Beyond Hong Kong’s dazzling harbour and below its intriguing skyline punctuated by skyscrapers and a mix of old and new architecture, you’ll find yourself in neighbourhoods bursting with energy, each with its own vibrant personality.
The perfect starting point for first-timers is a visit to Old Town Central, the archetypal Hong Kong neighbourhood. Take a ride along the Central–Mid-Levels Escalators to see Hong Kong’s rising star – Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts. Located in the former Central Police Station, what was once a closed-off part of Hong Kong has become an open and inviting space. Reborn as the heart of the arts and culture community, Tai Kwun offers public art spaces, galleries, performing arts venues, seasonal festivals, and history and lifestyle programs for all to enjoy.
A humming metropolis, leafy peaks and sparkling surf – you can experience all three in Hong Kong’s Southern District. Situated on the south of Hong Kong Island, you can wander along golden sands; hike up to the hills; meander through the thriving contemporary arts hub or simply float on a sampan through the famous fish market.
Whilst you are exploring Hong Kong Island, check-out the Eastern District which occupies the shores of Victoria Harbour, and is home to great seafood restaurants, waterfront promenades, pleasant outdoor spaces, markets and luxury hotels.
Next stop by Wan Chai. In what was once a fishing village populated by Chinese settlers you’ll now find the city’s coolest and most dynamic area, with a heady mix of old and new, East meets West, chic boutiques, cool cafés, hip bars, happening restaurants and heritage hideaways.
Across the bay is Kwun Tong – an up-and-coming region boasting buzzing shopping malls, gleaming office towers and home to some of Hong Kong’s most creative hotspots.
Almost right next door is Kowloon City, with its old neighbourhoods, leafy suburban enclaves, historic sites and what may be Hong Kong’s most multicultural community.
Venture east to the neon and chrome extravaganza known as Yau Tsim Mong – Hong Kong’s shopping hub. When people think of Hong Kong, this is usually the image they see – nights lit by dazzling lights, bars and restaurants, markets, street food vendors, colour-drenched causeways and shopping, shopping, shopping. But in between, you’ll also find some surprising historic attractions. One thing is for sure, if you want excitement (and a bargain), this is your town. Then for more shopping, wander across to the world-famous markets at Sham Shui Po: Apliu Street Flea Market for electronics, antique watches and accessories, or Cheung Sha Wan Road for a new outfit (or entire wardrobe).
Head north and you’ll find Hong Kong’s only landlocked neighbourhood, Wong Tai Sin. Here you’ll discover a mix of temples and towers, classic Chinese architecture, and a chance to enjoy a calm respite at the Tang-style Buddhist complex and garden. A visit to this district guarantees a taste of all that is ‘quintessentially Hong Kong’.
Need an escape from the city? You’re never far from a tranquil retreat. In fact, you’re right at the feet of splendid hills and countryside, ocean views and, across the water, islands so near yet far from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong’s busy metropolis.
Visit the ‘back garden of Hong Kong’ in Sai Kung, known for its fishing villages, scenery, hiking trails, beaches and islands, and low-key lifestyle. Here, fishermen sell fresh catches from their boats just off the pier and diners feast on sumptuous seafood dishes. A little further out, you’ll hit the nature trails and country parks, such as the UNESCO Global Geopark (tours operate seasonally) and the Sai Kung Country Park – both spaces unspoilt by urbanisation. There’s also the Hoi Ha Wan Marine Park and the 100km MacLehose Trail, as well as hikes for beginners and experts alike, such as the easy-going High Island Reservoir walk or, for the more daring, the towering Sharp Peak.
Closer to the border with China is Yuen Long, which boasts beautiful natural landscape, wetlands and wildlife and rich indigenous heritage well worth a detour. Here you’ll encounter ancestral halls, temples, walled compounds and Hong Kong’s oldest pagoda, as well as old-school eateries, traditional teahouses, hawker-style dai pai dongs (open-air food stalls) and lively wet markets. Nature-lovers should seek out the Hong Kong Wetland Park and its waterways and environment brimming with flora and fauna, or head west to Ha Pak Nai, flanked by mountains and shimmering waters and the best place in Hong Kong to view a sunset.
Travellers looking for beaches should head to Tuen Mun, one of Hong Kong’s earliest settlements dating back to the Neolithic period and now a thriving ‘new town’ redeveloped in the 60s to capture the coastal vibe. Perfect for a daytrip from the busier parts of Hong Kong, a visit to the ‘Gold Coast’ is a must, as is a trek through Tam Lam Country Park’s endless hills, or a stroll along one of the many beautiful beaches stretching across the district’s coastline. Get your camera ready for panoramic views and serenity that you won’t find in the city.
As for outlying islands, Lamma Island’s blend of Western and Chinese culture is a drawcard for the city’s residents as well as day-tripping tourists. Hung Shing Yeh Beach is popular for a barbecue and laid-back days dozing on the powdery sand. The Tin Hau Temple is a must for anyone wanting a dose of spirituality. For casual shopping, Yung Shue Wan Main Street offers craft stores and multicultural eateries, while the Lamma Fisherfolk’s Village gives you a taste of Hong Kong’s ‘old life’. Further inland, the Kamikaze Cave is a nostalgic reminder of the strategic importance Hong Kong held for the Japanese and Allies during World War II, and the Ling Kok Shan Hiking Trail offers walkers a chance to spy rustic villages while meandering along a pleasant coastal path.
While the pulsing heart of Hong Kong may be its dining, bars, markets and overall cultural fusion, there’s always an opportunity to relax nearby and soak up nature nearby – and that’s what truly makes the Pearl of the Orient an all-encompassing holiday experience.