At first glance, Hong Kong can be an overwhelming cacophony of sprawling shopping malls, sparkling skyscrapers and bustling crowds. But when you begin to dig under the surface of Asia’s most cosmopolitan city, the old-world traditions and international cultural influences become increasingly evident—and mesmerising. The key to actually enjoying the rich culture and unique character of Hong Kong is to slow down and soak in the details. One of the best ways to do just that is by discovering off-the-beaten-track Hong Kong. This insider guide for the smart and savvy Hong Kong traveller will get you started with everything you need to know to experience the best the city has to offer.
Where to stay
Perhaps the hardest part of planning your Hong Kong adventure is choosing where to stay. There are countless hotels throughout the city, but as with most things, you get what you pay for when it comes to accommodation in this cosmopolitan hub. Here are a few of our favourite Hong Kong hotel picks for the discerning traveller.
The stylish Hotel ICON not only features a stunning view of the Kowloon Harbour, but it also boasts some of the finest service and hospitality in all of Hong Kong. Large rooms, excellent facilities and a mouth-watering breakfast make Hotel ICON an easy choice.
For pure luxury, it doesn’t get any better than The Langham, Hong Kong’s “Grand Hotel.” The European-style hotel is regularly considered one of the world’s best hotels, topping the lists of big names such as Forbes and Travel + Leisure. Dating back to 1865, The Langham has had plenty of time to refine its five-star service, which shows in the consistent praise it receives.
Located in Hong Kong’s Central District, the luxurious five-star The Upper House offers a prime location for exploring the highlights of the city. That is if the thrilling panoramic views of Victoria Harbours don’t entice you to while away the day at The Upper House’s Cafe Grey Deluxe.
If you want to discover up-and-coming Chinese artists, browse exclusive boutiques, or relax at trendy restaurants and coffee shops, then don’t miss Chai Wan. This corner of Hong Kong has emerged as one of the city’s premier creative hubs, and it’s the perfect place to discover local talent and energy. The neighbourhood is also host to the annual Chai Wan Mei arts festival.
While you’re there, hop over to 10 Chancery Lane, one of the first galleries to realise the burgeoning potential of Chai Wan. The respected contemporary art gallery often boasts riveting exhibitions by emerging Southeast Asian artists.
If you’re still craving more after this, then be sure to head to Wong Chuk Hang, where former warehouses and industrial buildings have been colonised by designers, artists, coffee shops and restaurants. Don’t miss Casa Capriz to discover one-of-a-kind vintage furniture pieces of all shapes and sizes.
Top things to see and do
Food lovers cannot miss the opportunity to explore the best local eateries in Hong Kong’s Sham Shui Po district with a Hong Kong Foodie tour. Sham Shui Po is an enclave for tasty bites and genuine Cantonese cuisine, where even the most frequent Hong Kong traveller can expect to taste something new and unexpected. The Hong Kong foodie team serves up the perfect amount of information about the district’s history, architecture, and culture on the side.
When you’re ready to escape the hustle and bustle of the city—but you don’t want to travel too far—stop at Chi Lin Nunnery. A tranquil refuge in the middle of high-rise apartments, the Chi Lin Nunnery and adjacent Nan Lian Gardens are absolute bliss. The nunnery is, in fact, a Buddhist temple complex, with unique architectural details that sit in stark contrast to the skyscrapers that tower behind it. The Nan Lian Gardens are a meticulously manicured Chinese classical-style park. Grab a bite at the on-site tea house and fully soak in the off-the-beaten-track oasis before heading back out into the concrete jungle.
Photo: Dan Moore
Eat, drink and be merry
No trip to Hong Kong is complete without going to ‘yum cha.’ The tradition involves drinking tea while savouring dim sum, or Cantonese snacks. Dim sum typically consists of specialties like steaming baskets of dumplings, buns, rice rolls, and vegetables. Most tourists head to the well-known Tim Ho Wan to binge on dim sum, but its popularity means long lines of tourists. Instead, we recommend heading to One Dim Sum, another Michelin-starred dim sum restaurant with an equally mouth-watering menu. Don’t miss the Barbecued Pork Buns.
If you decide to head to The Peak to snap a few photos of the panoramic Victoria Harbour, don’t get sucked into scurrying around the walking paths and then rushing back down once again. Instead, linger a while and enjoy a meal at Tien Yi. This Chinese restaurant at The Peak boasts excellent food and even better views.
Finally, if exclusivity is what you’re after, then head to Twenty Six by Liberty. You’ll have to plan a month in advance for a chance at a booking. If you’re lucky enough to snag a coveted seat, then you’ll be rewarded with a divine 10-course set menu prepared by the executive chef before your very eyes.
The Zoo Bar is one of the most popular gay bars in Hong Kong, yet it remains a spot for locals to dance the night away. Sometimes Zoo Bar can be a bit crowded; if this is the case then head across the street to Beat, another one of Hong Kong’s best gay bars. For a truly glamorous night out on the town, the plush MO Bar at the Oriental Hotel is a must-visit. The cocktails are divine, with creative concoctions that feature made in-house simple syrups.
Photo: Dan Moore
Where to shop
The sheer number of shopping malls can be overwhelming for the discerning traveller looking to escape the chain stores and designer labels available back at home. For a unique shopping experience, head to Empire International Tailors for an investment in style. A good suit is hard to come by, but this shop is known for its perfect fits and friendly service.
Looking for an off-the-beaten-track souvenir, that isn’t a kitschy knick-knack? Bondi Books is the place to go first. This boutique shop features rare-edition photography, art, and literature. Viewing is by appointment only; inquiries can be made here.
And if you are after that fantastic shopping mall experience, head to ELEMENTS. The mall is divided into five sections based on the five Chinese elements: wood, water, fire, earth and metal. Expect high-end international brands as well as Hong Kong’s largest natural and organic food shop: ThreeSixty.
One of Hong Kong’s oldest streets, today Hollywood Road is the place to search for antiques and collectibles. Allow plenty of time to meander at leisure and hop into the galleries that call to you. Tibetan rugs, Buddha sculptures, and Chinese furniture are just a few of the items to keep an eye out for.
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The Upper House
Photo: Dan Moore
Chi Lin Nunnery | Photo: Dan Moore
Chi Lin Nunery | Photo: Dan Moore
Photo: Dan Moore