Hong Kong, the bright neon metropolis that inspired the setting for the movie Blade Runner, is known as a city of hard work and harder play. If you look beyond the skyscrapers that dominate the skyline, however, you’ll discover beautifully designed Buddhist spaces that let residents take a break from the hustle.
Although Hong Kong is one of the least religious places in the world, many of its residents consider Buddhism to be an important part of their ancestral culture. The city is home to hundreds of Buddhist temples, some dating back hundreds of years. On public holidays such as Lunar New Year and Vesak (the Buddha’s birthday), locals flock to colorful altars to light incense and set good intentions. Recent decades have seen several impressive multi-million-dollar projects that celebrate Hong Kong’s Buddhist heritage—such as Tsz Shan Monastery and Nan Lian Garden—with free admission for visitors.
1| The Big Buddha Statue
The journey to Hong Kong’s Big Buddha begins with a 30-minute cable car up the misty mountains of Ngong Ping with views of the 112-foot-tall statue in the distance. Next, visitors can wander through Ngong Ping Village and say hello to the friendly wild cows and water buffalo. Finally, ascend the 268 steps up to the giant bronze Chinese Buddha, who is seated on a lotus surrounded by six kneeling devas representing the six perfections. Don’t forget to go inside the body to see a collection of traditional Buddhist art. Before you head back down, visit the neighboring Po Lin Monastery for a vegetarian meal with the resident monks.
Ngong Ping Rd, Lantau Island
2| Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden
Chi Lin, which was founded as a retreat for nuns in 1934, looks like a Tang Dynasty temple painting come to life. Stroll past lotus ponds and bonsai trees while admiring the cypress wood buildings with sweeping roofs constructed entirely without nails. You might catch a glimpse of the resident nuns chanting and offering food to Shakyamuni Buddha and Guanyin, the bodhisattva of compassion. Across the road, the Nan Lian classical garden takes you past waterfalls, curved red bridges, and the golden Pavilion of Absolute Perfection.
5 Chi Lin Dr, Sheung Yuen Leng
3| Wong Tai Sin Temple
Visit a temple that is (unusually) dedicated to figures from three religions: Wong Tai Sin (a Taoist deity known for his healing powers), the Buddha, and Confucius. Founded in 1921, this popular spiritual site is a sensory overload of brightly painted eaves, rows of hanging lanterns, and incense urns. Pass the scowling protector lion statues at the entrance, followed by the carved Nine-Dragon Wall. Inside, take part in the practice of kau chim: Shake out a numbered bamboo stick from a cylinder containing a hundred of them. Then show your stick to a fortune-teller, who will advise you on what the future holds.
2 Chuk Yuen Rd, New Kowloon
4| Soil to Soul Restaurant
Located inside the hip K11 art mall, Soil to Soul is a stylish restaurant with a menu inspired by ancient Korean Buddhist temple cooking. All the dishes are vegan or vegetarian, and none contains the “five forbidden spices”: garlic, spring onion, leek, chive, and onion. Choose from the set menu or order à la carte dishes like chili paste pancake rolls, perilla seed and taro soup, and poached pear with red dates, cinnamon, and star anise. Head chef Gu Jin Kwang sources seasonal ingredients from local farmers and engages in sustainable practices; for example, he offers a low-waste afternoon tea set menu.
Shop 704, 18 Salisbury Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui
5| Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery
Take a hike up a mountain path flanked with golden statues of arhats (enlightened ones), each with a different facial expression and posture. After ascending 431 steps, you’ll arrive in an open area filled with even more Buddhist figures, a nine-story pagoda, and a grand temple hall. If you’re keeping count, the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery has a total of nearly 13,000 individually carved figures. The two-story complex also houses the embalmed and gold-painted corpse of the monastery’s founder, Reverend Yuet Kai (1878–1965). On your way down, unwind at the small dining area that serves tasty vegetarian dishes.
220 Pai Tau Village, Sha Tin
6| Tsz Shan Monastery Buddhist Art Museum
A gleaming white 250-foot-tall statue of Guanyin overlooks Tsz Shan, a monastery developed by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing that opened in 2015. Hong Kong’s first Buddhist art museum was added to the complex four years later. The collection showcases artifacts from around the globe—from colorful Tibetan depictions of the Wheel of Life to replicas of Maitreya murals from the Yulin Grottoes in Dunhuang. The museum also holds special exhibitions and events, such as meditation retreats and lectures on Buddhist architecture.
88 Universal Gate Rd, Tai Po