The Blue House Cluster Wan Chai
Photograph: Calvin Sit

The best historic landmarks that will make you nostalgic for old Hong Kong

Places to give you a blast from the past

Catharina Cheung

Hong Kong has long been known as a city of constant change. That frenetic, rejuvenating energy has captured the hearts of many. But with that comes the inevitable loss of culturally significant trades and practicesbuildings, and even traditional cuisines. That’s why it’s always important to catch your breath and remember how Hong Kong’s past has shaped its present. Want to get a fuller sense of Hong Kong’s history? You’ve come to the right place.

RECOMMENDED: If historic Hong Kong is your thing, check out some of our city’s oldest restaurants.

Historic landmarks to feed your nostalgia

Dedicated to worshipping King-Emperor Man Cheong and the Martial God Kwan Tai, the Man Mo temple is one of the oldest temples in Hong Kong. Located on Hollywood Road in Sheung Wan, there is no clear consensus on when the temple was built – although an inscription on a brass bell in the temple does date back to 1847.

Man Mo Temple has since undergone multiple renovations, but the traditional structure, murals, carvings, and figures remain. Declared a Grade I historic building in 1993, this is a historic gem at the heart of the city that is very much worth a visit. 

  • Museums
  • Tsuen Wan

Sam Tung Uk, or literally known as 'three beamed houses' in Cantonese, was a Hakka walled village built in 1786 during the Qing dynasty. This symmetrical structure occupies an area of 2,000sq m and resembles a chessboard with three rows of houses aligning neatly in the middle of the village. If you look carefully, you will also see three halls – the entrance hall, the assembly hall, and the ancestral hall – falling right in the central axis of the entire layout. Today, this site has been declared a historical monument of Hong Kong, and the original village is now a museum open to the public.

  • Attractions
  • Yau Ma Tei

Located in between Kansu and Battery Street in Yau Ma Tei, the Jade Market offers a wide variety of jade pendants, rings, bracelets, and other alluring items – all at an affordable price. There’s even a letter lane at the end of the market, a prominent feature where tax declaration and letter writing services are offered. Although this trade is slowly becoming obsolete, there are still many customers who visit these stalls for assistance. With this place holding such sentimental value, it’s a must-visit market not only for the glistening jade but to get a feel of the old Hong Kong.

  • Attractions
  • Lantau Island

Back in 2002, a donation of original calligraphy featuring the Prajna Paramita Hrdaya Sutra (Heart Sutra) was made by Professor Jao Tsung-I, a well-known master with profound knowledge in both academic research and art. He wished to have the calligraphy transformed into an outdoor, large-scale carving, thus leading to what we know today as the Wisdom Path. This is a scenic trail lined with 38 wooden pillars etched with the Heart Sutra prayer, located on a slope at the foot of Lantau Peak near Ngong Ping, Lantau Island. Not only does it offer breathtaking sea views, but the tranquil environment also enables you to take in the city’s restful atmosphere. 

  • Museums
  • Wan Chai

Built in the 1920s, The Blue House is hard to miss if you’re wandering past Stone Nullah Lane. One of three Lingnan-style shop-houses located in ‘The Blue House Cluster’, this pocket of Wan Chai has been saved from demolition and now, after four years of refurbishment, looks better than ever. The complex includes residential flats, restaurants, a community service centre and, most uniquely, a space dedicated to recording and exhibiting Hong Kong stories. In 2018, it was awarded UNESCO’s highest heritage conversation award, the Award of Excellence. The Blue House is a real treat for anyone who wants to go back in time.


Pawnshops have a long-standing history in Hong Kong. The profession’s logo – an upside-down bat holding a coin, symbolising wealth and fortune – is one of the most recognisable in the city. Today, Hong Kong counts approximately 205 pawnshops, mainly located in Wan Chai, Central, and Kowloon. Sham Shui Po, in particular, is home to the old Hang Jing and Nam Cheong (pictured) pawnshops, which are some of the most picturesque in the city.

  • Attractions
  • Kowloon City

Remembered as a ‘City of Darkness’, Kowloon Walled City was a notorious, supposedly lawless enclave, eventually demolished in 1993. Once the most densely populated place on Earth, it was home to 33,000 people occupying 300 buildings in 2.7 hectares of land – equivalent to 3.2 million people per square mile. Although not as dangerous as depicted in popular culture, it was decreed that the Walled City had to go before the handover. This incredible structure remains a popular part of local culture, and lives on in the park that has replaced the buildings – and in Hongkongers’ collective memories.

Haw Par Mansion

Located at the foot of Jardine’s Lookout, Haw Par Mansion was built by Haw Aw-boon, aka ‘The King of Tiger Balm’ in 1935. The mansion’s garden became Hong Kong’s first theme park and was immortalised in popular media like Street Fighter II. Sadly, in 2004, the garden and its exotic ornaments were torn down and replaced by an immense residential complex, The Legend. In 2017, the mansion itself was converted into a private music school known as The Haw Par Music Farm. Only time will tell if this monument will continue to be preserved.


Bruce Lee’s Home

Along Kowloon Tong’s Cumberland Road sits the former home of kung fu legend Bruce Lee. A relatively modest building, the house was turned into a love hotel in 1974 by Yu Panglin, the Mainland tycoon who bought the building. Yu died in 2015, and fans had hoped for the structure to be turned into a museum to commemorate the icon’s life – but nothing came of it. Eventually, the building was demolished in September 2019.

170 Yee Kuk Street

Sham Shui Po isn’t just a great place for buying your electronics, it’s also one of Hong Kong’s most historic neighbourhoods. At 170 Yee Kuk Street, you can find a Grade II historic building built in the 1920s. One of the very few remaining verandah-type tong lau left in Hong Kong, this historic building used to be home to a picture framer, Suen King-sun. Although dilapidated, the structure sits as a reminder of a time when Sham Shui Po was still a sleepy neighbourhood on the fringes of town rather than the increasing hipster location it is becoming today.


Tung Lung Chau Rock Carving

Tung Lung Chau Rock Carving (thought to be around 3,000 years old) is the oldest and largest of its kind in Hong Kong, measuring 1.8m by 2.4m. Sitting just above the sea near the remains of Tung Lung Fort, the carvings show animal shapes and complicated spirals, which some experts believe depict the image of a dragon. Rock carvings are not common in Hong Kong, so it’s definitely one worth seeing.

If we could turn back time...

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