Hong Kong overview
Welcome to the tallest city in the world – where ferries bob beneath the most spectacular skyline the world has to offer, neon-fuelled lights bombard you from every angle, the appetising aroma of curried and deep-fried goodness wafts off every street corner and where the world passes around you seemingly quicker than anywhere else in the world.
For so long ruled by the British, Hong Kong has always been one of the world’s gleaming examples of a marriage between east and west – an unmistakable quality that is still manifested in the colonial gems dotted around the city. But today, as much as this legacy, Hong Kong’s future as part of China is just as palpable. It’s a tension that the city and its population of just over 7 million has spent the last 16 years grappling with – and which is increasingly coming to a head.
These tensions, however, hardly detract from Hong Kong as a city for visitors. Hong Kong, in every respect, remains a destination for every type of tourist – from shopaholics and culture fiends to worldly foodies and nature lovers… and for lovers of city urbanscapes, which is where every visitor should start.
Hong Kong attractions
With well over 2,000 buildings above 100m tall (compare that to New York, which has around 800), and an unmatched, dramatic penis-envy skyline that glows ablaze every night above Victoria Harbour, it almost seems too obvious to recommend taking in the famous Hong Kong skyline. Of course, it should be at the top of your agenda. But you may have some difficulty in choosing your preferred method.
There are a plethora of options: those with a penchant for observation decks could check out Sky100 in the city’s tallest building, the ICC, or Bruce Lee fans can combine skyline watching with some stargazing along Tsim Sha Tsui’s Avenue of the Stars.
But you can’t really go wrong with the classic view – The Peak. This soaring mount on Hong Kong island provides expansive views down upon the Hong Kong island skyline and across the Kowloon Peninsula and, if classic is what you’re after, you may also enjoy the traditional way up to the Peak – The Peak Tram, a 1.4km 19th century funicular which takes you to an elevation of around 500m.
For a taste of the old Hong Kong, take a ride on the city’s old-school transportation. The Star Ferry, an iconic service which began in 1888 and, at a mere HK$2.80 (US36c) for a splendid, breezy trip between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui, remains at near 1888 prices. For its land counterpart, take a lazy ride aboard one of the city’s trams. Running across the northern strip of Hong Kong island, these double decker wonders are a reminder of the old colonial past – even without the historic second-class trailers, which used to carry Chinese passengers.
Even for those intimdated by the intensity of such an urban jungle, Hong Kong has plenty to offer. Most visitors don’t realise that more than 70 percent within Hong Kong’s borders is countryside, much of which is easily accessible. The Ngong Ping 360 – a cable car which takes you to another must-see sight, the world’s largest seated bronze Buddha – is a good way to take it in. Or, perhaps, check out Tai O, a remarkable town on stilts, just one of the charming traditional villages dotted around the HKSAR.
Sky100 100/F, International Commerce Centre, 1 Austin Rd West, Kowloon; www.sky100.com.hk. $168.
Avenue of the Stars, Waterfront, Tsim Sha Tsui; www.avenueofstars.com.hk. Free.
The Peak Tram Garden Rd, Central; www.thepeak.com.hk. $40.
The Star Ferry Central, Tsim Sha Tsui and Wan Chai ferry piers; www.starferry.com.hk. $2-$2.50.
Ngong Ping 360 Tung Chung,Lantau Island, www.np360.com.hk. From $94.
Tai O, Lantau Island, bit.ly/TimeOutTaiO.
Shopping in Hong Kong
Shopping is a Hong Kong religion. And while the city is filled with flashy high-end malls sporting the most glamorous of global brands, the most authentic HK shopping experiences are to be had on the street.
Mong Kok’s Ladies’ Market (Tung Choi Street, Mong Kok) is perhaps the city’s most definitive street market. While no longer the knock-off heaven it was 15 years ago, the street market’s iconic red/blue/white tarpaulin-lined stalls still stock the whole gamut of goodies, from watches and T-shirts to kid’s toys and sex toys. Go at night for the best atmosphere. Yes, it’s a bit of a tourist trap – and it remains one of the few places in the city where bargaining is a necessary evil.
Cat Street (Upper Lascar Row, Sheung Wan), in the emerging hip district of Sheung Wan, provides a much more tranquil shopping, teaming with antiques, pseudo-antiques and (quite literally) junk discards from yesteryear.