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Once a group of sleepy fishing villages on the South China Sea coast, Hong Kong is now a thriving cosmopolitan mega-metropolis boasting a glittering skyline made up of the largest number of skyscrapers in the world. Known as the Pearl of the Orient, it is the world’s fourth largest global financial centre, a shopper’s paradise and top culinary capital. The bustling city is a mix of old and new, fusing Cantonese heritage with a colonial past, as seen in its architecture, design, art, cuisine and shopping. Victorian-era buildings and stores such as Harvey Nichols and Marks and Spencer lend a British feel to the city, but projects such as the impressive new West Kowloon Cultural District, are reshaping it.
And despite being one of the most densely populated places on earth, with 7.4 million people crammed into 1,104 square kilometres of territory, surprisingly more than 70 per cent of Hong Kong is made up of mountains and parks.
What to see in Hong Kong
A- Aqua Luna. Set sail at sunset on an evening harbour cruise under the bright red sails of Aqua Luna, a traditional Chinese wooden junk – the best way to take in bustling Victoria Harbour and the sparkling ‘A Symphony of Lights’ show along the HK skyline.
B- Big Buddha. Completed in 1993, the 34-metre-high Tian Tan Buddha, known as Big Buddha, is the world’s largest outdoor seated bronze Buddha statue. Located on Lantau Island (home of Hong Kong’s airport), the landmark is accessible by a flight of 268 stairs.
C- Cable Car. Take in the panoramic views from the 25-minute Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car ride from Tung Chung to get up to the site of the Big Buddha. The glass-bottom Crystal+ cabin is a showstopper.
D- Ding Ding. Hong Kong’s famous double decker tram system, called the Ding-Ding by locals for the double-bell ring made to signal their approach, has been running on Hong Kong Island since 1904. The network, carrying 200,000 daily passengers, is the world’s largest still in operation.
E- Escalator. The Mid-levels interlinked escalator in Central is the longest, covered escalator system in the world. Running a total distance of 800 metres and an elevation of more than 135 metres, it’s an easy way to navigate the steep hills that make up the Mid-Levels area.
F- Festival. The popular Wine and Dine Festival, an outdoor event on the Central harbourfront, returned to Asia’s culinary capital in 2023 after five years. The four-day festival kicks off Taste Around Town, a month-long gastronomy series happening across the city in November.
G- Gardens. Tranquil gardens and parks across the city offer respite from the urban bustle. The lush landscape of Hong Kong Park, on Cotton Tree Drive in Central, contrasts with the concrete of the surrounding skyscrapers. The oasis of ponds, waterfalls, botanical and tai chi gardens and aviary is also home to the Flagstaff House Museum of Tea Ware and tea house.
H- Hike. The steep green hills here are a hiker’s paradise. The most popular urban hike is the 8-km Dragon’s Back, an accessible ridge-line trail with stunning views over the bays, beaches and fishing villages of southern HK Island. Go early morning or late afternoon to avoid the crowds.
I- Islands. Hong Kong is made up of 250 islands and 70 per cent of it is green. Lamma Island has great hiking and fresh seafood, while Lantau Island, almost twice the size of Hong Kong Island, is home to the airport and Big Buddha – a distinct contrast to the buzz of the city’s downtown.
J- St. John’s Cathedral. This Anglican parish has a 170-year history in HK and is the oldest surviving Western ecclesiastical building in the city. The beautiful cross-shaped church with its gothic architecture and creamy façade, is a peaceful oasis among the high rises of Central.
K- K11 MUSEA. Located at Victoria Dockside in the cultural district, K11 MUSEA is a creative shopping experience in a stunning space with more than 250 niche and luxury brands, including Asia’s largest MoMA Design store and the first Fortnum and Mason outside the UK. k11musea.com
L- LKF. Lan Kwan Fong is party central in Central. The popular hot spot is a magnet for locals and visitors alike who flock to the more than 90 restaurants and open-air bars, some pumping music, others offering tasteful wine pairings, to get a flavour of the city’s nightlife.
M- M+. The crown jewel of the new West Kowloon Cultural District, M+ is more than a museum (+ stands for more). It houses visual culture, art, design, architecture, moving image, and includes a cinema, restaurants and member’s lounge. The visually stunning 17,000-square-metre space, itself a work of art, was designed by renown architectural firm Herzog & de Meuron, designers of London’s Tate Modern and soon-to-be new Art Gallery in Vancouver. mplus.org.hk
N- Night markets. One of the largest and liveliest of the city’s night markets is Temple Street in Kowloon. Browse more than 100 stalls hawking everything from antiques to electronics, visit a fortune teller, and sample street food at stone pot rice and noodle stands. Nightly from 6 p.m.
O- Octopus. Get an Octopus card, or download the Octopus App for Tourists, to navigate the extensive metro system, MTR. The Airport Express line delivers you right into the city in 24 minutes. The card is accepted on buses and ferries and can be used for payment in retail stores.
P- The Peak. The steep tram ride directly up 1.4 km on one of the world’s oldest funicular railways takes a mere eight minutes to rise 1,300 ft (1,396 m) above sea level, but the breathtaking views will leave you lingering at the top. This is the best place for a stunning selfie or panorama of the city. Octopus cards accepted.
Q- PMQ. Formerly the Police Married Quarters, a dormitory created in 1951 for officers working at the nearby Central Police Station, this heritage building is now a hub of design studios and ateliers housing 100 local artists and artisans – a great place to find unique locally made pieces. Check out Smith + Nobu for bespoke eyewear and Open Quote for curated cards. pmq.org.hk
R- Rooftop bars. The city is filled with sky-high rooftops, but the apex is Ozone atop the glitzy Ritz-Carlton in Tsim Sha Tsui, the city’s tallest building and world’s tallest hotel. Soaring 490 meters above sea level, the breathtaking 118th floor outdoor terrace is the highest rooftop bar on the planet with views to die for. A definite bucket list check. ritzcarltonhongkong.com
S- Star Ferry. The iconic ferry, which has been carrying passengers across Victoria Harbour between Kowloon and Hong Kong Island since 1888, is a must do on any itinerary. You can use your Octopus card.
T- Tea and Tarts. At tiny street cafes, such as Lan Fong Yuen in Central, tea leaves are run through a sackcloth bag that looks like a silk stocking, giving it the name pantyhose milk tea. It pairs perfectly with another quintessentially Hong Kong snack, the egg tart – a silky custard-filled flaky pastry. Pick one up at famed Tai Cheong Bakery, one street over from Lan Fong Yuen.
U- Unesco Global Geopark. These natural wonders are made up of two geological regions just outside the city – the Sai Kung Volcanic Rock region and the Northeast New Territories Sedimentary Rock region.
V- Victoria Harbour. National Geographic named Victoria Harbour one of ’50 Places of a Lifetime’ and a crossing on the Star Ferry or traditional junk is a must do on any visit. ‘A Symphony of Lights’ is beamed nightly onto 46 skyscrapers on both sides of the harbour front.
W- Walking Tour. WalkinHK allows you to tour with a local guide and offers one-of-a-kind Knock Knock: Authentic Home Tours which take you inside a local’s home, either an old-style tong lau (walk up) or residential high-rise, to see what living in this densely packed city is like.
X- Xiao Long Bao. These flavourful little steamed buns are a staple on dim sum menus and at street food stalls around the city. They’re also on offer in Cathay Business Class lounges at YVR and HKG Airports.
Y- Yuen Po Street Bird and Flower Market. Bird lovers unite in this Chinese-style market in Mong Kok where songbirds sing, hawkers flog intricate cages and local bird owners use chopsticks to feed their feathered friends.
Z- Zoological and Botanical Gardens. Built in 1860, this 5.6-hectare park in Central is the oldest in the territory. You’ll find flamingos, Hawaiian goose and crane in the eastern side Old Garden and orangutans, gibbons and reptiles in the New Garden on the western side.
The writer was a guest of Cathay Pacific Airways and the Hong Kong Tourism Board. No one from either company read or approved this article before publication.
If you go
Cathay Pacific operates non-stop flights from both Vancouver and Toronto to Hong Kong, with connecting flights onward to more than 60 destinations, including 15 cities in mainland China. In flight, the airline’s business class seats transform into fully flat beds, complete with cozy duvets, making the 12- to 14-hour flight much more enjoyable.
2023 marks the 40th anniversary of Cathay’s first flight between Hong Kong and Vancouver, the first airline to connect Canadians to Hong Kong non-stop. The Hong Kong airport has five exclusive Cathay lounges, including flagship lounge The Pier First with in-house spa and private day suites. cathaypacific.com