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Lei Cheng Uk Han Tomb
Photograph: Calvin Sit

Hong Kong’s oldest buildings and structures

They’ve stood the test of time

Written by
Time Out Hong Kong
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Our city has a wonderfully rich history. From its humble origins as a fishing village through 150 years of British colonial rule, many remnants of the past – both Chinese and western – remain and can be found scattered throughout the city. And since there is a renewed interest in preserving old structures in the city, let us take you to a trip down memory lane as we visit some of the oldest surviving buildings and structures in Hong Kong.

RECOMMENDED: Let’s not forget Hong Kong’s oldest restaurants that have kept pace with changing food trends. And also, pay homage to some beautiful architecture that sadly didn’t make it to the present day. 

Hong Kong’s oldest buildings

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  • Shek O

Like a page out of a storybook rather than bustling Hong Kong, Cape D’Aguilar provides a picturesque escape from the intensity of the city’s urban environment. The Cape’s lighthouse isn’t just the oldest surviving lighthouse in the city, it’s also among the earliest colonial structures to be built here and was completed in 1875. The declared monument and its magnificent ocean views make for a stunning postcard-worthy photograph.

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  • City Life

Located in a 4,300sq m site at Bishop Hill in Shek Kip Mei, Sham Shui Po, the Romanesque cistern featuring underground chambers with 100 brick pillars and water pipes was discovered on December 28, 2020, while the Water Supplies Department was clearing the site in preparation to hand over to the Lands Department for other use. Reservoirs in Hong Kong were built after World War II, but the Bishop Hill cistern shows a water pipe with '1909' written on it which dates the site during the pre-war period.

Appeals for its preservation has led the Antiquities Advisory Board to examine the area and eventually declare the underground reservoir a Grade 1 historic building on March 11, 2021. A long-term preservation plan for the reservoir is still underway, but to give a glimpse of the site and allow the public to view the area, the Water Supplies Department (WSD) has launched a virtual tour that anyone can access from their computers or mobile phones.

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  • Things to do
  • Sham Shui Po

Accidentally discovered in 1955 during construction work, this declared monument is believed to be a tomb built in the Eastern Han Dynasty (AD 25-220), making it officially the oldest structure in Hong Kong. Though the actual tomb is closed to the public for conservation reasons, visitors can still get a pretty clear view of it through a glass panel. Pop over to the exhibition hall next door to see pottery and bronze wares excavated from the tomb and learn more about the history behind the monument.

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  • Tsim Sha Tsui

This neoclassical compound dates back to 1880s when it was established as the first land-based headquarters for Hong Kong’s marine police. The main building has since been converted into a boutique hotel, while the stable block, signal tower, and old fire station are home to F&B and retail outlets. Many of its original Victorian architecture remains or has been restored – like the time ball tower – which is why you’ll also often find couples there posing for bridal and engagement photoshoots.

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  • Museums
  • History
  • Admiralty

Tea-drinking is an age-old Chinese tradition, so it's only fitting that one of the oldest buildings in the city is now a tea museum. According to the Hong Kong Antiquities and Monuments Office, Flagstaff House is the longest surviving western building in Hong Kong. Completed in 1846, it originally served as the commander of British forces' office and residence in the territory. It later became the Museum of Tea Ware in 1984 and houses exhibitions, demonstrations, tea gatherings, and lectures that promote Chinese tea-drinking culture. 

  • Museums
  • Chai Wan
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The Hakka were the first settlers in Chai Wan, and Law Uk village was one of their first bases. Boasting more than 200 years of history, it's now the only remaining Hakka village on Hong Kong Island. Since being converted into a museum, visitors can view historical furniture vintage decorations and production tools preserved from back in the day and learn more about traditional Hakka culture.

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  • Things to do
  • Stanley

A three-storey historic colonial building situated on a prime waterfront location, Murray House boasts not only sweeping views of the sea but also an interesting backstory leading up to its home in Stanley. The 160-year-old Victorian structure was originally a barrack built-in 1846 in Central, and over time, became home 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.

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  • Yuen Long

Along a popular trail that takes you past 10 historical landmarks and heritage sites in the Ping Shan area, sits one of the oldest ancestral halls in Hong Kong. The amazingly well-preserved structure – declared as a monument in 2001 – dates back to 1271 and features two internal courtyards fronted by two drum platforms. Aside from its historical significance, Tang Ancestral Hall is still the go-to spot for traditional festivals and ceremonies in the area. 

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  • Art
  • Central

Tai Kwun has undergone an impressive conservation and revitalisation efforts to give us a world-class independent art space and heritage landmark. The former Central Police Station, Central Magistracy, and Victoria Prison site is a massive 300,000sq ft compound built between 1862 and 1925. It's a place where people get arrested, tried in the magistracy, and sentenced to prison. While the site has since been repurposed to house art galleries and trendy bars and restaurants, you can spot many distinctive Neoclassical features and Roman-style arches. 

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  • Yuen Long

When it comes to the oldest surviving structures in Hong Kong, the Tsui Sing Lau Pagoda in Yuen Long is definitely near the top of the list. Built somewhere around 1368 to 1398, it means it’s at least 650 years old – quite a feat in Hong Kong. The hexagonal-shaped structure consists of three-storeys with a grey brick exterior and houses a Fui Shing statue, a popular deity for those seeking to pass examinations. You can visit the declared monument when travelling along the Ping Shan Heritage Trail. 

 

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  • Museums
  • Tsuen Wan

A traditional Hakka walled-house now preserved as a cultural-heritage museum in Tsuen Wan, Sam Tung Uk was once the home of the Chan clan, a Hakka clan that migrated to Hong Kong during the mid-18th century. With ivory white walls and coal-grey ceramic tiles, the house stands out among the skyscrapers and the hustle and bustle of Tsuen Wan. You can check out 12 of the original houses at the museum and a collection of agricultural tools and everyday objects of Hakka village life that are on permanent display. 

What about disappearing cultural experiences?

10 disappearing Hong Kong cultural experiences
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From modest (in size) historical buildings, to Hong Kong traditions and old-style eateries that are still among the best grub in the city, take a look at the top ten must-see local gems before they disappear forever. 

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