Hong Kong (literally translated as Fragrant Harbour) is many things to many people and because of its history, Hong Kong is all of these things: modern yet traditional, brashly cosmopolitan yet conservative, Westernised yet Chinese.
Hong Kong is a vibrant, dynamic and chaotic place, but somehow, it works…and visitors can still find places of peace and tranquillity amongst the 7 million people who live there.
For many, Hong Kong is about eating and shopping…and yes, I certainly love to eat and shop there too. Yet, for a small place, Hong Kong has so much more to offer. My personal favourite experiences are:
Tsim Sha Tsui East Promenade
I never tire of the view of Hong Kong Island from Kowloon. It really has to be one of the most iconic and best city skylines in the world. The promenade in Tsim Sha Tsui East is a lovely way to get an uninterrupted view of it. A walk along the promenade is great during the day, but spectacular at night, when the Symphony of the Stars, a fantastic sound-and-light show is on. The show takes place every night from 8pm for 20 minutes and involves 20 buildings on the Hong Kong Island skyline.
Another great way to see the Victoria Harbour is to catch the famous Star Ferry. The ferry runs both ways, but the best view for me is from the ferries going from Kowloon to Central on Hong Kong Island. An important part of the commuter system, the Star Ferry traces its origins back to 1880 and at HK$2.20 (around 20p – and it’s worth paying the extra 50c to sit on the upper deck!), it definitely deserves its ranking as one of the world’s best value-for-money sightseeing trips.
Hong Kong Heritage Museum, Sha Tin
As someone whose family is from the New Territories, for me, Hong Kong is so much more than Victoria Harbour and Kowloon. I always encourage friends and clients to take a trip to the New Territories.
Sha Tin, formerly a market town is now one of the busiest towns in the New Territories and on arriving at Sha Tin KCR station, you would be forgiven for thinking you’ve arrived at one of the busiest places in Hong Kong. My advice is to just go with the flow and experience the crowded, huge shopping centres and delights offered by the restaurants in the food courts.
For a quieter type of culture, head for the Hong Kong Heritage Museum, located southwest of Sha Tin town centre. A modern museum built in traditional style, it introduces the art, culture and history of the New Territories, as well as Chinese culture in general. My personal highlights include the New Territories Heritage Hall, giving the history of the New Towns and mock-ups of traditional shops and a Hakka fishing village; the Cantonese Opera Heritage Hall and the wonderful Children’s Discovery Gallery.
Market towns of Sheung Shui and Fanling in the New Territories
Continuing passed Sha Tin, the KCR takes you to Fanling and then Sheung Shui. Formerly small market towns, the pace of development in Hong Kong has meant that high rises now dominate the skylines. The traditional markets with their dark, but lively alleys have now been moved into new, modern premises. They still retain their colour though, and Fanling (the market is in the old district of Luen Wo Hui) and Sheung Shui are worth visiting to experience a less cosmopolitan side to central Hong Kong, close to the mainland’s border. Both towns are surrounded by villages, habited mostly by Hakka people, for whom Fanling and Sheung Shui are the main towns. You can take a minibus from Luen Wo Hui to Luk Keng to see village life, far away from the bright lights of Kowloon.
This hilly landmark is probably the most popular tourist attraction, but I think it has to be a must. Standing at 552m above sea level, the Peak is the highest mountain on Hong Kong Island and the views of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and surrounds are breathtaking.
You can travel up the Peak by bus, but the Peak Tram is definitely more exciting. The tram (a double reversible funicular system) takes you up and down the Peak at a gradient of 4 degrees to a steep 27 degrees. What’s remarkable is that the Peak Tram has been taking visitors to the Peak for 120 years.