 

The builds feature Baroque, Gothic, and Art Deco styles and today are home to bars, restaurants, and hotels that have, arguably, the best views in the city. 

Taking a peek at Shanghai’s futuristic skyline is also another must while in the city. It’s best seen via a boat ride along the Huangpu River and while it’s cool to see in the daytime, nothing beats it at night when the buildings drench in the city in almost every color you can imagine. 

If you’re looking to take in some history and culture in Shanghai then taking a stroll around Central Shanghai is your best bet. You can wander through the old Jewish Quarter, on into the French Concession with buildings from the 1850s, drop into Fuxing Park, and then see ancient buildings such as the  Lyceum Theatre, Jade Buddha Temple, and The Cloisters. 

For a spot of greenery while navigating the streets, stop off in Yu Garden. Based on the gardens of Suzhou, it was built by the Ming dynasty in the 1500s and is a true reflection of ancient China with towers, halls, and pavillions intermingled among the trees and plants. 

If you want to see the real thing, a trip to Suzhou gardens is just a 30-minute train ride from central Shanghai. Once called the Garden City, Suzhou was made up of 200 private gardens with 69 remaining today, and eight of them are UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Each of the 69 gardens is beautifully landscaped and includes features like sculptures, bridges, and koi ponds. 

Other great things to do in Shanghai include visiting the Shanghai Museum, the Zhujiajiao Ancient Town, and the Soft Spinning Material Market that is littered with hundreds of tailor shops. 


When it comes to Hong Kong vs Shanghai and things to do, you’re certainly not going to get bored no matter which city you’re in. Shanghai is a great combination of ancient Chinese culture, colonial relics, and architecture, all surrounded by a very modern metropolis. 

Hong Kong lacks the cultural element of ancient China although it is dotted around the city but has a much more outdoors feel to it with islands to hop around, nature trails, as well as a stunning cityscape and skyline, offering the best of both worlds in my opinion. 

What’s the food scene like? 

Hong Kong 

Hong Kong, without a doubt, has the best food scene of all the major cities in China and is home to over 60 Michelin restaurants. If it’s fine dining you’re after, Hong Kong has got you covered but it’s also dotted with down-to-earth eateries too that serve up delish Chinese food as well as cuisines from across the world. 

Another amazing thing about eating out in Hong Kong is that you can always find a restaurant with an amazing view if you want to. Sitting some 20-40 stories up, you can eat delicious food while staring out across the islands and the Pacific ocean. 

If the idea of paying for a Michelin Starred meal makes your wallet recoil, going to Tim Ho Wan might be the exception. This restaurant is by far the best place in Hong Kong to have dim-sum and it’s very affordable too. Make sure to arrive 30 minutes before the restaurant opens to reserve your spot and then enjoy the steamed shrimp dumplings, baked bun with barbecue pork, and the vermicelli roll stuffed with shrimp. 

If you’re looking for a view and in the mood for something other than Chinese food head to Aqua which sits on the 29th and 30th floor of the One Peking building in Kowloon. This restaurant serves both Japanese and Italian food, plus it has some of the best views on the skyline and islands too. 

When you’re ready to go full local, head to Tsim Chai Kee for some of the best noodles and broth you might ever taste. This is a tiny restaurant that fits just 10 people and the menu is just as small. Choose from four noodle dishes, three kinds of noodles, and be prepared to be blown away. 

Other great foodie places to check out in Hong Kong include the Tai Cheong Bakery for custard tarts, L’atelier De Joel Robuchon for a triple Michelin expensive experience, Lobby Lounge at InterContinental Hong Kong for traditional English High Tea, and Oddies Foodies for decadent desserts. 


Shanghai also has quite an internationally recognized food scene with 43 Michelin-starred restaurants, so just  20 or so less than Hong Kong.  It’s also dotted with thousands of local joints as well as amazing markets with some of the best street food in China. 

The local food in Shanghai is known for its fish and seafood and you’ll find things like crab, fish, and shellfish on almost every menu as well as delicious pork dumplings on almost every corner in the city.

The fine dining in Shanghai comes largely from its connection with France and a lot of the Michelin starred venues are either French or French-Chinese fusion and visiting one while you’re there is kind of a must. 

One thing that is highly recommended while in Shanghai if you want to get a true taste of the local cuisine is going on a guide food tour. You’ll be part of a small group and as you wander the streets, learn about the history of Shanghais local cuisines while stopping at 4 family-run local restaurants and one local home to try some Shanghai delicacies. 

For some of the best food in Shanghai, head to Yi Long Court at The Peninsula Hotel. Yi Long Court is one of the few restaurants in Shanghai with two Michelin stars and is a place where you’re guaranteed to eat some of the most delicious Chinese and Cantonese dishes of your life. The setting is also fantastic as you sit amongst its Art Deco interior.


If you love food then no matter which city you choose out of Hong Kong vs Shanghai you’re going to be in for a serious treat. Both have fantastic Chinese cuisine from the street markets to the local restaurants and for some other cuisines and fine dining, you’re more than covered with each city’s abundance of Michelin-starred restaurants. 

How’s The Nightlife 

Hong Kong 

Hong Kong is one of the best cities in Asia to party in. You have the choice of underground dance clubs, sophisticated rooftop bars, trendy bustling areas, as well as the amazing light shows put on over Victoria Harbor. 

If you’re looking for a trendy night out in Hong Kong, you should head to the Lan Kwai Fong and Soho areas of Central Hong Kong. The streets are full of ex-pats and locals alike and you can find everything from great bars to clubs, and restaurants. 

Having a drink at OZONE, the highest rooftop bar in the world is a must. It sits some 118 floors high on the top of The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong. Cocktails might be a little expensive but it’s worth having one or two and seeing the amazing view of Hong Kong and its island lit up at night. 

If you want to see some amazing DJs and party until late, Wan Chai on Hong Kong Island is the place to be. Head to clubs such as CÉ LA VI Hong Kong, Volar Club, and PLAY Club where you’ll find the best music in town and be able to boogie until the early hours. 

Something worth catching before the night gets too fun is Hong Kong’s Symphony of Lights, the world’s largest permanent light show. 45 lights from both sides of Victoria Harbor come together every night for a great show at around 8 pm. Go to Tsim Sha Tsui Promenade or Golden Bauhinia Square for the best views.  


Shanghai is another awesome place to have a good night out and with so many young locals and ex-pats living there, the city is very much alive at night. You have a load of options whether you want to hang out at a bar or dance the night away until the early hours. 

A great place to start a night out is at TOP which is a rooftop bar on the Banyan Tree Hotel. The views of Shanghai are excellent and it’s especially recommended to be there at sunset. For something a little more low-key head to Logan’s Punch. It’s an out-of-the-way cocktail bar with a cozy interior that is perfect for catching up with friends or meeting some locals. 

For a local night out head to DaDa where you’ll find local DJs dropping house and techno for a young Chinese crowd. Drinks are affordable in this dimly lit cozy nightclub and there isn’t a better place to feel like you have partied in real Shanghai. 

For something more upmarket, a trip to ALL Club is a good shout. Think of an industrial look you’d find in east London with all the house, techno, and drum and bass to match. 


Once again, the Hong Kong vs Shanghai debate is no closer to being solved. Both of these awesome cities have amazing nightlife. Shanghai has more venues which makes sense considering its size but both offer the same fun vibes and high-end rooftops that make them both so appealing. 

Hong Kong vs Shanghai – The Verdict 

As you can see, both of these cities are pretty fantastic places to visit, and choosing between Hong Kong & Shanghai isn’t easy.

The key differences that stand out for me are that Hong Kong is better for anyone who loves the outdoors and prefers a more cosmopolitan vibe while Shanghai is a great place to dive into ancient Chinese culture while seeing the new China right alongside. 

If you’re looking for a real taste of China’s past and present, Shanghai wins. If island hopping and being in nature while exploring one of the world’s coolest cities is more your vibe, then choose Hong Kong. 

About the Author Roger Timbrook

Roger is a little obsessed with travel. He has been to over 40 countries, broken 3 suitcases and owned over 10 backpacks in 12 months. What he doesn't know about travel, ain't worth knowing!

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