Thanks to a large expat community and British Columbia ties, Hong Kong is the easiest city to navigate in China without the ability to speak Mandarin or Cantonese. And with airlines like Cathay Pacific offering direct service from Boston and San Francisco, it has never been easier to experience China’s dense cultural heritage, not to mention some incredibly tranquil wilderness hikes just minutes from a bustling, vibrant downtown.
Despite being one of the world’s most densely populated metropolises, less than half of the city is actually inhabited. The rest is home to some of the most beautifully scenic landscapes formed by volcanic activity; think thick forests of green spanning across majestic rolling mountains. You can access some incredible hikes in just a few quick stops on the bus or MTR train (day passes cost roughly $7 USD). If you want to stay on Hong Kong Island, take a hike on the “Dragon’s Back,” which connects Wan Cham Shan and Shek O over the D’Aguilar Peninsula. Offering plenty of breathtaking views, the full trail takes about four hours; so take a lunch to enjoy at Shek O Peak. You may even catch a paraglider or two in the air, as it is one of the government’s sanctioned launching locations. The end finds you on a white sand beach in Tai Long Wan, part of the New Territories, which is a contrast from where the trip started. Toast your completion of the trail with a bite at one of the tiny outdoor cafes. If you don’t feel like hiking all the way back, you can walk to San Wan Pavilion and take a taxi back to the hotel. The bus also picks up there, but while public transportation in Hong Kong is efficient, taxis run on the cheaper side, so if you want to cut down on time, it’s a viable option.
Hong Kong’s dim sum is the best in the world, so any local eatery you find is likely to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Tim Ho Wan, located in the Central District, is well celebrated and even has a Michelin star, though some locals have been known to call it a “tourist trap.” For a slightly more chaotic — and equally appetizing — experience, visit the most famous dim sum restaurant, Maxim. The décor is as bona fide as its cuisine, with dazzling chandeliers and tasseled chairs. Located in City Hall, it is one of the last remaining locations that still serve their dishes from the traditional pushcarts by waitresses, and you can point to the plates that you want to try. There are no wrong choices. To get a real taste of the city, take the advice of Anthony Bourdain and sample the traditional street food. There are plenty of vendors serving local cuisine, from eggettes to grass jelly, and a wide variety of meat-on-a-stick options for the adventurous eater.
Dress in your best before making your way to the Central District, because when the sun goes down, the area turns into a lively and diverse nightlife scene that rivals the best in the world. Local lifestyle writer Justine Lee recommends making a stop at Dragon-I, a long-established club that has managed to maintain its edge, with a terrace that overlooks the lively Wyndham Street. For a lower key and more regional experience, check out Yu Club, a small-spaced cocktail bar where they feature drinks inspired by seasonal fruits. Completing the alluring experience you access through a narrow doorway, decorated with framed old Chinese newspaper clippings and Bruce Lee posters. For a wild scene with a view, head to Sevva, which is situated on the penthouse level of the Prince’s Building. The lounge boasts a 360-degree of downtown to enjoy while you sip on signature cocktails and indulge in one of their inspired desserts created by the infamous Ms B.
The InterContinental Hong Kong is located in the city’s artsy Kowloon District, offering the best views of the Victoria Harbour and the island’s tallest skyscrapers, making it a popular stay for visitors. Every night the cityscape is illuminated with a multimedia light show called A Symphony Of Lights, which can be viewed from any of the hotel’s lobbies or one of their Michelin-star restaurants. The ferries across the water are frequent and cost next to nothing, making transport into the Central and Western Districts a breeze, not to mention a sightseeing experience of their own. Kick off your morning with a complimentary tai chi class to get your center balanced before hitting the town.
Set a day aside to really explore the outlying islands of Hong Kong, like Tung Ping Chau, which lies out in the New Territories and is only accessible by ferry. There are a number of services that help you easily rent gear in the city, like Urban Camper. Take a day’s worth of supplies and head out early, as the hike will take you around three or four hours, then pitch your tent at the marked campsite next to Kang Lau Shek, where there are barbeques set up for cooking. This is true outdoor life at its best; so don’t expect to see a traditional toilet. But the sunrises and sunsets make it more than worth it.