Traditional wisdom would say that Hong Kong is somewhere that you go for a good time, not a quiet time. A world leading financial centre with a work hard-play hard reputation, it is the buzzing Asian Tiger that never quits. For visitors, it is supposedly little different, offering bountiful sights by day, and a hectic nightlife and incredible restaurants by night, plus an almost endless choice of hotels.
However, if you look beyond the iconic uniform skyline and its famous Victoria Harbour, this Special Administrative Region of China might just surprise you; with glorious hiking, sandy white beaches, pristine nature reserves, and over three quarters if its land actually rural, it can deliver an unexpected respite from the metropolis.
Having spent most of its life as a low-key fishing and trade port in the South China Sea, Hong Kong became a colony of Britain after the first Opium War with China, in 1842. In 1898, China leased the island’s New Territories to Britain for a period of 99 years, an agreement that was fulfilled - apart from a brief spell during the Second World War when the island came under Japanese occupation - despite the decline of the British Empire post-1945.
The first mega Asian city to industrialise, Hong Kong enjoyed a financial boom during the 1950s, with its public services and infrastructure improving, and attracting highly skilled migrants from neighbouring countries. By the early 1990s, it was one of the world’s financial mega-hubs, bringing in expats from all around the globe. In 1997, following lengthy negotiations, control was eventually returned to China, who agreed to grant its status as exempt from the socialist system practised on the mainland and allowed it to remain a capitalist special zone.
Despite the fact that its population was more than halved during WW2 to just 600,000 people, Hong Kong is today home to more than seven million people from all walks of life.
There really are tons of things to do during the day in Hong Kong, but these are just a few of our favourites.
Victoria Peak: Take a tram up to the famous Victoria Peak, grab yourself something sippable from Pacific Coffee, then sit back and drink in the view.
Mid-levels escalators: Play around on the world’s longest indoor escalators, which run downhill from 6am to 10am and then uphill from 10am to midnight. It might sound boring, it’s weirdly not. Even better, they’re lined with shops, bars and restaurants.
Chi Lin Nunnery: Find some silence and solitude at the Chi Lin Nunnery, a Buddhist temple complex where the lotus ponds and bonsai trees seem a million miles away from the high rise tower blocks just moments away.
Hike the Dragon's Back: Take on the Dragon’s Back Trail, an 8.5km hiking circuit that was once named the world’s best walk. Travelling over cliffs, past waterfalls, eventually ending up on the white sands of Big Wave Bay, the view from the Shek O peak is particularly spectacular.
Avenue of Stars: Have your picture taken with Bruce Lee on the Avenue of Stars.
Star Ferry: Having been running since 1888, the Star Ferry, which transports passengers from Hong Kong Island to the area of Kowloon for mere pennies, is a Hong Kong institution.
More than anything though, this is a great city to just walk around. Get lost in the hubbub, passing street markets and shopping malls, marvelling at the never ending web of high-rise balconies and stopping for snacks along the way. Each district has its own distinct flavour, and it’s so delightfully safe that even when you have no idea where you are, you really needn’t worry.
As a result of Hong Kong’s urban density, few homes have kitchens; as such, eating out is the norm and the city boasts countless options for excellent, affordable food. The indisputable king dish is dim sum, small stuffed dumplings and little bites of heaven, if we may say so. Also try sui mei, which are roasted meats cooked Hong Kong style.
For drinks with a view, try Wooloomooloo Steakhouse. Perched on the 31st floor of a high-rise, their open-air rooftop bar is one of the best in Hong Kong and commands almost 360 views over the lights of the city. If you happen to be in the city on a Wednesday, be sure to check out Happy Wednesdays at Happy Valley Racecourse; entry is cheap and the party atmosphere is a lot of fun.
In Hong Kong, summers tend to be hot and humid, while temperatures cool down from October onwards, with December temperatures averaging between 15-20 degrees celsius. Spring and Autumn are particularly pleasant.