Generally warm and sunny, Hong Kong is definitely do-able year-round. That said, it does lie in a tropical typhoon belt, which makes some months more appealing than others. Although direct hits are rare, clammy days of pelting rain and wind are not uncommon in the summer months. Also, the high humidity (think 95 per cent) can be extremely debilitating when coupled with summer temperatures of up to 32 degrees Celsius. If this doesn’t sound like your cup of tea late May to mid-September is best avoided. The pollution index peaks in summer months too – and it can be high enough for asthmatics to worry about.
If you are in Hong Kong when a typhoon strikes, or draws near, warnings are broadcast by the observatory and if it’s going to be a big ‘un, the city pretty much closes down.
Temperatures can be unpredictable and winter 2010/11 saw the mercury plummet to five degrees – pretty unusual for Hong Kong.
Rooted in tradition, there’s no place better to witness the locals’ love of myth and superstition than during its packed annual calendar of events and festivals, and most of these are accessible to visitors. See here for a detailed calendar of events.
Rugby, dragonboats and buns in spring
Blink and you could miss spring in Hong Kong. There are barely a few cooler weeks (with sunshine if you’re lucky) before temperatures start hotting up in April. The rugby Sevens tournament always takes place on the last weekend of March, a hilarious sporting Saturnalia with as much action in the stands as on the pitch. Curiously, many vital regional conferences and business meetings are held in the days just before. World-class rugby aside, the Sevens is an excuse for ex-pats and international visitors to let their hair down in alcohol-fuelled shenanigans while many locals look on in some bemusement.
Is that anything more bonkers than a festival to placate the ghosts of pirates’ victims? Probably not. Each spring, the small island of Cheung Chau celebrates its legendary Bun Festival with bun-studded bamboo towers, ‘floating children’ on stilts and parades to the Pak Tai Temple. It’s well worth the trip: the dates changes year by year, but in 2011 it's 11 May.
The world’s leading paddlers compete for glory at the spectacular Dragon Boat Festival in late May/early June. Second only to new year in terms of pageantry, you might also catch teams practising in earnest in the preceding weeks. Listen out for the drums.
Hot, wet and affordable in August
An air-conditioned room is essential from May to September and watch out for the mozzies – particularly if you’re island-bound. Be prepared for torrential rain, energy-sapping humidity and the odd cancelled flight or ferry during typhoon season (May to August).
On the upside it’s hot, often sunny and if you’ve got your eye on the latest gadgets, July and August’s Shopping Festival means bargains galore. It’s hot and humid outside but most of your perusing will be done in air-conditioned shops and malls. Night-time entertainment is ramped up and there are restaurant promotions across the city’s major food and shopping districts. The festival also coincides with city-wide summer sales, which can slice as much as 70 per cent off major labels and brands. Room rates also plunge in the short ‘off-season’ when a five-star hotel charging US$604 in October may slash rates to $340 in mid-August.
Autumn – the best time to visit
With summer’s humidity abated, typhoon season over, and warm, clear days likely from mid-October through December, this is a favourite time to visit Hong Kong. It’s a great time to explore the city’s hiking trails. It may be relatively low key, but one of my favourite celebrations, the Mid-Autumn Festival occurs on the 15th day of the eighth lunar month, when the moon is at its fullest and brightest. Join the locals and head to the nearest park, beach or hilltop to enjoy the twinkling spectacle of hundreds of brightly-coloured paper lanterns.
Cooler, dryer and (eerily) quiet during January and February
The sun often shines in January, which can also be a pleasantly mild month, but good views from The Peak are hit and miss in February when the city’s trademark skyscrapers can vanish into a stubborn belt of cloud for days. Colder snaps rarely last more than four to six weeks but don’t assume because it’s sub-tropical that you won’t be cold. In 2009, Hong Kong experienced its coldest and longest winter for years, with temperature plummeting to a relatively bitter eight degrees. On the plus side, wrap up a bit and you could march around the city and outlying islands with ease. In February-March, the annual Arts Festival is one of Asia’s top arts events (Feb 17 to March 27, 2011; www.hk.artsfestival.org).
Lunar New Year
Make no mistake: the sheer number of people crammed into this tiny speck of land means Hong Kong will always feel busy, although this is the quietest you’ll ever see it. Millions of locals scram to the mainland and across Asia to greet the auspicious event with relatives and, although it doesn’t last quite as long, Lunar New Year is the Chinese holiday equivalent of Christmas. Of course Hong Kong celebrates with fireworks, a parade and dragon dancing too, but this is the only time that shops and restaurants shut en masse, and with that famous buzz strangely absent, it’s not ideal timing for a quick visit. The Lunar Calendar dictates exact dates but this New Year usually falls between mid-January to early February.