If you’ve ever watched a travel show about Hong Kong, you’ve probably heard of the Symphony of Lights, a free laser light and sound show that runs nightly on both sides of Victoria Harbour at 8 p.m. You’re likely aware that more than 40 skyscrapers on Kowloon and Hong Kong Island participate, and that the show has been awarded the ‘World’s Largest Permanent Light and Sound Show’ by Guinness World Records.
Suffice to say, Hong Kong’s Symphony of Lights receives a lot of hype. Prior to our first visit to Hong Kong, we had heard about it several times, and were really looking forward to seeing it. We even went as far as to select a hotel with views so we might be able to see this dazzling display of lights, lasers, and searchlights, and sound that celebrates the energy and spirit of Hong Kong.
In this post, we’ll discuss our experiences seeing the Symphony of Lights, offer thoughts on whether it’s worth your time, and share some viewing tips for the show. But first, a story of our (mis)adventures trying to see the Hong Kong Symphony of Lights…
As mentioned, on our first visit to Hong Kong, we booked a hotel (Grand Hyatt Hong Kong–which we recommend) that would offer views for Symphony of Lights. In fairness, this was not our only reason for booking a view of Victoria Harbour; it looked gorgeous at night, and we wanted to see this beautiful skyline from our hotel window.
Our first night in the city, we had crashed in bed shortly before the Symphony of Lights started. We knew the show was starting, but could not bring ourselves to even stand up and walk to our room’s window. If you’ve never experienced the jet lag of a 16-hour flight, it can be fairly debilitating. Our thinking at the time is that we could simply watch it the next night.
Well, the next evening, the Symphony of Lights was cancelled due to weather or something (this can happen in severe rainstorms, but that was not the case this particular evening–no reason was provided). The following evening, we were switching hotels and moving to Hong Kong Disneyland.
Really wanting photos of something that looked absolutely mesmerizing (and really photogenic), I decided to make the trek back to Hong Kong after we checked into our hotel on Lantau Island. I was determined to get those photos and see one of Hong Kong’s top attractions. Sarah quite wisely opted to stay back at the hotel.
For this, my incredible journey started by walking 20 minutes from Hong Kong Disneyland Hotel to the Disneyland Resort Station and riding that line for about 15 minutes before arriving at the Sunny Bay Station. That’s where things started to get a little busy. Our prior days traveling on Hong Kong’s MTR had been weekends and midday, so we never really encountered crowds.
This was a weekday just after 5 p.m., and the experience was dramatically different. From Sunny Bay, I took the Tung Chung Line, with exponentially more people boarding the train at each stop than got off. About 3 stops into this trip, there were–literally–employees shoving people onto the trains at each station. Saying we were packed in like sardines would not be hyperbole.
At this point, I was getting a little worried. Not because I have a phobia of being close to people, but because we were packed so tightly on the train that I had no idea how’d I’d navigate my huge camera bag to get off the train at my stop. Fortunately (I guess?) that was not much of an issue, as just about everyone de-boarded at Hong Kong Station.
Up until that point (and for a while after), I had never had such a chaotic train experience. As unpleasant as this was at the time, it was a fun story in retrospect that demonstrates just how busy public transit is at rush hour. This has since been “surpassed” by taking a midnight train in Tokyo with a surplus of Pachinko-playing salarymen, but I feel like I should save that dramatic yarn for a more relevant post.
Anyway, after exiting at Hong Kong Station, I walked around another 20 minutes, arriving at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center. From there, I walked around the building, back to the promenade along Golden Bauhinia Square in Wanchai.
All told, this commute took over an hour and a half. All for a 13 minute laser light show. Still, I was pretty amped, after all, this is one of the best things to do in Hong Kong, right?
Wrong. So unbelievably wrong that it’s hard to even put into words. I don’t know what kind of dramatic editing or enhancements were done on those television specials, but this was not even remotely what I was expecting.
Now, you might think, “well Tom, you had a hellish commute that took ~90 minutes” or “you’re used to Disney’s nighttime spectaculars.” Given those things, it might seem like my expectations were unreasonable. That’s a fair point, as from my perspective, the Hong Kong Symphony of Lights was a colossal letdown.
However, I have a hard time imagining how this wouldn’t be a disappointment for all but those who were randomly standing along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront outside the Hong Kong Cultural Centre or the promenade at Golden Bauhinia Square in Wanchai (the best viewing spots for Symphony of Lights) and just happened to see the show by surprise.
If you have zero expectations and didn’t even know about the Symphony of Lights before seeing it, I could see the show being a pleasant surprise. Anyone else, I think, is bound to feel a bit disappointed.
Symphony of Lights is advertised as being a visual fest with lasers, lights, spotlights, etc., along with a rousing soundtrack that punctuates those visuals. All of that above one of the world’s prettiest skylines? The concept has a lot of potential.
Unfortunately, the visuals are lackluster. Most buildings don’t light up or do anything in particular, and the spotlights are a bit…spotty. The music leaves a lot to be desired, and does not even seem synchronized to the show (honestly, you’d be better off putting in headphones and listening to the score for Illuminations: Reflections of Earth).
By the end, I assumed there was some sort of technical issue because the show was so sparse. I went online, and found a chorus of reviews expressing disappointment similar to mine. It’s not that Symphony of Lights is downright bad…actually, yes it is downright bad. It’s also not what you’d expect from a city like Hong Kong.
This is definitely not one of those “photos don’t do it justice” things. The photos here do the show too much justice, as they showcase the moments with the most visuals. For most of the show, not much is happening.
In terms of tips, I’ve already shared the best places for viewing Symphony of Lights, but another I’ll throw in is Victoria Peak (a Hong Kong experience that absolutely lives up to the hype, and that we highly recommend). On a recent visit, we lingered up at Victoria Peak, and inadvertently saw Symphony of Lights in the distance.
It was by no means jaw-dropping, but it was a neat to see both sides of Victoria Harbour at once. We couldn’t hear the music, but that was no big deal. I’m not suggesting you go out of your way to watch Symphony of Lights from Victoria Peak, but if you’re already up there for sunset and dusk, it probably wouldn’t hurt to linger for another 30 minutes or whatever to see the Symphony of Lights.
If you do want to hear the show’s music and narration from there, you can tune your radio to FM 103.4 MHz (English), FM 106.8 MHz (Cantonese) or FM 107.9 MHz (Mandarin) or via mobile phone by dialing 35-665-665 (English) or 35-665-668 (Mandarin). You can also find the show’s audio on YouTube.
That’s really about all there is to know. If you’re super curious about the five major themes of Symphony of Lights, that purports to take visitors on “a unique journey celebrating the energy, spirit and diversity of Hong Kong” you can read all about that here. It covers the themes of the scenes, and might give you a greater appreciation of the show. (Or not.)
Overall, Symphony of Lights is worth seeing if you have literally nothing else to do and you’re already in a spot to watch it. (Maybe.) It’s unique to Hong Kong and free, but it’s still arguably not worth the time. If you’ve heard about Symphony of Lights prior to your trip to Hong Kong, we do think it’s important to temper your expectations. Symphony of Lights is not going to be the pinnacle of your day, or even the perfect way to end your evening. At best, it’s “neat.” No more, no less.
Have you seen Hong Kong’s Symphony of Lights? What did you think of it? Do you agree or disagree with my review? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!