Hong Kong features one of the world’s most spectacular city skylines, punctuated by sleek and shimmering skyscrapers. However, many travel insiders will tell you that you need to look a little lower to find Hong Kong’s true essence.
Hong Kong’s neighbourhoods are where you’ll experience everyday life like a local. Here, you can soak up the region’s culture and personality, immersing yourself in communities of fascinating people, rich in history and tales to tell. It’s on the back streets and hidden laneways of these neighbourhoods where you’ll stumble upon the hidden gems, quirky characters, and those experiences that you will reminisce about forever.
Hong Kong Island and Kowloon are made up of hundreds of neighbourhoods, each featuring their own distinct qualities, experiences and stories – Old Town Central is one of Hong Kong’s oldest and a great place for visitors to start. Take a self-guided or guided tour to discover the beating heart of Hong Kong, from local temples and markets to boutique shops and street food. The Hong Kong Tourism Board have created a self-guided guidebook to help visitors navigate their way around that includes five Old Town Central walks, highlighting themes such as colonial history, contemporary art, fashion, foodie experiences, and other hidden treasures.
For those who have a little more time, or are history buffs, embark on the Time Traveller tour, where you’ll learn how modern Hong Kong began. Wander through the city’s historic streets, taking in Chinese temples, the city’s first bacteriology laboratory, the haunts of a famous revolutionary, some of Hong Kong’s oldest buildings and shops that offer glimpses of what life was like when a world city was still in its infancy.
Whilst the tour is straightforward, remember to allocate plenty of time to make the most of this rich history.
One stop on the Time Traveller tour is a new HK favourite – the Tai Kwun Centre for Heritage and Arts – and a highlight of any sightseers stay. The restored Central Police Station compound includes three declared monuments – the former Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison – that have all been authentically restored and reopened in 2018. They now offer a place of inspiration, stimulation and enjoyment for all, including amazing heritage and arts experiences.
At Tai Kwun, which in Chinese means ‘big station’, you can experience more than 170 years of history with a tour of the compound led by a local guide (11.15am and 2pm most days) or, with help from the Tai Kwun app (Apple or Google), a self-guided tour along six themed routes. Immerse yourself in the rich heritage of this unique, historical compound. Engage with interactive exhibits, storytelling spaces, diverse education programmes and thematic heritage exhibitions to best absorb the culture and history of this significant site. And along the way, you can enjoy culinary offerings ranging from fine dining to light refreshments or a cheeky cocktail, as well as bookshops, fashion outlets and gift stores.
Tai Kwun is but one feature on the Old Town Central self-guided walking tours. You only need to check out this downloadable map to see that there are so many other points of interest. You could spend days exploring this neighbourhood.
Food lovers will fall for the Tasting Hong Kong tour – a great opportunity to sample traditional and unusual dishes which may challenge your comfort zone. Try traditional dim sum, dine at local dai pai dongs or sup on street food or finer fare from fusion cuisines.
On this tour, you’ll find a Hong Kong favourite in Tai Cheong Bakery, where for six decades, Hong Kong’s take on the Portuguese egg/custard tarts have been baked and enjoyed by locals, foreigners and dignitaries from all over. Sweet, savoury or quirky cuisine, there’s something to appeal to everyone’s taste buds on this tour.
Stroll down the historic streets of Central on the Crazy for Art tour for some diverse street art, quirky artistic landmarks and rows of galleries ranging from the contemporary to the more traditional. The works of established western and Asian artists feature alongside those on the rise, and culture hubs combine traditional craftsmanship with modern aesthetics. And it’s not just art that features on this walk – you’ll also find plenty of music, bars, food and fun.
The Treasure Hunt walk is ideal for creative types, shoppers, market lovers and anyone looking for something a little left field. Start at Upper Lascar Row for a mix of antiques and Chinese calligraphy dealers, then walk uphill to Tai Ping Shan Street and the PoHo area where you’ll catch the work of creative and style-savvy minds. Finish your journey in the Bridges Street area, where you’ll encounter an eclectic mix of old and new, from second-hand books and knickknacks dealers to high-end fashion and fabric vendors.
A day spent on the Highlights Trip will have you soaking up the colonial history of Hong Kong, sampling local street food and stumbling across hidden treasures along Possession Street. On the more bohemian Tai Ping Shan Street, shops selling hip goods from around the world nestle between cool cafés, teahouses, galleries and vintage stores.
You’ll see temples and 19th century architecture, visit important sites of Chinese revolutionary movements, and meander along one of the oldest streets in Hong Kong, Hollywood Road. Then, pop into Tai Kwun and end your day walking the stone slabs of Pottinger Street, the vibrant heart of the neighbourhood.
There’s no better way to experience Hong Kong than by foot. So download a map, put on a sensible pair of shoes, pack your appetite and a bottle of water and hit the pavement!
For more information on this and other exciting Hong Kong neighbourhoods, check out the Discover Hong Kong website.