Wan Chai: The Ultimate Guide

There’s more to this vibrant neighbourhood than just a red light district
Wan Chai Lockhart Road
By Time Out Hong Kong |
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Wan Chai may be notorious for its red light district but it has so much more to offer. The district houses some of the most interesting architecture, as well as some of the best restaurants and bars in the city. Home to locals and expats alike, there’s not much you can’t find, but here’s our pick of some of the best things to do, eat and drink in this vibrant neighbourhood. The difficult part was deciding what to leave out. Sam Sinha

The best things to do in Wan Chai

Wan Chai Market

Shop at a street market

There are plenty of market stalls dotted around the area, but Wan Chai’s 'toy street' has the largest concentration of stalls and shops. Selling everything from live turtles, flowers and toys, to vegetables, meat and live seafood, the market streets are full of character and offer a fascinating glimpse into life in this bustling neighbourhood.

WOOLOOMOOLOO
Photograph: Courtesy WOOLOOMOOLOO
Restaurants, Steakhouse

Take in the view from Wooloomooloo's rooftop bar

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Take the lift right to the top floor of Wooloomooloo and, after a small flight of stairs, you’ll reach the restaurant's open-air terrace. The harbour view is partially obscured by other highrises but it’s still breathtaking. You can see out the other way over Happy Valley Racecourse and the hills beyond. The location, right in the heart of the neighbourhood, gives you the vantage point of the daily hustle and bustle in Wan Chai.

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Bars and pubs

A night out to remember (or not) at Ophelia

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Not for the fainthearted, Ophelia is one of Hong Kong’s most outrageous bars. From the live mermaids suspended above the bar to the drag shows and much more in between... it’s better if you find out for yourself – you’ve been warned.

Club Rhine Lockhart Road

Happy Hour on Lockhart Road

It’s got a bad reputation – and for good reason. But if you can stand the seediness and advances of the mama sans for a couple of hours, it’s a fun place to hang out at. We wouldn’t advocate entering the fully curtained girlie bars, but there are plenty of choices with Happy Hour deals usually displayed outside. These include stupidly long 'hours' that run from 3pm-3am as well as quirky deals like the change-saving 'any drink for $20 if you pay with a $20 note'.

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Music

Listen to live music at The Wanch

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Not to be missed, this Hong Kong institution is the best place to head to for cheap drinks and live music every night of the week. They’re champions of local bands and bringers of mirth for all who enter. Our best advice is to turn up with an open mind and see what happens.

Things to do

Sing your heart out at Red Mr

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One of the city’s most popular late-night warbling spots. At Red Mr, you can rent a private room with a huge screen and several microphones. The staff will bring you all the drinks you could want and the food’s decent too. There’s beer pong and table football for when you can’t handle the crooning any longer. But if you plan to sing all night, the song list is extensive with all the Cantonese and Western classics covered. Just make sure your microphone is charged up before you give your big performance.

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Shopping

Wan Chai Computer Centre

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If you’re after digital retail therapy, Wan Chai Computer Centre has everything you could imagine. There are cables and adaptors for devices we didn’t even know existed, and every type of laptop, camera, monitor, phone or tablet you could need. If you’re looking for bargains but don’t want to make the trip over to Mong Kok’s markets, this is one the best places on the island to indulge your inner nerd.

Things to do

Stroll down Lee Tung Avenue

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A controversial project when it was built as it involved the demolition of scores of old buildings, Lee Tung Avenue divides opinion. The pedestrianised street is now lined with colonial-era style buildings with big-name shops and hip eateries tucked within. There's even a whole store dedicated to Calbee Japanese crisps. It’s worth a look whether you love it, or love to hate it.

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Things to do, Cultural centres

Get cultured at the Hong Kong Arts Centre

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Founded in 1977, this is a hub of culture with numerous theatres, studios, classrooms and exhibition spaces crammed into its modest walls. The centre promotes both English and Chinese-language productions, working in conjunction with the Hong Kong Arts School. It also hosts year-round exhibitions from the city’s artists at the Pao Gallery. It’s a great place to visit, especially if you can catch an exhibition from a local artist.

Things to do

Catch a film at the Hong Kong Open Air Cinema Club

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Enjoy everything from indie flicks to blockbusters 21 stories up in the Hong Kong sky. Drinks and snacks are available and movie-goers are advised to bring their own blankets just in case it turns out to be a chiller rather than a thriller.

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Star Ferry

Take the Star Ferry

For the best cross-harbour experience, catch the Star Ferry from Wan Chai to Tsim Sha Tsui. The route actually offers a better view than from Central, as you’re a little further away from the towering skyline. The ferry will transport you over to the the Kowloon peninsula in a matter of minutes. 

The best restaurants in Wan Chai

Restaurants, Spanish

22 Ships

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Situated on Ship Street, arguably Wan Chai’s coolest street, 22 Ships delivers a boundlessly creative tapas menu. Established by chef Jason Atherton, the team uses modern touches – foams, gels and novel flavour combos – to update classic small plates. Stop by here for brunch and enjoy the free-flow beer offers over the weekend.

Restaurants

Bo Innovation

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With intelligent, innovative and even humorous plates, ‘Demon Chef’ Alvin Leung’s three-Michelin star masterpiece is a must-try if you have the budget (it’s one of the pricier restaurants on this list). Rather than the 10-a-penny east-meets-west fare we’re so used to, Bo Innovation offers a refreshing fusion of traditional and modern Chinese ideas. A top spot for a special occasion.

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Restaurants

Brass Spoon

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At Brass Spoon, diners can take a seat at the communal marble table, pop on a disposable apron and dig into MSG-free pho with, you guessed it, a brass spoon. Tick your choice (or choices) of beef and opt for sides like steamed rice rolls on the ramen bar-style menu. The raw and cooked beef noodle pho comes with generous helpings of herbs and lime, as well as satisfyingly thick, custom-made noodles.

Bread & Beast
Photo: Angel Wong
Restaurants, Chinese

Bread & Beast

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Nestled down the Swatow Street cul-de-sac, the open front, semi-alfresco setting of Bread & Beast emits a relaxed, breezy ambience, and invites diners to tuck into freshly-made sandwiches with hearty fillings. The signature sammie is no doubt the Ngau Lam Wich ($88), which borrows its flavour profile from beef brisket noodles and comes served in a French baguette. There are other meaty options like Japanese chicken curry and char siu to pick from. Don’t forget to order sides including the Lennon fries, which come with okonomiyaki sauce and an onsen egg. 

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Restaurants

Capital Cafe

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Set up in homage to traditional cha chaan tengs – as well as Cantopop singers and movie stars – Capital Café serves up excellent renditions of CCT greatest hits, including scrambled egg on thick buttery toast, hot milk tea and HK-style french toast. The restaurant is typically cramped and hectic, but with friendlier service than Australian Dairy Company on the other side of the harbour. The set menu costs $40 and will fill you up for the rest of your day exploring the neighbourhood.

Restaurants

Cheung Hing Kee Shanghai Pan-fried Buns

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This unassuming shop is tucked away on Thomson Road – a street full of hardware shops. The signature buns are prepared fresh and are filled with rich pork bone broth and topped with sliced spring onions. The Shanghainese soup dumplings are available with various fillings, as well as sauces to dip into. Just be careful to let the goodies cool slightly before you bite into them, so as to not burn your mouth.

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Restaurants

Ham & Sherry

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A venture launched by the dynamic duo behind 22 Ships, Ham & Sherry is the perfect place to dive into a full tapas meal accompanied by a tasty sherry – which is considered a natural pair with Iberico ham, hence the name. Contemporary Catalonian blue and white tiles line the interior and exterior of the bar, making a cool photo backdrop as you wait for rustic Spanish dishes and sharing plates arrive at your table from the open kitchen.

Restaurants

Joy Hing BBQ Shop

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Serving some of the finest char siu rice in the territory at rock bottom prices, Joy Hing is a must for authentic Cantonese roasted meats. The barbecued pork is so good there’s even a Facebook group dedicated to the humble appreciation of the dish. The tiny shop fills up quickly so try to arrive early. Otherwise, do as many locals do and order your meats to go.

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Restaurants

Le Garcon Saigon

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One of the best Vietnamese restaurants in town, Le Garcon Saigon is headed by Aussie-Viet chef Bao La. Bao takes traditional ideas and techniques – usually involving cooking over charcoal – and updates them with modern twists. His mission is to show off the diversity of Vietnamese food – without a bowl of pho in sight. Instead, you can enjoy smoky meat and fish dishes served with mountains of fresh herbs and fully-flavoured sauces. Be sure to wash all of these down with a Saigon beer or two.

Restaurants

The Pawn

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Housed in a magnificent heritage building transformed from a former pawn shop, The Pawn maintains its colonial charm while serving refined modern British fare courtesy of head chef Tom Aikens. Surrounded by modern chic furnishings, diners can tuck into traditional and modern dishes at the ’kitchen’ or head over to the Botanicals Bar, which looks out onto Johnston Road below.

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Restaurants

Pirata

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Going beyond stereotypical Italian fare, Pirata’s homely family-style dishes are the perfect comfort food. Spread out across two sky-high floors, the industrial rustic interiors will have you feeling like you’re dining in a New York penthouse. The dishes here are built to share with price tags that won’t break the bank. Have a go at the MMM (My Mama’s Meatballs), tagliatelle with black truffle, and roasted suckling pig with apple sauce.

Looking for a place for drinks?

Djiboutii
Djiboutii
Bars and pubs

The best bars in Wan Chai

Once infamous for being the seedy heart of Hong Kong Island, Wan Chai has shed much of its sleazy reputation in recent years. The wider neighbourhood is now home to an increasing number of top tier bars – which come with some of the best cocktails and amazing rooftop views. 

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