After a week with friends in Okinawa it was just a short flight to Hong Kong. It was our first time visiting this city, and we were excited to see first hand the bustling metropolis we had heard so much about. Hong Kong did not disappoint. In fact, along with Buenos Aires, it’s one of the places we could see ourselves living long term. Although living in San Francisco was nice, New York still has my heart with its dense concrete jungle, ever-on energy, and multiculturalism. We found Hong Kong to be very similar to NYC — and even better in some respects.
Hong Kong is made up of Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, separated by Victoria Harbour. Both sides of the city are densely developed, with thin buildings reaching upwards 50, 80, even 110 stories. While Manhattan stretches over flat rock, Hong Kong’s buildings rise from tropical rolling hills — making for a beautiful cityscape when paired with the expanse of harbor best viewed from high up on Victoria Peak.
We spent our days moving around the city, taking in new sites, and setting future reminders for ourselves to come back after our travels in 2018. Public transportation is strong and ranges from surprisingly reasonably priced taxis and ride shares to skinny above-ground trolleys and sleek subways (make sure to pick up an “Octopus” card — the easiest way to use public transit in HK).
Here are our top 10 things to do in Hong Kong:
1. Colonial Architecture Tour – While Hong Kong may be known for its shiny skyscrapers, we enjoyed seeking out the colonial buildings around town. Start at the Court of Final Appeal and make your way up to the Former French Mission and St. Andrew’s Church. Later on, head to Hullet House, a hotel housed in a building from 1881.
2. Rooftop Cocktails – Head to the rooftop bar at The Pottinger, a posh colonial-style hotel that rises half-way up the skyline to nestle in between higher skyscrapers nearby. It was the perfect atmosphere for a date night and feeling lost in the city.
3. Victoria Peak – Take the old tram up to the highest point in Hong Kong for the best cityscape views. The lines can be long, so plan your visit for off hours, and naturally you’ll want to visit when skies are clear. Don’t linger at the terminal tourist trap (Sky Terrace 428). Rather, head outside to the small public park for the same views, no crowds, much better architecture, and no fanny packs. You can also take a bus up to and down from the peak.
4. Dinner at the top of a skyscraper – Dining at the world’s highest restaurant, Tosca at The Ritz-Carlton, is a must! The restaurant is so high that the other massive skyscrapers seemed like low residential buildings in comparison. They offer a 4 course “Pino’s Table” tasting menu at 6pm which is the perfect way to watch the sunset and sample a range of dishes prepared by Michelin-starred chef Pino Lavarra. (He was so kind, he even came out to our table twice to chat!) The lemon dish pictured above was a true work of art, this Sicilian dessert is made to look exactly like a real lemon.
5. Star Ferry – When moving between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, make sure to take at least one ferry ride with Star Ferry. Their 20 minute boat ride is well-worth the $1 price tag for the beautiful sea-level views of both skylines. Our ride was an adventure as a storm materialized unexpectedly as we departed for Kowloon. Victoria Harbour looked like the open ocean as waves and wind whipped through the open walls our our boat. It looked dangerous but was actually a highlight of our trip!
6. Afternoon Tea – A popular event across the city, afternoon tea is served in a variety of excellent locations. We enjoyed a modern twist on tea at the Mandarin Landmark, selected for fresh springtime flavors. Old standards like the Peninsula and Hullet House round out the list.
7. Happy Valley Racecourse – This was the highlight of our time in Hong Kong! Every Wednesday, the city gathers to watch horse racing. The admission fee is only $1, and is well-worth it (you can even pay with your oyster card.) Stay on the ground level to watch the races up close and eat street-food snacks or grab a drink. Later, climb the stairs to the upper-deck to get a better view of the whole track. Watching the races with the twinkling Hong Kong skyline in the background was memorable — as was seeing the crowd gathered to enjoy the sport.
8. Street Food Tour in Kowloon – Kowloon has so many excellent restaurants, although for a visitor, finding the best local options can be daunting. We met up with our friend Tiffany who showed us around and we had the best time hanging out! She is a real foodie, and graciously treated us to an experience of all the best spots. We especially loved the Al Dente fish balls and coconut shakes.
9. China Gold City and Flamingos of Kowloon Park – Take the ferry or MTR to Kowloon and make your way to the China Gold City, a small city block with skyscrapers with tinted-gold windows. Head back through Kowloon Park to watch the flamingos walking around the central pond before grabbing a meal at a nearby restaurant.
10. Central Escalators – Ride the world’s longest escalator system — essentially a moving sidewalk that runs from the lower part of Hong Kong Island up to the mid-level, passing through some of the best restaurants in Hong Kong in the Soho area. We were thrilled to see that Motorino, one of our favorite NYC pizza restaurants, had a restaurant right off the escalator!
Until next time Hong Kong!
All Photos by David and Stacie Flinner for stacieflinner.com