With its rich history and iconic skyline, the former British colony of Hong Kong in southeast China brims with opportunity. In the space of one day you can visit colonial military relics, lunch with a Buddhist at a Sikh temple, marvel at Chinese Revival architecture, peruse bespoke speciality knives in glitzy malls and off-the-rack Chinese gowns in ramshackle bazaars, enjoy an evening of Cantonese poetry, or sing the night away at an authentic karaoke bar.
Beyond its urban boundaries, Hong Kong also has many hidden delights, including enchanting neighbourhoods and tranquil islands offering a sensory feast. Then there are its natural wonders, with over 70% of Hong Kong made up of dramatic mountains and sprawling country parks, much of which is home to geological and historical gems.
Whatever your reason for visiting, you’re sure to find a hugely diverse choice of places and activities to enjoy, each offering a unique insight into this magical destination.
1. Chungking Mansions
Generally speaking, Hong Kong is one of the safest parts of Asia, but one notable exception is this hotchpotch of guesthouses, electrical shops, food stalls and foreign exchange offices. The run-down retail emporium is a haven for drug dealers, prostitutes and various other ne’er-do-wells, but also attracts a sprinkling of curious tourists who have heard about its notorious reputation and can’t resist seeing it for themselves. If you do choose to visit, keep your valuables at home and go with an open mind…
LOCATION 36-44 Nathan Rd, Tsim Sha Tsui
2. Kowloon Walled City Park
Nestled on the site of the former Walled City of the same name, this traditional Chinese park was once a no-go zone monopolised by criminals and fugitives after it was disbanded as a garrison in the mid-20th century. Today it retains a number of the original features from its more infamous era, such as the imperial government administrative building, but happily its occupants have been replaced by families, couples and lovers of the great outdoors who come to relax and unwind in its peaceful and picturesque setting.
LOCATION Kowloon City HOURS Mon-Sun 6.30am-11pm
3. Hello Kitty Chinese Cuisine
The fictional character of Hello Kitty continues to hold mass appeal among younger generations across Asia and beyond, and in Hong Kong the cutesy feline has been honoured with her own restaurant. Located in the Yau Ma Tei neighbourhood, fans come here to squeal as they peer down at the Hello Kitty-shaped dim sum platters, her flour bow coloured with beetroot and eyes dotted with squid ink. Off the menu, her pink-bowed fur ball is emblazoned on the restaurant’s mirrors, faux wood screens, teapots and chopstick holders, while pictures of Hello Kitty as the fabled Four Beauties of ancient China adorn the walls.
LOCATION Lee Loy Mansion, Canton Rd, Yau Ma Tei HOURS Mon-Sun 11am-11pm (closed 3pm-6pm)
4. Cheung Po Tsai Pirate Cave
Said to have been the hideout of one of Hong Kong’s most notorious pirates, this small cave on Cheng Chau island is a popular tourist attraction thanks to its idyllic setting and the fascinating folklore that lies behind it. The pirate in question went by the name of Cheng Po Tsai, who fell into a life of crime after being kidnapped by a notorious pirate couple. At his height of activities he is said to have commanded a fleet of some 600 ships and an army of 20,000 men. And it was here, 6 miles off the coast of Hong Kong, that he hid his booty – though this story is somewhat tarnished by the fact that no treasure has ever been found here. Nevertheless, the cave, which is a 30-55-minute ferry ride from Hong Kong’s Central District, attracts large numbers of visitors throughout the year.
LOCATION Cheng Chau Island
5. Tian Tan Buddha
Standing 34 metres tall, there’s no risk of missing this giant Buddha statue if you’re anywhere within its vicinity. Translated to mean ‘Big Buddha’, the vast bronze structure in Ngong Ping Village was unveiled in 1993 and rapidly became one of Hong Kong’s most visited tourist attractions. In fact, getting to the hilltop site can be as exciting as arriving, with the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car a popular mode of transport. A word of caution: don’t be confused by the presence of a reverse swastika” on the Buddha’s chest. The symbol was associated with Buddhism long before it was reappropriated for more nefarious means.
LOCATION Ngong Ping Rd, Lantau Island HOURS Mon-Sun 10am-5.30pm
6. Central-Mid-Levels Escalators
This is not just an ordinary escalator, but rather a microcosm of Hong Kong daily life. Officially the longest outdoor covered escalator in the world, it transports thousands of Hong Kongers to and from work every day. But its truly unique feature is that the same escalator provides both journeys by running downhill in the mornings and then uphill in time for the evening rush. Comprising a series of 20 escalators and several moving walkways, there are a number of entry and exit points, allowing you to disembark and visit the myriad of bars, restaurants, shops and market stalls that line the half-a-mile route.
LOCATION Jubilee St, Central
7. The Whampoa
At first glance it may look like a hapless seafarer has run his ship aground, but the Whampoo is in fact a purpose built shopping mall housed within a giant replica of a large cruise liner. Arguably Hong Kong’s most unique retail space, it is located on the site of what used to be one of Asia’s busiest shipyards until it came under heavy attack during World War II. After the war, it changed hands a number of times before being transformed into a private housing development for which The Whampoa shopping center was erected, featuring theatres, department stores, restaurants and even a small theme park.
LOCATION 10 Shung King St, Hung Hom HOURS Mon-Sun 6am-12.55am
8. Lam Tsuen Wishing Trees
Hong Kong is awash with landmarks said to grant wishes to those who grace them with their presence. This pair of trees in Hong Kong’s Lam Tsuen district are thought to be the life-blood of the area, which has been inhabited for over 700 years. For much of that period, locals and visitors alike have come here to write their wishes on a paper scroll and propel them onto the branches. As legend has it, the higher your wish lands, the better chance of it being granted. However, due to the weight of all this paper, a smaller banyan tree was planted in 2008 and the wish-making practice was outlawed by the authorities (boo hiss). But the will of the people prevailed and they now make their wishes on a colourful plastic tree nearby.
LOCATION Lam Tsuen
9. A Sky Full of Gods and Buddhas
It takes some courage to abandon an omniscient being, but that has been the fate of a growing collection of celestial statues in Hong Kong. The abandoned sculptures can be found atop a hillside in Waterfall Bay Park in the Wah Fu district of Hong Kong, which has become a dumping ground for people who want to abandon their household deities but don’t want to chuck them out with the trash (which would be against the beliefs of most Hong Kongers). Most people leave theirs on the side of the road, but it is a community-minded local called Wong Wing-pong who gathers them, fixes them if necessary, and transports them to their new home where they provide a sight to behold for visitors.
LOCATION Waterfall Bay Park
10. Noah’s Ark
Christianity may be a minority religion in Hong Kong, but this giant model of Noah’s Ark celebrates one of the bible’s most famous stories. Measuring some 450 feet, the full-size simulation can be found in an evangelical Christian theme park on Ma Wan Island and features sculptures of 67 pairs of animals emerging from the Ark. It was the brainchild of two wealthy Hong Kong real estate developers who were inspired to create the park after one of the pair and his wife converted to Christianity. Quirky on the outside, it’s even more surprising on the inside where you’ll find a fully operational hotel and youth hostel, as well as a full multimedia experience, including a 180-degree wide-screen theatre that convey messages about Christianity to visitors.
LOCATION 33 Pak Yan Road
11. Man Mo Temple Complex
Hong Kong is not short of beautiful Chinese temples, and Man Mo certainly falls into that category. Nestled amid the shadows of Hong Kong’s thoroughly modern skyscrapers, this vast mid-19th century complex is one of the finest examples of traditional Chinese architecture and craftsmanship, featuring rows of large red-coloured incense spirals suspended from the ceiling which are burned as offerings by worshippers. Today it serves both as a tourist site and as a bedrock of the social and religious practices of the Chinese community in Hong Kong.
LOCATION 124-126 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan
12. Ikari Area
For Hong Kong residents looking for a more ethical alternative to kicking the cat after a bad day at the office, then Ikari Area is the perfect outlet for distressing in a destructive but strangely satisfying way. Tourists too can come here, pick up a bat and smash a huge range of disused objects into smithereens for no better reason than it feeling good. Washing machines, fridges, piles of junk and all manner of other household items are used for the purposes of letting people unleash their red range in a safe and secure environment. But beware, you’ll have to pay big bucks for the privilege.
LOCATION 16-18 Hing Yip St, Kwun Tong
13. Noonday Gun
Located in the waterfront district of Causeway Bay, this eye-catching artillery piece is ceremonially fired every day on – as the name suggests – the strike of noon. The folklore behind the gun is intriguing. As the story goes, during the mid-19th century the privately-owned Causeway Bay was regularly used for illegal opium trade and a private militia would fire the gun whenever the owner sailed in or out of the harbour. When this practice was eventually clamped down on by the authorities, he was ordered to continue firing the gun every day at noon, as a way of announcing the time to local residents, therefore repenting for his sins by providing a public service. The original gun was dismantled by the occupying Japanese Imperial Army in 1941 and a new gun was donated by the Royal Navy after Hong Kong was liberated in 1945. The Noonday Gun was also immortalised in the popular song “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” written by Noel Coward.
LOCATION Gloucester Road, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong Island3
14. Old Tai O Police Station
Perched over a tiny fishing village on Lantau Island is this former anti-pirate outpost which has been converted into a luxury seaside lodge. Built to combat the rampant piracy and smuggling from the surrounding waters, the station boasts an array of architectural styles, seen in its arched verandas of the Italian Renaissance, a Chinese pan-and-roll roof, and elements of the Arts and Crafts style. The station closed in 2002 and a decade later was converted into a tourist lodge featuring nine colonial-style rooms and ocean-view suites, plus a roof-top restaurant. Remnants of the site’s colourful past can be found in the restored cannons, searchlight and guard towers that still sit here.
LOCATION 14 Shek Tsai Po St, Shek Tsai Po
15. The Bird Market
Also known as Yuen Po Bird Garden, Hong Kong’s bird market is teeming with beautiful and exotic caged birds. Located along a small lane, it is a popular tourist stop-off along with the nearby Flower Market and Goldfish Market. Most visitors come to admire, rather than purchase, the birds, but there’s also a regular sprinkling of locals who have brought along their feathered friends along for a play date while they enjoy a chat or a game of cards with other bird owners. Go early in the morning and you might see them feeding live crickets and grasshoppers with chopsticks to their birds.
LOCATION 222-224 Prince Edward Rd W, Prince Edward HOURS Mon-Sun 7am-8pm
16. Watch Old Hong Kong Movies
Film buffs should consider popping along to The Hong Kong Film Archive at Aldrich Bay on the north shore on Hong Kong Island, which hosts regular screenings of old classic movies that hark back to Hong Kong’s rich past. The genres shown are varied, and include both silent and black-and-white movie, meaning there’s something for every taste and preference. You’re also likely to catch modern documentaries and foreign films too. Screening schedules are regularly updated on the Film Archive’s official websites.
LOCATION 50 Lei King Rd, Aldrich Bay HOURS Wed-Mon 10am-8pm
17. Ma Wan Ghost Town
Wandering around the ramshackle ruins of Ma Wan is an eerie but captivating experience. Once a bustling fishing town occupied by thousands, the village’s restaurants were once a popular haunt with Hong Kongers seeking some of Hong Kong’s finest seafood. Alas, today it is more of an example of how regeneration can go wrong. Some years ago, a gated d luxury apartment complex forced a large number of long-term residents out and the village gradually dwindled to its current decrepit state, with abandoned houses, eateries and other community facilities creating a ghost town that speaks only of the past.
LOCATION Ma Wan Village
18. Player 11
Like something out of Takeshi’s Castle, this quirky spin on the simple but popular game of pool sees the game’s usual sized props replaced with giant balls that require a player’s whole body to move them around the (also oversized) table. The 3,500 square foot venue in Hong Kong’s Kwun Tong district can also be turned into a giant pool football field or a bowling alley. There’s also a huge sound system, free WiFi and even a stove for a spot of cooking.
LOCATION 77 Hoi Yuen Rd, Kwun Tong HOURS Mon-Sun 1.30pm-11.30am
19. Wong Tai Sin Temple
This stunningly ornamented temple is dedicated to Wong Tai Sin, an ancient Taoist deity, and is said to answer prayers and wishers for all who come here. Originally a private shrine for Taoists, in 1934 the temple was opened to the public and has since become one of the most popular in Hong Kong, with both locals and tourists alike. It even survived the Japanese Occupation of the Second World War, despite much of Hong Kong being demolished during the conflict. Highlights include a labyrinth of halls and altars and an eye-catching portrait of Wong Tai Sin that can be found in the centre of the Main Altar.
LOCATION 124-126 Hollywood Road, Sheung Wan
20. Mrs. Pound
Finding unusual eating and drinking spots in Hong Kong is something of an art-form, but look hard enough and you may discover beautiful private kitchens tucked inside hideous factory buildings and quirky bars hidden behind wet markets. Then there’s Mrs. Pound, a trendy restaurant-cum-speakeasy inside what looks from the outside like a traditional Chinese stamp shop. If you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s easy to walk straight past this popular venue, named after a burlesque dancer who made her fame in the 1950s. But step inside and it distinctive interior will leave no doubt, with its fuchsia walls and booths, movie star mirrors hanging from the ceiling and wonderful little trinkets dotted all around. As for the food, its playful take on Asian street food is almost enough to overshadow the décor.
LOCATION 6 Pound Ln, Sheung Wan HOURS Mon-Sun 12pm-12am (closed Mon-Fri 2.30pm-5pm)