11 famous landmarks, buildings and sights in Hong Kong
The Peak Tram is Hong Kong’s most popular tourist attraction – and one that will bring you to the best vantage point to enjoy the city’s skyline. Naturally, that means it’s also one of the busiest spots in the city and you should expect long queues whatever time you visit. The long line does threaten to spoil what’s actually a pretty exhilarating journey – up a tremendously steep incline with a startling shift from skyscrapers to lush vegetation – but it’s worth doing at least once. Just be prepared to wait for your ride.
More instantly recognisable than the Peak Tram, Hong Kong’s Big Buddha is a massive 34-metres high. It was the largest outdoor sitting Buddha at the time of its construction, and took a whopping 12 years to plan and build. It’s said that on a (rare) clear day, the Big Buddha can be seen from as far as Macau. Make sure to pack plenty of water for the 268-step climb you need to complete before reaching the base of the Buddha.
Probably the most famous icon of Hong Kong’s skyline, IM Pei’s Bank of China Tower polarised opinions upon opening in 1990. While some hailed its angular, asymmetrical silhouette, others were aghast at its bad feng shui. Hong Kong’s first Chief Executive, Tung Chee-hwa, famously declined to live in Government House while in office because of the nearby tower’s supposedly ill effect on luck.
If you want to kill two birds with one stone – get the obligatory photo of the Hong Kong Island skyline and visit another of the city’s famous landmarks – head to Avenue of Stars. After a lengthy closure, the attraction finally reopened in 2019 with more shade, more public seating and a lot more greenery. Pop along to learn about the icons of the Hong Kong film industry and to get your snapshots.
Rebuilt in 1998 in the style of the Tang Dynasty, Chi Lin Nunnery is a large temple complex that boasts elegant wooden architecture and serene lotus ponds. It’s comprised of 16 halls, built using traditional Chinese architectural techniques. Not a single nail was used in the building of the compound’s many structures – instead, the complex is held together with pieces of wood interlocked using an ancient joinery technique. Its multiple water features – including a waterfall draped over its onsite restaurant – make it an oasis within the landlocked district of Wong Tai Sin.
As a city that famously moves at breakneck pace, Hong Kong doesn’t have a lot of well-preserved and still-functioning heritage buildings – especially not in Central – which is just one of the things that makes this neoclassical beauty so unique. Completed in 1912, the former Supreme Court building features design elements from classical Greek architecture, such as the Ionic columns and pediment, as well as British flourishes, like the statue of Themis (the Greek goddess of justice), who also presides over Old Bailey in London.
The most talked about opening of 2018, Tai Kwun – the former site of the Central Police Station, Central Magistracy and Victoria Prison – is a massive 300,000-sq-ft compound built between 1862 and 1925 that served a variety of police and correctional functions. The compound has now, after years of delay, been repurposed to house art galleries, public event spaces and trendy bars and restaurants. It’s a one-stop-shop for all your cultural and culinary needs.
Before Hong Kong become the all-encompassing concrete jungle that we know it as today, classical veranda-style tong lau’s – also known as shop houses – used to elegantly fill the city streets, replete with Chinese and European-hybrid architectural character. Modernisation has meant that these historical tenements are either being refurbished or redeveloped, but a few lucky ones have managed to preserve their aesthetic essence with this 1931 built tong lau being a prime example.
The late Zaha Hadid’s signature postmodern style is on full display with this futuristic tower, surrounded by Brutalist blocks that emphasise the space-age beauty of its horizontal fins and contours. Hadid first grabbed global attention in the 1980s with her winning design for a leisure club on Victoria Peak, but her avant-garde vision couldn’t become a reality at the time without computer-aided design. That vision paved the way for the Innovation Tower, which was unveiled in 2014 and is Hadid’s first and only permanent work in Hong Kong.
A three-storey historic colonial building situated on a prime waterfront location, this 160-year-old Victorian structure was originally a barrack built in 1846 in Central and home, over time, to several different government departments. It was later dismantled in the early 1980s, relocated to Stanley, and reassembled in the early 2000s. Now it’s one of Hong Kong’s longest surviving buildings, housing a range of great restaurants and a giant H&M store.
Located on Hollywood Road, close to the many nearby antique stores that dot Hollywood and Cat streets, Man Mo Temple is a mid-19th century Grade I historic building and a declared national monument. A place of worship dedicated primarily to Man Cheong (god of literature) and Mo Tai (god of war) – a pair frequently worshipped by young students taking Imperial China’s civil service exams – the atmosphere created by the heavy clouds of incense is a world away from the bustle of Central racing past outside.