The subway system in Hong Kong - known there as the MTR - is not only extremely clean but also, the fastest and most efficient way to get around the sprawling city.
It’s remarkably easy to use, and you'll probably find yourself using it at least once while visiting Hong Kong. This guide will help you decide which ticket is right for you, how to pay the far or buy an octopus card, and most importantly how to navigate the subway system itself.
Read on: Full travel guide for Hong Kong
How Big Is The Hong Kong MTR?
It's huge. There are 87 stations and 68 light rail stops over nine main commuter lines. The system can take you everywhere from Hong Kong Island to Kowloon to the New Territories.
Once you arrive it helps to find a map. You can usually find one at a customer service counter. The map gives you a good idea of where the interchange stations are and where to go to switch lines.
Does the MTR connect the Airport and city center?
YUP! The MTR also runs the Airport Express, which is the fastest way to get between Hong Kong International Airport and Kowloon.
MTR Ticket Types
- Single ticket (purchased at a machine)
- Adult (or Child) Tourist Day Pass
- Octopus Card
- Airport Express Travel Pass
As you can see, you have some options when it comes to buying tickets. Take my suggestion though and stick to the Octopus Card.
The Octopus Card
If you have been to other large cities like Japan (Pasmo Pass) or even London (Oyster Card) you'll be familiar with this type of card. This contact less smart card is your pass to get on and off the MTR (and other transports) while holding your cash value.
Why I suggest the Octopus card
- The card gives you small discounts on all fares
- It's the easiest to use
- There is no need to spend time buying a single journey ticket at Ticket Issuing Machines or counting the exact amount of coins on buses and trams
- The cards can also be used on the Airport Express, light rail, buses and ferries, public payphones, some vending machines, photo booths and even at some retail and food/beverage outlets.
Where to get the Octopus Card
Octopus Cards can be bought at all MTR stations. Simply look for ticketing machines with the octopus on it! They have a button for English making it very easy to use.
Price of the Octopus Card
The card itself costs HK$150 (adult) and HK$70 (child 3 to 11 years). Of that initial price, HK$50 is the deposit of the card and if you return the card at the end of the trip you get HK$41 back (there is a HK$9 fee on the card). The rest of the initial cost becomes the value to be used for fares. You can add value to ‘top-up’ the cards at machines at each MTR station. If you have any unused value left at the end of the trip that is refunded as well when you return the card.
How to use the Octopus Card
For public transportation, all you have to do is swipe/touch the card over the Octopus reader. The amount of the trip, as well as the remaining value on the card, will be shown after each transaction. This makes it easy to know when it is time to add value to the card.
- MTR: Swipe the card at the entrance barrier before you ride the train and once at the exit barrier after you ride the train
- Ferry: Swipe the card at the entrance barrier
- Bus: Swipe the card when you get on
- Tram: Swipe the card when you get off
When in supermarkets or small shops all you have to do is take out your card and swipe it over the credit card machine to use it. Most places take it.
How to return your Octopus Card
To return the card, and receive any remaining value and deposit back, find a machine at any MTR station or Airport Express Customer Service Centre.
How to Use The MTR in Hong Kong
Using the actual MTR in Hong Kong is extremely easy. To find the stations and your route I found that Google maps was a great help. It even gave me which exit to use once I arrived (more on that below).
Once underground there are a variety of tunnels that connect other train stations and underground malls. Follow the signs to your station, they are color coded making it super easy. Once at the actual entrance you'll come to turnstiles to enter the MTR. Swipe/tap your octopus card on the reader. The screen will display the cost of the fare and your remaining value on the card.
Follow the escalators down and to the platform. Either side will have maps showing which stations are next. This makes it easy to understand which way the train is traveling.
When your train arrives, stand to the side and let others off the train first. Once on you can find a seat or choose to stand. Respect is huge in Hong Kong so if you see elderly, mothers will small children, or any disabled persons give up your seat for them.
Above the doors of all trains are digital signs that show the upcoming stops. The screens flash in a variety of languages. If English isn't up on the screen, don't worry, it will eventually cycle to it.
Once your train arrives exit the car and look for the stations exit map. Again, these underground stations are sprawling and exiting at the correct door is crucial. The maps can be found on either the lower (platform) or upper (tunnel) levels of the station. The maps usually have a variety of information including local sights and even noteworthy restaurants and shops in the area. Exits are labeled by letters and/or numbers.
Loop up and follow the signs above to your correct exit. Exit the turnstiles using your octopus card again swiping/touching out.
BOOM. You did it.
One last thing... even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing a guidebook along with you.
Lonely Planet Pocket Guides are my absolute favorite because, as the name suggests, they are tiny enough to fit in a pocket or a small bag while still giving you a ton of information. But, here are some other books I recommend as well...
And of course, if you have any questions DO NOT hesitate to reach out to me via Instagram, Twitter, or just shoot me an email (email@example.com).