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Left: Mike Cussans. Right: Shutterstock

Views around Hong Kong: Then and now

We take a look at some of the most iconic views of the city from decades past versus how they look today

Written by
Time Out Hong Kong
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Hong Kong is a unique city where rich history lives side-by-side with gleaming skyscrapers and cutting edge technology. Starting off as a humble fishing village, the city transformed during the twentieth century into the world-class financial and cultural hub that it is today. We've come a long way for sure, but sometimes, it's nice to look back at how the Hong Kong of yesteryear looked compared to how it appears today. Here are some images from around town for you to see just how the city has changed.

RECOMMENDED: If you're all about views, check out these awesome drone photographs of Hong Kong.

Views around Hong Kong: Then and now

Hong Kong Tramways
Left: Courtesy CC/Wiki Commons. Right: Sam Evans

Hong Kong Tramways

Hong Kong's beloved tram network was opened to the public in 1904 and initially stretched from Kennedy Town to Causeway Bay, before being extending to Shau Kei Wan – where the terminus still is today. Unlike many things in Hong Kong, the tram system has been something of a constant, with the city changing drastically around the track during the course of the 20th century. 

A good example of this can be seen by looking back on this picture from the 1920s, which shows how the tram traversed a bridge over Bowrington Canal, before the process of land reclamation – which would later become much of modern Wan Chai – got underway. These days, the canal is subterranean, with the bustling Bowrington neighbourhood paved above it. The streets around here, Canal Road East and Canal Road West, still allude to the area's history.

Overlooking Kowloon
Left: Mike Cussans. Right: Shutterstock

Overlooking Kowloon

Many of the now bustling areas of Kowloon were much less developed in the mid 20th century. These days, Kowloon rivals Hong Kong Island in terms of commerce, and exceeds it in terms of population and height of buildings – we're talking about Hong Kong's tallest building – ICC – of course.

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Pottinger Street
Left: Courtesy CC/Wiki Commons. Right: Shutterstock

Pottinger Street

Pottinger Street is known colloquially as ‘stone slab’ street because of its infamously challenging stairs. Named in 1858 after Sir Henry Pottinger, the first governor of Hong Kong, this street used to mark the boundary which separated the living area of the British and locals, although this thankfully isn't the case any more. The street is and has been for decades, bustling and full of street vendors. During the 1940s (pictured), there was an air raid tunnel built under the street, which was then later filled in the 80s.

Victoria Harbour
Left: Mike Cussans. Right: Shutterstock

Victoria Harbour

Asia's most photographed stretch of water has been key to the city's development for decades, but centuries ago, long before becoming the venerable landmark it is today, it was actually the fishing villages on the southern part of the island – looking out on the South China Sea – that thrived the most.

This all began to change in the mid-19th century when a Royal Naval ship docked in what was then known as Hong Kong Harbour in 1841, and a decade later proclaimed the waterway as Victoria Harbour. Soon thereafter, this stretch of water became a thriving shipping lane, and as Hong Kong's skyline grew, so too did the wow factor of the view from the Kowloon side of the harbour. Today, the view of the harbour is arguably the most iconic city vista in the world, and it's interesting to look back on the same view from the 1960s, when the skyline was beginning to take shape.

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Statue Square
Left: Mike Cussans. Right: Shutterstock

Statue Square

Originally named Royal Square, the square was the first public space in Hong Kong to be built on reclaimed land, way back at the end of the 19th century. The square eventually had its name changed as a statue of Queen Victoria was erected here in 1896 to commemorate her golden jubilee (since relocated to Victoria Park in 1957). Today, the only statue that stands in the square is that of Sir Thomas Jackson, the chief officer of HSBC during its early years, and this is fitting because perhaps the most iconic view from the square is that of the HSBC building, which has stood close by in varying forms for decades. 

The third iteration of the HSBC building (pictured here during the 1960s) was constructed in 1935 as the first air-conditioned building in Hong Kong. Half a century later in 1985, the new and current building was constructed and became the most expensive building in the world at the time of its completion. While buildings around the world and even around the city have surpassed the building in terms of cost and flair since then, the HSBC building remains one of the most well-loved features of Hong Kong's skyline.

Mong Kok at night
Left: Mike Cussans. Right: Shutterstock

Mong Kok at night

A couple of centuries ago, Mong Kok was a busy Hakka settlement full of life. It swelled in the 1930s with commercial developments and tong lau (shophouses), turning the area into a bustling shopping and trading area, and continued to grow throughout the 20th century.

Today, Mong Kok is one of the most densely populated areas in the world and a retail mecca, where you can find everything from sneakers to street food. Many of the streets still retain their nicknames to reflect the goods on offer, such as Sneaker Street, Goldfish Street, Photocopy Street, and Tile street. Mong Kok still remains as one of the liveliest and most exciting areas in our city, especially at night.

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The streets of Tsim Sha Tsui
Left: Mike Cussans. Right: Shutterstock

The streets of Tsim Sha Tsui

In the 19th Century, Tsim Sha Tsui was a leafy suburb dominated by British military facilities. When the Star Ferry opened its route between Central and Tsim Sha Tsui in 1888, it solidified Tsim Sha Tsui as a major transport, tourism, and trading hub of the city. During the mid 20th century, the revolution in China led to the migration of many skilled Shanghainese tailors to Tsim Sha Tsui, which is why to this day suit-tailoring is still prevalent in this district.

Today, Tsim Sha Tsui’s commercial clout rivals even that of Central and Causeway Bay, and the area is home to one of the most iconic landmarks of our city, the Peninsula Hotel.

Peak Tram
Left: Mike Cussans. Right: Shutterstock

Peak Tram

The Peak Tram was opened to the public all the way back in 1888 as a convenient means of transportation to and from Central for those that lived on the Peak. Since then, it has undergone a few superficial changes, but remains one of the city's most famed forms of transport, along with the Star Ferry.

Today, the route elevates passengers around 400 metres over the span of 1.4 kilometres – needless to say, that makes it pretty steep – and stands as one of the oldest continuously operating cableways in the entire world. While the tram itself hasn't changed all that much, the views from the Peak have changed a fair bit over the decades, as shown here with this photograph from the 1960s alongside one from the present day.

Sadly, the classic 1989 burgundy Peak Tram (the fifth generation tramcar) recently retired in June 2021. Read more about it here.

More about our city's heritage

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