Covering just 1,106 km2 of land, Hong Kong comprises endless places to explore, a rich history and curiosities around every corner. Beyond the state-of-the-art skyline, harmony across a variety of disciplines creates depth and layers in Hong Kong’s society – from traditionalism interwoven with modernity to co-existing Eastern and Western ideologies, contrasts work together to form a unique atmosphere unlike any other city. A densely-populated metropolis endlessly on the move, tranquil country parks, buzzing markets, peaceful temples and a thriving restaurant scene, the list goes on.
A day starting in the city might begin with coffee at Elephant Grounds or Eric Kayser (both on Caine Road). Walk down to the quaint Graham street fruit and vegetable market, then into Soho, a quirky neighbourhood where narrow lane-ways are filled with street art and hip restaurants sit comfortably among original Chinese noodle houses and porcelain shops (Oolaa is great for daytime drinks). Located here is Man Mo Temple, place of worship for the literature god and martial god– pausing beneath the enormous hanging bamboo incense coils is a mesmerising experience. Take your Zen onward to the peaceful Blake Garden where you can sit beneath towering ancient banyan trees with impressive root systems. Then wander down to Cat Street (Upper Lascar Row) filled with stalls of oriental curiosities, statuettes of Mao, colourful beads and charms, posters and brass wares. Halfway Café offers another great alfresco coffee spot.
A Star Ferry ride from Central Ferry Pier across to Tsim Sha Tsui offers a fabulous immersive view of the skyline, for just HKD$2 on weekdays and $3.40 on weekends and holidays. Running for over 100 years, the Star Ferry is the oldest form of public transport in Hong Kong and a much-loved symbol of traditionalism which remains unchanged despite the constantly modernising city-scape. On Kowloon side are the Mong Kok Ladies Markets. Flower Market and Temple Street Night Market in Yau Ma Tei where the dross factor runs high but the atmosphere makes the visit worthwhile. The Jade Market gives a taste of old Hong Kong where you can haggle over prices for strings of pearls, beads and paraphernalia. Tung Choi street presents an array of exotic pet shops and the infamous Goldfish market. Shanghai street offers traditional kitchenware such as wooden chopping blocks, cooks' cleavers and steam baskets. In these areas, taking no particular direction and getting lost while meandering through market streets will offer the best sightseeing opportunities and surprises around every corner.
Like the Star Ferry, a HKD$2.20 traditional tram ride offers a unique sightseeing experience. Aim to get a top-deck window seat at the front or back for the best views of streets and plenty of photo opportunities. You can hop off at any stop to explore neighbourhoods – Western District for dried food markets and Wan Chai for the Computer Centre and even more street markets – but taking the slow journey from Sheung Wan all the way to Causeway Bay is a relaxing opportunity to truly absorb the eclectic atmosphere of Hong Kong’s streets. Alternatively, you can take the opposite direction towards Kennedy Town, an up-and-coming waterfront neighbourhood with a growing number of funky sit-in restaurants and cafés such as Winston’s Coffee (great espresso martinis – Shop 8 The Hudson, 11 Davis St) or 11 Westside for Mexican (1/F The Hudson, 11 Davis St). Alternatively you can order a take-away wrap from Falafel Hut (76 Catchick street) and make your way to Instagram Pier with a beer to enjoy one of the best sunset spots on the island, as well as plenty of photo opportunities.
Few people realise that 40% of Hong Kong’s land mass is green! Country parks offer great walking trails which allow escape from the energy of fast-paced city life. The Dragon’s Back has spectacular views of southern Hong Kong and a refreshing beer at Shek O or a swim at Big Wave Bay is a rewarding finale. Tai Long Wan in Sai Kung is more difficult to reach but is one of Hong Kong’s most serene beaches, with waterfalls nearby. A walk up to Victoria Peak offers peaceful but breathtaking panoramic view of the city. You can absorb stillness above the buzz on the tree-shaded walking circuit looping the highest point in Hong Kong. Take the Peak Tram back down to the city for another iconic transport experience.
From Exchange Square, buses allow access to the southern side of the Island. Bus 7 goes to Aberdeen, a unique fishing precinct where you’ll find an amazing wholesale fish market and a floating village comprising restaurants and house-boats. Take a traditional wooden sampan from here to explore picturesque Lamma island, followed by seafood lunch at the Rainbow Restaurant (take advantage of the restaurant’s free boat ride back to Central – weather-permitting, the upstairs outdoor deck offers wonderful coastline views). Top deck on buses 6x or 260 offers a scenic coastal route to the precinct of Stanley, where you can relax on popular Main Beach or head to more hidden beaches such as Back Beach (at the end of touristy Stanley Market) and St Stephen’s. Buy a fresh young coconut from one of the market stalls before strolling down the boardwalk towards Tin Hau temple, dedicated to the Goddess of the Sea.
Back in the city, don’t miss a quintessential dim sum dining experience, not only for the food, but also the atmosphere and fastidious service which will never disappoint. Notable restaurants include One Dim Sum (G/F 209A-209B Tung Choi Street Prince Edward, Mong Kok) and Dim Sum Square (27 Hillier St, Sheung Wan) or the more high-end Maxim’s Palace (Hong Kong City Hall, 2/F Low Block, Central, Hong Kong – reserve in advance!). Never pricey, order as many items on the menu as you can, you won’t regret trying it all.
With a growing art scene, art enthusiasts can hop between multi-level art hubs such as H Queens (includes Hauser & Wirth, Whitestone, Pace) and the Pedder Building (Gagosian, Pearl Lam) and independent street galleries such as Opera Gallery and Para Site. Don’t miss local photography galleries such as Blue Lotus in SoHo and Bamboo Scenes in Sai Ying Pun.
Whether staying for one day, a week or more, Hong Kong has endless things to do for everyone and any traveller will soon realise it is a multi-faceted city offering many fascinating experiences all within close reach of each other.