How to Navigate Hong Kong’s Mass Transit Railway (MTR)

Hong Kong is a large bustling city with over 24 million tourists visiting per year. Being a popular tourist destination Hong Kong has devised easy modes of transportation for tourists of all nations such as the Mass Transit Railway (MTR). In 1979, Hong Kong first opened the MTR to ease street congestion. Now this railway system has a combined total of 218 km of rail and has been the base model for main land China’s subway systems. This railway system is straight forward to use; just get started with step 1, below.


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    Write down where you're going. Before leaving your home/hotel/accommodation, make sure to create an index card that includes the address of where you are staying in both English and Cantonese. This will help if you get lost.
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    Look for MTR signs. MTR signs are located above ground near the entrance of all MTR stops. Look for signs that are all red aside from a white symbol, see image as an example. Occasionally you can find an MTR sign within a building in a mall area such as at the “Central” stop.
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    Obtain an Octopus card and map.
    • Enter the subway station and find a teller station. To enter a station in most cases you will be walking down a couple flights of stairs. At every stop there is a kiosk with at least one person working. Ask the MTR worker for an Octopus card and map.
    • Octopus cards cost a total of 150 HKD, 50 HKD is used as a deposit on the card and can be reclaimed at the end of your stay. The rest of the 100 HKD balance is left on the Octopus card which can be used for traveling the MTR and many other forms of public transportation in HK.
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    Understand the MTR map.
    • The map uses color coordination to indicate different lines, circles to represent stops and ovals to represent line transfer areas.
    • Different rail way lines are indicated in different colors. If the stop of interest is on a different color line than the stop you are located at, this means you cannot use the same one train to get to the your final destination. At some point you will need to do a line transfer which is covered in later steps.
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    Locate stop closest to your accommodation. After obtaining the MTR map take a moment to find the stop closest to where you're staying. Mark it on the map and write the name down on your index card. Look around and above you to find the stop name from the surrounding signs.
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    Use map to find destination. Now use the MTR map to find places of interest and see stops relative to where you want to go.
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    Locate points of transfer for getting from A to B. As stated earlier, the color lines on the map indicate the different rail way lines. If the desired final destination is on a different line color than the current station, you will have to transfer between trains. To locate places where you can transfer, look for the oval shapes on the railway line that will have the current line color and the transfer line color located within the oval. Locate the stop needed for line transfer (or transfers if two or more railways are needed) to ultimately get to the final destination.
    • Note: All railways aside from Airport express travels in both directions
    • Transfer lines are outlined in black
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    Swipe your card. Having located final destination, current destination, and all transfer lines it is now time to enter the subway system. Take your Octopus card and find a green light turn style gate. Enter the turn style gate by placing the octopus card on the card reader to allow entry. Enter through the gate.
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    Walk to subway platform. Follow signs leading to the subway platform. Typically they lead you down a flight of stairs.
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    Locate train that is going in correct direction. Most lines have trains operating in both directions. When on the subway platform there will be a tunnel on either side of the platform. It is important to locate the correct direction of the train in order to effectively get to the final destination.
    • Look for signs typically located on the respective sides of the tracks that state the next stop. If the next stop is going in the direction you want then you have found the right train.
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    Wait for the train. Multiple trains operate on one track in the same direction. They're usually spaced about 5 minutes apart at the most. If you might miss one, do not run after a train; just wait for the next one.
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    Use boarding etiquette. The proper way to wait to board the train is to stand on the far right and left of the train doors. People on the train have the right of way to leave first. After the people leaving have departed, you can board.
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    Find an ‘on board’ stop map.
    • On each train there are maps above each exiting door. These maps indicate the track you are on and all the stops that it will be stopping at. Most times there is a lighted system to indicate what stop the train is at, if not make sure to keep track of what stop you are at.
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    Disembark. Once the train has come to the correct stop or transfer stop, it is time to get off the train. Again people leaving the train have the right of way so when the train stops get off immediately in order to allow boarding passengers to effectively board.
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    Transfer lines if needed. Currently you should be at a train stop that is indicated with an oval on the MTR map. If you are not currently at a stop like this then return to your map and board the train to get to the proper stop.
    • Follow the exit signs to get to the main floor of the MTR but be sure do not leave out of turn style gates. Instead of leaving, look for signs directing you to the new line. The signs for the new line will be in the same color the line is on your MTR map. This may take you through a line of tunnels and you will end up finding an open area like all main floors of MTR. Once you have followed the signs to the new line, take the next leg of your trip to your final destination.
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    Exit the MTR line at your final destination. To leave the train station, follow the exit signs that lead up the stairs and locate the same turn style gates that you entered in. Pull your Octopus card out to place over scanner allowing the turn style gates to open. This is when the MTR charges your Octopus card for stops travelled.
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    Leave the station. Now you have walked past the turn style gates and are looking to actually leave the MTR station. At most stops there will be a varying rang of 3-6 exits from one underground line. These exits are labeled A-F, each has a sign of the streets that you will arrive at when exiting the subway. Find the correct exit and begin touring Hong Kong!


  • If your Octopus card runs out of balance when exiting or entering the turn style gates and you get denied entry or exit, you'll need to reload your card. To put more money on a card, locate a kiosk. Talk to the kiosk worker and you can add money to your Octopus card at any point.
  • If you accidentally leave through turn style gate when you are transferring lines, locate the entering turn style gates and re-enter.
  • If you board a train heading in the wrong direction, exit the train at the next stop; walk across the platform and board the train going in the opposite direction.
  • If you have missed your stop, it is easy to find your way back. In order to go back to the correct stop, exit the train at the next stop, walk across the platform and board the train heading in the opposite direction. Be sure to not miss the correct stop this time.

Things You'll Need

  • HK’s Octopus Card
  • A MTR map
  • HK Dollars
  • An index card with name and address of your accommodation while in HK (written in both English and Cantonese characters)
  • Appropriate supplies for daily travels.

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Categories: Public Transport | Travel